Thought Leadership - a different point of view

8581059753_1a3d884b52_b.jpg

The temptation is always there to ubiquitously share your brilliant insights, research, thought-leadership and points of view. But for recipients, this approach is more likely to create more annoyance than increase engagement.

Maybe a counter-intuitive approach might work? How about: less content shared with fewer people, with the intention that they might share with fewer still? You’re busy, so we came up with eleven quick ideas to make your thought-leadership more effective.

  1. Encourage sharing, not reading.  Brand building used to be about what people said about you after you left the room. Now it’s about what people share about you (often while you’re still in the room). So, make it as easy as possible to share something smart and intelligent about you (no logins, portals, paywalls), just simple sharing, even if the first recipient has not even read a word of it.  

  2. Be quirky, or nerdy, just not plain clever. The counter-intuitive, contrarian, quirky, memorable and surprising idea is better territory to pursue than the empirically proven, peer-review journal treatise.  You may have an evidential data set that would impress the brains at Deepmind but that doesn’t mean it will still stir a thumb into liking or sharing. 

  3.  Don’t distribute it widely; distribute it carefully.  Consider sharing less content, with fewer people, who you encourage to judiciously share with fewer still.  Make it rare and precious.  

  4.  Press send less often. Remember the scene in Harry Potter when hundreds of owls deliver the same message to Harry over and over through every possible route?  That’s what it feels like to be a recipient of thought-leadership.  Be considerate.  

  5.  Filter more, create less.  Stress test your best internal ideas and thought leadership materials against the very best you can source in the market. Quality usually wins. So edit and filter rigorously.  Less is more always.  

  6. Think about the kids. Before you press send, ask someone who is 19 years old to read it. You may already suspect that the piece is too long.  It is. 

  7.  Don’t create and then circulate white papers, like ever.  Share the executive summary page only, with simple clear graphics and then head off and enjoy lunch. 

  8. Share stuff with the least number of recipients you dare to restrict it to. Seriously. As few as possible. So commit as much energy to rationalising, segmenting and selecting only those who should receive your content, as you do to curating the content itself. (Please then be prepared for your digital Marketers to howl, as their ROI is likely to be all about the quantity of views, not the quality of recipient). 

  9. Make your followers feel like thought-leaders.  Scrutinise who follows, likes and shares your thought-leaders and return the favour.  What goes around…   

  10. Sharing UPWARDS is the goal. The ‘holy grail’ is the content piece that is shared upwards with the MD, the C- Suite or the CEO. Go on – accelerate your career: encourage cluttering the boss’s inbox. 

  11. Get a room.  As the UK Editor of Wired magazine said: “We used to produce a magazine and put on the occasional event. Now we manage a complex events and conferencing business, which allows us to continue publishing a print magazine”. Content is no longer enough.  Live events, with you in the room, still rock.

What Just Happened? A year in review.

at the beginning of 2018 I decided to write a screenplay about the american poet e e cummings. there is something about his relentless use of lower case letters…but, as the year closes, the screenplay remains (more or less) unwritten. the idea is still wrapped in self-bemusement, procrastination and obfuscation. I need cummings' muse (he may indeed have had many) or I know, someone else will write the story soon and I will one morning spit-out my coffee, when I read the release notices and see the proposed cast list. as someone very wise once said, "there are only two great ideas at any point in time, and someone is already doing yours”*

ok, that's enough lower case for now.

In January, I discovered The Name of the Wind by Patrick Ruthfuss. I completely and utterly devoured that book and the second novel in the series, The Wise Man's Fear. About two thousand pages in a week. At its centre, an enigmatic hero called Kvothe. The story remains one of the single best things I have ever read. The third instalment remains unfinished, or at least unpublished, with the writer keeping his audience holding its breath for Kvothe's fate since 2011. Agony for them and, I am sure, and a nightmare for Rothfuss, who still stoically takes the stage at fan conventions and speaker engagements and helplessly blinks into the middle distance light, as the inevitable question comes, "Patrick, when will Book 3...?"

Much of the early part of the year was spent on Virgin Trains (who subsequently became renamed some bizarre acronym due to losing their license) heading Northwards and Southwards to see my son play rugby league. En-route, I read The Magicians (by Lev Grossman) and it's sequels, equally stunned by how amazingly Narnia-esque and inspiring it was, and then completely befuddled, disappointed and made cross by how terribly awful it became. [Warning - please do not go near the SciFi TV adaptation of the same.] Subsequently, and due to regular spells of over-running engineering works, I have also re-discovered Frank Herbert, Philip K Dick, Isaac Asimov and some strange Chinese Science Fiction that’s kind of weirdly addictive and calming.

Up North, I spent much time in Leeds. I never tire of the Harry Enfield line about the City. "Don't talk to me about sophistication, I've been to Leeds." I have written else where on here about growing up in its poorer City cousin Bradford and how that chip on the shoulder weighed heavy on its proud neighbour and perhaps, still me. I read an announcement that Channel Four is moving to Leeds, after a competition against some other cities. A competition between places - not people, like ‘The Apprentice” I guess, but with more bus route maps and commercial real-estate considerations. Well done Leeds. I have no idea what this means in terms of upping the sophistication levels of Leeds, but it’s a blessing for Yorkshire after so many media jobs were staffed with London based commuting luvvies over in Salford Quays, Manchester. Away from Leeds, I spent time in May in San Francisco, Silicon Valley with work and then recharged with good friends in LA. In San Francisco, a City I struggle to love, I met up for a drink with someone I had not seen for 28 years which was rather cool and made the trip and my mood much better. But not as good as the mood created by a few days by a pool in Rappallo and a trip through the Cinque Terre. Wow, I love Italy. Meanwhile back in Blighty, people I know and love have suddenly and without any warning become 50 years old. Thankfully, I have an enchanted mirror in the loft so I fear not the clock, but hell - what just happened? Fifty years?!

On the theme of sophistication, the new Bridge Theatre, as a venue/bar, was immediately much loved, but the productions have been mixed. Julius Caesar - a Trump themed warning about self-proclaimed demi-gods, power politics and social disintegration, rang loud and true from the off. Subsequent productions were less than fab. My Name is Lucy Barton was two hours too long and I only lasted half an hour of something new but awful by Allan Bennett. Elsewhere and, strangely, more uplifting than Bennett’s play, I did see a 79 year old Ian McKellen carry Cordelia on his back in King Lear. The year was book-ended by the gorgeous and blub-inducing A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic.

I went to C2C again and discovered Ashley McBride, Lukas Nelson and Lanco. I used to feel obliged to go for my daughter. I now rather fear my eagerness to go along is greater than hers. Other music highlights of 2018 are numerous. Spotify now rather handily counts up and tells me exactly what has had the most ear-time in 2018. I will fess up to Animal Kingdom (now defunct?), Icarus, Field Music (Open Here is song of the year), Cherry Ghost's cover of Finally, Gas Coombes, Kacey Musgraves, Beirut, Kurt Vile, Let's Eat Grandma, DIIV, Deerhunter, Hookworms, Sunflower Bean, Razorlight (what a return to form!?) and the completely wonderful Courtney-Marie Andrews, who just gets better and better. On a rockier front, I am still reeling from the news about Rush's Neil Peart, who according to Geddy, has not "just retired from Rush, but retired from drumming". A loss to a noble profession. [See below for another drummer of note]. Wild Beasts from Leeds (see above) also made the town a little less sophisticated and split-up, but leaving us with All The Kings Men - still one of the all time greatest live sing alongs.

Onwards

In September my son stopped playing sport in Yorkshire and began studying at Jiao-Tong University in Shanghai. I’ve been to the City a number of times and enjoyed the place hugely without speaking a word of Mandarin. Now my son haggles over cab prices with the best of them. In October I GOT EXCITED about writing again, but the real-world quickly reared into view and Final Draft remains an expensive luxury application in a dusty desk-top folder, with its improved functionality un-touched. Which is the point at which these essays usually look to the future with some renewed ambition to pick up the pen again. My twitter feed is full of “a page a day is 2 1/2 screen-plays in a year” encouragement nonsense. I remain and perhaps will always be, stunned, amazed and humbled by those who graft and craft stories, write and re-write, then plough through 10 or 20 or 50 drafts before submitting their script and waiting and waiting. I know I should dare re-join them in 2019.

"anyone lived in a pretty how town, with up so many bells floating down…summer, winter, autumn, spring, he danced his didn’t, he danced his did…"



* according the Wikipedia: the cummings’ poem was adapted into a short film by George Lucas, of ahem, Stars Wars fame.

JD

PS. On a MUCH brighter note, if you ever wondered why rock n’ roll has stopped the world from going nuclear in the past 60 years, please do take 30 seconds to watch the sheer unbridled joy, skill, professionalism and commitment of the drummer from The War on Drugs in the mid-section of Under The Pressure, which builds, snaps and rocks up another musical chunk of wonderment for the good people of London. I will leave you with that moment.


Landing a space rocket on a floating barge made to look easy

IMG_0978.jpg

I am just back from San Francisco. I had the Mamas and The Papas in my head as we drove in from airport. Indeed, as the drizzle blew off the bay, all the leaves were brown and the sky was suitably grey.  We passed the vast billboards for tech companies advertising their latest gizmo to other aspirant unicorns who had bought billboards on the same freeway.  The place was full of surprises: but not the surprises I’d expected.  We explored the city, piers, cable car, Union Square and cheered an 8:5 win for the Giants.  All seemed good with the world in northern California, except for the weather.  But then we began to look closer.  

Travelling into the Valley, the traffic on the 101 was cliche-bustlingly terrible.  The Google buses had removed their branding, but not their bike racks.  Their glass was now tempered and tinted, so rocks thrown from bridges wouldn't hurt the engineers bused in from cheaper postcodes.  Guided by LBS’s Peter Hinssen, we visited Sunnyvale and Palo Alto, met four start-ups, four scale-ups, a health focused accelerator, a VC, and enough guest speakers to make our heads burst!  We stood outside the the Garage of Hewlett and Packard, the “birthplace” of Silicon Valley from ninety years earlier. As we returned from the Valley, we gawped passing lovely Atherton. Bloomberg had just ran a story highlighting Atherton as the second richest postcode in the whole of the USA, with the average income over $1.5 million according to analysis of 2015 IRS data.  Atherton's neighbours include Stanford University and Menlo Park, home to Facebook and various fast growing tech companies.  Some of the best paid people with the smartest minds in the world are concentrated in a small town of just 7,000 people.  

As the evening mist and breeze chilled the air, we returned to our central San Francisco Hotel, just a few hundred metres from the Crystal Meth fuelled fringes of the City.  The place may zing with the vibrancy of the new digital, tech, AI, Blockchain economy, but in its homeless problem surfaces a grim reality of lives lived without a social safety net.  There are approximately 7,000 recognised homeless in the City, and more arrive each day. Strangely, no one asked me for money which made the plight even more unnerving.  

The bay area is a region that created the most valuable enterprises on the planet. Not content with making our shopping, browsing, entertainment and connected lives so much better than we could ever have imagined a decade ago, firms like Apple, Google, Facebook, and others, continue to innovate brilliantly and make their own "dent in the Universe."  Elon Musk is rightly revered for the smarts he has brought to market from payments, to electric cars, to now sending rockets into space with SpaceX; landing them upright, intact and re-usable on a floating barge in an ocean hundreds of miles away. 

In the comfort of the cool Hotel bar we mused.  How can a place of such imagination, innovation and creativity; a place imbued with values of diversity and respect for difference, also be a place where its wealth creators drive each day over free-way bridges, under which citizens die?  Many of the wealth creators like Gates and Zuckerberg have committed billions to charitable causes, research and philanthropic endeavours all over the world.  But in this beautiful City, the homeless still shout at themselves, lost, confused and deranged.  We had no easy answers and there have been thirty years of well intentioned public policy attempts and initiatives to help alleviate the problem.  But maybe if the uber-smart and visionary minds nearby can land a reusable space-ship on a floating barge, perhaps some corner of those minds could be briefly applied to solving the issue of 7,000 homeless?   

 

Shakespeare, Trump and the liberal elite collide

IMG_0394.jpg

There are some things I simultaneously love and loath about London.  On the one hand, it draws in a world of talent, entrepreneurs, creativity, smart ideas and investment capital.  It literally buzzes, zings and pops at its best. 

But is also excludes through its unfettered acceptance of Wonga; building soulless elevated housing estates for millionaires who don’t live here, blighting the riverside, the posher postcodes and the leafy boulevards heading West.  It’s increasingly depressing to wander along the Thames in the heart of the City and gaze up as gilded cages, empty, bought off-plan remain unoccupied, except for a bored front-desk concierge, dreaming of elsewhere.  Here, some of the greatest views in the world are created for the interior designer to briefly enjoy, before they finish, click-off the lights and leave the space devoid of life and love and mess.   

When Sir Christopher Wren rented a house on Bankside (a few yards from the re-built Globe Theatre) he could open the curtains and through the sash see a new Dome come to fruition, topping St Paul’s like the St Peter’s of Rome he had in his minds-eye. Now that beautiful home stands in the gloomy shadow of perversely constructed steel and glass dystopian towers named without irony, NEO; hundreds of apartments and penthouses in four Pavilions, rising in sequence with unparalleled views towards St Paul's.  The nicer flats here cost about £22 million. The ugliness of NEO is only relieved by a nearby 50-storey aberration of sense and taste; an architectural horror called One Blackfriars.  It bulges at its mid-rift like the belly of an avaricious property developer devouring his lunch with the city planner nodding his assent without conscience.

Further West, the re-built iconic chimneys of Battersea Power Station are repainted.  The vast development at least has mixed use in its masterplan (and a new office home for Apple) but, as all South-East Train commuters already know: the trackside Dogs Home contains more of a sense of life and hope than any of the completed mega-apartments.  These are vacuous gloomy spaces, preposterously gold coloured, and already, with a faint smell of deathly regret hanging from their balconies.  Nearby, the new American Embassy will open at Nine Elms, its staff soon navigating the echoing streets of what has been redesigned as the single most soulless neighbourhood in the world.  As the playwright Beckett might have put it: “Nothing comes, nothing goes, this is awful”.   Donald Trump has condemned the place and refused to cut the ribbon.  Even a mad, egotistical, self-anointed Emperor might be worth hearing on this one.  

Heading back East, we stumble upon another new shiny London District bizarrely called More London.  Directly opposite the Tower of London, the Mayor's Offices stand empty in the evening, heroically sustaining the planet by being as perpetually dark as doom and unused for two-thirds of the year.  The hastily landscaped park nearby is cut across with a narrow path from the foot of the extraordinary (and mainly empty Shard) into a new riverside area called Potters Field Park, with stunning views of Tower Bridge. 

And here, beneath yet more empty apartments we finally found life.  And not just life, but creativity that lifted the soul, talent and imagination and wonder, in a new subterranean home by the river. The new Bridge Theatre is a wonderful place. Founded by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, The Bridge is a new 900-seat auditorium and is the first wholly new theatre of scale to be added to London’s commercial theatre sector in 80 years.  Designed by Haworth Tompkins Architects (winner of the 2014 Stirling Prize) it is a wonderful industrial, yet comfortable and intimate space.  It was heaving as we arrived for a new production of Julius Caesar.  The bar is terrific, with open space and friendly staff.  We headed downstairs, not sure what to expect with a modern staging of an unloved play.  

The production is unlike anything I have ever seen before.  The staging of Shakespeare in the round is not new, but this was built with the technical hydraulics and sound effects of an action movie.  Caesar arrives like Trump at a rally, but with a real rock band playing Seven Nations Army as if it were Corbyn at Glastonbury; the extraordinary cult hero/enemy instantly enthrals and divides, whatever your politics. The crowd on the floor of the theatre are sold hats and t-shirts for the Trump-like Caesar, about the be crowned by Mark Antony (David Morrissey).  It is the liberal elite versus Trump, the Brexiteers versus Remainers but with machine guns and agitators stirring the crowd. 

Brutus (Ben Wishaw) cannot stomach the coronation of this self-serving “god” and stirred by a brilliantly played Cassius (Michelle Fairley, also brilliant as Catelyn Stark in GOT) the conspirators gun him down on an elevated throne and dip their hands in his blood to ensure their treachery is known and celebrated.    Of course, it goes horribly wrong for the conspirators from there on. While we sat a little back from the tumult stunned, some down in the "pit" throng literally fainted amidst the blood, the guns and the spit words of dread and doom.  Powerful. Awesome. Extraordinary.  Life-affirming good and relevant theatre.  

We stumbled out into the deathly quiet streets, with hundreds of others, still buzzing. 

 

The Guys from the South Country

I'm just back from the Old Vic.  An irregular venue for me, but also one where I have experienced the three best performances of my too-irregular theatrical-going life.  Nearly twenty years ago, Kevin Spacey enthralled in The Iceman Cometh and I am not sure anything else he did in his time as artistic Director at the theatre company was ever as good.  He was again superb in 2006 in A Moon for the Misbegotten, but no moment in that tale really compares with Spacey's first performance as Hickey, striding into a bar of apathetic drunken losers and somehow, fleetingly, giving them a sense of hope. [Ed, its always a shocker to now think back and know and have not known then, 14/11/17]

A decade later, I literally crumbled at the end of Groundhog Day, Tim Minchin’s re-imagining of the film originally starring Bill Murray. The show premiered for about six weeks at the Old Vic in 2016 and is now a massive hit on Broadway.  There was a nice moment on social media this week when Bill Murray went to see the new show, not once, but twice on successive nights.  He simply had to see it again.  I would love to do the same. 

Then this week, in a familiar seat, just behind an admired theatrical Lord of the realm, the open stage is slowly illuminated for a new show called The Girl from The North Country.   Written and directed by Conor McPherson, it looks and feels like the same territory as O’Neill’s The Ice Man Cometh.  An appropriate déjà vu moment then as the lost, the drunken, the delusional, the criminal and the unfortunate huddle together in a guest-house on the cliff-edge of Depression Era Minnesota.  The background is briefly narrated and closed by an elderly Doctor and the misfits struggle to find a way out of a spiral or debt, guilt, lies and deceit.  The moments of hope are all expressed in song, mining the vast Bob Dylan song-book, not to create some happy-clap-along Musical (the West End is already full of Kinks, Four Tops, Beatles and Jacko pastiche shows) but as moments of heart-felt expressions of hope, or anger, or even, love. 

The songs don’t mirror the narrative, nor drive it forward in anything other than an imperfect, strange, evocative way.  And Dylan's words are sung by all the cast.  By an escaped-convict pugilist, or a miserable lady in red while smashing her drum-kit, or, by Elizabeth [played by Shirley Henderson] an ethereal demented wife of the guest-house proprietor.  Twenty actors and musicians share the weight of the tale, but also grab the limelight for a fleeting moment, as they make you catch your breath at an arrangement of Like A Rolling Stone, Forever Young, Sweetheart Like You, or (I am convinced I heard a verse of) All Along The Watchtower.   A standing ovation followed and the press reviews have all been five star.  It's wonderful and raw and, like Once (reviewed on these pages before) it stays with you long afterwards.  

This week travelling South West to the Levellers' Beautiful Days festival, we took a diversion or two, looping off the A303, dodging Stonehenge via Salisbury and around the hills and dips across through Dorset and into Devon. Suitably, the car speakers thumped and hummed with the songs of XTC.  As we drove through green hills, another pastoral paradise was evoked by their Apple Venus and earlier albums; songs filled with misfit characters and criminals, the lost, the disillusioned, the unloved and the conscripted.  The journey and the time passed quickly in the company of the wit and artistry of Colin Moulding and Andy Partridge’s wonderful songwriting and the playing and arrangements of Dave Gregory, Terry Chambers and others.  Which got me thinking about a new possible writing project.  One not set in Minnesota, but maybe somewhere around Swindon, at the end of the last century, and it would end Stupidly Happily.      

You can get a glimpse here of The Girl from The North Country here.  

Unleash the Power of Networks

Networking at a Conference: your idea of heaven, or hell?

Networking at a Conference: your idea of heaven, or hell?

Few of us truly relish networking.  We may well recognise the importance of a good network, but maintaining and growing one demands time, effort and some adapted behaviours that can exhaust the introvert and be tiresome even for the most outgoing amongst us.

We might enthusiastically sign up for conferences, events and seminars with the hope of connecting with key influencers and valuable business introducers. But we often leave deflated, feeling that the time was wasted.  Or worse, we depart clutching a random bundle of business cards but then never re-connect with their owners.

Some try to concentrate their efforts online. By creating topical thought pieces, regularly sharing smart ideas and hungrily aggregating Twitter and Linked-In followers, it has never been easier, it seems, to build an impressive looking network.  Unfortunately, this approach alone cannot create the sort of 'sticky' relationships made offline.  Put simply, a 1,000 connections on Linked-in does not a true network make. 

Our approach, called Four Routes to Growth, is very simple and, if pursued with some discipline, can be enormously powerful. 

Evaluate your current network  

The first step is to evaluate where you are now in terms of your existing network, focusing on close personal relationships, current and former colleagues and valued clients. Many other networking methods start similarly and encourage you to compile a list of everyone you know.  Without too much trouble, you can export this from Linked-In, Facebook, various unlogged business cards and your online address book.  You may quickly amass hundreds and hundreds of names. 

The crucial step though is to evaluate what you see.  You might grade or rate or colour code the list from close to distant, accessible to inaccessible.  Think deeply about how close and how engaged you would describe your contacts; particularly the ones you rank towards the top of your list.  Critically appraise how effectively you have maintained, developed, supported and regularly embraced (in all senses of the word) these key relationships in recent times.  This might give you some pause for thought, but even if it does, don’t be deterred.  

Your available time for networking is always going to be scarce, so depending on your specific goal, you need to dedicate your time to a particular strategy.  This is what we call the Four Routes to Growth: Enhance, Expand, Extend, and Explore. 

Route One: ENHANCE your most valuable relationships

The most valuable network we have is not the one “out there”, but the one we already have.  We call a renewed focus on this group Enhance.  For many good reasons you may find that the number of professional relationships that you describe as very close is relatively small, but where these relationships do run deeper than the merely transactional or ephemeral, they can be powerful places to start your networking adventure. You may feel that you already have a good foundation on which to build, in which case we advocate that you actively seek to expand-out from that core. 

One of the exercises we undertook with the RMs was to get them to think about how well connected they were with one another. Many had been colleagues for years but seemed to know surprisingly little about one another away from their role, or position within the firm. Few knew their colleagues’ personal stories, skills or life-experiences.  Surely an opportunity missed?

Route Two: EXPAND your existing network

We most naturally expand our networks through deeper relationships with those we already know.  We meet their life-partners, families, colleagues, clients and suppliers.  These connections can generate huge value.  Expanding your network does not have to be a lengthy expedition, but can be best initiated from within your closest and most accessible relationships.  It’s a tongue twister, but it’s not what you know, it’s who you know knows who. 

You may feel that some once warm contacts have now cooled because of time, or distance. There is no manual that can make you pick up a phone or reach out to a once close contact and make that relationship ‘click’ again.  But if you are hesitant about their likely response, consider how you’ve responded to a suddenly revived contact from the past?  Perhaps a former colleague, or an alumni contact from University? Our guess is your now 'distant' contact will respond in much the same way as you. 

Route Three: EXTEND your reach

Extending your network means moving into a space that is unfamiliar and more difficult to access.  The good news is that the starting point will still often be from within your existing professional network, so ask to be referred.  Sales professionals spotted this sometime ago, as did recruiters, estate agents, dentists and (increasingly) the algorithm built into the API in your social network of choice.  Of course, it’s now easy to blithely share, like and recommend a contact online and such virtual endorsement of real-world connections can be useful reciprocal stroke or nudge. Ultimately though, the development of valid strong relationships takes time and real-world personal attention.

Network relationships, as opposed to network contacts, emerge more naturally from conversations which extend beyond 140 characters.  Initiating these conversations may initially seem alien, pushy, perverse or uncomfortable, but all are par for the course in your goal of extending your network.  The key seems to be to seek opportunities to “pay forward” your own energies and ideas as an offer of help to others. 

Route Four: EXPLORE new networks

Here is realm of the adventurer, the conference junkie, the traveller, the explorer. If you are seeking opportunities to radically develop a wholly new branch of your network, then perhaps Exploring will take the majority of your time and stretch you more than any other route. But cultivating a number of radically new introductions can transform your network.

A close colleague of ours spent pretty much every spare hour of his life developing new contacts and relationships that would help him find ways to pitch his entrepreneurial venture.  He's now CEO of that venture.  Also, don’t be phased by the discovery of the huge numbers of others exploring the same route as you.  In 2010 I managed to secure accreditation to attend the film market at the Cannes Film Festival. My badge gleamed in the sun as I approached this hard won opportunity to press real film-making flesh and sell my script.  14,000 others were accredited in the same market that week. 

So you’re an Explorer, picture yourself in the coffee area of a busy conference, head down, scrolling through emails on your phone.  This does nothing to extend your network or your well-being.  In that moment, think how you can be helpful to others, not how the others in the room can help you.  As Keith Ferrazzi wrote in the wittily titled, Never Eat Alone: “Successful networking is never about simply getting what you want. It’s a sort of career karma, too; how much you give to the network determines how much you’ll receive.” Turn off the phone and however clumsily, turn to someone and say hello. 

Applying the Four Routes to Growth

If you like the framework and have stayed with me this far, then the following plan of attack might work for you.

Look at your schedule for the next six months and no matter how busy you feel you will be, commit to finding 100 hours to developing your network. You may legitimately wish to pursue all four routes simultaneously but the more clarity you have on your specific networking goal, the more likely you are to smartly prioritise one route.  The crucial element is to plan your time strategically and not to underestimate the commitment needed.  If 100 hours seems a lot, remember Malcolm Gladwell's dictum that it takes 10,000 hours to become truly accomplished in any pursuit.

If your network goal is a new position or promotion within your existing firm, then your approach may focus on Enhancing and Expanding your core network of internal relationships.  If an external career move is planned, you might focus your time on Extending your network, using existing Enhanced network as a safe and confidential route to secure informal conversations.  Exploring is by its nature more time consuming and more variable in its outcomes.  Enhancing may seem more passive and less exhilarating but over time may create a foundation for unlocking Extended networks. 

Evaluate where you are at the outset and re-assess again at the end of the 100-hour campaign.  Take time to review how your network has evolved.  What did you learn about yourself, your aspirations and the people you met on the journey?  What opportunities did your campaign throw up for you to recommend or refer others?  If you feel underwhelmed by the outcomes, did you really invest the time that was needed? 

A final thought

ThE FOUR ROUTES TO GROWTH MODEL

ThE FOUR ROUTES TO GROWTH MODEL

Groups we have worked with have embraced the approach and used it well. We observed though that their commitment to the process was reinforced because they shared their personal goals and strategy with one another. Those conversations seemed to be the catalyst for some early momentum. So before you set out on your route, tell someone you trust what you’re trying to achieve. That might be the most valuable conversation about networking you ever have. 

Not Rotterdam or Anywhere, Liverpool or Rome. Hull.

A new EXHIBITION ABOUT LARKIN OPENS AT THE BRYNMOR JONES, HULL

Famously a curmudgeon, misanthropic and brilliant, Philip Larkin is remembered for his poetry, his complicated love life and being a Librarian. He is of a particular time and place, like a British built car from the 1970's, familiar, flawed and reassuringly drab.  Despite having all the blessings of been born in a cathedral city and then educated at Oxford, he (like many others since) only really flourished creatively when he went to live and work in Hull. The City of Hull now proudly makes claim to two of the greatest poets in the English language; Andrew Marvell [who didn't muck about at the Grammar School, securing a place at Cambridge when only 13) and 300-hundred years later, its now cherished adopted son Larkin.

But like many adoptions, not all went smoothly from day one.  Upon arriving in Hull in 1955, Larkin cheerily described it as “a hole, with witless, crapulous people" but, as the relationship deepened and the incessant breeze slowed his progress cycling the Avenues, he came to see beyond the town as a “fish smelling dump” and to embrace the place. Writing in The Whitsun Weddings, he describes arriving on a train, seeing the estuary widen, finding the surprise of large town where only "relatives and salesmen come", and undeterred, he heads out to the suburbs, beyond the fringes of the place to find a beach: "an unfenced existence.  Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach."    Larkin stayed and over the next thirty years, Hull became home to a man who brilliantly honed his verse so that he could make a joyous wedding seem like a funeral, or a long-lost friend feel like a newly discovered ailment.  

I went to live in Hull thirty years ago this autumn and went back briefly just this month as part of the Hull 2017 City of Culture celebrations.  I drank in some familiar pubs, watched some Rugby, met some friends and even took time to explore Larkin's library.  It is extraordinary.  They have hidden all the books behind opaque sliding screens, like some post-modernist joke.  You can come in and browse, and explore: but no reading the books!  Cheery volunteers encourage you to take in the scale of the place, see the visiting National Portrait Gallery exhibition, or enjoy a double-espresso in the vast coffee shop across from the light-filled ‘willy-Wonka’ lift lobby.  Head up, take in the view, but you won’t find any books. Somehow, I felt Larkin might appreciate the efforts made since his death to keep the students' grubby fingers from his carefully indexed tomes.

In the evening, we headed out "East", but not to find Larkin’s endless unbroken view, but far far away in East Hull to see another of the City's adopted sons, Paul Heaton, play a huge outdoor gig at the dilapidated old 'Hull KR' ground.   The journey there and back was like a scene from a Cecil B. DeMille movie.  Some 27,000 of us tried to make the same journey with the help and support of half-a dozen shuttle buses and the disinterest of the world's worst taxi service.  Hull has two unique civic aspects that are hard not to notice.  It has white phone boxes that nobody uses and it employs the world's worst taxis.  These are strange elevated vehicles with no windows, designed it seems, to ferry you home patched-up from A&E late at night but constructed so that you remain oblivious to where you might be going.  Suffice to say, on the day when this City of Culture hosted a Bowie-inspired retrospective, lefty-chanteuse Charlotte Church, outdoor theatre in Newland Avenue, Wigan v Hull FC, an auspicious Philip Larkin AGM and a major 'festival' style outdoor gig in the City, the taxi drivers collectively shrugged, headed to West Hull, lit a fag and determinedly stayed there.

Clearly the City of Hull has a new pulse and a new confidence, proclaimed high on billowing flags lining the broad newly-pedestrianised streets. The University (the city’s biggest employer) has grown immensely with the area near Pearson Park adorned with an array of deli's, trendy wine-bars and cool shops to quench all thirsts and tastes.  Culture is a powerful lever that other cities, notably Liverpool and Newcastle, have worked successfully and it would be petty to quibble with the cultural ambition Hull has surfaced this year.  But somehow, the City still doesn't seem to have enough people who move here and stay, or new capital or jobs, or investment.  Even its grubby neighbour Doncaster seems to have poked two fingers towards the city.  When you catch the train to Hull, the platform you board is bizarrely numbered “0”.  So if you are a relative or salesmen (or student), you have to leave for Hull from Platform Zero.

Heading back on the train to London, someone suggested that the likely next candidate for UK City of Culture would Coventry....Larkin's birthplace.  Like Hull, a proud town bombed heavily in the War, restored with vigour and still resolutely unfashionable.  Sounds the perfect place.     

 

Are Thought Leadership Events Worth The Money?

Think about the last time you received one of those emailers for the very latest “thought leadership” seminar.  An opportunity to spend anything up to £2,000 a time seeing the latest greatest most cutting edge thought-leadership speakers at some cool conference with an even cooler name: WeirdZeitgeistTED XYZSmorgasbord, or Whatever.  Tempting and sounds interesting you think, but is it really worth it?  

There has been an explosion of formats, venues, providers and sponsors of ‘thought-leadership’ events.  Joining the established conference organisers, a great plethora of publishing companies, technology start-ups, professional associations and recruitment consultancies are striving to land chunks of a global market.  While many content creators provide online access, there still seems to be a growing demand to actually be there, in the room.  

In the UK, the Marketing Society showcase big name speakers and captains of industry at mega conferences, flashy awards dinners and ‘masterclass’ seminars. The annual Festival of Marketing in London flies in former Space Shuttle commanders and Mindfulness experts to help you realise your strategic ambitions.  These events cost almost a £1,000 a ticket.  In April this year, PR Week announced that their 2016 event would last 4 [yes four] days at £1,800 a ticket.  Your CEO has to stump up a six-figure "patron fee" to get an invite to (real) TED or sell and lease-back their corporate headquarters to secure a place in a seminar room at Davos.  

So are these events worth the money?  Well if your objective is not just personal content consumption; but thought-leadership sharing, then we think so.  If you need an opportunity to collate and share smarts back with the leadership team at HQ, then some are better than others.  One of our favourites in the UK is WIRED which is wonderfully inventive and eclectic.  At £2,000 a ticket for a two day conference, the attendees have either had to personally dig very very deep, or play a blinder with their line-manager to get the ticket cost picked up by their employer.  But because of that, you get a rather extraordinary group of people in the room.  Nor just presenting, but in the audience. 

THE ACHILLES HEEL

So, come on!  I get the sharing smarts bit, but are they really worth the money?  Well if your objective is broadening your network, then we think not.  Where these conferences consistently fall down is in their stated objective to enable networking.  It's the number one registered "reason for attending" by delegates.  It is seldom fulfilled.  

The reality is that networking does not magically happen just because the event producers have allotted a time slot for "networking" in the programme, or (as I saw recently) by placing a banner above the coffee station with the words NETWORKING AREA emblazoned in 4000pt Helvetica Bold.   

Networking needs guidance, facilitation, encouragement and needs to be designed into the flow of the programme, the seating arrangements, the layout of the room, the content design and most importantly the philosophy and mindset of the hosts.  Otherwise, delegates seeking real networking opportunities will move onto event formats that have more connectivity and ambition than a series of well-lit predictable presentations and panels.  

The real value of these events is found, not in the content, but in connecting the people in the room.  The events organisers and programme designers who get this aspect more right than the current underwhelming norm are the ones most likely to get returning delegates, recommendations and referrals.

Marmite and the Leadership Conundrum

The recent Marmite spat in the UK between behemoth retailer Tesco and mega consumer goods producer Unilever was entertaining while it lasted. Something that 50% of the population can’t stand (I am referring to the potent yeast extract, not the supplier or seller) was briefly unavailable on Tesco's website and the national press, BBC and social media went mad. A combination of pre-Brexit sterling devaluation and a proper negotiation ‘ding-dong’ (a technical term in supply chain management) meant that 50% of toast spread fetishists might have to go without Marmite the next time they ordered an online delivery.

Half the country were outraged, half the country were not bothered.  Such polarity seems to be a feature of so many other aspects of business and political life. The margins might vary “at the margins” so to speak, but political choices are becoming more and more like Marmite conundrums and just too close to call. 52% voted to the leave the EU, 48% wished to remain.  This month, after over 50 years of civil warfare in Columbia, a peace deal was rejected by the "no" camp: 50.21 percent to 49.78 percent, a difference of less than 60,000 votes out of a total of 13 million. The US Presidential election in 2000 between Bush and Gore turned on the narrowest margin of victory; less than 0.5% of the votes cast. Half the country thought that cool, half the country thought the world would subsequently melt.  The US seems again split down the middle on a choice between two different flavours of Marmite: both loved and loathed, but equally unpalatable to the impartial observer (if anyone can be impartial about the leader of the free world). These fine margins between yes and no, between right and left, form a good tradition between love and hate, which got me thinking about leaders [and in a more profound way than just an excuse to reference a Tinita Tikaram hit from the late 1980’s].  

The Marmite Leader

There are of course other manifestations of this Marmite schism and one which is commonly experienced by almost all here reading Linked-In: The Marmite Boss. We’ve all worked for him or her.  Revered or revolting, depending on where you stand. The Marmite boss might attract fierce loyalty from some and deep antipathy from others. Some managers inspire the spirit, some devour your very soul. The Marmite boss seems to be equally spread across organisations both large and small and even the most ambitious and creative teams seem hampered by a leader who is seen by half the team as Voldemort and the rest as The Chosen One. I once worked for one boss who would fire contract staff while bouncing a tennis ball off the wall above their heads while the boom-box under his desk played Another One Bites The Dust. I couldn't bear to be in the lift with him for 40 seconds. A close colleague thought "he rocked" (citing a whole range of a qualities I had been oblivious to) and went on to work for him for nearly a decade. Depending on their perspective, some would swim the ocean for him, while others considered defenestration.  

What then is the secret ingredient to good leadership?  What makes a manager a good or a terrible one?  Searching through a few models of leadership I think I may have stumbled across a few clues. A leadership professional recently merrily shared on here the requisite qualities needed for good leadership.  All ONE HUNDRED of them! Another detailed the matrix of "31 essential qualities". Another a coherent argument for a mere "24 levels of leadership". This complexity might explain why some of the numerous ingredients just get badly formulated in the mix; that the supposed qualities that make some leaders inspire, make others a disaster to be around.

There are innumerable models of leadership; synthesising the various tendencies, qualities, preferences and behaviours that become the "hero" or the "psychopath", but the key seems to be in how you personally respond to these; how they accord with your own values, outlook and point of view. It's complicated and hard sometimes to discern good and bad.

Perhaps it's a matter of taste?

Groundhog Day and the Curse of a Nostalgic Youth

A friend of mine recently asked me enigmatically: whatever happened to the rhetorical question?  And it was with this feeling of slight befuddlement that I flicked through the ‘Culture’ pages of my leviathan Sunday paper and looked ahead to an autumn of arts, films, events and music.   The highlight for me stood out like a momentary beacon of pulse enhancing anticipation….the prospect of seeing Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.  The Bill Murray film was fun, but I wasn’t sure about the prospect of a repetitive film on stage, let alone as a musical.  Still, the team behind this created Matilda and the songs are by Tim Minchin.  Matilda truly sparkled so I have high hopes and the recent preview at the Southbank awards (see film below) of Seeing You whetted the appetite.  

But why should the thing looked forward to most in the future, be a remake of a half-loved thing from the past?  There is something extraordinary about the films, music and experiences of our youth that still keeps a powerful hold decades later.  In a way its magical, but its also somewhat unnerving because it seems (to borrow from Blur) to make Modern Life seem a bit Rubbish.  

A nostalgia for past music events can seem almost perfectly sepia tinted and flawless.  Most of the people I work with today were not alive when Bowie sang Heroes at Live Aid.  It still gives me goosebumps.  Watching the Live Aid concert at the time it was completely possible to then watch U2's Bono pose and posture (sans shades) and not instinctively want to thump him.  He waved peace flags and danced with someone in the crowd and the band played one song for 15 minutes.  That, as a warm up set for Queen.  Kids today wouldn't get it.  

Bowie plays Live Aid.  AD 1985.  

Bowie plays Live Aid.  AD 1985.  

I recently read Ready Player One by Ernst Cline.  It's a book about the future, completely and utterly imbued with references to the past.  The mysterious Willy Wonka style tech genius who invents a virtual world of escapism is himself immortalised, not though some vast digital ecosystem, but in his vivid reimagining of the 1980’s…and the music, films, games, TV shows and garish banality of it all.  Reading Cline's book makes you dive for long unplayed DVD’s [remember those?] of John Hughes movies: Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful and The Breakfast Club, which I recently watched again after over thirty years.  Allison (played by Ally Sheedy) says "When you grow up, your heart dies."  Al, you're wrong, or why else would these films still hold our affections, not just as curios or museum pieces?  In Ready Player One, the hero Wade resorts to trying to woo the avatar of the girl he loves by standing outside her house and holding a boom-box above his head, playing In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel.  Kids today wouldn't get it.  

This weekend my local Waterstone’s sold several hundred hardback copies of a stage play script for Harry Potter and The Cursed Child.  The sale of several hundred hard-back books by any author is quite a feat, but hundreds in just one bookshop alone., then multiplied across the world.  Amazing.  The play is set nineteen years after the Potter books ended, condemning Harry the wizard, who defeated the forces of darkness, to become a bored civil servant with troublesome kids who don’t communicate.  Like Outnumbered, with wands.   Sourcing a ticket for the plays in London is rarer than a Hufflepuff last-gasp winner at Quidditch, apparently.  But it's not the kids haranguing their parents to buy up the stalls and the gods.  

Once you touch this sense that the best things today are recreations of the best things of your life when you were fifteen years old, then you can’t help but spot them everywhere.  Short of the Smiths reforming in 2017, then music today seems locked into a downward cycle.  The 1975 made one of the best albums produced in years, but it’s because they sound like Scritti Politti fronted by a Geordie Michael Hutchence.  Currently, the challenge for music stream providers and curators [viz Apple, Spotify, Tidal] is to "create music like it was on MTV in the 1980's", to engage millions in the discovery and exploration of new acts, who become globally huge like Madonna, Michael Jackson or Duran Duran. I am not sure they can; not because the technology is not oh so slick, but because they don't make the acts like they used to.  Apathy Killed the Video Star.  

I turn on an iPad and stream the show Billions - the newest thing I know.  Then a friend points out “its just like Dallas”.  Yep, got me there.  Replace the Texan hats and the padded shoulders for a Metallica t-shirt and swap hedge-funds for crude, and we’re back in the land of JR Ewing and the saga of macho egos at war.  Film producers scrap and scrape to connect with this nostalgic past.  They buy established assets and invest in named properties that need less development, scrambling for books, or ideas or characters that have already gathered dust on a shelf.  Occasionally they get it wonderfully right, but more often they get it horribly wrong.  I fail to see the sense in Peanuts The Movie, or the risible Dads Army, but then Spielberg re-imagines The BFG and a whole new generation of adults drag their kids along to see it.  "Look a film of a book you'll never read, but I did!"  

If you can come up with formula that connects the past with a keen sense of who you are today then it can be wonderfully potent.  Marketers, brands and start-ups are wrestling with how to bottle it, label it and get it stacked on shelves.  Even though we are surrounded and bombarded by multifarious multi-media touch-points today, I am not sure of the longevity of much of the content will be as sustained.  And in trying to get any prediction right for anything today that will resonate in the future, then maybe Minchin's version of Harold Ramis has already nailed it:  "Today I know that I know, nothing."  

THE IMPORTANCE OF GLUE

Another genius CARTOON FROM HUGH McLEOD at GAPING VOID

 

So, our enterprise called Wave Your Arms Ltd is almost 2 years old.  We enter the ‘terrible twos’ and in due course, you might expect tantrums, rolling around on the floor in supermarkets, teething and much defiant and unruly behaviour.  For the new venture though it is a significant milestone and it seemed appropriate to share a few reflections and lessons learned with those who have followed us along the way, or simply spectated from afar.  

1. Recommendations rock

We have been blessed with some great client and partner introductions, recommendations and referrals.  These intros are the very life-blood of any new venture and are materially more valuable than any form of marketing, social networking, or well-worn shoe-leather.  For someone who spent ten years in Marketing, it should have come as no surprise to discover that the most valuable network you have…is the one you already have.  Our first client in 2014 came through an unsolicited recommendation and it turned into a wonderful project for a professional services firm who wanted to more closely engage with their most valuable clients.  It was, as they say, right up our boulevard, and created a superb opportunity to work with an imaginative client who have since gone on to invest further in the concept we created.  Other introductions and ‘out of the blue’ referrals have been gratefully received.  Not every intro turns into work, but all introductions are beneficial in themselves and, hopefully, should always reflect well on the introducer, as much as the introduced.   Reciprocating will be a joy.  

2. Partnerships are powerful

In the beginning there was a noisy coffee shop.  Then people I knew began to provide free desk space and wifi.  And coffee.  And invites to networking drinks.  And banter, about football and films and the weather.  Just like working in a real office, but without all the ‘burdens’.  These offers of support and the serendipity of co-location have been terrific.  Those who have proffered it know who they are - and I understand that they have done the same for others in recent months.  I have worked now in partnership - however formally or more loosely - with four other smart firms: all with a similar interest in doing great work for ambitious clients.  With one partner firm we described it this way:  it’s about “harnessing the skills and energy of great people who are a delight to work with and love what they do”.  When you find this happens in the ‘real world’ then the graft and the long hours and the many frustrations are more much more navigable.  It has also allowed us in the first two years to ‘scale’ the offer in a way that no business bank manager or investor business-case would allow.  

3. The importance of Glue

Those who have worked with me before will know of my addiction to Glue.  Not for sniffing, or sticking, but as the crucial ingredient found amongst talented people within ambitious firms.  It’s sometimes referred to as ‘engagement’, or ‘team-work’ or ‘strong relationships’, but I prefer to call it Glue.  Once harnessed, Glue can create bonds within organisations more powerful than the artifice of corporate governance, management structures and functional specialisation.  It has greater resonance than the most carefully crafted mission statement or well articulated business strategy. 

The firms we have worked with who have invested in connecting their talented people, or in trying to better engage the hopes, dreams and desires of their most valuable customers, are the ones who best generate and harness glue.  With Wave Your Arms (and also through the work I do with LBS) I get to see deep ‘inside’ a number of different organisations.  All firms struggle with managing change, volatile markets, new technology and competitive and regulatory pressures.  But despite these pressures, the best firms continue to invest in their best people, in developing capability and stretching their managers to become future leaders.  It’s been brilliant seeing this pay off during my corporate career, but also with Wave Your Arms in helping organisations focus on the importance to the customer of that internal investment in people.  That's enough pontification for now, but the more I work on projects around talent, engagement and customer strategy, the more the importance of this need for Glue is reaffirmed.   

4. Variety stimulates

In the past two years I have had the opportunity to work in Singapore, Shanghai, Barcelona, Switzerland, Finland and the UK.  The work has encompassed consulting, projects, events and leadership interventions for law firms, private wealth managers, accountants, manufacturers, confectioners and insurers. At the heart of this is the facilitation of leadership groups and the engagement of high-value clients and audiences.  More and more in the digitally inter-connected work place we see a paucity of personal and collaborative interaction amongst key colleagues.  When leadership forums, or event opportunities are created to engender that collaboration, it seems that the need for good design and expert facilitation remains profound.  If it's needed, it's what we do.  

Not drowning, but waving

I have learnt much and have had to delve deeper into my past experiences over the past two years than I might ever have expected.  As mentioned, I am grateful to those who have connected, collaborated, partnered or simply wished us well.  As such, the glass still feels half-full, not half-empty and our mantra, that organisations are at their best when waving, not drowning, still holds true.

Thank your to all who have supported Wave Your Arms and if you would like to find out more about what we do for clients and in partnership with others, then simply get in touch.   JD

TEDx. A tired format, brilliantly re-booted.

I'm just back from TEDx hosted at the Royal Geographic Society in London and created by a group of volunteers from London Business School. In recent years I had found that the TED format had lost its zing.  Fifteen years ago, there was real insider kudos gained and knowing nods to be found from fellow sage-like TED aficionados.  It seemed then that you could become a member of some smart-thinking illuminati, simply by accessing the internet and pressing play.

There was something wonderfully new about exploring TED.   Ten years ago a ticket was a rare commodity, before the TEDx format spread internationally and the live experience became more accessible.  Five years ago, everyone you knew (or, at least 'knew' in a LinkedIn sense) had just found TED and your corporate mailbox server ground to a halt with ubiquitous shares of Ken Robinson's inspiring talk about creativity, or Amy Cuddy making you feel deeply self conscious about your posture.

In 2010, Simon Sinek rocked up at one gloomy looking TED venue and despite his talk being poorly lit and hampered by a clunky microphone that didn’t work, he memorably carried on and scribbled three circles on a flip-chart.   Within days his talk on 'Start With Why' went viral and the subsequent book became required airport lounge reading.   Suddenly TED was everywhere.  You watched agog as Tony Robbins high-fived with Al Gore in the front row and you slumped in your seat and realised that everyone else on the train was wearing white in-ear bud headphones just like you were, ten years ago.  

The world of inspiring ideas worth spreading seemed a little thinner and less appetising.  Then Carmine Gallo wrote ‘Talk Like Ted’ which sold by the crate load and other writers followed with 'Make Your Powerpoint Look Like Ted', ‘The Storytelling Secrets of TED’ and ‘How to Decorate Your Home like a TED venue’.   I exaggerate only slightly.  By now, your CEO was paying thousands for coaching sessions from communications consultants helping him unpack his humble beginnings at Oxford, McKinsey and BlackRock into an 18 minute tale of journeyman heroics and heartfelt lessons learnt.

So my expectations were at best lukewarm as I trundled past the incongruent modern entrance of Imperial College that looms over Exhibition Road and wandered into the faded one time grandeur of the RGS theatre.  TEDx London Business School is on its sixth edition in as many years, with all coordination, programme design, speaker selection, sponsorship and production coordinated and led by a group of students at the School.  This year’s programme was entitled “Ctrl Alt Delete”.  As a monogamous Mac user, this meant little to me, though the theme of re-booting and resetting your thinking became apparent through the sessions.  Following an open competition, two of the sixteen on-stage speakers were LBS students.  One of them, Daniel Robaczewski, was by far the most entertaining, good-looking and engaging speaker on the day, though since his session was on the power of hypnotism and mind-control, perhaps I should not have allowed him such ready access to my sub-conscious before writing this.  

I thoroughly enjoyed LBS’s TEDx, but not for the “format” reasons I had expected.  The pattern of carefully rehearsed talks, on varied perspectives, challenging assumptions and thinking is well worn and I am also fortunate working at various times with LBS Faculty and with other ‘thought-leadership’ contributors, to hear a lot of smart thinking, well delivered. 

The difference here was in the way the event was so warmly hosted, communicated and presented.  The visible involvement of the volunteers - all full or part-time students - makes the energy of the event more engaging than the typical heavy-weight sponsor led conference.  As a contrast to some professional events that I have attended recently, the tone was markedly different.  It seems the very challenge of doing justice to the international heritage of TED (and a recent legacy of TEDx events at LBS) is daunting for any volunteer team to take on.  The strict branding, format constraints, audio-visual and technical challenges are significant.  You can't wing this sort of gig, particularly when you stream the content live!  The ability to smoothly compere and warmly engage an audience across nine hours of talks, breakouts and much snacking is not normally found at a one-off event.  It was here.  Several hundred of us were made to feel like guests of the organising committee, not consumers of an event or brand.  I even misplaced my wallet mid-afternoon.  Returned to me with a smile and a joke as I left the building feeling newly re-booted.  

You can find out more about LBS TEDx [http://tedxlondonbusinessschool.com] and hopefully, the videos of the 2016 speakers will be available sometime soon. 

John Dore is the Founder of Wave Your Arms.  The former head of marketing and communications of a global private bank, his key areas of interest are marketing and communication strategy and the design and facilitation of events for executives, future leaders and client audiences.  John is a consultant Programme Director for Executive Education at London Business School.  

You can find out more at: www.waveyourarms.com

Employee Surveys: They're digging in the wrong place

The notification pings on your desktop.  Your employer has invited you to take part in this year’s Employee Survey.  Your face makes a strange involuntary shape and you hit delete.  You already know that this will be the first of many chirpy head-office reminders that “your opinion really does count”.  Instead you scroll through the lengthy list of clients that your Marketing department has asked you to call ahead of taking part in this year’s Client Engagement Survey.  It would appear that their opinion counts too.  

Improving engagement with all stakeholders is critical, but too often the measurement of that engagement is a fragmented process, led by different parts of the organisation with contradictory goals. In many companies, Marketing obsesses on one set of metrics, Customer Experience on another, while the HR department commissions unconnected "pulse" surveys to determine how motivated we are and our propensity to provide “discretionary effort”.

I am assured that there is well proven correlation between improved employee engagement and increased productivity and revenue growth.  (Often though the correlation of that data is provided by the major Survey providers themselves, but that’s a petty quibble.)  The problem is not that seeking to measure employee engagement is wrong.  The real issue is that the design of employee surveys often concentrates on measuring the wrong things.  They’re digging in the wrong place.  

If a primary focus of a business should be in serving and delighting customers, I am surprised that many employee engagement strategies don't seem to be aligned to this goal at all.  The strategy seems to be: improved employee engagement = improved revenue and productivity.  Not improved employee engagement = extraordinary experiences for our customers.  I know that the customer experience should be implicit here, but the fact that it is often not explicit in the way the Survey is designed and communicated seems a real missed opportunity.  

Measuring employees views of the customer experience is key

Sometimes these Surveys are based on employee engagement measures that contradict the primary focus on the client.  Typically they look at employee satisfaction, future retention, an employee’s understanding of strategy, how comfortable or well equipped the working environment is, how the employee feels rewarded, praised or encouraged.  Most have numerous questions to gauge how content, or motivated we are at work.  A typical sample is listed here: 

  1. I know what is expected of me at work
  2. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  3. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  4. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  5. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

This is all helpful and interesting and, no doubt, difficult to consistently score well against.  But, by their very nature, the question set is internally focused, often more likely to create discussion and feedback around hygiene factors [often literally!] about the workplace itself, rather than about about how well supported we are to serve and delight our customers.  

Aim to measure employee advocacy, not just engagement

The most powerful item for any CEO and HR Director and CMO to review together is the employee’s view of how well the organisation equips and supports the goal of meeting and exceeding customer expectations.   Existing Surveys can be easily adapted to consider this so that employees can provide feedback not just on how they are served by their Firm, but how their Firm enables them to serve customers. Over the past two decades Marketing departments have focused on critical measures and lead indicators of client engagement, or more simply, levels of customer satisfaction and propensity to refer.  The killer question remains : “How likely is it that you would recommend [x firm/service] to a family member or friend?” 

The measure of the firm’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) can be useful benchmark, particularly where the firm hopes to increase the number of positive referrals and recommendations amongst its existing customer base.  In the typical Employee Survey, the same question asked internally can be hugely illuminating. Consider How many of your current employees would recommend your Firm to a family member or friend?  An NPS score calculated amongst employees would be quite a metric!  Re-focusing the Survey with this different emphasis would surely provide a more powerful insight for the organisation than a disconnected internal and external approach.  

Content marketing is king, but that's not enough

Many professional advisors set out to make their seminars and conferences as engaging as possible.  Unfortunately, few succeed.  Away from the obvious proposition of high-end corporate hospitality, many firms seem to struggle to create truly interesting 'thought-leadership' programmes or compelling live events.  The marketing objective may well be to create meaningful conversations with clients and prospects.  Too often though, these forums and events fail to achieve very much and clients seem increasingly reluctant to attend.

The particular challenge of high-value audiences

The challenge of making the participant experience engaging is even more difficult when the audience is made up of high-value clients, who seem put off by the predictable format and experience of taking part.  For example, at a family wealth management event, you can be sure that your client guest has turned up for more than the coffee.  Indeed, they may well have heard your keynote speaker before and yet, on this occasion, they have made a decision to attend your event, amidst a plethora of other opportunities.  So there has to be something of substance that they can take away from the experience of attending, or else they are unlikely to engage much further, nor return in the future.  Over the years our learning has been simple, but profound.

1) Content is king, but that’s not enough

Excellent content, research and thought-leadership is not enough.  Firms need to find ways to engage beyond demonstrating what they know, through being more imaginative about how they share their ideas.  While many firms wrestle with upgrading their digital content marketing, some seem to have simultaneously given up on personal client engagement through events.  Online interaction can be measured anonymously in terms of clicks and hits but, when a client has given up their time to be with you in a seminar or conference, this can be a pivotal moment for the relationship.  It is also the perfect opportunity to completely blow it.  The key is to be counter-intuitive and, therefore, less concerned with the content itself (which, if it has any genuine vitality, will already have been widely syndicated well before your event) and more concerned about how imaginatively you can share and develop those ideas with your audience through a live event format.  No one watches a TV show because it is “well-lit and can be clearly heard”.  But (depressingly) too often this is the bar at which live event production seems to have been set.  

2) It's not about you, it's about your audience

We have found that clients engage more with the subject and content when they actively participate in the discussion, not just with the panel or speakers, but crucially, with one another.   It sounds simple, but it is so often lacking at corporate events, where the physical and intellectual focus is always the stage, or the screen or the lectern, and the expertise is ‘broadcast out’ to an audience, not sought and explored from amongst an audience.  To gain the best return on investment for all parties, the level of interaction needs to be tuned up throughout the event - not just be left to emerge in the session labelled 'networking break’.   Think of the whole experience as an opportunity for clients to engage with one another from initial meeting and greeting to heading away from the event.  Imagine then what that might look and feel like if you were the guest attendee?    

3) Your senior exec host is not David Letterman

Don't mistake technical expertise for engagement or live facilitation expertise.  We believe that expert programme design and facilitation can transform the impact of these live client events.   Too often though the hosting and facilitation is delegated upwards to the senior sponsoring Senior Executive or Partner in the room.  This would not happen in the world of television, or theatre, or film, where the Senior Exec who managed and financed the Production is seldom asked to inelegantly and uncomfortably front the marketing, or recount the plot, theme and arc of the show.  Of course, it's a difficult discussion to have within the Firm, but with the experience of your client in mind, one worth having.  

Seen anything engaging lately?  

I have had the pleasure of working with high-value audiences around the world, from fourth generation family business owners in Europe and the US, to next generation clients in the faster growing markets of Asia.  I am constantly on the look-out for innovative thinking, speakers and live event formats for high-value audiences.  I have obsessed on these issues of content production and engagement and remain bewildered by some of the things I see.  If you have seen genius, or imagination, or something wonderful I would love to hear more.

 

 

Amazed that Alumni access is free on Linked-In

As recently as 2005, ITV shelled out USD250 million for Friends Reunited. Unfortunately for ITV and subsequent owners DC Thomson, the rest of the social networking world then exploded with new innovation, photo-sharing, selfy-videos, and thumb-swiped connecting and adjoining, etc.  Friends Reunited was left by the road-side in the rain while the rest sped past.  

But there was something quaintly wonderful about Friends Reunited; with its central premise: re-connect with people you used to know, rather than the more needy millennial angst of connect with people you want to know now.

Today over 1.5 billion users scan Facebook, we rate our friend's hazy photos of their pets and over 400 million of us navigate our professional network, agonising over our profile picture on Linked-In.  Forget the resume, or the depth of your professional experience, where did you get that head-shot done?  Meanwhile, our kids fret over their follower numbers on Instagram and Snapchat and look unimpressed at our meagre 82 followers on Twitter.  

Linked-In though seems to have done a favour for the nostalgia junkies amongst us, but it has also given a terrific research tool out to the world, for free.  Those of you interested in the career destinations of your University Alumni are likely to find Linked-In's smart Education pages a real boon.  If you join your University Group for example (I think pretty much are all open groups) you can now search that University by graduation class, check-out their employers, where they live, etc.   You can work out your connectedness to a class thirty years ago and assess their, ahem, degree of separation from you and one another today.  

If you were to try to purchase a CRM with the functionality to do this it would cost a fortune and have all kinds of data validity issues (not to mention raise data protection questions).  But here it is on Linked-In.  User generated.  For free.  Spookier still, you can "pretend" to have gone to a much more prestigious University.  For example. if you are considering investing in an MBA at a major business School, you can instantly see [with some marginal scope for sampling error, or social fibbing] where you are likely to end up working.  

Should I be surprised that 88 current employees of Apple [who are on Linked-In] went to Harvard Business School, or that over a 1,000 of their classmates [who are on Linked-In] are still hunched over assignments at McKinsey, Bain and BCG?  But there they are.  A click or two later and you can discover pretty much who they are, where they studied undergrad and where in the world they now live.  I am sure there brighter minds than mine who can find more substantive ways of mining the data, creating statistics or developing a useful analysis or hypothesis.  Headhunters anyone?  Maybe you already have?

In a realm of paid-for professional Google Apps and MSoft One Drives that charge for services, the Education section on Linked-In is rather extraordinary.  You can't access it all of it for free (particularly on individual searches) but I would not be surprised if the whole platform migrates very soon to a Premium option only.  

Check it out while you can.  

Why Thought Leadership is the new Rock 'n' Roll

Brand building used to be about what people said about you after you left the room.  Now it’s about what people share about you…often while you’re still there in the room.

Smart content widely shared can help build brands and promote ideas.  But while digital distribution creates an easy route to an audience, the most powerful catalyst for sharing is often through live ‘thought leadership’ events.  In the same way live music has grown exponentially (while physical and online music sales have collapsed) thought-leadership events are now the new rock and roll.

So making it easy for your clients, guests or professional network to share something smart and intelligent about you is a great way of marketing your brand and, the icing on the cake is, its usually free.  Many of us enjoy discovering and then sharing something cool amongst our friends, colleagues and (hopefully with some discernment) our professional network.  The brevity and convenience of Twitter has also blurred the types of content we share across these various networks; randomly scattering witty engagement across family, friends, business associates and customers in less 140 characters.  The ‘holy grail’ of social sharing used to be “You will never believe who I met last night” (with appended hazy photo of very famous person).  Now the professional equivalent is the clever info-graphic, the gif, the jpeg, or the video link to something cool, interesting or compelling.  

Helen GREEN" ARTIST AND ILLUSTRATOR.  SEE LINK

To, ahem, illustrate. The graphic artist Helen Green recently shared a hand-drawn montage [a gif] she had created of David Bowie, his face morphing through the multiple-personas of his career in seconds.  As something created to mark his birthday it was beautiful in its own right.  The great man then died the day after and it became like a gift to the world; viewed and shared by hundreds of thousands of people.  [You can check out the image and her other work here, at:  http://helengreenillustration.com]

But it does not have to take a creative genius’s death to get your content noticed.  You probably already manage content sharing campaigns through a myriad of channels and there is much good advice on here and other forums on what content to create and how to go about getting it seen.  Even so, that recent article you posted on your beautiful website about your Firm’s ground-breaking ‘white paper’ or insightful perspective just doesn’t seem to be flying between devices...  My advice?  Get a room.  Or rather, get people from your firm and your clients in the right room.

Are Thought Leadership events worth the money?

Think about the last time you received one of those emailers for the very latest “thought leadership” seminar.  An opportunity to spend anything up to 5,000 dollars a time seeing the latest greatest most cutting edge thought leadership speakers at some cool conference with an even cooler name: Wired, Zeitgeist, TED XYZ, Smorgasbord, or Whatever.  Tempting and sounds interesting you think, but is it really worth it?  

There has been an explosion of formats, venues, providers and sponsors of ‘thought-leadership’ events.  In 2015, the FT reported the huge growth in players seeking a part of a burgeoning market for “thought leadership” with strategy consultants, Big Four advisors and even headhunters seeking a piece of the market which was once the preserve of the Business School.  Strategy consultancies such as Bain and Boston Consulting Group have long fashioned themselves as thought-leadership providers, but now publishing companies, technology start-ups and recruitment consultancies are striving to land chunks of a global market.  While many of the world's leading Business Schools now stream the content of their annual strategy forums and flagship classes online for free, there still seems to be a growing demand to actually be there, in the room.

As the the UK Editor of a leading print and digital magazines told us: “We used to produce a magazine and put on the occasional event.  Now we manage a complex events and conferencing business, which allows us to continue publishing a print magazine”.   Meanwhile, the Marketing Society showcases big name speakers and captains of industry at ‘masterclass’ seminars.   The annual Festival of Marketing in London flies in former Space Shuttle commanders and Mindfulness experts to help you realise your strategic ambitions.  These events cost almost a £1,000 a ticket.  PR Week have just announced that their 2016 event will last 4 [yes four] days at £1,800 a ticket.  The CEO has to stump up a six-figure "patron fee" to get an invite to (real) TED or sell and lease-back their corporate headquarters to secure a room at Davos.  Even tickets for one of the proliferation of TEDx events can be expensive and hard to obtain.  

So are these events worth the money?  Well if your objective is not just personal content consumption; but thought-leadership sharing, then we think so.  If you need an opportunity to collate and share smarts back with the leadership team at HQ, then some are better than others.  One of our favourites in the UK is Wired.  One of the reasons it works is that many in the audience had to do much more than clear space in the diary to attend.  At £2,000 a ticket for a two day conference, the attendees have either had to personally dig very very deep, or play a blinder with their line-manager to get the ticket cost picked up by their employer.  But because of that, you get a rather extraordinary audience of people in the room.  Nor just presenting, but in the audience.  Wired also get the genius of sharing content and ideas better than most.  In 2015 they invited Jacob Whitesides [no, I had not heard of him either...] to sing a song or two - not just for the benefit of those in the room but because a small percentage of his 1.3 million 24/7 Instagram followers would share that he was singing for them “@Wired 2015".  Forget thought-leadership kudos; your teenage daughter would think that you're cooler than cool.    

The real reason for the growing popularity of live thought-leadership events is that they are immeasurably more fun and engaging (even the bad ones) than staying at home and plugging into iTunes U for three hours and snacking on popcorn.  Because of this, brands need to think about how they share content, not via a lonely digital marketer back in the office, but through the very many, in real-time, attending a live event.  It is so much more impactful to syndicate content through the endorsement of real attendees, not distant web browsers.

While the importance of digital channels is clearly vital, investment in thought-leadership programmes and events, if produced professionally and imaginatively, can also be a powerful content tool for the marketer.  When a large number of attendees sharing content are your customers as well as positive advocates for your brand, then the value of bringing them together in a room - can take on a whole new dimension. 

A Year of Living Precariously

The ALPS from SPACE, DECEMBER 2015 FROM TIM PEAKE

2015 ended with rain.  Lots of it.  The wonderful city of York is, as I write, still submerged.  This week Leeds and Manchester suffered the same fate as Carlisle last.  Temperatures have been regularly in the high-teens in London throughout November and December.  The garden trees are ablaze with fresh-blossom.  The astronaut Tim Peake flew above the Alps this week and posted an image that looked like the English Lake District in July [see picture, left].  This is not the opening of yet another three-part dystopian ‘young-adult’ fiction, but the warm soggy reality of El Niño Britain in late 2015.  Perhaps this year even the most hardened climate change-denier amongst us might now be swayed by Moscow’s absence of Christmas snow and might watch, wide-eyed with nostalgia, at Ruben Östlund’s wonderful Force Majeure, where the local burghers detonate explosives across the mountainside because a phenomenon known as “too much snow”. 

@GAPINGVOID: A CONSTANT SOURCE OF GREAT INSPIRATION

As the world slowly percolates, my business venture Wave Your Arms morphed from a fanciful idea into something ever more stretching and hugely fulfilling, yet imbued with all the emotional highs and lows that the ‘entrepreneurial sages’ rightly predicated.  In the past twelve months I have visited China, Finland, Singapore, Switzerland and Los Angeles, with many of those experiences documented in these pages.  I have had the pleasure of working with Prof Brian Cox, Harper Reed, Sir Clive Woodward, Sean Fitzpatrick, Jeremy Paxman, David Rowan (of Wired), Eliza Maningham-Buller, Iain Poulter, Paul Casey, Remi Krug, Adrian Wooldridge (of The Economist), as well working with the leadership teams of some extraordinary businesses and with the colleagues and inspiring Faculty at London Business School. As it says in our own marketing blurb: "the key ingredient is in harnessing the skills and energies of great people who are delight to work with and love what they do". And we have done that in spades.  I remain...Humbled. Amazed. Grateful. And hungry in 2016 for more.   

As readers of this blog will know, the world of arts/culture/sport/media and creativity are our continued source of inspiration and increasingly shape the way we [should] think about the world of work.  If we could ever bring even the smallest essence of the joy that great film, or theatre, or music creates into the corporate workplace then much would be transformed: careers and lives would be enhanced and the concept of work/life balance rightly blurred further, not made more marked. I am not sure this has been as stellar a year of creative inspiration as 2015, but part of that is a narrowed bandwidth on my part and a creeping 'conservatism' in taste that my kids clearly abhor and something I need to address in 2016.   Anyway, as has been the tradition on here for a few years now: here are some the MOTD style edited highlights.

B O O K S

The year started with a book and it is the best book I have ever read about music: Joseph O’Connor’s The Thrill of It All . The story follows the formation of a band called The Ships in the Night and the relationship between two close friends from different sides of the planet (Irish Robbie and Vietnamese Fran) and a brother and sister rhythm section to die for.  The typical mode for these tales (see The CommitmentsOnce) is for heroic failure to be celebrated amidst fart gags and much acoustic troubadour-ing.  Here the scale is writ much larger: from Luton to Dublin to New York, from backstreet bars 'open mike' to headlining the Glastonbury Festival.  From sleeping in crap vans to flying on private planes.  Success and failure is found not heroically and humbly, but hugely and devastatingly.  The characters are drawn like old friends you will have loved, lost and clung onto over the years and the two-thirds-in kick in the teeth for Robbie and the reader is a masterstroke.  Since finishing the book (and having bought copies for friends and family) I keep hearing The Ships on the radio, and on Spotify, and in old records I have not listened to for years.  I wrote to Joseph and blathering-ly offered to adapt his book for the screen.  Still waiting for a reply.

Meanwhile, David Laurie produced his labour of love: Dare: How Bowie & Kraftwerk Inspired the Death of Rock 'n' Roll and Invented Modern Pop Music.  It’s a great read, not just because the topic resonates with anyone blessed with ears that heard the tunes of the early ’80’s first-hand, but because of David’s personal ownership of every reference, every recommendation, every memory of a record heard for the first time, it holds the attention and makes you dive straight to Spotify to re-discover again.  Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzel’s Becoming Steve Jobs was intriguing, involving and enjoyable in a way that the official Isaacson biography wasn’t. It covers the same territory but takes a view and is full of strange moments (for example, when Jobs licks the screen of the monitor when reviewing a beta version of OSX.)  I have not yet ventured out to see Danny Boyle’s film version of Isaacson’s book, uncertain following the reviews that emphasised the dark side of genius, not the illumination he created. I can wait for a small screen which is easier to walk away from.  For me, Jobs is the man behind “here’s to the crazy ones” which is framed on my wall alongside an email I received from Jobs himself which said (in response to a speculative email I sent to him in 2010): “No interest.  Thanks for thinking of us.  Steve.”  Much missed that man.  

M U S I C  

Apple launched Apple Music, but it proved to be a huge disappointment and despite some smart marketing (which is no surprise) and hiring Zane Lowe, the fundamentals that Steve Jobs would have insisted on [it should improve your life by using it], it is clunky, slow, poorly laid out and harder to navigate than Spotify.  The investment in both subs though means I have stopped actually buying music.  If I've stopped buying - and most people under the age of 20 don't even consume through paid subscription - then the music business really is dead.  I still wander past HMV in awe that it is still there.  

I dived into rediscovery in 2015, seeking out bands I had not heard of for years.  Sometimes a new band being the prompt to revisit elsewhere in the distant past.  So you can listen to Trevor Horns' production masterpiece on Yes' Owner of A Lonely Heart or Grace Jones' Slave to The Rhythm, and then get blown away anew by the production on Everything Everything's Distant Past.  Joseph O'Connor's book took me not to the folk-rock I expected but to Cloud Castle Lake and their extraordinary Sync (which sounds like the Tijuana Brass meets Bronsky Beat).  Album of the year (on plays, if nothing else) is Marks To Prove It, by The Maccabees.  There is something wonderful about the ambition these guys have.  While much of the world seems to have given up on guitars: these use the old-fashion of a riff, or a triumphant chorus and throw in rhythm and texture and lyrical surprise after surprise.  It's a better album than The Foals' What Went Down, which was just really good, not really great: though Birch Tree has been played a lot.  Stereophonics have occupied the car stereo for much of the year and I've also found terrific quieter moments with Daughter and also rediscovered Laura Groves (formerly known as Blue Roses) from Shipley, and the lovely Emelie and Ogden with Ten Thousand or more cinematically it Public Service Broadcasting, or Hot Chip.  The Mercury Prize nominations promoted me to re-discover Gaz Coombes' ebullient Matador, but also introduced me to Benjamin Clementine and his album At Least for Now.  I knew none of the backstory of the exiled-Englishman busking to live down and out on the streets of Paris.  But here was this man with a voice to die for singing of hopes and fears and ambitions using snatched conversations on the subway and a friend's encouragement to seize all that he could possibly be, in London..."I won't underestimate who I am capable of becoming".  People close to me hate the song.  I just listen to a man whose almost mock Estuary accent soars!  Still the song of the year [see video below).   

The business of emotional happiness

For me this week marked the end of a rather extraordinary couple of months professionally.  OK that’s not the most exciting line to start a blog entry.  I will try again. After partying with the HBO crowd at the 67th Emmy’s in LA, interviewing some of the world’s greatest sports personalities and leading a conference for family business tycoons in Shanghai, I am now ready for the weekend and a return to “normal”. 

Two nights ago I was in The House of Roosevelt on the Bund drinking Grand Cuvee with Remi Krug…of the House of Krug [see picture below]. If you’re going to learn about something you know nothing about; why not go for expertise?  I’d love to learn to play funk guitar riffs with Nile Rodgers or execute a paradiddle with Neil Peart.  And so it was with Monsieur Krug and his champagne.  A warm and very articulate man, he described himself as being in “the business of emotional happiness.”  I was very happy to drink to that.  Unfortunately, although Monsieur Krug's joie de vivre is infectious, the environs of Shanghai 's business district seemed much less vibrant and upbeat than my previous visits.  

Shanghai was bigger and taller than my last stay two years ago, but it had also become somehow too familiar and less fun through being more and more like everywhere is else in the world.  On the Pudong side of the river, it’s like Canary Wharf, downtown Manhattan, or Hong Kong central.  Only taller and bigger, with no one there working. 

SHARING A GLASS WITH REMI KRUG

The traffic remains horrendous, but strangely only on some roads.  Taxis are numerous and passenger-less.  The new Shanghai tower [736 metres] stood proud against the blue sky but there seemed little evidence that it is actually being fitted out.  The popular ‘bottle opener’ tower now looks quaint and impressively cloud reaching, not just plain silly like its new cylindrical neighbour.  We walked through the IFC Mall, which remains sparse and empty.  Of course the glamorous shops are there: Gucci, Prada, Armani, Channel, but are staffed by bored besuited souls, left lonely in the air-conditioned vacuity of these brightly lit spaces.  Where was everyone?  You could clap your hands in the Mall and it echoed like Dionysius's ear. In my 34th Floor hotel room, I could hear the traffic outside.  But not the rumble and cacophony of horns and sirens and determined progress that you hear on New York’s great boulevards.  But individual horns, beeped at one another. There are no great ‘mass crossings’ of people at the road ntersections, but the occasional electric moped, using road and pavement to get somewhere no particular hurry.  I may be wrong.  Indeed my view may be myopic from the lens of some very smart 'high-end' settings, mainly in Pudong, but there were too few people there to make the place seem real or thriving.  

One of the speakers at the Conference I hosted was Erwen Ramburg, a investment banking market analyst based in Hong Kong and the author of The Bling Dynasty; a fascinating dissection of the dynamics behind the explosive growth in luxury brand shopping in China.  His was upbeat on the prospects for the sector: predicting that 50% of total luxury brand sales by 2020 will be by Chinese consumers.  It just seems that shopping in the future is more likely to be in Dubai and Knightsbridge then it is in China.  The Apple Store in Shanghai was rammed, but we all like to browse.  The Park Hyatt restaurant shut at 10 pm.  It was closed completely on the Monday.  The growth of Shanghai has been astounding and there were many Westerners in the smart bars and high-end hotels, but many we met were there for a short meeting, or the golf, or passing through to Hong Kong or somewhere more vibrant in the Region. 

Dead buildings.  

We had drinks on the rooftop of the Ritz-Carlton, without the cover charge demanded two years ago.  In the distance, across the river - but still pretty central and within a mile or so of the Bund we saw something very strange indeed.  Shanghai is brilliantly lit at night.  From the Pearl Tower across the borders of the waters, amazing light shows, illuminated skyscrapers and river front buildings with vast advertising hoardings and LED graphics shimmer through the thick air.  Below the ‘Mickey’ silhouette of the vast new Disney Store and Marketing suite shone crisply.  But there in the near distance were some great towers; buildings that would be monumental edifices in Paris, or London or Frankfurt.  But here they were just dead buildings. No lights on. No one home. Like doomed landmarks in the neon.  

We wondered whether the city was shifting the greater gravity of its business to Pudong at the expense of the older towers in the North of the City.  So perhaps not all was new new, but that such vast new development was at the expense of the older city. Perhaps the growth is not always exponential as thought by some economists, or prophesied by the Chinese government, but however well planned, such growth is simply canabalistic.

China has this month announced a gradual relaxing of its one-child policy from 2016.  But will the next generation of young people born as a result of the economically “planned population growth in 2030 and 2040” want to staff the soulless Malls of Pudong?  I have my doubts. 

Sharing memories of Hull with John McCarthy

It was my absolute pleasure last week to enjoy the company of John McCarthy, together with 50 alumni from Hull University, organised with such care and attention by the lovely Jane Bennett-Powell.  I have written about John before and his rare ability to tell a story with humble profundity, wrapping the graphic experience and horror of captivity interwoven with a series of warm reflections on his fellow cellmates.  Hearing the story again truly makes me wonder - would I have even lasted 15 minutes, let alone five years?  At The Union, he told a nice story about being thrown out the the Brynmor Jones Library for smoking on the back stairs.  The man who evicted him; none other than Philip Larkin.  

UPDATE:  November:  A nice film of the event here from the Hull University Alumni site and thanks to Jane, Chris Cagney and the rest of the team for helping to put the event on at the delightful Union Club in Soho.  Even the credits made me smile.  Not drowning, but waving.   

TEA AND SCONES AT THE 67th EMMY AWARDS

I was delighted to be hosted this weekend by these lovely people from BAFTA LA at the 67th EMMY Awards, held in downtown Los Angeles.  There are few experiences like it really! An awards night, dinner and various parties for about 3,000 TV people; talent, producers, writers [yes, writers get lots of nods], comedians, musicians and technicians.  The event was hosted by Adam Sandberg, who was OK, but probably a little bit too smart, so some of the very "in" jokes fell flat.  The three-hour event was polished within an inch of its life, with the show never managing to get in the way of the 4 minute ad breaks, which absurdly broke the pace and rhythm of the event. Appropriately, all the great highlights of the show were the Brits: Armando Iannucci swearing while winning a writing award for Veep, Ricky Gervais pretending he'd won an Emmy [despite only being booked to dish out an award], James Cordon for his hilarious homage to accountants Ernst & Young.  We'd warmed up [literally in 95 degrees heat] for the main show at the BAFTA LA #tvtea the day before, which was packed with ambitious young thesps stumbling on vertiginous heels through a throng of older, wiser, more sun-soaked ex-pats who had served their time before the cameras when there were fewer channels and the British accent alone had been aphrodisiac enough.  A lovely moment for me was when a young British actress, surrounded by admirers, offered the perfect self-deprecatory line, with irony, of course:  "Yes, I'm currently working as an actress, but I am trying to break into waitressing."  24 hours later we were in the bar with Doug from House of Cards.  Not surprisingly he was drinking mineral water.  More surprisingly, he smiled, briefly.  We shuffled towards the stage as Andrea Bocelli broke into a rendition of Maria, or Tonight, or something evocative and meaningful.  Bocelli sang three numbers and then a brilliantly attired cover band murdered every song you've ever loved with such aplomb that I have decided not to seek out the originals ever again. They were that good.  Oblivious to the entertainment, 3,000 people continued to network.  The dance floor remained sparse.  At the Emmys, Game of Thrones cleaned up about a dozen awards and long-overlooked John Hamm finally won a best actor gong for his decade of being the inimitable Don Draper.  We ended up that night at the HBO party which was suitably 'aflame' with a Dragon theme, which only made the nighttime humidity that bit more unbearable, but it did make the bar stations and 'air-conditioned' disco the only cool place to be.  

Those of you who have followed the Wave Your Arms blog for some time will know of this writer's long struggle* to a) get read, b) get optioned and c) get made.  I maintain, the tricky bit is always getting read.  So to stand amidst hundreds who had trod that treacherous path, who had sworn and sweated and lied and cajoled and schmoozed and begged and pleaded and yes, ultimately had been read and optioned and made was a thrill of a sort I will never forget.  It was a real pleasure to be amidst friends who work so hard to make creative stuff come alive and look amazing.  Finally, as an exercise in seeing how the entertainment capital of the world lets its hair down, it was also quite an eye opener.  Uber picked us up from the Game Of Thrones after-show party, about 1 am.  Yes, 1 am.  And we were almost the last to leave.  

*See more on creative writing and current projects here.