The ingredients for success? Purpose, People, Failure, Luck and Learning.

PALM SPRINGS, CA – I had the real privilege to attend EY’s Strategic Growth Forum (SGF) in Palm Springs last week. An amazing event focusing on mid-cap growth businesses and entrepreneurial startups from across the Americas.

The event itself was flawlessly executed. Quality and attention to detail at a level I have never before experienced in corporate events and hospitality – so kudos to the EY team that made the event happen.

In terms of takeaways, it was a real honor to be relatively up close and personal with some inspirational and highly effective leaders – (I didn’t manage to attend them all as I was working after all) but  managed to squeeze in some really amazing talks – Jeffery Immelt from GE, David Rubenstein CEO of the Carlyle Group (maybe the best speaker I have ever seen on the topic of business), Kathy Ireland, Dr Kjell Nordstrom from Stockholm School of Economics, Jeffrey Sprecher of ICE who just bought the NYSE,  Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani, and Andre Agassi.

What did I take away? Here are my key thoughts:

  • Purpose. It is essential in life and as a business. In my world, this is good news since BrandPie helps companies find their purpose and bring it to life internally and externally.
  • People. Every speaker made no bones about it: get the best people, (almost) at any cost, so long as they fit your culture.
  • Failure. It is good. Do it. Do it fast. Learn from it and move forward.
  • Luck. All modestly, but probably accurately, credited luck as a powerful factor in any success.
  • Learning. Every single one was passionate about constantly learning and its importance.

Of course, there were many more points made – I particularly related to Jeff Immelt’s passion for focus on outcomes as well as a culture of “zero optionality” at GE; and Kjell Nordstrom’s point that technology has abolished the need for “the centre” so that relationships, organisations and communities can operate “periphery to periphery.”

Time well spent.


The pursuit of shareholder value as a stupid idea

Dan Gray has waxed lyrical about Jack Welch and others in the business strategy firmament turning their backs on the previous century’s predominant focus on “pursuit of shareholder value” as  the core driver of successful business.

Interesting to see that the first (apparent) argument for the pursuit of shareholder value came from none other than the near-canonised Milton Friedman who said it in 1970. (Forbes article here is an entertaining read on “Who’s money is it anyway?).

It’s interesting to see what the relentless focus on quarter by quarter shareholder returns has done to the long-term performance of capital:


Another reason to advocate Purpose driven business…

Crafting a purpose-driven brand for EY

REGENT’S CANAL – About a year ago, on 12 July, 2012, I got an email from the global head of communications at Ernst & Young, having just pitched for a big employee engagement opportunity:

“Would you have a moment to talk this afternoon – not about this week’s presentation, something different.”

“Something different” ended up being leading a project to help our client guide EY’s Global Executive team, including their new CEO-elect, through the process of discovering a brand positioning that would help them make the most of the biggest strategy refresh the organisation had undertaken in recent memory.

You get maybe two or three of these “once in a lifetime” opportunities in a career, if you are very lucky (or very good) – or both.

Today, on 1 July, a refreshed EY is rising.

What a difference a year makes.

A year of excitement, learning, the kind of challenges that board-level big-bet decisions present, and a definite experience of high performance teaming.

A year of more than my fair share of COemissions from long haul flights.

Since when has the Big 4 category been this exciting?  This is a team that has embraced the importance of integrity.  Clarity. Simplicity. A whole systems approach. A brand positioning that touches everything. Sustainability. Sponsorships. Talent attraction. Go to market strategy. Public affairs. Client service. Acquisitions. Offer. Employer value proposition. Alumni. The works.

A clear Purpose.

An explicit Ambition.

A confident Strategy.

A relevant, authentic Proposition/Positioning.

My over-riding sense is one of an organisation that has genuinely committed to building its brand from the inside out and doing all that “joining up” stuff I keep banging on about. An organisation that gets the fact that brand is more than a logo change.

It’s also a great example of co-creation showing in the work across digital, advertising, internal and external communications for all stakeholders from talent to clients to regulators and beyond. It helps to have good wingmen – client side, on our team and in the other agencies.

An inspiring start that comes at a perfect time for EY. It won’t be perfect. It won’t happen overnight. Rocks will be thrown. Stumbles will no doubt occur.

‘Building a better working world’  is the continuation of a journey to 2020 for EY.

I’m immensely gratified to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.

And I’ve never been so pleased to have lost a pitch.


Brands aren’t grown in labs

CHANGI AIRPORT, SINGAPORE – It’s said that the best tightrope walkers refuse to use a safety harness. This is because they insist on knowing that they, and only they themselves, can be relied upon to save them in a fall. The device itself is counter-productive; and, in fact, it can fail.

Great creative work is similar. It exists in that indefinable area between the Humanities and Science. For the scientific method, if not Science, will always seek to deliver predictable, reproducible results. Good if you want to boil a kettle of water, but a lot less so if you want to create something truly remarkable. The scientific method by its nature eliminates variables, systematically. This control is fine in the laboratory, but can be self-defeating if the objective is to generate something extraordinary, revolutionary or, by definition, evolutionary in a creative sense. .

This is where the Humanities and Liberal Arts, with all their imprecision, find their wings and infuse spirit into ideas. The intersection between science and the humanities is where good truly becomes great, and great becomes inspired. The introduction of variables, sometimes random, is what results in variation and evolution that gives us the most remarkable things in creation. Variables separate us from primordial ooze. And it’s therefore harder. Less certain. Intuition has no atomic weight, no equation, no definable process (though many have tried, and failed, to try to give it one).

So the pursuit of something more – great, not good; breakthrough quality, not mediocre goodness – requires a surrendering of all (well, much) of what is scientific and predictable. The ability to get to a place where 2+2 = purple, not 2+2=5. Five is safe. But purple is magnificent. And it tastes a hell of a lot better when you look at it from a distance, later.

And one thing the scientists don’t want you to know: the ability to predict the reproducibility of results doesn’t guarantee a goddamn thing. Maybe worse; the confidence it provides is a phantasm: nothing is certain. Even the best algorithm in the universe chewing big data won’t guarantee you a penny in the bank. A pseudo-scientific method putting process as an end, not a means that yields the same creative result time and again will not yield the answer that got you to ask the question in the first place.

Design Thinking

It’s been around a while, but I think in these dark moments we should take inspiration from what we can.

It’s been a while since this went up, but I just saw Marty Neumeier has a new book out that seems to talk about it, and I’ll recommend it before I’ve even bought it, let alone read it – here it is on amazon uk.

I’ve cut the below from a speech Bruce Nussbaum gave at the Royal College of Art in London several years ago. I think it’s more relevant now than ever, and applies to people in PR, internal communications, marketing, employer brand, finance, supply chain, CR, you name it…

In summary, I’m not convinced “incremental improvements” in how we communicate with people inside and outside our companies is the answer to getting better.  Conferences – nothing new.  Books – nothing new.  Online seminars – intersting, sometimes new, often not.  Our business needs big thinking, and I don’t think we’re seeing it.  Perhaps bcause the previous generation, and some not terribly inspiring/visionary people,  still seem to have a stranglehold on the employee communications and internal comms agenda.  They’ve turned it into an insider’s club and mini-publishing fiefdoms.

Perhaps more on this later? Someday soon.  Watch this space.

The original site is here.


CEOs Must Be Designers, Not Just Hire Them. Think Steve Jobs And iPhone.
Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on June 28

I gave a speech at Innovation Night at the Royal College of Art in London on Tuesday and here it is. It’s my latest thinking on innovation and design. There are a number of bottom lines in it but perhaps the most important is that I now believe that CEOs and managers must know Design Thinking to do their jobs. CEOs must be designers and usetheir methodologies to actually run companies. Let me be even more precise. Design Thinking is the new Management Methodology. There are a growing number of insightful folks with great blogs who are saying the same thing and I’ll be linking to them and having a deep conversation with them in the future.

But for now, here’s my RCA speech. Let me know what you think.

“Thank you Jeremy (Myerson). It’s great being here. London is like New York on steroids. It’s so exciting! London is clearly the global city of the moment. It is the center of things.

Tonight, I bring you news from America on the state of design. In preparation, I talked to the most thoughtful and important American designers and design educators I could contact. On Friday, I chatted up Tim Brown who runs IDEO, the biggest design and innovation consultancy in the US. Oops. Tim is a Brit—and a graduate of the RCA. I tried Jonnie Ive at Apple. He was busy polishing up the iPhone. But, as you well know, he too is a Brit. I called the founder of ZIBA design in Portland, Oregon. Sohrab Vossoughi. Sohrab was born in Iran. I just had dinner with Paul Thompson, the director of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. Yep, he’s British. I emailed Patrick Whiney at the Illinois Institute of Design and—darn—he’s Canadian. I spoke with Yves Behar at Fuse Projects in San Francisco. And he’s, well, Swiss-Turkish.

You get my point. I’m not sure there is a specific “American” design point of view today but there sure is a global perspective coming out of America thanks to its global designers and design thinkers. That’s a good thing. Design has many enemies and parochialism is perhaps the worst. In an era when all of us, journalists, business people, and designers are making the transition from being leaders of thought to curators of conversations, I believe the field of design is best served by viewing it in the broadest of terms. Industrial design was born by cross-pollinating graphics, fashion and even window display with the demands of product marketing. Post-industrial design is evolving out of the interplay of new and exciting global and technological forces as well. More of that later.

Let’s get up to 30,000 feet for a bit to see what big forces at play around the world are shaping design. Let me begin by saying that we don’t know !#@*! I’m sorry but it is true. There are moments in history when the pace of change is so fast and the shape of the future so fuzzy that we live in a constant state of beta.

I mean, let’s face it, our business models are melting down around us, our personal careers are morphing—or disappearing– and there is less certainty about tomorrow than at any other time in our lives. Every industry, every company and every one of us is swept up in this veritable flood of change. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? I used to be The Voice of Authority at Business Week, the editorial page editor. Now I’m the curator-in-chief, coaching a brilliant team of people in creating a new online innovation site called Innovation & Design and a new magazine called Inside Innovation. That’s very far from writing editorials.

Before we continue, let me take a moment to talk about the banana. In the US, CEOs and top managers hate the word “design.” Just believe me. No matter what they tell you, they believe that “design” only has something to do with curtains, wallpaper and maybe their suits. Theseguys, and they’re still mostly guys, prefer the term “innovation” because it has a masculine, military, engineering, tone to it. Think Six Sigma and you want to salute, right? I’ve tried and tried to explain that design goes way beyond aesthetics. It can have process, metrics all the good hard stuff managers love. But no, I can’t budge this bunch. So I have given up. Innovation, design, technology—I just call it all a banana. Peel that banana back and you find great design. Yummy design. . The kind of design that can change business culture and all of our civil society as well.

OK. Back to the theme of nothing is the same anymore. Innovation is no longer just about new technology per se. It is about new models of organization. Design is no longer just about form anymore but is a method of thinking that can let you to see around corners. And the high tech breakthroughs that do count today are not about speed and performance but about collaboration, conversation and co-creation. That’s what Web 2.0 is all about.

Innovation, design, and technology are all flowing into one another to form a single river of roaring change radically altering our culture, and especially business culture. The sudden advent of social media—blogs, MySpace, Second Life, Facebook, mommies with twins and millions of other digital communities is the strongest manifestation of this change in culture. And behind this convergence of innovation, design and technology are even greater global forces at work. The commoditizationof knowledge and tools around the world is leading to a Do It Yourself culture. The democratization of design and innovation is allowing both the wisdom and folly of crowds to directly shape products, services and brands. And the rise of Web 2.0 tools is leading to an explosion of new social networks that allow consumers—people—to be actively engaged in the conversations that shape their lives. The 22-year old founder of Facebook, recently said that “the other guys think the purposeof communication is to get information. We think the purpose of information is to get communication.”

Which is great for design. Designers are the sherpas of culture, the guides to community, the empathizersof the odd and foreign. Globalization and the spread of the market into each and every traditional village at the bottom of the pyramid opens up ancient communities that we now need to understand. Social networking creates entirely new communities, each with a distinctive new culture, that we need to understand as well. The empathetic tools of design can bring business people, educators, urban planners, hospital managers, transportation developers—everyone– into these communities to understand their values and rules, their needs and wants.

That’s Design As Margaret Mead, Design As Anthropology. Design is so popular today mostly because business sees design as connecting it to the consumer populace in a deep, fundamental and honest way. An honest way. If you are in the myth-making business, you don’t need design. You need a great ad agency. But if you are in the authenticity and integrity business then you have to think design. If you are in the co-creation business today—and you’d better be in this age of social networking—then you have to think of design. Indeed, your brand is increasingly shaped and defined by network communities, not your ad agency. Brand manager? Forget about it. Brand curator maybe.

Then there is Design as Peter Druckeror Design as Management Methodology. Design is popular today also because Design Thinking—the methodology of design taken out of the small industrial design context and applied to business and social process—is spreading fast. Hate me if you will, but I am a believer in Design Thinking. In the world of business, there is no value proposition left for most companies in controlling costs or even quality. All that outsourcing has leveled this playing field. Cost and quality are commoditizedtoday, merely the price of entry to the competitivegame. Design and design thinking—or innovation if you like–are the fresh, new variables that can bring advantage and fat profit margins to global corporations. In today’s global marketplace, being able to understand the consumer, prototype possible new products, services and experiences, quickly filter the good, the bad and the ugly and deliver them to people who want them—well, that is an attractive management methodology. Beats the heck out of squeezing yet one more penny out of your Chinese supply-chain, doesn’t it?
Let me emphasize this. I think managers have to BECOME designers, not just hire them. I think CEOs have to embrace design thinking, not just hire someone who gets it. I think many business schools have to merge with design schools, not just play poke and tickle with them.

What are the biggest social trends that will have an impact on design in the future? I’ll give you the obvious first—sustainability. Sustainability will be a prime driver of economic growth in the years ahead. Green will move from the realm of corporate responsibility to the space of revenue expansion and profit generation. I see it sprouting everywhere in the US. I’m assuming that Europe is way ahead in this.

By sustainability, I mean something more fundamental than just saving energy. I mean the reinvention of the chemistry of industry. I mean Bill McDonough will finally be proved right—that cradle-to-cradle capitalism is the next stage in the evolution of our economic system. Forests grow and fast. They just don’t pollute. Increasingly I see companies changing the chemistry of their manufacturing processes to build things that do not pollute. I see business people and designers beginning to mine the vast “new” resources of waste to create new things. Your own Richard Liddle, who is currently one of the Cutting Edge Designers on our Innovation & Design site, is a leader in this. So is John Thackara, organizer of DoTT 07, Design of the Times, 07, a fantastic event that has no equal anywhere.
One thought on this. Food is going very local in the US. People are eating locally grown food becauseit tastes better and you save on energy. Waste mining and cradle-to-cradle chemistry can create a more local manufacturing system as well. And perhaps bring back industry to Britain and the US. If you’re out there Thackara, go talk to Al Gore about this and help him put some substance on the frame of his vague global warming message. Bulk it up as much as he has ….well, you know what I mean.

The second great trend that will soon have an impact on design is social networking. Social media is upending relationships between customers and corporations, brand owners and brand creators, consumers and producers, centralized authority and anarchistic periphery and—pay attention here—designers and their audiences. People want to design their own experiences, or at least have a big voice in it. With Web 2.0 technology and blogs, they get that voice. People are increasingly designing their own shoes and clothes, their own screen pages, their own interfaces, their own homes. And when they’re not, they want designers and managers to really understand what they haveto say. Nike is changing the way it designs and manufactures because of social networking. So are dozens of other companies. Yes, we will always have our brilliant geniuses who intuit their audiences and create wonderful experiences for them. Ive and Jobs at Apple. Bang & Olufsenand its incredible designers and designs. But even Apple is getting hit very hard on the sustainability issue because it isn’t listening to its social networks. Brands have ideologies. They stand for things. People believe in those things. When the culture of Apples’ customers changes, as it is happening today, it has to move with it. You, as designers, can’t just do ethnology anymore. You have to join with those you’re observing to be in their culture and create with them.

So is design education preparing designers for the future? Are they learning to be truly empathic and understanding? I don’t know. When did students last journey to a village in southern India, a Navajo reservation in southwestern New Mexico or a fading industrial town here in Britain?
How much do they know about materials? How much chemistry have they studied? Are students really familiar with cradle-to-cradle or do they just read about it in Business Week and the Economist? Do they understand social networking? Do they participate in it? When was the last time their avatars bought something with Linden dollars in Second Life? Do they have a Facebook page? Do they have a blog and do they it link to Thackara’s Doors of Perception and my NussbaumOnDesign?

Of course, when it comes to design education, the very old and very boring question is whether or not designers and their teachers have ended their distaste for commerce and business culture. I have nothing to say about this except that this debate about art and commerce is so last century. If you are even discussing the issue, you are way behind. If you haven’t fully integrated your design, engineering, business and marketing students and faculty into teams on a regular and systemic basis, you are behind. I know the RCA is on the cutting edge here thanks to Jeremy and others with the Helen Hamlyn Centre, Innovation RCA and the new Design-London centre at RCA Imperial. A design MBA, now that’s hot.

But I ask—is it enough? Does it scale so it matters? Because scale is critical now. There is an enormous demand for designers and design thinkers today. This is the moment to prove to decision-makers in business and civil society that design is game-changing. Yet there are relatively very few talented and trained designers in the marketplace today. Schools in the US are scrambling to reform their curriculum and their teaching methods to turn out these students—but you can count the best schools on one hand. Indeed, there is a nice little war going on in the US between those design educators that want to stress strategy and those which focus on form. It’s a silly argument to me. Design should not give up its special ability to visualize ideas and give form to options. Design should extend its brief to embrace a more abstract and formalized expression of how it translates empathy to creativity and then to form and experience. Be broad, not narrow. Global, not parochial. Do not deny the powerful problem-solving abilities of design to the cultures of business and society. China graduates some 40,000 designers each year. A growing number of them are very good and they are finding jobs in the US. They are getting the form-making part down and are learning the design thinking stuff. Demand for designers will be met, if not by you, then them. Designers and design schools are in a global game, not a national one. Global scale is important.

There are two great barriers to innovation and design in the world today. Ignorant CEOs and ignorant designers. Both groups are well-intentioned and well-dressed—in their own ways—but both can be pretty dangerous characters. The RCA is clearly in the forefront of battling this ignorance.

I’ll end now and open it up to a broad discussion with all of you.

Oh, by the way, did I tell you we just hired Helen Walters to run our Innovation & Design onlinesite? She writes for Creative Review. Yes, of course, she’s British.”

What do you think?