Let It Go, Let It Go.

‘How was your meal?’, the waiter asked the small table of friends, each of whom had been silently suffering the needless indignity of bad food.

‘Oh, lovely, thank you’, they lied, in unthinking unison, not wanting to ‘make a fuss’.

And there you have it: British business’ biggest challenge.

Because of course the flip side of ‘not wanting to make a fuss’ is a very British tolerance of mediocrity – an epic tragedy which has eaten away at some of our best organisations over the last decade or two.

If you can’t tell a waiter, who you will likely never see again, what you really think of the food he has served (or the way in which he has served it) what hope do you have of delivering honest feedback to your team? And so what hope does your business have of developing a genuine performance culture?

And, lest we forget, in any organisation, a ‘performance culture’ is what makes the difference between your ideas actually seeing the light of day, becoming something real and tangible – and remaining just that, ideas.

This is absolutely not about a return to the bad old days of dictatorial, ‘only tell ‘em when they’ve screwed up’ approach to management. Rather, it’s about developing a willingness to tell people — very simply — when and how they did a great job, and when and how they didn’t.

Honest feedback, good and bad, regularly and frequently, little and often. ‘Nothing that’s said in an appraisal should come as a surprise’, runs the old cliché.

You can ignore it, of course.

You can fail to grasp the nettle.

You can dodge the difficult conversation; kick the can down the road.

And in the short term, there’s no doubt that this will spare the red faces.

It’s just that – in the future – those faces will be redder. Much redder. And there’ll be more of them.

Because one of them will be yours.

Nick Jefferson is a partner with Monticello.

It Ain’t What You Do.

The best leaders focus, almost exclusively, on culture.

Culture is the way your business behaves. Especially when no one is looking.

Culture is the attitude with which your team comes to work, it is the generosity of spirit they do or don’t show to their coworkers; it is, as a whole, is the way you as a group of people think, act and interact.

It’s not what you say. It’s what you do.

And this matters, a great deal, because culture is how, as a leader, you actually get things done.

If you have a positive, can-do culture that is generous, permissive and creative then your vision for your business – your ‘Shining City On A Hill’ – is so much more likely to be realised.

Without it, your ideas – no matter how ‘good’ – will remain just that; ideas.

Because, as the song says, in the end, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

That’s what get results.

Monticello LLP

All I Wanna Do Is….

The Future of….The Olympics
– by Derek Bouchard-Hall, CEO, USA Cycling 

Even the most casual observers of the Olympics will note that the Games have evolved significantly over the last couple decades.

Perhaps the most obvious is sports included. The IOC has had explicit objectives to keep the Games relevant to younger audiences, broaden their appeal, and include a wider range of countries participating – and added and dropped sports as a result.

Another commonly observed change is the professionalization of Olympic sport, with each successive Olympiad demonstrating the advancement athletes are making in developing every element of their craft through full-time focus and access to greater resources.

But in the 16 years between when I competed in the Sydney Olympics in track cycling to when I went to Rio as the CEO of USA Cycling, I have witnessed several more subtle trends in the Olympic Movement that would likely be missed by the casual sporting fan.

These trends are less obvious than new sports and the pace of breaking world records, but I believe they are actually more significant to the long term health and popularity of the Olympics.

The first is increasingly effective anti-doping efforts. Most sports fans understand that doping exists in professional sport, and the Russian doping scandal certainly kept the issue front and center in Rio.

Certainly, some have lost their passion for some sports because of associations with doping. But what I’m seeing is that anti-doping efforts are actually working, and things are improving. Not all sports are at the same place in their journey from denial of a problem to effective anti-doping, but all are on the journey and those out front are making enormous strides.

I believe cycling is the clear leader among all sports in anti-doping. No other sport is doing as much and is having as much impact. The only problem is, we’ve learned that effective anti-doping is expensive, difficult to execute, and significantly inconveniences athletes. Gone are the days when you can catch dopers by having them pee in a cup on race day.

Now, to combat modern methods that include the slight tweaking of naturally occurring hormones already within us all (vs. taking an exogenous compound whose mere presence in urine signifies cheating), regular exhaustive blood screening and unannounced out of competition testing is required.

But these methods work, and they will serve to restore confidence in what we are watching. Over time, I believe doping can and will be controlled – but it will take time and significant investment.

The second trend is the rise of women’s sport. With each successive Olympics, the women are drawing closer to men in terms of opportunity, support, and fan appeal. While in most professional sports women lag woefully and unjustly behind their male peers in this regard, at the Olympics they are much closer.

A key driver of this is focus on medals – with no difference being paid between the value of a men’s vs. a women’s earned. Many countries are therefore investing in developing their women’s sport, and opportunities are growing for women athletes. A good example is my organization, USA Cycling – we are actually now focusing more effort and resources on women’s cycling than in men’s.

The final, and perhaps most significant trend in terms shaping the Games over time, is country level sport specialization. Countries are increasing focusing a disproportionate amount of resource on those sports in which they have the highest medal hopes and, significantly, abandoning the others.

They are doing this to maximize medals earned for money invested – because countries are increasingly measuring themselves by medal count alone. Spending money on a sport whose highest placed athlete finishes 4th is considered a waste – no medal, no return.

The impact of this trend is that you are seeing some countries develop dominant positions in certain sports while ceasing to support others. Perhaps the best example of this is the UK, which has become dominant in track cycling (winning 6 of the 10 available Golds in Rio) by spending roughly 5-10x annually vs. its nearest peers.

On the other hand, it provides little or no support for a sport like basketball, which some argue would have greater impact on encouraging urban sport participation – though provide no medals (and no “return”).

If these trends play themselves out as I expect them to over the next couple decades, I see the future of the Olympics as one where doping is no longer a major story nor a major determiner of success.

I see the Olympics leading the world in promoting women’s sport and the gap between male and female opportunities shrinking. But I fear this progress will be offset by country level specialization leading to a polarization of national participation whereby a handful of countries dominate each sport.

Any given event might not feel like a competition between all nations, but instead simply a showcase for whichever handful of nations chose to focus on that event to win medals.

Like so many human endeavors, the Olympics will simultaneously demonstrate great progress and new challenges.

– with thanks to the author, Derek Bouchard-Hall, CEO at USA Cycling

From Sea To Shining Sea.

When I arrived back in the U.S., my first port-of-call was a hot yoga and barre method studio – a combination that does not exist, so far as I can tell, anywhere else in the world. The studio offered a discounted monthly membership, but specified a minimum commitment of three months.

How you feel about what happens next says a lot about your origins.

I called up, explained that I would only be in the U.S. for eight weeks, and asked if I might still be able to sign up for the monthly membership. The woman on the phone was delightful, cheerful, easy-going and friendly when she responded, “normally we have a three-month minimum, but I think we can work this out for you.”

Contrast this to a recent experience in England when I was barred from entering a yoga studio for arriving 10 – instead of 15 – minutes early. “There is simply nothing that I can do about it,” the woman at the desk said. “Even if they haven’t started yet, it’s just policy.” I smiled, took my 30 quid and walked out never to return.

I’ve written before about American niceness, and the fact that many, particularly the English, find it disingenuous.

I’ve argued that our openness is not so much about being fake as it is about something else, and having now returned to the U.S. for the longest stint since leaving it in 2011, I’m more convinced than ever that there is something truly different about the way U.S. citizens see the world and the people in it.

Whilst this has at times been called ‘American exceptionalism’, I find that the term ‘Frontier Mentality’ captures a lot more of the historical forces that ground American cultural proclivities.

Of course I’m not the first to favour the term; in 1893 Frederick Jackson Turner wrote a famous essay which commented that having been a frontier society since the first settlers arrived from Europe, a frontier mentality became a seminal aspect of the American character.

Frontier mentality has been linked to numerous faults and foibles, for instance, the tendency to behave as though natural resources are unlimited. Frontier mentality in the early Americas encouraged the belief that the land’s natural bounty was undeletable.

“The inexhaustibility of resources,” Roderick Nash wrote in explaining Americans’ lack of concern for the protection of nature, “was the dominant American myth…conservation seemed unnecessary… Even people critical of resource exploitation could not escape the feeling there was, after all, plenty of room for people and nature in the New World.

Frontier mentality has also been cited in relation to the American love affair with guns. On the American frontier life was unsettled, lacked rule of law, and communities of settlers functioned as semi-militarised groups.

Violence was common, ‘enemies’ were real, and a gun was essential to survival. Today it does not just represent virility (as many on the left would claim) but also self-preservation – a quality many Americans value immensely.

In 1890, the Census Bureau officially declared the American frontier to be closed. Nonetheless, the frontier mentality persisted.

The founding historical, environmental, and indeed social conditions of the United States engendered clear ideas about power, freedom, and ‘rugged individualism’ that have been variously demonized and canonized throughout history and global politics.

I have argued that indeed it is this same frontier mentality that encourages the American spirit of openness and cooperation. Survival, for many settlers, was entirely dependent on their social relations. If one’s crops failed, nothing but neighbourly kindness was likely to save you and your family from certain starvation.

People lived (and in many cases, still live) in small, rural settlements where one’s business is everybody’s business. One didn’t have the luxury of pessimism – no matter the difficulty, the only answer was to simply get on with it, however impossible the task seemed.

Having spent several years now living in East Africa, the Levant, France, and most recently England, I notice more than ever the way this frontier mentality appears in everyday work and life in America.

Where the English have often embraced or at least accepted state surveillance, many Americans tape over their laptop camera retinas and hesitate to provide more personal information than is entirely necessary. The first time I learned I could search any car owner’s entire vehicle history in a publically available database in the U.K I was horrified.

The desire to live ‘freely’, without undue intervention is palpable, even where It might weaken quality of life, for instance in the unbridled embrace of exploitative neoliberalism, the unwillingness to pass stricter gun legislation, or the hesitance toward moving to single-payer health.

It is not that Americans don’t want these things, necessarily, or even that they do not think them fair and just – but that for many Americans it is not the government but the community that should step in to support when an individual member has failed to thrive.

These American peculiarities are often downplayed; in the wake of England’s momentous Brexit decision, I’ve heard many speak about the natural closeness between the U.S. and England.

However, as I sit here writing from my AirBnB rental, the home’s owners are growing enough food to sustain themselves in the garden. They brew beer and distill whiskey in the basement.

On my first night in the house, we spoke passionately about our experiences of love, political views, and hopes for the future. These are experiences that, I would argue, are unique to the American experience and that have emerged from our particular history.

As a small, resource-poor country, England has necessarily developed a very different set of peccadillos.

These experiences are of course shaded by education and race in the U.S., just as cultural expression is shaded by education and class in England, but if you have ever worked in an Anglo-American workplace, the differences are nonetheless apparent.

This is not, however, to argue that the U.S. is entirely unique; indeed, Australians also have a frontier mentality that has produced, I would argue, a very similar set of characteristics.

Friendly, optimistic, and self-directed, there are many ways in which Australians (to generalize) and Americans (to generalize, again) are alike. Indeed, Americans and Australians are perhaps closer in character than either country is to the country of their shared colonial origin. Canada, too, might join this club of post-frontier states.

However we think about it, it seems clear that it is not language or law alone that defines culture – the physical environment matters. In the case of the United States, Canada, and Australia, the open space and very real threat of nature and its volatility, has shaped attitudes toward cooperation, sociality, and even success, where England might be more productively compared to other island nations like Japan and Taiwan.

In business, frontier mentality likely also accounts somewhat for things like the American willingness to, until very recently, tie health insurance to one’s employer, or the tendency toward entrepreneurialism. Indeed, America, Canada, and Australia were the most entrepreneurial countries in the world, according to the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEDI 2016), so there is certainty something there to explore.

However, it also speaks to something deeper, and that is the power environment has to shape culture and behaviour.

Recent studies have shown that work environments have tremendous impact on employee work habits. However, the focus of research has thus far been on stimulating creativity and productivity. As we can see from the persistence of American frontier mentality, environment can go much further.

Could we engineer environments that make people more open and honest, for instance?

Could we create space in such a way that it encouraged people to be more generous and giving? Could space itself improve physical recovery? Mental health? Certainly early studies on these questions seem promising.

In any case, one thing is clear – there is no escaping the fact that, for better or for worse, we are products of our environments in every possible sense.

Melyn McKay is an anthropologist and a partner at Monticello. She also happens to be a citizen of the United States.

Love Will Tear Us Apart.

The Future of….Separation
– by Pip Wilson, Founder, amicable

You’re in your early 40’s, it’s June 2016 and your marriage is falling apart.

The pressure of work and kids and the passing have time have meant you have drifted apart and after months of pain you have both agreed it’s over.

You’re sad, you’re not thinking straight and the road ahead feels long and painful, where do you start? A friend introduces you to their lawyer, the first conversation is free, subsequently it’s £300+ an hour.

You’re facing a total cost of thousands, much more if you end up in court. Surely every penny counts when faced with the prospect of supporting two households?

The lawyer, your friends and family all say you need professional support.

Maybe you can do it yourself, there is countless information available, but it seems so impenetrable: where do you start? You try and talk to your partner but it turns into a row, waking your youngest child, who sobs inconsolably “Please stop shouting Mummy and Daddy.”

Now you have to determine who is at fault. The current law in England and Wales decrees one of you must take the blame for the break-up of your marriage, what’s that going to achieve?

Everyone seems set on turning it in to the biggest fight possible, how is that going to help you, you partner or your kids get on with their lives? Surely this is a broken system?

Why has technology added so much (whether you like it or not!) to some parts of life but barely influenced other events such as divorce and separation?

Partly there is a generational aspect, the mobile generation haven’t yet reached the “peak” divorce age, so haven’t demanded better solutions.

Then there is the legal industry promulgating the view that every divorce is unique and you need someone on your side. Acrimony and protecting an individual appear to be actively encouraged and the level of emotion clouds even the most rational person’s mindset.

What is in essence an emotional process is generally perceived as being a difficult legal process. The result is that historical approaches endure, with fear and misunderstanding preventing change.

So what could the future of separation look like?

At amicable we believe that as humans we need to be encouraged to recognise the difference between the emotional process and the practical one, to allow ourselves time to focus on the sadness and grieve what we have lost.

It is unnatural to expect someone in times of great stress to be able to make rational practical decisions on a given day because that’s when they happen to be seeing their lawyer!

It’s also fundamental that if someone needs help from a professional it’s the right person at the right time. If you are struggling with the emotional side of divorce see a counsellor or even a friend; not a lawyer.

Once these two journeys are recognised the potential of technology to help with the practical side becomes much clearer. The practical side is simply a series of decisions to be made, including where you children will live, what your house is worth, where you will spend Christmas.

The majority of those questions are the same for everyone. They may be difficult decisions but they can be turned into an easy-to-follow process that breaks down the communication barriers and moves people forward in a time frame that works for them.

Technology can help individuals communicate better, it can help shift through vast quantities of data to show you precedents, it can pre-fill agreements and it can facilitate negotiations.

Why not let it do all that and let humans focus on dealing with emotions?

– with thanks to the author, Pip Wilson, Founder of amicable

World Shut Your Mouth.

Technology has democratised written expression, but, writes Monticello LLP’s James Lumley, the rise of “content marketing” means that we are all in danger of being engulfed by a tsunami of shit.

The marketeers have got the memo: content is where it’s at. If you want to get your message out, and engage with your constituency, then you need to give them content. Lots of it.

You must load your website with articles and infographics. Season it liberally with Vines and top it with extra podcasts.

Make it content rich.

Business home pages all over the world, pages that once were dull, but informative are now full of… content.

I should be pleased. I am, after all, a writer, journalist and trainer. I’m somebody who has committed much content, and has armed others to do the same. Yet I am not happy. And many of my friends and colleagues who work in marketing and “get” content aren’t happy either.

The reason for this is simple: the cult of content has got out of control.

There are many businesses who are using, to put it at its most basic, words to engage and inform their customer base. But there are many more who have heard the content clarion call and are, bluntly, creating content for the sake of it, effectively becoming micropublishers. The result is untargeted incoherence and a huge waste of time.

While writing this post, I am also looking at the website of large international financial institution that deals with professional customers. One might expect it to be stuffy, but no, the site is eye-catching in the extreme. It looks like Buzzfeed on acid written by enthusiastic sixth-formers. The home page has a carousel of articles above articles, and more articles. The photos are dynamic. Racing cars. Space ships. Supercomputers. Big words. Big ideas.

The marketing department behind this website is doing to its customers what an irate farmer did last week to Emma Thompson’s anti-fracking bake off.

There are many websites like this. Marketing departments across the world are expending huge amounts of time and effort on them when they should really be…. marketing

When I go to a business’s website, I want to know two things and two things only.

1. What does this business do?
2. Why should I give a shit?

I don’t want the State of the Union. I don’t want metaphysics or philosophy. And I don’t want to be told who Becky With the Good Hair is.

Sure, engagement is key. Good articles and good infographics improve engagement. But all “content” must be focused on my two questions. Otherwise, it just becomes noise and it drowns out message.

A couple of weeks ago, while running a writing training day, I explained my formula for planning a nice, focused article. I demonstrated that, by using the formula in reverse, one can tell whether an article is useful or a waste of time merely by reading the first and last paragraphs.

One of the attendees asked the question that usually gets asked at this point: “does this mean,” he said “that most of the stuff I’ve been reading at work is total crap that I don’t need to read, and lots of the stuff I have been writing doesn’t really need to be written either?”

My answer was “yes”.

My students-for-the-day all resolved to write less, but make it better. They said that they would probably read a lot less too. The scales had fallen from their eyes. Content, to them, was no longer scary. It had become manageable.

So, content-creating marketeers: next time you sit at your keyboard with an idea for an article, ask yourself this: “is this content really necessary?” If the answer is “probably not,” make yourself a cup of tea, and do something more useful instead.

Read more in The Library of Progress.

Words Don’t Come Easy?

Learn to write -­ in your corporate voice.


-­ what makes great content, and why

­‐ how to create great content, according to some simple guidelines

‐ what your ‘corporate voice’ is, and how to use it

This one-­day intensive learning course (with half­‐day follow up) is ideal for anyone who wants a refresher in the art of writing.

The day breaks down into three key sections, each with a specially designed ‘starter’, ‘key activity’ and ‘plenary session’.

We’ll deal with grammar, the evils of verbiage and and any other ‘nasties’ you struggle with whilst helping you create a durable writing toolkit for your organisation.

The programme is suitable for 10 participants and is run by Monticello LLP, a London-­based advisory firm with a track record in delivering lasting, positive change to corporations around the world.


They’re Talking In A Language I Don’t Speak.

It’s boring. And it shouldn’t be boring.

We have been presented with a hugely important decision. The most significant for a generation.

Yet, despite initial enthusiasm and interest in the EU referendum debate, it’s been ruined. Ruined by the same people who have ruined so much else: professional politicians who have no idea how much they are loathed.

For their part, politicians bemoan our lack of ‘engagement’; as if it was somehow our fault.

This is absurd. Over the years, I have been privileged to hear some of the world’s most experienced and senior marketers talk about their business and brands, and how they take them to consumers. If, at any stage, they had sought to attribute any lack of engagement in their products and services as the fault of their prospective customers, they would, quite rightly, have been fired.

Go to any marketing conference today, and you can bet your bottom dollar that, amongst the myriad buzzwords, you’ll hear both ‘purpose’ and ‘authenticity’ repeated a lot. This isn’t by accident.

When did you last hear a politician talk with either purpose or authenticity, let alone both?

Instead, they continue to trot out the same pompous, top-down, duplicitous, jargon-laden, deeply patronising gobbledygook that no one in the real world would ever dream of trying to get away with. We are seeing this writ large with the referendum debate.

They treat us as if we were stupid, as if we have no interest in policy and decisions. They seek to pretend that there is only right and wrong, only black and white, as if we have no experience of the multiple greys that we know exist in the real world. They rattle off statistics and numbers and hollow soundbites that are mind-numbingly meaningless.

And then they blame us when we refuse to buy it.

It is simply not credible. If you have a message that you need to convey, it is your job to communicate that message in a style and format that will resonate with those to whom you are trying to speak. And in this respect, there is absolutely no difference between politics and business.

Except that business does it much, much better. It has to, because, in a free market, where brands jostle constantly for share of mind and share of wallet, there is no alternative.

If politicians were genuinely serious about engaging voters, they could do significantly worse than learn from the folk who are out there, every day, at the coal face, developing new products and services to cater for the changing needs of ever more choosy consumers, working hard in an increasingly noisy world to win hearts and minds, and doing so humbly.

The irony of the EU referendum debate is that in opining on the Brussels political establishment, our own has exposed its manifest and multiple deficits.

The British people deserve better.

Nick Jefferson is a partner with Monticello LLP, the advisory firm, and a curator of The Library of Progress.

Stand, And Deliver!

‘The thing about Tony’, drawled the President, ‘is that he does what he says he’s gonna do.’

When Tony Blair was in the final stages of his premiership – and not terribly popular at home – he embarked on what to all intents and purposes looked like a valedictory world tour.

Along the way, he was mobbed by adoring crowds of cheering foreigners waving Union Jacks in a way that Brits hadn’t since that first sunny morning in May 1997.

Obviously, The Big Stop was Washington DC.

There, in the Rose Garden, a reporter asked President George W. what he could say about the outgoing Prime Minister. And he answered as above.

Stop for a moment.

The ultimate accolade that a President could pay a Prime Minister was that he did what he said he was going to do.

This is hugely powerful, and terribly instructive. When you think about it’s what we all want, right – for people to do what they say they’re going to do? We want that from our friends, our colleagues, our boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives….everybody.

Brands are no exception.

But for many, many years, they thought they were. A brand would say that they, or one of their products or services, would do one thing but the reality, as consumers on the ground experienced, was often very different.

It was about priorities. The money would go into marketing, tons of cash being pumped into hyping the message, selling ‘the dream’. And not into customer experience.

But the brands would ‘get away with it’ because disappointed consumers had little comeback. Some would complain, of course. But their complaints were as individuals, lowly Davids against corporate Goliaths, and thus – provided that the marketing machine kept up the propaganda – the reputation of the product or service would remain intact until the market had been saturated.

Not any more.

As every green, young graduate of a Marketing or Media Studies degree will enthusiastically tell you (regardless of whether you asked) social media changed everything.

The voice of consumers now has scale. Serious scale. And so the tables have turned. Shoddy, or simply underwhelming, products and services that just don’t match the hype are taken to task on twitter, Facebook and the rest – and seen and read by millions. Suddenly, consumers are Goliath and the brands are Davids.

Some brands have understood the truly Copernican nature of this shift with corporate dollars flowing away from marketing hype and towards genuine customer-centricity (often executed with all the elegance of a drunk elephant, but well-intentioned nonetheless).

But that is a minority.

Others, the majority, the rabbits-stock-still-in-front-of-the-oncoming-juggernaut, respond with more of the same: ‘Consumers are flighty? Let’s redouble our efforts to convince them it’s all ok. Quick! More marketing! More hype!’.

Consumers know this, and they hate it. Authenticity in marketing has long since become a cliché (which doesn’t mean it’s not true) but it goes much deeper than that.

We are, I think, talking about the need for a fundamental review of corporate structures, budgets and, most importantly, mindsets. We might need to, gulp, recognise that….

the high water mark of marketing may well have been reached.

That doesn’t mean that marketing isn’t important. It is, and it always will be. We all want to show the best side of our business, of our products. It’s just that, increasingly, it probably isn’t as important as ensuring satisfied consumers, who, after all, now have the ability to do our marketing for us.

I once knew an HR Director who suggested to the CEO that they close the entire HR department, make everyone, including herself, redundant and invest all the money instead in a fund to pay employment lawyers on an as-needed basis.

What if, just, what if, there was a CEO brave enough to think about doing the same with a bloated marketing department, investing all the savings not in lawyers, but in guaranteeing a world-class service to consumers each time, every time?

You might think it’s stupid.

But the world thought Dubya was stupid….

Nick Jefferson is a partner with advisory firm, Monticello LLP, and a curator of The Library of Progress.




Reclaim your creativity, amplify it and energise your team with Monticello’s  ‘Imagine….’ one-day programme.


  • why creative thinking is imperative in the 21st Century
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The day breaks down into three key sections, each with a specially designed ‘starter’, and ‘key activity’ ensuring maximum skills transfer as we build practical know-how that endures.

The session is led by Jamie Colonna – the award-winning creative genius behind some the UK’s most iconic advertising campaigns – and Nick Jefferson from Monticello LLP, the London-based advisory firm with a track record in delivering lasting, positive change to corporations around the world.

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Monticello LLP


Being Boring.

It was 11pm, and we’d been at it since 8am.

15 hours of smiling, seminars and swapping notes on all the ‘exciting’ things that our respective businesses were doing.

So over coffee, I asked my dinner companion what he was planning to do at the weekend.

He looked at me quizzically, gave me a perfunctory reply to my question and quickly steered the conversation back to his ‘excitement’ about his work.

He did not, I am fairly sure, consider me rude, just, it would appear, somewhat offbeat; risqué even.

I should have known better. It wasn’t my first time at a business conference in the US, and – with the greatest will in the world – it probably won’t be the last.

The typical successful American probably isn’t, in reality, any more productive than your typical successful Brit, or any other nationality for that matter.

But what is different is the propensity within a certain strand of our cousins across the pond to talk about work; seemingly at every possible opportunity.

This trait is viewed by the rest of the world with a complex, highly nuanced, and – interestingly – perhaps mood-dependent, combination of admiration, exhaustion, envy, pity and genuine bewilderment.

A friend calls it ‘the cloying earnestness of white collar America’. As a very big fan of both the nation and the people, I think he’s being unkind.

But, one way or another, and whatever we want to call it, we’ve all experienced it.

Some of it, no doubt, is a product of history.  Whilst the founding of America was, in reality, a terribly plutocratic affair, the myth of America has always focused on the merits of hard work, and the results that it can bring; ‘the dream’.

Contrast this with the old world’s sniffy, aristocratic disdain for something so terribly vulgar – a well-practised insouciance that has long been aped, ironically, by Europe’s mercantile classes.

Moreover, America is, and always has been, a verbal culture (texting, for example, took a lot longer to take off in the US as compared to Europe, in part at least because everyone had grown up with plentiful low-cost phone calls).

All immigrants, particularly economic ones, learn to speak a language before they write it, and so a nation founded on immigration is going to find speech a more effective means of communication than the written word.

And when work, or at least the search for it, is one of the few common denominators, it’s natural that it will tend to dominate conversation.

It’s also about the nature of the ‘state’.  If you’re not talking about work, then what are you talking about? And – more to the point – who is paying for you to do that?

The absence of a well-established welfare state, it is arguable, generates a cultural norm around needing to show people that one is taking care of oneself and one’s family.

And, as usual stateside, there’s probably a religious angle too. America is infused with a deep sense of godliness, and – particularly for the protestant masses – hard work doesn’t rank far behind cleanliness, proximity-wise.

There are no doubt countless other reasons too. But, whatever the causes of the American tendency to ‘talk work’, does it matter?

I think it does.

We live in an age where corporations in the developed world need to fundamentally reinvent themselves.

That level of change is unlikely to come from the standardised methodologies of the business schools.

It requires genuinely fresh thinking and innovation: above all else, it requires creativity – in the truest, broadest sense of the word.

Creativity, like success, has many parents. But one of them is certainly time and space; the ability to think, deeply, laterally and sometimes counter-intuitively.

We have long known this instinctively.  The human being is physically and psychologically wired not for the tedium of 8-8 (or midnight in the case of my dinner companion), 5 (or more) days a week, 50 weeks a year, but instead for intense periods of very hard work followed by downtime.

During our cave-dwelling period, we didn’t just work – or talk about work – relentlessly. We worked when we needed to (running after, catching and then killing the animal) and then actively enjoyed our downtime.

We might have reflected on some of the challenges we faced – and come up with the wheel.

We might have decided to document our hunt – and painted the walls of our caves.

Equally, during our very long agrarian period, we worked hard during the spring and the harvest and then outside of those times – deliberately or otherwise – we afforded ourselves the time to think.

It was really only the Industrial Revolution that ended this, taking a timetabled, mechanistic approach to human resource much as it had done everything else.

This might have been acceptable when creativity in the workplace was – erroneously – seen as a luxury, but it certainly isn’t today when it is a matter of survival.

Interestingly, science – and also the pseudo-scientific zeitgeist, has begun to reach the same conclusion. In his 2007 Harvard Business Review paper, ‘Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time’, Tony Schwartz wrote about the importance of replenishing what he termed the four main ‘wellsprings’ of energy: the body, emotions, mind and spirit.

He is clear that this replenishment simply cannot come from endlessly talking about, and therefore thinking about, the transactional flotsam and jetsam of everyday work.

Instead, we have to carve out time for ourselves; deliberately making the time that we previously enjoyed to reflect in a non-pressured way. To think, to create.

This is not about working less hard. Hard work is the common denominator of all successful people.

Indeed, the readiness to work hard is one of the many things that I love about America and its people.

They are, and their country is, generous, warm and uplifting.  America, and its corporations, have an incredible track record of constant reinvention.

It’s just that, in order to keep doing so, they might be well-advised – counter-intuitively – to think, and talk, about work a little less.

Nick Jefferson is a partner with the advisory firm, Monticello LLP, and a curator of The Library of Progress.

Me And My Monkey.

There’s ‘Me’. And then there’s ‘Monkey Me’.

‘Me’ is the self that I like to project to the outside world. I’m relatively proud of ‘Me’. He’s a measured chap; thoughtful and balanced. With an eye on the future, and a clear memory of the past, he’s a complex, nuanced soul. ‘Me’ is persuaded by logic and rational thought. He can be quite earnest, and a little dry, but you’d like him nonetheless.

I’d like to think, and I tell myself, that ‘Me’ makes the big decisions in my life.

But I know enough about psychology to know that this simply isn’t the case.

The really big decisions in my life – terrifyingly – are made by ‘Monkey Me’.

‘Monkey Me’ likes sex, drinking and music. He’ll do things on the spur of the moment and loves a good party and a long lunch. ‘Monkey Me’ reminds me a bit of ‘Ted’ from the Mark Wahlberg movie of the same name. And he can be just as annoying.

‘Monkey Me’ is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He lets ‘Me’ and others down, regularly. He lives for today, with scant regard for tomorrow or yesterday. ‘Monkey Me’ is emotional. He is irrational.

But I have to admit for having an enduring, if begrudging, respect for him.

When ‘Me’ will listen to the arguments and weigh the evidence, ‘Monkey Me’ will go with his gut – ‘do I like/trust this person?’. He craves physical affection and attention, whereas ‘Me’ can often come across as quite detached and, aloof even.

And yet, for all the earnest, intellectual grandstanding from ‘Me’, it’s ‘Monkey Me’ who is in the driving seat, decisions-wise.

This doesn’t mean rational thought doesn’t matter: talk to our good friend Aristotle, who was musing on this very topic thousands of years ago. ‘Me’ has views, for sure, and he expresses them. It’s just that if ‘Monkey Me’ disagrees, he’ll pull the same face as the bully who takes your dinner money in the schoolyard. With the same consequences for non-compliance.

We might not like this uncomfortable truth, but hold that mirror up (when no-one else is watching) and tell me it ain’t true, cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die.

Antonio Damasio is a Portuguese neuroscientist. He should be better known in the business world, not least because he has proved what many of us have long suspected.

Damasio observed a group of patients, each of whom had suffered damage to the same part of their brain – that which deals with emotion. In many respects, these patients had overcome their trauma and gone on to lead relatively ‘normal’ lives, holding down jobs, relationships and such. But they all had one thing in common: they couldn’t take decisions.

The natural corollary, of course, is that all decisions must ultimately be emotional. We can hide it, we can post-rationalise, we can pretend otherwise – but we can’t change it. It’s how we are hard-wired.

In a far more elegant manner than I have managed here, Jonathan Haidt articulated the overarching importance of the dominant, emotional, animal brain in his ‘Elephant and Rider’ metaphor. Again, however, even this isn’t particularly well-known or understood in the C-Suite.

More fool them.

The lesson is simple. Don’t talk to ‘Me’. He thinks he’s in the control, but he has no idea.

Talk to the short, hairy guy with him.

Because for those of us in the business of persuasion, there is only one ‘VIP’.

The Jungle VIP.


Nick Jefferson is a partner with Monticello LLP, and a curator of The Library of Progress.

Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies.

Venture bravely into the comment section of any article covering United States politics these days and you will be witness to a phenomenon I like to call “Poll Wars”.

While its long been accepted (if not entirely understood…) that data of any kind can be manipulated or packaged to prove essentially any point, for some reason polls appear resistant. Support Bernie Sanders? You’ll find multiple polls that show him ‘surging’. Support Hillary Clinton? Every primary and caucus result thus far has been more or less expected, if you’ve been following the right polls.

There are numerous reasons why advance polling tends to produce such diverse results.

For a start, the media have a vested interest in a competitive race. For example, Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight has pointed out that the media hand picked outlier polls that featured overly male, overly white samples in order to argue that Bernie Sanders was surging in the Democratic primary.

However, in reality, Sanders had picked up about as much support as would be anticipated for a previously unknown candidate gaining better name recognition.

Similarly, half the media machine has been spinning its wheels in an attempt to either explain away or otherwise minimize the Trump phenomenon whilst the other half has reported his unexpected rise to the forefront of a scattershot Republic field with a kind of maniacal glee.

But media spin is only half the problem.

The other half, I’d argue, is due to the inherent limitations of the methodology. For this reason, if you can stomach it, a deep dive into the flaws of political polling offers a great deal of insight into the failings of survey-based data more generally.

  • Sampling and Access

Don’t let anyone fool you: a truly representative survey sample is a bloody difficult thing to achieve. Despite some marketing firms offering up proprietary ‘corrals’ of consumers, and ever increasingly granular data sets derived from demographic data, social media, etc. – the fact remains that it is virtually impossible to design a survey that can be meaningfully disaggregated by the numerous factors that impact decision making.

We see this issue arise constantly with first time voters – random sampling rarely enables political pundits to project the behavior of first time voters, despite relatively large sample populations. There are simply too many factors to take into account. Clearly, this is also a problem for brands trying to capture or better communicate to new customers.

Moreover, survey samples tend to overemphasize demographics and geographics and thus often impoverish temporal factors.

For instance, a person who is currently stuck in an extra 30 minutes of traffic on a Monday morning is likely to respond somewhat differently to a question about train services than that very same person would when asked later that evening as they relaxed at home. The same is true if you asked them at the exact same time of day, but on a Friday when the roads are relatively clear.

However, because the majority of survey work (and political polling) is timed to take advantage of access, for instance, times when people are expected to be home, we capture them at a very specific moment of their day. This, I would argue, may not represent the same mood they are likely to be in when they are about to cast a vote or purchase a service – it only tells us what they are thinking and feeling in that very moment.

  • Confirmation Bias

Right up until the actual vote, UK pollsters were projecting that the 2015 general elections would result in a hung parliament. The now notoriously poor political projections were linked to numerous issues related to survey work and polling.

First and foremost, it was suggested that ‘Shy Tories’ had evolved into downright ‘Lying Tories’; though many pollsters took into consideration the tendency of conservatives to downplay the strength of their political affiliation, in 2015 it appeared that Tories were willing to out and out lie about how they would vote.

This is not an uncommon phenomenon. People know when their opinions and behaviors are unpopular with certain populations; call center workers tend to be young, and very often, minorities, so it’s extraordinarily easy to understand where conservatives might hesitate to declare themselves. Consumers are similarly aware of their audience when contacted by marketing firms or company employees to respond to surveys.

Normally, confirmation bias can be controlled for, at least in part, by weighting certain responses (but this requires significant longitudinal data – like decades of voter records) or triangulation. However, surveys have to be quite long if you expect respondents to miss the slightly reworded question you’ve included to catch them up in a fib.

Given the cost of administering an even remotely representative survey, many firms compromise on the length of the questionnaire, meaning its nearly impossible to do anything but speculate as to who may be being economical with the truth, and more importantly, why.

  • The Observer Effect

In the case of the 2015 elections, however, considerable efforts went into trying to control for the ‘lying’ (or at least, the ‘shy’) Tories, and still the projections were wrong. Another factor we might then consider is the “Observer Effect’, wherein the very act of producing public information about consumer behavior or voter opinion leads to changes in that very behavior and opinion. In the case of 2015, it’s very likely that the specter of a hung parliament – created, let us be clear, entirely by publishing polling data in advance of the election – led voters to double down in an attempt to avoid another coalition government.

Similarly, consumers are known to change their responses when they know, or think they know, how others have responded to the same questions. This can work in a number of ways: 1) consumers want to ensure all opinions are represented equally, even if they do not hold them (Devil’s Advocate Effect); consumers want to be on the ‘right’ team (Band Wagon Effect); or they want to make a statement (let’s call this ‘Advocacy Effect’).

The later, for instance, helps to explain why Bernie Sanders does so particularly well in online votes (where individual respondents can refresh their browsers innumerable times), but significantly less well in more controlled, scientifically rigorous surveys, where this behavior can be accounted for.

  • “What people say, what people do, and what they say they do…”

As Margaret Mead said, “What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things”.

Sometimes it’s a matter of confirmation bias, other times its linked to a fleeting mood, but most of the time, discrepancies between poll or survey data, and actual voter or consumer behavior, can be chalked up to the amount of time the average person spends reflecting on their opinions, preferences, and life choices. Simply put, the average person doesn’t invest all that much energy into bringing what they say, and what they do into alignment.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. Even when we look at something as emotionally charged as a political election, where the outcome has a very real impact, and the vote itself is symbolically potent to the voter’s identity – predictive power is still limited.

Sometimes, we can try to control for this. For instance, it’s well known that Labour voters often respond strongly in polls and surveys, but then fail to pitch up for the actual vote. This same phenomenon exists in the United States.

However, this problem is exacerbated when emotional and logical arguments are not aligned. For instance, the arguments for EU membership tend to be very logically stated; EU immigration has a net benefit effect on the workforce, favorable trade relations contribute positively to the UK economy, etc.. Very often, these statements are made using statistics and are very calmly stated. Contrast this to anti-EU narratives full of vim, vigor, and vile – these arguments are meant to appeal to the fears of UK voters, and they are quite effective.

Any polling being done for ‘Brexit’ needs to take this into account, but it is brutally difficult to differentiate between those voters who really will vote with their heads and not their hearts when the pressure is on in the booth, and those that will ultimately ‘go with their gut’. This, in part, helps to make sense of the Trump phenomenon in the United States, and why its been so exceptionally difficult for pollsters to make heads or tails of it.

This phenomenon is also particularly acute when asking people hypothetical questions about the use of new products or services. When asked, “Would you be willing to change brands if the: a) price was better, b) packaging was nicer, c) came with loyalty points, etc.” – its very easy for respondents to respond positively. It requires no behavior change, no evaluative work, no change-risk to say you will hypothetically do something.

Indeed often this is a reflection of aspiration – what kind of person do you want to be? Maybe you are the kind of person who wishes you would be willing to buy the healthier snack, even when you know (or maybe you don’t…) that when it comes to point of purchase, you’re going to buy the same salty crisps you buy every week.

So what’s a brand to do?

Whilst I don’t have any suggestions for how to improve political polling – well, other than to say ‘don’t bother’ – given that there are numerous factors that impact what people actually do when it comes time to buy, it’s much more interesting to understand what those factors are than it is to ask people to anticipate their decision-making and behavior in the future.

Before sinking cash into yet another customer survey that asks potential or current customers or clients to guess at what kind of person they will be tomorrow or a week from tomorrow, consider how you might interrupt the decision making process as its happening in order to understand it.

One option, of course, is sited ethnography.

Capture people as they are in the processes of making a decision, and get them to reflect on what it is they are weighing up (or not) as they are doing it. You won’t have thousands of respondents, but the results will be much more powerful.

As the political pundits say – the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

Melyn McKay is a partner with Monticello LLP, a socio-cultural anthropologist and a contributor to The Library of Progress.

If You Don’t Know Me By Now….

‘Do you have the senior discount coupons, honey?’ bellowed the sweet old man as he settled down into the gondala.

He was American, of course.

And so was his equally adorable (and decrepit) ‘honey’ of a wife.

It was a warm evening in Venice as she fished deep into her bag to find the ‘senior discount coupons’. Sure enough, she did have them and she handed them over. They secured their five euro discount and off they punted into the sunset.

All of which leads us to Groupon. Remember when that was all the rage?

Except it never really was. At least, not in the UK, nor lots of the rest of the Old World. Because Groupon made the classic American mistake, and it ran something like this:

Everyone in the US loves coupons, so let’s take ‘em to the world….with technology!


Except naïve.

Seriously, seriously naïve. Because in Europe, coupons are nothing to shout about.

Coupons, in Europe, are the shame-faced mother handing over 5p off a packet of cornflakes to feed her kids. Coupons, in Europe, are tied up in the history of rationing and whole nations not having enough to eat. Ultimately, coupons, in Europe, like everything else, are about class.

I ain’t saying this is right, morally-speaking, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Had Groupon done their homework and understood the multiple, complex markets – and cultures – involved, this would have been apparent from the outset.

But they didn’t. Instead, they chose to learn the lessons the long, hard, expensive way: Groupon’s shares are down 49pc in the last year.

To be fair to them, they’ve got it now and are retrenching into the market they know best, the land of the free. That’s one reason Alibaba has just bought a 5.6pc stake and the stock price is beginning to rally.

But it will be a long, slow recovery from here because of those ill-conceived international adventures.

Groupon and others need to recognize what the sweet old man and his ‘honey’ wife could have told them long ago – that doing business overseas is just like an overseas vacation: it’s all in the planning.

– this piece first published by The Huffington Post

Nick Jefferson is a partner at Monticello LLP and a curator of The Library of Progress.

I Know What It Means To Work Hard On Machines.

The Future of….Technology
– by Carolina Vicente, Director of Digital Marketing, Google

It’s the crystal ball moment we all love, folks. What will be?

We are all in a relentless search for answers in our everyday lives and look to the future of technology with anticipation, hoping it will bring an elixir of eternal wealth and power where the possibilities are endless. In this new world (enabled by technology), the future looks sunglass bright, promising and full of possibilities.

Technology enables the creation of data at phenomenal scale and speed. Thinking about the fact that well over 90% of today’s data has been generated just over the last 2 years, the jaw-dropping dimension of it all starts to sink in.

It’s a little like the good ol’ chicken and egg scenario, where the generation of more data is also allowing new technology to be developed – think programmatic and the subsequent incessant rise of new algorithms, businesses and products, all promising to be the solution we are looking for when it comes to having one-to-one conversations at scale over the web – or finding the answer to the elusive 360 degree view of the customer.

But I digress. There are truly impressive uses of technology being discussed at large scale within several businesses today. From renewable energy to ‘humanised’ drones – the sky is (quite literally) the limit.

With renewable energy, wind energy is possibly one of the mainstream technologies that needs a complete overhaul. Only 3% of the world’s energy comes from wind, and incremental technologies are not cutting through this reality, with only about 15% of land around the world being suitable for the next turbine iteration – in other words, we need to start over.

While it may often seem like we have a long way to go when it comes to sustainable renewable energy generation, there are a few countries that show us this is entirely possible – Costa Rica has shown the world last year how it’s done by drawing 99% of its energy consumption from renewable sources. Pretty impressive.

Biotech is in my opinion, one of the most exciting areas where technology can shine and truly improve (if not completely transform) how we live today – and how long for. Looking at the human body as a series of separate systems and addressing longevity as you would address oiling a machine (system by system), means we could be living exponentially longer in the not too distant future.

The application of nanotechnology to medicine could mean diseases like cancer will be a thing of the past. Equally, could neurohacking mean our own brains could ultimately engineer the makeup of our bodies and by definition, determine how long we live for – and what quality of life we can have?

Today we can already see companies like Google & Novartis partnering to alleviate diabetes management through the use of a microscopic technology attached to a contact lens. The gadget measures insulin levels through tears, which is ironic, as constant, tearful stabbing of one’s finger to draw blood several times a day is now not longer necessary.

Robotics is yet another trend looming in the horizon. Images of human-like creatures spring to mind – much like Atlas Robotics’ drones. This area could improve the way logistics and elderly care are conducted in the future. In fact, many companies have already acquired licenses to use drones commercially, with France and the UK leading the way. Industries like oil & gas, transportation and even Insurance are all jumping on the robotics bandwagon, all hoping to be first to the future.

All of these technologies are generating more and more data. In fact, so much of it exists and is being captured, that companies today are struggling with what to do with it and where to start.

Thinking of the customer first might be a good starting point. This is where innovation comes in. How can we change what we do today (and how we do it), anticipating what people will want next? Innovation through technology then becomes a critical catalyst to change. Making use of today’s technology, we can create solutions that did not exist yesterday.

Think of the driverless car. A fundamental economic and sociological change in the making, that made use of existing technology to address several world problems. All of a sudden, those who are visually impaired can drive and be more autonomous going from A to B all on their own.

Addressing mortality on the roads (not only from a life preservation perspective, but also with an economical lens) is yet another issue driverless cars are trying to solve. According to a recent report, road accidents cost the global economy over $500 Billion annually. Wouldn’t it be great if technology could solve this… oh wait a minute…

Changes such as these will reshape economies profoundly. Thinking not only of the driverless car but also the sharing economy, who is the end customer? Will insurance companies insure the manufacturer, the vehicle, the driver or will the sharing economy mean we will need a hybrid insurance model?

It is important to constantly question ourselves and our businesses to determine if the road to obsolete is unavoidable, or if true technological transformation could act as an accelerator to positive change.

And then there is everyone else racing to the same finish line. Former GE CEO Jack Welch said there are only two sources of competitive advantage: Know more than your competitors and act faster than anyone else. I would add a layer to this and say we need to be able to generate more ideas and encourage creativity to use that knowledge to its true potential.

Disrupting yourself as a business is key to survival. If you are not disrupting your business, chances are you are being (or will soon be) disrupted – possibly irreparably, in a “close the front door” kind of way.

Startup incubator units are a great way to ensure disruption can accelerate within traditional businesses.

In a reality where technology is already enabling exponential economic growth (more investors, fractional comparative/like-for-like costs, more wealth and 100 times more power), looking ahead no longer seems like we are gazing into a crystal ball. The future really is here, and things are only going to get faster. Successful businesses will need to lead trends, not follow. By the time you have geared yourself to follow a trend, it will already be too late.

Get in the front line of the race or risk being left behind.

– with thanks to the author, Carolina Vicente, Director of Digital Marketing at Google. Please note that the author writes in a personal capacity and her views are not necessarily reflective of the views of Google. 

Young Americans.

Standing in line (sorry, ‘queuing’) at the Post Office a few weeks back, I realized I’d made an error in filling out a shipping form. At the desk I asked the clerk if I’d need to start again. He responded, “Don’t worry, Americans always make that mistake”.

“All Americans?” I asked incredulously, “Or just the ones from the US?”

Admittedly, the Post Office clerk is far from alone in using ‘America’ as shorthand; the online visa forms for Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, for instance, give no other option for citizens of the USA. There is, of course, the small matter of the multiple countries, north and south of my own, that have every right to call themselves ‘American’.

But even if the word ‘America’ was interchangeable with ‘United States’ the term
seems to mean everything and nothing, all at the same time.

So what makes an ‘American’? Increasingly, I realize that for many it’s not just about a passport. There is a certain expectation, numerous stereotypes, both positive and negative, but rarely neutral. One place where assumptions of ‘American-ness’, for lack of a better term, becomes apparent is in the world of global or international business.

As a Yank working in the U.K., I am often called upon to provide ‘cheery, sunny side up optimism’ and a ‘can-do attitude’. Now, there are elements of this that ring true for me – I tend to think I can do anything so long as I try hard enough. This usually means I press on despite the very real constraints imposed by things like sleep. I take on too much, as a matter of habit. However, I’ve also been called – lovingly – a ‘bad American’, for my stance on politics, economics, and most social issues, as well as my well-travelled passport, something only approximately 42% of US citizens have.

So you can understand my confusion – am I ‘American’, or am I not? Having now lived and worked in Morocco, China, Burundi, South Sudan, Lebanon, France, the U.K. and Myanmar, so far as I can tell, there are a few working characteristics that are seen as decidedly ‘American’:

1) Workaholics

There is something in this, notwithstanding that most ‘Americans’ that the rest of the world gets to know are those ex-pats who want to ‘get out’ and see the world, and so are likely to be more ambitious and demanding of themselves than their stay-at-home compatriots.

Whenever I do business in the U.K., I find myself shocked by how little Brits actually work. There is, of course, an argument for work-life balance that I appreciate, but I simply don’t understand how an office can empty by 5pm, when workers don’t arrive until 9am, and still hope to grow into something meaningful.

This is not to celebrate such behavior – as I said, there is a real argument to be made for working sane hours. The point is only that ‘Americans’ have a strong culture of working long hours, even to the point that we regularly lie about it. However, it is still clear that Americans work longer hours, more weekends, take fewer vacations, and retire later, than any other country in the world.

So we are indeed a nation of workaholics and we export this behavior when we work around the world. This, I believe, is largely the basis of the seemingly global stereotype of ‘Americans’ as hard workers. (That, the Founding Fathers’ protestant work ethic and the absence of any meaningful social security ‘safety net’.)

But this, however, does not mean we are always more productive workers, and this is something to take into consideration when encouraging employees to demonstrate the same work ethic amongst employees or celebrating the dedication ‘American’ workers seem to have to their jobs.

2) Efficiency

‘Americans’ do not like inefficiency. Bureaucracy of any kind makes us steam at the collar, and in fact we find this increasingly irksome when it comes to corporate bureaucracy. In fact, if you want to understand ‘American’ politics and the clear hesitancy to increase taxes in order to pay for more government-provided services, you have to understand that ‘Americans’ see the government as inherently inefficient – they would rather pay more for an efficient service than wait for a ‘free’ one.

In the office, ‘American’ workers are often heard talking about streamlining processes, and they have a reputation around the world for being the ‘go-to’ for getting complicated projects done quickly.

However, global business statistics suggest that this might largely be an undeserved stereotype; the nation of most efficient workers is probably Germany, though that likely comes as no surprise, followed by France – despite many persistently held English and ‘American’ stereotypes to the contrary. As such, it is perhaps more interesting to ask why ‘Americans’ have this undeserved reputation.

In part, I’d argue, it’s a reflection of the assumption that people who work a lot work well. More significantly, it’s probably related to the favorable exchange rates Europe and the U.K. have enjoyed for many years. Hiring an ‘American’ firm has often been cost effective, particularly where invoicing is based on deliverable versus billed time.

This is important to keep in mind when thinking about implementing processes to improve business efficiency – ‘American’ models might not be the best.

3) Sociality

I want to put something to rest right now – ‘Americans’ are not ‘fake’ or disingenuous with their niceness. I hear all the time that we are artificial in our bubbly congeniality. As a person who suffers from RBF I don’t often get accused of this particular quality, but I nonetheless hear about it often from people complaining about ‘Americans’ in our office, business, or social group.

The truth is that ‘Americans’ believe that niceness is a quality that everyone deserves to benefit from – until they don’t. Put another way, we begin from a place of genuine trust and openness, and then adjust our levels of both in relation to the treatment we receive in return. This confuses many people because they expect to go the other way – you like and trust someone more the longer you get to know them. We like you when we first meet you, because we assume you are a good and trustworthy person – call it ‘frontier mentality’ and you’ll quickly see how much of this is shared with our cousins down under. If you respond by being guarded or condescending, we will silently withdraw our trust whilst remaining as friendly as proximity requires. There is no reason to make enemies if you don’t need to – you never know when you will need that person as an ally.

This sometimes means that people find ‘Americans’ shockingly Machiavellian when a friendly face turns down your pitch. Our niceness is as much cultural as it is strategic – it’s not fake and it’s not pathological, whatever you’ve heard.

When it comes to business, it’s important to remember that your ‘American’ staff are likely very naturally good at business development – whether they like it or not. However, you may find that they are perceived as overpromising. Niceness can be understood by many as a sign that the deal is done, when in reality, for an ‘American’ its just a matter of following protocol. Never assume you’ve won the work, and never forget that kindness is not a sign of weakness. If you can’t deliver, or if you yourself aren’t very likeable, they will turn you down – with a smile on their faces.

Perhaps the key point, above all others, to bear in mind is that the United States is huge, and monumentally diverse. We are not all the same. The three qualities I’ve given you here I’ve both embraced when it’s convenient and shirked when it’s not. That’s the thing – ‘America’ is a dream, and so too is anything one might call ‘American’. And any dream is a reflection of the person having it.

As such, perhaps the more interesting question for international businesses and business leaders is, “what is your American dream”? Your definition of ‘American-ness’ is a statement of aspiration or self-fashioning in so much as it is an articulation of the elements of your work or business culture you find limiting.

In asking ‘what makes an ‘American’, you end up learning a lot more about yourself and your business than you do about ‘America’. Wherever that is.

Melyn McKay is a cultural anthropologist and a partner with advisory firm, Monticello LLP.

Trust In Me.

You don’t trust me.

In fact, I don’t think you don’t trust anyone.

You’ve got my passport, my credit card, my home address – and yet you still don’t trust me.

Another day, another hotel room. And another clean shirt whose wrinkles and crumples rival those of a dinosaur’s scrotum. So we all know the trick: hang it up in the shower, and steam the creases out (the shirt, not the scrotum).

To do that, of course, you need a hanger.

And there’s the rub.

This hotel, like many others, clearly doesn’t trust me. If they did, they’d have supplied their wardrobe with hangers that I can actually use, as opposed to those infuriating ones that only work inside the wardrobe because all the ‘hook’ bits are permanently attached.

In case I steal them.

For the record, I’m not going to steal them. When I’m travelling I usually only just manage to get all my clothes in my suitcase, let alone some half-inched hangers as well. Anyway, I already have far too many hangers at home.

But even if I did steal them, I’d be nicking something that has a top value of, what, five quid? Stick it on the bill. Include it in the price. I don’t care. Because, within reason, a few extra quid on the bill isn’t a massive deal – but turning up at my client in a shirt that makes Yoda’s neck look like a baby’s bum really is.

Yes, I could probably get an iron from reception. Yes, I probably shouldn’t waste water simply steaming clothes. But that isn’t really the point. The point is that everywhere throughout the hotel room and its reception are those tedious little pop-up notes, telling me how much they ‘care’ about me, how ‘valued’ I am, and how ‘thinking about my every last wish’ is an integral part of their brand promise.

Brand is much like personality. What you say pales into insignificance when compared with what you actually do. Brand is not a load of mumbo-jumbo written down in a book that only the Visual Identity Nazis ever read. It is your behaviours and the way you treat people.

You can tell me all you like how ‘important’ I am to you. But if you won’t trust me with a 49p clothes hanger then, frankly, you don’t need to tell me.

Because I already know.


Nick Jefferson is a partner with advisory firm, Monticello LLP, and a curator of The Library of Progress.

A Little Less Conversation….

There is no value in values.

Well, that’s not quite true. What I mean is that there is no value in writing down your corporate values.

Because values are something you live, something you do.

Let me ask you a question – do you have values in your family?

I bet you do.

And they’re strong, right? Stronger, no doubt, than the ‘corporate values’ you see emblazoned on the office wall every time you walk through reception?

But, and I’m willing to bet a fair amount on this, you haven’t written your family values down, have you?

Because you don’t need to.

Because either you live these values, day in, day out, eat-sleep-breathe them, kind-of-without-thinking-about-it, or, very simply, they are not your values.

The same is true of corporate values. Writing down that you are ‘innovative’ (or whatever else – ‘innovative’ is just the value du jour) does not make you innovative. Often, indeed, it only confirms that you are not – because those people and corporations who are truly innovative are just doing it, getting on with it: innovating. They don’t have say they are doing something. Because they are actually doing something.

That’s not to say you can’t change a culture, the way a business behaves. You can. Just like you can change the way a family behaves.

But you don’t do it by writing down a load of clichéd mumbo-jumbo and then just somehow expect it to ‘happen’. You work at it, strive for it, model it constantly and continuously, you demonstrate it, relentlessly, 24/7. You hire people who reflect the culture you want, and fire those who don’t. You reward the behaviours you want to see and not those that you don’t.

It’s simple. Damned hard, and incredibly demanding in terms of leadership energy and time, but simple. So simple, in fact, that when it comes to ‘corporate values’, there is no one who has come close to putting it as succinctly as The King himself:

A little less conversation, a little more action.


Nick Jefferson is a partner with Monticello LLP, the advisory firm, and a curator of The Library of Progress.



Not Afraid.

There are cowards everywhere, of course. In every industry.

You’d have perhaps thought there might be fewer in an industry that requires creative leadership.

But it turns out that this isn’t the case. Au contraire, in fact.

I once worked for a coward. He was a marketer, a ‘creative’ in fact, and he just couldn’t take decisions.

As a result, his agency became a festering pit of the juvenile politics of ego. A court, per Machiavelli’s Prince, but where everyone ends up playing the jester. This tedious situation was compounded by the fact that, disgracefully, it was all so obvious to both the agency’s junior staff and clients.

Not cool. But, more to the point, not necessary either.

Taking decisions as a leader, perhaps especially a marketing leader, is the job.

That’s it.

If you can’t take decisions then you are in the wrong job. This is doubly so if that job is in marketing where someone, ultimately, needs to back an idea and then rally the world, internal and external, around it.

A chap called Marcus Buckingham, in his book, The One Thing You Need To Know, argues that the number one priority of leaders should be to offer clarity. For him, leaders have a duty to set out beyond a shadow of a doubt where they stand, and what they will or will not tolerate.

This duty of clarity is so acute, says Buckingham, because it is what those being led want. They want this, he asserts, more than they want anything else at all – including liking or agreeing with whatever is being said.

In this thinking, he is in good company. Earlier this year, I read Boris’ brilliant biography of Churchill.

One of the (many) striking things about our wartime Prime Minister was the extent to which he was ready to make decisions; especially the hard ones.

The Mayor of London rates this characteristic very highly: I remember some years ago, in a wide-ranging interview he gave to the Evening Standard, he himself was quoted as saying:

“People don’t care what decision you make, they just bloody well want a decision”

Take a second to consider the most effective leader you can think of – business, political, even social. Is that person clear?

Indeed, would you go so far as to say that being clear – even when that clarity drives you crazy – is one of their defining characteristics?

In making and implementing clear decisions, one way or another, leaders set the agenda. Especially when it comes to marketing. It may not be an agenda that others like, but at least it gives them something to react to.

Even die-hard opponents of an idea ultimately tend to want a clear decision: it gives them something tangible to be “against”. Take a decision, good or bad, and one way or another you set the agenda.

Dither, and watch others set your agenda for you.

Fear is leadership’s sworn enemy.

And creativity’s kryptonite.

Monticello LLP

– this piece first published by The Marketing Society

Stand, And Deliver.

The Future of….Deliveries
– by Santi Clores, CEO, World’s Largest Delivery Company

Every few years, someone asks me whether technology affects my business.

The truth is that it doesn’t.

Every year, at around this sort of time, we receive literally millions of orders. Typically, those orders will be placed in writing, and the vast majority will be in the form of a (badly) handwritten list or letter: addressed to me personally. Moreover, because our customer base is so global, the orders come in all sorts of different languages.

Over many years, we have honed processes and systems to deal with it all. Don’t get me wrong: it’s hard work, but it’s all manageable. In large part, that is down to our incredible workforce, of whom I am extremely proud. They believe in our mission and are so committed and loyal.

The seasonality of our work means that it doesn’t suit everyone. We work very intensively during October, November and especially December but during the remainder of the year employees are free to choose how to spend their time, as long it fits with our overall purpose as a business. We call this system Employee Labour Flexibility (E.L.F. for short).

The real challenge is ensuring that everything that gets to the right place, at the right time – and all within the same 24 hour period (except, interestingly, in my native Spain where orders can take up to two weeks longer to arrive). In this respect, I am very hands on, and undertake most of the deliveries myself, with support from a team of specially trained, trusted animals.

One of the quirks of our customers is that they ask that we deliver presents inside their houses, but without using the front door – or even alerting them to our presence. However, they are often thoughtful enough to leave us a bite to eat, which makes all the difference on the longer journeys.

Naturally, given the millions of orders that we process we do end up making the odd mistake. Some customers are disappointed and that is, of course, immensely regrettable. Whilst we cannot, as a matter of policy, deal with returns ourselves we do have partnership arrangements with a host of retailers around the world who act as our agents in this respect.

It would be foolish to suggest that technology will never impact our business. It’s just that, for now, our system works. And I’m a big believer in ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

So for now, and at least for us, the future of deliveries looks a lot like the past – and we quite like it that way.

¡Feliz Navidad!

– with thanks to the author, Santiago Clores, CEO at World’s Biggest Delivery Company

I’ve Got Hurt Feelings.

I’m offended.

I’m offended by all the people who keep saying they’re offended.

Actually, I’m just bored of it. Really bored of it.

‘Outraged’ and ‘offended’ are the mots de nos jours.

Hypertense, strangulated tones surround us. It’s like everyone in the country is engaging in their own equivalent of being the nutter at the bar; coiled springs goading you into spilling their pint so they can feign ‘offence’ and have a swing at you.

Being offended is the opposite of being tolerant.

And tolerance is the goose that lays the creative golden egg.

Tolerance is a precondition to novation; the willingness to think that little bit differently, to accept new ideas from new places. It’s what produces genuinely fresh thinking.

Orwell’s Big Brother knew that if he stifled freedom of speech, he ultimately stifled freedom of thought, which in turn would mean no creativity – just what he wanted. ISIL are trying to pull the same stunt, albeit more clumsily, barbarously and murderously.

Thankfully, the history of the world is pretty clear that murderously intolerant regimes like ISIL, whilst brutal and hugely damaging, just do not last over the long term.

The same is true of corporations run on an overzealous ‘command-and-control’ model. They ultimately break down.

This is because humans need something different.

We need to feel that they can thrive. Together, for sure, but also as individuals.

Smart leaders, political, religious and corporate, know this. And they create structures and cultures that enable and underpin tolerance.

Ironically, perhaps, given ISIL’s desire to recreate the ‘Caliphate’, the ‘Golden Age of Islam’ was one of the most tolerant civilisations ever. And it was because of this that muslims were able to dominate, over centuries, an empire that stretched from what is now Iraq in the east to Southern Europe in the west.

The Caliphs of the Golden Age deliberately filled their jasmine-scented, fountain-adorned courts with astronomers, doctors, mathematicians, physicists, philosophers and thinkers of all kindsl

They tolerated other ideas, other religions – not pointlessly, but because they recognised that the resultant technologies and truths that would emerge from such tolerance could be leveraged to ever-strengthen power and dominance.  They saw that progress, development and growth were good: good for individuals, and so good for society overall, and so good for its leaders too.

Historically, at least, we Brits have also been famous for our tolerance. And there can be little doubt of the extent to which this fuelled the success of our own empire too.

We Brits don’t like the state-knows-best dirigisme earnestly pursued by some of our European neighbours. We prefer instead to put our faith in the eccentric ingenuity of our (often odd, and quirky) people.

Tolerance is the Magna Carta; tolerance is John Stuart Mill, the Non-Conformists, the Suffragettes, Alan Turing, Quentin Crisp, Sid Vicious and Vivienne Westwood.

Tolerance is the creation, lauding and awarding of a TV spot that would never even get thought of in the US, let alone commissioned.

Tolerance is Britain and Britain is tolerance.

Tolerance is what makes cultures – national, tribal, corporate – truly sustainable.

So let’s stop ‘being offended’ and start ‘being tolerant’; reclaim it as our own.

Apart from anything else, tolerance makes the world a kinder, more fun and inextricably more creative place.

Nick Jefferson is a partner with advisory firm, Monticello LLP, and a curator of The Library of Progress.


Why Do You Build Me Up, Buttercup?

‘What on earth do you think you’re doing?,’ snarled the imperious, plump little woman from behind her clipboard.

‘Hi’, my friend grinned. ‘Just taking a picture of the brilliant model’, he said, genuinely. For he wasn’t just anywhere. He was deep within his employer’s ‘Creativity Lab’.

(Let the record show that the ‘Creativity Lab’ is no ordinary corporate workspace. Oh no. No grey furniture, no drab pastels here. The ‘Creativity Lab’ is all brightly coloured bean bags, and squidgy balls; PostIt notes and trail-mix.)

And there, in the heart of what to the outside world might have looked like a regular corporate meeting room hurriedly filled with some hideously clichéd ‘creative’ accoutrements (because it was), was the offending model.

I’ve seen the picture. It was, indeed, brilliant: a searing tower of Meccano excellence. You could say it was the poster child (at least for this corporation) of what the ‘Creativity Lab’ was all about – the chance to break out, to explore a different way, to offer and experience a flash of colour (and perhaps even insight) in an otherwise dull world.

And yet the beady-eyed little woman was aghast.

‘Did you make that? No one is supposed to use the Meccano. It makes a real mess of the room. We can’t have that. You’ll need to dismantle it. Straightaway.’

Her brusque tone left no doubt in my pal’s mind. She definitely wasn’t joking.

But she should have been.

Making your corporate culture one that is more creative is not a luxury. It is business critical. In the 21st Century, success, in part, is defined by how differently you can think.

That mindset has to come from within. Each person in your business needs to live it, breathe it; nurture it. The fragile flower of creativity needs the light and warmth of tolerance, diversity and fun in order to grow. Not the suffocation of the Poujadiste, risk-averse, computer-says-no mentality of an idiot with a clipboard.

The whole idea of a ‘Creativity Lab’ is, for my money, absurd. Creativity does not have a ‘place’, for a start.

But if you are going to ram A. N. Other meeting room choc-a-bloc with things that you earnestly (if misguidedly) believe are going to make your people more ‘creative’, then, erm, shouldn’t you at least let them use them?

Nick Jefferson is a partner with Monticello LLP, the advisory firm working across Brand, Culture and Digital, and a curator of The Library of Progress.


I Don’t Like It, I Love It.

The Future of….Leadership
– by Ross Ashcroft, Filmmaker, Broadcaster, Strategist

The language we use is telling. We don’t ever ‘lead decline’ or ‘manage success’. We do the opposite – we ‘manage’ decline and ‘lead’ any success.

In business it’s binary – you’re doing one or the other. If you are in a corporate structure the likelihood is you are managing decline. If you have opted for the autonomy to write your own rules then you have more of a chance to lead a success.

We don’t have to go far to find terrible leadership. This is primarily due to people who find themselves in positions of power who confuse leadership with management. So we are clear about the difference let’s define both practices:

• Management is the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.

• Leadership is the action of leading a group of people or an organisation.

The differentiator between the two is that one is a stipulated process whilst the other is a largely untested action. One is based on protocol the other is based on (timeless) principles and the present moment. Process is limited – action is limitless. And exciting. And creative.

The world is currently over-managed and under-led.

Sadly today some of the best leaders aren’t leading and tragically some of the best managers have been rewarded with leadership positions.

“We always lose our good people”

Humanity is now preoccupied with control, process and frameworks. We can all recall when we have been hired to do a specific job only to be waylaid by a manager who ‘reins you in’ so to ‘keep control of the process’. It’s a daily corporate occurrence and one of the reasons creative agencies and marketing teams are increasingly defunct. This is also why organisations reliably lose their best talent – many of them are reduced to mere operators.

The three fields where the leadership fail is most pronounced are ironically the three ‘industries’ that – according to psychologist Oliver James – attract the most dysfunctional personality types. They are media, banking and politics. We only have to look at the state of those fields or their practices and products to realise that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

The outcome? A media that has lost all credibility, a banking system that has reflated the biggest credit bubble in human history and a political class who have peddled institutional deceit to accommodate the media and the banks. An unholy trinity.

Many of these problems can be traced to putting management (and the diffuse responsibility that poor management often relies on) ahead of leadership. Proper leaders, for instance, embrace delegation but retain responsibility for the task. Poor management identifies scapegoats.

The lesson is simple: frameworks and control cannot – and do not – replace critical thinking, intuition, creativity and responsibility.

What happened To The Long Game?

Unfortunately business, like politics and banking, has embraced short termism to solve long-term issues. This has indoctrinated many into thinking in narrowly defined, self-interested silos. Thinking in silos instead of holistically breeds a mentality (and culture) of scarcity. It also means that in most meetings everyone feels they should know everything.

A necessary digression: the two most confining words in the English language are ‘I know’. This closed mindset does not allow new information to be converted into knowledge then into value and – only then – into money or results.

So here is a leadership idea: why not open the next presentation or meeting with this: “No-one really knows – but collectively we have the ability to discover a solution and create something to serve a real world need.”

Think about what you have just done with that statement…

You have just engaged the people who you’ll need to make good strategic leadership decisions. Why? Because the critical thinkers in the room will respond to that honesty and the implicit challenge to create something useful. These people want to be trusted and nurtured so they can solve difficult problems. If you are lucky enough to have them in your meeting – use them – do not manage them to fit your limiting expectations or a meaningless big data scrape.

Another digression: the words “I don’t know yet” – far from being an admission of weakness or naivety – are actually full of potential.

Brain Drain

Many organisations that demanded academic excellence for their people ‘to lead’ now, ironically, face a well-publicised ‘war for talent.’ This is because most of their ‘best people’ have been educated out of the leadership skills necessary to respond to an increasingly transparent world. When IBM recently surveyed 1,900 CEO’s they all cited creativity and adaptability as the two most important qualities future leaders must possess. Culturally most corporations aren’t configured to nurture or develop these skills.

If we want better leadership we have to go back to basics and work with raw talent that has not been trained out of their intuition so to fit an increasingly obsolete system. This cannot be done theoretically. You have to learn by doing and failing and winning daily.

At Ease With Uneasiness

If you are successfully leading the chances are you have hired people better than you at their jobs and you are holding a space in which they can thrive. If you are managing decline the chances are you’re inundated. You’ll have unconsciously created and politicised a chain of command. You’ll be making all the decisions and impeding the natural inclinations and talents of your team.

If the future is going to be better led, and therefore better managed, we need to accept that management is secondary. We also have to accept that we should all be working daily on our personal leadership and ourselves because no effort in in this area is ever wasted. This means rediscovering timeless leadership principles and being at ease with the natural uneasiness that leadership brings. This will begin to reinvigorate the art (not science) of leadership.

And with that art restored, everything else then becomes manageable.

– with thanks to the author, Ross Ashcroft of RenegadeInc

In Your Head.

– Are psychographics the new demographics? –

In the social sciences, no question is more divisive than – ‘why’?

Many researchers are sceptical of ‘why’ questions because there are as many answers to any particular ‘why’ as there are researchers and research subjects.

When proponents of ‘psychographics’ claim to go beyond traditional descriptive demographics to explore customers’ psychology, and even morals – I become a bit incredulous.

Psychographics tries to look at things like hobbies and interests, even values, all with the objective of looking into the consumer’s head. As such, its practitioners claim that whilst demographics help you understand who buys your product or service, psychographics helps you understand why they buy.

It’s a bold claim, but one I don’t totally buy.

Why does a 30-something woman in Oxford buy organic? Because she wants to be healthy? Because she is conscious of prestige trends? Because it’s convenient? What if she claims to buy organic because she is an environmentalist, but she doesn’t recycle, save water, or vote Green?

If psychographics practitioners uncover disagreement between the answers people give for why they do this or that, and their actual behaviors – do they challenge their research subjects? Do they say, “my informants say X, but really it’s Y”? In that case, whose version of the story do we act on?

In as much as any single person is comprised of various identities, each and every action is a composite of conscious and unconscious choice, material and ideological desires, social pressure and individual perception. ‘Why’ someone does something is very rarely a simple question, and any method that claims to get at it should not claim to be simple, either. And yet this is what psychographics often promise us.

It’s hard to distinguish, really, where what many firms now call psychographics actually differs from good brand work. Now, it is certainly true that many marketing firms and internal departments produce demographic snap shots that don’t offer much texture. However, most brand and marketing research has been trying to get at not just ‘who’, but also, ‘what’ (they do, like, want). More importantly, most good brand and market research already asks ‘why’.

Psychographics, then, differentiates not at the level of objective, but at the level of method. It appropriates the tools of psychology as a means of trying to better access the ‘why’.

This would be a compelling offer if most brands had unlimited research budgets. Experimental, academic, or behavioral psychologists will tell you that designing, implementing, and analysing research of this sort requires an investment of significant time and money.

Moreover, in order for psychological research to be considered rigorous or significant – i.e., high enough quality to assume results and findings can be attributed to broader populations than those studied – it must be very, very carefully designed to control for a multitude of conflating factors. This is a process that takes months and even years. It takes pilots, failures, adaptation, and countless trials.

Call me a sceptic, but I don’t think most of the outfits offering psychographics are set up to truly take advantage of what psychology could bring to marketing and brand work if it were done right. And simply put – it usually isn’t. But even when it is, psychological research is not a silver bullet. In fact, a recent study found that fewer than 50% of psychological studies could even be replicated.

‘Why’, it turns out, is a damned near impossible question to answer, regardless of what you throw at it.

Are psychographics the new demographics? Probably not. It may be one piece of a research arsenal, but it’s an expensive piece that over sells its actual capabilities – so at the very least, be realistic about what it can do for you, and more importantly, what it is you really need. If you are looking for the next big thing – this may be one to pass on.

Melyn McKay is a partner with advisory firm, Monticello LLP.

Can’t Buy Me Love.

If you want to sell something for your business, advertise your product.

If you want to raise your business’ profile or change someone’s opinion of your business, advertise your brand.

Most businesses need to do the former a lot more often than the latter.

But every now and again, a brand campaign is just the ticket.

Nevertheless, no matter how ethereal it might, at times, feel (especially if you’re paying for it), a brand campaign does need to have something to do with who you actually are; it needs to be grounded in what you actually represent.

So what, I found myself wondering this week, is Santander doing sponsoring London’s ‘Boris bikes’?

Ask yourself the following questions of the hard-to-miss deal, now that we are several months into it:

Has it changed your opinion of Santander?

Has it made you want to become a customer of Santander?

Has it made you consider buying a Santander product, now or at some point in the future?

For me, the answer was no.

And no.

And then, finally, no. (As it was with Barclays too, for what it’s worth – though they got a little bit of kudos for being ‘first movers’).

I could be in a small minority, of course. Maybe lots of readers of this piece have just answered yes, yes and yes. And there’s a chance, I suppose, that lots and lots of people really want to take advantage of Santander’s cash-back scheme that apparently operates if you pay for TfL using one of their cards.

But, even if that is all true (which it probably isn’t) is it enough to justify the reported seven million quid a year the bank pays for the privilege?

They obviously think so, and good luck to ‘em.

But I can’t help thinking, to paraphrase a bit of far superior financial services advertising from a few years back, that TfL are laughing all the way to the bank.

Monticello LLP

Ice, Ice Baby.

London buses are big and red.

Sometimes they have adverts on.

Normally, you don’t notice the adverts (which says quite a lot about our profession).

But every now and again, you see a cracker: something that really ‘works’.

And so, hats off, Iceland.

Their new campaign goes something like this:

Q: ‘Crème Brulee made in Northern France? Sounds delicious, authentic and somehow terribly ‘smart’. Right up my street. But how can it possibly still be fresh by the time I buy it?’

A: The Power of Frozen.’

It’s genius.

This campaign doesn’t hide from the fact that Iceland sells frozen food. It celebrates it.

Because, you see, the freezing is what enables you (you terribly sophisticated foodie, you) to ‘savour the delicious flavours of wood-fired pizza from the foothills of the Dolomites, freshly caught salmon from the Norwegian fjords or sumptuous, soft gelato from Verona, all in the comfort of your own family kitchen.’

It’s a long way from the ‘prawn ring’, that’s for sure – and it all sounds a lot more John Kerry than Kerry Katona.

This unapologetic appeal to the ‘Lidl Classes’ is as brilliant in its execution as it is ambitious in its apparent aspiration – to put to rest, once and for all, the ‘Bejam’ zombie and to develop a wholly different brand position for Iceland.

Indeed, the German grocers who ripped up the (frankly, class-based) British supermarket hierarchy might just have watch their backs. There’s an old (but seriously reinvigorated) kid on the block.

The power of frozen?

That’s why (yummy) mum(mie)s go to Iceland.

– this piece first published by The Marketing Society

Monticello LLP

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like.

The Future of….Service In An Online World
– by Tamara Lohan, Co-Founder & CTO, Mr & Mrs Smith

Ten years from now, I am woken by the closest possible approximation of natural light gently illuminating my room until I find myself fully alert, sleep cycle complete, at the time I had specified before I drifted off. Continue reading “You Can Check Out Any Time You Like.”

Say My Name, You Know Who I Am.

The Future of….Media Management
– by Susannah Clark, Global VP Communications at King

I have a confession to make.

I really love trashy American reality TV. Continue reading “Say My Name, You Know Who I Am.”