Chain Reaction.

Uncle Jimmy needed a lot of a sausages.

So off he went to CostCo.

One look at Jimmy’s magic CostCo card, and the cash-and-carry greeted him like a long-lost friend.

Brilliant customer service. And exactly what Uncle Jimmy had come to expect from CostCo.

Except that he usually shops in their Canberra, Australia store. And this was Cardiff, Wales.

There are lots of ‘global brands’. We all see them, every time we travel: familiar neon logos beaming down at us, as if to say ‘that flight you just took halfway around the world? Well, that was kind of irrelevant’.

But not many of these global brands are genuinely global businesses. Not many of them can pull off what CostCo did for Uncle Jimmy.

Which is going to become a big problem for them. Borders, especially national ones, are increasingly seen as somewhat démodé by the world’s mobile elite.

There is a new tribe that glides effortlessly around the world. Its members move from London to Buenos Aires like their parents moved from Salford to Crewe. They’re the tribe that everyone wants to sell to.

And from the amount that brands spend on proudly demonstrating their ‘international presence’, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the tribe was more than catered for.

You’d think that these businesses would be bending over backwards to ensure seamlessness of approach, wherever valued ‘tribe members’ happened to tip up.

But they don’t. Ask anyone who has tried to set up an account in another country, with ‘their’ bank. Or deal with a utility company, with whom they thought they had some ‘good history’. Or a brand of car, or the insurers for that car. The list goes on.

There are, as ever, exceptions. But by and large, not only is the process of dealing with a supposedly familiar brand in an unfamiliar location tedious, sometimes a pre-existing relationship can prove an active hindrance.

Before the digital revolution, big brands got away with this. Largely because there was often no viable alternative for the consumer.

That simply isn’t the case anymore.

Industries are being disrupted left, right and centre. One key differentiator remains truly excellent customer service, (as the latest ‘Chief Customer Officer’ – ’Doh!’ – trend suggests).

Consistently brilliant customer service gives long-standing businesses an ongoing legitimacy in an otherwise topsy-turvy and, often, hostile world.

That’s why CostCo works hard to get it right. Others need to follow suit.

Because you don’t need to be buying a string of sausages to know that any chain is only ever as strong as its weakest link.

Monticello LLP

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.

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.

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

Everybody’s Talking About Bagism.

This Christmas we are being subjected to the usual schmaltz fest. A tawdry parade that is, by and large, the product of client briefs that might as well read ‘We’d Like Something Like John Lewis, If That’s OK’.

But one advert stands out. Is an exception. And, tellingly, is in fact born of the Adam and Eve stable.

Step forward Mulberry.

Bravo on your wonderful, humorous adaptation of The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Bravo on being ‘brave’ enough to be product-focused and grounded, unlike so much of what else is out there.

Bravo on a spot that is well-written, well-directed, well-shot, well-acted, and just – well – good.

Mulberry 1, Rest Of The World 0.

– 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.


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

Let’s Go Surfing Now?

There may not be much choice for Quiksilver employees. Bloomberg, amongst others, reported the Chapter 11 filing of the surf-wear brand earlier this month. It may have been massive in our youths, but a failure to evolve is now costing the dudes dear.

Laid-back might be the right approach as you wait to ‘drop-in’ to the next ’set’, but in 21st Century retail, it is the (salty) kiss of death….

Monticello LLP

Song For The Asking.

As a researcher by trade, I’ve worked on a variety of projects – from the intensely rigorous and strategic pieces with clear business value, to those that functioned a bit more like a tick-box exercise.

Contrary to what is generally believed, the primary difference between the two may not be the quality of the research firm or consultant involved. Whilst it is certainly true that there are mediocre or even poor researchers, there is a bigger problem that many businesses fail to acknowledge, and that is that they don’t know how to procure good research.

So let’s talk about how most research gets procured, and how small changes can improve the process.

Step One – you realize there is a problem or an opportunity, something you don’t know and need to, or something you need to evaluate and measure. So far, so good.

Step Two – you decide to hire an external firm or consultant because you believe a fresh set of eyes, or frankly, an extra set of hands, is necessary to get the job done.

You speak to a few colleagues to gather questions they might have, and you put together a rough pitch that covers a lot of ground but reflects – generally – the kinds of things you think are probably applicable to the business.

However, it’s not always clear how the questions you have identified are linked to core business processes, problems, or learning objectives, nor is it clear how the data would be used by key stakeholders. You are taking a scattershot approach when you should be looking at causal chains, attribution, and contribution, etc.

Step Three – you put together a budget request. Which finance immediately cuts in half. You don’t necessarily amend the terms of reference to reflect the available budget, but rather hope it’s still feasible.

Step Four– you put out a call for proposals, or you approach a few firms and ask for bids. You look for a firm who can cover all of the work you’ve asked them to, for the money you have available. You send them a contract that copy-pastes the terms of reference.

In just four steps you have virtually – and unintentionally – guaranteed that no matter how great your research firm or consultant is, they cannot give you a quality product.

Let me explain.

Everything was going fine in Step One, but in Step Two, when you realized there was a value in bringing someone else in, you looked to those most likely to share your general thoughts on the matter, rather than looking to your firm or consultant for their input.

You have thus limited the ability of an external firm or consultant to influence what you should be asking, and instead task them only with figuring out how to ask it. As a result, you miss out on the depth of expertise available to you.

If you are lucky, your colleagues may know something about research and they have the time and the interest in helping you to shape these questions. More likely than not, though, you end up with a list of research objectives and questions that isn’t tied strategically to your actual business needs.

As a result, the research results you get back will likely be somewhat vague, or you might even find they don’t tell you anything you didn’t already know. The data isn’t useful because its not targeted, and you research firm or consultant isn’t particularly well-placed to help you make heads or tails of how best to make sense of it.

In Step Three you diminished the value of your research by decreasing the budget but not the scope of work. Good research takes time and budgets need to reflect that time or you will signal to research firms and consultants that what you want is a general overview rather than a deep dive.

For instance, I generally sit with my client for the better half of a day, interviewing them about what they think they need. I ask hard questions, I poke the soft spots. I take the time to speak to other people in the group, the industry, or the target demographic, and review documents provided, all to determine the evaluability of the thing my client thinks they want to know.

I will then tell them what can and cannot be answered, with what degree of confidence – and not just statistical confidence – and how the answers I provide can actually be used.

If your budget only reflects the collection of data, you aren’t making best use of your researchers’ expertise, and you are going to get a report that reflects your ability to design research – not there.

If you aren’t a researcher by trade, or if you are too busy doing your actual job to put considerable time and thinking into research questions, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t request that the firm or researcher you select review the research questions and learning objectives in advance of any data collection. With a limited budget, however, very few if any quality firms or consultants will be able (or willing) to do this.

Now we come to Step Four, in which these earlier problems compound. If you pick a firm that shows they can provide you with answers to the questions you asked them to, or you pick a firm that looks like good ‘value for money’, you may be missing out. A good firm or consultant will show you they have methodical and thematic expertise, but they will tell you that they want to get to know you and your business before they commit to any hard or fast approach. They want to fix your research before they do your research.

To do that, however, they need time and money. You should be looking for a firm or consultant that tells you what good research costs. They will probably go above your budget – this is not always a bad sign. Indeed, it can be a very good sign because it means they value getting your research right.

They know that research done well takes time and money, but they also know it can and does have a critically important impact on your business. They will want to reconfigure the Terms of Reference so that they are feasible, and so they know they can deliver something of quality, before they ever sign a contract. They aren’t being difficult – they want to get it right.

Good research is as much about the design as it is about the collection and analysis of data. If I’m honest with you, the second half of the equation is the cheap and easy part. So if you are consistently getting less than stellar research from your service providers, its time to take a long hard look at the design processes that got you there.

Melyn McKay is a socio-cultural anthropologist with the advisory firm, Monticello LLP.

I’m A Barbie Girl, In My Barbie World.

An anonymous photographer from Portland has created a truly world-class satire of the tedious Instagram trend to show off by being #humble and #authentic. The ‘Hipster Barbie’ account is not only hilariously funny, it highlights an important 21st Century social trend of self expression/importance….

Monticello LLP

I’ve Got The Power!

The Future of….Energy
– by Guy Winter, Partner, Addleshaw Goddard

In 1974’s noir classic Chinatown– arguably Hollywood’s greatest-ever movie about the ‘Water-Energy-Food Nexus’- Jack Nicholson’s character, hard-boiled PI J.J. Gittes, says of supply from LA’s Water and Power corporation: “Before this- I turned on the faucet, it came out hot and cold, I didn’t think there was a thing to it.”

Now Jack- and his fellow Californians- know all about the value of water. Since the Western U.S. Energy Crisis of 2000 and 2001 and, more recently, prices at the pump that have already fluctuated by nearly a buck and a half per gallon in the last 12 months, they know all about power uncertainties too.

What is still less well-known is how intertwined their- and the world’s- water and energy futures truly are. To understand how the Water-Energy Nexus works, you only need to drive your 1937 Buick 85 miles down south from Chinatown.

When the Carlsbad Desalination Project opens in 2016, it will be the largest ocean desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, purifying 50 million gallons of drinking water a day for thirsty San Diego County.

This is a conventional reverse osmosis plant that smashes 100 million gallons of seawater a day through state-of-the-art membrane filters. The salt and other nasties are left behind, leaving Greater San Diego with all that lovely freshwater- plus the bill for 38 megawatts of average continuous energy (let’s say, US$50 million per year).

To put that power demand in context, a modern, commercial-scale wind turbine- the type you may see in the British countryside, and cuss at if you’re Donald Trump- has a maximum generating capacity of 2.5-3MW. And- as Donald will doubtless tell you- only generates that intermittently.

So that’s the rub: you can have as much water as you have the power to desalinate (or to pump from somewhere else). Oh, and you can only have as much power as you have water to generate it with.

Here in the UK, the electricity generation sector is by far the largest licensed abstractor of water of all sectors of the economy, including public water supply. Meanwhile, our water industry uses up to three per cent of total energy used in the UK, treating and transporting water and wastewater.

And that’s in this watery isle- desert kingdom Saudi Arabia burns 1.5 million barrels of oil every day to desalinate water. Even at today’s oil price (which we’ll come onto), that’s a water bill of US$70.5 million per day- US$25,732,500,000 per year.

If their water consumption continues to grow at its current rate, by 2040, they will be burning all their oil just to satisfy domestic freshwater consumption. This is what brings empires to their knees; that changes the economic geography of the world.

Coal-fired generation supplies 70% of China’s electricity needs, much of it via old-fashioned water-cooled facilities. But since there’s no water in the arid, industrial north of the country where the energy is needed, China simply can’t build the new coal-fired capacity it needs to power projected growth in energy consumption of 60% by 2035 (Source: BP Energy Outlook 2035). In fact, BP projects that by 2035, China will become the world’s largest energy importer, overtaking even resource-constrained Europe.

All of this sets the scene for a future that will prize both water and energy (because they’re kind of the same thing) hugely more than at any time since the Industrial Revolution began to tap the world’s resources with unprecedented voracity and technical prowess.

2015 was the first year in which water crises took the top spot in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report. Whilst in Africa, with its growing middle-class and a young population which will form 23% of global workforce by 2050, only 290 million out of 915 million have access to electricity- and the number without is actually GROWING.

I had the incongruous experience of sitting in the first world splendour of one of Lagos’ finest restaurants (unfair to name it, since this could have happened anywhere on the island), talking to excited Nigerians about their country’s boundless possibilities, only for the lights to cut out three times before our starters arrived.

And Nigeria has the ninth largest proven natural gas reserves in the world (US$2.5 billion dollars of which is literally burnt off as a waste-product from more lucrative crude oil production every year- because there aren’t the pipes to transport it or the power-stations to sell it to).

For now, Nigerians pride themselves on their expertise in tinkering with their (exorbitantly expensive) diesel back-up generators at home.

In the West, almost all economic activity over the last 250 years has been massively subsidised by cheap energy from fossil fuels and (since the Age of Steam may be over for the railroads, but it certainly isn’t for the power sector)- water. That game is up.

As I look at my screen this morning, the spot price for Brent crude is under US$50. In theory this represents a value transfer from net oil-producing states back to net oil-consumers (such as the UK).

The reality is that this is no longer a zero-sum game, but part of a long-term structural change that will see the costs of finding, producing and transporting Oil & Gas creep relentlessly upwards- until ultimately some of it is simply left in the ground.

There may currently be quirks of supply and (in China’s case) plummeting demand, but paradoxically the present glut of cheap oil is deferring final investment decisions on new Oil & Gas projects (estimated by O&G gurus Wood Mackenzie to be worth around US$1.5 trillion), storing up an investment shortfall that guarantees a volatile future for the medium-term market. So Oil & Gas won’t be subsidising anyone indefinitely.

US shale oil and gas is not necessarily cheap to produce- but it is developed by hugely flexible, innovative and incentivised operators, in exactly the right place to sell it into a vast and lucrative market.

That’s why the US shale producers are the new “swing producers”, replacing OPEC- which now seems to have let the supply-side genie out of the bottle forever. US shale is the bogeyman to OPEC (itself once dubbed ‘One Purely Evil Cartel’ in the land of the free) because it now represents an effective cap on the oil price.

Nimble (i.e. non State-controlled) oil companies can ramp up production in the Eagle Ford, Bakken or Marcellus Shales very quickly when prices for sweet, light crude pass the break-even for given fields, and consistently drive production costs down by squeezing the supply chain for greater efficiencies and innovation.

In the wider world, over 40% of global electricity is still produced from coal- but with the International Energy Agency warning this year that without further action on emissions from coal-fired power plants, nothing can reverse global warming beyond the 2 degree threshold for irreversible dangerous climate change and the G7 aiming to reduce fossil fuel emissions by up to 70 per cent by 2050, coal-fired generation capacity in Europe and North America is falling off a cliff.

What then does the future look like, without Old King Coal and JR Ewing to prop up the bar? As always, it is already partly with us:

1. All retail and consumer-focussed companies will be energy companies too: the need for predictably-priced, reliable energy and the financial and reputational cost of large residual waste footprints is already driving the sector to innovative, small-scale renewable energy and Energy-from-Waste projects (solar panels on the factory and car-park roof; wind turbines on the industrial estate; on-site anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis Energy-from-Waste treatment processes).

2. Existing assets will be sweated more: why not use the idle back-up diesel generator your hospital is required by law to maintain, to off-set intermittent renewable energy from nearby wind and solar generation?

3. Demand-side energy and water management and technology will slash consumption- that means smart meters, smart appliances (smart fridges!), electricity storage (maybe even via Tesla electric car batteries), efficient domestic boilers and telemetry systems to identify and help fix leaking pipes. On the idyllic western shore of Lake Como, our client Xylem Inc. helped the local pumping station to cut energy use by 30 per cent, with an intelligent control system that automatically adjusts the rotation speed of the pump impellers, to deal with the changing composition of the input water.

4. Big thermal power stations and their iconic, brutalist cooling tower stacks will continue to dwindle in number- the new Hinkley Point 3.2GW EPR nuclear power station in Somerset bucks that trend, but at a projected cost of £24.5 billion; almost certainly we will need a new generation of Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) power stations before renewable energy is ready to keep the lights on; but unless vital, exciting but criminally-ignored Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology is developed at scale to catch CO2 from fossil fuel-burning power stations and send it by pipeline for burial in depleted North Sea gasfields (or somewhere), the energy landscape will have to change dramatically if the UK is to hit ambitious G7 and EU emissions targets.

5. It looks like being another American Century- the US Shale Revolution is an incredible vindication of America’s innovation and the economic invigoration of freedom (as well, perhaps, as the precept that fortune favours the brave). We still don’t know the full extent of the economic boost American industry will receive from the chemical feedstock (especially ethane, for ethylene cracking) to be found in “wet” shale gas plays. China has huge shale gas reserves too (more, by volume, than the US), but not the rigs, technical data or water to exploit them. But necessity may yet be the mother of a Chinese 22nd Century, as China’s vast investment in renewable energy (and watch Germany too, with its extraordinary, trillion euro Energiewende blazing a remarkable renewable energy trail in Europe) could build a low-cost, reliable energy supply to power its manufacturing sector- just as America and the rest of the world finally hits the hydrocarbon wall.

6. It may or may not mean UK shale gas development, as a “transition fuel” into a truly renewable future. But that’s almost too close to call right now, with a huge glut of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) about to hit world energy markets, and pent-up, low-cost supply wreaking havoc with hydrocarbon prices for the foreseeable future. The great allure of UK shale is arguably not the prospect of Blackpool or Preston turning into the Dallas of the North, so much as security of supply in the event of political upheaval in Russia or the Middle East- and that chemical feedstock to keep the crackers at Grangemouth and Teesside running competitively.

7. Most likely of all is that if we can just go a bit easier on the world- put an end to slash-and-burn energy and water use, manage demand and use transition fuels such as natural gas and renewable energy more shrewdly- then technologies that we are only scratching the surface of now will save it. A friend of mine (and of the editor of this series) has recently been involved in the successful £22.7 million funding round by First Light Fusion, a spin-out from the University of Oxford, which has discovered new implosion processes that can achieve the high temperatures and compression necessary for nuclear fusion reactions. If they (or any of the rival and complementary technologies being developed in the UK and around the world) can get to commercial application- then that changes everything.

As Eddie Redmayne / Stephen Hawking says in The Theory of Everything (Hollywood’s greatest ever movie about the resilience of science?): “While there’s life, there is hope.” Water and energy are the essence of life, and there is definitely hope.

– with thanks to the author, Guy Winter, Partner at Addleshaw Goddard.

This Is The End?

The Economist ran a brilliant piece considering whether the ‘Golden Age’ of the western corporation may be coming to an end.

Writing up the results of some work by our ‘frenemies’ over at McKinsey, the article suggests that business in the West focus on ‘the one realm where the continue to have a comparative advantage – the realm of ideas.’

Given that our entire business is founded on this very insight, we say – Hallelujah!