Monthly Archives: March 2014

You Read Business Books, But How About Business Novels?

A reprieve from so-so books. That’s Jeffrey Archer’s four novels that make up The Clifton Chronicles.
A reprieve from so-so books. That describes Jeffrey Archer’s four novels that make up The Clifton Chronicles.

How can you go to work without Peter Drucker?

As you probably know, his books are a fund of knowledge about management and finding the right path to the future.

Peter Drucker warned against holding on to previous successes.

After all, when you look backward you run the risk of making a fiasco of the opportunities and problems that lay ahead.

Sage advice in changing times, especially since the early 2000s almost seem like the days of quill pens and inkpots.

Then there are business writers who remind you that nothing happens until you actually sell something.

That’s Drayton Bird.

His books, lectures and online presence rate at the high end of commonsense. is for anyone who needs to sell something. Remember selling?

Al Ries, is another supportive read.

He’ll help you with knowledge about differentiation.

We may be ahead when it comes to technology, but branding and content need to catch up.

To that point, if brands could talk they might say one thing to each other, ‘are you really me in disguise?’

On balance, there’s so much sameness out there with cookie-cutter strategies and executions.

All that, combined with under-imagined, lifeless content, creates problems.

But then, for a break from the office, there are the fictional problems to strain your nerves in an entertaining way.

Business novels make for great reading.

To keep you turning pages you get ridiculously complacent supremos, risk-takers and mavericks, maddening uncertainties and the weakening effect of indecision.

Add to that, tectonic shifts in fortune, criminals, stolen intellectual property, generational battles, the misadventure of poor ideas and stillborn ventures.

Continue on with despairing board members, the launch of bold new enterprises, lady chairmen, the odd murder, a nanosecond when everything seems to be perfect, then it all goes hopelessly haywire.

Sound vaguely familiar?

All of the above is deftly woven together with memorable characters, politics, skullduggery, social life, courtroom drama, powerful women and settings that range from Britain and New York to Buenos Aires and Israel in Jeffrey Archer’s books.

I’m thinking of The Clifton Chronicles; if you haven’t had the enduring pleasure of reading Archer, start there.

It’s riveting stuff, luminous and exciting.

You have four books in The Clifton Chronicles: Only Time Will Tell, The Sins of the Father, Best Kept Secret, Be Careful What You Wish For. 

A fifth book will be published in 2015.

The commercial world is at the center of things but the scope of the story extends far wider.

‘Saga’ best describes it as it’s set against actual events covering some fifty years from WW1.

Banking, finance, ship building, hotels, food companies, publishing, the business of fine art — it’s all there.

A nice example of actual events is a villain with untold millions in fake £5 notes.

It’s not fanciful.

It’s reflective of Operation Bernhard, the Nazi code name for the plan to flood Britain with counterfeit Bank of England notes.

There’s also an appearance of Sony founder, Akio Morita, in 1959 as he visits UK banks to gain funding for his young company.

Another aspect of the story features the building of a luxury cruise ship that echoes Cunard’s QE2 flagship effort in the 1960s.

Oddly enough, just a few days ago on March 24th, reality copied fiction.

Richard Branson announced plans for a $1.7b, project, with funding from the Gulf, to go into the cruise line business and build a liner from scratch.

Did he read Jeffrey Archer?

One thing’s for sure, you should.

Share with us. Tom Wolfe is another who writes well about the business world. His A Man in Full is an example. Do you have something you could recommend? Thanks, Steve Ulin.



Now If You’re Accused of Being ‘Plastic’, That’s Good.

Wii your brain be as good at 90? That's the age when architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the Guggenheim Museum. Photo by kind permission of Kwong Yee Cheng – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Will your brain be as good at 90? That’s the age when architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the Guggenheim Museum.
Photo by kind permission of Kwong Yee Cheng – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 If you’re as plastic as Barbie, or Ken, you’re on the right track.

We’re talking about plasticity of the brain, of course.

The ability of your brain to change itself. To grow in power, to be retooled, expand, become more cognitive and surprise you with unforeseen ability.

This is the science of neuroplasticity.

It’s a proven thing. We’re no longer limited by thinking that insists our brains are hardwired, immutable and held back by genetic make-up, health, social status and intelligence.

Neuroplasticity detours around all that with real news.

Your brain is always undergoing massive plastic reorganization and you can expand your mental capacity. You can develop your brain even after injuries

Scientists tell us it’s possible to redesign the brain and boost cognition.

Weak activation of brain areas can become stronger; any brain can benefit.

More to that, you can learn complex skills and languages your whole life. では、日本でもリーンでき … which translates as, you can even learn Japanese.

Call it a new swagger for your mental abilities. Because the limit to what a brain can absorb is far greater than previously thought.

Equally, as you grow older you may not have to completely surrender to diminished mental abilities.

It’s fascinating to note Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum when he was 90. An agile mind.

But with brain training would the architect have made the Guggenheim even more stunning than it is? Scientists might say, ‘quite possibly’.

It’s thought that brain exercises enrich your mind and help avoid Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Think what that could mean to vast numbers of people and their families.

All this isn’t just my opinion.

The work of Dr. Michael Merzenich has pioneered brain research.

Read about him in The Brain That Changes Itself by Michael Doidge, M.D.

Delve into this book and you could well agree, it’s a must for anyone curious about improvement, achieving more and discovering that you can push back barriers you didn’t even know were there.

It gives new meaning to the expression ‘change your mind’ with the fact that we’re finally beginning to rewire our brains to use more of our brilliance.

Remember grade school science class and the observation that we only use a small part of the brain? That seems to be changing.

The CEO of, Mike Scanlon has much to say about that.

His thought is, you work out your body, why not work out your brain.

Luminosity’s six-word tagline — Discover What Your Brain Can Do – is strong on promise.

It’s prompted people to go on his site for brain training that’s fun; training that feels like you’re just playing games, but the benefits could be dramatic.

With Luminosity, chances are you’ll discover your brain is awake and it can re-make itself, giving you more insight, greater concentration and deeper memory.

As we said, there’s real ‘promise’ there. You might begin to think that improving your brain isn’t just your job but your hobby, with all the interest and dedication that comes with doing something you love.

In business it could transform the HR department. Their job could become not just sourcing and onboarding people but building the capabilities of current staff by adding brain training and psychologists to manage it.

How about businesses that promote human improvement? Like gyms, day spas and some clothing stores.

Imagine if you could to walk into Michael Kors for a handbag and come out with a great choice plus having completed a special online brain training session to help you select it.

You drive home brighter for your purchase and your mental improvement.

Equinox is a gym in Manhattan that seemingly has everything. Maybe the best gym ever. You’d be hard pressed to improve anything about it.

Until now.

After cardio and weight training, imagine shifting over to brain training to top off your workout.

To coin a phrase you’d have the ‘strong mind in a strong body’ thing going for you.

If you’ve read this far, there’s one thing to consider.

The last 683 words would have been better and more valuable for you if …

If only this writer had more brain training.

Share your experiences with us. You send your people to seminars and have them read books to become more effective. Could braining training help them and help you empower your business? Thanks, Steve Ulin.  LinkedIn:








‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’ — Really?

Kaizen isn’t the only thing different about Japan. Its literacy rate is almost 100%. Geisha translates as ‘person of the arts’; the first geisha were men. Many companies hire people to hand out free packages of tissues that include an advertisement. The term karaoke means ‘empty orchestra’ in Japanese.
Kaizen isn’t the only thing different about Japan. Its literacy rate is almost 100%. Geisha translates as ‘person of the arts’; the first geishas were men. Many companies hire people to hand out free packages of tissues that include an advertisement. The term karaoke means ‘empty orchestra’ in Japanese.

Lego is appealing because it doesn’t insist you stick to the directions.

It’s not bossy that  way. So kids and adults let their imaginations go.

As a result you get a Lego model of the Kennedy Space Center, complete with 6-foot high rockets on launch gantries.

There’s also a 9-1/2 foot long Lego Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 with a wingspan of 10-1/2 feet.

Add to all that a 6 foot by 8 foot Lego Mona Lisa reproduction made from 30,000 bricks.

Leonardo da Vinci would have approved of the plastic Mona Lisa as it has the enigmatic smile down perfectly.

Building things and improving on your creations must be in our DNA. Lego gives you more than a hint we’re wired for it.

Which is why some directions for management success should be questioned.

Like the old familiar, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

Why is that line so often parroted by those who don’t how to think further?

Counter to the  ‘don’t fix it’ directive, you have the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement.

No doubt you’ve heard of Kaizen.

It focuses on continual quality improvements; advances in processes, technology, productivity, safety, leadership and the culture of a company. Or an individual.

Kaizen is a building block for lean manufacturing. Companies like Sony, Toyota and more use it.

It’s about making continual incremental improvements.

Those increments add up to big differences when it comes to business, personal life and even sport.

If you don’t create these small differences how will you compete with those who do?

Kaizen involves every employee in thinking about change – it asks for suggestions across the board.

Years ago  workers in an Australian aluminum plant suggested a small change in the metal-making process.

It benefitted Alcoa by millions in savings a year and boosted quality. As a reward the workers split a million dollars.

Another example is probably the greatest company you’ve never heard of.

Kosaka Smelting and Refining. In 2011 Fast Company rated them No. 14 in a list of the world’s most innovative companies.

They developed mining processes to extract undiscovered ore from exhausted gold mines.

When that came to an end, they made the jump to industrial mining.

Their business today is harvesting valuable metals from old computers, cell phones and other electronic devices. Given the monetary value of their recoveries you could call it recycling on steroids.

When it comes to brand ideas use Kosaka’s initiative as a model for improvement.

To get to concepts like ‘Just Do It’, ‘The Crazy Ones’, and ‘Lemon’ for Volkswagen, it would be rare to go with the first thing pops into your mind.

It often takes exhaustive work and coping with dead ends to come up with communications that push the boundaries of originality and appeal.

As the Australians say, it could keep you as busy as a one-armed taxi driver with crabs.

But even  if you have work as strong as the current Snickers ‘You’re Not You’ campaign, continue to look further.

Because one day the agency for Snickers will top that idea. You have to believe that If you’re a marketer in an environment where we’re ruled by a need for novelty.

Kaizen can help you with that as you cultivate fresh thinking. There’s a process to begin on a personal level.

Start by imagining that everything you do, while awake and while sleeping – is being recorded on video.

Admittedly that sounds a bit like self-consciousness in the extreme, but it’s known to work. It’s like visualizing yourself crossing the finish line first in sport.

With your on-screen persona you become more aware of your direction, actions and decisions.

It can make you more critical and effective as you begin to see problems as an opportunity rather than an impediment.

It prompts solutions to help you become something greater than you might have expected.

We all know that out-of-the-box thinking can result in innovative strategies and content. But why not go a step further.

Take your out-of-the-box stuff and then add Kaizen.

That way you could go from something that ‘ain’t broke’ to something that’s a breakthrough.

Share your stories with us. How do you shape your future? How do you go beyond the limits of ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’?  Thanks, Steve Ulin






Change. Change. Change.

Explorer, Henry Hudson, steps ashore in Manhattan, in September, 1609, to trade with the Indians. Photo courtesy of Paul Romaine. From the Henry Hudson Memorial, Bronx, NY.
Explorer, Henry Hudson, steps ashore in Manhattan in September, 1609 to trade with the Indians. Photo courtesy of Paul Romaine. From the Henry Hudson Memorial, Bronx, NY.

Here’s a description of a famous place … you supply the name.

 ‘An island covered in oak, chestnut,

poplar, blue plums 

and huge outcrops of rock; the entire

island is rich in game

and surrounded by water teeming with

salmon, mullet and rays.’

No, it’s not somewhere in Patagonia or Tasmania. And it’s not a mythical island in your dreams.

 This is the explorer Henry Hudson in 1609 describing a place the Lenape Indians called mannahata, meaning hilly island.

 You know it in its much-changed form. Manhattan.

 Change … a level of change that begins to rival Manhattan’s transformation from a leafy Eden into the engine of world commerce is taking place in business.

 It’s already made the commercial landscape of the 90s almost unrecognizable.

 You don’t need me to tell you change is the main thing we all must cope with today.

 That’s change in what consumers want, change with products, change initiated by the competition, change in technology.

 Never before has the business environment been so fluid. No wonder we’re all so desperately trying to steer into that 10-½ foot-wide space called the passing lane.

 No doubt you’re changing: re-engineering your company, re-inventing key business processes, questioning conventional wisdom, refining management strategies, developing new knowledge bases, auditing your resources, encouraging your staff, building an internal constituency for change and living with TQM perpetually on the agenda.

 Now we know why office people are often ordering out for 8pm Chinese food deliveries.

 But with all your changes, you might want to address one more thing. Ideas.

 Not ideas as you know them, but an end run for thinking. A new approach to ensure you can engage and influence your target audience.

 In the digital age brands are no longer your hand puppet to do your bidding.

 As you know, that puppet is on the other hand. The hand of your customer.

 Which is why content needs to be sharpened with ideas that can influence customer behavior to your advantage.

 Help for better thinking is probably already at your boardroom table, in the form of your ad agency.

 Providing …

 Providing your agency people recognize the purpose of business is first and foremost to make customers and they have the ability to deliver on that across all channels.

 After all, without customers your CFO is on-hold when it comes to optimism.

Again, help with ideas is there for you, providing …

 Providing you use your agency as a strategic partner, not just as a vendor.

 Smart agencies know how to avoid category thinking that blurs your differentiation and deadens your efforts.

 They know your customers expect you to sell your product. But they’re also aware that people won’t sit still for messaging that’s self-centered and dull.

 Who would?

 Wasn’t it David Ogilvy who said, you can’t bore people into buying your product?

 Given free rein, agency strategists and creative teams are trained to avoid ideas that are wearily familiar. Ideas that merely tell you what the product is.

 Instead, they concentrate on stories that detail what a product can do for you.

 End-benefits are the difference, the kind of benefits that prompt emotions in people.

 Good agency people spend their lives focusing on what works and what doesn’t for everything from social media to videos to trade shows. The whole gamut of communications.

 Count on them to help you avoid Plan B and the inquest of wondering what you could have done better.

 Most good agencies are aware that the essence of successful marketing is showcasing familiar products in new and intriguing ways.

 Presenting brands anew is the first step in gaining influence and setting the stage for the moment someone buys.

 Stray from this and your efforts can become powerless and swamped.

 For some it might be a change to put more faith in their agency, to give them a voice to question all you do.

 Still, nothing is quite so helpful as a loyal and skillful devil’s advocate at your side.

 Look around, there are precedents for this.

 To many it’s doubtful if Geico would be as successful without the Martin Agency; the same with Nike and Wieden & Kennedy; and the same with JetBlue and Mullen.

 More to this, with strong agency involvement the difference can be dramatic.

 As dramatic as going from mannahata to Manhattan.

There’s all sorts of bridges, from a log across a creek to the Golden Gate. What sort of bridges are you building with your ad agency? Are you true partners? Share your experience with us

Content That’s the Marketing Equivalent of Dog-Paddle.

Inspiration for those looking to develop their abilities even more. Not only was Paul Gauguin a great painter he was also a great writer. Photo courtesy of Rita Willaert,
Inspiration for those looking to develop their abilities even more: not only was Paul Gauguin a great painter he was also a great writer. Photo courtesy of Rita Willaert.

Paul Gauguin: the great writer.

Evelyn Waugh: the great painter.

Hold on a moment … is that correct? Wasn’t Gauguin a painter and Waugh a writer?

The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘yes’.

Because when you open Paul Gauguin’s Tahiti notebook, Noa Noa, you’ll see he was a writer with no small amount of genius.

If you enjoy feasting your eyes on a Gauguin canvas you’ll love running them over a page written by the painter.

Had he chosen to, Gauguin might have achieved as much with his pen as he did with his brush.

Evelyn Waugh is said to be the 20th century’s finest writer in the English language. What confirms his brilliance in books like Brideshead Revisited is his ability as a portraitist.

With an amazing economy of words you get a picture of a character or a place that is uncannily vibrant and lifelike.

But Waugh wanted first and foremost to be painter, which explains his ability to see with a sharper eye.

Applied to business, the  multi-talent approach could be a strong way forward for product companies and ad agencies.

CEOs are already working in this way across many areas of their businesses from finance to logistics. But how about a heavy up for marketing?

Certainly there’s a feeling today,  echoed by Bill Hewlett of Hewlett Packard, that marketing and communications are too important to be left just to the marketing department.

After all, public perception and  your presence online are continually shaping a your brand  and ultimately your stock price.

So, like many CEOs  you may already be slipping into meetings with your marketers.

But if you’re out to make your sales curve look like a mountaineering success, be sure to know as much as they do. Be equally effective.

For starters get up to speed on social media and understand how it integrates with your marketing plan.

Books like Enchantment, The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions by Guy Kawasaki can help.

There’s also the Shiv Singh book, Social Media Marketing for Dummies.

Equally, you can page through award books like Communication Arts to gain a better view of messaging through the digital lens and develop greater insight into the rich relationship between brands and customers today.

Award books are more than an ego boost for creatives. You’ll see ideas that drive differentiation and work that displays the most important qualities of content … surprise value and the ability to go against the flow to change minds.

Your agency is another source of marketing commonsense.

Talk to the social media people about what your brand feels like to those who encounter it in daily life and online. Get to know how well-judged content can change market behavior to your advantage.

Look for trends and try to ride them. On that subject, the French cheese, La Vache Qui Rit, was approved by the hip South Beach Diet. Accordingly, sales jumped 250%.

Spend time with your account director to review product opportunities and competitive activity. Resist the temptation to evaluate KPIs on assumed knowledge and go for meaningful analytics.

Introduce yourself to your agency’s creative people and become familiar with how they’re trained to push boundaries with fresh thinking that can continually present your brand anew.

Find out how art directors and writers turn can logic into the kind of emotion that works for the moment someone buys. Get to know how the tech people think about message delivery and while you’re at it, ask about the future of mobile.

A strong integrated agency team — creatives plus tech people — can help you avoid commercial autism and content that’s the marketing equivalent of dog-paddle.

You might well agree, there’s far too much iffy work out there.

A CEO’s involvement should also contribute to a better brief for your agency. When your agency’s creative people  know more, they can do more.

Combining your C-level management skills with strong marketing abilities will also serve you well when you’re sitting on a committee to evaluate new strategies and content.

On that point, if you feel uneasy about a campaign because you’ve never seen anything like it before, smile broadly. Your creative team could well be on track for success.

Breakthrough work never makes people feel cozy. After all, when they were first shown in Paris, Gauguin’s paintings prompted unease and doubt from the experts.

But then what did those blinkered critics know?