Archives For business

Setting the Scene

A month ago I got an e-mail from a good friend asking if I wanted to attend the “White Dinner” picnic in Zurich on the 3rd of August. While thinking about it, I logged onto Facebook and saw that the event was advertised there. The pictures looked wonderful, the concept unique and many friends had said they were going. I’m the kind of guy to make a spontaneous decision and after checking my calendar, I thought, yes, I want to be part of this beautiful event.

White Dinner

Picture from White Dinner Zurich Facebook Page


Your track record determines others expectations

After quite a few e-mails between the group of friends, we bought a table for 10 people. I wasn’t quite sure what was included in the price, and didn’t worry about it too much. Worst case scenario we had to buy food and drink, best case it was provided. Already here, there was a potential of being clearer. I would suggest this be put on the webpage under a simple and easy to read table/chart. The location was also not clear, but with the pictures from Berlin in years past, we thought for sure it would be in Zurich at the lake (China Garden) or maybe Lindenhof or Irchel Park. No worries though, for 59 CHF / Person we knew we’d be in for a treat. When I read most of the unfriendly and frankly irrational comments of many complaining about the event, what is clear is that the past locations of the White Dinner in other cities set very high expectations for where it would be held in Zurich.

Not exactly in Zurich City

A week before the event I saw on Facebook again that the location would be at the Rennbahn (Racetrack) in Dielsdorf. This is not too far from my part of the city, but isn’t really Zurich city either. Not a bad location though, a horse race track is often quite beautiful and Dielsdorf is a few minutes with the S-Bahn. It did however change my expectations of the event. Added to that was the first article about the event in the NZZ. While I found accusations of the event being a ripoff to be exaggerated in a city where restaurants get away serving tap water for 3.50 a liter to otherwise paying guests under the guise of donating 2.00 francs to charity, the fact that the organization only put in for a permit for the event a mere few weeks before the event shoes a lack of planning. A person n the ground in Zurich and in every city the group hopes to have their is necessary. That the rules are the rules and businesses cannot, with short notice, have huge swaths of a public park for their use is understandable. However, even here one could argue that concert venues like open airs do just that. In short, the OC needed someone in Zurich organizing and things and working with the city earlier, but a horse race track a mere 10km from the city centre is not a scandal, in fact it’s a beautiful location.

Image from NZZ Article

Image from NZZ Article


It’s not a Ripoff, it’s a business

Regarding the accusations of being a ripoff, I fully support the OC in their statement, that, yes, they are a company looking to make profits. It takes a lot of people and time to organize such an event and they need to be paid. As an event organizer myself, I know exactly the labour, time, and resource costs of putting together even smaller conferences and events. There are also risks, such as deposits that might not be returned and not finding enough guests. Because events are such a great place to do marketing the cost to attendees is often vary little, as large sponsors foot the majority of the bill. Being bombarded by advertising in our modern lives we simply fail to acknowledge that companies often pay huge sums for the right to flurry us with their logos. The Oper für Alle was an example of this. It was wonderfully done, a brilliant experience that I enjoyed greatly, but it was sponsored by Zurich Insurance and the thousands of chairs selling for 15 francs a piece with the Zurich logo on it helped make that clear. The White Dinner is meant to be elegant and communal. Would logos, banners, posters, trinkets and such everywhere be appropriate? No, it would degrade the event some to a marketing stunt from a bigger company trying to get people to buy their product or at least increase brand awareness. Paying for goods and services directly in cash and making money is honest and fair. At least you know what you’re getting and you can demand something for it. (Read “What Money can’t Buy” by Michael Sandel for a more indepth study of the omnipresence of advertising.)

One last thought on the claim that it’s a ripoff. A ripoff is when I’m put in a situation where I have little choice and then made to pay a much higher than normal price. An example is not being allowed to take drinks through airport security, and on the other side having to pay 1-2 francs more for a bottle of water. That is taking advantage, of travellers and is a ripoff. This event, by its nature can’t be a ripoff because anyone buying a ticket has the option not to attend and not pay. If you think I want to be there and pay 60 francs for it, then that is your choice. Some people buy 100 franc bottles of wine, and some people buy 4 franc bottles of wine. Value for money (Preis Leistung) often comes down to the individual.

Communication is Nr. 1

This brings me to the communication element of White Dinner. The concept behind White Dinner is very simple and the website needs to reflect that. Confusion quickly ensued via Facebook as to what was included in the price of a ticket and what was going to happen. Already on July 12th an interested person had asked on Facebook what the plan was should it rain. As an event organizing company, information needs to be clearly communicated to attendees. Facebook is not a good place to relay this type of information. Facebook allows too many people to engage and causes information to be lost in such cases. Perhaps the folks at Facebook will come up with a better event organization platform, but for now an event website is best with e-mail and/or text updates is best. Here is a rough sketch of what it should look like:

White Dinner ZurichMy disappointment

The OC of the While Dinner suffered through a barrage of hateful comments and bad reports when they decided to make a judgement call on postponing the event so that the spirit of it would be held – that is a fancy picnic in beautiful surroundings. Having a picnic on a parking lot in the rain is not that. The call to postpone it was smart and those who will take part on the 10th of August will surely have a great experience. My disappointment came from calls from people writing things like “Go back to where you came from, we don’t want you here anyway.”  These comments are ignorant and make the rest of us Swiss look bad – a real shame. I wish people would think twice before posting on public forums. The other thing that disappointed me was the second NZZ article that there are plans to organize a free White Dinner at the lake. While I believe that people can organize quickly and cheaply thanks to the internet, those hoping for a White Dinner of the quality you will get in Dielsdorf are mistaken. Furthermore, I believe this is merely an attempt of someone trying to capitalize on someone else’s misfortune.


I wish the organizers of the White Dinner much success. Myself and my friends look forward to dining with others in the August sun and enjoying good company, great food and fantastic wines. I also hope that people see the work it takes to organize and event and why it can’t be free if it’s going to be truly organized. I also hope that future event organizers stop using Facebook, at least at the moment for event communication. Use it for marketing and shut off comments.


Congratulations, you and your company have done it. You have your own Facebook page and Twitter stream. How hard was that now? How do you feel, and what are you expecting to gain. Now that you’ve caught up to the times, here are some things you may want to think about before investing too much more time, money, and energy in this endeavour, because chances are that your company should ditch Facebook, Twitter and Co.

“What is this guy talking about?” you’re probably thinking. “Why would we do that after everything that we’ve invested already?” Here’s my answer to these questions.

Let’s get started


From Xplornet

First of all let’s look at the purpose of social media. Social media was initially created to connect people using the internet. Sure we were already connected via e-mail and chat rooms, but generally the internet was and is a repository for information. Individuals, companies, and organizations can load information onto the web, where it can be found thanks to search engines like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Co. This content and search function was to be paid for by online advertising. Social media was supposed to be, well… social, and connect individuals to engage in conversations. However, already at an early stage social media started to become a public stream of consciousness. With so many messages showing up in any average user’s stream(s), trying to get heard has become a shouting match, and unfortunately much of what is being shouted lacks any importance, it’s like the below scene from Anchorman, where Brick, played by Steve Carell, best sums up the intelligence and importance of what many are saying.

The Story Continues

Continuing on with our history: Companies were obviously quick to adopt social media into their marketing. Being social, meeting the customer where they’re comfortable, and metrics were the lucrative claims that sold business decision makers. Your advertising could go viral for next to nothing. People would market for you. The promise was akin to actually being able to track and quantify word-of-mouth advertising.

The easiest thing to measure are Likes on Facebook, and followers on Twitter, views on YouTube, and +1s on Google+. So everyone went looking for them, but how do you get people to like your page? Well either people like your brand or you need to attract them. Attracting them usually revolves around giveaway campaigns. These campaigns do a great job attracting those looking for free stuff, but they are not evangelists. These are not people who spread the word about a product, and some companies have realized this like Burger King in Norway

Of course your interactions will generally climb as a percentage the fewer followers you have. Liking is too easy and doesn’t actually say or do anything other than potentially give Facebook & Co. an insight into your interests, though even here there is the difference between saying and doing. And when we see how many things are posted on social media without any background research (a simple googling of a term or event*), it’s quite probable that even with Big Data, the picture companies get of us isn’t entirely correct. As Crisis Relief Singapore points out in a poignant ad – liking isn’t helping:


Deceiving Metrics

And while some companies have figured out that the number of likes isn’t important, here is further case for how much damage all your likes might be causing your brand on Facebook.

And for users of Twitter, a recent article in the New York times shows that the trending metrics might not really be important at all, as what’s trending is either trending with people who already love your brand. Think about any time Apple launches a new product. Or people who either dislike your brand, or are customers you don’t really want. Think about the irrational, anti-Coca Cola tweets after their Super Bowl commercial this year.

Digibabble and the importance of real conversations

For many companies, and yours might be one of them, social media has become pushing mechanism. Deals, sales, and new products and services are highlighted on a continual basis. And when you’re not pushing profit generating products and services you’re chasing likes through often meaningless pictures and banter like “Guess where this picture was taken,” or “Congratulations to So-and-So for winning the Oscar for Film XYZ” both of which have little to do with what you actually do. All of this culminated in a cacophony of meaningless digibabble as Y&R Global CEO David Sable calls it. Furthermore, when fans actually interact with your page, interaction fails. Dialogue requires a flowing exchange of ideas. Questions and answers do not count as dialogues. Read Plato and you have a long discussion, not simply Socrates posing the question “What is justice?” and a simple answer that “Justice means living up to your legal obligations and being honest” and then ten people liking the answer. Often this is not your social media team’s fault, but rather a lack of resources. Know that when you open yourself up to conversations you need to be open to both compliments and ridicule, and you best have answers to questions. This is why Apple Computers doesn’t bother engaging in Social Media. Sure they’ve claimed their sites, but they don’t post anything, because it doesn’t align with their philosophy. If you have a question, a Genius in the Apple Store will gladly help you during your pre-arranged appointment. An example of a company doing it wrong, or showing that a social team needs quick, accurate answers to questions is Lufthansa.

My friend Gerrit has Senator Status with Lufthansa. Recently he wanted to fly from Munich to the US. Arriving at the airport he was told that his reserved seat had been given away. When he asked to speak to someone he received no help, nor did he receive financial compensation for needing to spend another day in Munich. As no one at the airport would help, and he was told to file a complaint in a letter via the post. Not happy with this resolution, he posted a message on Lufthansa’s Facebook page. The answer he received here too was a link to the complaints part of the Lufthansa website where the same information was posted. To say the least he was not happy, and Lufthansa may have lost a loyal customer. Not that social media is to blame, but it didn’t help, and it didn’t help because the company is not set up to deal with customer complaints in real time. Otherwise if you check out the Lufthansa Facebook page, they do a pretty good job of answering questions, but as it’s all in a stream it’s hard for people to follow the information or find it.

Social Media needs to be human

Social media means opening yourself up for a conversation, and in some ways a cross examination. It has the opportunity to create transparency for your company, but if you’re not ready for that, you best stay away.

Companies that have done a good job of using social media so far are small firms let be entrepreneurs and small teams that want to interact with their customers and potential customers. I’m a 50% stakeholder in a small language school in Zurich, and we care what people say and ask, we also try to answer messages and comments within 12 hours and love dialogue with people learning German and English. Dialogue however is rare, as it takes a concerted effort to write a comment and actually engage with a page, “liking” is a simple click, and is why it means almost nothing. Have we received more students from our Facebook and Twitter work? No. Do we push on it? Yes, we push our blog – information for German learners. Do we push sales? No, because people don’t want to be sold to on social media. We also try to share interesting articles and information relevant to our followers and our community. We’re not social media gurus, but we’re human and people get genuine human interaction on our page, and that’s why they like it. If you can give your social media team autonomy and the ability to answer questions, comments, and concerns with authority, and let them interact with users in a friendly and personal way, social media might help you create better connections to your customers and potential customers. If that’s not the case, shut down your social media sites, and stay focused on your product, customer satisfaction, and your other marketing strategy. And equally important, remember how many people you can have a conversation with. I guarantee 100,000 is too many.

*One of my favourites is the picture of the wave height after the tsunami near Japan in 2011, which floats around as the radiation in the ocean.

The death of TV?

For some years there has been talk of the fall or death of television, and there has been a plethora of reasons from the rise and success of Xbox and Apple TV, to illegal downloads, and YouTube, and companies like Netflix producing shows specifically for the net. While all are good arguments, if television was truly dying it wouldn’t be making record profits. Howard Lindzon makes a great argument about why TV is not dying, by saying that it has become more immersive and ubiquitous – that is straddling everything from the traditional TV set to computers and laptops over tablets and now even mobile phones. You can’t escape TV. The companies that are doing best create and distribute content over many channels.

A box of crap

The sheer amount of channels, though, and all of their media does mean that fewer people are probably sitting in front of their television to witness “historic events”; more likely they will see it on their computing or mobile device than in their living room with family and neighbors crowded around. Television is also evolving and changing, and while the industry continues to push out lazy content like Pop Idle, the Bachelor, and uncountable other shows that lead the economically destitute and those lacking education to believe that they just need a lucky break to get on TV and be famous, and not that the political and social systems have broken down and are not helping lift people into better lives through increased education and level playing fields. Criminal TV shows, which if you look at most Western TV show three different CSI shows that pretty much all tell the same brutal story over and over and over. The subliminal take away being that life is dangerous and that going out at night alone is not safe. What a great deal of TV has become is a box of crap. The intellectual, educated, and clever television that used to be common seems to have disappeared. Watch this clip of Dali on was on the game show “What’s My Line?” in the 1950s.

People want stories

With bad storytelling being done on standard networks, it’s been the cable networks like HBO, USA, AMC, and now Netflix that are telling good stories and gaining viewership in the masses again – there are fan clubs dedicated to Game of Thrones. At last year’s Edinburgh Television Festival, actor Kevin Spacey spoke about the future of television, saying that the medium is irrelevant as long as there is story. Watch the full lecture by clicking on this link, or watch the shorter version embedded in this post. Missing from the shorter version is the great message that Spacey underlines: The core of great television is the creatives, who come up with great content – great stories.

The future

Kevin Spacey also says that creative talent can come from anywhere and anyone. Welcome Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This young man is not just an actor, but also a director, screenwriter, producer, editor and musician. He’s a multi talent, and along with his brother has come up with the future of television, and I believe is launching a revolution aimed at re-engaging people with television to make sure true talent finds its way to a screen and is seen by the world. HITRECORD.TV is a project he launched back in 2005 with his brother. The two quickly saw that there is a world of talent out there. They also realized that the Internet is not just a threat or place to show media, it’s also a great place to source collaboration. From music, to short videos to art and information, HITRECORD.TV covers it all, engages viewers – respects them and highlights talent. Along with great drama driven story Spacey talks about, the open source production of HITRECORD.TV will be the future of television. For anyone wondering, yes, it makes money.

Watch the future here:

(I originally wrote this article for

In November 2010, TED curator Chris Anderson started a TED initiative, in line with TED’s motto of “ideas worth spreading,” calling on companies and organizations to make ads worth spreading.

 His idea was brilliant—advertising needs to be more than stalking potential clients and trapping them into a corner where they feel obligated against their better judgement to interact with the company or product being marketed. Good companies are above that, they sell a product or provide a service that has a meaning to the audience. Mr. Anderson points out two main criteria of what is needed for an ad to do this:

  1. Passion—the intense attention of the audience
  2. Authentic community members—people want to see / read / hear your message and share it

Since Mr. Anderson’s call to action, many companies have turned to blogging—the idea behind which is to provide information about the firm and its products and services to potential customers and clients. However, a great many of these posts are built around one thing: SEO optimized fluff. These articles solely exist in order to have a blog and to get Google searches to land on a company’s blog. Just like our diets—made up of cheap calories—the printed word is cheap, and more is … well … more. And as we get fat on empty calories we become deaf and blind to the onslaught of noise and images that bombard our daily lives. This content lacks passion and does not find authentic community members. Given this reality, one might say that Mr. Anderson’s dream has failed.

Yet, I give credit to Mr. Anderson’s appeal for ads worth spreading. Some companies are doing it and they are doing it brilliantly. So how do you and your company achieve this? The answer lies in who you are and what you want. Here the Zen belief of “like attracts like” holds true and authentic messaging will find an authentic audience. Genuine, sustainable and in the end profitable growth is gained when your message is true—done with a purpose that goes beyond the simple sale’s pitch of whatever it is you have to offer. Aligning your firm with a cause that improves the lives of your customers, employees and those in the community is a way to go about this. Telling your story or one of your client’s story is another.

As always the golden rules of less is more, and quality is more important than quantity are vital. In the turbulent noise of today’s modern media landscape there is an important place for craftsmen tailoring your messaging to tell the world who you and your firm are. Elegant and precise writing, beautiful video and photography woven together with your story will find you the audience you want and help you stand out and experience organic growth.

To round off this post I’d like to tell you three stories of how I’ve seen authenticity work for businesses.

The first story is about a young design firm in New York City. While questioning the purpose of the firm and the ideals that the business wanted to see in its current and future team members the folks at Holstee came up with a wonderful manifesto picnicking in the park a few years ago. They wrote down their feelings and attitude about work and life and created a beautiful poster and did a few creative and simple videos that have since gone viral.

The team didn’t spend a lot of money on the idea, but they listened to what was going on inside their firm—that which makes them tick and then shared it with the world—that’s authentic. What’s your firm’s manifesto?

My second story is about getting to the core of what you want to do. IBM, a company that has seen itself move from computer hardware production to technology consultant that finds solutions to modern problems through computer systems simplified their purpose even more. They find answers to make cities smarter. And in identifying what it is that they do, they came up with an ad campaign that not only says what they do, but shows it. Elegant yet simple posters also meet a societal need in the urban world. Authentic messaging provides the audience with a value.

Lastly, I’d like to share my own story. I used to teach German in Zurich. After watching Mr. Anderson’s video and thinking about what it was that I did. I realized that many of my students had no grammatical background and that this is necessary in order for them to understand German. I started blogging about the German language in English and taking real-life problems and explaining why they happen and how to correct them. The blog grew slowly, but now receives over 20,000 views and approximately 12,000 visitors a month with over 100 articles entailing over 600 hours of research, writing, and formatting. This was one of the most authentic things I could do, as it picked up on real problems that many German learners have and can now find clear answers to. As a result the exponential growth curve of visitors and further recommendations show that even without investing hard money into Google Ad Words or Facebook marketing, you can get a following with genuine material.

As an individual, a firm, or a brand, I am positive that finding your authentic voice will get you your authentic audience. Great advertising isn’t advertising at all, it’s being yourself and showing who you are. You can get started with this right away by holding focused brainstorming sessions with your team members. Start off by asking them about the words that they associate with the company and its purpose, and then which stories they would tell. Doing such an exercise may even reveal new product and market potential for your firm. The possibilities are as endless as the ideas teeming inside your company. So before you go out and hire someone to invent a new story for you, or to yell out your tagline, take an inward look at the amazing things already happening within your company and craft your true authentic message from that.

A New Year’s Resolution

New Year's ResolutionsAt the end of December and/or beginning of January of every year millions, perhaps billions of people set resolutions for themselves on how they want to improve their lives in the new year. This year will surely not be any different. Unfortunately, for many this meme from last year will surely reflect a reality. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

I’ve been using the fitness tracker app RunKeeper since February 2010. I use it to record almost every run. Last year the app developers challenged people to enter their New Year’s fitness resolutions. Now you can add a resolution whenever you like, but while you’re thinking about it, why not do it for the new year, right? The good thing about using the app is that you can easily see a record of what you’ve done in the past. So I looked and saw that in 2012 I ran some 2500KM. Seeing that I set my New Year’s Resolution to run 3000KM in 2013. On January 1, 2013, I then went out and ran 15KM  or 0.5% of my set goal. Yesterday (December 31, 2013) I ran my 3000th kilometre of the year. Yes, it took an entire calendar year, much to my chagrin, as there was a time in the year when I thought I’d over achieve my goal by 10%.

Crazy? No, calculated

Running 3000KM might sound crazy to some of you. But, I believe that most people can do it. I say that with the caveat that you need to know where you’re starting from. If you haven’t run more than 2km since school, it might be a bit difficult, but you can train up again. I trained from 0 to a marathon in 3.5 months which was a bit fast, but thanks to an open schedule possible. Yet, going from 0.5km to 10km only took a month, of regular running. Back to the 3000KM — Break it down. 3000KM/365 days = 8.22 KM/day. Now, most people probably won’t run every day, so let’s say they run 5 times a week. At 5 days of running a week, you’ll need to run 11.54km each day you go out. If that sounds like too many at one time, you can break it down into two runs a day on those days (morning & evening). But maybe you want to start with a lower goal, perhaps 2000, or 1500, or just 1000. Important is to set a goal. But that’s not enough.

A Roadmap

A goal is important, but a roadmap to that goal is equally if not more important. Apps like RunKeeper, Dacadoo, Strava, Map My Run, etc., provide you with a tool for tracking your progress. This act of tracking is like creating your own roadmap. Some of these apps even have built in training programs that will help you achieve certain goals. Setting milestones, knowing how much you need to do by when is important. In running there are no shortcuts! You need to move your legs to go somewhere, you can’t coast, though when you get into your groove, it will sometimes feel like you’re flying. With approximately 1320 steps per kilometre, you will need to take at least 3,960,000 steps.

Because life is hard to calculate, it’s important to mark milestones. For the 3000km I broke the year into quarters, meaning that I wanted to achieve 750km after 3 months (end of March), 1500 after 6 months (end of June), and 2250km after 9 months (end of September). Doing that meant that I kept up the running and didn’t let too many to-be-run-kilometres accumulate at the end of the year. This was good, as work really shook things up at the end of November and start of December, to a point where on December 21st I still had 225km to run. Determination is what got me through that. An average of 20km/day for 11 days.


  1. Determine where you’re starting from
  2. Set goal
  3. Calculate what you need to do to get to your goal
  4. Set milestones
  5. Track what you’re doing

Application to other fields

While I’ve been writing about running, you can apply this above theorem to different goals.

Want to lose weight? Know where you’re starting (current weight, current calorie intake, current calorie usage) and then set where you want to go. How many fewer calories, how much more exercise. Record what you eat and your exercise.

Want to save money? Record where you’re spending money and see where you can save. High electricity bill? Try and lower it. You might also look at how you can earn more money on the side by doing something you really enjoy – baking, gardening, painting, helping people etc.

Want more time for things that really matter to you? Record where you spend your time, then see where you can extract more time for those things. Maybe it’s less TV, maybe it’s shortening a commute (change home or work) or going from driving to public transport so you can be productive while commuting.

As you can see, the five step approach is a great way of achieving your New Year’s Resolution. Think about how you can apply it to your own life. Below is how I did that to achieve the 3000km and what that looked like.

My Year Running

As I wrote above, I started on my New Year’s Resolution for 2013 on January 1st with a 15km run. The charts below show you distance per day, week, and month. On average I was running 10km/hour in general. It took 295 hours (12.3 full days) or 3.4% of 2013 to achieve the 3000km. It was the best 3.4% investment I’ve made, because running helps me perform better at work, and stay healthy, which means that other things function as I would like them to.

I ran 2800km of the 3000km with On’s Cloudrunners

My favourite races of the past year were the Eiger Ultra Trail 101 and the Matterhorn Ultraks

On a map, 3000km from my house is like running to Oulu, Finland or to Alanya, Turkey.

Resolution 2014

This year’s resolution is 3500km of running and 100 hours of rowing.  Prosit 2014!

Every day we see some 247 pieces of advertising if we take the rough number of actual brand placement for the purpose of advertising and not just labels. When all of these labels and words are taken into account, some estimate between 3,000 and 20,000 pieces of advertising each day. While the 3,000+ might seem huge in comparison to 247, even that number is large. You can’t learn 200 words a day if you’re learning a new language, nor can you really remember that many songs at the end of the day.


Plutchik’s wheel of emotions

Great advertising therefore needs to stick out from all of the muddled noise of simple “buy me” ads that do not convey any additional information about a product, nor inspire the potential customer to form some sort of bond with the product or brand. In that respect, advertising needs to be emotional and hit at least on one of the eight basic emotions: joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, or anticipation. The easiest way to do this is through storytelling, as narratives capture the audience’s attention and take them on a voyage that reaches a climax and is concluded. If the story is well formulated, a listener/viewer will want to experience the entire story, and feels unfulfilled if they do not receive it all.

Here are three ads that have done a brilliant job of telling stories and speaking to the audience’s emotions.

1. Johnnie Walker – The man who walked around the world

This ad for Johnnie Walker clearly works on the emotion of anticipation and its secondary emotion interest. The piper at the start catches our attention, but we are quickly told that this is not just a story of tradition, but rather of someone who stood out, as our narrator does. As he walks, like Johnnie Walker himself, small, yet telling props help relay the story. And like a story taking the listener on a journey, this video physically takes us on a journey through space and time. The motto “Keep Walking” is more than just an empty idea, it shows continual progress and adherence to ones path. “Keep Walking” means consistency, which is what Johnnie Walker is known for. This is a truly memorable commercial.

2. Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey

This commercial got some attention from Fast Company for its authenticity and being quintessentially Irish, though it was produced by an American Ad Agency. This ad plays on the emotions of sadness, surprise, and finally joy. With a sombre tune being sung by a group of young men in suits heading to a country chapel, the sudden rain seems to be pathetic fallacy at its best, aided by the symbolism of a falling hat. When the men sit on the wall by the church looking at the graveyard, one truly believes that someone has passed. Then with the toast that is quickly disrupted by the bride coming from the chapel, surprise leads to joy and the viewer understands that indeed someone has passed – passed a stage in their life and is entering a new one. The rain is not pathetic fallacy of the men begrudging the “loss” of their friend as he joins with his love, but rather, it is authentic Irish weather, and the singing and going through the rain a demonstration of the Irish view on their climate. Authenticity is the core value that Tullamore Dew aims to show in its brand, it’s where why they use the motto “Irish True.”

3. Guinness Basketball Commercial

As the last commercial shows, music is a very powerful conveyor of emotion. This is something, love him or hate him, that Richard Wagner also knew and is why his music is so testing to many people — it’s like an emotional rollercoaster. The music in this video is inspirational. The situation conveys the emotion of acceptance from the players’ point of view. They are in wheelchairs, but playing basketball with body and soul. And in this video we are again surprised to see that all of the players save one are able to walk, but are learning to play in wheelchairs. They too have accepted their friend’s status and do not show pity, but rather humility and put themselves in his position to play. In the end though, it doesn’t matter if you can walk or not, it’s about the dedication, loyalty, and friendship that everyone shows to each other that shows their true character. Character is the value that Guinness is aiming to show, and they have shown this in powerful and inspiring fashion. This is a great commercial.


When you’re coming up with an advertising campaign, you’ll need to tell a story, and your story better invoke emotion if you hope for it to succeed in conveying your brand’s core values and inspiring customers to buy your product or brand idea.

Inspire 925 Conference

Yesterday, September 21, 2013, I had the pleasure and good fortune to attend the Inspire 925 Conference at the HUB Zurich. Having previously reported on what Inspire 925 seeks to do (See article on Newly Swissed), I will briefly summarize here. Inspire 925 was founded by Sunnie Tölle with the expressed purpose of helping businesses increase their employee engagement so that workers are happier, more creative, and innovative with the bottom line being that these soft factors lead to higher profits in these firms. To prove this point and show just how this can be done Sunnie pulled together a group of inspirational speakers from industry and academia.

Johnson and Johnson — A family of companies spreading ideas

Without giving a full summary of the conference, I would like to provide a brief overview of what I learned and took away from the conference. First, the companies that are not only opening themselves up to employee engagement, by actually helping their employees to engage and inspire each other are seeing the benefits. Johnson and Johnson is an example of this. Thanks to Steve Garguilo’s interest in TED and the organization of internal TED talks has given Johnson and Johnson a breath of fresh air. Employees from different departments are interacting, and knowledge, skills, and ideas are coming out and finding the important collaborators to turn them into reality and therefore helping the company to develop new products. However, it is important to note here that the company leadership firmly believes in this. This was surely not an easy development, but seeing the positive effects the Johnson and Johnson’s leadership has allowed Steve to create a new position for himself to ensure that this continues. Steve also told us that thanks to this new engagement highly talented employees who were considering moving to other firms, have found a new love for their work and doing more. For them, what they think and do matters, which is exactly what Google wants of its employees.

Doing things that matter

From an HR perspective, Daniela Landherr, Program Manager EMEA, responsible for employee engagement at Google, gave insights into Google’s hiring requirements and the company’s belief in communal areas where ideas can be exchanged and where employees can inspire each other. From an engineer in Zurich having the idea of gmail, one of the world’s most popular e-mail services, and his colleague giving him the motivation to tackle the idea, to group sessions of ideas and critique and reworked plans, community and human interaction is important at Google for turning ideas into products and services. Working in open spaces also gives employees the ability to tap into knowledge bases and skills of other people to get more work done. Googlers, Google employees, understand the idea of collaborative work. Of course, like at Johnson and Johnson, this only exists because the company directors and leadership have entrusted their employees with the freedom to gestalt their own workday and move freely between spaces. From several speakers and commentators at the conference, I took away that trust is a key issue. It starts with the leaders giving that trust to employees and the employees respecting that trust and not taking advantage of it. The second Google motto (after “don’t be evil”) is of importance and that is “doing things that matter”. When employees feel like their work matters, they will be dedicated to it. Here is an interesting RSA talk on motivation, which backs this up.

We need to redefine work, and that takes time

Having personally visited Google Zurich on a few occasions, I also know that the theory doesn’t always work (at least yet…) – not everyone will take time away from their desk to exchange ideas or enjoy themselves. I personally believe that this has to do with our societal training, which dictates that work is work and fun is fun. One goes to work to earn money, and relaxation is done after the 8 hour workday in one’s private time. Like our education system, I believe that this model is old and is slowly dying. I know different models can work, because in my firm, we have meetings while running, and they are often very fruitful and allow for more ideas to come about. However this shift takes time, changing culture, as was made clear in Carsten Sudhoff’s workshop, takes time, and companies need to understand this. I believe Google does, which is why they have maintained their philosophy, and neither force their employees into a pattern of behaviour, but rather entrust them to make that call themselves.

Meanwhile in the so-called traditional firms

leader vs. managerAn interesting observation from people working at big banks and other large traditional firms, shows that there is a somewhat superficial understanding of employee engagement. While surveys and appraisals are seen as important, and there is a want for the metrics they provide, this is done half-heartedly by people in HR who truly believe in the importance of employee engagement. Engagement, like corporate-social responsibility can often be used for publicity and to look good, but can be meaningless. If employee engagement and satisfaction are just buzz words in your firm, the decision makers don’t get it and the efforts are futile. As an other person in the workshop said, “Pick any employee on their first day of work, and I guarantee that they will have a 100% engagement. The secret is keeping that.” I believe engagement is kept through trust, purpose, vision and a share in the results. There’s a meaningful meme out there of leaders and managers. If employees believe that their manager is working with them, and not that they are working for him/her they will work better. There is a reason why Alexander the Great conquered the known world. He was the first into battle and the last out and fought shoulder to shoulder with his troops. He had their respect, because he was putting in what he was asking them to — that’s what leaders do. Businesses with high engagement have great leadership. Leaders who work with their employees, fight for them, help them develop and who show their their gratitude.

Great leaders facilitate engagement

Einstein FishLeadership is the other idea I took away from the Inspire 925 conference. Great leaders practice a few things themselves — there are plenty of online lists of the habits of successful leaders and gratitude is one of them. Leaders realize that they lead people, but the success they experience is the result of the collaborative work of the people they are leading. Leading also means finding strengths. The idea of strengths is Dr. Willibald Ruch from the University of Zurich discussed. A proponent of positive psychology and the teachings of Dr. Martin Seligman (I recommend Seligman’s book Flourish), Dr. Ruch spoke about finding our personal strengths and honing them. Again there is the famous meme based on the Einstein quote about a fish climbing a tree. Great leaders, help their team members build their strengths and then coordinate strengths (people) to achieve the optimal results.

Empowerment = power

To end this post, I would like to end with this thought: companies face two ways to improve their bottom line. They can make cuts: cut employee programs and the number of employees, which shows that its leaders do not have much hope for the future of the firm or its employees. Or companies can invest in their employees, invest trust, provide great leadership, connect strengths and believe that there is more potential in their company than meets the eye. The resulting creativity, innovation and collaboration, when this is done, is what will give the most successful companies with the happiest employees the chance to catapult themselves forward in an ever competitive business environment. A business is like sports team: If you train and praise your players correctly, they’ll bring you the wins you’re looking for. And lastly there is the old maxim that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That holding true, a company is only as innovative as its least engaged employees. Maximize their engagement and you’ll maximize your innovation and get ready to be surprised.

Companies wishing to learn more about how this can be done, would benefit from contacting Inspire 925.

I highly recommend this post from Fast Company as well.

Two Swiss groups are up in arms and it’s not about banks or immigrants. This week the ETH released a study that was commissioned by Economiesuisse into the possible effects of Switzerland pursuing it’s current energy policy to eliminate nuclear and gas energy by 2050 in favour of renewable sources. The study’s result state that the Swiss economy stands to lose 25% of its GDP by following this plan if action, something that Economiesuisse is and has been opposed to. For this lobby group, the evidence is clear and having come from an internationally recognized research institution says all there is to say.

ETH Zurich

Knowledge is an country’s best asset

However, other ETH researches and environmentalists are harsh to criticize the latest study. They say that the finding are based on early 2000s technology, which has become more efficient and cheaper and continues to develop. For these reasons they claim that the study’s findings over estimates the costs and fails to take the advantages into account.

Not taking the advantages of moving towards renewable and safe energy sources is a grave mistake for an institute (Economiesuisse), which claims to have the nation at the heart of its interest. The costs of ignoring this issue are much higher than addressing it.

As this informations came to light so did another potentially tragic news story. The Finnish firm Wärtsilä is rumored to be contemplating selling it’s Swiss subsidiary. For Winterthur, the repercussions could be drastic.  At present Wärtsilä produces ship power solutions and the reason for its economic uncertainty according to the news report is that there are too many ships and not enough demand. So what does this have to do with Switzerland’s energy debate?

Wärtsilä has also been researching and working in the field of renewable energy. The best and smartest companies are investing money and energy in this field because they recognize that there is a huge market to be had by countries and regions wishing to become energy independent. Countries where there is a clear interest for developing this type of technology are good places to do business. For this reason many solar and wind firms have left the US for Germany where they find more political support and a market.


Even Switzerland can learn from the Nordics.

In this week’s Economist there is a special series on the Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. In many ways these countries are being praised by the editors of the Economist, but there are some reservations. What is mentioned as a strength though is the willingness of the Nordics to look for new and innovative answers to economic problems and to embrace new technologies. That is what Switzerland must di as well.

Going back to the report for Economiesuisse and the belief of a 25% decrease in Switzerland’s GDP, a more encompassing study that took the results of 13 studies (including the above mentioned study) into Switzerland’s plans for green energy by 2050 found that the Swiss economy would suffer at most from a 0.5% drop in GDP, but more likely a 2% increase thanks to new jobs and technical know-how that would come from this development.

Like so often in humanity’s history we find ourselves at the cusp of needing to make some major decisions. When the car was introduced the blacksmiths and carriage makers protested that it would mean the end of their work, and it did, but it created a major new field of business and increased mobility and urbanization. The same is happening with energy. Betting on tradition is the worst wager a politician can make. The only thing that is certain is change. A good politician and policy maker will always bet on knowledge and the growth of knowledge.

Many countries are hesitant invest in game-changing technology or initiate policies that will force change, because they still look to the USA to lead the way and set the course. However, in recent years the US has done a poor job on setting new goals for where they see the world going. During the Cold War it was clear: spread democracy and show all the benefits of capitalism. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there have been no great plans, but rather let’s keep doing what we’re doing and without investing anymore try to suck out more advantages (profit and work) from what exists.

Small countries, like Switzerland, have an enormous advantage to become world leaders. Open their borders to the smartest people, help them start companies and develop the technology we need to ensure we stop destroying the environment and start fixing the problems we’ve caused. Labour is easy to export. Anyone can lower their taxes. Knowledge and innovation are much less likely to leave a place where they flourish.

Swiss politicians owe it to their constituents and the Swiss people owe it to future generations to pursue one of the most ambitious renewable energy policies in the world.

This is a common attitude amongst naysayers and those holding on to tradition

This is a common attitude amongst naysayers and those holding on to tradition

In the land of Sweets

A few weeks ago I was teaching at the Kraft office in Zurich. It was a private German lesson and the topic for the 1.5 hour lesson was health, fitness and obesity. At one of the world’s largest food concerns known for their production of sweets and chocolates including Milka and Toblerone chocolate bars, this might seem like a touchy subject.

Walking into the modern office building I was greeted by the receptionist, who gave me a visitor’s badge and told me to help myself to coffee, hot chocolate and take candy from the large bowls containing small portions of Kraft’s most popular products. If you like sweets, this might be a company to work for.

The inside of the building is bright, spacious, and modern. I really like the feel of the building located in one of Zurich’s office districts. With so much food though you would expect to see quite a few employees with a few extra pounds, after all office work isn’t exactly known for its physical exertion. However, quite the opposite was true.

Not what I expected

As my student collected me I followed him to his office on the 4th floor. We moved towards the elevators and on the ground I noticed colourful footprints moving off to the side of the elevators. Before I knew it he was opening up a door and not pressing a button. On the door was a friendly sign reminding employees to try and use the stairs.

Corporate Social Responsibility

As our lesson commenced and we spoke about corporate responsibility regarding health, I asked what his company’s stand point was in regards to healthy living. I was assured that Kraft does everything possible to ensure that their foods met healthy living standards and while excess chocolate will never be healthy, the company does try to educate consumers about what is considered a healthy diet. Employees are encouraged to join the gym and to increase their walking time and distance with the help of a pedometer.

I commended him and Kraft though on what I consider to be one of the most effective, and efficient ways of promoting exercise or movement at work — the footprints on the ground leading to the stairs.

Where are the stairs?

Think about the last few office buildings and modern apartment blocks you’ve been in. Where were the stairs? Did you use them? Chances are that you didn’t. Why? Probably because they weren’t easy to find, looked dark and dreary, or were marked as an emergency exit. Yesterday I was in Zurich’s premier department store, Jelmoli, and despite all of the recent renovations and high end labels housed inside, the stairs are in an abysmal state. Nothing about them invites guests to take them. I understand that in shopping centers the stairs, escalators, and elevators are purposely placed at odd places to force visitors to walk around and be enticed to buy items they may not have sought out to buy, but that does not mean that staircases should be poorly kept.

Movement increases productivity

While it is true that in case of fire you should use the stairs, why is it that in modern architecture we’ve relegated them to that purpose alone? Often the stairs are the fastest way to go between floors – there’s no time wasted waiting for an elevator that will stop twice before getting you to the third floor. Furthermore, studies show that movement at work increases worker productivity. The notion of movement increasing productivity is something that I have noticed in my own students. Those who get up, or with whom I go running, learn faster. Increased blood flow means your brain functions better.

Kraft has joined the Global Corporate Challenge, a health and well-being event aimed at changing the behaviour and improving the health of employees around the world. Adding an element of competition adds another level of incentive for employees to stay active at work. Again here the costs of such a program are far lower than the cost of unhealthy employees, and possibly accounted for just in their increased productivity.

With employee health and the high costs surrounding ill, injured, and stressed employees, businesses need to be looking for simple ways of helping their employees live more active, healthy lives — taking the stairs is a very simple step in that direction. The investment when everything is accounted for is minimal, as it generally only requires that a few easy incentives such as clearly marking the location of the stairs and ensuring they are clean and well lit.

Using the stairs is one of  the easiest and cheapest ways to stay active and healthy and more companies need to promote such behavior.

It’s Olympic season again and that means that people around the globe will be glued to their television sets watching their country’s best give it their all in their quest to bring home gold and honor. As you sit their staring at your screen, you’re sure to also be bombarded with commercials from the Games’ official sponsors: McDonalds, CocaCola, Nike and Co.

One commercial that you might come across is the latest from Nike. The running shoe company has been on a tour de force lately with out-of-the-box commercials with their #makeitcount campaign and now their “Find Your Greatness” series. The commercial that has caught my attention and no doubt that of many others is entitled “The Jogger”. It features an overweight 12-year-old boy named Nathan running towards the camera, while we are told that greatness is for anyone to have. now I don’t want to say this is a great commercial, or that it’s terrible, but it should have us think.

For me seeing this commercial is very bitter-sweet. Looking at this boy running, I see myself when I was younger. I was the fat kid, not chubby, but fat. At the age of 13 I was 250 pounds and size XL/XXL. Every time I see an overweight child my heart goes out to them. More often than not their weight is the result of irresponsible parenting, corporate malfeasance, and government failure and they are not happy. They may experience happy moments, but these children are not happy.

Poor Parenting:

Until children are 16-years-old or older they still need the guidance of their parents. As a teacher, I feel 100% confident saying that children under the age of 14 are anything but fully rational beings and require supervision. They cannot be entrusted to make important decisions regarding their wellbeing on their own. Parents that allow their children to pick their meals on their own are being simply irresponsible. When parents see their children gaining weight beyond what looks healthy they need to intervene quickly and investigate the reasons.

Weight gain and loss is in general a very simple mathematical principle. Eat more calories than you burn and you gain weight; eat less calories than you burn and lose weight. I say in general, because there are medical problems that can hinder this. As a parent then, you need to prepare your children fresh, quality food and ensure that their calorie intake matches their calorie usage. In the case of noticeable weight gain either the child needs to be more active or decrease their calorie intake.

Corporate Malfeasance:

One of the ironic things regarding the Olympics is that McDonalds and CocaCola are official sponsors. A grown adult generally needs 2000 calories a day, children need less, teenagers from age 14 can usually eat a little more. The average Big Mac Meal has 1350 calories, or more than half of one’s daily calorie allowance.

Food and chemical companies have created food that is packed with calories and leave people unsatiated. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) can be found in almost all processed foods available in North America. HFCS has been linked to medical problems including obesity. However, in an attempt by big corporations to make more profits playing on people’s fears of fat, low-fat usually means high HFCS and other chemicals.

For further reading and watching on this topic, read: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, watch Food Inc., and King Corn. The below TED talk by Jamie Oliver is also very good.

Big corporations, like big banks, are not capable of policing themselves and unfortunately due to shareholder profits they due not have society and consumers as their first priority. Independent government regulation, free of all influence by the industry is needed here more than ever.

Government Failure:

As I’ve just stated, governments have failed to implement sufficient regulations in the food industry and are allowing corporations to poison and kill people. The unfortunate results are high costs for national healthcare programs and early death.

However, in a constant attempt for governments, in North America especially, to cut the cost of education sports programs have been cut and children are not getting the exercise they need to burn the calories they are being fed at home and in schools. Governments on all levels need to reverse this trend. A healthy and educated population are keys to the economic wellbeing of a nation.

The Result:

The result of all of these failures and schemes is that obesity is a major problem in the western world, while billions starve each day in the developing world. Equally bad is the fact that because of poorly engineered foods hundreds of thousands of people are starving to death lacking the correct amounts of necessary vitamins, minerals and other nutrients their bodies need, while also suffering from obesity. The chart below shows the daily calorie intake per capita in many countries, North America (Canada and USA) are the clearest offenders of going well beyond what is considered healthy.


Returning to Nathan and Nike, I would like to end on this note. Greatness is indeed not genetic, nor inherent in one’s nature, it is the result of vision, risk, and hard work. I hope for Nathan’s sake he is able to achieve his goals. Running is a great start, I know it’s one of the activities that has most shaped my life and there is no sport I love more. I’ll close with this: We live in a sad world in which we challenge an ever growing number of children not with expanding fields of knowledge or set new records in human achievement, but to correct the mistakes of those, who should have been taking care of them.