Archives For ideas

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) led political initiative known as the Durchsetzungsinitiative to be decided on February 28, 2016 will have drastic consequences for Switzerland should it pass and set the country on a dangerous path that it does not want to go down. If passed political flexibility, a strong point of Swiss democracy, will be limited and a two-tiered justice system, which is in opposition to the founding principles of the constitutional democracy the country is, will be breached.

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Earlier this week Ikea made the news when it was reported that the had officially asked Jules Yap, the owner, of Ikeahackers.net to either find a new URL without the word Ikea in it or to eliminate all advertising from the site. Ikeahackers is a site started by an ardent fan who takes common ikea products and mixes them to come up with completely new solutions for the home and office. Of course this type of thing attracts other users like a friend of mine, Antonio Scarponi, who has come up with a complete hydroponic set-up with Ikea products. After Jules Yap published a post about the Cease and Desist request from Ikea, the story was quickly picked up by magazines and papers like Fast Company. For most people, going after a private person, a smaller company, or group of creatives adding value to your brand seemed unjust and the fallout has been quite negative. As Mark Wilson writes in Fast Company:

…You have to wonder, is it ever a good decision to take legal action against an ardent fanbase? Does a site rallying Ikea modders called “SwedishModernFurnitureHackers.net” really serve the Ikea brand better? 

After seeing the reaction of people around the world Ikea also thought it might be going down a wrong course of action and are now again in talks with Yap to find a better solution, though exactly what that is remains to be found out. (Follow the story from Yap’s perspective here). 

Is Yap gaining from using the trademarked name Ikea in her URL? Probably. Is Ikea losing? Most likely not, in fact they are probably winning, as eager do-it-yourselfers are reading about simple hacks that let them forgo buying more expensive furnishing solutions and building their own with Ikea products.

Interestingly enough this same week I had a client sat a large Swiss pharmaceutical company call me. He started off by telling me that his company employs social listening software and that I had come up on their radar. I had checked in to the company on Foursquare and taken a picture of the art hanging in the main foyer of the office. The people doing the social listening quickly tracked down who I was, who I was there to see and asked my client to ask me to delete the check-in and to not post anything further mentioning their name. The company, though they never told me of this, does not want to be identified with any of its vendors. Though this be corporate policy, like with Yap’s case, this course of action actually hurts the brand. I deleted the reference, and with it a reference to the welcoming and nice atmosphere that the company has in its offices as well how their support the further development of their employees, two important factors when it comes to recruiting new talent. 

The take away from these two situations is that your brand’s value comes from how it’s perceived. In David Sable’s blog “The weekly ramble” this week he quotes Abraham Lincoln:

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

Your brand value is the shadow, your company’s products, actions, and people are the tree. Your brand’s value comes from what your brand does. When others mention your brand positively, are fans of your brand, use your brand, and work with your brand, though you might be bigger, they are adding value to your brand. Your brand also gains in value when others gain from it. When your brand’s guidelines and policies work against the people you want on your side, you hurt your brand. We are moving further and further into a sharing economy, and sharing your brand is going to be an important aspect of increasing brand value.

Here’s a great TED talk on the importance of re-mixing and hacking in support of Jules Yap.

 

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 http://www.idezo.ch)

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.

Summary:

  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-wheel.svg

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.

Conclusion

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.

Sad news

I woke up this morning, had breakfast and checked my Facebook page, which is the typical way I begin my day. I saw that my sister had written me a message. Where a week ago she congratulated me on my new personal best at the Zurich Marathon and encouraged me to qualify for the Boston Marathon, she just wrote that she was glad that I wasn’t there. I knew this could not be good, so I googled “Boston Marathon” and read about the events in Der Spiegel. It’s always refreshing to read about American events in European papers because the news is usually better portrayed with less emotion, more analysis, and greater distance. I was shocked.

I’m a runner

Running around 10 marathons a year, mostly in Switzerland, but I’ve also run in Berlin (one of the Big 5) and Ireland with a hope of one day running New York, Boston, or Chicago, I know the masses of people that gather for these events. Marathons are like mini Olympic events, they bring together people passionate for the sport of both sexes and from all ages, races, and nationalities. When I’m out there at an event, I always get the feeling that humans are good. We have something in common and we share it here. As we strive towards the finish we pass on encouragement to each other. Some people pace their friends and others to help them reach new personal bests. The achievement is wonderful.

We’ve seen this before

Violence BostonWhat happened in Boston yesterday, April 15, 2013, is similar to what happened at the Munich Olympics between September 5-6, 1972 and the numerous school shootings that have occurred in recent years. Violence and destruction have no place where humanity is at its best. Such attacks for which ever reason, be they a hate of taxation, a hate of a government, another political statement or the sheer wish to be heard, have never advanced the cause supported by the perpetrator. They do just the opposite, they strengthen the resolve of those affected that they will not be the victim of unprovoked violence. The Munich Olympics continued, school children go back to learning, and Boston as well as the other marathons will take place again.

The other victims

I write these words with a sad sorrow, because I know these events will also affect a sport that is very important to me personally. Yet, I believe that these challenges will be overcome. My heart goes out to those who have been personally afflicted by this event, the dead, the injured, their family and friends. However, I also think about the tragedies that occur around us on a daily basis. The victims of violence around the world, who are victims just because of where they live. People who live in perpetual fear because their state has no system of justice, or where two or more groups of people believe in their individual causes so much that they can justify the killing of citizens, who merely wish to live in a clean environment and with the freedom and ability to realize their own potential.

Violence is never an answer

Violence has never and will never be an answer for getting one’s message across. Sporting events bring out the best in humanity, they connect us with what we have in common — the human body and a determined will. Education, seeks to open the mind to new possibilities — those of a better common future. The greatest form of justice that can come from this event is the acknowledgement of the many injustices in the world and a resolution to better the lives of the masses. In the documentary film Ethos, actor and environmental activist Woody Harrelson said:

The common man or woman, whether they are Israeli or Palestinian, Protestant or Catholic or Iraqi or American, the common person just wants to live in peace and justice in a clean environment. When we look around the world and we see that that is not the case, we know the will of the majority is not being listened to, that’s the first sign that our system is broken.

Our challenge as a humanity is to address the injustices of the world and eliminate the misgiven reasons for the use of violence.

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.

economist

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.