Archives For TED

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.

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.

One of the biggest debates going on in most countries today is over the state of education. As Sir. Ken Robinson has stated in his RSA speech, we are operating in a new paradigm, in which old school practices will no longer suffice to prepare people for future demands, nor be cost effective.

A university degree today is at one level the key to success and on the other an over priced piece of paper costing both state and citizen immense qualities of money while also in England and North America taking away the freedom of future generations. While the generation after the the Second World War was busily focused on ensuring that communism did not find a foothold in the West the generation after set up a system ensuring the serfdom of their children. The cost of university at a public American university has increased by over 1500% since 1970 while wages have only increased by approximately 500%. So though a university degree may get a job, it will still take much longer to repay student loans.

Education must be a publicly funded venture. The wealth of a nation lies not in its soil but in the spirit and minds of its people. The questions we need to answer are: what defines the new paradigm in which we are operating and how do we adapt to it?

The new paradigm is based on performance. We live in a world that is both more connected and systematically challenged than any before. A failed crop in Australia will affect the cost of fuel in Zimbabwe. Education can no longer be a test and rote memorization based, but must see practical application of knowledge providing solutions to real world problems. Those who solve problems will be rewarded others forgotten.

While many countries are debating stricter teacher evaluations and standardized testing, the real solution would be to encourage teachers and students to tackle solving social and environmental problems using the access to information they all possess. While a degree of basic knowledge is still important and beneficial, computers and the Internet have eliminated a great deal of the need to learn statistics by heart or other trivial pieces of information. Students need to understand how to analyze and present this information if they wish to compete in the labour market.

The belief that there are single solutions to the challenges we face is a Western myth that ignores the natural complexity of the natural world, over credits human understanding, and shows the same ignorance that has wrongly or rightly been credited to Charles H. Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents, who supposedly said “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Just like an erupting Volcano can affect the supply of wine to restaurants in another part of the world, a future discovery or invention could change the way we look at environmental problems or financial crises.

Leading nations will either produce or harbour or produce and harbour people who practice divergent thinking — that is seeing a multiplicity of answers — to solve problems and work collaboratively in achieving those end results. The most successful will not wish to cash out, but will be serial problem solvers. The education system that can produce these types of people will be the model.

Worth watching:

http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/2010/10/14/rsa-animate-changing-education-paradigms/