What motivates people?

September 21st, 2023

With a global talent shortage, and as we get “back to school” for the autumn, after the summer holidays, it is important to unpick, and then refresh, motivation at work. 

Season 2 of The Bear is streaming now on Disney+.  Spoiler alert, the season leaves many unanswered questions (including will Carmy ever get out of the walk in fridge).  During the course of the show we see the process whereby the Chicago sandwich café The Beef, which protagonist and Michelin starred chef Carmy inherited from his brother, is rebuilt and reopened as fine dining restaurant The Bear.

It’s clear that fine dining is Carmy’s passion.  In fact, he concludes at one point that it is the only thing he cares about or that makes him happy, stating: “I didn’t have any of this fuckin’ bullshit” – by which he means “amusement or enjoyment” of any other aspect of his life.

It will be just as well if he is driven by the satisfaction of making customers swoon over his food, because the chances are that The Beef will have had been able to generate better profit than The Bear.  Restaurateur Russell Norman of Polpo points out that “if you own a restaurant with a Michelin star, you will lose money.  If you own a restaurant with two Michelin stars, you will lose even more money.”  As MoneyWeek recently pointed out, Domino’s Pizza on the other hand generates a ROCE of close to 30% and an EBIT margin of 20%.

People are driven by a passion to be the best and to give back as well as by making money.   

In a fairy tale moment in long running reality TV show “Say Yes to the dress”, about Bridal Store Kleinfield in NYC, star designer Pnina Tornei allows the sale of one gown at less than half price, because she says she is not only working to make money (the average Pnina gown goes for more than $4000) but also in the business of “making beautiful gowns for brides and of making their dreams come true”.   Of course, this is a reality TV set up, which sees Pnina’s dresses highly promoted, but it kind of works because we Say Yes fans all recognise some truth in the story we are told. 

This is important because it is relevant to how we create a strong culture at work.  If the only motivation of the ExCo and company planning is financial, then the culture is unlikely to stay robust during difficult economic times. 

A 40 year research study, from the American Psychological Association, has proved in fact that “extrinsic” (bonuses etc) and “intrinsic” (being motivated about the work) operate jointly to produce the best work performance. 

And as EssenceMediacomX ceo Ryan Storrar recently wrote: “Fundamentally, people need to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and feel good about going to work”.  Ensuring that there’s satisfaction from doing excellent work and from fulfilling purpose is the job of every leader and manager. 

The latest Edelman trust survey reveals that more than two thirds of employees believe that “having societal impact is a deal breaker when it comes to considering a job”.

CEOs are expected to take a position on climate change, discrimination, wealth gap, immigration as well as on how their employees are treated.  Businesses are now more trusted than any other institution, and with this trust comes high expectations that business should “advocate for the truth”.

Fulfilling commitments to wider stakeholders in terms of people, communities and planet is now on most UK companies’ radar.  But we must not ignore the drive to excellence and mastery too.  Carmy’s partner in The Bear, Sydney, makes a simple omelette for Carmy’s sister, and The Bear’s exhausted and pregnant project manager, Sugar.  We follow it closely, eggs, sieved through a mesh are beaten by fork; the omelette is cooked fast, and then filled with Boursin and sprinkled with some crushed sour cream and onion crisps.  Sugar thinks it is divine.  Sydney states that making that omelette and taking care of Sugar is absolutely the best part of her day.  After all, as she states in series one all her motivation is about the work: “I wanna cook for people and make them happy and give them the best bacon on earth.”

Break Expectations

September 4th, 2023

“Chloe Kelly thumped home her winning penalty for England against Nigeria.  At 111km per hour, it was more powerful than any Premier League goal in 22-23” Mailonline

It’s just not that long ago that the papers were debating whether women’s football was ever going to be as interesting as the men’s.  It’s in fact not long ago that the FA still banned women playing football.

And now look.

There are many societal expectations that we all grow up with.  Some are about gender and physicality.  Some are deeply personal.

Its never a good idea to manage expectations, either for yourself or for others.  Breaking them is a better idea.

Harriet Taylor Mill was the wife of renowned philosopher John Stuart Mill.  He acknowledged her contribution to his published works and ideas, but history has largely overlooked her.  A philosopher in her own right, she said, in the 1850s: “We deny the right of any portion of the species to decide for another portion what is and what is not their proper sphere.  The proper sphere for all human beings is the largest and highest which they are able to attain to.”

And 150 plus years on still stereotypes persist, and still assumptions are made. 

In economic terms, at the current rate of progress (or lack of it) its now 286 years until there is gender equality according to the UN.  This has got worse in recent years, and the rate of progress is clearly unacceptable.  In terms of what needs to be addressed to create better equality patriarchal attitudes come high on the list, and has different impact in different cultures around the world.  In the UK equal pay has been mandatory for decades, yet the gender pay gap means that women effectively work for free for a couple of months a year. 

Revising deep rooted patriarchal attitudes to gender is slow.  The audience for the Women’s World Cup gives us a start.  The viewing was roughly equivalent to the Qatar men’s final fixture (which didn’t feature England of course).  But turn to tennis and the Wimbledon men’s final was watched live by 11m people in the UK, the women’s final by 4.5.

So, attitudes linger, but at the same time history is being rewritten.   Gerwig’s Barbie has smashed box office records.  Just as the movie itself aspires to rewrite society’s expectations of women and girls, so too should it rewrite expectations of investment in women directors and movie lead actors. 

Most women spend too much energy either trying to live up to unrealistic expectations or in disappointment at the inevitable failure to do so as Gloria eloquently explains in Gerwig’s movie. 

But it isn’t only women.  Unrealistic and stereotyped expectations ruin lots of people’s lives.  In fact, as the suffragettes pointed out they could end lives too.  As we wrote in Belonging, One of the reasons why RMS Titanic was such a terrible disaster in the early years of the twentieth century was that there weren’t enough lifeboats. There were slightly more in fact than the legal requirement, but this requirement was inadequate and only provided sufficient space for about a third of the people on board.  The idea was that men would be… well, manly… about sinking. ‘Women and children first’ was the plan. And then it was the women and children in first class who literally were rescued first. The scale of the disaster was tragic and very public. So too was the longstanding call from the suffragette movement for the law to be changed so that there would be enough room for everyone to be rescued, regardless of gender, race, age or class, with the famous rallying cry: ‘Votes for  women, boats for men!’

Don’t be confined by expectations, don’t live up to societal norms, conventional wisdom isn’t designed to allow you to fulfil your potential.  In a world where change is the only constant, don’t be confined by anyone’s expectation, whether that is society, friends, family or your own internal monologue. 

Have you transcended the Umwelt today?

August 21st, 2023

Transcending the Umwelt

If you’re wondering what that is and why it matters, the Umwelt is a way of thinking and feeling that is specific to individual brains of different species, (and artificial intelligence).  Transcending your own Umwelt to understand others is crucial to being a planner and creating great communications for brands.  Understanding the Umwelt of power is crucial for your career.  Empathising with the Umwelts of others is the key to creating diversity of thinking in your organisation.  Being clear about the Umwelt of AI  is important to maintain your edge.   

Jakob Johann von Uexkull was a German biologist who first coined the term Umwelt to explain how different organisms perceive life because of their particular biological characteristics and their environments.

For instance, as animal behaviourist Con Slobodchikoff explains, bees and some birds see in ultraviolet but humans don’t.  Dogs have a million times better ability to detect different smells than we do.  Bats, dolphins, dogs and cats can hear ultrasonic sounds that we can’t, or at least most of us.  If you are under 25 then you can detect sounds that older people cannot and as a result of understanding here there exists an anti-loitering product on the market that makes noises undetectable by most people to deter teenagers from hanging about and behaving badly in public spaces. 

Uexkull called the worlds that every organism exists in their Umwelt.

In The Book of Minds, Philip Ball shows how different umwelts transform how we react to things.  For example, if you are in a dark and sinister forest, and are a bit lost, a woodland path is a relief, a sign of civilisation.  If on the other hand you are a vole the path is an open space, and therefore dangerous, as you might be swooped on by a predator, whereas the more vegetated areas are safer.   The Umwelt shapes how you react to things, and even how you imagine things.  A teacup placed to close to the edge of a table will make most people instinctively reach out to prevent it falling.  A gerbil is unlikely to be bothered by this.

The Umwelt that you belong to differs not just between species but also from human to human. 

This starts to explain how one person may instinctively, and perhaps incomprehensibly, react differently to another person to the same scenario.

The craft of planning relies on understanding signals and interpreting them to connect with audiences.  The skill of leadership requires empathy, listening and understanding of people who are gloriously different from each other.

If we fully embrace the concept that we each have our own Umwelt, based on background, circumstances, our friends, family, level of privilege and education, regionality, gender, age and sexuality (and all the other things that make us different), we will become better at communicating both commercially, and in creating a sense of belonging and inclusion at work.

We don’t resent the octopus for having a different outlook and Umwelt from our own.  We don’t disrespect dolphins for their differences.  The popularity of David Attenborough proves our innate curiosity and love of different worlds.

Sharing the workplace with diverse teams of people and creating work that different audiences will respond to is rewarding. 

As the Economist writes, thinking of AI in human terms is understandable.  But it is wrong.  ChatGPT doesn’t “hallucinate” when it gives an erroneous answer to our questions – it follows the logic of how it has been programmed.  Hallucinations happen to people, not robots.

Love the Umwelts, transcend your own Umwelt.

5 take outs from Cannes this year.

July 26th, 2023
  1. AI

Lots of discussion on the impact of AI on our industry in the broadest sense.  From the optimists who are already experimenting and using AI as if it comes naturally to them, to the pessimists who are worried about the impact on their jobs and on ethics.  There is overlap between the two cohorts of course (optimistic about transformation, anxious about chaos) but once again it feels like the sector is taking sides, as it did over the metaverse, as it originally did over the internet itself.  And there’s the lesson.  Stick it in the “one day in the future” pile, as some organisations did then and you consign yourself to be one of the crew that lose out.  Over invest and you splash cash unnecessarily.  Find the middle path of conscious and careful development and surely there’s the breakthrough.

2. Diversity and purpose mean action.

There’s some outstanding work, and some excellent discussions.  Everyone now is looking for action and outcomes as well as intent.  Author, activist, cultural innovator and founder of MuslimGirl.com, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh on the superb Inkwell beach spoke about the importance of doing something, anything, to help change – explaining that however limited your impact is, it might have the butterfly effect of encouraging one other person, who might open up action in another and create a movement that is unstoppable.  Something that Conde Nast’s Chief Business Officer Deborah Brett  said at “The Female Quotient: Lift As We Climb” panel stayed with me too: “Don’t apologise, everyone is afraid to speak and take a stand, in case you get it wrong.  But you don’t have to apologise all the time, you’re on a journey, everyone is on a journey.  You don’t have to fake it till you make it, because if you are not learning on the job you won’t have a job.”  As EssenceMediacom global creative chief Stef Calcraft puts it too, you have to unlearn, because everything is changing and the old rules don’t apply.  The peerless Aayati Dash (who is 10, and therefore might have been the youngest speaker this year at Cannes), made it clear that her generation are expecting action, and won’t settle for fine words.  I was thrilled to share a panel with her at the World Woman Foundation session on the power of advertising to create an equal future. 

3. Humour

After what seems a while, humour is back at Cannes.  This was however evident more in the bronze and silver Lions wins than in the Golds and Grand Prixs leaving some wondering if humour travels well in such a global competition.  We know that sex sells, and that purpose sells, but so does humour.  So it was great to see some light hearted twists on creativity for instance the chickens with pedometers and Oreo’s restoration of 2011.  The playwright George Bernard Shaw said: “Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”

4. Relevance Rules

The challenge is clear. Without relevance reach is nice but outcomes lag. In the new communications economy people spend time gaming, shopping online, chatting and socialising as well as with media that can frequently interrupt them ads they don’t want to hear from.  In my 2012 book on marketing, Tell the truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool, I dedicated some space to the importance of cutting through by communicating in the right space, at the right time and with the right message.  That if you could find the right moment then focusing effort there with the right message, would transcend simply reaching people at scale in terms of empirical evidence based growth.  Being relevant in this way informed some award winning campaigns that drove real growth for brands in Cannes.  So,  Samsung’s Flipvertising turned the rules of media on their head by persuading the audience to search for their ads instead of chasing after their attention.  Heineken sold beer to people working late in the office by partnering with cleaning firms.  WAOO “killed” for love, getting partners of gamers to nominate them for targets to get them to take a break.

5. Big brands and partnerships

There were significant big brand winners at Cannes this year with real business challenges solved.  Many people were saying this was about time, and good to see.  Dove took the Grand Prix for media with a campaign that everyone was talking positively about, and that tapped into their long-standing purpose agenda and demonstrated real action.  All of the winners required a team to deliver the work.   Rob Reilly, ECD at WPP, stressed the importance of understanding the huge energy that is needed to create work like this, and that the partnership of multiple agencies and clients is crucial and should always be celebrated.  I heard one Creative agency ECD celebrating work on a stage that I know the media agency were instrumental in delivering without crediting them, or any of  the wider team. That’s why I’ve only named brands in this blog, not agencies. For full credits please see the Cannes Lions winners page.   I know it takes a village to win a Lion. I hope we can always acknowledge this in future.

“Great marketers tend to be great convenors”

June 28th, 2023

Says Becky Moffat, CMO at HSBC.

But what is a convenor?

Its not a word that I had in my vocabulary at all until I took on the role of deputy and then convenor of the IPA Effectiveness Awards judges.  During this period, from 2018 to 2022, when I read more words in IPA awards submissions than there are in War and Peace and Lord of the Rings combined (with less fights, and fewer hobbits), I found myself talking about and thinking about convening more than in the rest of my career.

Becky was talking about the fact that the role of a modern marketer in the new communications economy is complex, has multiple responsibilities, and requires influence beyond direct reporting lines.

Direct reports might not be responsible for the ingredients necessary for success. We know of course that there is a much better chance of a product launch success in fmcg if it can combine a gondola end in a supermarket with an advertising campaign.  Yet although the ad campaign may be the direct responsibility of the head of marketing, the negotiation of gondola ends trading may not.  If the marketing director has the remit of delivering queries to the website, the user experience, which will enhance or diminish conversion to sales, might be out of that remit.  Even within the marketing framework, if the pr team don’t align with the brand team, who don’t liaise well with the performance team, then chaos will limit successful growth.

So, of course, Becky is correct, you need to get people working together in the best possible way, whether they work directly for you or not, whether they share your short term kpis or not.  Otherwise the business will falter in terms of overall growth potential.  Getting a team of disparate people to work well together is the skill of the convenor.  I asked my convening peers at the IPA to explain how you best do this.

Here’s Harjot Singh, Global CSO McCann (Convenor 2022), picking up on the emotional intelligence necessary: “To me it is a leadership skill in general and about doing 5 things really well in particular: Planning, communicating, facilitating, building relationships and problem solving.

You know you’re a good convenor if you can do these 5 things in a way that places you in a position of strength to create an environment conducive to collaboration, where all parties involved are comfortable sharing knowledge, expressing ideas with enthusiasm and working cohesively towards a common goal.”

Neil Godbar, exec strategy director WundermanThompson, convenor 2018, has a practical take on the skills needed for the role: “Making sure you finish on time won me the biggest good will. Structuring the sessions: I told everyone we would start at the top, then the bottom, and use the rest of the time in the grey. That helped people navigate the day and feel productive. Be thorough in your preparation: make sure you know the papers AND the judges’ responses. That meant starting with the consensus, but picking up the outlier comments that could change the POV. I felt the need to balance giving everyone their voice, whilst ultimately steering the ship. When in trouble, ask for a show of hands.”

And here’s Jo Arden, cso Ogilvy, who is convening in 2024, on the power of active listening: “. I think the big thing for me is about making sure everyone has their say. Which is why I think that strategy people are pretty good at convening – we are used to hearing the quiet ones. I think we are also good at hearing what is going unsaid – the tone, the enthusiasm, the caveats that people attached to their POV are where the debate cracks open – I think we recognise those moments and dive in.   The last thing I would say is that whilst consensus is good – there is also real power in going with an outlier view when that view has more rigour.”

I would add one more thing.  Find the best people, get them in a room, and then disregard what their job titles are.  If you limit people to their specialisms then you don’t get the best out of them.  Get the experts and the right experience, then, like the pirates do, get everyone focussed on one goal, irrespective of their day jobs. Let them challenge each other, regardless of areas of expertise, by resolving these challenges in a safe and constructive manner, you get to the best outcomes.

Convening is crucial, it is a skill and an important role.  Taking it seriously can be a step change to business success.