Archive for February, 2017

Where we stumble, there we find treasure

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Fail-First-Attempt-In-Learning-2Learning to fail

A new study into teaching has pointed out that one of the failures of our education system is that it doesn’t prepare students for failure, nor reward them for making mistakes.

Which is a mistake.

How do you learn, if you’re not learning from your mistakes?

The study, from the Open University, by the way the brightest hope for social mobility in UK, says that teachers should prepare students to fail, so that they can learn.  This requires a real change to teaching techniques.  Mike Sharples, chair in educational technology at the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology, admits that while “trying to fail successfully” sounds contradictory, it allows students to gain insight into a topic before they are taught it.

“For the learners, you’ve got to say to them: you’re going to fail with this, you’re going to struggle, you’re not going to understand it in full, but try it,” Professor Sharples told Times Higher Education. “And for the teacher, they’ve got to hold back and not try to profess their subject, not try and teach the topic, but to let the learner explore first in a controlled way.”

Stuart Firestein, chair of the dept of biology at Columbia University, points out in his book “Failure, why science is so successful”, that great scientists are great at failure.  He says that great scientific experiments rest on “two great pillars, ignorance and failure”.   Whereas failure is regarded as something to be avoided, both in education and in business, in science it is regarded as crucial for success.  If you embrace failure as a necessary step towards progress, then it makes it easier to learn from it and helps people be much more positive about it both at school and in the workplace.

The general culture in many businesses is to celebrate success.  Our prestigious awards shine a light on brave and creative business building campaigns.  As of course they must.  An army of pr gurus help our leaders present themselves in a strong and invincible light.  In a world as fast moving as the marketing and media community who has time or space to reflect on failure?

Brilliantly it seems the Marketing Society is doing just this.  Early in February they held an event where the leaders of the marketing community opened up about their failures.  Syl Saller, Sarah Warby, Dominic Grounsell and Annabel Venner spoke to Marketing Society ceo Gemma Greaves about their mistakes.  It’s clear from the resounding applause on Twitter that the event inspired.  As one tweeter commented: “Its rough seas that make good sailors”.

As 2017 looks like more rough seas ahead, it is incumbent on all business leaders to encourage and make failing acceptable and safe.  This isn’t just about rhetoric.  It might require as big a change in how we coach and train our employees as teacher need to make at school.

My ceo Josh Krichefski has stated publically “where we stumble there we find treasure”.  Do businesses need a culture transformation?  How about KPIs for all staff of a “good failure, and lessons learned”?  Open your next team meeting with the question “Who’s had a brave failure this week?”





Are you ok?

Monday, February 20th, 2017

PrintFebruary 2nd was Time to talk day, when the charity Time to change, encourages the nation to reach out to each other and take a moment to check in and make sure everyone is ok.

Don’t worry if you missed it – you can take the time to reach out today too.

This can be as simple as asking “are you ok?” although as one wise person pointed out to me there’s a world of difference between someone hastily assuring you that they’re “just fine” and people really being in a good state of mind.  It isn’t just about asking the question it is also about really hearing the answer.

At the moment too many people with mental health problems feel undermined and worthless.

It’s perfectly acceptable to have the flu (especially man flu!).  If you break your leg you’ll get everyone’s sympathy.

All too often people find it embarrassing and shameful to tell their colleagues and their manager that they can’t cope with the anxiety from stress in the work or that they have been diagnosed with depression.  Yet one in four people will face this situation, every year.  90 percent of those who are in that situation feel stigmatised.  If there’s a team around you at the moment, the likelihood is one of them is suffering right now.  Do you know who it is and can you speak to them about it because it might really help?

MediaCom’s Inclusion network’s event on Feb 2 was about mental health and overcoming the stigma surrounding it.   The inspirational speakers included Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Laybourn.

Benjamin and Laybourn are award winning mental health campaigners who give talks at schools, colleges and workplaces throughout the UK.  Their journey together began in January 2008 when Neil talked Jonny out of taking his own life.  Neil was on his way to work as usual, hurrying across Waterloo Bridge with hundreds of other commuters.  He suddenly spotted someone, a complete stranger, perched on the edge.  Most people were ignoring this and striding past, headphones on, head down, ignoring everyone, as you do on a London commute.  Perhaps Neil behaved differently because he’s not a real Londoner – he’d only just started commuting in from Hertfordshire.  Perhaps he behaved differently because he’s more of a hero than most.   Neil stopped and asked Jonny if he was ok.  Jonny was far from ok – he was contemplating jumping into the Thames. Jonny had just been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression and was extremely unwell.  He thought that he could hear the voice of the devil and that he was the subject of a real life Truman Show.  Neil’s interaction saved his life but the two were soon separated when the police intervened and took Jonny away to be sectioned.   As Jonny recovered he set out to find the man that had saved his life, and their story was filmed in a Channel 4 documentary Find Mike (actually Neil, but that’s part of the story).

Hearing their story emphasises the importance that looking out for each other has in the workplace.  Work is a community as well as a job.  We care about each other, and taking a few seconds to show this can make a massive difference to someone who might be in trouble mentally and can’t find the words or the way to reach out to you.

Time to Change’s work has shown that people do not get the help that they deserve and need and are often left feeling isolated, ashamed and worthless.  We take pride in being involved in their campaign to get everyone to open up to mental health: to talk about it and to listen to each other.

Jonny said mindfulness and resilience techniques had really helped him.  If it’s you that’s feeling anxious and stressed then one positive step is to explore this too.

Let’s find more time to talk.  Techniques and workplace pledges are at

Britain Decoded

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Final_Banner_Britain_Decoded“We divided ourselves among caste, creed, culture and countries but what is undivided remains most valuable: a mere smile and the love.”
― Santosh Kalwar

Britain is divided.  There’s no question about it.  Brexit pitted family members against each other and the closeness of the vote has torn an even wider chasm in politics.  Emotions are running high in Westminster, in sitting rooms and in clubs, coffee shops and bars.

The world is divided.  The US presidential verdict was as polarising as Brexit.  Thanks to iHeart radio I was interviewed by some local radio stations across the USA from Miami to Salt Lake City.  The interviews were during the week following the Trump election.  My topic was about The Glass Wall book and empowering women at work. The tone of the interviews varied very widely as you might guess.  In one locale I was waiting to go on air live and could hear the previous phone in.  The caller said she’d called in to: “thank the Lord for Donald Trump”.  She repeatedly thanked the Lord, and repeatedly explained her many reasons for doing so.  On the other side of the divide I have one American friend who’s taking Prozac as a result of the election, and who says that she’d swap our referendum result for her presidential election result at the drop of a hat.

MediaCom’s Real World Insight’s latest report on the state of the nation: Britain Decoded quantifies, and diagnoses the fragmentation of our nation.  For a start nearly half of us put our regional or local identity above Britishness.  Big cities are important for identity – many Londoners would put that first.  But, inevitably perhaps, someone from Yorkshire, wherever they live now, identifies first as being from Yorkshire.

There’s an opportunity for brands here.  People are open to and will respond positively to regional or hyper local messaging.  This trend has been talked about, but has been cost inefficient for most of this century so far.  Now, with opportunities in digital for localised out of home, mobile and regional newsbrands, that barrier to closeness has dissolved.  Not many brands are focussing on this, and there is a significant competitive advantage to be had if you get it right and you’re the only brand in the sector which is bothering to do so.

Most Brits agree community is a good thing. We like to be part of a community.  There’s good ancestral reasons for this.  Your stone age ancestors were much more likely to survive the winter if they were safe in the village and not wandering alone risking being lunch to the local sabre tooth tiger.

The meaning of community is divided too however.

It can be physical – the local coffee shop or farmers market, or of course the pub.

Your community might be a community of interest.  One of the great benefits of social networks is the ability to find people with shared experiences or passions who don’t live anywhere near you.  This is relatively new as a mainstream trend powered by Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat.

Your community might be only where you hear exactly the same opinion as your own.  Exacerbated by current politics and economics.  Strong newsbrands have historically been the vehicles for such communities.

Overall there’s a role for brands to bring together communities and remind us of our essential humanity.  In 2017 they can go against the divisions and help remind us of what brings Britons together.

Public trust is in crisis

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

publicGovernment, business and media have all lost the confidence of the UK population in a dramatic fall in the last year.  There is an unprecedented feeling in the UK that life is not as fair as it used to be. Only one in nine of the UK population think that the system still works.

The annual Edelman Trust Survey calls this a crisis.  Trust in media sources has fallen spectacularly.  This held up for a long time because people trusted the medium that they were closest to.  So if you were a Sun reader you trusted that paper, but thought that the Guardian was biased and vice versa.  Now less than a quarter of Brits say they trust the media in any respect.

In every challenge there is opportunity.  The most trusted UK institution is now business – limping in at just 33%.  Sitting in the Edelman analysis are clear guidelines for how businesses and brands could conduct themselves in order to win in the trust stakes.

Don’t talk down to your customers.  In “Tell the truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool”, published in 2012, I predicted the death of spin: “in five years we will look back at the art of spin as an anachronism”.  Well my timeline was wrong, but where meaningless spin isn’t dead, it should now be finished off for good.

Edelman shows that the most credible spokespeople for businesses are independent experts or people like yourself.

Faced with a choice people pick spontaneity over rehearsed polished speeches, bluntness over politeness and personal stories over data.  Trust in advertising is no stronger than trust in social media.  Given that consumer cynicism is at its height now, every consumer interaction is loaded with meaning.

Any service brand needs to consider the whole customer experience.  Marketing can make the brand more memorable in a really good way.  A failure to deliver can make it more memorable than that in a very bad way.

One of the most powerful mechanisms to drive trust is congruence.  People love congruence.  Many powerful stories work on the basis that eventually the truth will out, that covering up deep motivations ends badly, from Macbeth to Gilderoy Lockheart in Harry Potter.  The winners of reality TV shows are normally those who arrive as the most congruent – their appearance matches their behaviour.  The first impressions are also the last impressions.  They don’t have to be particularly likeable.  We like that they are not fake.

So marketing, advertising and media experts have a clear path to follow in 2017.  The best route for the brands under their influence is congruence.  The media execution needs to be congruent with the advertising.  Any brand promising warmth and friendliness in its values must surely deliver this in friendly media channels – the need for a social strategy is paramount.  Brand advocacy will drive congruence too – consumers don’t just want to take the advertising at face value they will need recommendations online and offline (ie down the pub or at the school gate etc).  Local behaviour needs to be aligned with national or global brand behaviour.  All the employees need to be brand ambassadors.  Which means that how you look after them is as important as the production values of the advertising.  Walking the walk as well as talking the talk is more crucial in 2017 than ever.