Fearless - Ep. 33: "The Influencer" - Tom Goodwin

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"The Influencer"

Tom Goodwin is the definition of a disruptive thinker. He was recently named one of LinkedIn’s most influential contributors and brings to any conversation a natural unwillingness to accept the status quo.  I talked to Tom about the importance of embracing difference in others, about the power of trust and about the freedom of being wrong.


Three Takeaways

  • The importance of relentless curiosity
  • An interest in real conversations
  • Being open to the possibility that somebody else might be right

"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 33: "The Influencer" Tom Goodwin

"And I think quite often people assume provocation is about metrics and, you know, things going viral and getting likes, and actually for me, provocation is about starting really passionate discussions. So I feel quite lucky that on a place liked LinkedIn, you know, with the followers, that I get to create threads that lots of people can see, and lots of people can see much smarter people than me commenting on, and we can have quite passionate discussions about things that are rarely challenged."

Charles:   The influence that comes with leadership positions is a double-edged sword. It provides the opportunity to encourage exploration and conversation. And the power to shut them down.

We live in a world in which ‘disrupt or be disrupted’ has become the business equivalent of ‘keep calm and carry on’. It makes us feel better for a moment - a bite sized burst of dopamine - before reality returns. 

Every business is under threat, mostly from forces and influences that lived only in our imagination a few years ago. At which point I would like to offer you a moment of pause. 

Most of the most disruptive realities that we live with today were predictable five years ago. What can we do today that was unimaginable five years ago? Things are easier. More commonplace. More expected. Less amazing. More practical. More affordable. But nothing we live with today in the world of commerce was beyond our imagination.

Leadership - fearless creative leadership - is about influencing others to have ‘whatif’ conversations. About giving permission to explore possibilities and make plans based on uncertainty and unpredictability. 

The alternative is to use your influence to shutdown anything that is not a straight line away from today. 

Tomorrow is an unknown. But it is not unimaginable. 

Which means that how you use your influence as a leader will have everything to do with what your company is saying five years from now.  

‘Who knew’. 

Or… ‘we knew it.’

Tom Goodwin is the definition of a disruptive thinker. He was recently named one of LinkedIn’s most influential contributors and brings to any conversation a natural unwillingness to accept the status quo.

I talked to Tom about the importance of embracing difference in others, about the power of trust and about the freedom of being wrong.

Charles:                               

Tom thank you so much for being here, welcome to Fearless.

Tom Goodwin:                 

It's great to be here, thanks for the invite.

Charles:                               

How do you define creativity?  What is creativity to you?

Tom Goodwin:                 

It's classic question, isn't it? For me it's kind of joining up things in a different way. I think it's very unlikely to be about something that is brand new, but it's about a brand new combination of unlikely things coming together quite spectacularly, ideally with a goal to kind of make someone's life a bit better, or to improve things somewhat.

Charles:

When did you see creativity first show up in your life?

Tom Goodwin:                 

That's an amazing question. I think I had very creative parents actually, I mean it's quite a kind of classic things to say these days that everyone is creative, and it's kind of beaten out of them. But I think people might be ashamed to admit that they might be creative, it's actually only in the last few years really that I've kind of felt like I'm allowed to be creative. You feel quite nervous if you proclaim that.

But I think I just kind of grew up in a house with curious parents, quite sort of liberally minded, and I think it allowed us to explore, and I think there's something within that combination of nurture, and support, and exploration, and sort of positivity. I think that's where this spirit comes from somehow.

Charles:                               

What did your parents do?

Tom Goodwin:                 

They were both teachers. But they were kind of quite strange teachers in a way, like they would do weird subjects. I actually think that most teachers if they're fantastic are very creative, so whether it's the exercises that you're getting people to do, or whether it's trips that you're coming up with.

It's kind off odd, because creativity is a lot about stimulus, and you'd imagine that if you live in Tokyo, or Azerbaijan, or something, that you're surrounded by stimulus, and I was brought up in a small village in the middle of the Cotswolds. So there wasn't a lot of stimulus to necessarily spark these things, but I think it created quite a relaxed environment, and one that was quite carefree.

So I think there's something about all of those things together that actually we need to maintain at industry, that fear of failure is obviously something that's going to kill any sense of creativity.

Charles:                               

You said they taught strange subjects. What did they teach?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Well my dad was ... I didn't really understand, because we didn't really talk about work that much, but I think he may have become an expert in dyslexia at the same time as being a maths teacher. I mean it's fascinating things to think about, about the degree to which subjects like maths are actually quite inherently creative, and it's fascinating to kind of think about the creative process in terms of logic, and rythm, and pace, and attributes like that.

So my mum was a deputy head teacher, just in the local primary school; she taught me for a while which was extremely embarrassing. And then my dad, he kind of worked for quite a strange school, like a kind of boarding school, that had very interesting people like tribal leaders of Kenya would send their daughters to this school, stuff like that.

But it was just this weird combination of it being quite unusual and sort of strange but carefree. And I think maybe that's what kind of has created this attitude that I think I increasingly realize I have, which is just this deep curiosity, but sort of provocation and a sort of need to sort of challenge things, that I don't think as many people have as I would expect.

Charles:                               

Did they encourage that in you?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Yeah, yeah. I mean, always within the context of being polite, or maybe [inaudible], but in the context of being helpful, they certainly encouraged the idea of provocation. My dad sort of used to, it's quite strange talking about your upbringing, my dad used to kind of talk about this time at university [00:04:00] when he was training to be a teacher. And the teacher of the teacher sort of said, "What is education for?" And my dad said, "To allow people to be subversive." Which is an extraordinary answer. And I remember when he sort of told me that I didn't really know what that meant.

And I think about it quite a lot actually. I think that we're in a situation where the access that we have to information and knowledge is such where, you know, to some degree the notion of being subversive and challenging things and being sort of bold and provocative, as long as it's done with positivity and progress in mind rather than belittling people, I actually it's something that we probably don't celebrate enough, I think.

Charles:                               

What did you read in university?

Tom Goodwin:                 

I did a really amazing combination actually. I did, it was kind of like two degrees at the same time, one of them being architecture. So I got a bachelor in architecture and a master's degree in structural engineering over a four-year period. Which honestly, like, I'm not a huge believer in the sort of establishment of university, but as a course it was incredible. Because you would both be refining the sort of logic and the objectivity and the correctness and the hardness of understanding the Euler-Bernoulli Equation in structural engineering and then letting that reinforce concrete and the sort of development of material science and advanced mathematics in the morning, and in the afternoon you'd be sort of doing life drawing of naked people, or taking photography a sight.

So the amazing ability to both kind of, live in this idea of creativity and ideas, with the sort of structure and the sort of rigor of engineering, was actually, without me realizing it, it was a very good thing to study, to sort of prepare me for the world of advertising.

Charles:                               

So very much art-meet-construction I would think.

Tom Goodwin:                 

Yeah. It's amazing.

Charles:                               

Interesting combination.

Tom Goodwin:                 

Yeah.

Charles:                               

What did you think you were going to do for a career?

Tom Goodwin:                 

I had no idea! I definitely know I didn't know what I wanted to do. At the age of eight I remember our school was sort of being redesigned by an architect, and I remember thinking that that seemed like quite a nice job. But I quickly realized it wasn't for me. For a while I thought I wanted to be a management consultant. I kind of liked the idea of flying around the world and sort of telling people what to do. But very early on in my interviews for management consultancy I realized that I was extremely badly suite to that.

Charles:                               

Because?

Tom Goodwin:                 

I mean, I could talk about this for a long time, and I'd probably get into trouble, but you know, management consultants, for me, are very much about the kind of pretense of innovation. It's a kind of, the application of old thinking and quite conservative ways of solving problems. And there's something about the degree to which people are the same, and it was about kind of the avoidance of risk. Everything about the kind of tonality of the environment is almost the exact opposite. So the problems that they solve were very much interesting to me. And the kind, the sphere of influence that they had and the kind of, the environment in which they operated was fantastic. Somehow like, the toolkit that they had is amazing, and then they end up kind of coming up with quite boring solutions.

So increasingly I feel like actually the role in advertising is for us to do a much more creative, kind of consumer-centric version of management consulting. You know, that's actually what I'd love us to do more of.

Charles:                               

So how did you get into the business?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Kind of by mistake. So after I kind of failed at all these management consultancy interviews, and I tried to be an investment banker as well. And I realized that when I was on the train to this interview, I had no interest whatsoever in reading the material that they'd given me to kind of prepare. So I failed spectacularly at that.

And then I ended up getting a job on the GlaxoSmithKline graduate training scheme. So for about two or three years I worked for GlaxoSmithKline.

So I was doing my job in about one hour a week, earning quite spectacular amounts of money, and I was just really bored. So I wrote to Jonathan Mildenhall, who'd interviewed me at TBWA, and I said, I remember the note clearly; it said, "I've never worked less hard in my life and I've never earned more money, and I'd quite like to do the opposite. So, you may remember me from before; it would be great to see if there's something there." And he very quickly emailed me back, which was extremely exciting, and about two days later I was on a train going to London and I met him and about seven other people. And I was given a job as an account manager at TBWA.

So that's kind of how it started. I was pretty much the worst account manager I think TBWA's ever had. But I had a different viewpoint. It was fascinating coming into the world of advertising, having spent many years selling. Because you realized that, you know, consumers are not the people that we think they are. Selling is not the process of trying to say as much stuff as possible; it's actually much more about listening. And I think we tend to sort of underestimate the role of empathy, I think, in quite a lot of the jobs that we do.

Charles:                               

What brought you to the States? What does the next stage of your career look like?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Terrible, actually. This is my therapy!

Charles:                               

Did you come by yourself, or did ...

Tom Goodwin:                 

It's quite a long story. I was married for quite a short period of time. They actually made a movie about the person I married and our experience together, because it was quite dramatic.

Charles:                               

What was the movie?

Tom Goodwin:                 

It's called Like Crazy. Essentially, we had a very strange but wonderful relationship that was slightly limited by immigration. And ironically, while she was basically American, she wasn't actually allowed to live in America at that time. And oddly I was English, always wanted to live in America. And yeah, for me to move to America and not take her would have been rather mean. So we got married, and it didn't really work out that well. But we're still in touch. She's a wonderful person.

So I ended up in the IPG Emerging Media Lab, which was kind of this point where I suddenly started realizing quite how exciting technology was, and quite how it was and wasn't changing our behavior. And I learnt a lot about what we could do that would make a really big difference to our clients' business. So that was a very exciting time for me.

Charles:                               

So you've moved across a lot of different companies.

Tom Goodwin:                 

Yes.

Charles:                               

You've seen the world of creativity from a lot of different perspectives. As you look across it now, what are the characteristics of the companies that stand out for you that really are creative and innovative?

Tom Goodwin:                 

I think there's a sense of fearlessness, without want to sort of sound trite. I think companies that embrace people that are very different ... And this sounds a bit like something you might get on a motivational poster, but you have to really mean it, you know.

At TBWA I remember one day they had posters saying, like, "Walk a different way to work each day." And the idea was that that would allow you to sort of become more creative. And I kind of thought that missed the point, because they should just be employing people that actually, you know, sometimes just don't turn up to work because they're not going to be that great that day. Or sometimes they just work extra hard or sometimes they're in an art gallery or something.

So I think for me, companies that, they allow people to relax, they allow people to do the best job they can, rather than necessarily the specific thing they've been brought in to do. I think they just sort of create this culture where sort of ideas are almost like oxygen, and people are talking freely, and people are curious, and there's just kind of weirdness. I think we kind of, Tom Peters talked quite a lot about hanging out with freaks. I think somehow, like, we've become used to things being quite sanitized. And I think, yeah, there's a lot to be found in just weirdness and uncomfortableness and strange conversations, and provocative debate and passion and anger. And I think sometimes we kind of think that those are bad things.

Charles:                               

How do you think companies engender those? Because, obviously all of those are, to some extent, threats to the predictability of commerce. Kind of the rigor and the process that businesses tend to like to have. How do you see companies infusing their own culture with a willingness to not just accept that but actually embrace it and encourage it?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Yeah. I think, in all of the things that I write and say, I worry sometimes I seem very naïve. And this is one of those moments where I seem very naïve.

I think every company will have to kind of find their own way of doing this, and every company in every sector will need to find their own way of doing this. So your kind of "mileage may vary." I think, regardless of those variables, leadership is probably the most important thing. To have a strong, charismatic leader; to have a clear sense of vision; to kind of know why your agency or you company exists; I think when you have that kind of structure, I think the rest of it kind of becomes more easy. Like, when you have that, it's actually quite easy to recruit the best people. When you have that it's quite easy for those people to know what is helpful and what is not helpful.

I think another part that they can do is trust. I think, especially America; I'm not going to dwell on this because it's a bit negative, but America tends to be, I think its sort of Puritanical roots somehow mean that people are hard workers. And I think as Russell Davies talks about great strategists being lazy, like all they want to do is sort of solve the problem and go home and sort of sleep or something.

But I think we massively in the U.S., like, overvalue productivity as measured by meetings that you attend or emails that you send. And actually, it's much better to sort of focus on the role that we're performing, and how that can help the company with its bigger role, and often that means not taking meetings. And often that means sort of misbehaving by reading a book, or watching the financial news or something like that. Like often what is most productive actually doesn't look like work.

So you need a lot of trust to come from senior management. And I think that's reciprocated. So, I think leaders that create that environment I think will do the best. And then it's up to individuals to know, you know, at what point it's disruptive, the kind of helpful type of disruption, and at what point you're just being extremely unhelpful. And at what point are you being stimulated by being in an art gallery and at what point are you just spunking off work? So I think there's a lot of detail that people need to sort of fill in within that framework, but I think leadership is certainly the most important thing.

Charles:                               

I was at a really interesting book reading over the weekend, a man called Michael Korda, who for years was the editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster, and in the last 10 or 15 years I guess, maybe 20, has become a writer in his own right and a historian of some note, written some amazing biographies. And he's just published a book about Dunkirk called Alone. He lived through it, obviously has massive historical knowledge and so the Q&A was extraordinary; he talked about it from a lot of different angles, and information I'd never heard and stuff I'd never understood about the Second World War, and about that period specifically.

He was asked a question in the Q&A, what do you think are the characteristics of the most successful leaders? And he said, courage. And he was talking through the lens of Lincoln, and Churchill. And he knew Churchill personally because Churchill was part of his family's life growing up. But I think courage, to your point earlier, is a fundamental prerequisite.

Tom Goodwin:                 

Absolutely.

Charles:                               

And obviously, hard to be fearless without courage. When you look at leaders who are really successful, who bring that fearlessness, do you have a sense of where that courage comes from? Are there patterns; are there consistent sort of themes that you've seen where, you know, "these people show up courageously because," or "these are the ways that they show up courageously"? Has that ever struck you as a lens?

Tom Goodwin:                 

That is a fantastic question, that I don't know if I have a particularly good immediate answer to. I mean to start with, I have not worked with that many great leaders. I think, probably the biggest issue in the general marketing environment is a lack of amazing, empathetic leaders. I think quite often the structure and the process by which people rise to the top, actually really helps nurture people that are quite risk-averse and are quite compliant. So it's unusual that you work with fantastic people. There's a lot of good people. I work for an agency where I'm very happy to be with a fantastic leadership. But when it comes to leaders that are world class ... I mean, I'm kind of drawn to Ellis from Celador because he really was a man that could command a room and just make everyone feel loved. It's not my place to talk about his personal situation, but I think, some people are driven by this kind of need to make a difference, and the most important thing for them is to kind of feel that they leave a legacy behind. So I think there's probably something there.

I mean, this book I'm writing at the moment, I'm trying to talk about innovation and how to create a culture for this. And when you look at most of the companies that are performing remarkable, they're quite often led by remarkable sort of iconic figures. And quite honestly, quite often those people are slightly psycho. So, you know, I'm definitely not going to mention names.

But there's a degree to which being a sociopath is probably quite helpful. You know, to have the kind of balls to say, you know, "Let's take on the taxi industry." Most people wouldn't do that, because they'd sort of worry that they might killed by a kind of mafioso taxi medallion owner.

So I think there's a degree to which probably the very, very best leaders are probably slight-, well a handful of the very best leaders are probably slightly strange in that kind of way. But to be very good, I honestly think you need to be the opposite. And whatever the opposite of sociopath is, you need to be sort of empathetic and understanding. And that's where most of the kind of people I've worked with have kind of been.

Charles:                               

Michael talked about the fact that the great leaders that he had studied, and in some case I guess known personally, were conscious of creating their place in history; you just talked about legacy. To what extent do you think that's a significant driver for the best leaders?

Tom Goodwin:                 

I think it is. I think everyone has to find their own form of legacy. So much of life appears to be about balancing things. You know, if you're unbelievably ambitious, then you are likely to not feel accomplished until you've done everything, and then you're likely to kind of get stressed and to sort of take shortcuts and do strange things.

So I think almost like "legacy" is the wrong way of thinking about these things, because it suggests that it has to be grand and it has to happen at the end. More than anything else, you know, not that I'm the best person to advise because I'm only 38, but my sense is that companies need to do a much better job of figuring out their role at the moment, and then their role in sort of five or 10 years' time, because I think increasingly people don't have sort of guiding principles to help shape what they do. So I think probably the best leaders have set that out for their company. They probably have done something similar for themselves. And I think by having that sense of journey then they can sort of help manage their ambition level but also kind of see their progress towards a goal.

Charles:                               

Yeah, I think there's a lot of truth to that. You mentioned earlier the concept of having a vision; I've talked a little bit about that on this podcast before. But it's rare, don't you find, that leaders have really clearly defined visions, where they can actually articulate in one sentence, "We're going to this," or "We're heading in this direction; this is what success looks like."

Tom Goodwin:                 

It's extraordinarily rare.  I think often, there's a kind of short term-ism I think that's really hitting our marketplace. And I think that short term-ism means that people don't think they've got time to do something that they consider extravagant, like actually thinking about the kind of bigger picture. And I mean that quite literally, whether it's their competitors, whether it's what clients are worried by. I think sometimes we think that thinking is a bit extravagant. But it's absolutely the case that the  best companies I've worked for had a very strong sense of that.                                               

And it's absolutely the case that it's something I see lacking. You know, whether it's in creds decks, whether it's in the way the work is presented. You know, if I ran an agency I'd love to think, you know, if this place disappeared, what would people miss? Whether it's journalists or clients or search consultants. If this place were shut up, what would people sort of be nostalgic about? And I think most agencies, no one would really care or notice. So I think that would be a fantastic way for people to think.

Charles:                               

I was really struck by an article you wrote for, I think it was GQ UK, where you talked about actually getting kids to think differently, or raising kids differently through a different lens. And you described really powerfully I think this notion of intelligence. I think you described it as being built around three concentric circles, where, you'll probably do a better job of explaining it so I'm going to let you explain it, but I was struck by this notion in that in many ways you said that education is kind of built from the outside in. Just talk a little bit about this concept, because then I want to take it through to the business world.

Tom Goodwin:                 

Well again, I'm going to seem quite sort of naïve and sort of unfairly provocative here, but I think it's a line from, Ken, Sir Ken ...

Charles:                               

Ken Robinson.

Tom Goodwin:                 

Ken Robinson. You know, if the role of education is to prepare our kids for the future and to give them the best founding they need for a great career, then we need to know the kids in school today are going to be entering the workplace and doing their jobs, you know, in 2030, 2040. And that's a world that we can't begin to imagine. Like we literally have no idea what the world's going to be like then.

And it makes you realize that, and again, you know, he's done some work on this so I don't want to appear to be thinking originally when I'm not, but he's done a lot of work into the kind of roots of education. And most of it has either been a kind of religious device to try and get people to sort of good people or to become clergy. Or it's been kind of created by kind of industrialists for the industrial revolution, and is very much based around the idea of not getting most out of everyone, but getting the same out of everyone. So how can we create people that can kind of fit in different positions in factories.

Charles:                               

And he talks about education being very much an assembly line, where you go in and you're taught to be the same.

Tom Goodwin:                 

Yes, absolutely. And it feels like that. And you know, in my kind of job as a bit of a futurist / person that thinks about change, you realize that as technology develops, most of the things that school teaches us are increasingly less helpful. So that theory of the onion, you know, it's not my thinking, but at the core of us is our kind of personality and our kind of values, and then on top of that is what is that kind of foundation that allows us to learn sort of skills and to get attributes. And then on top  of that we get knowledge.

And pretty much all education kind of focuses at the most external aspects. So it teaches how to do maths, and it teaches us words in other languages to remember. And increasingly all of that stuff is what computers are extremely good at. So pretty much everything that I learned from school, that was knowledge based, is now completely unhelpful. Like, all of the capital cities and gestation periods that I know, completely useless. Even today I would not, you know, I don't regret the fact that I don't speak French. I need to understand the sort of meaning of things; I need to understand how to empathize to people, how to build relationships with people. Creativity is probably one of the skills which will be more important for longest as intelligence from computers increases.

So it just made me realize that actually, and you know the best framework you could ever have for an education system, would be about how can you foster empathy, how can you help people sort of build relationships? How can you ensure that people retain creativity for as long as they can? And I don't really see that happening with our school structure.

Charles:                               

Do you think that the same applies to business, where businesses value people based on the knowledge they have and then to the skills they have and worry too little and too late about kind of the personality that they bring?

Tom Goodwin:                 

I think generally speaking, yes. Again, you know, I need to be considerate to the fact that different companies need different types of people. So, it's not great to have a kind of auto plant worker that starts, you know, questioning the meaning of life halfway through screwing a screw. But within our world, I think we need a combination of people. And we need sort of wide people and narrow people. And we need sort of connectors, and we need specialists.

But I think we massively over-index on people who are there to perform a role rather than who are there to sort of add sort of value in more unusual and strange ways. Again, like, the mixture of those people is key. But certainly within fields like advertising and marketing, we need the analysts and we need the people that can study charts and look at data brilliantly, but we probably need more generalists. We probably need people who know a bit about code. I mean, I've written a tiny bit of code, and I was terrible at it. But I understand the principle of it. I know a bit about architecture; I know about graphic design. I know a bit about how to present. And it's by kind of having that width that I think I have been able to be quite useful.                                              

Charles:                               

When you come across a company, or see a company that is interested in change, embracing of change, excited by change, how do those kinds of businesses hire? Thinking this through the lens of looking at people through a different set of characteristics or a different set of priorities?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Well, without wanting to be unhelpful, I don't think there are many companies like that. I think the fact that we can think of companies like this shows how unusual they are. You know, so it is the kind of Squarespaces , and the AirBnBs, and the Etsys of the world that have people like that, and they can have these structures. You know, the holocracy of Zappo's. They stand out because their case studies, because they're unusual.

But I think most companies at the moment are not excited by change actually. Most of them are kind of, pretending to be excited because that's the body language of the moment. Or they'd show enough to kind of virtue signal to the City that they're doing interesting things. It's probably my biggest frustration in the world right now actually. Like if you're a painter and someone invented the oil tube, you know, sorry the metal tube that the paints go in, that was probably the most exciting day of your life. You know, you could now go outside and paint without the paint drying. If you're an architect and someone invented the elevator, you can now suddenly make buildings that are taller. If you're a musician and suddenly we've kind of created the violin or something, it's great.

And generally speaking, our industry, in its very soul, it thinks that change is a bad thing. In its very soul it thinks that technology is a threat. And I don't think that's the case at all. We have these amazing new devices; we have amazing new ways to figure out data and how people behave; we have amazing new analytical techniques which allow us to create meaning from data. Like, this is the very most exciting time there's ever been to be pretty much in every business. Like, the excitement may be brought alongside with fear, but these are exciting times. And I don't see many people that seem to embrace this, to be honest.

Charles:                               

Within the context of the advertising industry? Or more generally?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Within the more general business environment. You know, again I know this is quite a punchy thing to say, but I don't sense that people in retailers are thinking, "Let's roll up our sleeves here. Amazon is a threat but it was weakness; what can we do about it?" I don't feel like that's an exciting meeting to be in.  I feel like it's a nervous meeting to be in.

So whether it's banks looking at mobile payments, whether it's airlines looking at the way that we buy flights differently, our toolkit is technology, and we have the best toolkit we've ever had, and it gets better every day. I'm surprised that companies are not driven more by enthusiasm and optimism and less by kind of fear and sort of defensiveness. Because I think it's that kind of emotion which is making people do fairly unambitious things for the wrong reasons.

Charles:                               

If you work inside a company today that you think is more risk averse than is healthy, are there things that you can do to help change the mindset? Or do you think that this is just, you're just mismatched; at this point you need to find somewhere that actually actually has just got a more open minded perspective?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Yeah, I think it very much depends on your personal goals and the degree to which you're happy to take risks. And your level of influence within a company.

I get quite a lot of emails from people saying that they want a job, and people feel like that's the goal. And I think people think that this thing that they do for most of their life is just, you know, a small part of their life. I'd love people to try and find the right job. I think companies should do a better job of merchandising what they are like and being honest about their kind of culture and their sort of personality, so to speak. And then I think people who are interviewing need to do a better job of explaining actually really what they're like. And it's all about that, the kind of matching of the two. You know, much less about skills, much less about knowledge, and much more about kind of characteristics and sort of values that people have. I think that would be an interesting way to sort of create an environment where that can be solved.

Charles:                               

Yeah I think that's an important perspective as well. Obviously the issue of diversity and gender equality is everywhere at the moment, as it needs to be. I posited a theory to some friends earlier this summer about one of the ways to solve those problems, or at least to start to address the imbalance in those problems, is to take advantage of the second of the two motivating forces behind any business.

So, I think there are fuel supplies behind companies. One is, the revenue you get from clients and/or customers, which tends to change the behavior of almost every business. The second however, is to very much the point you've just made is, that the other fuel supply of especially creative businesses are the talent that you hire. And there's very little done to actually empower those people from day one, to help the company hold itself to a different set of standards. And I was wondering what would happen if companies said to themselves, "When we hire somebody, we're going to make them responsible for holding us to account to being the kind of company they want to work for and we aspire to be." Because everyday stuff gets in the way of those standards often. But if you built that into employee reviews, if you built that into compensation packages and so on and said, "We hired you because we want it to be," say, "50-50," right, from a gender equality standpoint for argument's sake. Or for practical sake. "If that was the case, you shouldn't work here if we fail you in that basis." Right?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Yeah.

Charles:                               

"You should leave if we then do that."

Tom Goodwin:                 

Yeah, yeah.

Charles:                               

"And we should hold you to account for calling us out on it." I wonder what would happen if we actually empowered the people that we need from a business standpoint to hold us to account to being a better business. What's your thought on that?

Tom Goodwin:                 

I think it's perfect intellectually.

Charles:                               

That wouldn't be the first time someone's accused me of that.

Tom Goodwin:                 

It's not my place to sort of say that you're being unrealistic. I think a lot of things need to change. And for a start companies need to kind of want to do this, rather than kind of want to want to do it. And if they really want to do it, then it does involve doing things that make them feel uncomfortable, and having someone sort of holding the company to account for that is certainly something that would make a lot of companies feel uncomfortable. And I think realistically most people are so sort of drawn to compliance that it would be an unusual person that would feel that they could express that in an interview.

So I think sort of logically you're correct. I don't know, I mean these are huge topics and they are actually things that I think about quite often. And I always feel like I'm going to say stupid things about them. But I think we need to understand quite how big a challenge this is. Like this is a very sort of existential issue. You know, people generally like being around people that agree with them. And they like being around people that sort of reinforce people's opinion that they are correct and smart and nice. And therefore we tend to want as a species to sort of hang around people that are like us.

So in all these regards, I think somehow we need to sort of find a way to really, really want it. And to genuinely believe it's in our best interest. Because it absolutely is. And then just get better at accepting that it's going to mean that, you know, you end up having quite different conversations with people, and you end up feeling, and I don't mean this literally, but you end up feeling quite uncomfortable about things. You know, I don't mean this in a sort of awkward middle class way. I mean that people would say things that make people realize quite how stupid you are, and people will say things that make you realize how naïve you are, and they'll make you realize quite how privileged you are. And that's going to be really uncomfortable. But I think we need to get much better at being comfortable being uncomfortable.

And maybe I'm lucky in that I have a degree of confidence that is quite unusual, but I think a great leader is not threatened by people being difficult, and they're not threatened by people sort of challenging each other and the company and the structure. And I think when you have that energy to work with, I mean it sounds a bit like some kind of, you know, martial art analogy or something, but as long as you can create lots of energy in a room, I think actually directing it's quite easy. I think the hardest thing to do is to get that energy in the first place.

Charles:                               

As I was doing background research for this conversation, I noted that you had become, I think, the most influential person on LinkedIn, is that right?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Well, I'm very influential!

Charles:                               

If that's true, how did that come about?

Tom Goodwin                

Yeah, goodness knows. Well it's definitely not true. They awarded me sort of "Number One Voice in Marketing" or something. And I do have quite a lot of quote-unquote "followers."

Charles:                               

I saw them outside I think, right as I walked in.

Tom Goodwin:                 

Everywhere! Everywhere. I need some personal security. And I don't like all of the words that were used for this stuff actually. I don't like "thought leadership," I think is a terrible world. "Followers" is awful. Even when I do sort of keynote presentations, the idea that I'm on a stage and that I [have the pointer, it's uncomfortable for me because it sort of suggests that you're sort of right and that these people are sort of, you know, guided by you.

I mean it sounds kind of unnaturally self-effacing, but I think for me what I really enjoy about LinkedIn is not sort of quote-unquote "influence"; it's that I have the ability to learn a lot from people and sort of create little movements of change by getting people involved. So I love the fact that I can write, you know, "Blockchain's a waste of time." And I do not do so so that I get, you know, 3,000 people sort of telling me I'm an idiot, I do so because there'll be three people that tell me I'm an idiot, and that those people will be kind of professors of cryptocurrencies, or they'll be someone that started the first digital cash movement. And they'll explain to me quite why it is that I'm wrong.

And I think quite often people assume provocation is about metrics and, you know, things going viral and getting likes, and actually for me, provocation is about starting really passionate discussions. So I feel quite lucky that on a place liked LinkedIn, you know, with the followers, that I get to create threads that lots of people can see, and lots of people can see much smarter people than me commenting on, and we can have quite passionate discussions about things that are rarely challenged. Like I'm amazed at how infrequently in our industry we challenge things that people say. You know, you can say things like, "Millennials are hard to reach," and instinctively everyone nods, and then you realize that's just completely not true at all, you know. People who are, you know, government conspiracists in cabins in Nebraska are hard to reach, you know. Like, 15-year-old girls who are on their phone the whole time are very easy to reach. So I enjoy the ability to sort of have conversations like that.

Charles: 

You obviously like to be provocative.

Tom Goodwin:                 

Yeah.

Charles:                               

You're comfortable certainly; maybe "like" is not fair, but you're comfortable being provocative. When you, whether it's in LinkedIn or in any other forum, how do you frame that? How do you start to put that thought process together in your own head? Is that a question of, "I have a theory; I want to put it out there"? Or is it, "I have a belief and I'm open to it being challenged"? Where are you in terms of the degree to which it is a fixed concept in your head?

Tom Goodwin: 

Yeah, I think, it's not necessarily something to be proud of, but I'm surprised at how fluid I am with my thoughts. Like, I'm very, very, very happy to change my mind. And I use many of these platforms as ways to kind of test theories that I have. You know, often they are things that I passionately believe to be true, and I'm kind of there because I'm being someone that is trying to sort of do a speech and to sort of express a point of view. There are times when I am quite certain about something, but I'm very, very, very happy to have my opinion changed, but it might take a lot of energy. And there are times when I express opinions that I don't have, this is very unusual, but occasionally I do a kind of devil's advocate thing where I'm just trying to sort of see things from other peoples' points of view.

I mean I don't want to kind of rant about this, but I'm amazed in the current environment how difficult it is to write something based on trying to understand something more, that you might not be comfortable with learning. So whether it's the New York Times giving the climate-change denier a column, or the piece this weekend. I'm surprised that we're not more driven by understanding. Like, a lot of people at the moment are hoping to have people reinforce what they believe and to be told that they're smart and that they're correct. I'm surprised that more people aren't pleased with the idea of learning something that makes them realize how complex the world is and how different things are and how they might be wrong.

Charles:                               

And where do you think that is coming from? I mean obviously the political environment is creating some part of that, but where do you think from a societal standpoint that's coming from?

Tom Goodwin:                 

I have no idea actually. I think, I mean just thinking aloud, it may be that there is a sense that the world is so chaotic and so unpredictable that we can't cope with the amount of uncertainty there is, so wherever possible we need to sort of create certainty where perhaps it doesn't belong.  I think a lot about sort of growing up in the 1980s into sort of Oxfordshire and being bored. You know, people are not bored anymore; their many problem is that they've got too many interesting things to read and too many people to follow and too many conferences to go to. So I think it's a natural reaction to that, just is to sort of try and establish some things that are at least known. You know, we need to live in a sort of paradigm that we can make sense of and to have lots of those things questioned all the time is probably unhelpful.

Charles: 

If you were to roll forward five years from now, what would success look like for the business world? Advertising specifically or not, but just in general, what do you think success five years from now looks like for the business world?

Tom Goodwin:                 

I think it's having a better mechanism to deal with change. I think, I don't like being one of those people that goes around saying everything is different now, because apart from everything else it's not true. And I don't like saying that the pace of change is faster than ever before because again, I don't know if that's quite true. But it's certainly the case that we are in quite a chaotic, unpredictable, and different landscape, and lots of the things that made companies extremely successful before, you know, their size, their reputation, the assets; they might have had lots of employees, lots of experts; a brand. Increasingly those things are not particularly helpful. And in some cases they're unhelpful.

And I think a lot of companies are full of people who are trying to say very reassuring things to people. Because again, in most corporate structures you do better if people like having you in meetings and you tend to be liked in meetings if you say things that are happy and support a positive viewpoint.

So I'd like to try and get companies to just be more comfortable with being challenged and realizing that having a plan that changes isn't a sign that it was the wrong plan.  That looking ahead is not some crazy type of futurology where we have, you know, no idea whatsover about the future. You know, lots of things about the future are quite predictable. Lots of things that won't change are quite predictable as well.

So I'd like to get companies at being better at doing that. Most companies, if you were to sort of, it's quite hard to describe this conceptually, but if you were to get everyone to think where their focal point is, you know if you're an accountant within Unilever, your focal point on average is probably about six months ago. Like, you probably spend a lot more time thinking about results from the past that you do about the future. If you're the marketing director you probably spend a lot of time thinking about will it work when it, yeah so you probably don't think about that at all, but you might be thinking about what work did really well six years ago. You might be thinking, you know, what was it that made Nike Plus happen, or how was it that Uber started.

Like, everyone's job has this focal point in the past. And we presume it's stupid to look ahead, because, you know, otherwise we'd all be rich and we'd know which team won the World Cup and stuff. But it's not that difficult. We know that there are going to be more things sold next year on the internet. That's not like a controversial thing to say. We know that mobile is going to be a greater part of that. We know that internet speeds are going to get faster; we know that increasingly we watch more TV on our phones. Like, the world is not crazily unpredictable. So I'd love companies to sort of realize that, you know, using your imagination, and sort of smelling your way into this future, and sort of plotting for that, is a much, much, much better way to think of focal points as the current environment.

I think we need to get more comfortable with the idea that it's quite logical and simple and objective to sort of think about a near-term future, and to make quite measured bets within that near-term future. And it's possible to have a longterm view, you know. Like, self-driving cars probably are going to come, and they will mean that we live our lives in very different ways, and they will mean that we can live in different environments, and we can work in cars and cars might end up looking like pods because we don't need them to be designed for every use case.

Again, it's not stupid to start thinking sort of 10 years out. We just have to be clear of what we don't know in that framework too.

Charles:                               

Do you think of yourself as an optimist or a pessimist?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Probably an optimist. I mean, I hate the idea of people having a sort of opinion of you based on your social media profile, but I think most people think I'm quite miserable. And I'm very frustrated by the gap between what could be happening now, and what is happening now. And that creates a degree of frustration.

I'm sort of optimistic in my heart. I mean, it's a whole, big thing to sort of launch into, but I'm quite worried about some aspects of society. So whether it is things like wealth inequality, or the degree to which we're becoming quite entrenched in quite extreme opinions. There's quite a lot of stuff that worries me. Again, I'm sort of obnoxiously privileged, so I'm aware that my personal circumstances, you know, are quite happy and on a nice trajectory. So again, I can be optimistic in that way too.

Charles:                               

And what if anything are you afraid of?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Not being in love, like never finding someone to love! That's probably my biggest one; I think that's my only thing actually. Which is, again, a sort of lucky situation to be in.

I worry sometimes that I, I sort of started writing and then I wrote bigger columns and at the moment I'm writing this book and, you always have the sense one day you're going to do that piece, you're going to get it in the New York Times or you're going to place a piece, or you're going to write a book and then you're done. And then increasingly I realize that actually it is a sort of relentless thirst I have to put this stuff out there. So I worry a bit that I'm just going to exhaust myself, and sort of feel a slight sense that I haven't accomplished everything I wanted to.

Charles:                               

And the book, just before we're out, is called?

Tom Goodwin:                 

It's called Digital Darwinism.

Charles:                               

And it's coming out?

Tom Goodwin:                 

I think in May. I'm not very good at the promotional thing yet. It's definitely called Digital Darwinism. And it's definitely going to be sort of imbued with this spirit that I have, which is going to make it not always correct, and not always smart, but always quite helpful to get to a better place.

Charles:                               

I wrap every episode, every show, with three takeaways that I've heard, so you can tell what you think of these. The first one is, you mentioned this early on, is you have this relentless curiosity for almost everything it seems like. And I think that drives you forward in terms of sort of searching for the next thing, and maybe to some extent the truth. Two is a real willingness and openness to having a conversation about, I think, anything. I haven't heard anything that was off limits from your perspective. And I think the third thing which sounds like the same think but I think is different is, once you've had the conversation, a willingness to be convinced that somebody else might be right about that. I think a lot of people are willing to have a conversation, but use it as an opportunity just to convince the audience that in fact, no no, right?

Tom Goodwin:                 

Yeah.

Charles:                               

I think in your case there's a real openmindedness to that. Do those ring true for you?

Tom Goodwin:                 

It sounds like a very, very good summation of what I said. I think, I mean one thing I would just add on that last thing is, Stephen Covey talks a lot about the idea of listening to understand, not to reply. And there's something amazing about that actually. You know, we do very, very little real, real listening. We very little really, really thinking about a problem and really empathizing with what's going on. And I think, we would all be better leaders, myself included, if we spent more time sort of in other people's heads. And I think listening is a really big part of that.

Charles:                               

A perfect way to wrap up. Tom thank you so much for being here; I've really enjoyed this.

Tom Goodwin:                 

It's been a pleasure; thank you very much.