A Week of Cannes - Inside The Box

Fear is creative kryptonite. Its proximity alone enough to sap the life force of original intent. 

Put fear in a lead box and throw away the key. Or at least hide it for a few hours every day. The alternative being the status quo. Which as history has proven, is a fool's paradise.

For the last week, Cannes has provided its own lead box. One formed by a combination of conversation, exploration, exhortation, celebration and a good deal of rose. It is a box strong enough to withstand even sleep deprivation - the late night bogeymen being banished to the shadows by the simple practice of staying awake until the dawn. 

Fear’s absence has, for a few days at least, removed the fog, cleared the air and revealed a horizon of possibilities. 

Which makes Cannes the most important catalyst within the communications industry today. 

The truth is those possibilities are always there. Waiting, silently, for those with vision and courage to walk through them armed with simple truths.

That the way forward is not barred by economics or by others.

It is not restricted by rules. It is not determined by rulers.

That the way forward lies within our grasp.

We need only a destination that is important to us and a means of transportation.

Which makes it a pragmatic journey, and a practical one. A journey guided by Purpose, powered by a process and sustained by known practices.

This is not esoteric optimism. Or fanciful philosophizing. 

It is the foundation on which to build a business that sits, as Jeffrey Katzenberg said in his session with Sir Martin Sorrell on Friday, “at the intersection at which Art meets Commerce.”

It is an intersection that offers endless choices. 

And only one wrong one. 

To stay on the current road. 

No matter what discipline you practice, or skill you sell, doing more of what brought you to this point in the journey is the equivalent of putting two feet on the brakes while you drive down the side of a cliff. You might slow how long it takes to reach the bottom, but the final resting place is guaranteed.

We coach a growing number of business owners and business leaders. Our focus is to help them be clear about the future they want and to begin the practical steps to reach it.

In essence, we become their lead box. A place to explore possibilities without fear. And to take the journey best suited to them.

It takes courage to stop what you’re doing. And fear influences us all in ways overt and unseen. 

But as Cannes reminded us this week, what is yet to come is open to our influence. 

And diminished only through the choices we make.

Seeing The Way

Companies are fearful of change. Which drives them to places they would never willingly go if they could see where they were headed. 

This week’s fiasco on Lakeshore Drive in Chicago is a pretty good example of what happens when fear of change makes you do the same thing you always do, even in the face of growing evidence that this will not turn out well. 

On Tuesday night, the people who ended up trapped in their cars were those who believed that so wide a road and so many companions would provide safe passage. 

In fact, it took only one gently sliding bus to block the way and create a situation in which many people became convinced that they would die where they sat. Frozen and alone. Fifty yards from one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the world. On a piece of road that has provided a reliable and predictable way home to hundreds of millions of travelers over the last 100 years.

From habit to hell in three hours. It rarely happens that fast. But it can.

Those that took the side streets found the roads difficult, but passable. It took longer than usual, but they made it safely to their destinations.

Taking the less traveled path requires two steps:

  • Recognizing that external forces are creating the need for change
  • Working knowledge of possible alternatives

As a business this requires combining a strategic view of where you’re headed, and constant exploration of the best way to get there. 

Which is not always the most direct. Or the most familiar.

Management By Fear

On Christmas Eve I wrote that I have no religion. My approach is to try and do the right thing for the right reason. Generally it has served me well.

It is an approach I take to my assessment of politics. Which causes me to have no political affiliation. I am neither Democrat or Republican. Labor or Conservative. Overall I try to keep it simple.

I believe in fiscal pragmatism. Investing in the future is critical. But eventually every loan comes due. And it’s your responsibility to make sure you have a way to pay it back.

I believe in social compassion. I have lived in a country with national health care. And for all its inadequacies, it has prevented and cured unfathomable amounts of pain and suffering. A reasonable standard by which to measure any system.

I would have voted for Thatcher. Twice. Reagan. At least once. And Kennedy. I did vote for Obama. And would do so again. Change takes time. And someone prepared to fight for it. Though a plan helps.

I was not a fan of either George Bush. The former was out of time with a rapidly changing world. The latter lacks intellectual curiosity. As someone said to me once, he had no interest in governing. And that made him susceptible to manipulation.

I believe that divisiveness eventually comes back to hurt the divider. I hold the Clintons responsible for creating the political divide that engulfs this country when Hilary started talking about ‘vast right wing conspiracies.’ I hold Karl Rove responsible for turning it into a governmental strategy in which the goal is 50+1 majorities.

I don’t think I would have voted for Clinton or Gore. I’m not sure what Bill Clinton believes in. I’m not sure he does either. And Al Gore is not a leader. I believe in leadership.

I believe in the power of positive thought and action. I would much rather create than destroy. I look first for what’s working rather than what’s not.

I believe always that there are two sides to every story. Every story. Even when the story is Tom Tancredo’s. I think his anger must come from somewhere very, very personal.

I believe that whatever your political leaning it’s important to watch Fox News and MSNBC. I believe the BBC still offers the most objective coverage of the news and I’m grateful to the web for giving me access to it.

I believe that Sarah Palin’s success is a direct reflection of the fear in this country. And the personal anguish of many people. I believe I would not recommend her to any of my clients as a receptionist given her limited memory.

I believe that most of us are motivated by fear more than we want to admit. Even to ourselves.

I believe that whether you are running a country, a business or a department, you will create more of everything that you define as important if you do whatever you can to minimize people’s fear.

I believe people that use fear as a foundation of their management strategy can win in the short term.

But never in the long run.

I Have A Dream

I received an email early this morning.

You know the kind. A hyperbolic headline. Followed by a first line of text that says something like, “Can you believe this?”  And then endless scrolling down through forwarded addresses of others who have received, commented and passed the message on.

Eventually you get to the subject. Usually a block of text describing the imminent danger we are all facing, or a conspiracy of some sort. They exhort you to be afraid. And to act. And to pass this on to as many people as you know.

What the web giveth the web taketh away. And the advent of Snopes had made it a simple matter to validate or deny the content in a couple of moments.

Over the last four years, none that I received were ever found to be true. Not one.

Which hasn’t stopped people disseminating and propagating. A waste of time and emotional energy of staggering proportions.

And the creation of negative energy on a massive scale.

An action that has consequences. If you believe in Noetic Science.  Which can be over-simplified as the power of positive thinking. As support for which some people offer The Global Consciousness Project. 

The GCP uses random number generators around the world to track whether collective human emotion makes these random patterns more cohesive. Whether thoughts can affect the physical world.

On two occasions, the Project believes they did.

Lady Diana’s funeral.

And 9/11.

There are many scientists and theologians who dispute the science. I’m neither.

What I know is that those two days represent the days in my life in which I have felt most connected to humanity. A fact. Not a claim.

One which supports a belief that we are more connected than we want to know.

And that what we feel has the power to cause change in the physical world.

Which brings me back to this morning’s email.

It contained a picture. Of Barack Obama. In 2005. Taken with eight other people. Including the White House gatecrashers. Tareq and Michaele Salah.

Supporting the picture is a lengthy dissertation that connects Obama to Hamas and accuses the White House of co-ordinating cover-up efforts with a pro Palestinian organization.

As proof of these claims, the email provides a large, bold link to Snopes.  Which in turn confirms the authenticity of the photograph.

What the email doesn’t show is a picture of John McCain with the Salahs. Apparently from the same event.

Truthfully, it didn't take a lot of research to find this second picture.

It was in the same Snopes link the email author offered as proof. The same Snopes link.

Politics creates emotion. As do differences of all kinds. A fact Dr King so powerfully made in 1963.

The election of 2008 was a remarkable event. The power of positive thinking at work.

But as Doctor King's dream comes true, so must new dreams be forged.

My dream is for a world which looks at the whole story.

My dream is for a world in which we use only the power of positive thought.

My dream is for a world in which the future is better than the past.

For everyone.

Suicide is Painless

A story in the Wall St Journal this morning suggests that suicides are on the rise.

Historically, suicide rates have risen with unemployment. A 1% increase in a state’s unemployment rate causing a 1.3% increase in the number of self-inflicted deaths.

It’s estimated that this year, 630,000 Americans will kill themselves. And 1.1 million adult Americans will try.

And the historical data suggests, there is more to come. The highest rate of suicide following the Great Depression came in 1932, three years after the economic collapse.

All of us have been affected profoundly by the economic reorganization of these last two years. Living through an epoch comes with a high price. Part of which is the emotional impact of no longer feeling in control.

Despair develops over time. And usually as the result of a series of actions and events that individually seem of minimal importance. And worse, tolerable.

But once the hole has been dug, it’s difficult to escape. And for some impossible.

I have seen this in my personal life with a family member. And in my professional life, with too many businesses.

In every case, I have come to learn that the best cure is prevention. Raising our consciousness of what we can and cannot live with.

Which is easier to write than to live through.

But learning there is a choice is the first step.

'Cause suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.
...and you can do the same thing if you please.

Less is More

A great article in this week’s New Yorker passed on by my good friend Jerry Solomon, talks about an issue that business advisors and consultants the world over (this one included) have been preaching for months.

The importance of using the recession as an opportunity to grow your business - not as a reason to freeze it in place.

The article highlights several powerful examples of brands and products that leap-frogged the competition because their owners were prepared to invest, when all around them were cutting back and hanging on.

But, as the writer points out, it’s easy to “miss the boat” when you’re worried that you might “sink the boat” in the process. And when push comes to shove, that fear outweighs the potential upside for most business owners.

So business owners talk about innovation but end up in fact doing less of the same thing. One of the reasons is because it’s much easier to do less of something than to do more of something.

Cut back. Reduce. Consolidate. When you start with 100 and go down, you have a built in scale by which to measure your progress. Going the other way is much less certain.

The answer? Make doing less of something a positive.

So today, worry less. About money, for instance.

No matter how much time you spend worrying about money, there are only so many things you can do every day to improve your company’s financial prospects. And worrying all day long clouds your judgement and restricts your ability for original thinking.

So schedule two dedicated times each day to focus all of your attention, energy and anxiety on finances. Then put the issue away in between. The freedom will liberate you and you’ll see more clearly which ideas are worth developing on their own merits, confident you’ll worry about their financial impact later.

Addition through subtraction indeed.

Credit Where Credit Is Due: I was taught this technique by Jennifer Hamady who understands why people do what they do better than anyone I know.

Bravery + Strategy = Innovation (part 2)

I’ve received an enormous amount of feedback to my post this weekend that innovation is what happens when you combine bravery and strategy.

Particularly the bravery part.

We talk about this a lot with clients. And we’ve become more sensitive to the fact that many times the real reason a business is struggling is because the owners have lost confidence, and so are clinging to what they know.

We learned when building our own business that it’s easy to be brave when things are going well. But much, much harder when your backs are to the wall. Pressure of every kind makes acting instinctively fraught with anxiety and restricted by second guessing.

This year I’ve started to work with a remarkable woman who specializes in helping people find their voice.  Jennifer Hamady is a singing coach, but her expertise extends far beyond the auditory manifestation of notes and lyrics. Her genius lies in helping people understand how to release their talent. To coin Sir Ken Robinson’s definition, she helps people find their Element.

There is greatness in all of us. And if for now that seems unlikely, history suggests that those who are willing to look for it, will find it.