Last night I had a thought. As such cerebral activity is rare for me I thought I would share it.
Will creative technology always come to our rescue?
As a species we continue to grow in number at an alarming rate; our population is doubling every thirty years with no signs of slowing. Coupled with this statistic is a depletion of resources at an ever increasing rate.
Many projections exist that describe apocalyptic Armageddon for us all as water, oil, food, trees – even for the air we breathe disappears. And yet we do…
…NOTHING ABOUT IT.
Well, almost nothing.
In the back of our minds, the ones that can compartmentalise these thoughts and lock them away in the dark, dusty, cobwebbed corners, is a voice. Strident, yet somehow comforting, the voice tells us not to worry – everything will be fine! Things will work out for the best – they always do! Have faith!
Faith in whom? Faith in what?
The new God we pray to is technology (and creativity). Rather than check our excessive consumption of finite resources, we place our faith in a new order. Religion used to be the opium quelling the mass tantrums of a disconnected society. Now it’s technology.
“We won’t run out of oil by 2040; we will have developed new fuels, transport that needs far less fuel and changed our work practices to necessitate less travel.
We won’t run out of water by 2050; we will recycle and desalinate more, wash less and convert to sustainable energy sources that don’t consume any water in their cooling processes.
We won’t run out of food by 2050; we will devise clever farming methods of new hybrid crops that require little or no water, Live Aid will have made Africa fertile and humans will eat less, preferring re-cycled paper to fillet steak.”
Or so the voice says.
The possibility exists for bold leadership to show us the way forward and light the path. It won’t happen politically. Government lifetimes are too short and constant critical inspection makes bold decision-making a thing of the past in this sphere.
No. The lead must come from big business to design our way through the issues caused by nothing more than our own success as a species. Unless we want to end up selfishly squabbling for water, spreading ebola-like viruses and fighting at the forecourts and supermarkets, we need a new type of corporate social responsibility to develop a new way of living that faces facts and changes the way we live our lives. We need CSR that doesn’t just tinker at the periphery, but goes to the heart of the matter.
And within the creative brief must be the central tenet that people still have choice.
Perhaps the captains of industry leading energy infrastructure companies, IT/Communications, car manufacturers and Universities can devise a plan. Imagine a city that has been created for 2050. Not one that’s existed for centuries and has been adapted to function today, but one that’s built for purpose.
There would be no chaotic roads that choke our lungs, waste our time and kill our children. There would be no need for car ownership. Self-driving cars – a technology that would be on our streets today if it weren’t for lawyers carping about where accidental blame would lie* – would be publicly accessible for all.
The Internet of Things could become the new standard. Connected devices can run our working lives and free up more time for leisure and creativity. We would not run out of milk – ever again. We could cook, if we want to, or simply tap the oven a few times to summon a take-away. We would not need to commute into cities as our ‘city’ would have special super-connected work zones. The office would disappear. In such a city, all companies would have a merely virtual presence. Work would be a collaborative cross-company space, a 500 yard walk from my apartment.
Could it work? Could we live lives that drove energy and water usage to nil? Would companies function well like this?
Can we make do without cars, or will the call of the open road always beckon? Like selfish Mr Toad, will today’s excesses be paid for tomorrow, or will technology always provide ever-more-innovative ways of creatively digging us out of holes, reinventing the holes, perhaps even using the holes to solve other problems?
*Software company/car manufacturer or driver? Despite the fact that 90% of accidents would not happen, lawyers want an answer to this question before a single life will be saved.
Following on from the success of three Managers’ events at its Coventry-based HQ, new CEO, Liv Garfield, rolled out the message to all her staff. Throughout October and November, Pumphouse Productions provided production support to Severn Trent at a range of venues.
In a hectic schedule that includes three 90-minute sessions per day, three days per week, the CEO aims to have seen every one of her employees face to face by early December.
Tate & Lyle AGM production at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, Westminster.
Event day 24th July, 2014.
Wednesday 23rd July saw Pumphouse set up the Tate & Lyle AGM at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster.
Thirty degrees outside; it was far more comfortable inside, sliding flight cases to their final destinations. Load in was via the Mews lift at the back of the venue.
Pumphouse’s AV includes two rear-projectors, full sound and lighting rig and brings to three its AGM tally for the year.
Last night Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in extra time at the Estadio Maracana in Rio de Janeiro to lift the FIFA World Cup. Mario Gotze’s goal in extra time was a fitting end to what has been an excellent tournament, full of games that were easy on the eye for the neutral supporter.
I hate being a neutral supporter, but with three lack-lustre performances from our own nation, this is what I grudgingly became as the tournament reached the last sixteen. Admittedly, I didn’t miss staying up late to ride yet another emotional roller-coater to disappointment and obscurity, but I did feel that watching sport, without an emotional connection, lacked meaningful bite – despite the best attempts of Luis Suarez.
So what is the difference between Germany and other (lesser) football nations? Why are they so good and England so appallingly bad?
It’s easy to hook onto stereotypes, easy to draw attention to ‘clinical efficiency’ and other attributes of the German psyche. But are they really a cold, unemotional, workforce; are they immune from the media criticism that befalls our players; are they not also hyped up by their fan-base? I don’t think so.
Had Argentina won last night, a travesty would have occurred. They had their chances undeniably as they defended well and attacked on the counter, but Germany dominated and controlled the game; Germany created 60% of the play and last night showed just how much harder it is to create than it is to react.
Business is just like this. Criticising ideas and strategy (knocking down) is easy; coming up with better ones (building) is much harder and requires serious thought.
I was glad that Germany won last night. Their performances singled them out as the best team in the competition. And that was the difference; they played as a team. Each player was comfortable on the ball both in attack and defence. There was an appetite to keep the ball and look after it as a team. Once lost, they worked hard to get it back as a team. When I watch England play I only rarely see glimpses of quality to match the crisp passing precision that supports Germany’s teamwork. Talented individuals will always have their place in team sport, but unless they integrate well into a playing style, they just get in the way. We saw this with Rooney who, talented though he is at club level, offered nothing to enhance his reputation on the world stage.
To play like Germany, we need a coach like Joachim Low, someone with the focused determination not to let personality be confused with form or ability, someone with strategic credentials and the ability to communicate them. And we need better players who have the skill to keep the ball and know what to do with the possession.
So, we only have another four years to wait until we have to live through it all again at Russia, 2018. Perhaps we will have learnt how to pass, how to manage and how to win by then? Who knows?
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending The Meetings Show at Olympia with my Pumphouse colleague, Karen. I value these events and always pick up two or three informational nuggets to take home with me, but I do find them quite tiring and as a result I am quite choosy about whom I visit. After talking to acquaintances and exhausting meaningful research, we ploughed a weary afternoon furrow through the shell-scheme-scape that dominates these shows. And the same thought occurred to us both:
What gets us to go on a stand? What is it that engages us to spend some time talking to people we don’t know about places we may never see? Where’s the differentiation?
By way of an answer, I considered my favourite event experience. Comfortably the best stand in the UK section of this year’s event, from my viewpoint, was the collection of Scottish stands that gathered together under the St Andrews banner and produced a small ‘taste of Scotland’. Attendees could enjoy a selection of Scotch Whisky, coffee and shortbread while chatting about jobs to an assortment of venues.
In the overseas area, it struck me – with the exception of the Dutch – how every stand was a poor neighbour of Dubai. The event mirroring life perhaps?
These two stands delivered – as close as I felt yesterday – an immersive experience, something other than predictably looking at venues’ rooms and event spaces. Those stands that went the extra mile and offered ‘something more’ were busiest and those that forged a genuine connection, however small, went some way to making me want to visit and do business in the future.
And that, presumably, is what it’s all about.
Does cascading messages work? Far from being a proven strategy, many organisations worldwide doubt whether this accepted method for disseminating information to their lower reaches has its desired effect. Yet many businesses continue to use cascading as their favoured method of communication and just as many businesses suffer with poor strategic alignment. Is it just a case of management using the tool at hand that’s always been used for the job, or is it an abdication of leadership responsibility that perpetuates the practice?
In their examination of employee satisfaction, the Harvard Business Review conducted a survey of 60,000 staff and drew some conclusions that warrant further thought. High-level employees are likely to be most satisfied – no surprises there – and have the greatest understanding of strategy. Length of tenure, more surprisingly, did not correlate to better understanding. Instead, it was found that there were only two main factors likely to improve ‘embeddedness’ – the measure of how much an employee ‘gets’ the company strategy.
Those factors are:
- Job conditions, with training and clear career-development opportunities being the most important sub-factors driving engagement and hence understanding.
- Most significant was the profound effect that direct contact with top management had on how well employees understand and believe strategy.
Interestingly, direct line-management played almost no part in enhancing the ‘embedding’ process.
Knowing these data places us well to understand why using executives to cascade information to their direct reports may not work in the way we think it should.
Leaders are best-placed to give strategic thought and associated messaging the gravitas that is required for them to be accepted and absorbed into the corporate psyche. That much is clear. Their customary audience, however – the upper echelons of management – has already bought into their strategy so, in a sense, leaders are often simply preaching to the converted.
Cascading is a top-down approach that allows no input from lower levels and no cross-pollination of ideas. It is easy to see why information received in this manner could be mistrusted. No matter how calm and purposeful the water looks as it flows over the top of a cascade, it has a habit of looking foamy, frothy and messed-up at the bottom. And so it is with messaging.
As messages are passed down from one manager to another, their sentiment inevitably changes. Even if the words remain the same, the tone of voice and the body language will alter.
Far from projecting a confident – this is how it is – statement of the business, messages given at lower levels will be examined, questioned and challenged by many who hear them. Executive levels are less ready to accept handed-down mandates; they have to implement any expected changes and, quite rightly, want to know why. Rationales that supported the original message rarely get passed on in an unexpurgated fashion and unpalatable truths can be glossed over by a cautious middle-management, wary about their effect on the day-to-day running of the business.
Is it any wonder that employees don’t ‘get’ the strategy when the information they receive may be diluted, sanitised and third-hand?
Top management, talking face-to-face directly with all levels of their organisations is the only sensible way to guarantee that their messages reach the ears of all their audience in the way they were intended.
Pumphouse Productions, a company passionate about the strength of ‘face-to-face’, was privileged to produce a series of 37 conferences for one client at venues nationwide and experienced first-hand the powerful effect that leading from the front had on its rank and file.
It takes visionary leadership to take 18,000 people out of its business, even for one day, but the rewards for genuine strategic alignment are already beginning to be felt throughout the client organisation.
As business places increasing emphasis on creative thought as a driver for new revenue streams, it is worth looking at creativity generally to determine how all of us can add something to the mix. Yes all of us have a responsibility to add ideas, to throw away the ‘same old, same old’ approach that’s not cutting the mustard like it used to.
Change is the only constant in a world where businesses live short lives. Turbulence, competition and regulation have slashed the average life of our top 500 companies from 67 years in 1920 to just 15 years today. Small businesses are much more fragile than this.
Predicting the future is always risky, but it’s hard to see this trend reversing any time soon.
With this in mind, what can we all do to counter the trend for our own organisation and ensure that it doesn’t become another corpse rotting on the junk-heap of corporate history?
The first responsibility lies with CEO’s and management to create an environment where creativity can flourish. Mental and physical spaces both play an important part:
- Are your people free of the shackles of yesterday’s reason, free to innovate and disrupt in order to make something new? Do you embrace change and takes balanced risks or is the prevailing state one of ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it?’
- Physical environments are critical to the success of a creative approach. Pumphouse Productions designs creative solutions for its clients’ events and while these environments are largely ephemeral, they are crucial to maximise the potential impact of a face-to-face message.
You are in a truly creative environment when your ideas are listened to and worked through without being judged, when you feel respected as a contributor and, ideally, rewarded for your input.
The same is true in business. The world’s most creative companies have beautiful workspaces where ideas flourish. The most successful companies embrace these ideas and leverage them to make new products and services that help them to thrive.
Pumphouse has entered its tender for SolentGO’s series of roadshows. The event is designed to raise awareness for the sustainable travel initiative, led by Hampshire County Council.
With a SolentGO travelcard it is possible to use a number of interconnecting travel companies without the frustrating need to find exact change.
Pumphouse’s suggestion for the stand includes an inflatable dome, branded and made to look like a wallet, sails and banners, engagement games and activities.
Pumphouse will provide technical support for Tate & Lyle’s AGM on 24th July, 2014. The event for 550 shareholders will take place at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster. The AGM will also feature Pumphouse’s bespoke AGM desk and question points.