Posts tagged ‘Nicholas Ind’


Being an optimist for a better post-Google, post-Facebook era

15.12.2017

Interesting to get this perspective on ‘Big Tech’ from The Guardian, on how it’s become tempting to blame the big Silicon Valley players for some of the problems we have today. The angle Moira Weigel takes is that there needs to be more democracy in the system, where workers need to unite and respecting those who shape the technologies that are being used.
   I want to add a few far simpler thoughts.
   At the turn of the century, our branding profession was under assault from No Logo and others, showing that certain brands were not what they were cracked up to be. Medinge Group was formed in part because we, as practitioners, saw nothing wrong with branding per se, and that the tools could be used for good. Not everyone was Enron or Nike. There are Patagonia and Dilmah. That led to the original brand manifesto, on what branding should accomplish. (I was generously given credit for authoring this at one point, but I was simply the person who put the thoughts of my colleagues into eight points. In fact, we collectively gathered our ideas into eight groups, so I can’t even take credit for the fact there are eight points.)
   In 2017, we may look at Über’s sexism or Facebook’s willingness to accept and distribute malware-laden ads, and charge tech with damaging the fabric of society. Those who dislike President Trump in the US want someone to blame, and Facebook’s and Google’s contributions to their election in 2016 are a matter of record. But it’s not that online advertising is a bad thing. Or that social media are bad things. The issue is that the players aren’t socially responsible: none of them exist for any other purpose than to make their owners and shareholders rich, and the odd concession to not doing evil doesn’t really make up for the list of misdeeds that these firms add to. Many of them have been recorded over the years on this very blog.
   Much of what we have been working toward at Medinge is showing that socially responsible organizations actually do better, because they find accord with their consumers, who want to do business or engage with those who share their values; and, as Nicholas Ind has been showing in his latest book, Branding Inside Out, these players are more harmonious internally. In the case of Stella McCartney, sticking to socially responsible values earns her brand a premium—and she’s one of the wealthiest fashion designers in the world.
   I just can’t see some of the big tech players acting the same way. Google doesn’t pay much tax, for instance, and the misuse of Adwords aside, there are allegations that it hasn’t done enough to combat child exploitation and it has not been a fair player when it comes to rewarding and acknowledging media outlets that break the news, instead siding with corporate media. Google may have open-source projects out there, but its behaviour is old-school corporatism these days, a far cry from its first five years when even I would have said they were one of the good guys.
   Facebook’s problems are too numerous to list, though I attempted to do so here, but it can be summed up as: a company that will do nothing unless it faces embarrassment from enough people in a position of power. We’ve seen it tolerate kiddie porn and sexual harassment, giving both a “pass” when reported.
   Yet, for all that they make, it would be reasonable to expect that they put more people on the job in places where it mattered. The notion that three volunteers monitor complaints of child exploitation videos at YouTube is ridiculous but, for anyone who has complained about removing offensive content online, instantly believable; why there were not more is open to question. Anyone who has ventured on to a Google forum to complain about a Google product will also know that inaction is the norm there, unless you happen to get to someone senior and caring enough. Similarly, increasing resources toward monitoring advertising, and ensuring that complaints are properly dealt with would be helpful.
   Google’s failure to remove content mills from its News is contributing to “fake news”, yet its method of combatting that appears to be taking people away from legitimate media and ranking corporate players more highly.
   None of these are the actions of companies that want to do right by netizens.
   As Weigel notes, there’s a cost to abandoning Facebook and Google. But equally there are opportunities if these firms cannot provide the sort of moral, socially responsible leadership modern audiences demand. In my opinion, they do not actually command brand loyalty—a key ingredient of brand equity—if true alternatives existed.
   Duck Duck Go might only have a fraction of the traffic Google gets in search, but despite a good mission its results aren’t always as good, and its search index is smaller. But we probably should look to it as a real alternative to search, knowing that our support can help it grow and attract more investment. There is room for a rival to Google News that allows legitimate media and takes reports of fake news sites more seriously. If social media are democratizing—and there are signs that they are, certainly with some of the writings by Doc Searls and Richard MacManus—then there is room for people to form their own social networks that are decentralized, and where we hold the keys to our identity, able to take them wherever we please (Hubzilla is a prime example; you can read more about its protocol here). The internet can be a place which serves society.
   It might all come back to education; in fact, we might even say Confucius was right. If you’re smart enough, you’ll see a positive resource and decide that it would not be in the best interests of society to debase it. Civility and respect should be the order of the day. If these tools hadn’t been used by the privileged few to line their pockets at the expense of the many—or, for that matter, the democratic processes of their nations—wouldn’t we be in a better place? They capitalized on divisions in society (and even deepened them), when there is far more for all of us to gain if we looked to unity. Why should we allow the concentration of power (and wealth) to rest at the top of tech’s food chain? Right now, all I see of Google and Facebook’s brands are faceless, impersonal and detached giants, with no human accountability, humming on algorithms that are broken, and in Facebook’s case, potentially having databases that have been built on so much, that it doesn’t function properly any more. Yet they could have been so much more to society.
   Not possible to unseat such big players? We might have thought once that Altavista would remain the world’s biggest website; who knew Google would topple it in such a short time? But closer to home, and speaking for myself, I see The Spinoff and Newsroom as two news media brands that engender far greater trust than Fairfax’s Stuff or The New Zealand Herald. I am more likely to click on a link on Twitter if I see it is to one of the newer sites. They, too, have challenged the status quo in a short space of time, something which I didn’t believe would be possible a decade ago when a couple of people proposed that I create a locally owned alternative.
   We don’t say email is bad because there is spam. We accept that the good outweighs the bad and, for the most part, we have succeeded in building filters that get rid of the unwanted. We don’t say the web is bad because it has allowed piracy or pornography; its legitimate uses far outweigh its shady ones. But we should be supporting, or trying to find, new ways to advertise, innovate and network (socially or otherwise). Right now, I’m willing to bet that the next big thing (and it might not even be one player, but a multitude of individuals working in unison) is one where its values are so clear and transparent that they inspire us to live our full potential. I remain an optimist when it comes to human potential, if we set our sights on making something better.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, leadership, politics, publishing, social responsibility, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Farewell to Thomas Gad: a friend, a colleague, and a uniter

19.12.2016

Tonight, I had the sad and solemn duty to announce publicly the passing of my friend Thomas Gad.
   I’m still waiting for someone to come out and tell me that I have been severely pranked.
   Thomas was the founder of what we now call Medinge Group. After working for 17 years at Grey Advertising as an international creative director, Thomas set up Brandflight, a leading branding consultancy HQed in Stockholm. He authored 4-D Branding, Managing Brand Me (with his wife, Annette Rosencreutz), and, most recently, Customer Experience Branding.
   In 2000, Thomas seized on an idea: why not gather a bunch of leading brand practitioners at Annette’s family’s villa at Medinge, three hours west of Stockholm, for a bit of R&R, where they could all discuss ideas around the profession?
   Nicholas Ind was one of the people at that first meeting. In a statement tonight, Nick wrote, ‘I first met Thomas when I was working in Stockholm in 2000—he invited me to join him at Medinge in the Swedish countryside to talk about branding. So began a professional and personal relationship that was truly fulfilling. Thomas, and his wife Annette, hosted the annual meetings we had at his house every summer after that with unrivalled generosity. My strongest recollection of those days is not the debates we had or flying with Thomas in his sea plane (even though those are also memorable), but Thomas and Annette sitting at the dinner table in the evenings singing songs, telling jokes and bringing everyone together. Thomas was exceptional in the way he made everyone feel welcome and valued in the group—he will be deeply missed.’
   I came on the scene in 2002, invited by Chris Macrae. The event had become international the year before. Thomas and Annette made me feel incredibly at home at Medinge, and we had an incredibly productive meeting. He had taught me to sing ‘Helan går’, for no Swedish gathering is complete without a drinking song.
   At the same meeting, I met Ian Ryder, who wrote, ‘As a founding member, and now Honorary Life Member, of Medinge Group I couldn’t possibly let such a sad announcement pass without observation. Thomas was a really bright, intellectually and socially, human being who I first met at the inaugural pre-Medinge group meeting in Amsterdam sixteen years ago. Little did we know then that our band of open-minded, globally experienced brand experts would develop into a superb think-tank based out of Thomas’s home in Medinge, Sweden.
   ‘For many years he and his lovely wife, Annette, hosted with a big heart, the annual gathering at which he played fabulous host to those of us who made it there. A larger-than-life, clever and successful professional, Thomas will be sorely missed by all those lucky enough to have known him.’
   By the end of the summer 2002 meeting we had some principles around branding, the idea for a book (which became Beyond Branding), and a desire to formalize ourselves into an organization. The meeting at Medinge would soon become the Medinge Group (the definite article was part of our original name), and we had come to represent brands with a conscience: the idea that brands could do good, and that business could be humane and humanistic. This came about in an environment of real change: Enron, which had been given awards for supposedly doing good, had been exposed as fraudulent; there was a generation of media-savvy young people who could see through the BS and were voting and buying based on causes they supported; and inequality was on the rise, something that the late Economist editor, Norman Macrae (Chris’s Dad) even then called humankind’s most pressing concern. If everything is a product of its time, then that was true of us; and the issues that we care about the most are still with us, and changes to the way we do business are needed more now than ever.
   This is Thomas’s legacy: Medinge Group is an incorporated company with far more members worldwide, holding two meetings per annum: the annual summer retreat in Sweden, and a public event every spring, with the next in Sevilla. The public events, and the Brands with a Conscience awards held in the 2000s, came about during Stanley Moss’s time as CEO. Stanley wrote this morning, ‘Thomas brought his vision and resources to the foundation of Medinge, and served as a critical voice in the international movement for humanistic brands.’ We continue today to spread that vision.
   We have now been robbed far too early of two of our talents: Colin Morley, in the 7-7 bombings in London in 2005; and, now, Thomas, taken by cancer at age 65. My thoughts go to Annette and to the entire family.

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Posted in branding, business, marketing, social responsibility, Sweden | 4 Comments »


What Is a Brand? Well, there is one we’ve relaunched …

05.03.2013

My good friend and colleague Stanley Moss has written a new book, What Is a Brand?, which provokes some thought on the question in the title.
   Those who know Stanley and have followed his work know that each year, he issues a Brand Letter, which closes with various definitions of branding.
   If there’s one thing brand experts agree on, it’s the fact that no two brand experts will ever agree on the definition of a brand. What Is a Brand? turns this into its primary advantage, getting definitions from some of the top people in the profession, and somehow I managed to slip in there.
   Ian Ryder, Nicholas Ind, the late Colin Morley, Thomas Gad, Ava Hakim, Simon Paterson, Pierre d’Huy, Malcolm Allan, Patrick Harris, Tony Quinlan, Manas Fuloria, Steven Considine, Sascha Lötscher, George Rush, João Freire, Virginia James, Filippo Dellosso, the great Fritz Gottschalk, and others all contribute definitions, on which readers can ruminate.
   As Stanley notes in his introduction:

The aim of this book is to render brand thinking more accessible, to share with you the ideas of theorists and practitioners who bear witness to the evolution of policy and governance, especially in light of society’s drift towards overconsumption and environmental damage.

   It is now available as an e-book and as a paperback via Amazon.com, priced at US$5 and US$10 respectively.

Keep calm and wear a tiara: I’m now also general counsel for Miss Universe New Zealand, on top of everything else. The news announcement went out yesterday—the Lucire article is here, while we have a new website at nextmissnz.com. The highlight is reducing the entry fee from NZ$3,500 to NZ$10 (plus a workshop, if selected, at NZ$199). We’ve had some great feedback over the website, which I am thrilled about, since I designed it and made sure all the requirements of the licence agreement were complied with.
   The year’s going to be a very exciting one with the competition, which will be far more transparent than it ever has been, with the possibility of its return to network television after a two-decade absence. We’re bringing integrity back into the process. From my point of view, the idea is one of business transformation, to take something that has languished and turn it into something that’s exciting, relevant, and 21st-century.
   With this development, I’m relieved I never published a word on the scandal last year and never went to the media over it (even if others did—often to their detriment). It makes it a lot easier to move forward with the future if you don’t keep dwelling on the past—and with the great programme we have, why should we look back?
   I’m looking forward to bringing you more with national director Evana Patterson and executive producer Nigel Godfrey. We’ve created something dynamic that the New Zealand public, and the Miss Universe family, can all get behind. Keep an eye on nextmissnz.com where we’ll post more announcements—and if you think the T-shirts (right) are as cheeky as I do, then they are available for sale online, too.

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Posted in branding, business, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, USA | 1 Comment »


Leaders need to be humble if co-creation is to be effective

22.08.2012

I’d been meaning to refer readers to this for a few weeks (it has appeared on my Facebook pages, including the “fan” page—a good place to go if you prefer my musings filtered, without the minutiæ and without clogging up your feeds). My friend and colleague, Dr Nicholas Ind, has been writing about leadership and the need for leaders to show humility—not divisiveness—in an age when we expect co-creation to bring out the best in organizations.
   Nicholas begins, ‘So in spite of the rise of participation in the workplace and the appreciation of emotional intelligence as a virtue, the prevailing way of leading is still more Fordist than Googleist.’ And yet, he argues, it shouldn’t be. We’ve often looked at how responsive flat start-ups are, and how larger organizations seek to capture that sort of energy—and the simple answer lies, often, in their creativity. But those leaders that try to push certain agenda, or a cult of personality, without respecting the capability or mix of their teams, suffer in the 2010s, because the organizations cease to be creative. Layers emerge, sycophants congregate, and institutionalization sets in. Much like in politics.
   Ideally, the best ideas should surface to the top, given the opportunity, and given the right sort of structure. And that the input cannot come exclusively from within the organization: co-creation must involve audiences, notably customers—in politics, it must involve citizens and voters.
   Back to Nick:

The newer argument is that innovation matters more and more. The issue has, therefore, become not only how to engage employees, but also how to get closer to customers and involve them in the development of brands … The upside of involving customers is the creativity and cognitive diversity of the very people who will be buying and using what the company produces. The downside is the threat to the certainty of leadership and the sanctity of the leader.

But, he rightly notes, good leaders should never fear that threat. The best know their weaknesses, and seek help on them through listening to the organization’s audiences—and have good systems through which they can. ‘Leaders can still exercise influence and judgement,’ he writes, ‘but the decision-making process becomes more collective.’ If one has risen to a leadership position, one should have a fairly developed sense of self-awareness. And, one would hope, a sense of dignity and decorum that ties well with humility.
   There’s more in Nicholas’s latest book, written with Clare Fuller and Charles Trevail, Brand Together: How Co-Creation Generates Innovation and Re-energizes Brands, which I’ll be getting once I finish The Organic Organisation.

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Posted in branding, business, leadership, politics, UK, Wellington | No Comments »


Nicholas Ind’s Meaning at Work: finding fulfilment in the early 2010s

06.02.2012

Two of my friends have books coming out. I’ll discuss one for now, as it’s been a long long weekend.
   The first is my Medinge Group colleague Nicholas Ind’s Meaning at Work, which has now made it on to Amazon, and is getting wider distribution.
   You can get an idea of what Meaning at Work is about from Nicholas’s own article at the RSA’s (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) website. But if you’ve followed Nicholas’s work over the years, it’s a logical continuation of his inquiry into making businesses more human and engaged.
   Living the Brand, for example, was an early look into organizations that had successfully implemented their brand at every level. The concepts are familiar to most branding practitioners, but Nicholas brought them to life with real-world examples and analyses of those successful organizations. Fast forward to Branding Governance, and there are useful discussions about corporate citizenship and corporate participation. Meaning at Work looks at what attitudes people need to find fulfilment in their work, with engagement and challenge being the keys.
   I’ve managed to secure chapter one from Nicholas, who in turn got it from the publisher, minus the illustrations (omitted due to copyright reasons), so you can get a better idea of what it entails. In this first chapter, Nicholas discusses what meaning is, and brings to live numerous examples from literature, art and film. If you’ve ever wondered about some of those works you have heard of but not inquired in to—Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse or the real meaning behind Réné Magritte’s La trahison des images—Nicholas draws out the necessary meanings for his book in a very accessible fashion.
   It’s interesting that Nicholas discusses the depth of meaning in this first chapter, because if you take his works over the course of the 21st century, they are getting deeper and deeper into what makes us—and successful organizations—tick. Each can be read independently, of course—Nicholas isn’t out to sell us a series of books—but there is a natural progression that he has as an author. As someone who has only written one book solely—the rest were joint works—it’s a record I admire. Download chapter one of Meaning at Work here, and order it from the publisher or Amazon UK.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, publishing | 1 Comment »


Fighting the politics of division

27.01.2012

Loving this excerpt from Nancy J. Adler’s ‘Leading Beautifully: the Creative Economy and Beyond’ in the Journal of Management Inquiry, vol. 20, pp. 208–22, at p. 211, which my fellow Medinge Group director Nicholas Ind referred to me:

McGill University strategy professor Henry Mintzberg asked the people in his native Quebec to see the world as artists view it, rather than as normal consumers of the public media. Immediately prior to the last referendum that would decide whether the Province of Quebec would separate from the rest of Canada, Mintzberg challenged the electorate to turn off their radios and TVs, look out their windows, and ask themselves: Do our French- and English-speaking children play together? Do we invite each other into our homes? Do we work well together? Mintzberg was asking his neighbors to view Quebec society through their own eyes and to not let themselves be blinded by politicians who were insisting that people from different cultural and linguistic groups so dislike each other that they cannot live together. He encouraged his neighbors to vote based on their own data. Mintzberg was particularly effective in getting the people of Quebec to see the beauty in their well-functioning, multicultural society, a beauty that had been obfuscated by a profusion of political myths that were broadly perpetrated and perpetuated by politicians and the media alike.

   A few points:

  • in many countries, politicians engage in the politics of hate and division;
  • by extension, the worse things get for people, the more extreme they can be pushed toward the political fringes;
  • recognizing the good in our society can reignite our collective purpose—and help make things better.
  •    I’ve heard some of the arguments in the Republican primaries, and to a non-American, the time wasted by PACs on attack ads seems a waste. They also seem rather foreign to a New Zealander. Sure, we attack the opposition, too, but not with the sort of negative undertone exhibited there.
       The more time spent on attacks, the less time spent on solutions.
       Though you wonder if the institutionalization and the deals done behind closed doors can ever be undone, and I don’t mean just the Americans.
       I’ve also been reading Michael Lewis’s latest book, Boomerang: the Meltdown Tour—and can happily report to Mr Lewis that I have bought three copies (the one in New Zealand at twice the price of what I paid in India). While most of it covers the global financial crisis, he spends some time with former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (original emphasis):

    … “When you want to do pension reform for the prison guards,” he says, “and all of a sudden the Republicans are all lined up against you. It was really incredible and it happened over and over: people would say to me, ‘Yes, this is the best idea! I would love to vote for it! But if I vote for it some interest group is going to be angry with me, so I won’t do it.’ I couldn’t believe people could actually say that. You have soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they didn’t want to risk their political lives by doing the right thing.”
       He came into office with boundless faith in the American people—after all, they had elected him—and figured he could always appeal directly to them. That was his trump card, and he played it. In November 2005 he called a special election that sought votes on four reforms: limiting state spending, putting an end to the gerrymandering of legislative districts, limiting public employee union spending on elections, and lengthening the time it took for public school teachers to get tenure. All four propositions addressed, directly or indirectly, the state’s large and growing financial mess. All four were defeated; the votes weren’t even close. From then until the end of his time in office he was effectively gelded: the legislators now knew that the people who had elected them to behave exactly the way they were already behaving were not going to undermine them when appealed to directly. The people of California might be irresponsible, but at least they were consistent.

       This is just at state level. It’s a lot worse at the national level there. And yet certain politicians here have a hankering to emulate this behaviour.
       Let’s hope that when we next get a chance to elect our officials, we’ll keep these scenarios at the back of our minds—and stay away from them. Let us, instead, look at all the good we can do—and find ways to unite, rather than divide, people. And also, let us ensure that democracy continues to be accountable to the people, rather than the same old, same old “business as usual”.

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    Posted in culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics, USA | No Comments »