Brilliant talk on creativity by John Cleese

A quite wonderful lecture from John Cleese on creativity that really ought to be seen and shared.

It validates and articulates pretty much everything that I have stumbled on after 20 years of working and I wish I’d seen it earlier.

The greatest benefit to me is that it endorses being playful and shoots down pressure and solemnity as a means to being more productive. It’s not just OK, it’s a good thing to laugh, ponder and be silly.

My notes whilst watching it:

  • Creatives are people who can get into a playful, child-like mode more easily
  • Creativity is not possible in the closed mode (anxious, got to get stuff done, purposeful)
  • Open, creative mode is more relaxed, but less purposeful, more inclined to humour. This is playful. Curiosity for its own sake can happen. That allows our lateral creativity to happen.
  • Hitchcock would say when faced with a block, he would tell an unrelated story. “We’re pressing, we’re pressing. We’re working too hard. Relax and it will come.”
  • Once you’ve had the idea, you need to switch to closed mode to implement.
  • Space is important for getting into play. Where you won’t be disturbed. For Steve Jobs this was a walk.
  • A •fixed• period of time is useful too. Maybe in 90 min chunks.
  • Creatives play with the problem for longer before trying to solve it. They’re happier to tolerate the uncomfortableness of uncertainty. More pondering is better.
  • Decisiveness and confidence strangles creativity at birth.
  • Maximise your pondering and leave the decision late. It is too easy and suboptimal to chicken out and decide early.
  •  Next importance thing is to not be fearful about what is possible. Embrace the silly and the what if. “You can’t be spontaneous within reason”
  • Humour gets us from closed mode to open mode more quickly
  • Po-facedness around humour being inappropriate comes from a misunderstanding of the difference between serious and solemn.
  • Solemnity is self-important and serves nothing.
  • Rewards come out of the blue later. It might be in the shower.
  • It’s easier to be creative with other people unless there is anyone involved that stops you feeling playful or defensive.
  • The funniest part of a joke is connecting two things that are seemingly unrelated to generate •new meaning•
  • “Intermediate impossibles” can be stepping stones to  breakthrough ideas
  • Very funny section at the end about how to stamp out creativity. Stamp out all humour otherwise people might start having new ideas and scaring the people at the top. Praise makes people uppity! Don’t let anyone ponder!! Demand urgency and create anxiety to keep everyone closed.

Jeff Bezos’ admirable refusal to let Amazon grow old gracefully

Good read from the Economist re Jeff Bezos’ approach to risk-taking. For me, this is the key moment and is the very essence of why traditionally successful companies are  so vulnerable to disruption and change. It’s just not in their DNA.

This may explain why Mr Bezos is so keen to ensure that Amazon preserves its own appetite for risk-taking. As companies grow, there is a danger that novel ideas get snuffed out by managers’ desire to conform and play it safe. “You get social cohesion at the expense of truth,” he says

The advent of little brother

There have been two incidents recently, “big man” and the “tram rant”, where a member of the public has videoed a disturbance of sorts and it ending up being seen widely and the police getting involved.

Twenty years or so ago, the Rodney King beating video was a sensation. Now, with half the population owning smartphones, and most of them having video recording abilities, its clear there are interesting times ahead.

The police already routinely film the view from traffic cars, and YouTube is full of cyclists’ footage from helmet cams.

Imagine a scenario where people start routinely filming, storing or even live streaming from wearable cameras. It won’t be long before they’re cheap as chips and as discreet as a button. We could all be constantly filming our own CCTV.

What would that mean? People recording all their conversations with officials or colleagues; footballers all mic’d up to capture episodes of abusive language (or prove innocence thereof)?

Given we all routinely say things we haven’t thought through, or didn’t really mean, there’ll be a lot of sticky situations and a lot of messy legal and social ramifications to work through.

Everyone having a kind of personal black box recorder is quite a potent thought, and doesn’t feel good for society. However, the kind of routine sharing that happens on Twitter and Facebook would have been similarly unpalatable just 10 years ago.

Maybe it’s not Big Brother we ought to be wary of, but his distributed younger sibling.

Launching the Guardian’s websites 1998

I was brand manager at the Guardian when the “Guardian Unlimited” websites were launched in the 90s. As part of the launch, I was tasked with creating a CD-ROM called Get The Net which had starter ISP software and this video of the editor, Alan Rusbridger, giving his thoughts on the internet revolution. I think his thoughts stand up pretty well.


Death of the middle man

My money is on this being the decade of disintermediation. The technology, trust and social graph is now in place to allow people to deal directly with each other and cut out the corporates.

  • Brent Hoberman (my former boss) and Stelios have just announced plans to make EasyCar a person-to-person car club
  • HouseBites is attempting to revolutionise takeaways by providing a platform for chefs cooking at home
  • AirBnB is a global network of accommodations offered by locals
  • Comedian Louis C.K. is getting a lot of love for selling his video simply and directly to his audience
And there’ll be more to come.
Could this give rise to the ‘nano-business’? Millions of people like you and me turning on/off supply of services we provide to suit our convenience. By day: accountant, on Sundays: curry chef

The crisis in crisis management

Like everyone else, I’ve been beguiled by the unfolding hacking drama at News International.

It’s been well discussed that it took the confluence of tenacious, brilliant reporting from the Guardian with the amplifying power of social media to really land the killer blows.

One thing that’s really struck me, though, is the impact of social media on crisis management PR.

NI took the understandable step (eventually) of publishing an apology last weekend in all the nationals, followed by “and now let’s put it right” the day after. These are classic steps in the crisis management playbook.

However, are they relevant any more? Within moments of the apology being published, it’d been dissected, remixed, lampooned and re-broadcast by the Twittersphere – undermining its power markedly.

Traditional crisis management has relied on a scarcity of the ability to broadcast. I.e. get your message on tv/in the papers and that’ll drown out dissenters.

Not any more.

Don’t get left behind in mobile

For anyone interested in keeping up with mobile (that should be everyone, right?), I recommend signing up to the Mobile Fix from Addictive – a smart new mobile agency.

This week, they pointed to to another terrific deck from Mary Meeker. The stats on mobile seem to get more and more amazing. The growth in transactions, sales outstripping desktops and the shift in time spent connected to handheld devices is compelling.

This is a train everyone really needs to be on.

No, the iPad will not save magazines

The iPad is a gorgeous media consumption device. It’s desirable, it’s selling like hotcakes and buying apps is easy. Print media owners shackled by declining sales can be forgiven for willing it to their saviour.

It won’t be.

As the paltry sales of GQ’s iPad app indicate, simply having an app isn’t enough. The dirty truth is that no-one ever wanted a magazine. Just as Coke sells happiness rather than fizzy drinks, what people actually get from mags are:

  1. Signalling. What magazine you hold up on the train carriage, or have on your coffee table sends a message about how you see yourself – be it Viz, the Economist or Wallpaper
  2. Passing the time. Mags work great to wile away train journeys and lazy bath-times
  3. Special interest Whether you love cars, photography, cycling or houseboats, there’s a mag for you.
  4. Sense of belonging People like feeling part of a community and sharing tips.

Magazines have delivered on these benefits very well for decades. The challenge is that digital does all of these better, or changes them:

  1. No-one knows what you’re reading. It’s the device itself that says something about you. iPad v Kindle, and iPhone v Android is the new Mods v Rockers.
  2. You’re never alone with a mobile. Yes you can read magazine-like articles and look at professional photos, but you’re more likely to listen to music, watch episodes of Glee, email your friends or check-in at a foursquare location.
  3. Niche interests are hyper-served by digital. I’m not just interested in digital photography, I want to read in-depth articles on not only Canon lenses, but that particular lens, and those particular types of shots
  4. Sense of community has of course been owned by the massive, real-time, rich media interactions of social media. I want to know now what people think of that Cameroon goal.

That all said, magazines will not die. Print has winning attributes of portability, ever-lasting battery life and brings a simple, tactile pleasure. However, it will of course change. There will be fewer titles and producing them will become a leaner, tougher, much less pleasant game. Print dollars really will be replaced by digital cents. Get over it.

My counsel is:

  • Think brand and not product. Top Gear is the shining example of a media brand that has transcended its format and is thus less vulnerable to channel shift.
  • Embrace failure. There are no certainties in this era of disruption. Things will not settle down, and it is delusional to ‘wait and see’. No-one has a right to survive. The only viable strategy is to keep testing and keep learning.

The world’s hardest PR task

I’ve mentioned before a couple of examples where big companies have failed to understand internet culture and ended up paying the price.

Usually in these cases, there is a web-savvy way to deal with the wild west of social media, but in the case of the viciously satirical fake BP PR twitter account, I confess I’m at a loss what I’d do. Sample tweet:

We honestly didn’t think this was going to be a huge deal. No one cares when this happens in Nigeria

Not that I have any sympathy with BP over this, but if you were given the brief of responding to this (and assuming you’d accept the gig), what would you do??

Should you buy an iPad? My experience so far…

I’ve been lucky enough to have an iPad for about three weeks (a rarity in the UK), and if you’re thinking about getting one, here are my thoughts so far.


  1. It’s a great sofa computer. It looks fabulous of course, and it storms for browsing, looking stuff up and casual email.
  2. It’s also a great work netbook. It’s small and light enough to have in every meeting, and fits in smaller rucksacks. No more ugly corporate laptop bags. It’s excellent for presentations (and not just as a novelty)
  3. It’s a terrific media player. Both for wandering around the house playing WiFi radio (5 Live Sports Extra and Indie 103.1), and also as a temporary kitchen TV (for iTunes purchases)
  4. Apps are the key. The early ones aren’t perfect – developers are feeling around for what works – but it’s surely where this machine will fly. And not just games – I can’t wait for Remember the Milk HD.
  5. Great for reading. MyTimes is an elegant feed reader and InstapaperPro looks fantastic.I’ve used the iPad to read some lengthy PDFs (thanks to Goodreader) and it’s preferable to having 50 sheets of A4 to carry around


  1. It’s not so much a mobile device as a portable device. it is the wrong shape to use whilst actually moving. To type on it, you need to get yourself comfortable. The biggest accessory sale is going to be something that lets you prop it up at a nice angle to type on. Meanwhile, I hear rubber doorstops work well(!)
  2. Correcting typos feels more awkward than on an iPhone and often knocks me off my train of thought. It is possible to type up notes and actions during a meeting, but it’s certainly slower than a keyboard. In fact, I think I can type faster on an iPhone as its narrower screen allows double thumbs action!
  3. It’s not a primary workhorse. Numbers has poor Excel compatibility, Google Docs editing seems limited and of course Photoshop and the like aren’t (yet) available.


I love it, but it’s not essential in the way my iPhone is. And I can’t see it replacing my laptop anytime soon (indeed, it’s telling that it didn’t even occur to me to type this post on it).

But if you like shiny new mac stuff, and you can afford it, you know you’ll get one anyway.

And btw – it’s not going to save the newspaper/magazine industry. But that’s for another post…

Did Apple just landgrab the mobile ad market?

When I heard that Apple had bought a mobile ad company, I was quite surprised – it seemed a bit run of the mill for a ‘magical’ brand like theirs.

So watching Steve Jobs introduce the iAd platform at yesterday’s iPhone 4.0 preview yesterday, I wasn’t expecting much.

But it’s just possible, as Del Trotter might have said, that “they’ve only gone and bloody done it”.

And it is pure testament to unconstrained thinking. Audaciously, they’ve not only decided to get in the mobile ad game, but redefine it. And do better-than-TV along the way. AND suggest that search driven ads (hello Google) don’t work for mobile.

Check out the video. What do you think?

Full video here