Thursday, October 12, 2017

Flashback Friday: Lee Hazlewood: These Boots Were Made For Walking


I bought a bizarre CD six months ago called Cake or Death. It was by a guy I hadn’t heard of for 30 years, Lee Hazlewood. This was the guy who wrote 'Jackson', 'These Boots were Made for Walking', 'Some Velvet Morning' and 'Sugar Town', an outrageously innocent sounding song about dropping acid. Cake or Death is an eccentric album, which is perfect listening when chilling out on a late night plane or when you are in the bath after 24 hours of non-stop, domestic/European hassle.

Lee Hazlewood died last month from cancer, age 78, I think. Hazlewood was an outlaw and a recluse. Having started life as a DJ, he went on to become a producer and gave Wall of Sound legend Phil Spector his start. He discovered Gram Parsons, who met an early end, and recorded an album with Ann Margaret, someone I had a crush on when I was 17 years old.

Hazlewood combined sentiment and humor in a way few writers have ever done. Then he dropped out to hide away in Sweden. I think he ended up in Texas or Las Vegas or somewhere like that. I know I saw a photograph of him on his 78th birthday in a t-shirt announcing “I’m not dead yet”. He and Nancy Sinatra performed 'Jackson' one last time and the curtain came down. Lee Hazlewood died on August 4. A great original.

Image is from a great article by Matthew Fiander at about Lee Hazlewood "Trouble is a Lonesome Town"


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Compelling TV Series to Watch

Am flying between Asia, the Middle East and Europe, so lots of airplane time – time for bingeing on TV dramas. Great writing, great acting, and great production. Take a look at:

Suburra / Rome in 2008. Church, State and organised crime go at it.

Dr Foster / A brilliant BBC One series. Season one was made in 2015, season two debuted last month.

/ If you missed Idris Elba’s gripping performance, binge on the entire three season package. Brilliantly written by Neil Cross, now resident in the World’s Best place to live in – Wellington, New Zealand. And watch out for Neil’s latest – Hard Sun – in production with FremantleMedia right now. Will be epic.

Safe House / An ITV series about a couple turning their remote guest house into a safe house. Shot in The Lakes, close to my Grasmere home.

And new series of Madame Secretary, The Blacklist, Narcos, Blindspot and Series 6 of Homeland.

Escape from Trumptwitter and Harvey Weinstein. Watch great television!


Monday, October 9, 2017

Lovemark Cities

It’s an interesting fact that the cities ranked most liveable are not always the cities that are most loved. Traveller Magazine’s globetrotting backpacker, Ben Groundwater exemplifies that fact with a 10 most lovable cities list. That’s not to say that factors such as crime rate, health system, pollution or the cost of living, which are often used to measure quality of life, don’t have an impact on whether or not a city is widely loved.

Take Rio de Janeiro, which makes Groundwater’s list of most loved cities. It’s a Lovemark. On the most liveable cities index (ranked using data) it didn’t make the top 25. While data determines which cities are most liveable, it’s emotion and personal connection that determines which cities are loved. The strongest relationships run on deep emotional connections. A Lovemark creates Loyalty Beyond Reason.

What makes a great city will be slightly different for each and every one of us. For me it should score in these 10 areas:
  • Mobility…great cities enable you to move about easily…and to get in and out of.
  • Cultural Joy…surprises around every corner, sculpture and art etc…cities need these.
  • Connectivity…great broadband is a table stake. Got to connect.
  • The Food…outstanding eating experiences are integral for any city that wants to become a Lovemark…from Michelin stars to street vendors. 
  • The Sea…to me most great cities are anchored near the sea – you need water to sense beauty and adventure. 
  • The People…friendly, fun, entrepreneurial, multicultural, proud.
  • The Sport…a top class team that fans want to be part of. A movement of aspiration, ambition, and winning…a beacon to youth.
  • The Music…streetbeat poetry and stories all set to the special rhythm of the city (‘Girl from Ipanema’).
  • The History…the connecting of past, present and future.
  • The Grit…down to earth, real humanity…the good, the bad and the ugly.
The journey from good to great, liveability to loveability, is about pouring mystery, sensuality and intimacy into the mix. These are my Lovemark cities…
  • Auckland
  • Sydney
  • Rio de Janeiro 
  • Porto
  • Marseilles
  • Beirut
  • Naples
  • Liverpool
  • Barcelona
  • Cape Town
  • San Francisco
… What are your Lovemark cities?

Monday, October 2, 2017

Schools and the "Creativity Crisis"

Creativity and the role it takes in schools’ curriculums is a topic that divides many, suprisingly. When asked if they would prefer promoting creativity or attending to the "academic basics” in an international study from the Pew Research Institute, only 5 out of 19 countries polled indicated they would prefer a creativity-led approach to learning – (Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada). The remaining countries either opted for prioritizing the basics or were undecided.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the traditional education system, the need for the system to change and the introduction of digital technology into the classroom to foster learning and increase engagement. This is only half the bill. Bringing back creativity into classrooms is even more important than introducing technology.

Previously I’ve referred to this as ‘education crisis’. Now schools are also facing what Will Burns, CEO of virtual-ideation firm Ideasicle refers to as "creativity crisis." To solve the problem he suggests reframing how creativity is looked at in schools – from a series of downstream talents like music, theater or visual arts towards a more upstream life-skill “that can be applied to all aspects of a student’s life”. Agreed.

Burns goes on to explain the difference between talent and creativity. Being exposed to music – say playing an instrument for instance – is a talent, which can be used to explore one’s own creativity. That makes sense. Students who don’t display any affinities for what’s traditionally labelled the ‘creative arts’ then are at a disadvantage when it comes to exploring and developing their creativity. In contrast to popular belief this doesn’t mean these students aren’t creative. It just means that they need other tools to discover and develop their own creativity.

It’s like Edward de Bono said: “Creativity is the most important human resource of all.” Many are worried about AI and automation taking over jobs, but only few seem to realize that creativity can help here, too. Human soft skills like creativity, dexterity and empathy cannot be automated as easily as hard skills. Think about it. The one thing that differentiates humans most from AI is the ability to dream new ideas, reverse our thinking, and make new connections.

Without creativity there is no progress. Without schools encouraging creative thinking we will run into some serious problems in the future. I like how Burns puts it: “Outperforming the competition is important, but outthinking them is even more so.”

Image source: Pinterest/Psychology

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Lancaster University Leading

More eagerly awaited than Blackwell’s Best Dressed List, The Times and Sunday Times UK Good University Guide league table is out. Lancaster University has shown an irresistible rise, increasing its standing from ninth equal to sixth position and being named “University of the Year.” “In the 19 years of our awards, there has rarely been a more clear-cut winner,” says Alastair McCall, editor of the Guide.

“Rising to its highest ever ranking in our league table this year, Lancaster is at the top of its game. It knows the university it wants to be and as a result makes a distinctive offer to students. Students love Lancaster. The modern interpretation of a collegiate structure, coupled with flexible degree programmes and academics committed to teaching as well as research has been recognised in consistently good outcomes in the annual National Student Survey. Dynamic course content and structure, plus the opportunities many students get to work abroad, is reflected in outstanding graduate prospects once they leave.”

I’m pretty chuffed about all of this. Expelled from school in Lancaster in the 1960s, it has been gratifying to return as not only a Governor of the Lancaster Royal Grammar School but as Honorary Professor of Creative Leadership at the Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) where I have been teaching for several years, following a decade of teaching at Cambridge University (ranked #1 again in this year’s league. LUMS has been ranked #1 school in the world by the Financial Times for the teaching of corporate strategy.

The Times concludes by saying that “Lancaster University, unlike other leading institutions, has not opted for huge expansion but is firmly committed to cementing its place among the elite universities by becoming a truly “global player” in both teaching and research.”

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Winning Performance, Sort Of

Congratulations Prime Minister Bill English and the National Party on winning the popular vote on Saturday’s New Zealand general election. National are a middle-ground conservative/progressive party which has commandeered the center of New Zealand’s remarkably stable political system for the last nine years. The prospect of a fourth term in government for the National Party would match a record not repeated since 1969. Bill English proved himself as a winning and popular candidate despite a vibrant challenge from new Labour leader Jacinda Arden. Both English and Arden are from heartland New Zealand roots and both have the interests of New Zealand people in their hearts.

The election result is, however, far from clear. New Zealand has a proportional representation system that has produced coalition governments since the MMP system was introduced. The center of attention right at the moment is not 46% vote winner English, but New Zealand First leader Winston Peters on 7.5% of the vote, who for the third time holds the balance of power. Once with the National Party, Peters formed his own party with a largely retired following of people wanting a fair go in return for their lifetime of hard work. In many ways Winston Peters is an old-fashioned socialist, in the best possible meaning of the term. A look at his speeches shows him battling for people who are disadvantaged by the economic system including middle income New Zealanders. He has served several roles in government, and by many accounts was an outstanding Foreign Affairs minister, pressing for an expansion of the ministry’s outreach to the world. He also has a reputation for turning things toxic, enjoying the battle for the sake of it. A divider not an inspirer. The balance of power comes with immense responsibility – and 7.5% of the popular vote gets a substantive seat at the table, not a mandate to dictate.

Peters has held the country in suspense – to ransom some would say – in previous government formations. There are a number of arithmetical routes to be negotiated in the days ahead. One political analyst said Peters has more in common with Labour – nine policies – than National – with three policies in common. My own belief is that the first sitdown needs to be with National as the winner of the popular vote. There is no rule in MMP that says this should be so, but the weight of the popular vote must compel him to respect this and forge a workable path with National. MMP is the ultimate consensus tool, and it is disappointing in my mind that no political leader since MMP was introduced has had the political vision and willpower to stoke the imagination of voters and win an absolute majority of votes. It’s difficult to achieve anywhere except for Russia and your name is Putin. John Key (now Sir John) did a masterful job – in any worldwide analysis you can do – of actually increasing the vote of his party in two elections subsequent to first taking the Treasury benches. New Zealand Prime Ministers however have tended to be political managers, deliverers and incrementalists, rushing at all costs to avoid “the vision thing.” More is the pity.

New Zealand is a remarkable country in so many respects, with gaping wounds. We love to be #1 in the world, and we are indeed in a whole bunch of top 10s. Last week an international survey placed us #32 for child health, with the incidence of criminal child abuse weighing heavily. Our young people kill themselves more than anywhere in the world (well done NZ Herald for the recent Break the Silence series on examining and seeking solutions to this scourge). Our prison system represents the same institutional race profile seen in US states like Louisiana and Alabama. One business commentator evidenced that New Zealand is in a productivity recession – an economy fueled by immigration and tourism without adequate infrastructure, and not enough global scale of industry (though its coming). To frame the issue, one commentator asked “Why is our GDP per capita so low?” citing our GDP is about US $37,000 per person. Australia's is $48,000, the United States is $57,000, and Ireland's is $69,000.

There are things to sort out, things in the New Zealand psyche and operation that need repair and reframing, and it will take real political leadership – not entitlement – to overcome our deficiencies. Godspeed to all political leaders that they work out a deal that moves New Zealand forward and makes things happen.