Simon Pont is a writer, commentator and brand-builder. Hollywood movie studios, Icelandic investment banks, British chocolate bars and Middle Eastern airlines figure amongst his time on the inside of Adland.
He is the author of The Better Mousetrap: Brand Invention in a Media Democracy, and a novel, Remember to Breathe.
His next project, Digital State: How the Internet is Changing Everything, is scheduled for worldwide release (June 2013) through Kogan Page.
Simon is also Chief Strategy Officer at agency network Vizeum, though when asked, he has always wanted to say he is a spy.
He has never been a spy.
He is however married and has three children.
Here is a brief excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing The Better Mousetrap, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Pont: It has to be family. Family: in the true multi-generational sense of the word. My parents set the moral compass, and I’ve always felt myself hugely fortunate to have been brought up with an emotional safety net that was unconditional, that was always there. I’m now a parent, and parenthood is the most incredible, off-the-chart seismic shift, as far as life-stages go. At least, it has been for me. My future personal growth will inevitably be defined by my children and the positive role I want to try and play in their lives.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Pont: You know, there’s never been one stand-out Mr. Miyagi type figure in my career, radiating warmth and charisma and setting the standard. There have been a couple of Buddy Ackerman types – and there’s no need to name real names – but what I am very conscious of is that overall, I’ve actually been very fortunate. There’s been a sizeable cast of characters, mostly very good and only a few questionable, who I’ve learned from. And that’s been hugely instructive in helping me decide what kind of professional I want to be, and the kind that I don’t. But to name a few names for all the right reasons, I’d happily cite Moray MacLennan, Hans Andersson, Jon Wilkins, Greg Grimmer, and Hamish Davies. In each case, and each in their own way, we’re talking about hugely impressive, inspiring, and fundamentally very decent human beings.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Pont: I don’t think there’s ever been just one! I think careers are twisty-turny things full of great highlights, 50-50 judgements calls, and a few near-disasters. Along that road, with hope, you bump into a fair few moments of revelation.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Pont: For me, a formal education’s been very important. It’s a good, solid grounding, but it’s also been the necessary series of experiences – from which I now understand how I work, think about things, explore ideas, investigate themes, and then, put those thoughts together. Quite simply, you have to read a lot of words, and put a lot of words down, before you get to a place where you find your own process and writing approach.
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you started working full-time? Why?
Pont: Stop playing at being a grown-up and just be a grown-up. I think that’s fair advice to anyone in the early days of their career. By definition, when you start out in business, you’re naive, because your only former points of reference are academia and being a student; in most respects, being a “kid”. And it’s only experience that takes the edge off that immaturity. But there is a ‘but’. Once you’ve entered the business world, you’ve entered it, so you might as well stop “pretending”, stop play-acting, drop the pretence, and go at it full-tilt. I think real credibility and success comes from believing in yourself and what you’re capable of, even if you don’t have so much “experience” to draw upon. It’s not an easy message, of course, but self-doubt only gets in your way. So don’t have any. Or at least, work on editing it.
Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.
Pont: That’s a terrific question. I’m a big film fan. Swimming with Sharks and Wall Street are brilliant yesteryear windows on the working world. Margin Call, from 2011, is another great snapshot on a particular moment in time – but that’s not what you’re asking. Citing movies about the work-place isn’t the same as a movie that necessarily dramatizes business principles.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Simon cordially invite(s) you to check out the resources at this website:
Believe In The Future
This is one of the cartoons I did for my client, the Rackspace Cloud.
It’s a riff on the famous Gandhi line, “Become the change you want to see.”
In other words, the Rackspace cloud doesn’t matter; it’s what you can do with it that matters.
And that’s an interesting discussion- and interesting discussion that’s still in its infancy.
One thing I notice about this Internet-enable world of ours: It’s so very, very new, and yet we already take it for granted.
That’s a mistake….
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I urge you to check out Hugh MacLeod’s two books (Ignore Everybody and Evil Plans) as well as the wealth of resources at his website, including an online gallery of art works that are of high quality and yet priced reasonably.
As any reader of Techmeme will know, there’s a wee bit of an investment bubble going on.
People paying silly money for a piece of the Web 2.0 action. Facebook, Y Combinator, Huffington Post, the usual suspects.
I’m not saying these are bad investments, that they’ve been valued too high.
I’m just saying that it reminds us all of something we’ve seen before.
All is vanity. Same as it ever was. And will ever be.
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I urge you to check out MacLeod’s website, Gaping Void.
Also his two books, Ignore Everybody
and Evil Plans.
Also, his art gallery from which brilliant works can be purchased at unreasonably reasonable (i.e. fair) prices.
Hugh MacLeod is among my favorite thinkers, writers, and artists. He constantly challenges the status quo…more often not, he challenges his own. I urge you to visit his website by clicking here.
This cartoon started life out as a trade show banner for gapingvoid. Trying to convey the idea of what gapingvoid was really all about, to compete strangers walking by.
Ever since I got addicted to Charlie Brown cartoons as a child, I’ve always believed in the power of cartoons.
As an art form, a form of literature, as a spiritual exercise, as a bringer of light, a bringer of mirth, as a form of entertainment.
Then as I was developing the Cube Grenade idea, I started to see them beyond the traditional confines of “Art”, and more and more, agents of change.
By that I mean, a cartoon with the right, mysterious chemistry of form and content COULD impact an organization in a positive way, to create REAL value, to create a spark that could ignite something unique and powerful.
Without buying huge chunks of expensive media, the way traditional advertising does.
Disrupting the status quo. In business, and the idea of of what a cartoon can be.
So far it’s been a splendid adventure.
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Please click here to visit Hugh’s gallery. The artwork is for sale and at surprisingly reasonable prices, given the high quality.
Why do so many strategies fail? Usually the fault lies with the strategy itself and/or how it was formulated, and/or how it was executed. In this book Nilofer Merchant offers what she characterizes as “a different approach that gets everyone to collaborate and create winning strategies.” More specifically, this approach requires that everyone is able to participate in and contribute to the collaborative process, that allows decisions to be made based on insights gathered from throughout the given enterprise, that these decisions be in alignment with the vision, that there be “collective debate” with principled dissent, and that there be on-going, constant communication between and among those involved. Merchant also stresses the importance of taking an approach that utilizes conflict and tension to motivate creativity, one that focuses on what is most important (what “matters most”), and that enables those involved to move faster (i.e. get and better work done sooner) while tapping into (indeed leveraging) everyone’s strengths.
That is the book’s “what,” clearly presented in the Preface. Most of the material that follows explains a “New How” to achieve those and other worthy objectives. Merchant is a passionate empiricist and diehard pragmatist, determined to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why. I appreciate her focus on a combination of processes for strategy planning and execution but only after rigorous consideration of options versus objectives in terms of where and how to compete. Long ago, I began to view strategies as “drivers” and tactics as “nails.” The New How suggests different and, Merchant insists, better ways to decide how to compete, whatever the nature and extent of the given marketplace may be. That is, how to drive high-impact results.
In many of the organizations by which I have been retained to assist with accelerating executive development and performance improvement, I soon realized that the strategies they created were what Merchant characterizes as an “air sandwich”: New “marching orders” are formulated in the C-suite and communicated to supervisors in middle management (viewed as messengers) who are then expected to explain the new strategy and obtain buy-in of it by those at lower levels.
As Merchant explains, “The middle is missing [the substance of the business] a set of understandings [of all that needs to be considered and managed] that would connect the vision of the direction to the reality. By focusing only on the top or bottom, we lose the middle, which is where the value is.” Inevitably, there are systemic problems and Merchant discusses three: “tunnel vision” (i.e. focus only on what serves one’s self-interests) “ahead of yourself” (i.e. focus on doing without sharing), and “It’s not my job,” an attitude whose meaning and significance are self-evident.
Throughout her narrative, she includes content modules of key points. For example:
“The Seven Responsibilities” of a Leader (Pages 81-98)
“Collaborate strategy process framework” or QuEST (103)
“Managing Temptations” (Five)
• Believing That You Already Know What Problem Needs Solving (126)
• Choosing Certainty over Clarity” (Page127)
• Saving Ideas You Personally Like (144)
• Wanting Harmony Instead of Productive Conflict (145)
• Choosing Your Individual Status over Team Results (203)
“Using MurderBoarding” (162-163)
“Turning Around a Big Ship” (165-166)
“The Goal: Selecting a Winning Strategy” (188-189)
Although Merchant devotes almost all of her attention to “how,” she does specify what she characterizes as “first principles” for the New How: Distribute decision making, Demand good follower ship, Reward co-ownership, set clear goals and then improvise, finally, Be students of the game in which the team competes. These are not principles only to be affirmed; they must also be lived each day, by each person, during each transaction.
Near the conclusion of the book, Nilofer Merchant asserts (and I wholeheartedly agree) that, with all dues respect to the value of “eye-catching business results of profits and stock price,” it is important to remember that the organizational systems and processes enable a company’s people to produce those results. They are “the unseen and unsung parts that drive the fundamental health, growth, and results of the system.”
One final point: Hugh MacLeod is to be commended on the superb illustrations he created for this book.
Good Content is Good Business.
Hugh MacLeod drew this for Arianna Huffington a few months before the aol deal.
Maybe he knew something?
Please click here to check out all of MacLeod’s brilliant artwork and other resources.
1. The Myth of the Rational Market, Justin Fox
2. Fool’s Gold, Gillian Tett
3. Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford
4. How Did That Happen?, Tom Smith
5. Rapt, Winifred Gallagher
6. In Fed We Trust, David Wessel
7. Trust Agents, Chris Brogan
8. Animal Spirits, George A. Akerlof
9. SuperCorp, Rosabeth Moss Kanter
10. Ignore Everybody, Hugh MacLeod
My own “Top Ten” for 2009 are listed in alpha order (per title) and include only Trust Agents and SuperCorp. Here are the other eight:
American Entrepreneur, Larry Schweikart and Lynne Pierson Doti
Note: Ironically, this is both the first book listed and my personal choice as the best business book published in 2009.
The Design of Business, Roger Martin
Freedom, Inc., Brian M. Carney and Isaac Getz
How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer
Maestro, Roger Nierenberg
The Power of Collective Wisdom, Alan Briskin, Sheryl, John Ott, and Tom Callanan
Management Rewired, Charles S. Jacobs
Strategy for Sustainability, Adam Werbach
Note: I think Guy Kawasaki’s Reality Check was the best business book published in 2008 and so voted as a member of selection committees for both Fortune and BusinessWeek magazines. My “Top Ten” that year also included Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated.
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What better way for business thinkers to celebrate the holiday season than with the gift of great ideas? As the year 2009 — as difficult, divisive, worrisome, and hopeful a year since, well, 2008 — draws to a close, my friend Seth Godin, the innovator, writer, and blogger extraordinaire, has persuaded 70 other innovators, writers, and bloggers to participate in a project he calls What Matters Now.
The idea is simple: Each of us suggests one word — literally one word — that all of us should think about in 2010, and then takes one page to explain why and how that word matters.
The result is an intriguing, inspiring, and at times downright moving collection of unconventional wisdom that is available free to everyone as of this morning. I urge you to download the PDF, process its diverse ideas, messages, and calls to action, and then share it with as many friends, associates, and colleagues as possible. Think of it as an intellectual yule log meant to brighten your spirits and light a fire for the future.
[Note: If you wish to receive the What Matters Now pdf, please contact me at email@example.com.
What struck me about the ideas in What Matters Now is that they arrange themselves into a few distinct (but related) categories. (The collection itself does not impose these categories, this is my interpretation.) A bunch of the words involve the stuff of human emotion and motivation — what makes us tick. Seth begins the PDF with a riff on generosity. “When the economy tanks it’s natural to think of yourself first,” he writes. “You have a family to feed and a mortgage to pay. Getting more appears to be the order of business. It turns out that the connected economy doesn’t respect this natural instinct. Instead, we’re rewarded for being generous. Generous with our time and money, but most important generous with our art.”
Hugh MacLeod, a blogger and cartoonist with a truly distinctive voice, offers a take on meaning: “The best way to get approval is not to need it,” he writes. “Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside. The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props.”
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Taylor is an agenda-setting writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. His new project, Practically Radical, chronicles the radical shifts transforming business and the practical steps that will determine who wins. His most recent book, Mavericks at Work, has been a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek bestseller. As co-founder of Fast Company, he launched a magazine that earned a passionate following around the world. He is an adjunct lecturer at Babson College and a former associate editor of Harvard Business Review.
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again, if you wish to receive the What Matters Now pdf, please contact me at email@example.com.