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:
How to achieve sustainable growth of intellectual capabilities with the right mindset
More recently, in Extraordinary Minds, Howard Gardner observes that exceptional individuals “have a special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses.” Dweck suggets that those with this talent seem to have a growth mindset. Readers will appreciate her strategic provision of a “Grow Your Mindset” section at the conclusion of each chapter. She poses direct questions, reviews key points, and suggests several different ways to think about how to expand and enrich mindsets to fulfill one’s potential at home, at work, in the community, and wherever else has special relationships.
These are among the subjects, topics, and passages that caught my eye:
o ”Is Success About Learning — Or Proving You’re Smart?” (Pages 16-17)
o ”Mindsets Change the Meaning of Failure” (32-39)
o ”Mindsets Change the Meaning of Effort” (39-44)
o ”Negative Labels and How They Work” (74-80)
o ”Leadership and the Fixed Mindset” (112-114)
o ”Groupthink versus We Think” (134-136)
o ”Mindsets Falling in Love” (148-157)
o ”Bullies and Victims: Revenge Revisited” (165-171)
o ”Sending Messages [to Children] About Process and Growth” (177-179)
o ”Teachers (and Parents): What Makes a Great Teacher (or Parent)?” (193-202)
I am among those who think that Mindset is among the most important books published during the last decade. While re-reading it again, I was reminded of three key points that help to explain much of human behavior: First, that almost all limits are self-imposed; next, that there is much we cannot control or even influence but we [begin italics] can [end italics] control how we respond to what happens to us; finally, that taking full advantage of a growth mindset requires a commitment no less demanding in terms of its nature and extent than a commitment to peak performance. For example, revelations about such a commitment after decades of research by Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University. (For more about that research, read his HBR article, “The Making of an Expert,” and one or more of these books: Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and Geoff Golvin’s Talent Is Overrated.) Thank you, Carol Dweck, for helping so many of us to gain a better understanding of who we are, and, of greater importance, of who and what we can perhaps become with a growth mindset.
So, as I have watched a few of the events from the Olympics, and I’ve been thinking about the 10,000 hour rule. And I am ready to state the obvious: putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing.
First, a refresher. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, described the 10,000 hour rule. To summarize, it takes 10,000 hours to get really world-class good at anything. (Gladwell got the idea/concept from Anders Ericsson).
And then, in the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, we learn that just any old 10,000 hours is not good enough. You need to put in “deliberate practice” — lots and lots of deliberate practice – in order to get better and better. In other words, you practice with the intent to get better. This kind of practice is exhausting, and almost always needs a very knowledgeable coach, with terrific motivational skills. (A coach who “can correct with creating resentment.” John Wooden).
Now, back to the point of this post: I am ready to state the obvious: putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing. Here’s what I mean.
As we watch the Olympics, we see pretty clearly that some athletes have developed a work ethic superior to others. But there are plenty of athletes who put in pretty much the same kind of time, had the same high level work ethic, as the “winners” who beat them when the starter pistol went off.
So, putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing. In sports, you need the 10,000 hours, plus the right coach, plus a little luck, plus maybe the right genetic makeup, plus…
Plus, plus, plus…
The more we learn, the more we learn how critical the next “plus” might be.
Now, let me back up. If we were not so fixated on winning the gold, we might come closer to admitting that the 10,000 hour rule does in fact guarantee success. Even making an Olympic Team; or, even being good enough to compete in an Olympics Trials Qualifying Event to try to make the team, takes massive skill. So, why is that not “success?” It certainly should be.
And we do know that in many cases, coming in second is every bit a “win.” Did you see the depth of emotion on the faces of Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston after they won the Silver Medal in Synchronized Diving? They may not have won the Gold, but, it was the first diving medal at all for the USA since 2000, and the first ever medal for the USA in this particular event. Yes, the Chinese duo were better. Noticeably better. But these two young women were the second best in the world, and their 10,000 hours paid off.
Maybe we could say this: maybe 10,000 guarantees nothing. But a failure to put in 10,000 hours does guarantee something – you won’t make it to the top without putting in those 10,000 hours.
Now – the other challenge. One reality about this kind of world-class accomplishment is that these athletes show up, every day, with a coach watching and “coaching” every moment. Wouldn’t all of us get better at our jobs if we had that kind of individual coaching, motivating, “pushing us to the limit” daily encounter? I think so.
Work ethic, plus coaching, plus deliberate practice, plus constant feedback, plus measurable goals, plus… The road to true success really is a challenging road.
Rebecca Costa is a sociobiologist who offers a genetic explanation for current events, emerging trends and individual behavior. A thought-leader and provocative new voice in the mold of Thomas Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell and Jared Diamond, Costa examines “the big picture”– tracing everything from terrorism, crime on Wall Street, epidemic obesity and upheaval in the Middle East to evolutionary forces. Costa spent six years researching and writing The Watchman’s Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction. In her book, she explains how the principles governing evolution cause and provide a solution for global gridlock. The success of Costa’s first book led to a weekly radio program in 2010 called Rattler Radio. In 2011 the program was renamed and syndicated as The Costa Report, currently one of the fastest growing radio programs on the Central Coast of California.
A former CEO and founder of one of the largest marketing firms in Silicon Valley (sold in 1997 to J. Walter Thompson), Costa developed an extensive track record of introducing new technologies. Her clients included industry giants such as Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, Oracle Corporation, Seibel Systems, 3M, Amdahl, and General Electric Corporation. Raised in Tokyo, Japan, Costa lived during the Vietnam conflict in Vientiane, Laos, where her father worked in covert CIA operations. She attributes her ability to see the “big picture” to her cross-cultural education and upbringing. She graduated from The University of California at Santa Barbara with a Bachelors Degree in Social Sciences.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing your brilliant book, The Watchman’s Rattle, a few general questions. First, who has had the great influence on your personal growth? How so?
Costa: I spent my formative years in Japan. My Japanese grandmother was a Zen Buddhist. Her reverence for nature had a huge impact on how I now view my place in the natural world.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Costa: In 1975, I picked up a copy of Edward Wilson’s watershed book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, and it changed my life. With enormous clarity and compassion, Wilson forged the connection between evolution and the behaviors or modern man.
Morris: Was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) years ago that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Costa: Like many college students, once I graduated from the University of California I returned home. At the time my parents were living in a suburb next to what would later become Silicon Valley. I found a job at a technology company and worked in Silicon Valley through the eighties and nineties when there was explosive growth. It was during this time that I began keeping notebooks. According to the founder of Intel, Robert Noyce, data densities would double every 18 months. But any evolutionary biologist knows that adaptation is very slow – sometimes occurring over millions of years. At some point, human progress would exceed the capabilities that humans had evolved to that point in time – and what then?
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished in your life thus far?
Costa: It was the combination of my education as an evolutionary biologist and my experience with accelerating technology, while working in the heart of Silicon Valley, that caused me to become concerned about the future of humankind. I knew that the day would soon come where life would become too complex, too over-featured, too specialized for the man on the street to navigate competently, let alone the leaders of entire countries.
Morris: Let’s say that you are hosting a private dinner party and can invite any six people throughout human history as your guests. Who would they be and what would you be most interested to learn from each? Why?
Costa: That’s an easy one. Charles Darwin would be seated at the head of the table. 153 years ago he discovered the most important principles which govern all life on earth. And that includes us, whether we like it or not. Next to Darwin I would like to seat Ghandi, Richard Feynman, Hemmingway, Kant, and Edward Wilson. What? Only six? May I have that table extension please?
Morris: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first entered the business world full-time?
Costa: That I am driven by fear. Fear of failing, fearing of being judged, fear of embarrassment, fear of being poor, fear of giving the wrong answer, fear of being unprepared or ignorant. I was successful in business, but it never did a thing to make me feel safe.
Morris: Opinions are divided (sometimes sharply divided) on the importance of charisma to effective leadership. What do you think?
Costa: The problem with charisma is that it’s just like trying to be funny. The worst thing a person can do is try to be funny. The same goes for charisma. Authenticity is the only charisma that works.
Morris: In recent years, there has been severe criticism of MBA programs, even those offered by the most prestigious business schools. In your opinion, which area is in greatest need of immediate improvement? What specifically do you suggest?
Costa: The MBA has come and gone and is no longer relevant. Teaching people how to solve problems – how to think their way out of a jam with speed and agility is the new talent executives need. That and computing skills.
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