You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

Monday, 23 February 2004 - Limerick, Ireland

Limerick Kevin Roberts

Presentation Summary

An address to students and staff at the University of Limerick. Success in the real world of business is supported by the quality of your education. It is decided by what you learn when you dig into yourself. How to become a leading inspirational player in tomorrow’s world? Six ideas that go to the next level of human possibility. Ideas that will shape the vision of business over the next two or three decades. Ideas that prove – you ain’t see nothing yet.

It is fantastic to be back in Limerick. I love the opportunity to talk to students ready to take on the world.

You are all in a unique position. You have the benefit of a great education. And you’re also young enough to ignore it all and go your own way.

Don’t get me wrong. What you can learn here is of the greatest value. I teach at three business schools – here, Cambridge, and Waikato in New Zealand – so I know this to be true.

And yet whether you succeed or not in the real world of business is not decided by the quality of your education. It is decided by what you learn when you dig into yourself. The same way the All Blacks do every time they go out onto the field.

A decade or so ago a good business degree was a passport to a life-long career. Now it only kicks open the door. From the moment you walk through – it’s up to you.

Do you have an edge from graduating out of a great business school? Sure. Can you use the skills you learn here to get ahead in business? Of course you can. Is what you learn here enough to become a leading inspirational player in tomorrow’s world?

Not a chance.

I know none of you gamble … but think about this casino metaphor: what you learn here is table-stakes. Enough to earn you a seat at the game. But never the promise of a winning hand.

Ironically, some of your most challenging competitors may be people who didn’t graduate from a school like this one.

People like Bill Gates who dropped out of Harvard in his Junior year. People like Steve Jobs of Apple who lasted one semester. People like me who never even walked through the door. I could speak French and Spanish. It was the swinging sixties in London. Mary Quant had single-handedly invented the mini-skirt. Tough decision! I marched into Mary’s fashion empire rather than a lecture hall.

The world is changing fast and business is changing with it. Businesses that don’t keep up struggle or go under. And we’re not just talking small, under-financed ones either. There are some once-were Titans amongst them.

Enron – who were convinced they need account to no-one and ended up the symbol of corporate greed and fraud. What a fate!

Daimler Chrysler – who misunderstood the power of kaizen. OK for Japan, but wouldn’t work in America. Tell that to Toyota.

And now Disney – weakened because they clung to cell animation for too long when digital had already changed the rules.

Andy Warhol summed up the greatest law of change. “They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

Now more than ever business needs people who can understand change, can cope with change, can thrive on change. People of guts and spirit. Curiosity and passion. People who are up for a challenge. People who know what’s right. And do the right thing. People who have a vision of how business take the world into a better place.

In short, business needs you! All of you.

So six ideas that inspire me every day. Ideas that can take you to the next level. Ideas that will shape the vision of business over the next two or three decades. Ideas that prove – you ain’t see nothing yet!

1. Believe in business

As far as I am concerned cynicism is one of the seven deadly sins. And cynics are the white ants we have to shake out of business. They eat away at the joy and opportunity every day offers.

When asked for his definition of happiness, philosopher Daniel Dennett said: “The secret is to find something bigger than yourself and devote your life to it.”

That’s where those ‘Masters of the Universe’ took a wrong turning in the 1990s. Wearing blinkers they devalued anything without a price-tag. They willingly became less than human. And they tried to drag down the idea of business with them.

OK, they failed. But it’s a close-run thing when major corporate leaders are taken away in hand-cuffs.

Now is the time to reassert the power of business to do good. The market economy model has proved to be hugely successful. It is the best way invented so far for meeting people’s needs and dreams and desires. But, there is a lot to be done. And done fast.

1.3 billion people live on less than a dollar a day. Lost souls, left behind for the aid agencies to tidy up. The idea that business has any role to play in this catastrophe seems like a wild one.

Too many young people don’t want to go into business. They have been told it is no place for people with dreams and conviction. Courage and big ambitions. And they believe this to be true.

That’s a tragedy.

My conviction? Business is the only way we can draw the people of the world together, and go forward together. The only way we can make the critical shift from today’s Capitalism of Exclusion to a new Capitalism of Inclusion.

The role of business is a noble one. Anyone who tells you that the role of business is to create wealth or to satisfy shareholders is plain wrong.

The role of business is to make the world a better place. A better place for everyone achieved through the creation of sustainable enterprises.

That means creating self-esteem through jobs, choices, opportunities and challenges. That means inspiring the human ability to dream. To understand what people yearn for. To determine to create a better life for all of us.

Once you understand what business can really be about, your life takes on new meaning and excitement.

2. Get Over Table-stakes

In my vocabulary “Table-stakes” are the minimum you need to be part of the game. And that’s as far as they take you.

What’s wrong with that? The reality that table-stakes keep getting higher and higher. It is part of what makes business exciting and competitive. Somewhere in the DNA of any successful business are embedded the genes for innovation and a restless, restless spirit. Their mission? To seek out and bury table-stakes

Imagine how pumped the hotel industry was when they installed the first in-room broadband internet connections. They charged fat extra fees. They made more money. Guests logged on like crazy. Everybody was happy.

But that was then.

Today nearly 500,000 rooms around the world are wired. To travelers, in-room internet has become just another essential service. Like bath-robes and mini-bars. Table-stakes.

What happened next? Marriott stepped up and dropped the charge last year. This year everyone else is doing the same. Customers still value in-room connections – no doubt about it – but they are sure not going to pay extra.

My advice? Tattoo “Table-stakes” on the back of your hand. Look at it often. It will save you a lot of grief. And cut your meetings in half.

Once you can work out what the table-stakes are, you can put them to one side and focus. Focus on the critical factors that will win the game.

Yes, Mr Eisner, putting the Mouse and Pooh Bear on millions of kids’ lunch-boxes was a great idea. Only problem is that Spiderman and Bart Simpson are there too – along with Alvin the Chipmunk! People are collecting character lunch-boxes, swapping them, cataloguing them!

How about the “First Law of Table-stakes”? Once they’re trading it on e-Bay … table-stakes.

In marketing, the pressure to push products, services and ideas down to table-stakes is constant and brutal. It has driven the one-way journey from product to Trademark, from Trademark to Brand.

Brands have stalled because the stakes have gone up.

Consumers today live in a world where the snacks are crisp, cars start first time and the beer is ice-cold.

To make a sustained impact in business you have to be in the top three. If you are number two, the best way not to slip to number three is to become number one. To get to number one and stay there demands fantastic execution, relentless innovation and intimate understanding of consumers.

All qualities well beyond table-stakes.

Learn from Toyota now nudging Ford as the second largest car manufacturer in the world. And learn the unstoppable spirit of Toyota from President Fujio Cho who said recently: “We have so much more to learn. If this were a marathon, we’re so far behind we still can’t see Ford’s back.”

Even your world here is under pressure by the relentless logic of table-stakes.

The latest Harvard Business Review tells us that in 1993, 61 percent of McKinsey’s hires had MBA degrees. Less than a decade later, it was down to 43 percent.

McKinsey says other disciplines are just as valuable in helping new hires perform well. Hear an alarm bell ringing?

Good old supply and demand are hard at work. As the number of people with basic MBA skills expands, their value is driven down. And as many of these new MBAs live in lower-cost countries, that’s where the jobs are going too.

MBA graduates are on their way to becoming 21st century blue collar workers. Am I trying to scare you? Never!

The way through? Ideas. Ideas can convince, persuade and illuminate so the right stuff happens. Ideas can transform organizations. Ideas can transform lives.

So if you have “Table-stakes” tattooed on one hand, how about “Transformation” on the other?

3. Get with Emotion

Emotion is the fuel of transformation. It has had a bad rap in the buttoned-down world of business. They figure it is too unpredictable. Too direct. Too fast. Not worth the risk.

Safer not only to dumb down, but to numb down as well.

But let me tell you, the future of business is emotion and people everywhere are making the leap.

Without emotion you cut yourself off from other people. Colleagues, peers, consumers. You are stuck with command and control. An end game.

With emotion you can transform. Nothing else comes close.

Emotion is the gift that keeps on giving. The REAL perpetual motion machine runs on emotion. All we have to do is start it up.

Leading-edge research in every field backs up this conclusion. Economics, psychology, neuroscience, accountants – maybe not accountants yet.

Human beings are not models of logic and reason after all. Never have been. Never will be.

Brain scientist Donald Calne puts it like this. “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action, while reason leads to conclusions.”

You must have emotion to spark decisions. To know what to care about. To understand what makes a difference.

Give people more reasons to do stuff and their eyes glaze over. An idea with heart excites them to action.

Live by what I call the “I’s” and the “E’s”. I for Ideas, Imagination, Intuition, Insight and Inspiration. E for Empathy, Enchantment, Excitement, Edge and Emotion.

4. Steer Your Course By Love And Respect

Saatchi & Saatchi has proved that Love and Respect are what matter most to consumers. They are what should matter most to you.

The REAL world of business is anchored by Respect at one end and inspired by Love at the other. Propelling them both forward is Emotion and Action.

Spell it out. R-E-A-L. Respect, Emotion, Action and Love.

At Saatchi & Saatchi we have captured the real world in the Love/Respect Axis. One of the most powerful business tools I know.


Make it your personal reality-check for people, opportunities, ideas. I use it all the time. It cuts straight through the crap. That’s C-R-R-R-A-P. Cynicism, Rules, Routine and Regulations, Apathy and ….. bloody Paradigm shifts!

Low Respect and Low Love – commodities, utilities, low value ideas. Working here is like going the wrong way up an escalator. Uses lots of energy and gets you nowhere fast.

High Respect and Low Love – here is where you find all the stuff that’s solid, reliable. And obvious. This is the domain of table-stakes. Business as usual always under threat from competition, pricing shifts, new expectations.

Low Respect and High Love – you tell me. Fads, trends, fashions and infatuations. This month’s gotta-haves. Next month’s has-beens. Tattoos, reality TV and flash mobs. Quality circles and knowledge management. Wearing black – no, scratch that!

High Respect and High Love – where the sun shines brightest. A place where new value can be created. Where business can tell new stories. Capture new dreams. Here we can create deep connections with customers by building on Respect, but igniting loyalty beyond reason with Love.

I have called this inspiring place – Lovemarks.

Back when Fast Company was a great business magazine, its founding editor Alan Webber worked with me on articulating Lovemarks.

Alan is a fantastic word guy. He knows that how you name a new idea really matters. New language fundamentally changes the conversation.

And did we change the conversation with Lovemarks!

My book “Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands” was launched in New York a couple of weeks back. The event was hosted by the New Yorker magazine. Why? Because they get it. Their dream is to become a Lovemark. A whole new generation.

Lovemarks claim both High Love and High Respect.

  • Lovemarks inspire loyalty beyond reason.
  • Lovemarks are owned by the people who love them.
  • Lovemarks can be anything that people care deeply about. Flags, sneakers, beer, perfume or holidays. Especially holidays.

Only Lovemarks explain why some brands, events and organizations spark an emotional charge. And most don’t.

A Lovemark stands out whether you live in Limerick, Shanghai or Hamilton.

  • Harley Davidson, definitely. Suzuki? I don’t think so.
  • Here’s an iPod. Guaranteed lovemark; Archos Jukebox MP3 player – What do you reckon?
  • Amazon. One of my personal Lovemarks. Barnes & Noble. Always a follower just decked out in green.

5. Be An Inspirational Player

Success today has to be about more than management, doing things right. About more than leadership, doing the right things. What is needed now is Inspiration.

  • Inspiration will unlock your potential. To what you can be and what you can do.
  • Inspiration is contagious. And once you reach what Malcolm Gladwell has called the Tipping Point – all hell lets loose!
  • Inspiration arouses your commitment to exceed your personal best. Not to beat the competition in your class, not to meet someone else’s expectations of you, but to exceed your personal best.

Inspirational people transform organisations. They can come from anywhere. Inspiration does not follow organisation charts.

We call these people Inspirational Players. Even the name sets people alight. It’s the difference between a job title and an ignition point.

With my colleagues at the University of Waikato, we have created a way that everyone can work at their absolute peak. Every day.

We call it Peak Performance.

Peak Performance is Inspiration made real. Respect and Love. Emotion and Action.

Procter & Gamble is the world’s largest consumer goods company. 13 billion dollar brands. Around 100,000 people in 80 countries. And this giant company is committed to Peak Performance.

Four times a year, A G Lafley, the chairman and Chief Executive, leads a two-day PPO workshop with me. Inspirational Players from around the P&G world are transforming the company.

P&G has been around since 1837 and is based in Cincinnati. If they can commit to their Inspirational Players – how can you be anything less?

In every successful sports organisation we analyzed, in every successful business I have been part of, the Inspirational Dream is what made it work.

The Inspirational Dream moves people so they want to belong. It’s not made to be measured. It’s about reaching for the stars, not counting them. Seeking out a vision for the future, not looking over your shoulder.

At Saatchi & Saatchi our Inspirational Dream is “to be revered as the hothouse for world-changing creative ideas that transform our clients’ businesses, brands and reputations.”

Our people have taken on the language, pushed hard, stopped asking for permission …or even forgiveness!

And stopped listening to the voices.

6. Get Out There And Change The World

I started this presentation by telling you to Believe In Business. I’ll close with a challenge. To change the world by your personal commitment to enterprises that can be sustained over time. That’s a vision for the future that means something. A vision that can be informed by the bottom-line but lead by the heart.

The world has never been changed by a one-hit wonder, a fad, an investment bubble. Look at the dot com dot gone experience of the late 1990s.

Sustainable enterprises are the only way to bring communities, regions and countries to new life. To create an environment where everyone can realise their potential.

What a great time to be headed out into business. A time when we can truly say that one person can make a difference.

It is up to individuals and communities and small business to break the log-jam of problems. To face up to the challenges and choices we are struggling with. It is up to enterprising people who are innovative, smart, clever and flexible. The radical optimists. Those rare spirits who are not simply positive, but are determined to change the world.

Sound like fun? It should do. Sound like you? It better.

Your inspirational challenge is to become a force for good in the world. To make a difference.

To prove to those who matter that … they ain’t seen nothing yet.

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