Straight From the Heart

Tuesday, 5 May 2009 - Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

From The Heart

Presentation Summary

Kevin Roberts lays down a challenge to make the leap from being Liked to being Loved, in this presentation at the 2009 Boarding Schools Association conference in Oxfordshire, UK. Roberts also discusses the concept of Peak Performance, which he believes is the second key to elevating boarding and Britain.

Every Tom, Dick, and Harriet has an opinion about Education. In the UK it’s a lightning rod for national identity politics, class prejudice, and European issues.

Some of you are beholden to soft and slow Government. For others, it’s hard and fast markets that control your destiny. Regardless of economics or Whitehall’s latest policy u-turn, Britain’s future will be built school by school, teacher by teacher, student by student, heart by heart. It will be raised aloft by all of you – together.

Your challenge is to move the dial. At a time when head teachers are in short supply, your budgets are cut, you’re unhappy with salaries…there’s increased oversight on testing, increased demand for enrolment, complaints from parents, bullies in the classroom, and fear in the job market…all before lunchtime!

“Inspiring Places – Inspiring People” is a great theme for boarding. I’m going to talk about why, and share some methodologies and ideas to help you on your journey.

Let’s start with the big picture.

Education in the UK is internationally admired. 11% of foreign students worldwide are enrolled in the country – that foundation was not built overnight and deserves respect.

The brutal truth is that UK education is an underachiever; the rate of improvement is slower than the M25. National test scores are bested by speedsters like New Zealand, in science ranked 7th vs. Britain’s 14th in the OECD’s last round of assessments.

Fact: 24% of the UK 15-19 years old are not in education – one of the highest among OECD countries.
(Source: OECD Country Reports, October 2008)

Meanwhile debate rages around social exclusivity, government inspection, standardized testing, tax status of schools. I’m not going to bore you with policy. Whitehall’s got that covered!

All the policy wonkery misses the mark. Lifting lives in Britain is about passion, not policy. It’s about enterprise, optimism and a rising wave of inspiration that everyone can ride.

Boarding has the opportunity to inspire and impact the future more than day schools do. You’ve got a captive audience – you know their ticks, their fears, their desires. This is an advertiser’s dream!

For friendship, fun and fraternity you’re streets ahead. The job is to unleash that, to make it a benchmark for Britain. Schools must catalyze their role as the source of optimism and inspiration.

As a species the boarding school has jumped up the food chain – you’ve loped from Loathed to Liked. The next phase is underway: this is to leap from Liked to Loved.

At Saatchi & Saatchi we call this Lovemarks. The reward is Loyalty beyond Reason. Beyond price, restoration and renovation.

Think Apple, Harley Davidson, Monty Python, Ben Sherman. Think Cadbury, HP Sauce, Heinz baked beans.

The premise is simple: life is emotional, and that includes learning! Spare me the stuffy Anglo-Saxon impulse of keeping up appearances – humans are motivated by raw Emotion. Donald Calne: “Reason leads to conclusions, emotion to action.”

  • Brands are built on Respect. Lovemarks are built on Love and Respect.
  • Brands create loyalty for a reason. Lovemarks create Loyalty Beyond Reason.
  • Brands are owned by managers, marketers and shareholders. Lovemarks are owned by the people who love them.
  • Great brands are Irreplaceable. Lovemarks are Irresistible.

The Love / Respect axis is where the truth comes out. Anything and anyone has its place, including boarding…and education.


  • Low Respect. Low Love. Commodities and disappointments. Bullying, STDs, SATs, and those authority-obsessed administrators.
  • High Love. Low Respect. Fads and infatuations. The latest ringtones, school lunch debates, or Whitehall’s latest brain leak.
  • High Respect. Low Love. Where “e-r” words rule: faster, bigger, better. Sometimes helpful, not transformational. Ofsted reports, continuous assessment and evaluations.
  • High Love. High Respect. Lovemarks. Big ideas, Visionary heads, Top teachers, Inspired students.

I have two core ideas to move boarding and Britain forward: Together, make Boarding a Lovemark and turn your own schools into Peak Performing Schools.


Step #1 – Attract with Mystery

People live for what they don’t know. Mystery is about our dreams, shared stories, where past, present and future are fused as one.

Revelation is at the heart of the Boarding experience. Your mythology is infused with tradition and diversity and increasingly resonant. Boarding is a transformational story, so let’s tell it as one, a story that can stream inspiration through society, a story that could bring the world to your doorstep.

How you reveal yourself will attract students and parents – or turn them away, on or off.

Novelist Dave Eggers created a tutoring program in the US best known for its unexpected storefronts. The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store sell capes, secret identities, superhero equipment, and students have to recite an oath with any purchase. Their slogan is “We can help with your nemesis problem.”

Turn the teach-down model inside out and upside down. Unleash that growing movement called Unschooling: to use the world – not the classroom – to explore and discover what students love, what they’re good at and what the world needs.

I had to Unschool myself – and so did Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, David Geffen, and Ralph Lauren.

Mystery feeds imagination.

Step #2 – Pulse with Sensuality

The second secret of Lovemarks is to excite all five senses. Sight, sound, smell, touch and taste are portals to the emotions. If you want boarding to be a loved attraction, jump shift to sensation.

Sound – I want student music on the website and in the corridor – make the school bell a different student’s ring-tone every week!!

Scent – Rousseau extolled smell as “the sense of imagination”; infuse Ralph Lauren Polo Explorer during Geography, not chalk and dust!! As Mr. Nietzsche said “All my genius is in my nostrils.”

Sight – What visual wonder-piece says you’re more than a school? More than an institution? Bigger than learning? Giant sculptures of heroes past? The Statue of Creativity!!

Touch – link arms and shoulder at every morning assembly.

Taste – eliminate boarding food. Institute Top Student Chef!!

This guy is a sensation.

Step #3 – Compel with Intimacy

Intimacy is empathy, commitment and passion – everything that boarding life should be.

Security and togetherness take priority. No boarding school can afford to ignore that. Boarding school is a tight-knit family. You are the acting set of parents.

Intimacy goes both ways – it’s about teachers understanding students as much as it is students understanding teachers.

So let the students teach! Teaching is the single fastest way to find out what you don’t know.

A school in Norfolk had a student serve as head teacher for a day. He said the best part was spending the budget! But he also said: “I learnt that the head teacher’s job is harder than it looks – I thought the job was all fun and games but it’s not like that.”

In the age of email, there’s a deficit of intimacy. Older generations understand the power of a handwritten note.

Bring back pen pals – have students write letters by hand to peers on the other side of the world. There’s magic and intimacy here…

Step #4 – Beam big IDEAS with sisomo

Lovemarks offer real value through big ideas.

The future is about people, ideas and creativity. In my line of work, we either have the best ideas or we go home.

In the screen age, big ideas are accelerated by sisomo: the integration of Sight, Sound, and Motion.

Sisomo Facts: as many as 100 million videos are watched daily on YouTube. And over 40 million photographs per day are uploaded to Facebook.

What some of you consider a social liability, others have transformed into interactive learning.

Video games don’t rot brains – they’re all about storytelling and the secrets of Lovemarks. As Danish futurist Rolf Jensen said: “The highest-paid person in the first half of this century will be the story-teller.”

The possibilities for electric connectivity are fantastic.

  • 24 hour documentaries on the corridor walls
  • Interactive whiteboards in the classroom
  • Real-time data tracking + Google maps: e.g. Swine Flu
  • Students using mobiles to become filmmakers
  • Live-casting student performances to faraway parents

Harness this for the good of your school. Risk everything!!


The second key to elevating boarding and Britain is to become a Peak Performing school. Inspiration is the turnkey. In New Zealand, I work as a trustee with Tyla: stands for “Turn Your Life Around.” We help at-risk youth to focus on goals and make their lives constructive. It’s all based on Peak Performance.

With colleagues I wrote a book about Peak Performance. A top school is a school fired by inspiration, teachers and students flying in rapid formation.

I didn’t learn this from the classroom but from the world of sport. Sport is inclusive, it’s about teamwork, excitement, skill, creativity, and winning – and that’s about spirit.

Let’s fly across the topline of it…

Idea #1 – Inspire a Dream

The first step of Peak Performance is the Dream.

I’ve been rich and poor – rich is better! At age 14, the teacher had us share our dreams. I wanted to be a millionaire by 30. Everyone laughed. I was serious…

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not say: “I have a Mission Statement,” nor does Saatchi & Saatchi, and nor should any school, nor should the UK.

A dream gives purpose. Schools are obsessed with authority, with downdraft instead of uplift.

The Inspirational Dream is at the heart of all great endeavors.

Walt Disney said: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Idea #2 – Unleash the Inspirers

We’ve all had Inspirational teachers. We carry the legacy of those teachers all of our lives.

If you want to be mediocre, focus on targets, tests and tables. If you want to be more, give your students optimism and inspiration.

Brand Obama unleashed the power of inspiration. The results were artistic, personal, political and exponential.

Inspirational Players lift organizations from High Performance to Peak Performance.

How can you be the best you can be?

Ask yourself and your students these three big questions:

  1. What’s my five year dream?
  2. When am I at my best?
  3. What will I never do?

Tomorrow’s leaders are looking for 4 things: responsibility, learning, recognition, and pure unadulterated joy. Give them all four and your school will be world class:

Idea #3 – Get into Flow

Flow is the secret ingredient of Peak Performance.

If you increase the time people are in “in the zone,” the school will increase productivity and creativity. It will start to hum.

And this doesn’t mean increased class time: with nearly 900 hours the UK offers among the longest annual intended class time.

Secrets to Flow: Rhythm of work-life; Pointing not leading, Hot-wiring, RASCI, 100 Day Plans, Envision.

Framework for Flow: FREDA. Focus, Reinvention, Execution, Delivery and Accountability.

No other group of people is in such a position to inspire and empower the leaders of tomorrow.

  1. Go out together and make boarding a Lovemark.
  2. Inspire your school with a Dream.
  3. And get everyone there in Flow.

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