Latest Posts



Dr. Tina Seelig is a professor at Stanford University.

David Williams pointed me to an article about her in Psychology Today.

Her course is on ‘Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship’.

She gave her class a project as follows:

Each of the fourteen teams was given five dollars.

Who could make that money grow the most?

The teams had from Wednesday to Sunday, then on Monday they had three minutes to make a presentation to the class.

Dr Seelig asks the question “If you were given five dollars and three days, what would you do to grow it?”

Most people answer ‘Online gambling’ or ‘Buy a lottery ticket’.

She says the problem with this is it’s high risk with hardly any chance of a return.

She doesn’t consider these people entrepreneurs.

The second thing people say is to start washing cars.

She says this is safe, but will deliver a minimum return.

She doesn’t consider these people entrepreneurs either.

Neither of these groups are looking at the problem creatively.

Instead, they’re concentrating on the restrictions: only five dollars and only three days.

The entrepreneurs in the group were the ones who concentrated on the opportunity.

What was it that people locally really needed?

One group spotted that, in a college town, it was really difficult booking restaurants.

The real drag was having to queue for ages on a Saturday night.

So that group phoned the restaurants on Wednesday morning and made bookings for Saturday night.

Then they went along the queues at the various restaurants, selling their bookings to the highest bidders.

That group made two hundred dollars.

Another group noticed that students were too lazy to keep their bike tyres pumped up.

So they set up a stand outside the student union and offered to pump them up for a dollar.

They realised that, to students, laziness is worth more than a dollar.

And they were right.

That group made over a hundred dollars.

Both groups opened the problem up beyond only three days and only five dollars.

But the winning team were by far the most creative.

They stood back from the problem and looked at what they had to sell.

And decided the most valuable thing they had to sell was three minutes of the attention of the most entrepreneurial students at Stanford University.

Now who would want to buy that?

And they approached the companies that were trying to recruit exactly that kind of students.

And they sold that time slot to the highest bidder.

Those students made six hundred and fifty dollars, without even touching their original five dollars.

And, as Dr. Seelig says, you couldn’t see that answer from the original question.

You have to stand really far back, move beyond the standard responses, the traditional assumptions, and stop framing the problem so tightly.

To be an entrepreneur you have to be creative.

You have to question the question.


Paul Smith was a producer, he made programmes for television.

At least he did when he could sell them.

He’d been trying to sell a particular idea for two years.

It was a quiz show where the correct answer was from a choice of four on screen.

If the contestant got all the answers right, eventually they could win a million pounds.

Smith had sent it to the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, but no one would touch it.

What kept him going was one person loved it: Claudia Rosencrantz at ITV.

She showed it to her boss, David Liddiment.

But Liddiment was worried about the whole idea.

He told her he could lose a million pounds an episode with the answers on the screen.

Paul Smith said he wanted a chance to present it to Liddiment, himself.

Smith knew there was no point in a logical argument.

The only way was to get him to play the game.

So first off he asked Liddiment to take his wallet out.

Then he asked him how much was in it, Liddiment counted out £210.

Smith said “Okay add an IOU for £40, making it £250, and put it all on the desk.”

Then Smith took out an envelope containing £250 and placed it next to Liddiment’s money.

He said “If you can answer a question, the whole £500 is yours, if not you lose your £250”.

And he showed him the choice of four answers.

Liddiment started asking Claudia Rosencrantz which she would pick.

Smith said “You’re using your ‘phone-a-friend’ lifeline”.

Liddiment said okay, but he and Claudia couldn’t agree on the answer.

Smith said “You could use your ‘50/50’ lifeline”.

Liddiment said okay, so Smith took away two of the answers.

And Liddiment guessed the right one from what was left.

Smith gave him the whole £500 and said “That’s all yours, unless you want to double it by answering the next question”.

And he put an envelope containing £500 down next to it.

Then he showed him the four choices.

Liddiment started discussing them with Claudia Rosencrantz.

Smith said “Hang on, you’ve used the ‘phone-a-friend’ lifeline. You can’t use it again.”

Liddiment asked what options he had left.

Smith said “You’ve got your ‘ask-the-audience’ lifeline”.

So Liddiment opened his office door and began discussing it with all the staff sitting outside.

But everyone had a different opinion of the answer.

Liddiment frowned and closed the door.

He said to Smith “No, I’m going to take the £500 instead”.

And at that point, Paul Smith knew he’d sold the idea.

Because Liddiment saw he wouldn’t lose a million pounds an episode.

The ‘sunk cost’ heuristic would prevent it.

And David Liddiment was hooked.

In fact he loved the idea so much he arranged to run the show every single night of the week.

And ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ went on to pull in bigger audiences than Eastenders.

And it only happened because Paul Smith stopped expecting the client to understand the game rationally, and got the client to feel it.

Because, as Daniel Kahneman says, that’s where the sell happens.

Paul Smith moved the sell from System Two thinking (slow, rational) to System One thinking (fast, emotional).

As in any sell, desire must precede permission.


In 1957, America was stunned.
The Russians launched Sputnik: the world’s first satellite.
It passed over the USA every 90 minutes, sending out radio signals.
The USA couldn’t shoot it down, they didn’t have the technology.
The entire country was petrified.
American newspapers went into hysterics.
With a fleet of satellites, Russia could hit the USA whenever they wanted.
America, the world’s most powerful country was defenceless.
At that moment the Space Race began.
For the next twenty years America would throw everything they had into beating Russia.
The world could see it was the one country they were scared of.
Russia officially became a global superpower, like the USA.
But what did it look like from the other side, the Russian side?
At the end of World War Two, Russia was broke, they could barely feed their own people.
They tried to build a nuclear missile like America had.
But theirs was too big, too unwieldy, too slow to set up.
So the scientists decided to see if they could use it to launch something, anything, just to keep their jobs.
A crude metal sphere would do, but how would they know if it worked?
They had no radar that could see anything that far away.
The cheapest and easiest way was to fit a small transmitter inside the metal sphere, just sending out “beep beep” signals.
So the Russian scientists sent up the little metal ball and listened for the “beep beep” signals to confirm it worked.
Then they went off to the canteen and thought no more about it.
But the USA didn’t know it was just an empty metal ball.
To them it was something out of science fiction, an immense threat.
When Khrushchev saw the American hysteria he immediately told the scientists to launch more ‘firsts’.
Russia couldn’t afford new missiles so they had to use what they had.
The missile that could just about get something up into orbit.
So they put the first living creature, a dog, into orbit.
Then they put the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit.
Then they put the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into orbit.
Then they had a cosmonaut make the first ever space walk, in orbit.
All the Russians had was a missile that could just about achieve orbit.
But the Americans didn’t know that.
With each ‘first’ the Americans got more hysterical.
As they did, they cemented Russia’s place in the world’s mind as the USA’s only real rival.
For Khrushchev it was a classic piece of marketing.
He made America spend all those billions on advertising Russia.
The world believed America had an equal.
Which is why you want the market leader to respond to your campaign.
To needle them into spending their money on a campaign that advertises your brand.
In the public’s mind it becomes a two horse race.
Your brand is elevated into equality with the market leader.
And that’s how, with hardly any money or resources, the Russian ‘space team’ took market share from the brand leader.
Of course America eventually won the space race, with their vastly superior resources they were always going to.
But Russia made sure the USA spent a lot of their money giving them a piggyback ride.

Predatory Thinking even works in space.


A week or so ago, the BBC asked me onto a radio programme.

It’s called Moral Maze, and it does what it says on the can.

It debates moral issues.

There were four panellists: all journalists from The Mail and The Guardian.

Guests are questioned, on air, by that panel.

All I knew was that it was going to be about Sainsbury’s Christmas ad.

The four panellists were obviously anti-advertising.

But they had a moral problem with this ad in particular.

The ad takes place in 1914, it’s Christmas and the British and German troops come out of the trenches and play football.

Seems fair enough: centenary of WW1, a million poppies in the Tower of London, Sainsbury’s sell bars of chocolate to raise money for the British Legion.

It all links, so no problem.

Except for the panel of journalists.

One journalist, from The Daily Mail, said history should be treated with reverence, this was trivialising it.

I said I thought it was the one nice part of the war, when humans stopped killing each other for five minutes.

She said, how could I possibly say the First World War was nice?

Er, I don’t think that’s what I said.

But a journalist from The Guardian tried a different tack.

Was I saying that it would be okay for Ryman, the stationers, to use Anne Frank in an advertising campaign?

(Anne Frank was the young Jewish girl who hid in an attic from the Nazis, keeping a diary.)

This question took me back for a minute.

Anne Frank died in the death camps, what could that possibly have to do with Ryman?

Then the penny dropped: a diary, Ryman sell diaries.

Do they actually think what we do is as crass as that?

The question was so dopey I got confused.

They hadn’t got the point of what we do at all.

If there’s a genuine connection, it works.

If there isn’t it doesn’t.

Ryman is about stationery.

But Anne Frank wasn’t about stationery, she was about persecution.

Anne Frank might work in an ad for Amnesty International which is also about persecution.

But it only works if there’s a genuine connection.

It’s like saying Jesus was nailed to the cross, B&Q sell nails: let’s use Jesus in a B&Q ad.

Jesus isn’t about nails, Jesus is about universal love.

Suppose it was an ad for Oxfam, about millions of children dying, and it ended with a quote from Jesus: “Even as you do it to the least of my children so you do it unto me”.

Then it might work, because there’s a connection.

But nails isn’t a connection anymore than paper is a connection.

The point is, nothing is intrinsically wrong to use as long as there’s a genuine connection.

The Sainsbury’s ad has a genuine connection.

I’m pretty sure it’s not advertising being tasteless here.

I’m pretty sure, for once, it’s not us being thick.

I’m pretty sure it’s the journalists misunderstanding what we do.

The only question is, were they doing it on purpose or are they really that dopey?

I think those journalists should stick to journalism.


Every country struggles with the problem of prostitution.

Traditionally it’s been treated as a crime.

The solution has always been to stop women selling their bodies for sex, by arresting them.

The thinking is, to cut off the supply.

If there is no supply of prostitutes there can be no prostitution. Pretty simple.

Trouble is for thousands of years it hasn’t worked.

Prostitution has been illegal, women have been arrested, but it’s still flourished.

Modern, enlightened thinking has been to decriminalise prostitution.

Like alcohol or marijuana, prohibition didn’t work, so accept it, make it legal and have the state regulate it.

The problem is in the countries that tried it, it hasn’t worked either.

Not only has prostitution increased, but so have brothels, organised crime, and sex-trafficking.

Marie De Santis is director of the Women’s Justice Center.

She writes about the uniquely creative way Sweden tackled it and why they were able to do so.

Traditionally prostitution has been seen from the male angle.

The crime was always a woman choosing to sell her body. So the woman was the criminal.

Swedes say this is because the lawmakers have always been men.

In Sweden, they decided to reverse the situation.

Research showed that 80% of prostitutes were doing it involuntarily.

So the supplier wasn’t the criminal, the user was.

They decided to turn the problem round 180 degrees.

Instead of targeting supply, they targeted demand.

They decided to treat prostitution as a crime against women.

So the prostitute herself wasn’t guilty, the man paying was guilty.

Marie De Santis writes, “Sweden’s unique strategy treats prostitution as a form of violence against women, and the men who exploit them by buying sex are criminalised. The prostitutes are treated as victims who need help”.

By criminalising men, the source of income has dropped massively.

Prostitution had been cut by two thirds.

De Santis writes, “The number of foreign women and children now being trafficked into Sweden for sex is nil”.

Nil seems pretty impressive.

But surely all Scandinavian countries have a more enlightened view, so they have less of a problem to start with?

We need another Scandinavian country for comparison.

De Santis writes, “Compare this to the 15,000 to 17,000 females yearly sex-trafficked into neighbouring Finland. No other country, nor any other social experiment, has come anywhere near Sweden’s results”.

Okay, but why is Sweden the only country to have thought of this?

What makes Sweden different?

Well here’s the really interesting point.

Sweden has the highest proportion of women at all levels of government of any country in the entire world.

In fact 50% of the Swedish parliament is female.

So for the first time a country could look at prostitution from an angle no one else has thought of.

The female angle.

Which enabled them to take a problem they couldn’t solve, get upstream, and change it into a problem they could solve.

A different kind of predatory thinking.


Each year a group of neo-Nazis march through a small German town.

They march to the grave of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy.

The townspeople hate the neo-Nazis and the march.

They’ve tried everything they can to get the march stopped.

They asked the local council to ban it.

They’ve tried protest marches of their own.

Nothing works.

Neo-Nazis still come from all over to march the kilometre to the cemetery.

Fascist groups are a real problem in Germany, they attract the angry and disaffected youths.

The kids who have no jobs and no prospects.

This is a major worry for their parents and friends, who feel powerless to stop them joining.

So the local community has formed a group called EXIT, to help educate and de-radicalise young people, to encourage them leave the group and help them find better lives.

But EXIT needs funding.

So the townspeople have decided, since they can’t stop the neo-Nazis marching, to use the march for their own ends.

Instead of resisting the march they are now encouraging the march.

Because they are using the march to raise money.

For every metre the neo-Nazis march, local businesses are donating ten Euros to EXIT.

So the neo-Nazis will now be marching to fund EXIT.

The further they march, the more money EXIT gets.

If the neo-Nazis don’t like it they can stop marching.

Whichever way they decide, it’s a result for the local community.

Whether the neo-Nazis march or not, the little village wins.

The inhabitants now treat the march as something to enjoy and have fun with.

Every 100 metres there are signs stencilled on the ground, thanking the marchers for the money they’re raising:




And so on.

By the time the neo-Nazis reach the cemetery they’ve marched a kilometre, which means they’ve raised 10,000 Euros for EXIT.

So there is a huge rainbow sign thanking them, and the locals throw rainbow confetti over them.

The locals also have fun at the neo-Nazis’ expense.

Halfway along the march there is a huge table of bananas as snacks for the marchers.

Above it is a poster saying “Mein Mampf” (this means ‘my hunger’ and is a play on Hitler’s autobiography “Mein Kampf” meaning ‘my struggle’).

Because the situation has been reversed, the neo-Nazis are now marching against themselves.

The beauty is it’s all perfectly legal and non-confrontational.

If the marchers carry on doing what they want, the village wins.

If the marchers stop doing what they want, the village wins.

The villagers couldn’t stop them marching, so they changed what they’re marching for.

They took a problem they couldn’t solve, got upstream and changed it into a problem they could solve.

That’s predatory thinking.


Everywhere you look it’s the same thing: content is king.

I disagree.

Execution is king.

Content is what you find in school textbooks.

It’s information, it’s dull, it’s a penance.

To read it you need lots of concentration and coffee.

I don’t like writing where the reader has to do the work.

I like writing where the writer does the work for you.

I think that’s the job.

I just saw a link to “The Ten Best Business Books Ever”.

I thought: I’ll click on it, there might be something I need to read.

Then I thought: nah, they’re probably dull, I’ll buy them and never read them.

So I didn’t click.

Because like most people, I only read what interests me.

And if a book is boring, no matter how valuable the information, I won’t finish it.

Even if I’ve been seduced by the title into buying it.

How many people bought ‘A Brief History of Time’?

Now how many people do you know that actually finished reading it?

See my point.

It doesn’t matter how valuable the information is if it doesn’t get read.

What you read must influence you more than what you don’t.

So the first and most important job must be: make it accessible, make it inviting, make people want to read it.

My school in east London was pretty bad.

On Fridays we were encouraged to bring comics into class and spend the afternoon swapping and reading them.

Just so that we would learn to read.

We wouldn’t leave school illiterate.

I was one of the first kids in my class to read a book without pictures.

It was a cheap paperback, a war story about U boats.

I made myself concentrate all weekend in order to get through it.

Just so I could say I’d read a whole book.

I was fifteen.

They asked us to read comics because they knew that otherwise we wouldn’t read at all.

Paul Arden understood how people work.

Paul said “I couldn’t write a book, I’m an art director, so I thought I’d do one that was pictures instead”.

So far his book has sold two million, worldwide.

The same content is available everywhere, written down in page after boring didactic page.

But no one reads it until you put it in a way they find attractive.

John Webster understood that.

John’s campaigns were characters that brought the product benefits to life: Cresta Bear, The Honey Monster, The Smash Martians, The Hoffmeister Bear.

That isn’t so different from what Leo Burnett and Geers Gross were doing: The Jolly Green Giant, Tony The Tiger, The Tetley Tea Folk.

The difference was John did it with wit and style and intelligence.

John thought it was his job to charm the audience, so they’d want to pay attention.

Think of it as a present.

The content is what goes into the present.

But if you wrap it in a really boring way it won’t get opened.

John Webster and Paul Arden had the same content as everyone else.

They just wrapped it a zillion times better.

As Bill Bernbach said “Execution is content in a work of genius”.


In the third world, 2 million children die each year from diarrhoea and pneumonia.

But we have a treatment that could save 600,000 young lives.

Is it complicated, is it expensive, is it rare?

Nope, it’s a bar of soap.

It can cut diarrhoea by half and pneumonia by a third.

If we could get everyone to wash their hands when they use the toilet.

So why don’t third world governments prioritise that message?

Well they have too many urgent calls on their limited resources: epidemics and pandemics.

Real behavioural change takes constant communication, constant reminding, day-in day-out.

Who has that amount of money plus that degree of incentive?

The answer may surprise you.

It isn’t the governments and it isn’t charities.

It’s the soap companies.

The people who make soap have an incentive to get people to buy soap, and to use more soap.

More importantly they have the money for constant communication to create real behavioural change.

It’s called advertising.

What advertising does is transform scientific facts into compelling messages.

It makes people buy things, it makes people use things.

This is what these governments want but don’t have the money for.

It’s what Unicef, Oxfam, and Save The Children want, but they don’t have the money either.

So they’ve partnered with Unilever, who make soap.

They all want the same thing: to sell more soap.

But not just to sell soap.

Research shows that families in Asia have soap, but they keep it in a cupboard.

They use it for bathing, or for laundry, or for the dishes.

They need educating about regular hand washing with soap.

Making people use more soap more often is in everyone’s interest.

A spokesperson said, “Big business is doing what governments can’t. The profit motive is transforming health outcomes. Business has grown by double-digits while child mortality has fallen in all the places where soap use has increased. It reduces deaths from diarrhoea by 45%, deaths from pneumonia by 23%, and school absenteeism by up to 50%”.

This is basic behavioural economics: set the game up so that people make money by doing good.

The spokesperson said, “It may be uncomfortable for some people to hear the words ‘business growth’ and ‘lives saved’ in the same sentence. But without that business growth we cannot achieve the change we need”.

Unilever is uniquely placed to do this. In 1895 they launched Lifebuoy Soap to combat the cholera that was sweeping Victorian England.

Today they are using Lifebuoy Soap to combat cholera in Ghana.

Advertising makes people understand the need to regularly wash their hands with soap.

The more people understand, the more soap they use.

The more soap they use, the more lives are saved.

When you set the game up right, it works for everyone.


In his biography Peter Mead talks about his first job.

He was sixteen, he’d just left school with two ‘O’ level GCSEs.

He was applying for a job as a dispatch boy.

What Americans call a ‘gofer’: “Go fer this”, “Go fer that”.

Peter had two interviews: one was at the massive agency, J Walter Thompson.

It was incredibly snooty, only the poshest people were employed there.

Peter was interviewed by a secretary in the ‘personnel dept’.

Like JWT, she was posh: elegant high heels, two piece oufit, pearls.

Her accent was cut glass.

As she talked, it became apparent there was a huge gap between the people who worked ‘above stairs’ who would be seen by clients.

And the lower orders, the ‘below stairs’ people who handled the daily running of the building.

Cleaners, doormen, van drivers, tea ladies, and dispatch boys.

She informed Peter that he would be starting at three pounds ten shillings a week (£3.50).

But what burned into Peter’s memory was when he asked where he would eat.

She said “There is a staff canteen of course, but you won’t be able to eat there on your wages. However you can take your sandwiches into Berkeley Square and eat them there”.

Peter didn’t like being treated as a member of the lower classes, so he didn’t take the job at JWT.

He took the job at the other agency instead.

He worked his way from the dispatch department to a job in account handling, and gradually worked his way up from there.

Eventually he opened his own advertising agency.

Eventually he persuaded David Abbott to join him.

Eventually Abbott Mead Vickers became one of London’s best agencies.

Finally, becoming the biggest agency in the country, bigger than everyone, including JWT.

Peter says that on that day he got his wife to make him sandwiches.

He popped them into a Tupperware box.

Then he went to Berkeley Square and sat on his own, on a bench overlooking J Walter Thompson.

And he ate his sandwiches.

Exactly where that posh secretary had told him all those years ago that he’d have to eat his sandwiches.

Because people like him couldn’t afford to eat in the JWT staff canteen.

It reminded me of something Gary Neville said.

Gary Neville had an incredible record as a defender for Manchester United and England.

He won the Premiership eight times, the FA Cup three times, the League Cup twice, the Community Shield twice, The Champions League twice, the Intercontinental Cup, and the Club World Cup.

An interviewer asked him where he found the energy and desire to perform consistently at that level.

Gary Neville said “Indignation is a great source of energy”.

That was his fuel.

He knew he needed to locate that before every game.

Find something that courses through your veins.

A source of energy you can turn on when everyone else says it’s time to quit.

Something that gives you an unfair advantage.

A bench where one day you’re going to sit and eat your sandwiches.


The vital things for homeless people are food and shelter.

That will keep them alive at least, but it won’t solve the whole problem.

It won’t make them feel like worthwhile human beings.

It won’t give them dignity.

That’s what a charity called Arrels Foundation is trying to do.

In Barcelona there are many homeless people.

In 2012 the Arrels Foundation gave 61,800 meals to the homeless, to make sure they wouldn’t starve at least.

But 4 out of 5 homeless people have one or more chronic diseases.

So the Foundation took 1,564 of them to doctors and hospitals.

Then they made 3,439 visits to fill or administer prescriptions.

They provide the homeless with a place to shower, with hairdressing, clean clothing, and chiropody.

They help them find a place to live or give them a bed for the night.

If they can’t, they give them lockers where they can store their stuff, a postal address so they can send and receive mail, access to a phone with a message service, and the Internet.

Anything to make them feel like human beings.

That’s their mission: First: raise their self-respect.

Second: raise everyone’s awareness of them as people.

Third: raise money.

That’s why the Foundation’s latest project is so interesting.

It’s called: It’s an online project designed to do all those things above.

Graphic designers noticed that when homeless people write cardboard signs, each has a different look and feel: some are powerful and crude; some are stylish, almost calligraphic.

So they got homeless people to write the alphabet over and over.

Then they picked the best ones and turned them into typefaces, available to download online.

For companies it costs 290 Euros, for designers it costs 19 Euros, and for everyone else it’s whatever you can afford.

So it’s raising money for the Arrels Foundation, but it’s also raising awareness of the homeless as individuals.

Newspapers and TV have picked up this project across Spain, and gradually around the world.

It portrays the homeless as human beings, not just bums.

And it gives dignity to the homeless themselves.

The typefaces are named after the people that drew them: Loraine, Guillermo, Francisco, Gemma, and Luis Serra.

And they’re so unusual, so different, they’ve already been used in advertising and packaging.

Valonga are a huge Spanish company selling olive oil, nuts and wine.

They’ve used a design featuring Loraine’s typeface on their labels.

It looks great: unusual, bold and striking.

The TV camera followed Loraine when she first saw her typeface on an entire display of bottles in a shop.

The look on her face was like the sun coming out.

She cried out to the camera “That’s mine I did that”.

Then quietly, just to herself, she said “See, I can do things, I’m not useless”.

And you could see a human being gradually getting rebuilt.

Of course money is important, but it isn’t all there is.

Campaign Jobs