Yeoh Siew Hoon experiences lessons from an instant combustion of inspiration, energy and thought. In other words, a brilliant alchemy.
What do you get when you gather eight world leaders in branding - either as individuals or by association with the companies they represent - in one room over two days?
Well, you get an instant combustion of inspiration, energy and thought. Karthik Siva, chairman of the Global Brand Forum, calls it "a brilliant alchemy".
It is well-known why Siva started this event that has come to be known as the "Davos of branding".
Says Siva, "Transformation is not possible without inspiration and the quickest way to get inspired is to be in the presence of inspired leaders. It's always worked for me."
Over the years, names like Anita Roddick, Francis Ford Coppola, Rudi Guiliani and Deepak Chopra have fired up the event with their passion, imagination, courage and wisdom.
This year, Al Gore headlined the list which included John Quelch, senior dean, Harvard Business School; Kevin Roberts, Global CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi; Nigel Parsons, managing director, Al Jazeera International; Tapio Hedman, senior vice president, Multimedia Marketing, Nokia; Martin Roll, Asian brand guru; Tony Fernandes, Group CEO, AirAsia; and Richard Kimber, regional managing director of South Asia, Korea and Australia/New Zealand, Google.
As I sat through the two days of presentations and discussions, here's what I gleaned about inspiration, branding and leadership.
1. The people who inspire make it personal.
Al Gore spoke about his emotional journey after he won, then lost, the US elections. He weaved his wife and family into his stories.
Tony Fernandes shared his disillusionment with the corporate world when he told the story of how he moved from the music world to aviation.
Nigel Parsons spoke about his "personal oddysey" in starting up Al Jazeera International and told the story of how he was offered the job of a lifetime "to make a difference".
2. The people who inspire tell stories.
Al Gore, Tony Fernandes and Nigel Parsons all told stories to get their message across. Kevin Roberts, who punctuated his presentation with plenty of feel-good commercials, said, "The winners will be the ones who know how consumers feel. It's not to know more, but to feel more." (He was talking about brands by the way.)
3. The people who connect best use humour.
Gore used it masterfully, Nigel Parsons charmed with his dry and ironic brand of wit, Tony Fernandes shoveled it out in spades, Tapio Hedman made an instant connection when he quipped that he didn't know why he had been given the honour of coming after Al Gore and speaking right after lunch.
4. The people who inspire are irreverent.
Daring to poke fun at the establishment always works because that's naughty and people love being naughty.
5. The people who inspire combine substance with style.
People love their steak but they also want the sizzle. Speakers who are too heavy on content and theories and light on personal touches tend to lose their audience.
6. The people who inspire walk the talk.
Nokia's Taipo Hedman is a credible messenger of his company's brand values. Suave, sleek, personal - "human technology" at work. Google's Richard Kimber was not what you would expect of a Google-ite. He was more corporate-like than alternative-like. Perhaps that's what happens when an idea born in a garage becomes the world's biggest brand in eight years.
7. Inspiration is succinct.
People who beat around the bush lose people in the bush. When was the last time you were inspired by someone who went and on about the same point? Think of quotes that inspire. "I have a dream." "Be the change you want to see." Kevin Roberts said, "For big decisions, follow your heart. For small decisions, follow your head."
Karthik Siva, responding to criticisms that the GBF at S$3,500 per head was too expensive, said, "If you think knowledge is expensive, try ignorance."
Words. Stories. Humour. Emotion. Conviction. Brevity. The stuff of inspiration.
Note: Pop in for doses of inspiration over the next few weeks at the Café.
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