The Why

Our culture mythologises creativity while, simultaneously, putting up barriers which prevent people from reaching their creative potential.

As much as “innovation” has been put on a pedestal, enshrined in corporate vision statements and funded by private, state and transnational investors, most companies still do the thing they have always done, in the way they have always done it. We keep hanging on to the coattails of the status quo, for good psychological reasons – fear of failure, various biases – but also because most people, most of the time, do not really understand the direct connection between business innovation, imagination and creativity.

We applaud the achievements of star artists, musicians, designers, architects but that is as far as our appreciation, and our understanding of creativity usually go. The process is reduced to admiration of talent and awards for spectacular success. Creativity is for the chosen few. With talent. And special abilities. It’s just not a thing for average people. Right? Wrong.

We celebrate creativity and applaud the achievements of those star artists, designers and entrepreneurs, but when it comes down to it we accept the new and exciting only once it has been well tested by others.

In the meantime, instead of trying the untried, dreaming up the new, we continue to attend fabulous events and reading blog posts by thought leaders, who continue to tell us that innovation is a good thing, and we must all do it. Yay! It really is like putting lipstick on a pig.

It’s a wonderful idiom “putting lipstick on a pig.” Trying to make something that is too difficult and too ugly seem better by pretending that if you put gloss on it, you’ve done the hard work. Lots of effort, lots of shine, but practically no real effect.

Somehow, putting lipstick on the pig has become the central activity to such a degree that we no longer see the pig, just the lipstick.

If a business is to survive the next five years and then thrive for the subsequent decade, assuming it is in an industry that has a future and that it is run by competent professionals, it has to draw on the collective creativity of all of its people, and all of its customers. It has to see fishing in this collective pool of ideas as a strategic asset, not a thing you do on team building weekends. Can you remember the last time when you spent a week working on something completely new, doing things in ways which were different from the usual ways of doing things, connecting with people outside of your normal circle of colleagues?

Creativity is in part about connecting what is in our heads with ideas from “the edge” and seeing patterns and linkages which may not be apparent to anybody else at the time.

What is required are ways to release the inherent creativity of your people and a system which builds on people’s natural strengths by centering on the psychology of individuals and groups. It needs to be simple in its fundamentals, and a “natural” thing to run. The point of innovation thinking is to allow people in your organisation to have insights about what can be done better, with a system in place to inspire them to do so, collect those insights when they come, and work with them.

Creative professionals have very real value to the business world just beyond that boundary line where art and commerce ordinarily meet.

The value which creative professionals can bring to the table, in addition to providing their specialised services, is in assisting executives in being able to look into the future and to train their people to work in this quickened, confusing, rapidly changing digitally transformed context that surrounds us. Creative professionals can answer the call when someone asks “take me, where I haven’t been.”

Creativity is not about finding new ways to put lipstick on a pig but about ways to make the pig a better pig.

This is the reason why I do what I do – or rather a number or reasons, all pulling in the same direction.

This text is an edited version of a talk I have given several times at conferences large and small, including gatherings of hundreds of bankers, and a dozen or so telecommunication executives. The message is always the same – to innovate you need new ideas, to get new ideas you need people and places you do not necessarily meet or see every day, and the best people here are artists and creatives of all kinds.

Ever came across an obstacle that seemed insurmountable? What helped in getting past it?

Whether they manifest as creative bottlenecks, strategic conundrums, or operational impasses, such obstacles often require something other than conventional problem-solving strategies. An outsider’s view, wrapped in layers of multi-domain experience, can help.

Enter the the creative partner, a dynamic and multifaceted individual whose expertise spans across domains and disciplines. This modern trickster offers a polymathic approach; only through the integration of diverse perspectives and methodologies can a creative partner draw connections and illuminate solutions that lie beyond the reach of traditional thinking.

The role of a creative partner often commences with an engagement that finds its roots somewhere between communication and design. However, for the engagement to truly be of value, it quickly transcends these initial boundaries, extending into deeper discussions about strategy, culture, purpose, and what truly matters to the organisation. This evolution reflects the essence of a creative partner’s contribution – not just to embellish or streamline communication but to fundamentally rethink and reshape the organisation’s approach to its challenges and opportunities. You can communicate effectively only once you have fully understood the nature of what you are doing – and that is often very difficult if you are, naturally, constrained by the insider’s perspective. Challenges may not be truly challenging; same-think can start to creep in.

A creative partner’s strength lies in their ability to navigate various fields, from art and design to mythology and human relationships, and make connections, draw comparisons and offer cross-pollinated insights. And in today’s world it needs to be supported by a firm grasp of what technology makes possible. Not a Jack-of-All trades and Master-of-None; a Master-of-Enough trades and wearer of many hats.

This versatility is crucial for drawing connections between seemingly disparate concepts and for helping teams uncover possible innovative solutions that span different areas of expertise. It’s this broad-ranging capability that enables the tricksters to tackle the fundamental question of how to address complex challenges in novel ways.

The trickster is a shapeshifter. They can function as a mirror, reflecting the team’s surface to itself, or a bridge – connecting disparate ideas enabling that team to cross into new realms. They can be a magnifying glass, a zoom lens, or a jumping board. And they do this all at once, switching from one modality into another, as is required at the time. 

No, this is not magic. It’s simply a way of operating which allows for multiple inputs to be put through multiple thought processes, communicating all the way, so as to reflect the current reality to the client team in a way that is non-obvious, and may lead to new insights. Or making new connections between existing insights that may have been forgotten. 

At the heart of a creative partner’s toolkit is the concept of “visual thinking” – a suite of methods designed to render visible that which is inherently invisible. This encompasses a broad array of techniques aimed at rendering abstract concepts, such as emotions, human connections, and intricate ideas, into tangible forms. Through graphing, illustrations, collages, and even police-style “crime boards,” visual thinking bridges the gap between abstract thought and concrete understanding. Modelling with materials like balsa wood or plasticine further allows for the exploration of ideas in a physical space, offering a hands-on approach to problem-solving and concept development.

Visual thinking serves a dual purpose: it not only facilitates a deeper understanding of complex issues but also fosters a safe, playful, collaborative environment where team members can contribute and engage with ideas in a more meaningful way. By making thoughts, feelings, and connections visible, a creative partner can guide teams through a process of discovery and innovation, leading to breakthroughs that would have been hard to achieve – certainly slower – through words or numbers alone.

The journey of a creative partner within an organisation or a project is one of transformation. It begins with a deep dive into the heart of the challenge, employing a diagnostic eye to uncover the underlying issues that hinder progress. From there, the creative partner introduces new perspectives and creative methodologies, steering the team away from conventional approaches and towards innovative solutions. Workshops and sessions become arenas for experimentation and creativity, where ideas can be visualised, tested, and refined – and methods from the arts such as theatre, music or dance may be also used effectively. 

Over time, the engagement of a creative partner can evolve into a long-term collaboration, marked by regular feedback, adjustments, and continued innovation. This enduring partnership ensures that the seeds of creativity planted in the early stages of the engagement flourish into sustainable strategies and practices that drive the organisation forward. This role and this methodology are as useful in HR as they are in product development; in strategic visioning as in answering concrete questions.

There’s another layer to its usefulness. In today’s rapidly evolving landscape, the broadening of horizons has become a mandatory process for organisations that wish to remain successful. It’s no longer sufficient to merely hone industry-specific skills; there’s a growing need to expand one’s imagination and creative capabilities. Engaging with a creative partner facilitates this expansion, encouraging individuals and teams to explore beyond their traditional boundaries and to cultivate a culture of continuous learning and innovation. By doing so, they effectively enrich their own perspectives and enhance their ability to respond to future challenges with agility and creativity.

The role of a creative partner is indispensable in navigating the complexities of the modern world. By wearing many hats, switching perspectives, zooming in and out of issues and using a diverse toolkit these tricksters illuminate paths forward that were previously hidden. Their ability to render the invisible visible and to connect ideas across disciplines makes them invaluable allies in the quest for innovation and growth.

It’s not every day that a freelance communications specialist can revisit a project from a few years back to see how what we talked about then has evolved into what is happening now. 

And it has been nearly five years since I had the pleasure of hosting a series of four initiatives centered on various aspects of sustainability for the Danish engineering company, Danfoss – with some great speakers participating. Today, I indeed did revisit the subjects we discussed during the Engineering Tomorrow series of gatherings and interviews. My invitation to do so was graciously accepted by Bjarke Osmundsen, Head of Customer Projects and Innovation Adoption in the Digital Services team at Danfoss. 

My interest in following up on those discussions from five years ago came up initially after learning that the ideas which were presented at those gatherings in Warsaw, Kyiv, Nantes and elsewhere haven’t just ended up as prototypes, but indeed were being rolled out to the public – at a functioning pilot system in a supermarket in Denmark. 

In this insightful conversation, we delved into the complexities and necessities of using innovative engineering solutions to promote more efficient, less wasteful use of precious energy on a global scale. Companies like Danfoss have propelled themselves into the limelight as active contributors and influencers of the course of entire industries, painting a global canvas where engineering solutions are taken from a conceptual stage towards viable, sustainable energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency rests on the twin pillars of “smart use” and flexibility. The broader perspective of a global shift towards sustainable, efficient systems emphasises a holistic approach towards energy management. This isn’t merely about transitioning to different energy forms or sources but optimally using what is already available. As the world shifts towards “electrifying everything” we will need to continually place energy efficiency at the top of our lists of priorities, as  Bjarke succinctly pointed out: “we need to use the energy we have better.” 

To bring this principle to life means building intelligent, flexible engineering systems. This can be achieved through treating, for instance, management of controlled temperature environments as one integrated system – with coooling and heating part of one, large circle. Bjarke encapsulated this, stating, “instead of using, let’s say, doubled the amount of energy because we consider cooling and heating as two different energy flows, we basically power one with the other.”

This creates a synergy where refrigeration needed for keeping food cool isn’t it’s own “silo” but becomes a cog in a larger system, a contributor to a balanced energy grid where the excess heat created through refrigeration isn’t wasted but, rather, used elsewhere. And the engineering systems required to build this at scale already exist. 

Bjarke explained, “it’s important to emphasise that we are talking about how the engineering is already available. We are not talking about research but about what we can do today in terms of creating a more energy efficient supermarket, which allows store managers to focus on running their business right now, with the energy balance taken care of.”

Engaging with the challenge of making traditionally “unsexy” concepts like district heating not just visible but appealing, the incorporation of digital technology and IoT becomes paramount. Bjarke agreed, “when we talk about refrigeration and heating it all sounds like part of a dull engineering world. Once we have something like a digital component and IoT in the mix…it becomes a lot more interesting.” 

This isn’t digitalisation for the sake of staying at the cutting edge of modernity but a practical tool to optimise and manage energy flows within a supermarket, where the electrical grid, the cooling grid, and the heating grid are considered together, ensuring it’s “designed in the best possible way.” It also allows for remote monitoring and control, wrapped in an attractive visual representation via Danfoss’ cloud platform.

Some innovative, scaleable solutions have existed for a long time, yet their adoption has been slow. A practical demonstration of this is how Danfoss has been both advocating and actively progressing towards using CO2 as a refrigerant, particularly in supermarket cooling systems. Bjarke commented, “Danfoss has been promoting CO2 as a refrigerant… and now there is a stronger and stronger shift towards it in the industry globally. In Europe, most systems are already running on natural refrigerants.” 

The crux of this transition is not just the adoption of an eco-friendly refrigerant – it is tightly woven into the broader fabric of energy efficiency, ensuring that while we make environmental strides, we are also embedding economic sensibility into the solution. 

However, weaving of technological potential into real-world application often finds itself in need of a mediator: policy and regulation. Our discussion pointed towards the potential which lurks within Scandinavian countries, where political frameworks are both conscious and supportive of engineering solutions which promote energy efficiency. This is not just about technological viability but about creating “circumstances that allow us to build solutions such as smart stores that intertwine cooling and heating systems” into larger, multi-layered systems of energy management, as Bjarke explained.

Our current geopolitical context is, of course, exposing the urgent need for intelligent solutions ever more urgently. Energy security, a term now mentioned frequently in the halls of power in Europe and elsewhere, becomes not just a point of consideration but a critical goal for countries which see reliance on fossil fuels bought from at best unreliable and at worst hostile suppliers as a strategic imperative. 

With engineering solutions from companies like Danfoss, there is a tangible pathway towards not just achieving but securing an energy-efficient future, where our strides towards sustainability are steadfast, calculated, and fundamentally embedded with the principles of ‘doing more with less.’

In the intertwining dialogues of technology, environment, and policy, perhaps there is a subtle yet powerful reminder: the solutions for a sustainable future are not in the distant horizon but right here, embedded within the intelligent, efficient, and flexible engineering systems.

For those who like hard numbers, here they are:

• 90% of the heating is expected to be covered by Heat Recovery Units and potential excess heat can be sold back to the District Heating Utility

• the store is expected to be 50 % more energy efficient in comparison to a traditional supermarket

• 100 kilowatt solar panels are installed on the roof

• payback time for most of the components used are around three to four years

 (Illustration compliments of Danfoss)

The Engineering Tomorrow talks are here:

Let’s highlight the value of speakers who challenge conventional wisdom and encourage audiences to think beyond what’s “normal.”

The ability to think critically and challenge conventional wisdom has become an increasingly valuable business asset, and will continue to do so, as we enter ever deeper into uncharted territory where technology outpaces established business practice and the Law plays catch-up with the relentless onward march of computing power. 

In order to open yourself up to new ways of thinking, so as to approach this journey into the unknown with eyes and ears trained to perceive what you have not been used to, listen to contrarian speakers. With their penchant for questioning the status quo so as to spark innovative thinking, these people will help you challenge your own assumptions – and as uncomfortable as that may feel, not challenging them can lead you down some unpleasant paths. 

The emergence of contrarian speakers in corporate events reflects a broader shift in the business world towards valuing diverse perspectives and critical thinking. These speakers bring a fresh perspective to traditional topics and challenge audiences to rethink their approaches and biases. They don’t merely offer a different viewpoint; they encourage a complete overhaul of how we approach problems and solutions in the corporate sphere. Contrarian speakers represent a powerful force in the world of corporate events, offering a potent antidote to complacency and groupthink. 

The value of contrarian speakers lies in their ability to disrupt the echo chamber that often characterises corporate culture. By presenting new ideas and questioning the “tried-and-true”, these speakers can catalyse a cognitive shift. They ask uncomfortable questions and confront inconvenient truths, to foster a culture of genuine inquiry and resilience in the face of change.

The appeal of contrarian speakers is not just in their alternative viewpoints, but in their ability to engage and energise an audience. They are typically charismatic individuals who understand the power of storytelling and can connect with their listeners on an emotional level. This ability to “resonate” makes their unconventional messages more palatable and prompts introspection and discussion long after the event has ended. Their message has a chance to be fully digested and their insights thoroughly considered.

Engaging a contrarian speaker is, of course, not without challenges. It requires an audience that is open-minded and a corporate culture that values dissenting opinions. So whether or not you will squeeze maximum value out of that talk depends very much on your own attitude, and your willingness to make your team feel safe to question the prevailing dogma. And that, as we well know, is a process that requires a lot more than merely stating once “it’s OK to disagree.”

Companies must be willing to embrace discomfort and recognise that progress usually comes from a clash of differing ideas – and it often only makes sense in the rear view mirror. (“Yes, of course, I KNEW that was the right way to go.”). The true test of a company’s commitment to innovation lies in its willingness to not only invite those funky, and naturally entertaining, contrarian speakers but to seriously consider and act upon their insights.

There is also a delicate balance that must be maintained. Contrarian for the sake of being contrarian can be as unproductive as the echo chamber it seeks to disrupt. The goal is to foster constructive dissent and critical thinking, not merely “flipping the bird” for the sake of it. Speakers must be selected not only for their ability to challenge but also for their credibility and the relevance of their message to the business at hand. 

The most impactful contrarian speakers are those who can back their claims with evidence and articulate their ideas in a way that relates to the audience’s experiences and challenges without venturing so far as to alienate the listeners – that only leads to people closing their ears and opening their smartphones. They don’t reject conventional wisdom wholesale; instead, they dissect it to reveal its limitations and invite your team to look for alternative approaches based on analysis, foresight and a well-trained intuition.

Contrarian speakers compel us to look beyond the familiar confines of accepted business practices so as to explore new horizons. By embracing these mavericks, businesses can foster a culture of robust debate, critical examination, and, ultimately, more thoughtful and innovative decision-making. As we continue to navigate an ever-changing business landscape, the voices that dare to challenge the norm will be the ones that may guide us towards sustainable growth and lasting success.

Effective communication stands prominently in the hall of essential leadership skills. It often serves as a critical tool for conveying complex ideas, and leaders skilled in this area can transform intricate concepts into understandable and engaging narratives. They decode complexity, painting wayfinding paths that guide the audience through the dense forests of sophisticated ideas, ensuring that the message not only lands but goes on to  flourish in people’s minds.

Consider Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock, the British engineer, space scientist and science educator, with an extraordinary ability to demystify the cosmos. Avoiding overly technical language, she uses relatable analogies and stories, creating a bridge between the world of space science and the lived experiences of her audience. Her approach makes space science accessible and captivating, turning it into a subject of universal interest and fascination. Who hasn’t looked up at the stars on a cloudless night and stood there in wide-eyed wonder?

Hans Rosling, known for his innovative presentations on global health and economics, exemplified the power of visualization in communication. Through the use of simple but dynamic graphs, a few basic props, and a long stick, Rosling transformed cold statistics into engaging stories. His unique presentation style turned numbers into narratives, allowing audiences to visualise and comprehend complicated global trends in an interactive and engaging manner. We miss his lively presence at TED these days but his legacy of communication that was as passionately presented as it was well-informed lives on.

In the technology sector, Julia Hartz, the co-founder of Eventbrite, stands out. When communicating about the platform’s underlying technologies, she focuses on the human experience, explaining how technology enhances user experiences and facilitates connections. She gets the fundamental point that a technology is not about the technology but about how it can enrich people’s lives. Hartz’s approach humanises technology, making intricate algorithms and software systems more relatable and easier to grasp.

These successful communicators consistently employ a few common key approaches:

Simplicity: They distill complex ideas down to their essence, presenting them in a clear and uncomplicated manner. This clarity makes the content more accessible and avoids overwhelming the audience with jargon or excessive detail. The assumption is, if you can make people interested in what you’re saying they will go and find out more. To overload them with detail from the start means, they probably will not.

Storytelling: Using narratives helps in packaging information into stories that are more engaging and easier to relate to. Storytelling fosters a connection between the speaker and the audience, enhancing retention of the information conveyed.

Analogies and metaphors: Comparing complex concepts with familiar situations or objects helps in improving the audience’s understanding. Analogies create a mental bridge that makes it easier to grasp and remember sophisticated ideas. Remember the famous pitch describing television? “Radio with pictures.” (OK, so maybe you don’t exactly REMEMBER it yourself, but you know what I mean.)

The right visuals: Using visual aids can enhance communication by catering to different learning styles. Visuals can make the presentation more engaging, helping to clarify concepts and maintain audience interest. They can of course also obfuscate, complicate and overload. They are not a blunt instrument with which to bludgeon the audience.

Leaders who excel in communicating complex ideas use a combination of tools and approaches to enhance their messaging. By employing these in just the right combination – and that is a very individual thing – they ensure that complicated concepts are not just transmitted but also effectively absorbed and retained by varied stakeholders, turning communication into a productive and engaging experience. Remember, “it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.”

Circling back to the image at the top of this article, it is a useful technique to assume that the communication between you and the receivers of your message needs to squeeze through a narrow pipe, with lots of noise and distortion – just to really make your job difficult. The clearer your input, the more of it is likely to be received, and understood at the other end. Yep, if they told you effective communication was easy, they lied. Sorry.


In the amphitheatre of oratory and public speaking, a silent pact is often forged between speaker and audience, bound together with the delicate tendrils of stories and anecdotes. Engaging public speakers artfully weave these threads, crafting a tapestry that envelops the audience and guides them through a landscape where words morph into experiences and experiences into connections.

Consider, for a moment, the palpable frisson* that fills a room when a speaker recounts the right personal anecdote at the right time. The transmutation that occurs is not coincidental; it is deeply rooted in our psychology, and harks back to a time when storytelling was not just an art but a crucial tool for learning and communication, and passing on of culture. Our ancestors, huddled around that frequently mentioned fire, would share tales that encapsulated their beliefs, knowledge, and experiences.

Stories become a vessel, ensuring continuity of connection among the listeners – whether through prehistoric times, in tribal societies or in our present day. Stories, according to researcher into the nature of knowledge and learning Paul Boudrye are the “operating system for our civilisation.”

The Psychological Alchemy of Storytelling

Narratives, particularly those speckled with personal and relevant anecdotes, cast a peculiar kind of enchantment on the human brain, and science is with us on this particular kind of magic. Neuroscientific studies reveal that stories which stir emotions and involve personal experiences induce a phenomenon known as ‘neural coupling’. This suggests a synchronization between the speaker’s and the listeners’ brains, creating a shared emotional and cognitive space. Moreover, when listeners become engrossed in a story, not only are the language-processing parts of their brain activated, but so are the areas of the brain that would engage if they were experiencing the events first-hand.

Neuroscientist Dominika Pikul (whom you have already met on this blog), explains it like this: “From a neurobiological perspective, emotional experiences tend to be more memorable because they simultaneously trigger both the amygdala and hippocampus. The amygdala, which is primarily associated with emotional processes, aids the hippocampus in enhancing the storage of memories. This leads to stronger memories. Importantly, emotions play a significant role in many other cognitive processes – including perception, attention and decision-making. In short – if you want your listeners to pay attention, remember or change opinion – make them feel something. And the best way to do it is through story telling.”

Take, for instance, the poignant stories shared by the popular author and public speaker, Brene Brown. Her sagacious insights into vulnerability and shame are interwoven with her own experiences and struggles, thus constructing a bridge between her empirical knowledge and empathetic understanding. Her stories, at once universally relevant and deeply personal, invite listeners to dwell in a shared emotional space, thereby fostering an implicit connection that is both authentic and impactful.

Metaphorical lighthouses: guiding through the fog of disconnection:

An effective speaker is akin to a seasoned sea captain, adroitly employing metaphors and similes as lighthouses to navigate the audience through the foggy seas of ambiguity towards understanding and connection. Metaphors act as beacons that illuminate complex, abstract concepts with familiar images and experiences, thereby anchoring the audience in a recognisable cognitive and emotional shore. (OK, enough maritime similes for the moment…)

Anecdotes: projecting authenticity and relatability:

Speakers who use anecdotes masterfully are able to weave a thread of relatability through the eye of authenticity, sewing together a patchwork quilt that warmly envelops their audience. These narratives, often steeped in vulnerability and sharing of personal experience, permit the audience to glimpse the humanity behind the expertise, fostering an environment where authentic connections can flourish. That is when the speaker is able to fully deliver their message to the audience, not before. Facts and data alone convince no-one. We need to connect first.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author and speaker, navigates through her anecdotes with an ethereal grace that bridges her intrinsic human fears and desires with those of her audience. Her tales of failure, rejection, and relentless pursuit of her writing convey not just her personal journey, but also allow a universal echo to reverberate in the corridors of collective struggles and dreams.

Empathy, often the underlying current within the stream of storytelling, propels the story forward, undulating between speaker and audience in an ebb and flow of shared emotions. Storytelling allows empathy to pour from the stage, to lap at the shores of each listener’s emotional realm, enabling a deeper understanding and connection.

When great speakers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie share stories of cultural dichotomies, of the struggles and richness that dwell within the intersections of different worlds, they tap into a wellspring of empathy. This enables listeners, irrespective of their backgrounds, to see the world through her experiences, to perceive life through her lens, albeit momentarily. A seed of understanding and connection is thus planted, and can be nurtured with further engagement with her writings, for instance.

The kaleidoscope of storytelling, especially when imbued with personal and relatable anecdotes, melds together the cognitive, emotional, and experiential fragments within each listener, crafting a mosaic that transcends mere understanding into the realms of connection and empathy. It demystifies complex concepts, lights the path through the unknown with those metaphorical lighthouses, and gently ushers the audience into a shared domain.

In essence, good speakers can create a magical chorus where words transcend their merely auditory existence, morphing into experiences that linger, emotions that resonate, and wisdom that echoes within the chambers of human connection and understanding. And herein lies the profound power of storytelling, a timeless vessel that seamlessly traverses through the oceans of our collective human experiences, ever-binding, ever-resonating, and ever-powerful.

Author, mentor and story strategist Robin Rice put it this way: “What you bring to a story on the stage is presence. Without it, you flatline. With it you connect. The more authentic the story, the more personal the story, the more opportunity there is to make a difference with your story. People will remember you and if you were lucky, you’ll remember, too, because you were really there.”

* I can’t resist adding the Wikipedia definition – Frisson: also known as aesthetic chills or psychogenic shivers, is a psychophysiological response to rewarding stimuli that often induces a pleasurable or otherwise positively-valenced affective state and transient paresthesia, sometimes along with piloerection and mydriasis.
Now you know.

Disruption is not just a buzzword — it is a reality. Senior executives driving transformative change in their organisations understand this and their choice of the right speaker for an in-company, or public, gathering needs to reflect that understanding. They’re not looking for just any speaker; they’re seeking a catalyst — a voice that not only informs but also inspires. How then does one choose the right speaker?

Define Your Core Message

Before scanning potential speakers, clarify the exact message you aim to convey. Is it driving for innovation? Encouraging leadership qualities in people? Fostering the difficult process of ongoing culture change? Or maybe that tricky spot at the crossroads of technology and ethics? A well-defined core purpose sets the direction, and makes it easier to discuss the right approach with potential speakers.

Understand Your Audience

Beyond seniority and titles, how are your people “real”? What are their daily challenges? Their long-term goals? Their anxieties? Their long term potential? An executive team comprised mainly of millennials might resonate differently than a group of professionals in their 50s.

The Medium Matters

Is your event in-person, online, or a mix? Each format demands varied speaker skills. Some ignite live audiences with unmatched energy, while others shine in virtual environments, maximising tech and interactive tools. And you can help make the digital stage work well. If your audience is distributed and the talk is being given in a studio, make sure the temperature on stage is not somewhere approaching a beach on a summer’s day. I speak from experience. It can be devastating if the heat which is emitted by a large LED background, or a mass of tungsten lights is not drawn out by an efficient ventilation system.

Past Performances Are Indicative but Not Definitive

Reviewing past talks is useful, but remember, top speakers evolve. They adapt to each audience. Engage them, discuss your event’s goals, and sense their adaptability.

Seek Out Multi-Dimensional Voices

Speakers with diverse experiences, both within and outside their main industry, bring a breadth of insights. They see links between diverse ideas and sectors, presenting a comprehensive viewpoint. It can, and often is, a delightful surprise to see how learnings from one vertical can be imported and adapted in an entirely different one.

Go Beyond the Content

The core message is essential, but how it’s delivered also counts. Do they draw in listeners with personal stories? Use relevant examples? Simplify intricate ideas? The goal isn’t information overload but enlightenment. Speakers who tend overwhelm with data are probably better suited to the role of a detail-oriented consultant. And we must remember that well-known, but often ignored truth that facts alone don’t change minds – dialogue, stories and social interaction do.

Foster Collaboration:

The most successful engagements arise from collaboration. The ideal speaker will be open to pre-event dialogues, modifying content to cater to your audience, ensuring the message isn’t just heard, but felt. They thrive on the challenge of really connecting with their audience and delivering value on multiple levels.

With a crystal-clear vision of your aims and audience, the quest of selecting the perfect speaker becomes not just simpler but a great adventure. The right speaker doesn’t just inform — they catalyse transformation, pushing organisations into new realms of accomplishment. Together, they and you, can unearth insights that will, in many ways, enrich the thinking of your team.

Embracing a business culture that values and nurtures T-shaped individuals is not just a choice; it’s the key to thriving in an ever-evolving business landscape. As the pace of change continues to accelerate, organisations that prioritise these versatile thinkers will deal with uncertainty more effectively.

In today’s ever-evolving business landscape, companies find themselves navigating uncharted waters filled with complex, unknown problems. Multi-dimensional creativity is, therefore, not just a desirable trait but a strategic imperative.  

To effectively address complex problems, companies need a diverse range of perspectives and knowledge. This is where the concept of T-shaped individuals comes into play. T-shaped individuals possess deep expertise in one or two domains (the vertical stroke of the “T”) while also having a broad understanding of many other domains (the horizontal stroke). They are versatile thinkers who can connect ideas across disciplines and collaborate effectively with experts from various fields. They are the Swiss Army knives of the corporate world, and their strategic and operational value is substantial. Their rich skill set and comprehensive experience allow them to bridge gaps, connect ideas, and collaborate effectively across diverse fields.

So, why are T-shaped individuals so valuable in today’s business landscape?

Holistic Problem Solving

Imagine a complex challenge that requires input from various disciplines. T-shaped individuals thrive in such scenarios. They can view problems from multiple angles, considering different facets and potential implications. This holistic approach is invaluable when dealing with multifaceted challenges that lack straightforward solutions.

Efficiency in Small Teams

In an era where agility and speed are paramount, T-shaped individuals shine. Small teams composed of these versatile thinkers can work efficiently and independently. Their ability to communicate seamlessly across disciplines streamlines decision-making and reduces the need for extensive hierarchies, making it easier to adapt swiftly to rapidly changing circumstances.

Fostering Innovation

Cross-functional collaboration often sparks innovation. T-shaped individuals are natural facilitators of such collaboration. They bridge the gap between experts from diverse fields, facilitating the exchange of ideas and the creation of unique solutions that may not have emerged within a siloed environment.

Addressing unknown problems demands a strategic focus on creativity and cross-disciplinary expertise. T-shaped individuals are the linchpins that unlock this potential.



A fresh perspective is more than just welcome these days – it’s essential. Enter the multi-skilled speaker, a professional whose broad and diverse background provides  opportunities for a variety of insights. Three cheers for polymaths and generalists!

If your organisation seeks a rich, transformative experience, a multi-skilled speaker offers unparalleled value. Their blend of domain expertise ensures not just an interesting presentation, but a conversation that fosters growth, challenges boundaries, and inspires change. Here’s why they might just be the game-changer for your next in-company conference, or a similar engagement.

Their analysis is multi-directional by definition, as they are able to perceive multiple viewpoints simultaneously. That may seem superficial but, in truth, this approach offers perspectives you may not have considered. Their experience also gives them an ability to zoom from big picture to operational detail. Observing from 30,000 feet while discussing what happens under our feet, and being able to tie the two together, is a highly prized skill.


A multi-skilled speaker doesn’t simply deliver information – they weave a narrative that spans disciplines. Drawing from varied experiences, they offer a multidirectional take on subjects, identifying connections and patterns that are often overlooked. Such holistic understanding can unearth innovative solutions and broaden horizons so your team arrives at solutions that might be elusive in a more siloed approach.

The beauty of engaging with a multi-skilled speaker lies in their adaptability. Whether they’re addressing tech experts, financial professionals, or a mixed group, their diverse background enables them to find common ground, ensuring resonant and relatable content. This ability fosters a sense of inclusivity, bridging potential divides in a heterogeneous audience.

All content is custom-crafted. Rather than resorting to one-size-fits-all talks, these speakers craft their sessions around the audience’s unique context. By tapping into their  reservoir of knowledge, they ensure that their talks are not just generic but are, instead, deeply tailored, enriched with industry-specific examples and tuned to the audience’s core concerns.

Multi-skilled speakers can act as thought provokers. Their insights can jolt organisations out of complacency, sparking new ways of seeing and understanding. The joy of reaching unexpected realisations, epitomised by audience reactions like “I’d never seen it that way,” can be a catalyst for both personal and organisational growth.

In a world saturated with high-tech presentations, a multi-skilled speaker’s emphasis remains steadfastly human-centric. While they might leverage multimedia for enhancement, the crux of their delivery is genuine human connection. Such authenticity fosters trust, creating a conducive environment for genuine introspection and learning.

They can, and should, be challenging, yet always remain humble and respectful. While they’re adept at pushing boundaries, these speakers understand the importance of respect, and know all too well that nobody knows everything. Their challenges to the status quo are rooted in real-world experiences, ensuring that their provocations are as credible and constructive as they are on-point. This blend of authority and sensitivity ensures that their message is not just heard, but also embraced.

Their commitment to perpetual learning doesn’t just inform their content – it sets the tone for their sessions. By sharing glimpses of their long learning journeys, from trials and errors to lessons from mentors, they inspire audiences to embrace a culture of continuous growth. This emphasis on learning makes their sessions timely, relevant, and forward-looking.

For multi-skilled speakers, the talk isn’t the end but the beginning of a dialogue. They excel in engaging with audiences post-session, diving into deeper discussions, addressing specific queries, and further tailoring their insights in real-time.

One of the most potent tools in the arsenal of a multi-skilled speaker is their profound understanding of human nature, gained over years or decades of working with a vast variety of humans – an understanding of the intricate tapestry of human emotions, motivations, and aspirations. When a speaker can delve deep into what drives us, they can craft a message that resonates on a truly personal level. By interweaving stories that align with our inherent desire for connection, growth, and meaning, they can captivate an audience and facilitate a more profound engagement with the subject matter.

It is one thing to impart knowledge and quite another to inspire change. A speaker rooted in the principles of psychology understands that true learning goes beyond mere cognitive assimilation. It requires an emotional connection, a sense of relevance, and the spark of motivation. Drawing from their multi-disciplinary background, these speakers can create a narrative that is not only intellectually stimulating but also emotionally resonant. By tapping into universal human experiences — be it the struggle to overcome challenges, the joy of discovery, or the satisfaction of personal growth — they foster an environment where learning transcends mere information gathering. It becomes a transformative experience, one where audiences don’t just consume knowledge, but internalise it, and act upon it.

Some twenty five years ago I started to work on a book of Maori tribal myths and legends. Some twenty three years ago the book was finally published by the New Zealand publishing house of Reed. (The book sold out withing three years but the publisher refused to reprint. That’s a good subject for another discussion about giving customers what they obviously want – or not – and the state of the publishing industry but that’s for another time…)

By the time the book’s stock was exhausted, I had learned that Tauhia Hill, one of the ten people I had talked to, had died. A wonderful bloke who took me for a long walk, told me rich stories of the Kaipara Harbour (the largest and least known of Auckland’s harbours) and paused just long enough for me to take a roll’s worth of portraits under a cabbage tree. (On a twin-lens Rolleiflex 2.8F, I’ll have you know, as were all of the portraits in this book. The landscapes were shot on negative film on an ancient 4×5.) 

Another, Tauranga carver Tuti Tukaokao (below), had promised to carve a wooden casket for the ashes of my father who had died while I was working on the book. Alas, he did not live to fulfill that promise.

Several years later, the truly wonderful Bubbles Mihinui from Roturoa (below), joined her ancestors after a long and distinguished life, as did Te Hau Tutua (featured image at top), a staunch man of great dignity and wide-ranging creativity who told me stories of White Island, the active volcano some two hours’ boat ride off the coast. 

Harold Ashwell from Rakiura has also gone, as has Jacob Hakaraia (below) from the other end of the country, Waitangi. The storytellers have gone to sit by the great bonfire in the sky. Their stories, which are not really their stories but belong to the tribe, the tangata whenua, live on.

They live on for me, too. I received a pounamu (greenstone) pebble from Kath Hemi (below), one of the kuia (elderwomen) whom I visited at hear house near Nelson. (A while ago I heard that she, too, had gone away to tell her stories in the spirit world.) The pebble travelled with me for a month till I finally arrived in Hokitika which, you may not be aware of this vital fact, is the greenstone carving capital of the World. 

There I met Stan McCallum, one of the master carvers, to whom I would entrust the task of making something out of the piece of stone. After several cups of tea and two hours’ discussion of important matters such as world travel and the beginning of the year’s whitebaiting season, he finally set to and produced a suitable work – which, too, is another story except to say that when I visited him seven years later with my then brand new wife he remembered the story, and the stone, and the cups of tea. And picked out a special piece for my wife, of course.

What’s the point of all this? As Sir Paul Reeves wrote in the introduction to the book “Oral history is what one generation wants to share with another. It is the way the truth is enriched and brought into our living experience” and  “History lies in the telling. Mythology or interpretation, and the account of what might have happened, can be gloriously mixed up.” Paul, I call him by his first name as he would insist, has also departed, having lived a big life, full of important stories.

The book, as all books, is enjoying its own life Out There, including delightful, if surprising, encounters  with its author.

Which leaves one question. What stories next?


When we think of public speaking, we often conjure an image of a suit-clad professional, poised behind a podium, eloquently navigating the arcs and troughs of their speech. Yet, this conceptualisation may be misguided. The most riveting public speakers bear a closer resemblance to impassioned singers than they do to competent individuals merely reading those very same words. 

(No, this is not a post about crafting successful presentations. I’ve written about that here, and also here)

I would argue, indeed, that effective public speaking as a discipline is far closer to singing than it is to speaking. Intrigued? Read on.

The similarity between the craft of a vocalist and a master orator is profound, with each leaning on a shared foundation of authenticity, emotion, and practice.

At the very core of music, there’s emotion. Singers have this uncanny ability to evoke the deepest sentiments with just the modulation of their voice. Think of Adele, whose soulful melodies induce nostalgia and longing, or Freddie Mercury, whose vocal pyrotechnics inspire awe and elation. A singer doesn’t just pronounce lyrics; they feel them, exude them, and wrap them in layers of personal experiences and emotions.

Similarly, the crux of an impactful presentation isn’t the words but the emotional journey on which you, the speaker, ask the audience to come along. Just as you wouldn’t be moved by a singer who seemed emotionally disengaged from their song, an audience will not be persuaded or inspired by a speaker who delivers their speech perfectly competently but without emotional investment.

Authenticity: The notes behind the words

There’s an authenticity in the best of singers that transcends technique. Take Bob Dylan, for instance. His voice, if we were to apply traditional standards, isn’t, well, ‘perfect’. Yet, it’s real, raw, and hauntingly authentic, making songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” timeless anthems. It’s that authenticity, that unvarnished truth, that resonates.

Public speakers stand at a similar crossroads. One can either recite a well-rehearsed speech with precision or one can speak from the heart, connecting with their audience through authenticity. Much like a singer, an effective orator understands that it’s not about hitting every note perfectly—it’s about making the audience feel something genuine.

The Crafting Process: from first draft to the final note

Songwriting isn’t just about penning down lyrics to a predictable rhythm and rhyme. It’s a meticulous process of revisiting, revising, and rehearsing. I’m not personally a great fan of Ed Sheeran, one of the most prolific songwriters of our generation, but what he said about songwriting resonates – it is like “turning on a tap”; the first water to come out might be dirty and unusable, but eventually, it’ll run clear. This metaphor speaks to the iterative nature of creation, be it in songwriting or speech crafting.

Lisa Gerrard, the great Australian singer best known as one half of the duo Dead Can Dance, of whom I am most certainly a fan, talked about “the wound opening” so as the music could come out. 

Similarly, an effective public speaker doesn’t just draft a speech and consider it ready for delivery. The initial draft undergoes multiple revisions, feedback sessions, and rehearsals. Just as a singer tweaks a lyric or melody line to evoke the desired emotion, a speaker refines their rhetoric, pacing, and tone to optimally convey their message.

Rehearsal: Where magic meets mastery

A singer’s rehearsal isn’t just about memorizing lyrics; it’s about understanding the emotion behind each word, the crescendos, and the pauses. It’s where they experiment, fail, learn, and refine. It’s in these rehearsal rooms that icons like Beyoncé transform from artists to legends, crafting performances that remain etched in the annals of music history.

Similarly, the best public speakers understand that rehearsal is where their speech truly takes shape. It’s the space where you can stumble over words without judgment, refine your timing, and work on your body language, which is as important as the words that come out of your mouth. (Some would say even more important…) By the time you step onto the stage, the speech has become an extension of you, much like a song becomes an extension of a singer. It is authentic, impactful, and conveys precisely the message that it needs to convey. What the audience sees and hears, therefore is “You. Just more so.” 

Performance: Interplay of words and emotion

In the end, both singing and public speaking are visceral forms of expression. Just as you wouldn’t be moved by a singer mechanically belting out notes, you wouldn’t be inspired by a speaker who seems detached from their own message. Both crafts demand an delicate balance of technique and emotion, and a masterful dance of preparation and spontaneity, mastery and vulnerability.

So, the next time you’re preparing for a presentation, don’t just ask yourself how it reads; ask yourself how it sings. For in the realm of impactful communication, the heart must lead the way.