Louise Marsland

Thinking big with Advantage magazine

Louise Marsland is currently Africa Editor: Bizcommunity.com; a Content Strategist and Trainer; and Trend Curator for Bizcommunity.com and her own TRENDAFRiCA.co.za. She has been writing about the media, marketing and advertising communications industry in South Africa for over 20 years, notably, as the previous Editor of Bizcommunity.com Media & Marketing; Editor-in-Chief AdVantage magazine; Editor Marketing Mix magazine; Editor Progressive Retailing magazine; Editor Business Brief magazine and Editor FMCG Files ezine.

[Leadership Summit] Malcolm Gladwell rocks Jozi

22 Jul 2009 15:55:00

The challenging times we are in are times of opportunity and growth and it is your attitude which will determine your success during these tough times. That’s the view of one of the 100 most influential people in the world (as voted by Time): author and trend maker, Malcolm Gladwell.

This was the one I was waiting for at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit: Gladwell, author of the iconic book on what creates trends and iconic brands, The Tipping Point; followed by Blink and his latest is Outliers – on what makes some people succeed and others not? His books are brilliant and The Tipping Point is one of those transformative works that changed the marketing landscape in particular.

The first case study Gladwell highlights is that of successful musicians, Fleetwood Mac. So what has a band got to do with things? It’s a perfect example of a beautiful organisation that created a place people can learn. He told the story of how the band started in the London Clubs and then moved to Las Vegas. As Mick Fleetwood was touring a studio in Los Angeles, he came across a ‘failed music duo’ Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. And he thinks they are great. They get drunk on tequila and go play in a basement and they can’t believe the music they make together. Their first album ‘Fleetwood Mac’ was a bestseller, the second, ‘Rumours’, sold 19 million copies and is one of the best selling albums of all time. Gladwell points out that we’ve all heard the story of people randomly and magically coming together to produce something of genius, but that is not how genius starts, how real creative ideas are born. It is misleading, Gladwell emphasises. The real story is much more interesting when creating something innovative and of lasting creative worth.

Actually, ‘Rumours’ was their 16th album and the journey there is filled with stories of LSD, dope farms, tours with the Grateful Dead, losing members of the brand to weird cults, a succession of random people in the band… It was only after the band had been together for seven years and run into Nicks and Buckingham, who were not successful at the time, that they achieved success.

Ten years and 16 albums is what it took… They were not an overnight success. And this is Gladwell’s point: “We forget that in more cases than not, there is a long drawn out period of gestation behind any act of genius or creativity.”

Even Bill Gates used to sneak out of home to go programme in the middle of the night at university servers when they were not in use, before reaching success.

Gladwell’s point is clear: we get carried away thinking that what lies behind creative, extraordinary acts is talent. He thinks it is ATTITUDE.

Companies that do a good job of communicating the right attitude to their employees lay the groundwork for creative and innovative attitude. He highlighted lots of examples of underprivileged kids succeeding against all odds, there’s something called “capitalisation” – where you use everything you have to achieve success, and then there is an achievement strategy called “compensation” – where individuals succeed in spite of our weaknesses and disadvantages that life throws in front of us. An important finding is that compensation strategies are far more powerful as ways of learning, according to researchers. Individuals from underprivileged backgrounds and with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, succeed because they have to, they develop coping skills early on, so they already have the four skills needed to found a business:

  1. They can delegate
  2. Demonstrate leadership qualities
  3. Communicate well
  4. And can problem solve.


That is why in a recession, there is opportunity to start a new business – because overcoming the obstacles inherent in tough times is what forces you to cope, and produce work of genius. It is the journey, the challenges that make one grow.

Gladwell goes back to the band… their record company stood by Fleetwood Mac for 10 years of their journey to success. That wouldn’t happen today – there is no nurturing of talent in the music business today.

That is Gladwell’s challenge to the audience here today: leadership in the end is all about supporting people with promise and giving them the space to fail and learn and grow.

He was totally brilliant.

For more live reporting, follow me on Twitter at @advantagemag, as well as on Advantage's business page on Facebook.

[22 Jul 2009 15:55]


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