Sunday, 28 September 2014

T-shaped skills development: initiating with T-eam building

Fresh arrivals at Royal Holloway's ultra modern school of management enjoyed mostly great weather to say "hello" to their new home.  Virtual Tour Link.

Truly Global MBAs work together
With more than 450 post graduate taught masters students starting on the same day there is really quite some excitement on campus as various registration rituals and welcome speeches are delivered to a truly international group of students.

The MBA group, as you might expect from industry experienced practitioners, hit the ground running with fun but intensive workshops from the off. MBA Director Justin O'Brien lined up a range of activities aimed at fast tracking the new joiners down the learning curve. In addition to briefings on the challenging programme format, totally revised for 2014, there were professional development exercises, team building challenges and encouragement to begin to critically reflect on the self.

Has anyone got the glue ?

Over the weekend students were encouraged to visit Brighton before the winter weather arrives and the work load cranks up, although nearby Windsor is always on the visit list.  Last year KelliAnn used Student Union trips to explore more of England, as featured in this post.

Fun Learning ?

Week two sees students learn insider tips on cracking the grueling UK university writing requirements ( see for free hints on this ) that even mother tongue candidates from north America find challenging.  Mid week sees an innovative collaboration with history colleagues who will investigate the nature of truth using a public history lens. Topics will include consideration of  Stalin's photo manipulation of Soviet news/propoganda and the managerial politics of the Cuban missile conflict, noting dramatic liberties taken in the Kevin Kostner movie 11 Days.  Check out this taster video from Emmett Sullivan's public history MOOC.

The second busy week concludes with two day long introductions to the Philosophy of Management that brings to the fore the School of Management's critical personality, with something that is unique to the Royal Holloway MBA programme.  Catch a flavour here.

Rather uniquely, the serious, business focussed MBA group kick off their drama engagement with a cohort visit to the theatre in Sloane Square in central London.  The Royal Court specialises in show casing new productions that offer edgy and challenging experiences that we use to offer the MBA class a common shared experience ahead of drama led open space learning that utilises theatrical ensemble team building approaches.  This activity was showcased in the Guardian national newspaper last year.

MBA "T-shaped" skill sets to help career development

The rich and varied blend of activities aimed at developing soft management skills and hard academic knowledge sees many MBA commentators describe the wide ranging and broad management programme as providing a T shaped skill set.  Taking those with narrow or mono functional experience and offering an ab initio, from the beginning, in depth introduction to the other key business functions.  The horizontal bredth dimensions allowing MBA candidates to sit comfortably around the C-suite board rooms of power.  

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Coca Cola Life: Green joins Red, Silver, Black and Gold

Working with sustainability focussed colleague Stephanos we knocked out the following piece for the, an academic funded journalism accelerator service that aims to bridge the gap between academia and industry through enabling journalism editing support.

My angle was to counter the "6 teaspoons of sugar" activists and put across some recognition of (government & health lobby catalysed) industry 'steps in the right direction'.  When has a teaspoon been a real scientific measure, apart from making WI jam ?  Of course, with the application of some academic rigour, that encourages consideration of a range of stakeholder perspectives and some ethical compass, the article is more balanced and less biting that I had initially envisaged.  I am watching with interest as the twitterati re-interpret the piece in their co-created amplification.

The liquid isn't really green !

I taste tested the Stevia sweetened, new formulation with interest, having noted very limited above-the-line advertising and just a point-of-sale push campaign at my local BP garage.  I think it tasted ok, although I've read reports of an after taste.  I put some green food colouring in the empty to create a bit of fun, it has attracted quite a few reactions in my office and so really this post is just the chance for me to add some of my own images and additional commentary.    

It is interesting as we track the hit-o-meter (using twitter promotion the site has serious media traction in USA, Australia and UK), we've reached over 1,000 hits in under two days and went live with a low profile, picture less post the day after Scotland voted to stay in the Union.  Well, strictly they voted not to leave in a rather convoluted democratic manoeuvre.  Fingers crossed we might get 3-4k hits and nibbles from the media ?

Check out the full article here LINK  Go on, you know you want to ?!!

The creative commons copyright agreement allows re-use of the material - so I have summarised some of my key thinking below (it benefits greatly from Stephanos' masterful editing skills) 

Coca Cola has begun carefully rolling out its green-labelled “Life” brand, filling its iconic hour-glass bottles with a new fizzy drink which has nearly a third fewer calories than Coke Original. It is a useful win for anti-sugar campaigners but the strategy brings all kinds of risks for the Atlanta-based soft drinks giant.

There is a rising tide against sugar consumption and its links to obesity and ill-health. Mexico – one of the leading soft drinks markets, but a country where 9% of the population suffer from type-2 diabetes – has already implemented a sugar tax.

Euromonitor’s Howard Telford noted that western European and North American markets are increasingly mistrustful of sweeteners, and this is coupled with a health agenda that is trying to limit calorific consumption. Market researchers Mintel UK support this assessment, with a quarter of respondents in a survey saying they now consume fewer carbonated drinks than six months ago. Although not measuring actual behaviour, this does suggest that health campaigns such as Change4Life and Action on Sugar are influencing consumer demand.

According to Telford: “The introduction of Coca Cola Life is a slick, high profile example of the company publicly seeking to address its role in public health through innovations.” He’s right: this is a clever move on Coke’s part that should be applauded, though also a modest one that is not without problems.

Coke’s executives have clearly learnt the lessons of the New Coke debacle in the 1980s. Back then, market research suggested the younger Pepsi generation would prefer a sweeter taste, and the new product was duly born. Alas, the researchers had bungled the study and unintentionally created a future marketing case study of how not to launch a new brand.

What taste-test research actually tends to indicate is that consumers struggle to differentiate between variations of brown fizz, regardless of sugar content. Instead, it is product branding that influences.

The company has adopted a cautious, incremental and geographic launch strategy. Life’s global launch was in Chile and Argentina, which boasts one of the highest per capita soft drink consumption levels in the world. Substantial markets such as the UK, France, Mexico and US are following.

There is a background to this too. Western beverage firms are experiencing significant global drops in market share as consumers increasingly choose branded water and Chinese beverage brands grow stronger. Nonetheless, the Coca Cola portfolio leads with a 21% share of the market (far ahead of second-placed PepsiCo, which has 10% of volume). Coca Cola is valued at US$79 billion and was ranked for many years as the top global brand by Interbrand (deposed in 2013 by Apple and Google).

One risk for Coke is that the lower-sugar Life sub-brand may be an extension too far. Phil Caroll, a drinks sector analyst at investment firm Shore Capital, has suggested that Life sits in a no-man’s-land between core propositions that already serve customers well. However, substantial regional differences suggest that there is indeed life in Life. The slow take-up of Zero in the UK compared to a rapid market penetration in the more dynamic market of Australia is a useful case in point. In short, there appears to be some potential for the Life brand to do well. And even in the UK, success in reducing salt intake – 15% lower salt consumption over a decade as consumer tastes adjusted with time – suggests that firms can change their products to the benefit of society while bringing their customers with them; a key commercial imperative.

Monday, 22 September 2014

MBA for Happiness ? Introducing the 2014 Royal Holloway cohort

Royal Holloway MBA 2014 Speed Networking during induction

An innovative induction session saw eager new candidates on the brand new Royal Holloway MBA programme commence today. Following a general Q&A session, rapid fire speed dating was the first active exercise, with newly minted MBA candidates keen to introduce themselves to fellow course mates.  

Chalk emphasising Holloway's history

The Royal Holloway MBA programme is renowned for being truly international and the deliberately nostalgic use of a chalk board (picture right) reinforcing the College's Victorian origins, gives a visual representation of the centre of geographic gravity of the programme participants this year.  

Students hail from Canada, UK, Russia, Norway, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Jordan, Kuwait, Ghana, India, Singapore, Malaysia and Pakistan this year, offering exciting opportunities for a wide range of cross-cultural learning experiences.  

Reasons to study for an MBA ?

The MBA group embark on a year long journey that sees them keen to develop a blend of intellectual, professional and soft skills.  

Challenged, as a piece of group buzz work, to identify their (common shared ?) motivations for joining the programme , they produced the following spider gram /  brain map (picture left) that describes the various factors that have drawn the group of 23 together.

The central factors, that are often used in MBA marketing blurb often refer to; personal growth, career change, theoretical learning, industry exposure and financial enhancement and these were all identified.  

Doorway to MBA transformation ?

Perhaps some of the less common motivations were also brought forwards and helped underscore why the Royal Holloway MBA continues to be very popular.  The School of Management's distinctive character that incorporates stand out dimensions of criticality, a stronger societal view of business and a highly international orientation.  

Factors such as making a difference, happiness, innovation and learning to think differently were also cited by an energised group who were working together for the first time.  

MBA Director, Justin O'Brien, was able to indicate that the newly revised curriculum would offer plenty of the right kinds of opportunities that will expose students to learning and growth in all of these areas.  

Interested & want to learn more ?


Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Zebra Conundrum

Looking at a zebra penned in at a city zoo, it is hard to believe that these beautifully striking beasts are really the product of nature. Fellow captives in the land based animal kingdom sport hues of grey, green and brown fur and feather as camouflage, for both carnivores and the hunted, under Darwin's laws of natural selection, have evolved exterior coatings that draw on a more limited palate. 

"It doesn't it matter if you are black or white"

Genetic mutations such as albinoism (alba=white), alarm colouration (black & yellow) to notify danger and poison like wasps and frogs and distinctive show colours to enable sexual reproduction are the exceptions that spring to mind.

White with black stripes or black with white stripes ?

"The zebra’s striped coat is simultaneously extraordinary and stunning" states the Guardian. link Godlike creations, according to some early naturalists. Current popular belief is that the zebra stripes evolved to offer a disguise on the African grassland savannah, hidden from hunting lions in the long grass at twilight, although Darwin himself was not convinced by this argument. link

Chris Rock voices Marty

To the question of ethnicity and leaning on Michael Jackson's controversial lyric that ironically states "it doesn't it matter if you are black or white" some point to the white under belly to support a case for black stripes, whilst others note the unborn development of white stripes appearing on a dark skin. I am sold on the black, as deeper tissues are reportedly dark and other geographically juxtaposed equine species do not turn out pale.

In our Hollywood celebrity driven culture it is perhaps worth considering role model portrayals and we find that in the DreamWorks animation 'Madagascar' Marty the zebra (or zee-brah), voiced by comic Chris Rock link, has white stripes. So that decides it.

Let us leave paper letter technology in the 20th century

Ironic that in the 21st Century we attach word and pdf documents, cut in A4 sized pages, so they print nicely on foolscap paper (so called after a fools cap water mark was used as an early quality mark, a forerunner of contemporary brand hologram authenticity labels). 

"Today I am adding red flourishes"

Only this week I was invited (with about two days notice) to complete a reference from a cracking student I had the pleasure of supervising during his dissertation. The attachment only really worked if I printed it out, signed it by hand and then scanned it back. Why would you do that ? Of course I would no longer dream of putting it in the post, too much hassle, too slow and hugely expensive - have you seen the price of stamps just soar in recent years ? 

Three emails later, and importantly three days later, I have a word document that I'm meant to type into - although having written text in an email quickly and attempted to write in the distorted .rtf file, I have been very slow at my fourth iteration of this modest endeavour. I bet the cross check boxes are not clickable - such a simple thing. 

So this begs the wider question - why do our processes continue to utilise slick, fast & cheap electronic methods to emulate the historic scratching of dye onto parchment ? I think I might ask uncle Tim at Apple for a papyrus designed gizmo this Christmas, I have already got a watch !

Black is the absence of light

Now for me and my limited science background (I do have to disclose physics, chemistry and maths 'A' levels good enough to get me into Warwick) black and white are not colours, but pure light and the absence thereof. 

We do not see black, but notice the difference around it. Therefore I fail to understand why those clever people in Seattle at Microsoft and others in the silly-con valley (sic) keep writing code that emulates the process, pre-Caxton printing press, that medieval monks would have died for. (side bar: Thanks to Henry VIII many did !). 

I may be biased, as my presentation DNA was developed at British Airways, where the corporate house style always used dark blue backgrounds and a golden yellow font. Is it not crazy that we have to sit in soporifically dark spaces to allow bright light to shine around stuff we aren't looking at ?

Look at the big screen, stupid !

Key feedback I often give to students preparing for presentations is to ensure that their slides work effectively on the big screen. Like zebra patterns, what you see up close may be hard to make out from a distance. 

Using three or less font styles, maximum 16 words and leaning on the old cliche "a picture paints a thousand words" offers an engaging graphic story that compliments rather than replaces the human presentation. 

How often have you skim read wordy slides in a thrice & then been rather bored as the speaker labours painstakingly through each and every point, when your enthusiasm to listen and engage has already dissipated. Better surely to titivate the audience and cover off any missing items by answering follow on questions ?


P.S. For the record, all my teaching presentations this year (well, nearly all of them) have a black background and use a white font. 

P.P.S. What a quaint idea (post script) from the time when everyone spoke latin, as clearly I am unable to go and revise what I have just written ? - just like the expression of "inking in" a meeting into the diary ! 

The prize for tenacious bloodsucking readers

The answer to the curious question as to why to zebra have stripes ?  Current (from 2014) science thinking suggests that stripes can help deter bloodsucking flies, read the full paper on Zebra stripes here: Caro T et al (2014) The function of zebra stripes. Nature Communications. Published 1 April 2014. doi:10.1038/ncomms4535

Sunday, 14 September 2014

BBC covers Royal Holloway's Polar Bear picture

Recently news arrived that Franklin's ship wreck has been located, whoopee ! With no interesting pictures as yet, I assume, journalistic creativity picked up on Royal Holoway's archivist Laura MacCulloch telling in a lovely human interest story that is one of my favourite college traditions.   

The photo above is one of the more notable images that forms a unique Victorian gallery collection housed in the Founders building, where my office is located. (BBC story link below) My Canadian, arts marketing expert colleague Dr Derrick Chong would usually point out the Canadian flag that is being savaged by the left hand bear, symbolic red of human flesh perhaps ? 

The tradition is, that the Franklin Polar bear picture is covered up in May during exam fest, so as not to add additional stress to students taking their final exams. Interesting to note that the hair fashion hasn't changed that much since this black and white photo !

Is the anthropomorphism of vicious polar bears by brands such as Coca Cola appropriate ?
Following media coverage of a pupil on a school adventure to the neo-artic who was killed by a polar bear, I am finding the popular advertising depiction of these impressive beasts as cute and cuddly rather incongruous. In case you are faced by an approaching, hungry polar bear - stand PERFECTLY still - its food tends to run away.

Royal Holloway Picture Gallery in Downton Abbey filming

Oh Yes ! I hear you say - is it the same picture gallery that featured in last years hit ITV Downton Abbey Christmas special as a museum set. Monster super troopers ('big lights' & the inspiration for the Abba hit of the same name) shone down creating an unreal, bright and light feeling that seemed to make it all sparkle. 

With a nearly priceless collection hanging on the walls you might assume that the picture gallery operates as a closely guarded museum. It isn't at all - in fact it has a very central space in College life, that sees it used for exams, graduation, meetings, events, formal dinners and weddings. No dancing or stilettos though !

The history and tradition of the Royal Holloway space is one of the great things about working here - yet in many ways we are a very dynamic, modern university, as evidenced by the ultra modern green sailed facade of the School of Management's Moore building. A bit like Coke's polar bears ?

Royal Holloway School of Management Moore Building

Monday, 8 September 2014

Studying and living with the English

Friday I had a lovely afternoon chat with Chen Mei, MBA candidate for 2014/15 who has been brushing up on her English LINK whilst attending the Royal Holloway pre-sessional and hails from Taiwan.  She was very interested in learning more about UK culture and thus this post is aimed at reflecting on English culture, beyond the stereo types (e.g. fish and chips, London fog) and into some of the harder to access tacit knowledge.  

Chen Mei had read that our number one choice of food is Chinese, I thought it was Indian, with curry being our adopted national dish, thanks to our historic imperial connections with South Asia.  US centric National Geographic LINK suggests roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, which I guess is iconic and a must try experience (you will find sunday roast on the lunch time menus of many pubs and restaurants), whilst suggesting burgers for USA and ignoring the world's most populous country altogether.  

About Food LINK reinforces my view that England's favourite dish has moved away from historically more popular roast beef and fish and chips to embrace Chicken Tikka Masala.  I flagged the fabulous experience of a Sunday lunch visit to Southall in west London to experience India town's (variant of the expression China town ?) excellent and good value for money cuisine.  Our Jain students, who find their religion based vegetarian diet hard to follow in and around Egham, rave about visiting one of the Jain restaurants in Southall.  LINK  

My favourite food is Thai, which is becoming increasingly popular, although recent blog post LINK tells the story of how I can't return to one particular venue in my home village in Sussex.  Pritsana, Royal Holloway MBA 2013/14, was very popular for sharing the outputs of her own excellent Thai cooking, regularly in demand to offer catering for the MBA group social gatherings.  LINK

Our conversation moved on to media and by engaging in culturally grounded popular television can help enormously, not only with language fluency, but also in picking up regional accents (I'm finking (sic) EastEnders (cockney) and Coronation Street (Mancunian) ) and bringing a wider cultural and sub-cultural understanding.  These soap operas (so called because in originating in the 1950's the US popular commercial TV format was often funded by cleaning product advertising spend) are short, content light and easy to follow without necessarily understanding every word, thanks to some bluntly telegraphed visual story telling.  My personal favourite shows include:

(1)  The Great British Bake Off and use imagery to help explain the interactions of the marketing mix in one of my lectures, rivalled only by must see Downton Abbey. 

(2) X Factor for the carefully orchestrated and highly dramatic story telling that is woven into the post production edits, whilst my wife really enjoys BBC1's high kitsch celebrity dance off Strictly Dancing.  

(3) The rest of my family support Manchester City football (my team is Southampton) and we all support Northampton Saints rugby, so we pay a fat Sky premium for live sports channels to catch some of these games. 

(4) Strangely whilst cooking Sunday dinner I enjoy dipping into Countryfile and Antiques Road Show, and finally 

(5)  two US formulaic shows - Glee and Hawaii-5-0.  This LINK flags a number of cult and edgy shows - my latest discovery Cuckoo (BBC3) is missing - but it includes slightly nuts detective Luther, played by Hollywood A lister Idris Elba which I have on DVD and Spooks, a fast moving spy show draws on MI5 as its creative foundation.  

Being a busy hands on dad and hard working academic, I don't find much time for television these days.  

My eldest son doesn't watch TV, like many students who fail to understand the need to purchase a television licence when there is lots of free content on the web using sites such as Vimeo and YouTube.  I also note that most students rarely watch television, perhaps going to a pub to catch a football game, which is at variance to my own student experience.  Our flat (67 Redfern) had a small, CRT colour TV thanks to Randy Mandy, who came from a more affluent background than the rest of us, and we all used to watch the Australian soap Neighbours together (that provided a global platform for the careers of Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue), which was a strangely cultish thing to do.  Day time TV has developed massively since the late 80's (check out the Jeremy Kyle show), but having been gainfully employed since uni I don't ever get the chance to follow these shows any more.  

The Guardian I have just discovered has a section devoted to TV ratings LINK that makes stories out of the BARB ratings, the market research organisation that tracks actual viewing behaviour in sample households to generate statistically significant national figures.  Relevant and helpful for students interested in learning how to write journalistic stories from fairly dull and predictable data.  Currently the BARB top 5 highlights Bake off, Doctor Who, EastEnders, Coronation Street and New Tricks, but I can only assume that X Factor had not started for that last week in August.  They also offer the top ten show viewing figures by channel LINK which makes for some interesting reading. Come Dine with me is very low brow television that I scorned, but then found strangely addictive.  

Enjoy catching some of these if you are new to UK culture.  

btw - if you live outside UK and are keen on benefitting from UK media output on your computer - subscribing to a UK VPN provider will give you the UK IP address you need to gain access to this content.  

My super colleague in admissions emailed her top show list which includes the following:  The Big Bang Theory (beauty and nerd story), Jerry Springer show (for a laugh) and sometimes some documentaries on Channel 4 ( the weird ones, like My online bride)