Making It In Today’s Post Catastrophic World

March 12, 2010

Presentation Summary

At this event with students from the University of St Andrews in Edinburgh, Kevin Roberts shares with young people, ideas on chasing their dreams and living a fulfilling life. The speech covers the importance of thinking with the heart, living for ideas and heading to the radically-optimistic edge.


It’s a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

St Andrews was made for times like these, and I never met a Scot who stepped back from a challenge.

Most of you are young in body, others like me are young at heart, all of you want to live a fulfilling life – a life lived on your terms, not the system’s terms.

When I was at school I knew two things:

  • I would be a millionaire before I was 30.
  • I would never miss a significant game of rugby football if I could help it.

They kicked me out of school when I was 17 but both things turned out to be true. Here are seven ideas to help you live your Big Life.

Idea #1 – Dare to Dream

It all starts with a Dream. Dreams are about reaching for the stars, not counting them. Martin Luther King did not say “I have a vision statement”.

Nor have great past Scots like James Watt (steam engine), Alexander Bell (telephone), John Baird (TV), not to mention Susan Boyle, Andy Murray and Kenny Dalglish!!

The Internet has smashed the barriers of entry and you’re all invited to the party. If Lady Gaga can reinvent the music industry, what can’t you do?

Dreams chase passions. Don’t get sucked into following the herd, your peers, the norm or other people’s expectations – or worst of all, your parents!

Dreams are excessive so be excessive. Never moderate. As if I have to tell the Scots!!

Winners have attitude.


  1. What’s my 5 year dream?
  2. When am I at my best?
  3. What will I never do?

Idea #2 – Think with Your Heart. 

People are 20% rational and 80% emotional. The biggest decisions ahead of you – husband, wife house, car – will not be calculations. They will be thunderbolts in your heart. And your wallet!!!

Emotion separates magic from mediocrity. Without emotion, rational thought slows – and disintegrates.

This new economy is about emotion travelling through screens, about a movement not a market, about return on involvement not a return on investment.

Neurologist Donald Calne tells us why emotion matters: “Reason leads to conclusions, emotion leads to action.”

In a VUCA vortex it’s: Fail Fast, Learn Fast, Fix Fast.

Idea #3 – Live for Ideas

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the common place, the slaves of the ordinary.” – Cecil Beaton

At Saatchi & Saatchi we believe in the unreasonable power of creativity. The average age is 27, with 20% turnover per year so a new company every 5 years – and every year there’s lots of openings and opportunities for talented dreamers.

Ideas are the currency of the future, ideas from people who are restless, passionate and competitive.

Ideas that are fun.

St Andrews is strong on research, and the world needs your insights more than ever to unleash creativity.

The move is from:

  • Information – Knowledge – Insight – Foresight
  • Information – Knowledge – REVELATIONS – Foresight

Here are some revelations.

Idea #4 – Head to the Edge

An idea is only an idea once, and it usually comes from the Edge, where all the radical stuff starts.

  1. Edge is biological, cultural, geographical, attitudinal. Change happens at edge of the species, near the coasts, down in the basements, on a student’s shoestring.
  2. Edge is the places like New Zealand that split the atom and spliced the bungy, like Scotland that through TV, telephone, telegraph and countless ideas practically invented the world.
  3. Edge is the crazy ones who bend straight lines, look over horizons and roar at the impossible. It’s Nobel prize-winning New Zealand chemist Alan MacDiarmid who worked at St Andrews.
  4. Edge is about And / And, not Either / Or, leaping into unknown paradox. It’s St Andrews rugby club birthing running-and-passing rugby.

Don’t get sucked into the centre, work out on the extreme creative and radically-optimistic edge. Use unorthodoxy to get a direct line of sight to the future.

Idea #5 – Look for Four Things

I urge you to be optimistic and to look for roles that offer these four things:

  • Responsibility
  • Learning
  • Recognition
  • Joy

Idea #6 – Be Inspirational Players

Winning in the future is not just about management and doing things right. It’s not just about leadership and doing the right thing. It demands Inspiration: unleashing everyone in an organisation to be the best they can be.

  • Inspiration unleashes potential.
  • Inspiration is emotional.
  • Inspiration is contagious.
  • Inspiration is active. It delivers real results.

Idea #7 – Make it True Blue

Jack Welch says the role of business is to create shareholder wealth. Peter Drucker says it’s to create and maintain a customer. Both right. But incomplete.

I believe the role of business is to make the world a better place for everyone. By creating wealth, prosperity, jobs, choices.

Sustainability is the next big imperative, the next big opportunity, the next great movement, but what is it?

The answer is simple. It’s what you make it, because my generation screwed the world up!!!

The next shift is from GREEN to BLUE. Green is just about the environment. TRUE BLUE fuses economic, social, cultural and environmental sustainability. It works ground up, not just top down.

  • Green demands: “What’s to be done?” Blue asks: “What can I do?”
  • Green is about Limits. Blue is about Possibilities.
  • Green is about obligations. Blue is about opportunity.
  • Green is about the Planet. Blue is about the People who live on it. It’s about you, about how you, in your way, can make a difference.

Like water wearing away a mountain one drip at a time, there are few problems that can’t be solved if enough people commit themselves.

Saatchi & Saatchi calls what each person can do, DOT, do one thing. Then DAT, do another… and so on.

To recap:

  1. Dare to Dream.
  2. Think with Your Heart.
  3. Live for Ideas.
  4. Head to the Edge.
  5. Get Responsibility, Learning, Recognition and Joy.
  6. Be an Inspirational Player.
  7. Make it True Blue, because none of us is as strong as all of us.

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