World Business Forum – Milan

November 5, 2013

Presentation Summary

Kevin Roberts delivers the keynote presentation at the World Business Forum (WOBI) in Milan. During his presentation, Kevin talked about the future of business, inspirational leadership, and creating a relationship with customers that makes them Loyal Beyond Reason.


I’m going to talk about the future of business, which raises an obvious question: what is business for?

Some say we live in a VUCA world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous.

But I say we live in a SuperVUCA world. A world that is: Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy, and Astounding.

To superVUCA the world, business must keep up with the world, but the modus operandi of business has been overtaken, left in the dust by empowered consumers.

‘Strategize, produce, distribute, manage and market’ – this plodding approach is from the era of ‘New’. It is… dead.
We live in the always-on, impulse-led, instant Age of NOW.

Here are the Age of Now switches for business:










Story sharing

Always on

Always Compelling

Return on Investment

Return on Involvement

Pumping Markets

Creating Movements

In the Age of Now, execution is the killer app.

A D E:                From                To

Assess                50%                20%
Decide                30%                10%
Execute               20%                70%

“Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” Vince Lombardi

To win today, you need ICI:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Creativity
  3. Irresistibility

Super Drive 1: INSPIRATION

Great countries, great businesses, great brands, great anything… they start with a dream – they are Purpose-inspired. They pulse with Spirit.

Martin Luther King did not say I have a Mission Statement!!

We are inspired most when we are together.

Fixing Italy’s plumbing is critical – public debt, high taxes, red tape, skills deficits…. the rest. But we have to lift this house clear off its sinking foundations, and luckily this is about more than engineering, processing, and a corroded public system.

It’s about chemistry, it’s about alchemy. It’s IQ + EQ + TQ

Italy has to up all 3 quotients, and fuse them in unique ways. Be sharper, be crazier, and be more connected.

Business must lead. It’s about pooling national strengths, finding new edges, sharing ideas across industries, going to market as a nation, turning fatalism into radical optimism – because in the crunch, none of us is as strong as all of us.

This demands a dream because a dream provides a unifying agenda; and because a dream expands the horizon of business possibilities to create the future.

New Zealand’s dream is to win the world from the Edge.

What is Italy’s?

For its €2 trillion public debt to go missing? 

For Apple to bankroll Alitalia?

For Mario Balotelli’s head to cool?

None likely, so what is the real dream of Italy? To me it is:

To become the most loved nation in Europe by igniting and unleashing Italian ingenuity, creativity and passion.

What is your company’s dream?

This was Apple’s: Think Different.

This is the All Black’s dream.

Winning in VUCA starts with being an Inspirational Leader. It’s about inspiring others to join your dream. First with:

  • Responsibility
  • Learning
  • Recognition
  • Joy

Here are the 10 keys to developing Inspirational Leadership.

1. Inspirational Leaders Change the Language

Revolution begins with language; leaders invent their own language, a system of meaning, a vocabulary that binds everyone.

Through storytelling, they create a sense of purpose and intention; storytelling helps leaders connect people’s personal meaning to a shared vision of the future.

All Black’s language: Champions do extra, Bleed for the jersey, Be a great All Black, No opposition is more intimidating than the legacy

Apple language: Stay hungry. Stay foolish; Why join the navy when you can be a pirate?; Insanely great; Think different; Click. Boom. Amazing!

‘Perpetual Optimism Is A Force Multiplier.’ Colin Powell

2. Inspirational Leaders are radical optimists

Conceive, believe. Achieve. Visualize to actualize. Fake it till you make it. “To be the best rugby team there has ever been.”

3. Inspirational Leaders are self-aware

“Only by knowing yourself can you become an effective leader” – Vince Lombardi

“You can’t pile togerther enough good people to make a great one” – Bob Taylor, Leader of the Great Group at PARC

4. Inspirational Leaders love and back talent

They put the right person in the right job – and remove Dickheads.

Better people make better All Blacks (BJ Lochore). It’s better to have a thousand enemies outside the tent than one inside the tent.

5. Inspirational Leaders are teachers.

The #1 job of a leader is to create new leaders. Create a learning environment that develops individuals in tailored, self-managed program of self-improvement. Responsibility devolves.

6. Inspirational Leaders train to win.

Preparation under pressure. Made battle ready with randomized problem-solving techniques, active questioning and high intensity training. If there’s no enemy, make one up.

7. Inspirational Leaders go for the gap.

When they’re on top of their game, they change it.

Russian General Alexander Suvorov: speed, assessment, and hitting power:

  • Bystrota – Playing a fast game
  • Glazometer – Making quick decisions that disorient the opposition
  • Natisk – Acting aggressively

A fast game is a good game.

8. Inspirational Leaders control their attention.

A Red Head is H.O.T (heated, overwhelmed, tense). A Blue Head remains on task, in the zone, in control, in flow.

Fire in the belly, ice in the mind.

9. Inspirational Leaders have ‘mana’.

Authority, status, personal power, bearing and charisma. Great personal prestige and character. The group leader must be worthy.

10. Inspirational Leaders live One Team; One Dream

They create unifying, challenging, demanding, loving cultures.

Super Drive 2 – CREATIVITY

In business, reengineering, restructuring and re-everything have exhausted people and only add incremental growth.

We live in the Age of the Idea. Ideas deliver exponential growth. Ideas are the currency of the future.

This part of Europe is naturally creative– so it has an inside track in the race to the future. The winners of that race will be more than creative. They will be Creative Leaders, and Creative Leadership is the future of all leadership.

Here are few ideas on how to be a Creative Leader that work at all levels – country to organization to individual.

Creative Leaders have lots of small ideas, continuously

Some work.

Creative Leaders reframe constantly

Start with language:

  • CEO as “Chief Excitement Officer”
  • CIO as “Chief Ideas Officer”
  • CMO as “Chief Magic Officer”

Then interrogate your core:

  1. Steve Jobs set a standard with presence into absence.
  2. Howard Schultz: “We’ll do for tea what we’ve done for coffee.” ‘Teavana’ is in the $90B global tea market.
  3. Shimon Peres told me ‘Everything that once was controversial ultimately becomes popular.’ Recast the mold, destabilize!
  • The spaghetti western – from deplored to revered. Hats off to Sergio Leone.
  • The ‘Man Purse’ – now a $9B luxury business.

But there are limits!

To be a Creative Leader, Surprise With the Obvious

  • Etihad Airways has a Flying Nanny scheme- happy kids at 30 000 feet! 
  • Affinia Hotels is enabling New York customers to order fresh grocery delivery direct to room. Stay healthy + save money + have fun. 
  • Russian ‘Space Pen’. 

To be a Creative Leader, ask 3 questions of any idea:

  • Will people want to see it again?
  • Will people want to share it?
  • Will people want to recreate it?

The challenge is to be bigger than a brand, a Lovemark.

  • Brands are owned by brand managers, accountants and stockholders. Lovemarks are owned by the people who love them.
  •  Brands are built on Respect. Lovemarks are created out of Respect and Love.

Love Respect Axis Lovemarks

  • Low Respect. Low Love. Commodities
  • High Love. Low Respect. Fads
  • High Respect. Low Love. Brand land.
  • High Love High Respect. Lovemarks
  • Great brands were irreplaceable. Lovemarks are irresistible.
  • Brands build Loyalty for a Reason. Lovemarks inspire Loyalty Beyond Reason
  • Brands deliver performance, reputation and trust. Lovemarks add three secrets:

1. MYSTERY is inspirations, dreams, icons, myths and stories, past / present / future together…It’s what we don’t know that has most value…

Danish futurist Rolf Jensen said the highest-paid person this century will be the story-teller.

What’s your story? The inside scoop? The unfolding narrative…. The thread that runs right through everything?

2. SENSUALITY is Sight, Sound, Scent, Touch and Taste, the enthrallers of emotions.

Consumers operate on all five senses, most brands don’t. Lovemarks evoke responses across all the senses.

Italy rules here, and should turn this up even more.

3. INTIMACY is empathy, commitment and passion.

  • The Ritz-Carlton: “Please stay with us” to “Let us stay with you.” Re-established itself as “First Choice Preference” in luxury hotel category (Ritz brand tracking study)

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