Tag "meetings"

2017 is my year of the idea. Having researched and written endlessly and passionately about decision making and meetings for the last six years, I am now going to be concentrating on the rocket fuel for both Smart Decision Making and the Mote Meeting System – powerful ideas.
I am fascinated by how we come up with ideas, how we share them by thinking together, how we develop them, and how we use them to achieve the outcomes and successes that business continually challenges us to achieve. It’s a big subject!

I am also fascinated by the other side of the coin – the times when we should have had a great idea, but didn’t. Also interested in the times we had the germ of a great idea, but didn’t succeed in selling it or exploiting it. That is why I have asked you the question in the headline. Can you think of occasions when your business or personal life might have been transformed if only you’d had a killer idea or successfully pitched it? What went wrong? Was it your fault – or someone else’s? Was there anything more – or different – that you could have done?

If love is what makes the world go round, ideas are truly what enable us to understand it and change it. We live in a world of big money, big numbers and big data. Yet individuals – even very powerful ones – can’t have much influence over the money, the numbers and the data.

How very different with ideas! We can’t solve problems (or even understand them) without ideas. We cannot appreciate opportunities, let alone realise them, without ideas. We need ideas to take to meetings. In the meetings we have to contribute to the refinement and finessing of ideas. When we are part of a decision making team we must treat ideas as the raw material for solutions, outcomes and transformations.

There is an urban myth that only some of us are capable of coming up with any ideas, let alone great, game-changing ones. I have been extensively researching and trawling for insights among academics, business gurus, philosophers and psychologists. I believe strongly that we all can be idea generators, idea sharers, idea developers, and idea communicators. We just have to have confidence, and take some tips on board – the most important of which is that thinking together in a team is just as valuable a skill as dreaming up original ideas in the bath.

A lifetime in advertising has given me a deep respect for ideas, without which marketers can’t make their brands successful and competitive. But admen use the idea word both for ingredients (the ‘big idea’ in a pitch) and the finished dish. There is usually a lot of hard work in between the eureka moment and the awards ceremony. To become a true idea-meister we need put the same priority on the plated dish as on the promising ingredient. We also need to have as much respect for your idea and their idea as ‘my idea’.

And there is invaluable learning for us all from the missed opportunities, the botched decisions and the ideas we never had.
This is David’s Marketing Society blog for January 2017. Read more at

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  1. Five months on, can you think of a single advantage in Brexit?
  2. Do you have any warm feelings towards Teresa May’s Government? Or for that matter towards any grouping in the House of Commons?
  3. How could America have elected Trump?
  4. Have any of the big Christmas ads knocked your socks off?
  5. Are you going to put up with yet another year of spending half your working life in conference rooms?

Sadly it is beyond the power of the British and American people to reverse the Brexit and Trump votes. That’s democracy for you. All that foreplay. All that climactic excitement. And the next morning it’s all sadness and regret. The people who voted ‘out’ and for the Donald have to live with the consequences of what they have done. Unfortunately, so has everyone else

Is it really surprising that we have all fallen out of love with politics and politicians? At least with brands and football teams you have some idea of what to expect. But what are we to make of a Conservative Party that suddenly seems to be against all the things it used to be in favour of? A Labour Party that is deliberately making itself unelectable? Lib Dems who have collapsed from Coalition to the fringes? UKIP winning one seat with nearly 4m votes, while the SNP got 56 with less than 1.5m?

I’ll also be honest and admit that I am allergic to the synthetic association between celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and the giants of the High Street and Shopping Malls. Who knows? You may sympathise with my views.

But if it’s meeting madness and ennui that bugs you, I am your man – and there is something we can all do about it. For a couple of years I have been banging on about MOTE: The Super Meeting. Conventional business meetings are a waste of time and money. People know it and want something better.

Either persuade your company to try out Mote, and enjoy fewer, leaner, better prepared, more productive meetings. You and your colleagues will have a far better life/work balance, get your real work done in the working day, and amaze partners and family.
Or become a Motivator – a one person ambassador for the Spirit of Mote.

  1. Remind everyone that unproductive meetings cost a fortune
  2. And eat into both work and leisure time
  3. Decline any meetings that won’t achieve anything
  4. Refuse to participate in back to backs
  5. Encourage meeting organisers to strictly ration the number of people attending. You only want contributors
  6. Prepare incredibly thoroughly for any meetings you accept
  7. Be a star and a delight at every meeting
  8. Think ‘team’
  9. Motivate everyone ‎to do the same
  10. Towards the end of the meeting insist that everyone agrees ‎what has been achieved, and what needs to be done next time.

This is David’s Marketing Society blog for December. Read more at

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David Wethey’s Twitter account playfully proclaims him a ‘survivor’ from the Mad Men era of advertising, but David’s much more than that. With over 50 years experience, including running his own advertising agency, he’s seen it change beyond recognition. He’s even helped shape it himself through his innovative approach with Agency Assessments, a spur-of-the-moment business that’s lasted 28 years.

David’s reflections on a life in the industry also yielded two published books, DECIDE: Betters Ways of Making Decisions (2013) and MOTE: The Super Meeting (2015). He now divides his time between speaking on those subjects and working at Agency Assessments. Luckily for us, he’s also found time to share some of his experience with Regus Re:think.

Was there a moment where Agency Assessments clicked?

I hadn’t written the defining business plan. It wasn’t a grand scheme. It was a client ringing me up, and his need to completely rework his marketing organisation – which wasn’t fit for purpose. Then, coincidentally, another friend rang up and said they wanted to buy a PR agency. When I asked why he didn’t rent one like everybody else he said, “because I’ve invented something”. That was Interbrand and they’d just invented brand valuation. So I found myself working for two clients, not as a direct agency but as a kind of consultant/recommender intermediary.

Nobody had done what I was doing, which was to build a consulting service entirely supported by clients. Everybody else represented agencies. To me the only sort of consulting that made any sense was to do do it direct for clients so you could be completely objective about which agency you recommend, and be completely allied with the clients.

Tell us about a lesson you learned the hard way

I’ve always been exceptionally enthusiastic about new things. New clients, new projects and of course Agency Assessments is definitively a project business so I’m constantly looking for new opportunities. I was never as good as I should have been at keeping up with the last lot, I was always really keen to get the next lot. Unless you’ve got a big infrastructure, you waste opportunities for contacts that way, I did it myself.

You also need to not just satisfy the clients, but learn something you can use to become a bit of a thought leader. I’ve really promoted the business over the years from articles and platforms, workshops and seminars, and learning and coming up with the bigger picture.

How important is it to occasionally step back and reassess?

Completely. I hadn’t realised it until I came to write the first of my books. If you’ve sat in what used to be smoke-filled rooms, although now they’ve been sanitised there’s still a lot of hot air in them, deciding which agency you’re going with, the whole science and psychology of how people and companies make decisions is fascinating. But I think in those processes I realised there were bigger lessons on decision-making, and the key thing in DECIDE was that I stepped back and interviewed 25 great deciders and learned an enormous amount from that. We’re taught to be iterative and logical, but gut feel is also incredibly important in everything we do.

Was there a moment when you looked around in a meeting and thought ‘this isn’t working’?

There were lots of them, but because of the Agency Assessments role it was the other way around. Every meeting I’ve organised for 28 years I’ve known what the objective was, who should be there, how long it should take. I had a clear expectation of what the outcome should be, and if the client was involved I would share that with them.

There was real contrast with other meetings where there hadn’t been any kind of preparation. Where it was managed badly and where they just ended without any real conclusion and people shuffled off to the next meeting. I think it’s because I knew what a good meeting was like that I could recognise what a bad meeting was. That’s why I felt like there had to be a constructive book about meetings.

What’s the biggest challenge to businesses today?

I think the biggest problem we have to deal with is the confusion between short, medium and long term. And the real challenge is maximising the possibility of keeping the long term goal in view. Financial reporting coming down to two months or one month has taken a lot leaders’ eyes off long term goals. For me, leaders need to have people guarding the gates, making sure short term things are being done. The moment leaders take their eye off the medium and even long term, organisations fall apart.

What are your tips for staying at the top?

Never stop learning. One of the depressing things about experienced people is how often the experience is just an aggregation of doing the same thing the same way, rather than being a considered and dedicated learner. In your 70s, I think a great deal of young people think you’re running on empty, a throwback to the old days, but I think most of the people who’ve stayed at the top, managed to succeed, are incredibly open to new ideas.

David works in our office at 100 Pall Mall, London. His books DECIDE and MOTE are both available to buy online, and you can find out more about the work of Agency Assessments through their official website.

This interview is from the Regus Re:think magazine and can be found online here

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We know all about presentations in marketing and advertising. Even if we aren’t too hot at French, and haven’t learned to code, we are all pretty fluent in PowerPoint. Yes, I know everyone says they hate PowerPoint, but we use it all the time, and how else can you do credentials or show the new strategy?
At AAI I have nearly 28 years’ experience of watching agencies present their credentials and pitch for new business. What insights and understanding has it given me? The main problem, as I see it, is that agencies (and it’s true of virtually everyone who presents to sell in business) only tend to concentrate on one aspect of the presentation – the input bit. All efforts are directed at the impactful opening, assembling the meat in the middle, crafting the segues, and finishing on a high note. So what is there to go wrong?
Even if the whole 58 MB has been meticulously prepared and punctuated with standout video and motion graphics, it is sadly not want you put into the presentation that matters. It’s what the audience takes out of it. This is another of those input/output/outcome challenges – like advertising or mass entertainment. We can say something telling, and say it brilliantly, but the success (or otherwise) of the presentation depends squarely on the guys across the table.
It’s like food. You can chuck in all the fancy ingredients, and follow the preparation and cooking instructions to the letter, but either the dish has appetite appeal, or it doesn’t. And the chef is not the final arbiter of that. The customer is.
At Harvard University these days, the hottest ticket is Michael Puett, Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. How so? His lectures are sold out, and attended by students of many other disciplines, because Puett is spreading the teachings of Confucius and other Chinese philosophers from 2500 years ago about how even our smallest gestures and habits can mould our destiny, and influence others. Better still, he shows his students how they can change their behaviours (facial expressions, mannerisms, actions and words) to be more likable and therefore more successful. He advocates trying new things and new ways, as opposed to the traditional advice to ‘stick with what you’re good at’. He’s a big enthusiast for smiling, and not defaulting to looking serious or severe. He urges people to be far more self aware about those of our habits, expressions, and phrases that irritate or grate on even our nearest and dearest. In the West, we are taught to be clever, skilled, and full of rationality and knowledge. Puett promises to change his students’ lives by persuading them to concentrate instead on what they might think are the secondary and trivial signals they send.
Take these insights from distant millennia into the world of pitch and present, and what is the learning? For a start it gives new ammunition to the emotional intelligence movement. Beldoch and Goleman and their followers have been criticised by some of their fellow psychologists, but the early Chinese behavioural gurus provide convincing evidence for EI and EQ.
More specifically Puett’s teaching suggests that just as we know the importance of personality profiling (our own, our colleagues and those we seek to influence or sell to), we should also submit to merciless appraisal of how we come across in action. Pitch doctors need to get up close and personal. Team mates should agree to be both frank and less sensitive with each other. Winning behaviour needs to be encouraged. Annoying habits have to be acknowledged and, if possible, cured.
It’s not just what the audience feel about the presentation. It’s very much about what they feel about the team and individuals who are delivering it. We’ve always known about chemistry and gut feel. Professor Puett is telling us why we should take them very seriously indeed.

This is David Wethey’s May blog for the Marketing Society. To see more go to

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When Oscar Wilde coined this saying, he might have had business meetings in mind. Haven’t we all suffered in conference rooms at the hands of people who try to dominate, to interrupt, and to be generally contrary and uncooperative? We also know too many meeting participants who are, well, miserable….
In these circumstances it is only natural to celebrate quietly when they have to make a premature departure!
Happiness is one of those words we don’t readily associate with business. But that is almost certainly a mistake. There was an interesting study published last year by economists at the University of Warwick, and recently publicised by Damian Symons of the M&C Saatchi Group agency Clear at the Saatchi Institute event at the London Business School on 24th November. Symons reported that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. As the research team put it, ‘we find that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.’
Nor is it really about money. Financial incentives aren’t enough to make for highly productive employees. Professor Andrew Oswald, one of three researchers who led the study, said companies that invest in employee support and satisfaction tend to succeed in generating happier workers. At Google, employee satisfaction rose 37% as a result of those initiatives—suggesting that financial incentives aren’t enough to make for highly productive employees.
Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, has found that the brain works much better when a person is feeling positive. At those times, individuals tend to be more creative and better at solving problems. And additional research has shown that when workers are happy they’re more effective collaborators working toward common goals.
Clear referenced another study – this time a paper published by the American Psychological Society in 1985, in which three researchers at the University of Maryland (Isen, Daubman and Nowicki) demonstrated through four linked experiments that happiness stimulates creativity. As the paper concludes, ‘the impact of positive affect on creative problem solving is that good feelings increase the tendency to combine material in new ways and to see relatedness between divergent stimuli. We hypothesize that this occurs because the large amount of cognitive material cued by the positive affective state results in defocused attention, and the more complex cognitive context thus experienced by persons who are feeling happy allows them a greater number and range of interpretations’.
In other words happy people are likely to out-perform people who are miserable in a challenging area like creative problem solving.
When I introduced my ‘Mote’ system for improved meeting culture in organisations I wasn’t aware of these studies. But I was very influenced by Tony Crabbe (who wrote Busy), and Roman Krznaric (the author of Empathy). Crabbe is passionate about the need to liberate successful business people from being ‘crazy-busy’, and feeling that at all times they must tell everyone how busy they are. Drastically reducing the amount of time they spend in largely unproductive meetings, will make these high-flyers not only far more effective, but also happier and better partners, parents and friends. Krznaric’s book is a plea to us all to try and feel how it would be to be in the other guy’s shoes. In his view, not only enlightenment, but also happiness, stems from not being dismissive, prejudiced and arrogant.
My own experience of a business lifetime spent in conference rooms was quite sufficient to be able to identify the negative and corrosive behaviours that make everyone, including the perpetrators, feel unhappy.
All of us have grown up in a business world built on the left brain pillars of efficiency, productivity and power. It is refreshing – to me at least – to realise that right brain values like happiness and consideration can prove just as potent.
This is David’s December blog for the Marketing Society.
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Bright people love meeting other clever people. It’s one of the main reasons university is such fun. A great dinner party, a good lunch, even a drink after work with an old friend can have the same effect. Dialogue between two or more intelligent men and women generally produces interesting ideas, exciting opportunities, and if there’s a need, answers to problems.

But did I say ‘or more’? How many more? How many clever people do we want in any one room before more becomes less, there is a fight to be heard, and the meeting becomes counter-productive?

Having studied the meeting phenomenon, and what can go wrong when there are too many people around the table, I would recommend starting with two, adding maybe one or two more, and stopping there – at least for the first session of what may turn into a series of several. Meetings are the way we have settled on working together. Meetings are not basically for talking, or listening, or even debating. The purpose of strategic and dynamic meetings is to get things done – to make a decision, to turbo-charge a project, to solve a big problem, or realise a juicy opportunity.

What is the key dynamic in a dynamic meeting? Working together – yes. But even more important, thinking together. I believe it is by thinking together that we maximise mutual brainpower. When we talk enthusiastically about two heads being better than one, thinking together is what we are talking about. Encouraging children to think together is one of the pillars of the education system, and yet we easily forget how powerful this joint activity can be, and lapse instead into wall to wall words. The lust for communicating in public has a lot to answer for.

The next time you call an important meeting – one where a goal has to be achieved, and a result is imperative – let me suggest this approach.

‘Can you, Rachel and I find time to meet this week. Ideally for 90 minutes, but an hour might do it. The Pure Ptarmigan campaign clearly isn’t working. I know it won us the pitch, and the Link results were extraordinary. But no one is buying the stuff, and it seems to be a disaster in the on-trade. ‘Pure Ptarmigan’ is a useless bar call, because the bloody bird starts with a ‘T’, not a ‘P’. Far from quaking on its moor, Famous Grouse is laughing at us. We need to get together and think together about what we should do. I absolutely don’t want to fill a conference room with a dozen people who will tell us they knew it wouldn’t work, although they said nothing at the time. Nor will we learn anything from a couple more focus groups and a bit of quant. It will just confirm it isn’t working – and that we already know. Please just bring your brains. We will huddle. We will share our thoughts. We will think our way through this’.

This is David’s June blog entry for the Marketing Society.

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Quite a lot, actually. Ever since I let slip that I have been writing a book about a better way – a radically better way – to do meetings, reactions have varied from what I can best describe as supportive excitement (‘Oh, please yes. I’ll definitely buy a copy’) to jaded scepticism (‘There’s nothing anyone can do’).

Here are ten reasons why I believe that meetings are simultaneously the most dysfunctional item in the calendar, and the business activity most capable of being done in an infinitely superior way.

The five biggest problems first:

  1. It is estimated that wasted time in meetings costs around £50bn every year in these islands alone. That’s more than the defence budget. It’s a scandal, and a really good reason to take the issue seriously. That time does not have to be wasted.
  2. Organisations, companies, businesses allow their best people to spend at least 50% of their time in meetings, instead of doing proper work. How can I put this really simply? This need not happen, because many meetings are bound to be unproductive, and most of them are attended by far too many people.
  3. But it’s not just the organisations at fault. Many of the problems in meetings stem from bad etiquette and inconsiderate behaviour. This behaviour can and should be improved.
  4. The bigger the meeting, generally speaking the worse the behaviour? Why? Elementary psychology (and maths) tell us that the more people in the room, the less the opportunity for individuals to speak and contribute. Result: frustration, aggression, selfishness and the rest.
  5. Why don’t we arrange a meeting and invite all the stakeholders? Wrong! This is a very common mistake. If you are looking to manage change, or make a big decision, or drive a vital project, the last thing you want is all the stakeholders. They (or at least some of them) are the very people who will resist change, slow down the decision-making process, and hamstring the project. Don’t confuse efficiency and democracy. Getting things done necessitates keeping people informed, but you don’t have to do the two things simultaneously!

Now for the five steps to solve the meeting crisis – or at least the one with strategic and dynamic meetings, that solve problems, create opportunities, and drive innovation and growth:

  1. Accept that strategic meetings are like buses, stores in a Mall, or security guards. You need several to get the job done. Managing change, making decisions, and leading a successful project will require a series of meetings, not just one.
  2. Organise and orchestrate these meetings, like you would an event, or a team performance in say sport or entertainment. Don’t leave things to chance, to individual will, or to the fates. Manage the meeting with a hand-picked two person team.
  3. Start each meeting small, and keep it small by only inviting additional participants sparingly, and letting them go once they have made their contribution.
  4. Mandate a spirit of co-operation and good behaviour by insisting that each participant accepts the injection of a large dose of empathy.
  5. Keep crazy-busyness at bay, and promote focus, by insisting that participants prepare for meetings, follow them up, and never accept the booking of back-to-back meetings in their diary.

MOTE: The Super Meeting is going to be published in May. Till then, I can only suggest taking the five problems seriously in your business (and your life), and looking at how you might be able to do things better along the lines of the five tips above. Yes, and saving an extremely modest sum to purchase ‘Mote’ when it comes out!

This is David’s blog for the Marketing Society in April 2015.

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As I recall the vast majority of Marketing Society members are clients, agency people and consultants of various sorts.

This is a plea to all of you:

  • To clients, not to become so caught up in your busy lives that you stop learning about the world outside your brands and your market place. You have a career to think about, and future employers and partners will be impressed by wide experience and wide knowledge, over and above what skills are transferable from what you were doing last
  • To agency folk, not to dedicate yourselves exclusively to knowing about the brands you are working on, and other people’s brands that you are pitching for
  • To consultants, not to risk running on empty. The consulting canvas that has served you well for the last few years probably needs refreshing, and if you have been successful as an adviser on a, b and c; who knows how well you could do in future, having expanded your remit to include e, f and g
  • To all of you, not to resent me pointing this out

Why do I say this?

There are two main reasons. First, there can never have been a time when the juxtaposition of academia and the practice of marketing has produced such a cornucopia of new scholarship, new insights, and new theories. I am a glutton for new papers and new books on a wealth of subjects from neuromarketing to how creativity impacts differently in social media as compared to conventional channels. The sheer profusion of new knowledge dazzles and bewilders like the breakfast buffet in a five star resort!

Secondly, I am staggered at the apparent lack of interest in all this from so many of the clever, well educated, high earning people I meet around our industry.

If you are one of the glorious minority, my entreaty is not aimed at you. But do me a favour, and take up the cause of campaigning to reactivate a learning culture. We used not to know too much about how marketing and communications really work. Now there’s no excuse. And the more we know, the more successful we will be.

Then there’s the fun of it all –  working in a quite fascinating business that embraces philosophy, psychology, neurology, technology, and lots more besides. The next time you are sitting in a meeting that is going nowhere, bored and frustrated, remember that there IS something you can do about it. Go Googling, and just see how many new things you can learn in a week!


This is David’s March blog for the Marketing Society

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In The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews sang,
‘Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with A-B-C
When you sing you begin with do-re-mi’

But does that always make sense in our frenzied digital world? We are all pushed for time, and trying to pack so much into one mega-busy day after another. Maybe it would be sensible to start with the punch line.

Have we got the time and patience to wade through all the intermediate stages? We watch Match of the Day or record the game, and fast forward through to the last ten minutes. We record soaps on Sky Plus, skip the early stages and the ads, and zip through to the denouement.

At school I instinctively liked history and geography. If the conflict was called the Hundred Years War, you knew when it ended, and you could find out what happened, and why. Papua New Guinea may have mountains and valleys that are still unexplored, but we know exactly where the territory is, its capital, population, and so forth. No big mysteries. Finite subjects have that attraction.

When you think about it, we are brought up very iteratively. Every lesson and course at school, every book, every TV programme, every movie, every play, every set of instructions, every recipe, every game of football starts at the beginning and proceeds steadily through to the final act, the last page and ‘The End’.

Spending so much time turning meetings into Motes these days, I am very conscious of how old hat it is to invite 15 people to a 90 minute meeting when none of them know what the outcome is going to be. Why not plan the session and at least give them a hint of what you want to happen? Democracy is one thing and free speech is another. But time is money, and unexpected outcomes are the stuff of Poirot and Midsomer Murders, not the impatient business world.

I can completely understand why Sudoku and crossword addicts enjoy the challenge of solving a puzzle. When we have time for relaxation, the same is true of crime novels and movies. I am sure we could find a psychologist to explain that we have an inner need for ‘recreational ordering’.

And as for spoiling the joke by giving away the punch line, TV comedy has done pretty well out of repeating catch phrases week after week.

When it comes to meetings, doesn’t it make sense for the organiser(s) to plan the desired outcome, share that with the participants, and collaboratively work through the ‘whys’, ‘hows’ and ‘what do we do next’?

We can only handle so much suspense!


This is David’s Marketing Society blog from January 2015.

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