Have a great idea this summer

Have a great idea this summer
The long summer days, the idle time, friends, a change of pace—it’s the perfect time to think up new ideas for the New Year. To get you started, we talk with some of New Zealand’s most serially creative ideas people. By Rebekah White

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The long summer days, the idle time, friends, a change of pace—it’s the perfect time to think up new ideas for the New Year. To get you started, we’ve talked with some of New Zealand’s most serially creative ideas people

Illustration by Tane Williams,
Photographs by Alistair Guthrie

It’s the early 1990s. A bunch of ad agency creatives are in heated debate about where the best place is to have a great idea. The shower? The mountains? Lunch? Bed? A game of squash? Perish the thought, your desk at the office? So they dream up a test—a map on the wall with a pin to represent where each award-winning advertising idea came from.

As the months pass and the number of pins grows, so does a picture about the provenance of the agency’s best ideas. The Italian restaurant around the corner is a creative hotspot, as is the local bar. Other pins represent staffers’ homes, holiday destinations or those flashes of inspiration on the commute to work. What surprises everyone is how few of the company’s best ads are dreamed up in the office—less than 15 percent.

But is it that surprising that being a working drone all day squelches your creativity? Is it shocking that sitting on an office or boardroom chair in your shiny-arsed suit for hours on end doesn’t generate great mental thunderbolts? And when your creative juices are being poured into keeping your boss off your back, who’s got time to think of anything else?

So we asked people who have great, creative ideas to let us know how they do it. Is there a magic place we can go to get the juices flowing, or a set of circumstances we can recreate to ensure we are the ones producing the next iPad or Post-it note? Ideas hardly ever strike out of the blue, insists artist Dick Frizzell. Finding them involves work. “It’s just not good enough to walk around in circles staring at the sky.”

Frizzell’s paintings are full of clever concepts and visual gags, the kind of thing you’d imagine arriving fully-formed in a flash of insight. And Frizzell reckons those ‘bolt-from-the-blue’ ideas do sometimes turn up—usually in the middle of the creative act. But the reality—even of his most well known pieces, he says—is plain hard work. “If you’re lucky, you’ll get two really good ideas a year. But that just comes from working and working.”

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“If you don’t get this thing out of your head and onto a bit of paper, or onto a bit of clay or whatever, you’ll never know how good it is”
Dick Frizzell

And that means just starting with a bad idea if you can’t get a good one, “because at least it gets the process going. Then halfway through the bad idea—just when I’m about to tear my hair out or start hoodwinking myself into thinking it’s actually a good idea—then you’ll get a good idea, because the brain is open and active and switched on.”

Frizzell reached this epiphany about bad ideas when he hit a dry spell at the age of 43 (“I became a dinner party liability”) and was wondering if he’d ever have a good idea again when it suddenly struck him that “it would be better to be a bad painter than a non-painter”.

Resigning himself to becoming “one of those cheesy landscape people”, he started painting scenes from rural New Zealand. The landscapes took on a new light under his brush, and soon they were selling faster than he could paint.

It’s impossible to measure the value of an idea until you get it down, he says. “If you don’t get this thing out of your head and onto a bit of paper, or onto a bit of clay or whatever, you’ll never know how good it is. You’ve gotta externalise it, you’ve gotta look at it.”

But while “it’s the starting that stops most people”, it’s not just getting going that’s important. Frizzell is adamant preparation and research are just as vital to the creative process. “You have to go out and gather the material, basically. You go on the prowl.”

For Frizzell, this means photographs. He has piles of reference books at his Hawke’s Bay home, each one full of images he finds intriguing and filed away in a system any accountant would be proud of. When he’s given a commission, he’ll look through his albums for something that resonates.

He’ll never run out of ideas now, he says. He knows where to look.

The most important part of songwriting is long before Brooke Fraser puts pen to paper or fingers to piano. “I have to work on my own internal environment,” she says. “It’s really important for me to feel fed and inspired

and calm, so I can be a conduit for the ideas that come.” Despite her young age, Fraser’s an ideas veteran. She started writing music at 12, first recorded it at 20 and, after two internationallysuccessful albums, has just launched her third. She’s 26.

Where do the songs come from? Most often, Fraser says, from the books she reads. Take her latest single, ‘Something in the Water’. Its unlikely origin is a line in The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work where Alain de Botton describes how a crowd of London accountants look as they arrive at the office. “For whatever reason, that stuck with me and sparked something. I started humming a little line about people wearing demeanours—and that was the start of that song.”

But feeding her mind with words is only half the story—Fraser needs “calm and quiet” to let things coalesce. She isn’t an advocate of a routine so much as being open to the insights when they arrive.

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Nicky Foreman


“Good artists copy; great artists steal”—a fabled one-liner from Pablo Picasso that Auckland-based artist Nicky Foreman cites to explain her creative process. “I don’t think anybody can not be influenced by something else.”

Only 40, Foreman already has 36 exhibitions under her belt, including one in St Tropez in the south of France in 2008. Collecting inspiration for her work involves a process of ‘gathering’, including four weeks every year trawling the galleries of Europe, notebook and camera in hand.

She might, for example, jot down apparently unremarkable minutiae like the background foliage in paintings by early Italian Renaissance artist Fra Angelico and give it prominence in her work, which is characterised by the intricate juxtaposition of everyday objects, symbols and metaphors.

“That’s what I’m about a lot; taking quite small details people wouldn’t give a second glance to, and putting them in a different context so people go, ‘Oh, wow, that’s really beautiful.’”

Details from closer to home are collected in the same magpielike fashion. A Taranaki fence post (Foreman was born in Waitara) might be painted next to the curve of a stained glass window, sketched in Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral.

Foreman returns from Europe laden with ideas, but says it’s difficult to know where to start. “It’s a bit bumpy in the first few weeks when you’re home, because you’re trying to squeeze the stuff out. It’s all there and your brain’s full, but it’s trying to get through a small gap to get back out again.”

Talking to a trusted friend or two also helps, she says. Fellow New Zealand artist Neal Palmer and wife Rebecca often act as a sounding-board. “Occasionally you need talking down off the cliff. They don’t give you the answer, but you say, ‘I don’t think this works.’ Unless you verbalise it, you’re not going to get it out.”

When an idea is on the tip of consciousness, Foreman works in silence or to the sound of Bach or Chopin—music that doesn’t cause, but facilitates, creativity. But once the ideas have arrived and she is in mid-flow, any old background noise is fine.

“I’m quite naughty because I’ve got Sky in my studio … if I’m midway through a painting, and I know what’s happening, then I can watch motorbike racing.” She tends to work on two or three paintings at once, which gives her ideas room to incubate. If momentum stalls on one board, Foreman can turn to another. “The other one is sitting in the background and you’re glancing at it every now and again, and then, bam! You’re back into it.”

She focuses on the conditions that feed her creative intuition— anything from a trip to Europe, a well-timed cup of tea, or daily glances at postcards and photos.

And even when you find your ideas, it’s just as important to have the guts to back them, she says. After graduating from Elam art school, 20-year-old Foreman enrolled in teachers’ training college. She lasted four days.

“I had this big light bulb go off in my head—it was really corny—where I thought, ‘If I don’t be a painter now, then I’m never going to be a painter.’ There were people at art school more talented than me. But like many people that can continue on, I’m really consistent and persistent. I was also really naive. And thank God I was.”

But routine is necessary for Montana Book Awardwinning author and reviewer Charlotte Grimshaw. Grimshaw writes every day (preferably without disruption) while her three children are at school. “I have a very strict work routine. I’m very disciplined about the time—I wouldn’t want anyone to come around to the house. And then I see what I come up with.”

Each morning, Grimshaw packs the kids off to school, drinks a tremendous amount of coffee (a Pavlovian hint to her mind that it’s time to work), sits at her desk and writes until her youngest child arrives home.

Unlike Graham Greene, who reportedly wrote 500 words a day (no more, no less), Grimshaw doesn’t force herself if things aren’t flowing. “What I do is I make sure that I spend the time.” She often finds that her short stories grow organically out of each other; there’s always a new idea hiding in an old one.

If Grimshaw can’t figure something out, she’ll go for a run. “I do a lot of thinking when I run. It calms you down.” She says a solution usually comes to her about three-quarters of the way around her neighbourhood loop. “And then I really race home to write down what I’ve thought so I don’t forget. I often come panting up the hill and go running straight for a pen.”

Everybody has their own quick fix. For Grimshaw, it’s running. For others, it’s surfing, baking a batch of muffins, or having a lie-down—anything to distract the conscious mind while the unconscious hums away.

But sometimes the short-term solution isn’t enough. Brooke Fraser hit creative burnout after her second album, when years of nonstop touring took an emotional toll. The tour finished, her free flow of ideas ceased, and she spent a terrifying year “having absolutely nothing and having no idea where it would come from next”.

Her solution? “I just had to give it the time and the space that it needed.” Fraser put her guitar in its case and left it in the garage. She read books. She went on long walks. She recalibrated. An experiment with an electric guitar (“I’ve always been an acoustic girl”) on a solo holiday sparked something new.

And the ideas came back.

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Dean Poole

Alt Group co-founder

On coming up with ideas

You need to have a lot of techniques and processes in your kit. So you might invent six characters and play on how each character would come up with an idea. If I were stuck designing a teacup I could consider that Picasso would design a cup based on analytical cubism, whereas Charlie Chaplin would pour his tea with the saucer on top. Or I might try putting ideas on a scale from mundane to abnormal. If you were stuck trying to start a book the most mundane beginning would be “Once upon a time …” whereas an abnormal opening could be “Thirty five wives ago …”

On where to go for ideas

I come up with lot of ideas when I change context very quickly. Like when I get on a plane and land somewhere else. You go to a new town and there is so much new visual noise and visual feedback that ideas will flood in. I don’t think many good ideas come from sitting in a room contemplating, or going for a walk along the beach. It’s more about inputs. On the other hand, a desk is very helpful because a desk inspires a certain environment for thinking.

On how to know an idea is good

A good idea is like a phantom limb— you know it’s there but you have to convince everyone else it’s there too. Ideas are easy to come up with. The difficult part is getting people to buy in.

On whether brainstorming works

We have a saying at Alt that individuals have ideas and groups have concepts. I have never seen a brainstorming session that worked. Brainstorming makes people feel part of a process but someone always needs to have the initial idea to work off.

On what to do once you’ve had an idea

I’ve got quite a good memory and I keep lots of journals with sketches and notes to record my ideas. I destroy some after a while because sometimes it’s about forgetting rather than remembering. I also like to experiment with constructing objects to conceptualise an idea. I don’t show a lot of people those, I usually just make them and then destroy them. But I tell anyone that will listen about my ideas. There’s no point in being precious about your ideas because the lone genius is not a good manifestation of how an idea is brought to life.

You can’t force ideas, says Pip Cheshire. The architect and former Jasmax partner has done more than most to shape New Zealand’s skyline, from Wellington’s Te Papa museum to Auckland’s Bruce Mason Centre and the Q Theatre, due to be opened next year.

Cheshire says he used to stay up all night working on design problems, determined to fix them by morning. It wasn’t effective. “I’d get to a solution—but the next day I’d just reject it.” He distrusts ideas that arrive too easily. “I’m a bit suspicious that maybe the solution’s a bit facile, that we need to come back to it and look more closely,” he says. “For big projects you have to uncover a lot and you have to have time to think about it.”

But he also needs to “a bit of stress” to get things going. “I have to impose deadlines. I’ll tell the client that I’ve got great ideas: ‘Set up a meeting next week and I’ll be there’. So I have to bring it together.”

But somehow stay relaxed about it? “There’s a duality there. One is that you make a promise, so you put yourself at risk and under pressure. The other is that you give yourself time to ruminate.”

You can often find Cheshire ruminating in art galleries. It gives him clarity, he says. “You’d be a fool to ignore the last four thousand years of human endeavour. Sometimes when I’m in a hole I’ll ask myself, ‘What would Le Corbusier or one of the heavies do? What would one of my competitors do?’”

And if all else fails? “I seem to be able to make decisions quite well in an airplane, which is quite an expensive way of designing, really.”

Filmmaker Qiujing Wong of Borderless Productions agrees that altitude feeds the mind. “The 30,000-feetabove- the-ground experience is brilliant for ideas— when I’m up there, that’s where most of my ideas seem to come together,” she says.

Wong also swears by the most low-cost of remedies: sleep. “Put it aside, close it down, and go to bed. I’ve just got to let myself totally forget about it. And then the next morning, 90 percent of the time it’s there. I don’t take drugs, so that’s the next best thing!”

One sign of a good idea is how easily it unfolds, Wong says. When she started work on the film A Grandmother’s Tribe, about Kenyan grandmothers left to raise grandchildren in the wake of HIV/AIDS, the project took on a momentum of its own. “And that’s when you know you’re onto an amazing thing. Because all you have to do is get out of bed in the morning and the idea’s happening.”

Entrepreneur Layton Duncan goes hunting for ideas with the magic words, What if? His inspiration is frustration: “I’m using an existing solution for something and it’s really bugging me, it doesn’t work the way it should and I think that I can do a better job.”

His company, Polar Bear Farm, was the first in the world to commercially develop iPhone applications. It started with a search utility for contacts (“If someone has 10,000 contacts on their phone, you can’t scroll through a list of that many people”) followed by a videorecording app (something Duncan started work on without knowing if it was technically possible).

“It’s really hard to know from the outset whether an idea will fly or not,” he says. “So you really have to get to work and bring it to life.”

Wong tests her ideas by sharing them with a range of people. “Over time you actually find yourself reshaping your idea to suit what responses you get from people. And if you get this deadpan no response, you’re on the wrong track, because they’re like, ‘What the hell are you on?’”

Wong isn’t sure what makes one idea easier to bring to fruition than another. But one thing she’s certain of: the office isn’t the place for coming up with great ideas. “They never happen when you’re sitting at your desk.”

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David Trubridge

Eco-designer and winner of the John Britten Award

Where are your current ideas coming from?

There’s no one place. I make time to spend in the mountains, the bush, the beach, these kinds of blank spaces where the mind can just float for a few days. I look to experiment outside the familiar arrangements, the routine, that otherwise tends to limit your responses.

Of course, you tend to springboard from what you have done, especially as you move towards the ‘making’ part of the process. But it is not the process that is the source of ideas. The source is the curiosity, the mind exploring and opening up new areas. It’s about understanding the techniques that allow this to happen.

You can’t force it. You have to deliberately put aside time to be empty. If you are under pressure all the time, you won’t have that [‘empty’] time. If there is too much happening it gets drowned.

Do you have a specific process for generating new concepts?

It is not that I am directly looking at the particular shapes of bushes or trees; that doesn’t direct a process. Certainly the way nature builds things has been an influence on my work. We only emulate what nature has already done.

At the moment I am interested in how nature embodies a code in, say, a seed, which will grow differently depending on where it lands. I am applying that to design: if something is for the Asian market, for example, it may be smaller, as living spaces tend to be smaller there.

Another approach I use is like play. Not actually having a goal, just experimenting with drawing and modelling with no fixed aims. One of the most successful designs—the coral lamp—came out of that sort of play. I hadn’t designed lamps before; I was just dabbling in my workshop. With that we opened up a seam that we are still working. It was completely unexpected.

One way of looking at the process as a whole is as a spiral. Each time you circle round, you work through each part of the process: dealing with materials, structure, aesthetics, costs, etcetera; then using sketching, computer imaging or modelling. They are often conflicting, and you gradually tweak them. You may have to go round many times. You are trying to get to that central point. Only about three designs in a lifetime get there, the others are some form of compromise.

Do you collaborate with other people in coming up with your ideas?

The initial mindshaping process is my own. But I work with a team of about four people and we throw the idea around. That works much better as you can get stuck down a dead end on your own. And it means that we can get two or three projects going at the same time.

Do you record all your ideas, and do you return to them?

There are heaps of scribbles in books that don’t make it, but I sometimes return to them. Sometimes with new knowledge they can be useful.

Interview by Andy Kenworthy

Bollocks, says Geoff Vuleta, chief executive of New Yorkbased innovation outsourcing company Fahrenheit 212. He’s a South Island boy who’s become a bit of a legend in the ideas world after moving to the Big Apple, getting some uber-corporations on Fahrenheit’s client list (Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Hershey, Adidas and Gucci among others), and some mega coverage in magazines like Fortune, Esquire, Forbes and, of course, Idealog.

Fahrenheit’s team dreams up what Fortune called “big, risky” solutions to these global companies’ brand or category problems, then executes those plans, producing workable, saleable products. A cunning twist in these troubled financial times is Fahrenheit’s business model: the company earns its pay cheque commensurate with the market success of its idea. So, although it charges big bucks (US$1.5 million isn’t unusual), typically two-thirds of its revenue is dependent on the new products reaching key milestones.

This unique ‘success fee’ model came from Vuleta himself (“The best idea I’ve ever had”). But the key to Fahrenheit’s achievements is not Vuleta or his top team having all the ideas, he says. Instead, the boss estimates his staffers need to come up with an average of six great, workable ideas each a year (350 in total for the company) on anything from sex aids to cat litter, credit cards to home improvements.

And these aren’t the product of out-of-the-office jaunts, Vuleta says. “Ninety-nine percent of the stuff we do is done here.”

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Karen walker

Fashion Guru

What’s the best idea you ever had?

Some time in the late 90s we had the idea, and made a clear choice to focus our growth on the northern hemisphere market and on the sharpest end of the fashion spear; to show at the highest level, against the best designers and to the harshest critics; to aim to be in the best fashion media and best stores. The plan was that by speaking from this platform, we could grow a brand with an international following and respect that would work in all the leading fashion markets, from New York to Tokyo, London to Sydney, Hong Kong to Auckland.

Where did it come from?

From travelling and being inspired by fashion at the highest level and wanting our brand to sit among it.

What did you do with it?

First and foremost we re-focused the design as something forwardthinking enough that it would excite an international audience at the highest level. Then we put it out there in front of them—in the showrooms and on the runway. We showed on the runway at London Fashion Week for eight seasons and, since shifting our shows from London to New York Fashion Week in 2006, we’ve shown on the runway there for nine seasons. Number ten is coming up in February 2011. Showing at this level is essential if you want to build a brand that’s respected and followed in the international fashion arena. It’s showing in this way and creating the work we create that’s allowed us to achieve the following with our stockists and customers and fashion media that we have.

Where do your ideas come from?

They come from being open to anything and everything, by always looking and engaging, and by interacting with interesting people.

What’s an example?

For the current season that’s in store now, the starting point was The Sound of Music, specifically the uniforms made from curtains. We loved the print on print on print and wanted to recreate that in a collection.

If you’re creatively blocked, what do you do or where do you go?

Don’t sweat it. Walk away, do something else, let the ideas percolate.

How do you tell a good idea from a dud?

Trust the goosebumps.

And it isn’t a product of foosball. “There are no toys to play with. These Gen Y kids are restless, but they aren’t clamouring for games. Pillow fights and balloon races are for people that don’t know how to come up with ideas.”

First, Vuleta says, it’s the very diversity of the company’s client base that produces the creativity. When you’ve got projects about high-tech vending machine screens, rice snacks, soft drink packaging for Bangladesh and incontinence pads all buzzing around in your brain, something interesting is sure to emerge. “The intersections between disparate things create an ability to see things you couldn’t see before … the extreme difference of the work you are doing at one time is totally disruptive and totally stimulating.”

Also important for Fahrenheit 212 is the close mix of ‘the money’ (the company’s financial experts) and ‘the magic’ (the creative people) on each project, Vuleta says. Ideas come from “disconnections and collisions of stuff”.

And talking about your work all the time is key too. It’s even better, of course, if you have what Fortune has described as Fahrenheit’s “boho-chic Manhattan loft”, full of glass walls and bright-eyed, jeans-wearing twentysomething employees. “Right now I can see four different groups of people just talking about different projects. The more people talk about stuff out loud, the more it allows people to think in jazz, not in a straight line.” (Thinking in jazz is a popular phrase in creative circles these days. The theory is that in the same way jazz music isn’t fixed but evolves, so ideas should emerge and develop throughout the creative process.)

Another trick à la Vuleta is not to give yourself too much time, as time creates doubt and fear. “Set tight deadlines, force yourself to do it faster. You get scared if you have too much time.”

The best ideas people, Vuleta believes, are generalists, rather than specialists. But once they start on a project they have to surround themselves with as many different perspectives on the subject as they can. “If I need to crack an idea, I get online and I read as many points of view as I can, points of view that are different from each other and probably not my own.”

Another characteristic of great ideas people is being able to cope with imperfection. “You want people who are setting out to be great, not setting out to be right. Because you need to be comfortable dealing with things where there’s no right answer.”

Learning his ideas don’t have to be perfect before he tells people about them has been a huge change in his thinking about innovation since he came to New York, Vuleta says, adding that Larry Ellison, the dominant figure behind US software giant Oracle, has never put out a perfect piece of software in his life, Vuleta says.

“There’s that expression here: ‘Put it on the porch and see if the cat licks it.’ It’s about putting your fledgling ideas out there and seeing how people respond. If you’ve told a few people and no one picks up the idea and builds on it, then you’ve got a dud.”

Additional reporting by Nicholas Jones, Nikki Mandow and Katie Marriner

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Photo: Duncan Cole

kevin roberts


‘Lovemarks’, the backbone concept of Saatchi & Saatchi’s branding strategy and the basis of a book which has sold 250,000 copies in 20 languages, was born out of “terror and fear”, says Kevin Roberts.

The adman says it was terror about what the rise of commodity brands (anything from Tesco to China) could do to the advertising industry, and fear that if someone didn’t do something, Roberts’ peeps would end up churning out “cheapest and best” ads for the rest of their lives.

So one night, the Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide CEO—and former Lion Nathan boss—sat down in his New York home with a bottle of Bordeaux, a red pen and a pad of foolscap paper, and started doodling. By the end of three hours and a second bottle of Bordeaux, he had a page of jottings and ‘Trustmarks’ as the future of brands.

The cold light of day relegated Trustmarks to the “bland, generic, not edgy enough” category, and Roberts started again, muttering to himself “like a loony” and scribbling on his paper.

Sometime over the next few hours he crossed out “trust” and replaced it with a heart. Lovemarks was born—a concept built on the idea that the most successful products inspire both love and respect in their devotees. Think the All Blacks.

So how can the rest of us come up with a brainwave that is going to be voted one of the top ten best ideas of the decade by Advertising Age magazine? For Roberts, it’s about “freedom within a framework”.

“You have to have freedom to be creative, but I’m a creative problem-solver. With Lovemarks, the problem was the death of brands.”

Next step is “go lonely”. Roberts doesn’t do the communal brainstorm, or the walk in the park. “I sweat it out in my head, with a pen and paper. Not a computer. Computers are for information and knowledge, but they desensitise an idea. I love to write longhand. First I write down the problem in a handful of words—Brands are dead. Then I do bullet points, scribbles and diagrams.

“I work for three or four hours, then I go to sleep. The way to tell if you’ve got a great idea—or a dud—is that great ideas live in the morning. Bad ideas don’t. So next day I wake up and look at the piece of paper. And then I do another three or four hours. I don’t believe in multitasking. I have to focus 100 percent on one problem.

“And I have to be away from work. When you are running staff it’s hard to get to the important because you are swamped with the urgent. So you knock off the urgent because it’s easy, and you ignore the big one.

“I tend to do the interactive stuff—the meetings, the calls—in the mornings when I’m energised. In the evenings when I’m home I can focus on ideas.”

Roberts may have dreamed up his best idea at home in the Big Apple. But actually he says he thinks better outside New York.

“New York is jangly. It’s exciting and dynamic, but my ideas don’t thrive in that environment. My ideas don’t come in moments of dynamic tension. They come when I’m in flow. And to be in flow I need passion [for the problem] and harmony.

“The places where I get harmony are Auckland and Grasmere [in the UK’s Lake District].”

Roberts’ second best idea was dreamed up at his Grasmere cottage. (His first came when he was a hormone-ravaged 11-yearold and put a business case to his school principal to merge Lancaster Boys Grammar with the girls’ school up the road. It didn’t take).

Problem: Roberts, a bit of a business prodigy, was often asked to talk to students at top MBA programmes in the UK, the US and elsewhere. He really enjoyed this, but wanted more interaction with students than he got from his one-off gigs. But to build a relationship with students, he needed to spend time with them. And time is a scarce commodity for Saatchi’s worldwide CEO.

Solution: Roberts headed for Grasmere where, in the quiet of his lakeside cottage, and surrounded by inspirational memorabilia from his 1960s sporting and music heroes, he got out red pen and paper, lit a couple of candles, popped a cork, and started doodling.

“I thought about what I was good at. I am good at being a CEO. And what’s good about being CEO of Saatchis is you have different clients, so you get to know about different businesses. And I thought ‘I bet MBAs would love this and would pay a lot of money to have access to a practicing CEO.’

“So I came up with the idea of a CEO-in-residence at Cambridge University. I taught the MBA students four times a year and I was available by email 24/7.”

Cambridge was the first university in the world to have a CEO-in-residence and Roberts did the job for eight years. Three years after he started, the CEO programme was one of the top three reasons why students chose Cambridge for their MBAs. By the time Roberts left, it was the number one reason. And Cambridge was able to lift its (already six-figure) prices significantly.

Which just goes to show, Roberts says, a great idea is only any good if you go ahead and implement it.

“I believe ideas are like arseholes—everyone’s got one. What sets you apart when the ideas come is your willingness to execute them.”

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