A Simple Lesson From Calvin Klein To Help You Achieve Great Things

Calvin KleinThe image of a bronzed Adonis-like man, clad only in white briefs, got me very excited last week. My heart pumped faster. I was inspired. Energised. And I bet you feel the same way when you read why this happened to me. Here is that story.

The darkened seminar room at the Cannes Creativity Conference was a sanctuary, away from the glare of a brutal six months of relentless pressure, tough issues  and a unforgiving workload. I was feeling depleted, and two days of presentations from global thought leaders on their insights on ‘what’s now and what’s next’ had failed to lift my spirits. Until the global Chief Creative Officer of Calvin Klein took the stage at an ‘off Broadway’ session, to explain how the company had built a global brand. What a story.

She then outlined the business’s four core operating guidelines- and it was Value Number 2 that grabbed my attention. I just loved it. It was the inspiration I needed to lift my head and say: “YES! Let’s get cracking.” Here is what that key Calvin Klein guideline says:

Dance With Controversy

Simple. Powerful. Here’s more….

“If you really want to connect with an audience in a modern, interesting and meaningful way, then say or do something that provokes- something that creates tension and conflict, and thus genuine engagement. You have to be brave enough to do it, and it needs to be constructive and valid. Quite simply, be prepared to be controversial.”

Not the exact words, but the overall message. I was telling a potential creative director hire this story over coffee an hour later. “Don’t be liked,” he said. “Be hated or be loved, but you don’t want someone to just ‘like’ you.”

Tom Peters talked about this concept this way: “If you want a career on the high seas, don’t join the navy- become a pirate instead.” Avoid becoming just another sailor in the standard white uniform saluting the flag; instead, fly the skull and crossbones (a friendly, positive, constructive, value-adding skull and crossbones), and laugh into the wind while thumbing your nose at the merchant navy chugging along in your wake.

I still counsel senior clients who want to become ‘thought leaders’ in their industry and raise their profiles in media: “Ok- but it only works if you have a point-of-view that is going to stand-out, grab attention, engage- and to do this you have to be prepared to be controversial.” A headline of ‘Dog Bites Man’ is invisible. ‘Man bites Dog’ though…..

Often just telling the truth is enough to dance with controversy. Are you brave enough to speak with candour?  Candour after all is ‘truth without malice.’ It is hard to do. Often powerful people simply do not want to hear the truth, and won’t appreciate you telling them the realities. Facing reality and speaking the truth is to salsa with controversy. Give that one a go- I do, and love to see how people react. It tells you a lot about who they really are. I’m not loved for it, and that’s fine by me.

So here’s my point. We live in an uncertain world. The biggest message from a week at the Cannes Creativity Festival was about the speed of change. Yes, yes, ho hum and we have heard all that already yawn, etc. But when the heads of Google, Facebook, YouTube, Vice, DreamWorks, Yahoo, the big advertising groups and many others are all standing there, pale and trembling, and all saying : ”WOW! Things are just changing soooo fast….”, well, maybe they are.

Uncertainty can breed fear. You can retreat into safe territory. You can resist being who you really are, resist rocking the boat when others are shackled with their fears.  Pause a moment. Think hard about who you really are, what you really feel, what is the best way to make an impact and deliver the value. Sometimes this means taking a risk- it means being a pirate. Sometimes it means putting on that ‘Girl From Ipanema’ track, taking the hand of controversy and salsaing the way into the moonlight. I like it. I love it! What a way to travel!

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11 Responses to A Simple Lesson From Calvin Klein To Help You Achieve Great Things

  1. Peter June 25, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    Yet another inspiration message. Another interpretation could be “life is too short” & simply have a go!

    • Chris Savage June 25, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

      Thanks Peter!

  2. Bruce June 25, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    Great post Chris. I like the bit about everything changing so fast. That’s why changing horses late in the race was so important to me. I read them all Chris . Cheers Bruce

    • Chris Savage June 25, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

      Thanks Bruce. Was thrilled to read of your new role. Your energy is an inspiration. Chris

  3. Cobber June 25, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Chris, yet again you have come up with a timely ‘kick in the pants’ message.

    Just like the girl from Ipanema, who just doesn’t see, I have been guilty of the same thing!

    Thank you again.

    • Chris Savage June 25, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

      Thanks Cobber!

  4. Dianne Cassen June 25, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    You are a great thought leader Chris, which is why your blog is always a good read! Some excellent stuff to take on board here.
    Thank you so much for doing this.

    • Chris Savage June 25, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

      Thanks Dianne. Appreciated. Chris

  5. Don Anderson June 25, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    “Facing reality and speaking the truth” is a succinct way of capturing what I was getting at with the concepts of “Independence of Thought” (getting at what the reality is) and “Courageous Leadership” (speaking the truth no matter what) that I discussed with you (via email) recently.

    • Chris Savage June 25, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

      Thanks Don. That is what I took out of your helpful email. Still struggle with the “100 percent of the time” concept! At Cannes a big time Mad men ad leader said this last week: “a principle is not a principle until it has cost you something.” I liked that too! Chris

  6. Thomas June 25, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    Or as I like to say: it’s better to be wrong and defiant, than to stay silent.

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