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