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I do not like being spoon-fed; it’s just not my thing. This is good for me, but not so clever for the professional thought leaders who want me to feel the love and accept their guidance and power.

Take the whole LinkedIn Influencer shtick as an example. Those who frequently use LinkedIn are encouraged to follow people cutely labeled as ‘Influencers’, which is all fine and dandy, and many people will happily accept to follow such influencers. Being a contrarian, I dislike the in-your-face promotion of people I don’t really know from Adam and Eve, especially those with whose views I don’t particularly care about or need, or simply find obnoxiously contrary to my own values – which is like contrary, which is okay, but obnoxiously so, which is not okay.

That is why my LinkedIn influencer connection is currently at three: Ban Ki-moon, Dan Ariely and Michael Schrage. They are all interesting people, that I respect, and I like to keep track of what they have to say and how they go about doing what they are good at doing.

That said, there are more people from whom I do take ideas, ethical values and inspiration. Some of these names might be familiar; some are less known on the international stage.

If there was ever anyone in football that represented understated leadership, humility, dignity, fair play and gravitas then that person is the Spanish football coach Vicente del Bosque. A great all-around manager, he combines very talented players and strategies into happy teams and winning formulas.

Another big influence on my professional work is Bill Inmon, the father of Data Warehousing, who offers anyone who is willing to pay attention a veritable compendium of practical, compelling and timeless verities about data warehousing, data architecture and data management. If you are interested in the world of data I would suggest checking out some of Bill’s insightful, useful and popular publications, of which there are many. In July 2007 Bill was named by Computerworld as one of the ten people that most influenced the first 40 years of the computer industry.

Maybe this will surprise some people, but the Spanish politician Julio Anguita is quite possibly the most decent, clear-minded and coherent person I have had the pleasure of meeting. Now retired from the front-line of politics, he was Mayor of Cordoba, and then General Coordinator of what was at the time the 3rd largest political formation in Spain. A great and compelling orator with the verve, openness and talent of everyone’s favourite schoolteacher, he not only seeks to convince but also to educate, to inform and to get people to think for themselves. He is a man who very much lives and breathes the spirit of Gandhi’s “Live simply so that others may simply live.”

One of the books that brought the most clarity to my understanding of power has been Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. Professor Kennedy has a great knack of explaining power, structure, processes, events, organisation and logistics in a clear, cohesive and coherent fashion, and without any frivolous nonsense or jarring political bias. I had the pleasure of listening to one of Professor Kennedy’s lectures a few years ago, and it was a masterclass in conveying complex ideas, simply, rationally and succinctly.

Dan Ariely is an Israeli American professor of psychology and behavioural economics, and he’s really brilliant at it. Not only that he has a great ability to convey his research, ideas and interpretations in interesting, engaging and fun ways, whether it takes the form of a lecture, a book, a podcast or a video. He is the bestselling author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality, which is, without doubt, the best ever book I have read on contemporary human irrationality. Dan teaches at Duke University and is the founder of The Center for Advanced Hindsight:  One of my favourite Dan Ariely quotes is “The more cashless our society becomes, the more our moral compass slips.” which is taken from his book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves.

At heart, I am a strategist, and if ever there was a strategist’s strategist then that person is Richard Rumelt. An innate, intelligent and no-nonsense strategist and author of the bestselling Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters, Richard pulls no punches when it comes to straight talk on strategy. One of my favourite Rumelt quotes is “The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: a diagnosis, a guiding policy, and coherent action.” One that should be framed and on the wall of every strategist. When it comes to strategy Richard Rumelt forces people to get past the relative comfort zones of endless hypothesizing and conceptualization and move quickly on to the difficult terrain of significant challenges, strategy development and execution, with the emphasis very much on the latter.

As John Kay put it in his blog piece on Richard’s Good Strategy Bad Strategy “The starting point of bad strategy is often a goal – a 20 percent share of the European widget market, with a 15 percent return on equity. The bad strategist confuses policy – to become Europe’s leading widget maker through complementary acquisitions – with strategy. Bad strategy is often fluff – to become the widget provider of choice by exceeding customer expectations.” Or as Richard himself succinctly put it “Diagnosis is analysis, not a description of symptoms. You don’t go to your doctor to be told you have a sore throat.”

Dave Trott is a true ad-land legend. So why am I influenced by one of the greats of advertising? Simples! As Dave himself likes to emphasize, in order to survive and thrive we don’t just take inspiration, intimations and ideas from things that are closest to home, from our comfort zone or simply from our own profession. We must learn to take clues and creative hints from as many places that we have around us, and we use all of our senses to capture useful and interesting concepts, thoughts and items that are hard to categorize, and which we generally label as ‘things’. Dave Trott is also responsible for some of the most memorable adverts of my childhood and youth, but his biggest influence on me came from reading his masterly book entitled  ‘Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in Out-Thinking the Competition’ This is a bit from the book:

Two explorers are walking through the jungle.

Suddenly they hear a tiger roar.

One explorer sits down and takes a pair of running shoes out of his backpack.

‘You’re crazy, you’ll never out-run a tiger,’ says the other explorer.

‘I don’t have to out-run the tiger,’ he replies.

‘I just have to out-run you.’

Here’s another Dave Trott quote that I absolutely adore, and I also apply to my own line of work: “Why doesn’t most advertising work? Because it’s ‘right’. It’s been debated, discussed, argued, briefed, researched, debriefed, rebriefed, until it’s ‘right’.”

Bob Hoffman is the Ad Contrarian, yes, another influencer of mine from the world of advertising. Bob is brilliant, witty and fun, and he can be quite rude, in a rather pointed and apposite way. Indeed, one of the motivations for setting up The Big Data Contrarians group on LinkedIn was Bob himself. I’ll let you guess why he’s one of my influencers, but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with this quote:

“We thought that interactivity would make advertising more engaging. We thought that traditional advertising was on the way out. We thought that the DVR was going to devastate TV. We thought the PC and the television were going to converge. None of this has happened.”

Oh go on, it’s Tuesday, so how about another Bob Hoffman quote?

“Anthropologists speculate that previously there was another species of human-like primates that did not have the brand gene. These proto-humans walked upright and developed primitive tools, but couldn’t tell Jif from Skippy, and believed Evian and Crystal Geyser were pretty much the same stuff. Scientists marvel at their survival.”

Well, that about wraps it up. There are quite a few more names, but for the second part of this piece, I will be looking at the women who have influenced my professional and political life, people such as Ann Livermore, Dolores Ibárruri, Grace Hopper, Martina Navratilova and Christiana Figueres.

Until then, have a great time.

Many thanks for reading.


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Oh… and one last thing before I go… If you are interested in data or even Big Data then DON’T FORGET TO JOIN THE BIG DATA CONTRARIANS: http://www.linkedin.com/grp/home?gid=8338976