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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Maria Franzoni interviews Peter Fisk.

Peter is the founder of GeniusWorks, the brand and business innovation company, working with business leaders to see things differently to imagine, develop and implement more inspired strategies for brands, innovation and marketing.

Peter brings together the best in strategy and innovation, brand and customer thinking to drive smarter, sustainable growth.

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Episode #202

Inspiring courage for a better future

Maria Franzoni (00:37): Hello. And welcome back to another episode of The Speaker Show. My name is Maria Franzoni and I’m delighted to be your host. This week, we’re going to be talking about creating a better future. But before we start let me tell you that The Speaker Show is brought to you by Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau for the world’s most successful organizations, providing keynote speakers for events, conferences, and summits.

Maria Franzoni (01:00): My guest this week, works with business leaders to reimagine their markets and strategies for a better future. He brings together the best in strategy and innovation, brand and customer thinking to drive smarter, sustainable growth. He leads GeniusWorks, an innovative business accelerator and is professor of leadership, strategy and innovation at IE Business School in Madrid. He is ‘Thinkers50’ Global Director, he founded and hosts the annual European Business Forum, and publishes the monthly ‘Fast Leader’ magazine.

Maria Franzoni (01:34): His new book ‘Business Recoded’, challenges leaders to have the courage to create a better future, harnessing the opportunities of a post-pandemic world, through seven shifts built on deep dives with 49 of the world’s most inspiring business leaders today. Please give a warm welcome to my guest, Peter Fisk. Peter, because I love physics ever since I discovered big bang theory, I thought, great. I need to switch to physicist. And here you are. So Peter, tell me, did you always want to be a physicist? Was that the plan?

Peter Fisk (02:09): I probably always wanted to understand the world is probably the best answers of that. I got myself into physics when I went to uni. I chose to take a year abroad when I went to university and I ended up in a physics lab in Freiburg, Breisgau in the middle of the black forest and they happened to have a partnership with CERN underneath the Swiss Alps. And somehow I ended up on a research project to do with super conductivity. And super conductivity is what happens when atoms go down to almost absolute zero that’s minus 273 degrees celsius and they start to behave in different ways. The electron start to float about, and they don’t stick together in the old ways. And this is how you get super effects. Like for example, the magnetic trains in Tokyo, which float above the tracks.

Peter Fisk (03:06): And so they have no friction, so they can go much faster. And so I was in this amazing world of understanding how these things happen and then kind of scaling it up to understand how things in the real world the big world happened to. And it’s fascinating. But then somehow I kind of like, didn’t get the satisfaction out of it. Because it was basically going down 300 meters underground each day, putting some liquid, nitrogen into a test tube and then watching for a week, what happened. And normally the same thing happened every single time and the creative side of my brain couldn’t cope with that. And so I escaped the Swiss mountains and I joined the airline. I joined British airways at the time. And within three years I was managing the Concord brand and I kind of made the big ship from the left brain to the right brain if you wanna call it that. And what years later when I wrote my first book, I wrote it all about left brain and right brain and not how one is better than either, but how you need both and how both can help each other or in today’s world, how analysis can help creativity and creativity can help analysis, or as book said, how you can be Einstein and Picasso in today’s world, or perhaps you need to be.

Maria Franzoni (04:26): Wow. Fantastic. I can’t believe you’ve been from underground to as high, probably as high as you possibly go without going into space with Concord. Wow. What a fantastic change. Brilliant. I missed Concord. Sadly, never got a chance to go on that. So, very jealous of that. You’ve made me just, and I, so Africa, and I’m delighted that you need both sides of the brain. I was a bit worried there. I didn’t know where you were gonna go. So you went from physics, you went to Concord, you went to BA you went into business and businesses where you’ve sort of stayed. You love business. Has your physics background helped you with the business side?

Peter Fisk (05:02): Not directly, but indirectly. Yes. And I think, you know, the real points of the book was that when I started in business, people knew I had a scientific background. I was trying to keep it a secret, but they kind of found out, so they always said, you can do the spreadsheet so you can do the analysis. And I hated that because I’m a people person, and I love ideas, and I love creativity. And the real point is that if you can do the analysis, you can focus your creativity in the places which really matters. You can find out where the growth is. You can find out what customers really want, and then you can focus your creativity on that. And likewise, you can both when you got a creative idea, you can then improve it, or you can make it better by being analytical. So I think you use it almost without realizing it. And we shouldn’t be afraid of these more kind of logical analytical things in business because they really help us to focus our minds and be even more creative than what we thought we could be.

Maria Franzoni (06:03): I know you, you love creativity, you love innovation. And in fact, it’s one of the areas you really look into and you’ve looked at some of the most innovative companies and what sets them apart and what they do. Do they have that sort of the left brain, right brain themselves, as part of their business structure, would you say?

Peter Fisk (06:22): Of course they do. And if you look at every kind of exciting transformative disruptive company right now, you know, there’s a leap of faith. There’s a hypothesis which they’re making, they’re stepping forward, just like Albert Einstein did, you know, he leap forward and he created a hypothesis in his case, it was energy in matter connected in some way. And he found a C squared with the help of a mathematician who happened to be his wife. But really, you know, these companies who are disrupting and can transforming markets, they’re taking leap forward and you need a hypothesis, you need to imagine something which doesn’t exist today in order to achieve that. And I think that’s the big thing, which is actually a scientific process. It sounds kind of very kind of creative. But science is actually creative. You can’t kind of move forwards without making that leap of faith and then testing it and proving it. So I think that’s the biggest way we really see, you know, the science of the disruptor in today’s world.

Maria Franzoni (07:23): Fantastic. So, you’ve gotta reimagine. So you use your imagination a lot and you hypothesize, I like that. Are there any businesses that are really shaping markets that you’ve seen out there that you can give us as examples?

Peter Fisk (07:35): Wow.

Maria Franzoni (07:35): Big question. I’m sorry. Big question.

Peter Fisk (07:39): Where do I start? Well, the most recent book I wrote Business Recoded, it’s all about looking for companies who are recoding businesses and particularly recoding their markets and how their markets work. And I looked for 50 companies. I searched across the world. I was particularly interested in talking about the leaders of those companies to find out what it is, which they really did differently. What is the thing which they’re doing to shake up their particular worlds. And so I’m not particularly interested in the biggest or the most comfortable companies necessarily, but I’m really interested in the shaker uppers. So who are they? Well, I think there’s some real transformer companies and I went to China, found Ping An, for example. Now Ping An used to be China’s or used to be one of the world’s largest insurance companies.

Peter Fisk (08:28): One of the things which they did about three years ago was to say, well, we can do insurance, but we could do a lot more. We’ve got this fantastic platform, which we’ve got incredible amount of data and has almost a billion customers. What else could we do with it? And they started to map out different areas, which they could move into, not just financial services, but they saw one of the biggest opportunities in healthcare. And over the last three years, Jessica Tan and her team has created the world’s leading online platform for healthcare, with almost a billion users. It’s entirely digital in terms of its interface, you use artificial intelligence to connect with the customer, to see if they actually have a problem. If they do have a problem, they can then use their smartphone to talk to experts in a call center. So you can bring all of the medical experts together, so you don’t have to go off and search for them.

Peter Fisk (09:15): And then if you do need say medicine, then they will deliver it by a motorbike courier, which is pretty common in China or by vending machines and all of the major cities and towns. And then they have a partnership of physical clinics and hospitals too. So it’s a truly digital first, but also physical business model, which really brings together in a sense, the future of healthcare. So you know, that’s one example, but you could look at many others, you know, all older businesses like GM, for example, and how Mary Barra is truly shaking up, GM out of bankruptcy, and really kind of starting to lead the driverless car revolution. Or you could look at real disruptors. And they, you know, obviously we know about Tesla and so on, but I think some of the really interesting disruptors are the Super Apps as they call them.

Peter Fisk (10:06): These are the apps which bring together all sorts of different services for the consumer. And they started with WeChat in China, but Grab in Singapore or Jio in India or Rappi in South America, these are examples of companies who are truly, truly customer-centric. And they understand the customer better anybody, and they can bring any service to the customer. And so I think they are not just disrupting one market, but they disrupting multiple markets and fundamentally changing the way the customer sees the world and what they need and who they trust and who they work with.

Maria Franzoni (10:45): Wowsers. Wowsers. Super apps, gosh, and incredible these change. So what strikes me from what you’re saying is this real attention to the customer. It’s about really being customer centric, which I know is something you’re very passionate about. Talk to me a bit more about the importance of listening to your customers and you know, why that is the future for companies and success and why we’re not doing it as much as we should be?

Peter Fisk (11:13): Well, I think it’s fundamental because the world is changing so fast. And you know, we used to live in this world where we assumed everything was pretty steady state. We kind of looked at last year and we added 10% to it. And if you look at many of the older were most successful companies in the world, they kept kind of stretched their old success. You know, they looked at what got them to be successful 10 years ago, and they keep trying to repeat it and they keep trying to optimize it a bit further, usually just by cutting costs and being more efficient, because you can’t go any further, from an innovation point of view. So how do you look at the future when it’s not steady states and when it’s constantly changing. And I think, you know, the customer in many ways is your best guide to that.

Peter Fisk (11:58): And I’m not just talking about saying, what do they want now? Because that’s the mistake we often make. When we think about being customer centric, it’s not just about asking a customer, what do you want and how can we serve you better today? It’s actually thinking about, how can you make their lives better? How can you solve their problems? What is it which is kind of emerging in terms of their behaviors and their attitude, which you can kind of, address, or you could solve problems in a better way than they ever imagined. You know, Steve Jobs is a great example of somebody who many people said was not customer centric because he never did formal traditional market research, but he thought like a customer, nobody said they wanted a iPhone or an iPad or many of the other products, but he imagined what they were doing.

Peter Fisk (12:43): And he imagined how they behaved. And he imagined with those behaviors, how he could make life better for them. So I think, you know, if you think about everything in business, you should really be thinking from the outside in, you’re starting with your purpose, what is your purpose as a business? It’s not to be the best manufacturer in the world. It’s to solve some customer problem in a better way than anybody else. And that’s a real kind of motivating passion. If you think about your brand, it’s not about who you are, which matters. It’s about how, what you enable the customer to be, which matters. Not that’s what your should be about. When you think about your proposition, which brings together your products and services. It’s not about the product itself, being the hero. It’s about the solution being the hero, and ultimately not even just the customer buying it, but you should be motivated by what the customer does with the product and service once they have bought it, because that’s where they get their value from it. And so customer centric is this much bigger idea, which both under enables us to understand where we’re going in the future and looks at the signals and looks at the pathways forward, but it also gives us the motivation to do more. And it also unlocks more value, which we can then capture.

Maria Franzoni (13:54): Wow. That was a masterclass. That absolutely was fantastic. Guys, if you transcribe this, get it printed, it’s a book that was just phenomenal. I love that. I’m gonna re-listen to that. You touched on the fact that you have released another book. In fact, it was out in December and it’s called, Business Recoded. Do we really need to Recode? Is it doing, is it because of the pandemic or should we be recoding all the time? What, what is, what do, why do we need to Recode Peter?

Peter Fisk (14:25): Well, good question. Good question. And, you know, I sat down at the beginning of the pandemic in January or February, I think it was, 2020 and really thought about, what am I writing about? I’ve been trying to write up a book for some time about how do you respond to the changing world of technology, but then it’s also the changing world of markets. And, you know, I touched on before some of the fantastic things which are happening in the Asia now, and we do really have a seismic shift in terms of our geopolitics, but also our geoeconomics, to where Asian markets are, not just where the consumers of the world are a $10 trillion market opportunity, but also many of the best ideas. One of the, some of the best emerging companies are. So I think there’s the shift in the seismic shift in markets, the seismic shift in technologies, then we’ve got new agendas, particularly environmental and social agendas.

Peter Fisk (15:21): Social, I think is a really underplayed one. And then we had the kind of the catalyst of the pandemic. And all of those forces together, I think we’re starting to realize are requiring a different approach to business. And, you know, most people are now starting to realize that. So a code is a kind of a mantra, a way of philosophy for doing business. I think we really need to rethink our mantras and our philosophies to, for doing business. Not everything is gonna change. Not all the techniques are gonna change, but many of the, kind of the philosophies and the ways in which we approach business in terms of what is our purpose in terms of how do we engage with our people? How do we work with partners? And obviously how do we work with customers?

Peter Fisk (16:13): All of those things are really kind of up for grabs. And I think being stirred up or shaken up pretty quickly at the moment. And, you know, one of the interesting facts about the downturn is that 57% of the fortune 500, were created in a downturn. So downturns and moments of crises are typically the moments when you get an awful lot of shake up within the market, many new companies emerging, and actually 90% of all patents are registered as you emerge from a downturn. So it’s the time of new ideas. So you could say right now is the time when the next decade is being shaked. And so that’s why I think now is the time we need to think differently about what are the codes of our business? What are the codes of competing? But also what are the codes of success?

Maria Franzoni (17:04): That’s really exciting. I’m excited about that. And I’m excited to hear, I didn’t realize it was such a big number that of 57% of fortune 500. That’s huge. If you think about it, in terms of, you know, what happens in a downturn, wow. Maybe we should look more positively every time we have a downturn and think it’s going to be, it’s a new beginning, a rebirth. And you mentioned social being underplayed. Tell me a bit more about that. What do you mean by that?

Peter Fisk (17:30): Well, we immediately look when we talk about sustainability, we immediately look at environmental impacts, and that’s incredibly important. And, you know, our challenge in terms of our two degree challenge. And so on in terms of climate change are incredibly important, even from the environmental side, we’re perhaps missing some of the bigger pictures. So from the environmental and social side, I would say, then, you know, we actually are living in a world where we need to create more and we need to create 35% more food over the next decade, 40% more water, 50% more energy over the next decade, because we will have 9 billion people on the planet. And so we need to find ways of creating more with less. And then on top of that, we need to think about, you know, how do we serve these people in a better way? Because we’ve seen, from migration across the world to protests such as black lives matters or occupy, we’ve seen increasing protests at the inequality of the world.

Peter Fisk (18:31): And, you know, the pandemic has increased that inequality in the world. And I think social is one of the biggest ways which businesses can make a difference. And, you know, I was looking at Nike versus Adidas as an example, and how they’ve approached their sustainability strategies over the last 10 years. And Nike done wonderful stuff with Hannah Jones and her team since the days when they were accused of switch ops in Asia, they’ve responded to that, and they’ve gone to the either extreme, and they’ve been a global leader in sustainability, particularly environmental impacts. What Addidas has done had been really interesting. So they’ve done similarly. So they’ve reduced their emissions. They reduce their impacts, they reduced their waste, but then they flood at how can we do more for people? And Addidas have got this purpose statement as a company as to how can they be a enabler of social mobility.

Peter Fisk (19:26): So how can they really drive social change? So I always work from them, for example, in the middle east, in terms of how can we get women to take part in sport to be more equal in society, more respected and more confident in society. And, you know, I think it’s when you particularly combine the environmental typically reductions, but with this social positive impacts where you can do more for people, is where you get the real benefits of sustainability for a business and for a brand. And if you look at the share price of Adidas versus Nike, certainly over the last five years, you’ll see Adidas has jumped ahead about three times compared to how Nike have improved.

Maria Franzoni (20:10): That’s for fascinating. And it actually goes back to what you were talking about, you know, what do the customers want, and actually the customers of today and the future want to see businesses doing good for society, doing good for the planet, doing good for sustainability. It’s really important. So it plays back into exactly what you’re saying. That’s really good news.

Peter Fisk (20:29): Yes. Yeah.

Maria Franzoni (20:29): Brilliant, brilliant. So you help leaders and companies to make sense of the future because it’s incredibly complex, all these things going on. Tell me a little bit about how you help them?

Peter Fisk (20:42): Well, I think the first thing is that we can’t define the future. We can’t predict the future with any certainty. So perhaps one of the first things to do is, is to actually encourage leaders, to be more curious. So to be more interested in the future, you know, we spend an awful lot of time in business looking backwards. We look at where do we come from? What’s our core competencies of the past, which made us successful in the past. What is, what are the financial results, which made us successful even last year. And it’s always, it’s all looking backwards and we spend little time looking forwards and, you know, the danger is, is because we can’t kind of quantify it with such certainty is we just don’t even bother looking forwards. So, being curious about the future is the starting point. Being interested in what is happening in your world, being interested in what is happening in adjacent worlds is really interesting.

Peter Fisk (21:38): And I think lots of the kind of the signals to what’s possible in your market will come from adjacent markets. So if you are a retailer, look at what’s how happening in entertainment, for example, or look at what’s happening in sports. And they are the areas where you can see changes with the same customers, the same people, and you can see how people are responding to, you know, what’s happening in the world of gaming or what’s happening in the world of kind of sports events and or that kind of stuff. And so taking ideas from different places, then it’s about looking for the really interesting companies, which can truly inspire people. And I talked about, you know, Ping An before, but if you kind of start looking around the world, you know, look at the world’s most sustainable company, Schneider from France, look at, you know, the world’s most interesting car company at the moment, which is Neo from China, more valuable than BMW, but nobody’s heard of it.

Peter Fisk (22:32): Look at Pinduoduo who’s fusing together, retail, social media, gamification all together into a business model, which is like a virtual walk along the mall where you play a game, you get a discount with your friends and you can do more shopping to get. It’s fantastic. But once you start telling the stories like that, executives get really engaged. And at that point, what I try to do with leaders is to bring them together as a team, which is really important because we don’t just want one leader having a great vision and not leaders. We want all the leaders together, building up a shared vision of what they think the future could look like? And what they’d want the future to look like? What they want the future to look like? And one of the really kind of important things is you can shape the future the way you want it to be.

Peter Fisk (23:22): And, you know, markets are so malleable at the moment. You can kind of reinvent them. You can put new borders around them. You can put new nomenclature, you can call them different names, but they’re kind of, they can be shaped in your vision. And if the leadership team can come together, they can get all of their best ideas together on the table, rather than keeping them kind of on, under wraps. And then they can say, how could we truly move forward? And if you get them to jump to the future, jump, say to five years, or even 10 years. And say, what do we want our world to look like in 10 years time? And you spend perhaps a day doing that. And then you say, well, how are we gonna get there? And then you certainly work backwards in a term seizures of horizon. So it’s bit five years. What do we have to do in next three years to achieve that five years? And then what do we need to start doing next year in order to achieve that five years? Certainly they will stop stretching the past and doing it a little bit better than they did last year. And instead that working from the future backwards, and I think that’s the real skill shape the future, and you want it the way you want it to be, and then work future back in order to get there.

Maria Franzoni (24:37): I love that. That’s so good. And you work so obviously you’re not gonna do that in just one speech. You said you might need to do it a day with the leaders. Are you able then to stay and consult of them and help them through the process longer?

Peter Fisk (24:47): Well, I think that’s, what’s really interesting is when you can kind of bring the skills of being a speaker, which is really to open people’s minds, inspire, provoke, quick curiosity questions in them, but then you are able to kind of follow that through with more of the skills, if you like of a consultant, and to be able to then connect that to say, so what? What can we do about it collectively? And start to capture that together, not just as a big, long flip chart, but in terms of actually kind of making sense of their ideas at bringing them together into some, some sort of model. What leaders really love is when they see all of their ideas, which were long list on the flip chart, and then you can help them to turn it into some logical framework, which they can see in terms of a practical way forward. So, you know, it might take a keynote speech and then it might be, you know, one, two or even three workshops. But from that, they start to get a collective vision and a collect roadmap to where they’re going in an uncertain, but exciting future.

Maria Franzoni (25:51): Really exciting. And I love the fact you use the phrase, ‘so what?’ it’s, you know, it’s my favorite, I’m always saying to people. So what, because that’s, so what thing is so important.

Peter Fisk (26:00): Absolutely. Yeah,

Maria Franzoni (26:02): Yeah. And the other thing that you talk about, which I want to come back to, which sort of touched on about future, you talk about having the courage to create a better future. Does it take courage?

Peter Fisk (26:13): Of course it does. You know, if you’re gonna leap into the dark, if you’re gonna kind of go somewhere, nobody’s gone before, it’s not that faint hearted, it takes courage. It takes courage to tell a story which nobody’s told before, and they don’t believe it’s a fairy tale, but they can believe it’s gonna come true. So, you know, I think that’s really, really important. And, you know, if I look at the leaders around the world, I think that’s one of the biggest things which makes them stand out in terms of the leaders who are in these shaker up companies, the ones who are changing markets, they’re transforming the markets, they have the confidence, they have the vision, but they also have the guts to actually go somewhere, which their peers and their forefathers haven’t gone before. So, you know, they have to do that. And, you know, I think, you know, people like Jane Fraser, for example, who recently stepped up to become the CEO of City Group, the leading American Bank, you know, she said, it’s about three Cs, which I loved, which was about curiosity, creativity and courage. And for a big investment bank, you know, they’re one of the biggest sort of sleeping giants, or, you know, if not legacy companies around. So they really do need this courage to kind of go to places, which they’ve never been before.

Maria Franzoni (27:37): I do like that. I wrote that down, curiosity, creativity, and courage. That’s a great mantra. Love that. So listen, we could talk forever because you have such a depth of knowledge. You have such a depth of knowledge, Peter, it’s wonderful. So I’m gonna encourage people to go and grab your book, which is Business Recoded. And we’ll put a link in the show notes so that they can read more about your fascinating research and work. I’d like to leave the, you are very positive and excited person, so this is gonna be easy, but I’d to leave our listeners with a positive thought about the future about, and how they can be courageous to create it. What can you leave us with Peter?

Peter Fisk (28:12): Wow.

Maria Franzoni (28:14): I do ask you big questions, don’t I? But you can handle it.

Peter Fisk (28:19): Well, two things, firstly, I truly believe we’re in for the most exciting decades. So, you know, we will see more change in the next 10 years than we were, than we saw in the last 250 years. And we saw, think about the last 250 years, you know, steam engines, how did that revolutionize manufacturing and transportation? You know, telephones, how did that revolutionize the ability to do things in real time and across boundaries? The man on the moon, how did that change our dreams? And that digital revolution how that empower people, to the point where every consumer has a mobile phone more powerful space shuttle? You know, we’re in for a great decade ahead of us. And as Goethe said, you know, “Whatever you can do or think you can do begin it because boldness has power and genius and magic in it.” So be bold, brave and brilliant in this decade ahead.

Maria Franzoni (29:12): Wow, love that. Thank you. Thank you so much, Peter. That was great. Fun. Thank you.

Peter Fisk (29:18): Thank you.

Maria Franzoni (29:19): Thank you for listening to The Speaker Show. If you enjoy this episode, please leave a rating on iTunes. You can keep up with future episodes on the Speakers Associates website at ( or on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast app. See you same time next week. Bye.

Live interview

Maria Franzoni is an established and recognised speaking industry expert and one of the most experienced speaker bookers in Europe.

As well as working with speakers, Maria also hosts live shows and podcasts. She currently hosts The Speaker Show podcast for Speakers Associates.

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