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Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, School of Thinking


This article was first published in Anthill’s fifth print edition, way back in 2004. Since then, Michael Hewitt-Gleeson has continued to make a long and lasting impression on the Anthill team. His fourth book, Wombat Selling (published after this article), is mandatory reading among new members of the crew.

He worked with Edward De Bono teaching people to think, but Michael Hewitt-Gleeson has moved on from selling hats. He studied under George Gallup, but is now creating, rather than measuring, ‘word of mouth’. He has three best-selling books behind him, the latest of which, The X10 Memeplex, urges companies to break from the concept of absolute truth and logic and, in the process, grow their business ten fold. Paul Ryan reports.

Hewitt-Gleeson has forged a 25-year career out of school-of-thought instruction. But it’s not all about helping people make piles of money. He has a subversive agenda to change the way business is done. No more peering through the fog at incremental growth and ad hoc targets. The X10 Memeplex (Penguin, 2003) sheds light on hidden pathways and opens up possibilities for previously ‘illogical’ growth.

Paul Ryan: In a snapshot, what are the three main ideas that you’ve written about and what thought processes led you to your current book, The X10 Memeplex?

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: There are two strands of thought that I’ve written about in the past (Software for the Brain and Newsell) and these are brought together in The X10 Memeplex.

Software for the Brain talks about the brain as a necktop computer. It’s less of a metaphor and more of a reality, since the brain is a deeply digital environment. The software we’re using is 2,500 years old – including programming from the church, the Middle Ages, the Greek software of Aristotle, Socrates and Plato, the concept of absolute truth and logic, which was distributed around the world with missionary zeal. Just as we need to upgrade our desktop computers, we also need to upgrade our necktop computer. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 25 years with the School of Thinking that I founded with Edward De Bono, and our lessons have reached over 70 million people worldwide.

That’s one strand – the thinking strand. The other strand, which I explored in Newsell, is the selling/leadership strand. Selling and leadership have to do with behavior and particularly influencing the behavior of other people. You can use coercion and force, which is an inefficient method. The other way to influence a person’s behavior is to influence their thinking. If you want people to change their behavior, whether it is in a leadership/social context or a commercial/selling context, you need to influence the way they see things. So that’s why there’s such a strong link between thinking and selling.

My subversive agenda is to get people thinking far and wide. If I can show a link between developing the thinking skills of employees and increasing the revenues of a company, it will help me teach people to think and grow.

What is The X10 Memeplex?

It’s a whole new way of thinking about the concept of memes. Memes are like idea viruses. They are the only replicators, other than genes, to be discovered in science. Just as genes are digital entities that are very good at getting themselves replicated over long periods of evolutionary time (they design humans and elephants and sunflowers as mechanisms enabling self-replication), memes are ideas or arrangements of information that are very good at getting themselves replicated from brain-to-brain. Some memes – some idea viruses – are more likely than others to be replicated by word-of-mouth. So you can see that there is a very strong link between the mechanics of word-of-mouth and the science of selling and marketing.

The X10 Memeplex seems geared towards growth in business. Did you specifically have growth in mind?

Well, that gets back to my subversive agenda. The thing that obviously appeals to business is growth. If you want business to adopt a new way of doing things, growth is a good cover. The X10 Memeplex introduces a matrix of memes (a memeplex) to replace the old meme for business growth – the belief (grounded in logic) that 10 per cent growth per annum is acceptable. Why should companies only aspire to achieve 10 per cent growth? The X10 Memeplex is about setting new goals and infecting organisations with the belief that one thousand per cent growth is acceptable. It is possible to grow a business X10.

But there’s much more to it than growth. X10 could be multiplying anything by 10. It could be environmental issues. The idea of X10 is to accelerate the process of attaining a goal. The cognitive reason for X10 is to escape patterns of the brain. Habitually, we look at things a certain way and most of the lateral thinking techniques encourage thinking outside the square. Telling people to do that is one thing. Giving them the tools to do it is another. X10 is a deliberate cognitive tool to go beyond logic.

The part of the book I found most helpful was when you say: close your eyes and think about how you measure your business and think about growing it X10, and then think about how you’re going to get there.

Logic is moving forward. But logical growth – say magazine subscriptions increasing by 10 per cent – won’t get you to where you want to go. What we do with lateral thinking is take a quantum leap and visualise the X10, then build steps backwards to where you are now. It’s a bit like the formulation of a riddle. What is brown and sticky? That question sets up a logical pathway. When I give you the answer – a stick – it suddenly deposits you on a different pathway. When you work your way back from a stick to the question, a new pathway becomes clear. That’s how humour works. It’s those two patterns suddenly connecting for the first time. With a joke the connection is usually temporary, but with insights the results are often more permanent. You were invited to Australia as an InnovationXchange Network Visiting International Fellow because of your thinking on innovation, what’s your view and how did it evolve?

What’s an example of an effective meme?

Cafe latte – which you’re drinking right now – a drink which consists mostly of water, a bit of hot milk and some crushed beans. Why has that particular concoction spread so far and wide compared with other concoctions, like hot chocolate? Trying to understand that is what memetic thinking is all about. This has all come together in what I call Darwinian marketing, which is important for two reasons. Traditionally, the way sales and marketing people have been taught to sell has had a strong religious base. The training programs, the TAFE programs, the seminars have all been American with a strong religious, evangelical drive – they are based on black and white concepts, such as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. This is what has given selling and marketing such a bad name in the marketplace. What I’m trying to do is to introduce science into these areas and show that science, which is less about exhortation, bullying and evangelising and more about effectiveness and resolve, is another way to go.

What’s a tangible example of popular marketing and sales techniques having an evangelical base?

In order to come up with a new idea you have to see what the old idea is. When I was studying in the late ’70s – I was based in New York at the time – all the material that had been written on sales training, since the early 1920s, was based on religious concepts such as, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’; the old Aristotelian concept. In other words, there’s such a thing as truth.

‘I have the truth,’ just like the religious concept. ‘My religion is right, I’m right, you’re wrong. I will now convert the sinner and close the sale. I will convince you and show you what you need.’ Those early models of selling were very much salesman driven. The salesman came with gift of the gab and all the manipulative and bullying techniques. ‘If you don’t get this, you’re going to hell.’

These strong religious concepts came out of the American south where the relatively unsophisticated, uneducated market was growing quite rapidly and people travelled door-to-door using these techniques to sell bibles and vacuum cleaners, etcetera. Many of the authors of these sales training works were religious preachers, like Norman Vincent Peel, Zig Zigler, Reverend Schuller, and so on. This uniquely American pseudo-religious evangelism developed, which linked the idea of being saved and going to heaven with making a lot of money at the same time. I used my PhD to challenge this model. Over the last 20 years, I’ve provided an alternative base and a softening of that idea.

You mentioned that you worked with Edward De Bono.

He was a professor of medicine at Cambridge University when we met back in 1974, trying to get his thinking program off the ground. He and I started the School of Thinking. He was still at Cambridge and agreed to contribute the syllabus. I was based in New York talking to corporations, in a sense selling De Bono. I undertook the first PhD in lateral thinking. De Bono was my tutor. George Gallup, who invented market research and the Gallup poll at Princeton, was my examiner.

What does the future hold for Michael Hewitt-Gleeson?

I’m planning my seventh book, which will be called, Aspire: How to Climb the Ladder. It builds on Newsell, Software for your Brain and The X10 Memeplex, looking at how people have successfully climbed the ladder to achieve their ambition. Out of the three sectors of society – the very well heeled and the disadvantaged – it’s the middle section, the aspirational section, which is really the engine of growth in the economy and society and philosophy. That’s who I want to help.

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson will be sharing his insights as they relate to Internet marketing at the X10 Seminar (Multiply Your Net Income by 10… Using the Power of Internet Marketing) on 3 – 5 September, Hyatt Coolum, Coolum, Australia. The seminar will feature eight of the world’s most successful marketers, who will discuss innovative ideas, strategies and tactics for building and growing a successful online business.

For further, information, visit www.x10seminar.com