Business Maverick, Media

How to be a walking-talking capitalist punk-rock star (Rule #1 – Have fun)

How to be a walking-talking capitalist punk-rock star (Rule #1 – Have fun)

Rule #2 - Make good money while you’re having fun. Richard Mulholland makes great public speaking look easy. But don’t hate him for it. When he’s not on stage making audiences think and laugh, he’s saving the world from those stodgy corporate PowerPoint addicts. By MANDY DE WAAL.

One of the first things Rich Mulholland will tell you is that your business model is dead. Whether you’re a bank, in the porn business or own the Yellow Pages, he’ll tell you that your business model is, well, “fucked”.

A free tip for those dreaming of cashing in big-time on the low-budget skin flick business – it’s as dead as Thabo Mbeki’s political career. There’s a reason those crude CDs are gathering dust on the shelves of Hustler shops across the country. It’s called citizen smut, or let’s just say that people didn’t stop at filming themselves singing “Chocolate Rain”.

“Then there’s a porn site that gives you the first 15 minutes of video free, hoping that after the taster you’ll buy the rest,” says Mulholland. “All I can say is that if it takes you more than 15 minutes you’ve got problems. Now that’s a business model that was well and truly fucked.”

Ask him what business models he rates and he’ll say Tom Shoes. You’ll pay anything from $54 to $79 for a pair of Tom Shoes, but there’s a major feel-good factor to the brand. For each pair you buy, you know some kid in need is going to get a great new pair of shoes too. That’s the model – you buy a pair of shoes and it becomes about more than just the shoes. It’s about the story and what you’re doing to make life a little better for someone else in need.

That’s the kind of business with a good heart, but which still makes good tom that Mulholland’s toying with for his next start-up. “I’m playing with the idea of selling single socks online (you can only buy odd numbers), you pay for two though, and I’ll give the other one to charity.”

Watch: Richard Mulholland being interviewed by NetWeb’s Mongezi Mtati.

Not that the man needs more industrious things to do. He’s already got a couple of very successful businesses where people have loads of fun. When he’s not reinventing lost causes like banks, he’s talking to local and international audiences about business memes, being remarkable, how to “de-commoditise” and augmented reality.

Mulholland fell into having mostly one-way conversations with large groups of people on really interesting subjects (he insists he’s not a motivational speaker) after founding The Missing Link. A group of insanely tattooed folk who’ve become insanely famous for being this country’s top presentation company. Missing Link is trying really hard to ensure no more people perish unnecessarily during deadly boring, corporate PowerPoint presentations.

“When it comes to presentations corporations do two things wrong. The first is that they make it about themselves – once you’ve established your credentials, no one gives a shit. The second is that they say far too much. The first rule of communication is knowing when to stop,” says Mulholland.

The guy from Glasgow, Scotland, recently addressed a tough crowd at The Daily Maverick’s The Gathering and everyone agreed he stopped way too soon. Even though he was telling business people present that the imminent death of their current business model should be keeping them awake at night, the delivery of the message was so wry everyone was cracking up at his punch lines.

That same energy is what fuels Missing Link and the business he runs with Don Packett called Thunk! “The trick is that when you want people to work hard, work should become fun. I see no reason why we should separate what we do from what we love. Even our clients are gagging for something that is different, and we’re in the business of selling an antidote to boredom.

“People believe if you are doing something serious you have to be serious. However, if you are caught up in work that is very detail-orientated, you need to have your whole brain engaged. Our guys don’t play all day, but if your brain gets tired you have to go play some Foosball or have some fun. We also do hard-core financial and corporate work. We’re not a wacky creative agency, so we have to enjoy ourselves to find some sort of balance.”

If you think Mulholland’s a tofu-munching hippie building a purpose-filled nirvana without thought of profits for people scared of being chewed up by the big business machine, think again. Mulholland’s a capitalist punk by his own admission. “We’re running a very good business that turns nice profits, operates well, pays great dividends and has cool perks,” says Mulholland. A case in point is the snowboarding trip that’s on the cards for Mulholland, his business partner and their love interests.

Others are the sandboarding trip the whole team went on late last year. Then there’s the day that got one of this country’s top tattoo artists to camp out at Missing Link and ink their clients for free.

“No company has permission to bore their staff so that people are just working for a pay check. Sometimes I think people do their best work when they are stressed. If we are two days before a conference we’re balls-to-the-wall and sometimes the best results come from this. But over all you want to be enjoying your life, continually stressed out but not hating it.”

If you’re a corporate animal that’s been talking your team to death-by-PowerPoint, here’s Mulholland’s quick guide to redemption. “The first thing you’ve got to know is how the brain processes information. Think of how you think.” You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to realise people appreciate your presentation more if they don’t have to suffer trying to digest it.

Watch Life after death by PowerPoint:

Mulholland says you need to understand the three cognitive demands of the mind. “The first is active processing, and that’s when you are actively involved with a key task. The second is incidental processing which is how your brain deals with background noise and music. You’re still processing, but your brain is eliminating the incidental. The last is representational holding.” That’s about asking people to hold an image of something the speaker has referred to earlier in their mind, or to imagine the mental image of a shared experience. “To deliver great presentations you need to be nice to people’s brains and get them to do as little incidental processing and representational holding as possible.”

Think of it this way. When last did you have to drag your eyes away from the visual of a PowerPoint image on a screen, and try to focus on the message some ill-intended orator was desperately punting? If you suffered the slings and arrows of a desperate motivational speaker or corporate drown, you’ll appreciate how much hard work it is for your brain to digest that verbiage.

That’s what makes it such delicious relief to hear speakers like Mulholland who offer knowledge instead of the content equivalent of cotton candy, and who deliver wisdom in a way that’s more-ish.

And why are outfits like Investec, Rand Merchant Bank, FNB and Hollard listening to what Mulholland has to say? Perhaps it has to do with Rule #3 – Question everything. Mulholland offers big business a perspective that’s difficult, if not impossible to get on their own. DM

Read more: Make sure you are the centre of attention when presenting in CityAM, In Defense of PowerPoint in BloombergBusinessweek. Watch Rich Mulholland speaking at TedxJohannesburg:


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