Three inspirational quotes from along the roads

Try searching Google for ‘inspirational quotes’, and you’ll get a gazillion returns with meaningless celebrity quotes, cheesy images, and prosaic memes. As you may remember from my ‘Cut the crap’ post, I’m not a big fan of banal graphic material taken from the internet. But then I started browsing my personal photo archive…

If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you also know that I like travelling – city tripping as well as nature hiking. While making this photo trip down memory lane, I rediscovered the roads I walked along and the places I visited before. And, I identified creative opportunities to combine the power of an authentic picture with a sharp message into an inspirational visual.

Below are my three favorite creations (click on the pictures to enlarge).

I shot this first picture almost 10 years ago along the landwash of the French Île de Ré. At first sight, it’s a gloomy image. But when you put the right words on it, the fish corpse suddenly gets (well, kind of) lively and inspirational. In this case I added a quote by the English writer Malcolm Muggeridge, “Only dead fish swim with the stream.” The text teaches us that life is about taking risks, not about playing safe all the time. In a business context, it expresses a similar message to Steve Jobs’ “Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?” I just haven’t run into a buccaneer that agreed to be photographed by me yet…

My second photo features a popular (though anonymous) Wall Street expression: “Trees don’t grow straight to heaven.” It articulates that stock markets are volatile. Or, more general, that there are no wins without losses. No gains without pain. The picture dates from 2016, when my wife and I were on a city trip in Copenhagen.

No need to explain the origin of this third quote. Everybody knows the Lennon & McCartney song I borrowed it from. There’s no need to explain the meaning of the words either. Or to tell you why they are inspirational. “All you need is love, love, love is all you need.” We ran into this couple of kissing trees in the woods of the beautiful Belgian Eifel region, near the town of Sankt Vith. And my humble camera phone did the rest.

Feel free to reuse my artwork in your presentations. Or stick the posters on your office or bedroom wall.

Quotes that aren’t quotes

Sometimes a well-chosen quote may help to catch the attention of (or provoke or challenge) the people listening to your presentation. As some readers may remember from my “wise men say” post, I have repeatedly used this technique to open or broaden a conversation with a professional audience.

Lately, I was preparing a slide deck about business transformation, and the first words that came to my mind were Charles Darwin’s:


At least, I assumed that they were coming from the 19th century naturalist. Because, to my surprise ― while Googling for the exact passage ― I came across several web sites (e.g. that claim there is no evidence that Mr. Darwin actually said or wrote such statement.

Incidentally, this was not the first time that I (almost) fell into the traps of fake quotes, misquotes, or misleading attributions. In my blog post about “the incredible lightness of numbers” I referred to a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, saying that:


Also here, it turned out that Sir Winston never made such statement at all. The above sentence is a product of Nazi propaganda that managed to survive the fall of the Third Reich by more than seven decades.

If you are looking for an alternative citation about the (mis)use of statistical information, I also strongly advice you not to use Mark Twain’s one either.


These words are indeed often attributed to the man who created Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It’s a true fact that Twain popularized the saying, but in his autobiography he denies having invented it, and claims that British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli was the originator. But even this claim could be a misattribution too….

Let me finish today’s article with a positive and quotable note (or rather a notable quote). Instead of putting Charles’s Darwin’s (in)famous words on my business transformation slide, I Googled a Hindu proverb that says about the same about change, and I ended up my presentation in an even more memorable way…


I’m sure some of you will start including this wisdom in your future presentations too.

Four storytellers about storytelling

I have been blogging about storytelling in business for the past two years and written more than 80 posts about the topic. If you still wonder what storytelling is all about, and why it’s so important in today’s business environment, then listen (or read) what these respected entrepreneurs, businessmen and storytellers are saying about it.


Richard Branson (@richardbranson), founder of the Virgin Group, is certainly one of today’s most influential thought leaders. With more than 4 million followers, he is the most-followed public figure on LinkedIn. His blog posts, opinion pieces and interviews are putting him in the spotlight as a great communicator, and an inspiring storyteller.

“Whatever you are trying to sell, storytelling is the most powerful thing you can do. Most of the best business ideas come from personal experiences.”  (from Jack Preston’s blog post about Virgin Media Pioneers’ Pitch to Rich competition)

“If you want to stand out from the crowd, give people a reason not to forget you.” (from Richard Branson’s blog post on

“What I soon learned was that practice made all the difference. The more prepared I was, the less I stammered and stumbled. Good speakers aren’t just talented or lucky ̶ they work hard.” (from an interview with Richard Branson in Entrepreneur magazine)


With “only” 218,326 Linked followers, Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) is a little less known –which doen’t mean less talented– storyteller. A Belarus-born author, investor, and founder of VaynerMedia – and a famous wine connoisseur.

“No matter what you do, no matter what your profession is, our job is always and forever to tell our story. And that is never going to change. The way you make real money, the way you make real impact, the way things get changed is by great storytelling. It’s always been that way, and it always will be that way. Because we’re f***ing human beings, and that’s what we like.” (from a 99U presentation by Gary Vee)

“My ability to tell a better story than my competitors became the reason we had a successful company.” (from an Entrepreneur video in which Vaynerchuk tells about his wine business)


Also Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki), author, entrepreneur and former chief evangelist at Apple, stresses the importance of storytelling in his talks and writing. I am a big fan of Guy’s book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions”, about influencing people and delivering a powerful brand experience.

“You need to tell a story. Most people, particularly ad technology, are horrible at telling stories. You need to tell a story. Why did you start eBay? Why did you start Google? Why did you start Apple?” (Guy Kawasaki in a presentation at Stanford University)

“The art of branding requires creating something contagious that infects people with enthusiasm, making it easy for them to try it, asking them for help in spreading the word, and building the community around it.” (from “The Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki)

“Enchantment transforms situations and relationships. It converts hostility into civility. It changes skeptics and cynics into believers… When you enchant people, your goal is not to make money from them or to get them to do what you want, but to fill them with great delight.” (from an interview with Guy Kawasaki in Forbes magazine)


And finally, there’s the obligatory Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple Computer (and Guy Kawasaki’s ex-boss,) who I still consider the archetype of a born storyteller, storymaker and storydoer.

“We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.” (from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs)

“People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.” (from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs)

So this was my last blog post before summer holidays.Thank you for your readership, for following my blog, and for your comments and reactions. Let me close in beauty with a memorable video clip of the MacWorld 2008 keynote by the late Steve Jobs, in which he introduces a MacBook so thin that it even fitted inside a brown envelope…

Back to the future

“For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.”
–from ‘Locksley Hall’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1842.

Can we really predict the future? Unfortunately not. There is no crystal ball. Neither to look into the near nor the far distant future. This weekend we had local elections in Belgium, and guess what…? As usual, most of the polls –even the ones conducted a few days before election day– weren’t very accurate.

Still, for a sales or marketing person it may be a good thing to talk about the future and give your audience a perspective of the “things to come”. Personally, I believe that providing an 18-24 month vision statement is one of the best methods for selling the products and services that you have available today.

When preparing a more visionary talk or keynote, there’s also a bunch of good material to start from. Over the past centuries, famous futurologists like Jules Verne or George Orwell have tried to predict the future in all its glory or its misery.

One of my favorite sources is Villemard, a French artist that created a series of postcards to depict his visions of the year 2000… in the year 1910. Even though many predictions are a bit farfetched, some of them have really nailed today’s technology reality – transportation, urbanization, aviation, education, communications, multimedia, etc.

Recently I gave a presentation about Alcatel-Lucent’s ng Connect program, a global initiative that brings together device, application, network and content companies to orchestrate and expedite the availability of the next generation of innovative services. I mixed some of Villemard’s visual material with a few strong quotes about predicting the future, and video-taped demonstrations of applications that were developed in the context of the program (view the presentation on SlideShare).

And guess what? (At least I think that) people left the room with a strong persuasion that the future is here today, and that my company provided a strong contribution to it. Presenter’s mission accomplished!

Wise men say

For the past decades I have worked and presented in the very fast-moving telecommunications environment (not only FMCG is moving fast…), which is driven by technology innovation and the need for more speed, capacity and bandwidth. A world where you have to deal with audiences of highly skilled engineers, that often get carried away by jargon, acronyms and the nitty-gritty details.

So, how do you open or broaden a high-tech conversation? Sometimes it helps to use a quote. Here are a few ones I have used to catch the attention of (or provoke or challenge) the people in the room.

Moore’s law is probably the best known “forward-looking statement” in the history of computing hardware. Around 1965, Intel founder Gordon Moore made the observation that there is a continual increase in the density of electronic equipment (“doubling each 18 months”). Although originally formulated for the number of components in integrated circuits, the prediction has turned out to be applicable to processor speed, hard disk capacity, network bandwidth, and other ICT domains too, and –which is most remarkable– it is still holding true after more than 4 decades!

This is why I often quote Gordon Moore to set the tone for debates about product evolution. As Moore’s law is telling us that the increase in capacity and performance (combined with the decrease in size and cost per unit) is a given fact, we should not worry too much about the availability of enabling technology for future products, but rather focus on how we are going to create value from it.

About 2 years ago, I discovered this fruity statement on Twitter. It’s a great quote about the changing end-user devices offering, and the complexity it brings to service providers and application developers. I have used it several times to shift the conversation from “creating complexity” to “dealing with opportunities”.

Here’s another one. In 1977, the year the Apple II was introduced, DEC founder Ken Olsen predicted that computers would never make it to our living room. Today’s reality is that most of us have at least one (and often more than one) personal computer, laptop or tablet on hand and that personal computing has become a multi-trillion euro market.

I am using Ken Olsen’s quote to tell my audience that there is no crystal ball and that even the brightest people sometimes hit the ball wrong. A good lesson on modesty, as well as an excellent way to lead people into a (sometimes very productive) “what-if…” exercise.

If you got inspired by the sayings of these wise (and less wise) men, then give it a try and add an appropriate quote to your presentation. It may help you to lead your techy audience into a broader conversation about “how can we work together to shape the future” and lift the dialogue above technology features, product details, network architectures and solution roadmaps.

More tips & tricks on the use of quotes in your speech can be found in a recent Six Minutes article by Andrew Dlugan.