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Kevin Chesters: What advertisers can learn if they were to be more duck


By Kevin Chesters, Strategy consultant and speaker

November 5, 2019 | 6 min read

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Indian runner duck (Anas platyrhynchos domesticus.) There is no reason for you to be unless have a particular interest in waterfowl (I’d never heard of them until my business partner, Mick Mahoney, brought them to my attention)

Indian Runner duck

Kev Chesters: What we can all learn from the Indian Runner Duck

The Indian runner duck is very different to the other varieties. It won’t come as a surprise to you that it ‘runs’ rather than ‘waddling’ like most other ducks. This is due to its unique, extreme body shape and posture. They stand upright like penguins and look like tenpin bowling pins. They don’t fly and face acutely forwards - permanently looking like they are about to topple over flat on their little duck faces. They run in a rather comic style, dropping their eggs as they go, exhibiting very different behaviour to their other evolutionary duck cousins.

So, why do I think we can learn a lot from them?

In May of this year I started my own business with two partners; taking the scary decision to leave behind the comfy life of the salaryman and strike out on my own. It’s been six months now and seems to be going rather well so far. I’ve had some time to think, take stock & absorb lessons - all of which, curiously, are things that I think I have in common with my Indian Runner Duck friends (bear with me).

1/ Positive Forward Motion

Mick told me that the reason that Indian Runner Ducks don’t stop running is because they would fall over if they did. I’m pretty sure he’s lying, but I actually don’t care because I buy the lesson even if it’s an urban myth.

If you start something genuinely different you will be plagued with doubts - and there are lots of bumps on new paths. The power of positive thinking will take you a long way. As a species we are trained from an evolutionary perspective to feel negatively about new things (neophobia). Don’t. Science proves that we are healthier, less anxious and happier when we think positively. A study of nuns (yes, nuns) done by the University of Kentucky in the 1930s even proved that we even live longer by thinking positively! My first business lesson from the Indian Runner Duck is to see everything as a useful lesson, even the (inevitable) knockbacks. Worrying is natural but it can drive you nuts. Assume it will all go well, and invariably it will in my experience of the last 6 months.

2/ Other Ducks are Available

There are any varieties of duck but I happen to prefer this one. There is always more than one way to do things. We are an

industry that talks a lot about change and doing things differently but most people are quite happy carrying on doing things in the same way they have always done them – it’s human nature. Over this summer I have also noticed that it tends to be the people who talk most about change who actually seem to be most happy doing things the same way they’ve always done them. At Harbour we offer a different way to approach the challenges facing brands in 2019. There are other ways but we have the confidence of the Indian Runner Duck – we are happy to stand out and happy that some will say yes to our way, and others will want to do it other ways. Vive La Difference.

3/ Don’t Run Solo

If you look at YouTube videos of the IRD you’ll notice they are rarely alone. There were only three of us in a room when we started Harbour in May but I was really glad even for having just two others with me - for advice, for support, for tea, to know that I hadn’t gone mad leaving behind the safe corporate world for the maelstrom of start-up land. I’d also advise anyone who is running their own new thing to spend time with others who are running their own new things too. Talking with people like Ben, Matt & Sean at WhoWotWhy and Jen & Sally at Craft Media has been lovely and very useful (often just for moral support and extra validation!)

4/ Lean In

This duck really leans. If you want the business to be a success you’ve got project a bit of confidence, even if you don’t always feel it. Lean in. Go all in, be confident, the whole Sandberg thing. In May our business was less than a month old but we had 75+ years of experience to bring to the table in pitches. There is nothing wrong with knowing you are good at what you do – be confident about what you can do and what makes you better.

5/ Happy to be Different

I have talked about all this from a business perspective but now I’m talking about it from a personal career perspective. Don’t worry about doing it a different way. Don’t be like all the other ducks. I might be projecting but the Indian runner ducks look pretty happy with their lot. I worked within corporates from over twenty years and every day I was faced with loads of people who moaned about how unhappy they were (this has accelerated in the last few years if my DMs are anything to go by) Don’t sit back moaning or die wondering. Don’t walk around your palatial corporate building bleating about how crap it is and how the holding company is holding you back. Just cut loose & get running. My last lesson from the duck would be don’t be scared to do something different personally too, you’ll be glad you did.

At Harbour, we are pretty sure that things need to be done differently in our industry and clients deserve a different, better product (not just the same product done cheaper and faster).

If we really to adapt, survive and thrive as an industry then we are going to actually have to do things very differently not just a tiny bit differently. Let’s all Be More duck - Indian runner duck.


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