Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Expert Diagnosis

Explain the symptoms. Add a bit more background information. Answer a few questions. That's the way to engage an expert to help solve your problem.

My car windows wouldn't open. Just the front ones. The car wouldn't lock with the plip. After a flurry with Halfords and fuses to no avail I rang my regular, local garage, Smallbills. They are always polite, reasonable and even call me when it's service/MOT time to book me in. I explained my problem and the lovely chap said, ' Just drop in and we'll have a look. Probably a fuse.'

On arrival I was passed straight to a mechanic - lovely big greasy hands, smudged blue overalls and a rich, maybe Polish? accent. An expert in his trade. I could almost see his diagnosis brain clicking into action as he went through his mental flowchart and ticked off possibilities as he went. Click, click, click. He waggled a loose wire to the door and da da! His magic hands had worked their wonders. Nothing to do with fuses, then. And as the song goes, no charge.

When you talk to the right people, who've put in their 10,000 hours, their brains are programmed to solve the right problem. I hope we can offer that service too.

50 books for an 11-Year-Old

It's not always that a bit of outbound marketing arriving in your in box hits the spot, but this missive from Abe Books is quite delightful: 'Earlier this year Britain's education minister said an 11-year-old should be reading 50 books a year. That statement sparked a lengthy debate.We just know that 11-year-olds should be reading, so here's a list of 50 fantastic books that appeal to young readers.'
The link at learn more takes you to the most heart-warming personal piece by Richard Davies about kids and books and a selection of books from the near and more distant past. Reassuring, nostalgic, visually lovely. Indeed Abe Books can be proud of their tag line - Passion for Books.

About Abe Books: 'Launched in 1996, AbeBooks is an online marketplace where you can buy new, secondhand, rare and out-of-print books, as well as cheap textbooks. We connect you with thousands of professional booksellers around the world and millions of books are listed for sale.'

Friday, 20 May 2011

Passion Killer

 Polly's GCSE work inspired by William Blake and Rob Ryan
I'm not talking about socks in bed or cold showers. No, I'm talking about the over use of a once valid, and latterly brave, highly emotive word. The sort of Latin idea that would never pass the lips of cool business men or calculating politicians. Passion.

There was a little montage of David Cameron using the word on Newsnight the other evening. His passion for the NHS creates an unquestionable cloak of righteousness. He's passionate therefore everything he does must be right.

I was at an induction evening for a Sixth Form with my daughter a few weeks ago. The very enthusiastic headmistress stressed the importance of ensuring you choose A level subjects that you are passionate about. Well, Polly is keen to stay on for A levels, go on to University, pursue some of her interests, get the best start in life. She is also passionate about quite a few things: her hair, clothes, pretty shops, pretty boys, looking after younger children, tickling children, fashion photography, colour... to name a few. None of these translate directly into a neat label for an A level subject. She felt intimidated by the passion spewing forth from the Head and ebullient current students. The best she could do was name a few subjects she considered her least worse. I have no doubt that she will succeed beautifully in whatever she chooses to do, but implying the need for passion in your choice of A level subjects?

Don't get me wrong. I love passionate people. I love being passionate. I just worry about people talking about it too much. Requiring people to be passionate about something in particular. Setting out passion as an HR criterium. I think people sometimes think they have to be passionate about the wrong thing.

Matthew Rice's latest book
I went to a talk by Emma Bridgewater and Matthew Rice on Tuesday afternoon at the V&A. They just talked very nicely about their business and what's going on in Stoke, and how important the way they do business is for them. Yes, a great enthusiasm for pottery came through. Their love of the domestic came through. Their devotion to heritage, re-interpretation for today and respect for craft came through. Their concern for people, Stoke and the creation of work came through. Emma said, 'the most important thing you can make is jobs.' I looked at their website when I got back to the studio. The opening paragraph on their 'About us' page does mention passion. But a genuine and authentic passion. And not a forced or commercial passion: 'Find out more about Emma and Matthew, the things that inspire them and how their passion for family life has had such a huge influence on their designs.' It's all about the way they want to do things. The things they genuinely love.

In 'Forget Passion, Focus on Process' on the 37 Signals blog they start with, 'The problem with the “follow your passion” chorus: We can’t all love the products we work with. Someone has to do the jobs and sell the things that don’t seem sexy but make the world go round.' There's some seriously good sense here. One of the comments links to a TED talk by Mike Rowe celebrating 'dirty jobs'. I was also put in mind of Stephen Covey's 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.' Although not top of the behaviouralist's charts at the moment, Covey's point that excellence comes through a series of habits is well put and worth learning. Picasso was a genius - he was talented and importantly highly prolific. His work habits let his genius be seen.

Let's think before we expound passion. And let's not use it as a default requirement. But ensure that our process is fit for purpose and delivering excellence to our customers. I wouldn't mind customers being passionate about brands and services that we help develop and build. That would be a desired perception.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Trouble with Love and Sex

What a great programme - on so many levels (Wonderland - The Trouble with Love and Sex, 9.00pm Wednesday 11th May, BBC2).

Firstly our admiration to the participants for their bravery and Zac Beattie, the producer and director, for getting it together. And to the BBC for making such an important programme, earning themselves much praise in the 'worth my licence fee' department. It's an inspired idea. Access into the private, elusive world of other people's real relationships is rarely permissible. But having it is so intriguing, enlightening and reassuring.

Secondly, hats off to Relate, an organisation we have the greatest respect for having worked with them closely. Not only did they have the courage to take part, they also exhibited their immense skill through the counsellors. The piece of genius that I will most remember is the letter to the single man's 'dark side.' The real brilliance was the idea of acknowledging this dark character's help so far, thanking 'him' for what he he had done, and now telling him he was no longer required. So clever. So right. So effective.

Thirdly on an artistic film-making level. The combination of real voices and animated characters enables both the authenticity of the piece to come through and the addition of an expression of emotion through the clever and naturalistic drawing. The use of animation in adult productions is rare and can lead to false pre-conceptions around the material. Its use in a documentary is very interesting. I was reminded of the excellent feature film, 'Waltz with Bashir', Ari Folman's animated documentary into the horrors of the 1982 Lebanon war. The animation there was strangely naturalistic, with dramatic lighting and the portrayal of remembered scenes, unfilmed at the time and too difficult to reconstruct.

It also brought home the importance of our role with brands and their people. Whatever business we are working with, we believe that it is people who make the difference. Our practice is based around listening, probing, guiding and yes, sometimes, upsetting. Now, I wish I was half as good as those Relate counsellors, but I do think we allow people to unearth their worries, understand the benefits of open and honest communication, and begin to feel more comfortable in their own skin. Maybe it's no coincidence that the client for one of our favourite jobs of late, Swanswell, CEO Debbie Banagan, is ex-Relate.

One of the counsellors summed up the similarity we feel with what we do, when he said he would like to ask a 'simple sounding, but maybe difficult to answer question.'

Monday, 9 May 2011

Brand Fitness

Congratulations to our friend David Ball at BrandFuel for winning Britain's Fittest Director 2011. Behind every great brand there's a man running very, very fast.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Tiaras and Tea Towels

Brand UK was at its sparkling best last week, aided by some lovely sunshine and much of the population being in a good mood as a result of two long weekends in a row. The abundance of red, white and blue, union flags, glistening regalia and matched horses with shining coats in a beautiful  ‘camera ready’ London did much to enhance the brand that is brand UK. It was a right royal knees-up as many enjoying a street party and general celebration. While by no means universally popular, the fuss and spectacle generated comment and debate in abundance. Just how many programmes about these two people and their relationship is it possible to make? One TV critic pointed out an average of six programmes per day not counting the news coverage wall to wall.
I was curious to see the range of commemorative articles for sale and was not disappointed. True to form there was the good, bad, ugly and downright baffling. I’m not a great one for commemorative items, but recognise eager purchasers, be it avid collectors or people wanting a keepsake to mark the event. A day out in Chichester the previous weekend had shown that there at least there was lots of red, white and blue about from commemorative items to accessories for decorating your house or party.The windows of the Cath Kidston shop beamed with pastel good wishes of celebration for William and Kate. A brand match made in heaven.

At Westminster Abbey I could purchase a replica of the Diana engagement ring or a set of wine glasses, but I decided to take a mass market/budget approach to reflect our austere times resulting in a £2.97 spend in the 99p Store. I came away with a plastic tray (robust and useful), a ceramic bell with dreadful quality photo transfer (a bright, tingly sound, but of little practical use in my household) and celebration polyester mini cushion (of no use whatsoever). They’d run out of bunting and flags, so I took what was going. Now I’ve documented it, it’s going to the charity shop.
The most baffling item I came across next to the polyester cushion was a figurine, meerkat versions of William and Kate, to be found in Morrison’s supermarket. I wondered whether the happy couple had seen themselves anthropomorphised and what they would think. Meerkat cuteness combined with Will and Kate a winning combination on the basis of put two things you like together and come up with something brilliant that everyone will love. Perhaps I should have bought one. I’d better hotfoot it to see whether there are any left in discount corner.

My favourite item was a tea towel from the Tate shop – no pictures of the happy couple, rather some lovely illustration and a distinctly mid-century modern graphic feel. I thought that it reflected perfectly the tree-lined aisle at Westminster Abbey and the couple’s refreshing attitude. The tea towel looks like it’s a good investment already being offered on ebay for more than the purchase price. Indeed if you want to see what other commemorative tea towels are on offer just log on to ebay and do a search. All this goes to prove what I have long thought, that we love a good tea towel!

By Pauline