Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Flash trending

Feet of a typical Generation X Mum (me) ...Sports Relief 2012
In praise of tomorrow's National Flash Fiction Day (as mentioned in today's g2) I am going to attempt a 'flash review' of Breaking Trends latest breakfast briefing last month.

The example of micro-fiction in today's g2 is reportedly written by Ernest Hemingway and very poignant:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

The Breakfast Briefing was at the Charlotte Street Hotel and, after being welcomed by Alec Howe, founder of Breaking Trends, began with a visual blast of everything that's important to know about strong, weak and emerging trends...

This is my slightly gnomic report, written in the dark, of the Breaking Trends blast:

Soft affluence
Web of things
Multi-channel retailing
Gesture > mind control
Spider lives +
22-30 year old women earn more than men of the same age

And four points Alec thought worth highlighting:
1. Life is overwhelming for Generation X mothers (so help them)
2. How resourceful Generation Y are and how quietly confident they are about sorting it all out
3. How dangerously under motivated the West is as compared to the East.
4. The massive potential for social disruption - Europe up the creek, US companies ready to go - good balance sheets...

Your challenge is to work out how your brand can help people with the knowledge of what is happening. As Alec says, "Fluency with the future needs to be innate in your business." I think what really needs to be innate is your willingness to listen and your energy to respond and innovate in response to what you  hear.

To find out more do get in touch with Alec.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Dedicated to Service

Today the Queen has renewed her vow of service, "In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness." Sixty years since her accession to the throne, her message fits well with the current trend for austerity thinking, big society and a glance over the shoulder at a more responsible view of business.

On Radio 4's Thought for the Day on Friday, Lord Harries quoted the mission statement of what he referred to simply as 'an American company': "The business of business is serving society, not just making money. Profit is our reward for serving society well. Indeed, profit is a means and measure of our service—not an end in itself." What an astoundingly Good (with a capital G) and, well honestly, unlikely corporate motto.

After a bit of digging on Google, I'm not surprised that he was a little coy about who this 'American company' was. It was Dayton's, founded in 1902. In 1969 it merged with the J L Hudson Corporation to form the Dayton Hudson Corporation. In 2000 it took on the name of its discount retail arm, Target. So, the mission statement of Target now is: "To make Target the preferred shopping destination for our guests by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and an exceptional guest experience by consistently fulfilling our Expect More. Pay Less.® brand promise." 

Not so compelling. Not so memorable. Not so distinctive. And, OK, not so Good. But they do go on, "To support our mission, we are guided by our commitments to great value, the community, diversity and the environment." So not so bad either.

Some companies set up at the turn of the century by philanthropist businessmen do seem to have the potential for retaining a set of values that distinguish them from other, less great, companies. The over-quoted (and now hijacked by the likes of Nick Clegg) John Lewis Partnership's mission is actually spot on. It is so refreshing to see an organisation who maintains its value-led philosophy, "The John Lewis Partnership's seven principles define how we run our business. They are as relevant today as they were when they were set out by our founder, John Spedan Lewis, in our constitution."

The first of those principles is Purpose: "The Partnership's ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business. Because the Partnership is owned in trust for its members, they share the responsibilities of ownership as well as its rewards profit, knowledge and power."

In the current turmoil of bonuses, incentives and salaries maybe we should all dwell on the idea of finding happiness through service. And hold dear family, friendship and good neighbourliness.

In this age of transparency...

A new wave of 21st century companies is emerging. These 'vanguard companies', a term coined by Rosabeth M. Kanter in 2008 at the Harvard Business School,  'are market leaders that are able to change themselves and the world because they put values at the center of their enterprise.'

The importance of values driven philosophies can never be underestimated. Our recent work with companies on engaging their (brand) customers with their 'corporate story', the obligations they have to deliver reports on CSR and sustainability, developed unexpected outcomes - rather than sustainability being purely a duty, a dragging anchor, it can become THE catalyst for innovation. So brands from companies committed to a wider view of their place in the world, a real commitment to genuinely making the world a better place, can also be those brands that are at the bleeding edge of inventing the future.

At the core of every successful, engaging brand narrative are a few empirical requirements: purpose, transparency, innovation, authenticity and provenance. The work of innovating around sustainability objectives can deliver solutions that both deliver tangible improvements in working practices and supply chain as well as customer benefits in branded products. For example, it is easy to see how goals of lighter, faster, cleaner can be both brand and sustainability benefits.

In this era of transparency every brand, every organisation, must constantly seek permission to exist from their customers. The concept of sustainability needs to shift from the green agenda to the agenda of good business. Where every other conversation includes 'responsible capitalism' how can we not be looking more holistically at our brand strategy and creating the responsible brand?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Trends spotted

The idea of being awakened to trends, as though knowing what's going to happen allows you to instantly exploit your marvellous insight, is always very appealing. But actually the point of trends is that they are happening, and things you notice happening to yourself are often because you are indeed in the midst of, or at the the start of, a trend. Trends are not predictions. Trends are happening now, and often continue for quite some time, and continue to build in the public sphere well after they've been spotted. Here's a few of my own observations (rather than the ones gleaned from trendspotting sellers...):

Interventionist practices are gaining in popularity
I didn't know what this meant either, but having been enrolled to help my son write an essay entitled "The role of participation in interventionist practices" I am now a bit wiser. Just think Occupy, and then Arab Spring. These are the broad brush illustrations of what's going on closer to home. My two examples are the Seedbombfactory starter kit I saw at home this week. An invitation to become a Guerrilla gardener. Which I love. Secondly, my discovery of PARK(ing) Day, which I am seriously considering participating in this September 21st. Watch this space.

British heritage with a twist
This one has been lurking up for a while, but like many good trends carries on getting bigger after you think it's done and dusted. Alexander McQueen have always been masters of this, Vivienne Westward is of course Grand High Witch of the dark magic and indeed even the likes of Boden play at it. The ones we've spotted lately are Grensons. Having been bought by Tim Little in 2010, an ex-advertising chap who set up his own shoe label in 1997, he is now CEO and Creative Director and injecting a certain flair into the product line. Heritage is having its moment in the fashion limelight, and, as Tim says, on LDN fashion,  'Heritage has always been important as it means authenticity. Recently it has become a fashionable word but really all it means is that “these people must know how to make a decent product as they have been doing it for a long time'. What starts making it cool is his eye for detail and the mixing of traditional materials like British Millerain wax cotton and soft Italian calf leather on the Glenn Military Boot.

Made in Britain
Not dissimilar to the trend above, but a more general pride in hand-made and British-made. Inspired by the economic downturn, everyone wants (for some of the time) to support British makers, tap into a little bit of 'post-war' patriotic warmth, buy things that have value beyond 'instant gratification' and feel part of a growing wave of artisanal products offering quality, taste and individuality. As Jane Parker writes in her article on The Foodie Bugle about Starch Green, 'Their website and blog are the apogees of that quiet, stylish, simple genre of "Made in Britain" arts and crafts for which the nation is increasingly gaining global recognition.'

i-connected machines
That sci-fi idea of machines that talk to each other and do everything for you - not so far away apparently. I remember, whilst working at BT in 1996 or so, talking about the increase in the amount of 'information' every individual would soon be receiving in 5/10/15 years, being quoted the likes of doubling every year, month, minute... We had no idea what we were talking about. Internet was essentially dial in, websites were in their infancy, no google, no Facebook, no twitter, no youtube. Now almost every piece of technology I deal with daily talks to each other. iCloud has enabled my phone to synchronise with my MacBook Pro and in turn my iPad. My diary synchronises with my colleagues' wherever they are, my email is available on all my devices - look no wires. The future sneaks up on you and you're living it - you don't need to know how. I received an email from a friend last night that signed off, 'sent from my dishwasher'.

The trend here, apart from everything now looking like 'Hockney trees' or 'Hockney iPad drawings', is art you can look at, enjoy and understand. It's about looking, drawing and painting. It affects you emotionally, viscerally. On the wave of illustration that has been growing over the last few years with the likes Rob Ryan, Jonny Hannah, Mark Hearld and Emily Sutton, ably fanfared by, for example, St Judes, Mainstone Press and Webb and Webb, figurative imagery is fast gaining traction. David Hockney's eye for colour, his draughtsmanship, obsession and prolificness is inspiring, breathtaking and, most significantly in this context, influential. Get down to David Hockney: The Bigger Picture at RA as soon as you can. And don't be surprised if you break out in Hirst-pox, too. Every Gagosian is full of every Hirst spot painting for the next month, as is the window of Uniqulo. More Hirst at Tate Modern from April.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

What difference does leadership make?

Being a long suffering Queens Park Rangers (QPR) fan, I have been pondering the notion of leadership in the light of the recent dismissal of Neil Warnock, our erstwhile manager who has just been sacked following a run of poor form.
Neil Warnock

For those interested enough to carry on reading considering this is a football related post - albeit an extended analogy - QPR were promoted to the Premiership after 15 years in the 'wilderness' of lower leagues (my sons have lived almost their whole lives depressed at our non-premiership status - not easy). Neil Warnock was not a manager any of us liked much when he was managing opposing teams, but when he became one of us, and miracle of miracles took us up to the promised land of the Premiership, our views changed - he gave us back pride in our club - and importantly he was a leader who made us win.
A poor run of form, the usual combination of bad luck, averagely talented players and elevated expectations left us one place above the dreaded relegation zone and a transfer window open and ready for new players that would 'definitely keep us up'. Our recently arrived owner took the tough decision to give another manager the chance to spend the transfer budget and hopefully guide us into the safer waters of mid table obscurity.

So what has this all to do with leadership you ask?

Well it seems to me, like any leader, a football manager does two key things - manages his team of players, and plans the tactics for how they play each game. I'm sure there are other things he (and in football it is invariably a him) has to do, but those multifarious other activities - press interviews, community outreach, the odd appearance on A Question of Sport -   probably mostly get in the way of the two key things. A successful leader is wise to focus on the two key things as if his life depends on it. Win and you keep your job, keep your team up, and maybe win a cup or two.

Neil was known to be pretty good at the motivation thing - the 'man management'. A combination of team builder, bully, surrogate dad, stern headmaster, marriage guidance counsellor, financial advisor, agony uncle. The art is to get your players all up at the same time like a plate spinner - and keep them spinning for 90 minutes, and do it again 7 days later for a whole season.

Apparently it was the tactics thing, that Neil was thought to be not so hot at. That is about how you set out your team - the formation, the style of play, the combination and deployment of the skills and attributes of your players. There are anecdotes aplenty, but suffice to say in the cauldron of a 90 minute game, he who has the best game plan that he can get his players to stick with will win more games than he loses. Now I don't think Neil was tactically naive or unaware - but football at the highest level is a bit like chess, sheer physical power and fitness advantage is mostly cancelled out. Goals and wins are often the result of tiny tactical advantages and the odd bit of luck and moments of magical skill.
Brian Clough

Famously Brian Clough - 'the best manager England never had' - didn't really do tactics either, he often didn't even watch his players train - he left that to his tactical wizard Peter Taylor. Brian was the arch motivator - he made his players believe they could win, Peter Taylor identified the players the team needed and crafted the tactics. Brian made his players believe they had a very simple thing to do - 'this is your job, stick to it', and then the tactics of Peter Taylor blended each players 'singularity' into a perfect football machine - and Brian and Peter won more cups with average players than probably anyone else.

The thing is - and this is my point - having both the skills of leadership - the man management and the tactics is very difficult and very rare - it's rare in football, and it's rare in business.

Which is more important? It seems to me developing skills in man management is reasonably well understood, it doesn't mean any prospective leader will automatically be good at them, and there is certainly no 'one way' of doing it  - Steve Jobs was entirely different in style to say Richard Branson - but there are books and classes and seminars aplenty. Strategic skills are a bit more of a black art, maybe even innate. You can read up on it, but it is a combination of logical and lateral thinking, sound reasoning and creative leap. 

A really good leader is probably strong in either man management or strategic skill, a great leader has both - oh and a bit of luck. A really good leader will recognise where he or she comes up a bit short, and get help to fill in the gaps. With any luck this will turn a good leader into a great one (and by the way, we at Brand Guardians specialise in the sound reasoning and creative leap bit).

And it's always worth remembering what Samuel Goldwyn famously said - 'the harder I work the luckier I get'.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Ten inspiring things from last year

All thinking is about making connections between things. Some of the most creative and innovative thinking occurs when you start making connections between unrelated things with unexpected outcomes. So the places we get inspiration, the kick-start to creative thinking, can be diverse. I've put together a list of ten things that inspired me in 2011, in no particular order.

Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes at the V& A
The real excitement of this extraordinary exhibition was the sense of curation. Rather than taking an artist or movement, to assemble the thread of ideas of an impresario was both impressive and fascinating. The mixture of music, dance, art and film was almost mesmerising. The immense theatrical back drops, one by Picasso, were overwhelmingly beautiful. And then the photographic reportage of the artists painting them, using sweeping brushes to paint the huge canvases, really made you want to go and do something BIG. The drawings by Jean Cocteau, especially the poster of Nijinsky, just blow you away.

Autumn leaves
On a walk in the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park we collected fallen leaves and made patterns. It never fails to delight and surprise me that actually doing these things makes you feel so good. Taking time to stop, look more closely, select and gather, place and compose, really does result in more than just a few leaves.

Yellowcraig Beach
Beaches always inspire with their windswept quality and vast seascapes. Being by the seaside is classically regenerative and curative. A place like Yellowcraig, on the East coast of Scotland near North Berwick, connects me back with my childhood and fills me with excitement for the future.

So often used by artists and such a work of art in themselves. I love to collect them, and they often sit in a pot or pressed in the pages of a sketchbook until I get a moment to make a print or draw a study of them. Endlessly wonderful.

There's nothing more inspiring than when your own children produce work that is delightful. With quite a range of children to choose from, the opportunities for delight are numerous. Polly's Rob Ryan inspired silkscreen for her GCSE was an absolute triumph. The other touching production I received for Christmas was an EP Ellen and Polly recorded for me - wow!

The National Museum of Scotland
Re-opened this year, fully refitted and refurbished, this museum is a lovely, uplifting space, with an old style collection of a bit of everything. There was even a piece of packaging I designed for Rabone Chesterman when I was at Design House. Worth a visit just to stand in the glorious hall and look at the amazing wall of everything. (Which reminds me of another inspiring event 'The Museum of Everything' and the Judith Scott show)

Askew Business Network
A few local businesses based around Askew Road, W12, have got together to create a networking group with the aim of - yes - networking - but also regenerating the immediate area around Askew Road. It is already feeling a lot more upbeat and there are a number of shops looking good - and we've even lured the lovely Ginger Pig into our patch.

Occupy, Arab spring and social media
Such a lot of change has been wrought with the help of social media. One can't help but be inspired by the individual efforts that have been made to instigate regime change, send messages to fat cats and unleash the power of the individual. Paul Mason wrote an excellent article last week in the Guardian, 'Global unrest: how the revolution went viral,' which explored the idea of the graduate with no future and the power of the network. The ability of people via Twitter, Facebook, youtube, whatever to transform local concerns into global issues is liberating.

Steve Jobbs
What sadness. What a legacy. I suspect seldom a minute of the day passes without me being in contact with an Apple product, and indeed the rise (and ups and downs) of Apple run alongside my own adulthood. And the tributes produced, as Michael Johnson writes in his Thought for the Week, included  'one of the images of the year.'

The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
Grayson Perry's wonderful exhibition at the British Museum revealed an artist far more interesting and far more important that I was expecting. His work is extremely engaging, and the juxtaposition of his work alongside artefacts from the museum's collections placed him in the context of a long tradition of storytelling. The extraordinary centrepiece, 'The Tomb of the Unknown artist' was beautiful, moving, clever and witty. Which puts me in mind of my favourite, and most re-used, quotation heard in the year, from Ed Barber at the London College of Fashion, "the whole fashion industry rocks and rolls on narrative."