January is upon us. It’s a time that is filled with optimism, dread, resolutions, and self-imposed austerity. I find it a deeply reflective time too, especially as we say goodbye to the 2010s. I recently read a brilliant piece by Tim Ferriss about ditching New Year’s Resolutions for a more retrospective ‘Past Year Review’ instead (https://tim.blog/2018/12/28/past-year-review/). For a “PYR”, you tear through last year’s diary and categorise it into actions that evoked positive or negative emotions, encouraging you to schedule more of the top 20% of actions that produced the most powerful peaks, and avoid those that didn’t add value. Clearly this is a time-consuming and borderline maniacal thing to do for the everyday person who isn’t obsessed with efficiency. But it did make me think about the interviews I’ve carried out this year and which ones evoked ‘powerful peaks’, and what overarching qualities I’ve begun to notice in successful people and the brands they’re building.
- An obsession with quality
In the perfect storm of ever-demanding, ever-more empowered consumers equipped with social media, it is no longer acceptable to compromise on quality. Household names such as Jamie’s, Bathstore and Debenhams have all entered administration this year as a result of a waning focus on their customer and a low-quality product. It is paramount to innovate and stay relevant, and this has to start with a winning proposition.
All of the interviewees spoke effusively about their people. It’s hard to find a brand that doesn’t shout about their ‘people-first policy’ all over their website, but the more I probed them on this, the more refreshingly proactive I found their approach to finding and keeping good people. Whether it be elaborate friends and family schemes, opportunities to ‘job swap’ with head office and front of house, employing homeless people, or only working with partners with a fair female:male ratio, I found their policies to be forward thinking and suitable for the current hiring crisis. With unemployment at a record low (3.8%) since the 1970s, and with Brexit looming large, it’s getting harder to keep really good people, so it is imperative that brands step up and get creative with employee retention.
- A greater social purpose
I’ve finished the year talking to more typically socially responsible brands such as Memrise and DAME, but this still applies to most of the brands I’ve spoken to. Rik spoke of a willingness to displace stereotypes about Indian cuisine, and Gaz of putting a previously underrepresented cuisine in the limelight with the African-inspired menu at Ikoyi. Memrise enables widespread enjoyment of learning, and DAME uses its reusable tampon applicator to empower women through powerful branding. With the number of B-corps rising steeply, emergent brands are more mindful of using their brand for a wider purpose rather than for a simple product.
All but one of the interviews I held ran over by about an hour, and I rarely stuck to my script of questions. It’s not a shock that entrepreneurs or senior leadership are passionate about the company they’ve built, but conversation for conversation, or rather, curiosity’s sake is remarkably rare amongst people in power. A little over a year ago, I lost my boss to a sudden aneurysm. Sue’s counsel, intelligence, energy and humour made her impossibly sought after, yet she always had time for a conversation, no matter how menial. At this early stage in my career, an interview with me can be easily overlooked as non-value adding and I would definitely fall victim to Tim Ferriss’ culling. But I am constantly in admiration for those that indulge in conversation and curiosity, as, to me, it signals a wider long-termism that I believe stands their brand in good stead for success.
The 1920’s were referred to as ‘The Roaring 20’s’, ‘The Jazz Age’ or ‘The Golden Age 20’s’. I’m feeling optimistic about this new year, and I’m desperately hoping it’s even more golden, roaring and jazzy than it’s 20th Century predecessor.