‘The Vulgar’ and appreciating difference

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Image source: the Barbican – Walter van Beirendonck, Fall/Winter 2010/2011. Hat: Stephen Jones © Ronald Stoops


We listened to @BBCWomansHour yesterday with the talented Judith Clark of London College of Fashion who curated the current exhibition ‘The Vulgar’ at the Barbican, alongside partner and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. The Barbican has described it as ‘the first exhibition to explore the inherently challenging but utterly compelling territory of taste in fashion, from the renaissance through to contemporary design’.

“Vulgarity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder,” Clark writes in the catalogue. “It is an emblem of artificiality.” It is also a knee-jerk reaction to the unknown: “People,” said Mary Quant in 1967, “call things vulgar when they are new to them.”

Vogue
We’re a curious bunch here at Maier, so it’s as no surprise that this exploration of ‘vulgar’ got us talking about the potential parallels between ‘vulgarity’ and appreciating difference in others. A large amount of our work focusses on understanding and appreciating one another’s ‘styles’ and ways of operating. In other words, what might seem perfectly acceptable to one person may feel completely alien to another.

Phillips offers an interesting perspective on this when asked in a recent article why we’re in a habit of narrowing ourselves down and seeing ourselves as fixed…

“It seems to me that taste is problematic when it is a militant and aggressive narrowing of the mind, when it says “I know what I like – and don’t like – and you’ve got to agree with me”. A more experimental view of trying new things out is healthier – and there is less of an inclination to mock or be angered by what you don’t understand”.

Perhaps if we applied a more ‘experimental view’ to the way we operate on a daily basis, we could open our mind and thinking in ways we might never have imagined…one to ponder.

Brain teasers

As far as British summers go it might have been a slow start, but things have definitely started to heat up and at Maier we’re putting every effort into extending the summer vibes. While we’re hanging onto the sunglasses for as long as possible we are also keenly focusing on the next few busy months as the ‘holiday season’ comes to an end and the mad dash to Christmas begins.

Having wound down, it’s definitely now time to wind back up so what can we do to keep energy levels high and our brains performing at full potential? Perhaps most importantly, how can you as leaders help your teams take on the post summer slump challenge?

 “Thanks to research on human behaviour, we know what it takes for the average person’s brain to perform at its best, cognitively and emotionally…These new insights suggest that simple tweaks in leaders’ communication and behaviour can potentially create a much more productive atmosphere for any team”

Caroline Webb, McKinsey Quarterly Feb 2016McKinsey article

Here comes the science bit…

The more we understand how the brain functions the more we’re able to positively shift behaviours in ourselves and our teams…. for example:

Avoiding ‘information overload’ and ‘leaving by example

Ever heard of automatic and deliberate brain systems? In a nutshell, ‘the automatic system is great at executing plans but not so good at making them. The deliberate system is inefficient for carrying out plans but excels at making them’ (Social Psychology and Human Nature, Roy F. Beumeister). When we’re overtired or stretched thin the brain’s automatic system can begin to execute plans without thinking and that’s where mistakes can happen. Sound familiar?

Solution:

“If leaders can encourage people to go offline when doing their most important work, as well as taking more frequent breaks, they’ll see an uptick in productivity, innovation, and morale” (McKinsey)

Whilst it may sound too good to be true research says otherwise and, as leaders, a few small changes to your own daily routine could make all the difference. For example, try role modelling behaviours or ‘leaving by example’ – show that you’re switching off, make a point of leaving your desk, set a timer to ensure you take time out.

“It’s become a collective thing in the office now. And everyone’s decided that breaks are a legitimate use of time because we get so much more done afterward.” (McKinsey)

Even the smallest of insights into how our brains work can potentially have a huge impact on productivity, so perhaps think about how you can apply some of the science to the day-to-day and you never know, it might just pay off.

Tapping into ‘discovery mode’

We’ve all had times where a business problem can knock you off course or leave you feeling flat and demotivated. When thinking for example about delivering bad news  it’s key to reflect on not just the what but the how – it’s genuinely what can make all the difference. Yet we still get so caught up in the content of the message that we neglect the delivery don’t we?

InBusiness sums it up nicely: ‘The more we understand what is happening in the brain, the more we can make adjustments that have real productivity gains’.

Ultimately by creating a positive frame for difficult tasks or discussions you’re more likely to get to a solution quickly. In a recent interview, Caroline Webb, author of ‘How to have a good day’ discusses the impact that ‘discovery mode’ can have with regards to decision making:

‘…if you’re dealing with a really tough discussion topic, you don’t have to be soft about it, but you can get people to think more clearly and, indeed, yourself more clearly if you first ask, “What’s our ideal outcome here? And what’s our first step towards that?”

‘Competence and purpose are inherently rewarding for the brain. If you can get the brain to focus more on the rewards than the threats in the situation, then you’ll get to clearer thinking’.

Caroline Webb, author of How to Have a Good Day

Simply put, listing the positives and focussing on the ideal outcome can make all the difference between a team in defence mode vs. discovery mode. It’s about looking at the other side of the same coin.

Trends and transformations; the story of 2016

Never at our best as ‘followers’, our idea of being ‘on trend’ is to be at the very head of the curve…or the ‘Conga Line’ as our favourite simile goes for those of you who know us well. Having spent 2015 delving deep into the inner workings of some of the ‘greatest and latest’ in business – we’re in a pretty good position to throw a spot light on what’s likely to dominate hearts, minds and boardrooms in 2016.

Data science; not just for nerds!

Accessing data isn’t a problem, but understanding the vast amounts of information collected definitely is. How to extract what really matters and quickly may well become our biggest leadership challenge yet. As LBS (London Business School) point out, ‘Too much emphasis on information leads to analysis paralysis, sterile decision making and a loss of competitive differentiation.’ There may be value in big data, but it comes at a cost. Great leaders still know when to trust their intuition too.

All the young dudes

With 3.6 million baby boomers set to retire, a new generation of leaders is getting ready to take over the world. Millennials are all about transformational leadership, social engagement, rapid career progression and mentors and not bosses. Globally astute and tech-savvy, organisations will need to deliver these cultural expectations in spades if they want to hang onto the millennial talent of the future. Katherine Dugan at Strategy& sums it up nicely: ‘Millennials have an abundance of talent to offer organisations as they move through the ranks in the workforce….they have the desire to derive significant meaning from their work. Managers must play a key role in harnessing and directing that energy…’

For us the whole thing brings to mind our creative video production friends, Spindle. Radical in their approach with a conviction of purpose and creatively brilliant, they define the millennial ethos perfectly.

The evolution of flexibility

This isn’t just about the hours we work, it’s about the space we operate in too. The traditional one person, one desk scenario is fast becoming a thing of the past. Having worked on several accommodation upgrades recently, our role has been about how to make the space work culturally; collaboration, communication, bringing values to life, offering a genuinely new way of working across organisations – all of these and more apply. Within the next 6 years the London College of Fashion will have moved to Stratford. Currently working across 6 separate sites the College will be working as one under the same roof. Beyond how they work and communicate differently they’re also thinking about the implications this has on teaching – what will today’s 14 year olds want and expect from Universities in the future? Evolutionary thinking at its most daring, don’t you think?

 

The politics of leadership and personal values – stand up and be counted

Ok, we’re back in the zone at Maier with a really busy few months ahead of us in the build up to..shhh…Christmas. As a team we rely on a sense of shared energy to help us maintain our super high standards of design and delivery even when it feels like we’re operating in the middle of a whirlwind – yes, you know that feeling too I’m sure. In thinking what supplies us with some of that energy – no red bull needed here – it comes down to shared beliefs, values and courage.

Here are some prompts and events that provided just that;

LCF #fashionmatters gala on 10th October

We are already working in close partnership with LCF on an ambitious and far reaching organisational wide transformational leadership programme (we will be sharing more of this at a later date) as a result of this we know we share many of the same values and sense of vision. The gala was only the second one to have taken place, a glittering affair held at the Savoy and obviously a fabulous opportunity to go all out in terms of fashion and dressing up (it’s hard but we forced ourselves). Most importantly, it was all about fundraising to provide much needed bursaries which makes it hard not to end up discussing politics around the tables – whatever your views and leaning. The star speaker – I am using that term advisedly – was Grayson Perry known for being outspoken, brave and living his life according to his inner beliefs. He said it as he saw it, took no prisoners and not only made us all sit up and listen he also has that rare ability to make you laugh as he challenges and provokes. There were some real leadership lessons in there; be true to your beliefs, show some courage, but blend some of the tougher messages with some wit and inspiration.

He ended with a great statement and you could almost have followed it with…discuss!

‘I don’t see the next Alexander McQueen coming from Eton. End of’

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The event far surpassed its goal of raising money for at least 29 bursaries (as achieved at last year’s inaugural event). By generating an astonishing 85k excitingly there is now enough to far exceed that original target. Brilliant stuff.

That misogyny speech;

Julia Gillard popped up on good old radio 4 (yes, how could we do our blog without a mention) promoting her upcoming memoir. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04jk364

As a reminder, Julia G became Australia’s first female Prime Minister in 2010, holding tenure for exactly 3 years and 3 days during which time the world witnessed (thanks to Youtube) her now infamous ‘misogyny speech’. It’s the one where she called out some of the less attractive traits of those in office and gave voice to the beleaguered, undermined and misrepresented everywhere…not just women.

She speaks about the difficulty when you’re ‘at the top’ to get the balance right between ‘command and emotion’, between ‘head and heart’ – familiar themes in our work with our own client leaders and ‘top teams’. As those of you who have had the Maier treatment will know there’s no get out, we want to know what people are feeling as well as what they’re thinking. But back to Julia – as with Grayson Perry – you may or may not agree with her politics but the courage and conviction of her message is indisputable. There is no way you can doubt how true she is being to her own values and principles – as every leader should be even when it’s scary. As Julia says; ‘It’s better to keep running in front of the tidal wave and not look back.’

But she also demonstrates a real humility – a character trait we have often heard Nick Robertson CEO of ASOS referencing when sharing leadership values he holds close to his own heart – when she publicly asks; ‘Should I have let myself feel more?’ this is in stark contrast to her adversary Tony Abbot the current Australian PM, when he says ‘it is not his job to emote’. If we expect leaders to show disciplined restraint with emotion tagged as weakness where in the end does the emotion get to be vented? How do we engage the hearts and minds of our organisations and our customers? This business of sharing feelings and emotions runs deep for us at Maier, it provides a unifying theme in so much of our work. It is where we will always be true to our beliefs and show great courage when emotions need addressing however hard it might be. Final word on this goes to Julia G; ‘ We exist in a binary world of good and bad, but this one dimensional portrayal makes it impossible to be seen as a full human being with the normal complexity that comes with being neither perfect, nor evil’. Powerful stuff.

Sharing the love; thanks to some of you out there we felt wonderfully supported in our ‘Stand up to Cancer’ march on October 11th. Your donations and lovely messages filled us with our own sense of conviction as we set off in a magnificent and slightly terrifying full scale thunder storm! Lisa found that walking several miles in wellies is not such a great idea and everyone was amazed that I actually went to the lengths of covering my banner in cling wrap – I am not known for my love of detail – but I did not want my message to those I am supporting to be lost in the rain. When the message is important enough we should all go to any lengths to make sure it is heard.

If you haven’t donated yet – please do tap the link below and throw a few quid in if you’re able. As with LCF, we aimed lower than we should have – we’re 500% higher than our target and have raised nearly £2.5K.

https://www.justgiving.com/maiermarchoncancer/

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