Oblique Strategies

‘The Vulgar’ and appreciating difference


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.”

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.

What makes for an innovative working culture?

Big idea

A ‘culture of innovation’; an ambition that resonates with many leaders, particularly those undergoing transformational change within their organisation.

So, what are the perceived ingredients of an innovative culture and why is it such an important area for businesses to explore and nurture?

Chicken or Egg…

‘‘Culture is the net effect of shared behaviours, and therefore adopting innovative behaviours must come first. You change the culture by becoming more innovative — not the other way around.”

[/av_testimonials] On one side of the debate in a strategy & business article, Shelton describes a culture of innovation as ‘one that will encourage employees to take risks that lead to breakthrough products.’ Whilst it’s fair to say that a customer-focussed approach is key it’s important to not discount other areas of business that have the potential for innovative thinking and action. Wunker’s 2015 article emphasises the importance of mapping out these potential ‘innovation arenas’:

“By highlighting the different arenas in which employees can be involved with innovation, companies can help employees add value in areas where they have deep knowledge and a desire to get involved.”

Think big – actually small

It’s not just the big ideas that make a difference, more often than not the smallest of changes can have huge impact.

Deval’s Customer Think article sums it up nicely:

“It has often proved a better strategy to try and think of the optimising tweak rather than the game-changing ‘big idea’, even in companies which we see as the quintessential ‘big idea generators’.”

Collaboration is King (or Queen) – ‘innovation is a team sport’

It may come as no surprise to hear that in all of this ‘culture business’ collaboration plays a key role in delivering innovation success. Those of you familiar with our work at Maier will know of our track record in establishing effective collaborative working practices across complex organisations (with great innovation, naturally). However, a recent study by Nielsen suggests that collaboration is but a pipe dream for many organisations due to ‘a striking lack of diversity among the people contributing ideas’.

The study showed that ‘teams of six or more people generated a substantially larger number of unique concept alternatives than teams with fewer people.’ Not exactly rocket science when it’s put that way but why aren’t we considering how you branch out with more boldness and risk taking to really capitalise on the diverse and rich talent across our businesses? No excuses really.

Changing mindsets – ‘the only places you see uncreative people are graveyards’

Mark Brown, Chief Executive of the Dolphin Index – an organisation which helps businesses create innovative workplaces – emphasises the importance of breaking down the misconception that only some people have the ability to be creative. In a recent article he suggests that by making creativity and innovation a core value and part of everyone’s job description, you’re one step closer to shifting a mindset and reinforcing how creativity can be applied to the operational as well as the ‘bigger picture’.

It’s all very well and good introducing a value, but how can you provide the tools to make it accessible? 

Wunder references Autodesk as a great example of an organisation who use innovation workshops to show employees how to ‘create business pitches that highlight the value of their ideas and demonstrate why Autodesk is uniquely positioned to implement the solutions’. A neat way of combining the rhetoric with a good dose of practical reality and application.

Freedom and responsibility – The Netflix Culture

The Netflix slide deck that surprised even its originators in going viral, with viewing rates over 15 million, is another fabulous example of how values link to culture, ambition and innovative day-to-day practices.

“Instead of a culture of blind process adherence we have a culture of creativity and self-discipline, freedom and responsibility”.

With great freedom

Image Source: Peter Cauton – juangreatleap.com

We’ve been referencing it in many different ways recently to inspire and revolutionise Executive teams’ thinking and aspirations. We tend to not actually use all 124 slides – attention spans you know!!