Author: Nailia Tasseel

Two Years’ Warning: The Customer Centricity Crisis

Our new research reveals that three-quarters of business leaders believe their company won’t survive beyond the next two years unless they put more focus on customers. Yet, astonishingly, nearly half have got ‘more important business issues to focus on.’

Two Years’ Warning: The Customer Centricity Crisis‘ exposes the mindsets that exist around customer centricity in the world’s largest organisations, and the disconnect in attitude and beliefs between leaders and employees. Our study finds that leaders are paralysed by the changes required, and are failing to build companies fit for today’s increasingly demanding customers.

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What has The Book of Mormon got to do with us?

Well, nothing really. Except that we had a terrific evening as a team at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Leicester Square last week, the evening before our annual company day. For those who haven’t seen this rip-roaring show, it recounts the challenges of two young Mormon missionaries who have been despatched to Uganda to baptise the locals into their faith. And you need to go in eyes wide open. Irreverent, funny, shocking, politically incorrect, outrageous, camp, insulting, entertaining, over-the-top, brilliant, eyebrow-raising…it’s one of a kind, and if you can get past the ridiculousness of it all you might see the serious message(s) that sit behind it.

Anyway, fast forward 16 hours and we are all (minus a few key players who sadly couldn’t make it due to client commitments) back at the theatre standing on what is actually a deceptively small stage to reflect on what had gone on the evening before, marvelling at the complexity of this fast-paced, precise production and the teamwork that exists to make it happen so apparently effortlessly. With Jaime, the theatre’s General Manager, giving us some fascinating insights into what it takes to put on a Broadway show in a London venue, what looked quite simple was quite evidently, er, not that simple. Politics, managing expectations, logistics, teamwork, collaboration, creative interpretation, courage, laser-sharp timing and delivery….well, you might just have been looking in at The Storytellers to see just how our programmes develop for our clients!

Of course there was a serious theme to all this. We had gathered at the theatre to launch our own Story in all its technicoloured glory, and to introduce the business plan for the next year. “We have pioneered storytelling in business…” the Story starts proudly in Chapter One, going on to recount the challenges and opportunities we face as a business, and focusing on what we need to do to grow in what is a challenging and uncertain world.

The overriding theme of the day though, was teamwork and collaboration (now perhaps you are starting to see the relevance of the theatre production). We just cannot exist or do business for our clients without an immense amount of belief and trust in each other. We all bring different skill sets to the business – strategic planning, creative, project management, consultancy, facilitation, writing, relationship-building, administration – and it’s the blend of these skills that makes magic happen. Our Story, which was presented by members of the team at every level, is OUR Story. It belongs to all of us, and without every single one of us playing our part, we are nothing. And we planned the day exactly as if we were planning it for a client. For those about to join the team (and who were invited to participate on the day) it was a remarkable insight into how our clients launch their own strategic narratives, as well as witnessing the amazing culture we have developed as a team. Our Story provides the framework for our business plan, and our business plan provides the framework for the many initiatives, plans and new ways of working we are currently embracing. Our company day gave people an opportunity to absorb some of this, interrogate it, feel proud of what we’ve achieved and excited about the future. Indeed, it’s a future worth being excited about.

I’d like to go back and see The Book of Mormon again, just to see the bits I missed (either because I was laughing so much or because there was just so much going on). Next time though, I’ll look at it through a different lens, with just a little more appreciation as to what it takes to make the complex look simple, and, as always, with a huge amount of appreciation for our amazing team.

Ways of rescuing

Many of you will be familiar with the writer, art historian, thinker and artist John Berger, most famous for the essential “Ways of Seeing”. As Berger approaches his 90th birthday, I found myself reading a few articles that celebrate this great figure of critical thinking – and a few shared thoughts on the power of storytelling.

First of all, I saw the following quote from Tilda Swinton on Berger:

“He always calls himself a storyteller rather than a writer – to recognise the stories woven around people, to bear witness to them, and simply identify stories good for the reader’s health.”

There is so much in this last part, a definition of storytelling vs. mere writing, that resonates – firstly, the notion that the stories that matter are almost always the ones focused around people. This is as true at a company level as it is on the individual level. At The Storytellers, we constantly strive to show how real people live at the centre of the overarching narratives we produce, putting them at the heart of our stories, our creative endeavours and our large-scale events.

The second part of this quote is also interesting, the notion of ‘bearing witness’. When it comes to winning the hearts and minds of an organisation, a compelling narrative is simply the first step. Compounding the belief that the business journey is the right one is indeed often a question of ‘bearing witness’ along the way – appreciating, sharing and celebrating the stories that attest to the contributions people make amplifies and corroborates the journey that everyone is on.

Finally, the notion of stories being good for people’s health should not be underestimated. Making sense of the world around us, making sense of the events that happen in our lives, bonding with others, framing a personal narrative for our own life and ambitions… these are all things that make us feel better in ourselves, and storytelling can play a vital role in fortifying these mental pillars. To put it plainly, stories make us feel good, in ways that we have only just begun to understand.

After reading Swinton’s great words on Berger, my interest was piqued and I read on, finding the following quote from the man himself:

“A story is always a rescuing operation.”

Now these words really got me thinking, not least because at a recent employee conference for one of our clients we touched on and discussed just this – the notion of ‘rescue stories’. In that particular context, we identified the value of looking for stories that not only celebrated great achievements, but also stories of when a situation or a person had been rescued from disaster by one or more colleagues. It’s a great idea – this means being brave enough to accept failure, celebrate the positive contribution of the people that rescued the situation, and being open to learning from any mistakes made.

But could it be that a story is always, in some way or other, about something or someone being rescued? To be rescued is to be saved, to be freed, to recover… and it’s not easy to think of many stories where this kind of theme is not present on some level.

So the idea of rescue being thematically an essential part of any story is certainly an interesting one… but I sense that Berger meant something different.

Considering the previous quote from Swinton, I can’t help but feel that it is the act of listening, of telling, of observing, of storytelling itself that is a rescuing operation, and this comes back to the notion of ‘bearing witness’. Without telling the story, the story is lost. Without storytelling, the endeavours we make towards our shared goals and ambitions never happened. Without storytelling, progress simply does not exist – it never happened.

To tell a story is to rescue something good from oblivion – and unless you tell it, oblivion is where the story, with all it’s human endeavour and personality, will go. Berger does not explicitly mention the fact that a good, but lost story tends to be replaced by something far more ugly… but I cannot help but think that this is another reason why Berger chose the word ‘rescue’ when musing on the power of storytelling. In telling a good story, we are rescued from the bad ones too.

As ever, storytelling shows itself to have a seemingly inexhaustible range of uses and applications. Salvation certainly can come from a story, and sometimes a story specifically about a phenomenal rescue is just what is needed… but Berger’s words tell us that on a deeper level, there is something about storytelling, in and of itself, that always saves.

Let’s be honest: four ways of winning over your cynics in times of change

There’s no doubt about it. Storytelling is an immensely powerful weapon in times of change and uncertainty. It can change mindsets, alter people’s belief systems and inspire people to follow where they may not ever have considered following before.

But how can you win the hearts and minds of hardened cynics and sceptics during times of intense change (think middle management)? The answer – or at least part of the answer – is ‘be honest’. I recently read a great article in Harvard Business Review, which inspired me to write about honesty and credibility when creating and engaging people in your strategic narrative.

Too many leaders start their strategic narrative by painting a wonderful vision for the future.  They go on to weave a fantastical story of what lies ahead, and the great things that they are going to achieve together. Inspiring? Yes. Credible? Not always, particularly for companies which have been going through painful change. That’s not to say that an inspiring vision isn’t important, of course (and often we open our leadership meetings with a short but powerful film that makes a fleeting reference to the vision) – it’s just that you need to be careful about its positioning.

So why isn’t it credible? The reason is fourfold.

Firstly, painting a glorious vision of the future, when all people have been experiencing is pressure, confusion, waves of redundancy, losing colleagues, bosses, and are being expected to adopt completely new ways of working, is not necessarily the best place to start your story. People cannot connect their own experiences to it. They can’t connect to it in a meaningful way. It’s a distant land of milk and honey in which they can’t even begin to imagine themselves living when the present and immediate future still holds a good deal of uncertainty, sense of loss, fatigue and fear. You risk turning them off from the start, and getting them back ‘in the zone’ and envisioning a future state can be a real challenge.

What’s important is to reconnect people to why they joined the organisation in the first place; remind them of the pride they once held and the higher, motivating and emotionally compelling purpose of why the organisation exists. This will enable people to move out of their current state of instability, even if temporarily, to reconnect with the organisation in a real way. It enables them to recapture the moments which inspired them to want to work there in the first place, and lifts them into a more positive place. Like a good marriage counsellor, you are asking them to remember what attracted them to you before things went awry. ‘Remember the good times?’ It needs to be real. From the outset.

Secondly, your story needs a burning platform – a case for change. This needs to be an acknowledgement of what’s really going on out there: a reality check which clearly articulates the threat to the business and the risk it’s facing should it not change. It may not be comfortable. It may even feel like an ice-bath after the warmth of the bit where we talked about pride and purpose. Again, this makes things real. This part of your story could be a reference to the external forces which are driving change, such as competition, changing consumer behaviours, legislation or the competitive environment. It may be an honest statement about the fact that we’re not performing at our best. Or, as we have experienced with many a client, it’s an opportunity for the senior management team to acknowledge the pain the business has collectively been experiencing. In some cases, even to acknowledge their own role they have played in ‘not getting it right’. Every story needs an antagonist or ‘baddie’ in it, and this element of the current reality should appear early on in your narrative, warts and all. Be honest. If you’re not, people just won’t believe you and will continue to resist. The cynics need to hear this honesty – not just a few hours of corporate rhetoric.

Thirdly, in telling your story, you need to allow people to interrogate it. As much as they ‘get it’ rationally, there may well be tough questions as they start to process and internalise the content. They need to see a visibly united senior leadership team who are speaking as one. They need to be able to ask those questions to dispel any sense of whitewash or brushing under the carpet. People need to feel that their pain has been acknowledged. That they have a voice. That they’re being listened to. If you aren’t honest and if you don’t allow these moments of interrogation and questioning, you will find that people just put their heads down, tut, roll their eyes, put up their metaphorical umbrella and wait for the shower to pass so they can get on with what they were doing before. They also need time to work out what it means to them before they go on to communicate it with their teams.

Lastly, don’t make your story a piece of fantasy or a metaphor. ‘Once upon a time, there was a wizard that lived in a far-off land’ immediately makes cynics want to vomit. Sorry, but keeping it real and grounding your strategic journey in reality by illustrating your messages with real facts, proof points and anecdotes about colleagues and customers which create an emotional connection is the route to believability. People can imagine themselves in the situation. They may have even experienced such situations themselves. In this way you are creating a credible, honest and real articulation of your strategic journey of change that people can empathise with and see the part they can play.

If they can’t relate to it, they will continue to feel that change is being ‘done to them.’ They’ll feel like victims rather than heroes, resistant rather than compliant. And, cynic or not, everyone wants to be a hero.

Sam Allardyce, leadership and why personal values matter

This week has seen the dramatic fall of Sam Allardyce, Manager of the England football team, after allegations by undercover newspaper reporters posing as businessmen that he offered to help them to get around FA third party ownership rules, provisionally agreed a £400,000 contract, and made disparaging comments about a number of high profile personalities both in and outside the game.

The FA publicly cites that its priority is to maintain the highest standards of conduct in football “on and off the field. Nothing less is acceptable.” With widespread corruption claims within FIFA still echoing loudly from the last 12 months, not to mention a litany of controversial departures by previous England Managers over the years, it’s not surprising that the FA, seeking to uphold a clean image of authority and leadership, has taken swift action to eliminate further controversy and ill feeling associated with key figureheads who have demonstrated less than acceptable standards of behaviour. Into ‘errors of judgement’ we might read ‘poor personal values.’

Leaders will only engender trust and followship if their personal values match up to the expectations of their teams and the values of the organisations for which they work. Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer shows that 79% of those questioned felt that a CEO’s personal values are important in building trust: a higher score than ‘the obstacles they’ve overcome,’ ‘their personal success story’ or ‘their education and how it’s shaped them’.

Our personal values are integral to who we are and what we want to become. They affect the decisions we make, the success we achieve, cement our belief and commitment in what we need to overcome together and foster strength and unity. In leadership roles, they shape how people perceive and evaluate their leaders and influence how they themselves act and behave. Leaders need to understand that they set an example through their own actions and behaviours, which in turn can have a positive or negative impact on both the culture and reputation of their organisation, and the performance of individuals within it. Even when their own values are not shared by everyone, not being consistent nor adhering to their personal principles may encourage others to mimic their behaviour, create fear, ambiguity, confusion and recalcitrance, and engender a sense of mistrust and uncertainty. This can compromise effective teamwork, create low morale, divide teams into factions and drive siloed behaviour – not conducive to high performance in any organisation.

Being a senior leader in any organisation isn’t easy. Tough decisions and compromises frequently have to be made, which is when a leader’s personal values or ethics can be challenged.  Business results can of course still be achieved unethically in the short-term, but this is likely to have a negative impact on culture which will be far more damaging (and potentially costly) over the long-term. So it’s not just about what you achieve, but how you go about achieving it that matters. And the higher the leader climbs up the corporate ladder, the availability of peer-to-peer support and mentoring can become less obvious, in which case those personal values become a valuable mental check-list for tough decision-making.

Organisations should create a clear set of corporate values and ensure that in nurturing and developing their leaders they encourage them to clarify and be true to their personal values (which, ideally, will have some synergy with the corporate values). If, like Sam Allardyce, they result in some regrettable choices which clearly conflict with the values of or standards set by their organisation, the consequences can be dire – on both a personal and a corporate level.

This is not about accelerating change

You’re probably familiar with the image above: it’s pretty simple. What we have is a pipe, and a caption in French below that tells us that, well, that this actually isn’t a pipe.

So is it or isn’t it?

The thing is, there’s no easy way around this. Even if you think it is, or isn’t a pipe, you’ll always have a lingering doubt. Even if someone gave you an elegant explanation, you’d never really be comfortable about whether there is a pipe or not, or what the point of all this was in the first place.

In fact, it would have been a lot easier if Magritte had just told us it was or wasn’t a pipe, wouldn’t it? Some of the more cynical among you might even think it would have been easier if he just hadn’t shared this painting with us at all.

This is the frustrating point that Magritte makes so eloquently: sometimes, words and images can betray each other… and then life can get pretty confusing. This may or may not be a pipe, but what we can certainly say is that Magritte’s painting is a cautionary tale: it’s no accident that this painting is called “The treachery of images”. This is a story of the terrible things that happen when you get the messages absolutely right… but forget to make sure that the fine words are reflected everywhere else.

So, what does this have to do with accelerating change? Unlike the painting itself, it’s actually quite simple:

When it comes to inspiring and accelerating change, just getting the words right is not enough.

Leading change is never a question of just telling people what you want to happen: if you really want to accelerate change, inspiring belief is crucial… and the only way to do this is to make the message come alive in an utterly consistent and complete way.

It’s a set of visuals that make an audience’s pupils dilate in wonder, as they realise someone has listened and understood. It’s seeing the same new consistent branding across everything you touch, the penny dropping that change is happening. It’s feeling the electricity in a room when a leader walks out on stage, lifting everyone onto the same hymn sheet.

It’s the dawning feeling you get when everything you see, hear and feel over an extended period of time clicks into the same place and tells you that this change is for real.

So the next time you want to make things happen, remember Magritte’s exasperating painting of a pipe. It’s not enough to tell people, it’s not enough to show them – make sure your change lives everywhere, in everything, and for everyone.

Brexit: how the lack of a clear narrative has divided the nation

Two weeks ago just over half of the voting population in the UK decided the European Project is no longer working for them. And a fortnight later the picture is as unclear as it was the morning of 24 June, exacerbated further by a major leadership crisis in the Opposition party, together with a battle for leadership for the Conservative party following David Cameron’s resignation.

There is little doubt we are now living in a more disunited Europe but, more seriously, this has also become a worryingly disunited Britain. These divisions were not caused by the Referendum. But wow – has it brought them out!

On 23 June we were asked two simple questions: remain or exit? Reaching one answer released the ‘genie’ and we now have so many questions, with most of them substantially more critical than the original.

Who will now lead us? Will Britain be taken apart? Can we fix the social, age and identity rift? Will Europe punish us? What will a Europe without the UK become? Will we actually leave the European Union and if the future government decides NOT to invoke article 50, what will this mean to over 50% of the UK population?

The task of building a United Europe has been such a large venture over several decades. The European Union has certainly been no stranger to controversy, particularly at times when ‘costs without context’ were revealed, or enforced European Laws were perceived to trespass and indeed irritate our natural sense of independence. However, whether people have voted Remain or Leave, we must all accept that during this time the EU securely entered the bloodstream of the British Public Service. So the challenge is not just about physically leaving Europe: it’s now about rebooting all of our government systems and processes, plus rebooting a substantially bigger challenge: our mindset.

What does hindsight teach us about the two campaigns? Both missed shaping a visionary story, positioning their current reality, balancing authentic challenges with real opportunities, revealing their desired destination, inspiring voters to understand and believe in what they were hearing, making it personally relevant to them and their lives. In short: setting a purpose. Instead both sides simply replaced this with a series of threats, each with increasingly scary risks and damning consequences. And almost worse: the EU offered no story to share at all.

This unforgivable ‘lack of story’ is cited again and again by political commentators; cited for not offering considered clarity and direction, but also cited for creating a vacuum of confusion and uncertainty, allowing half-truths, feelings and threats to fester entirely unchallenged.

There is ample evidence a simple narrative painting a positive picture of a future in (or out of) the EU just may have delivered a fuller context to the crucial choice being faced. Without it voters felt a lack of understanding. Without it they felt remote. Wiithout it they sensed insufficient response to their concerns. Without it, a sense of alienation was allowed to well up. The European argument possibly lost touch with the very people it was being built for.

Interestingly, on both sides the ‘killer facts’ which were previously fuelling the threats have suddenly disappeared along with several prominent leading campaigners, resulting yet again in a vulnerable and potentially toxic vacuum without clear leadership. In light of this, we all will need to decide if we become the heroes or victims to this changing landscape: will we take control of our new reality or ‘simply accept’ whatever is being thrown at us? What will the new strategies and indeed stories be in this time of ‘not knowing’?

The discussion continues…

Seven reasons why a Communications Department shouldn’t write its own strategic narrative

Yesterday a colleague told me about a conversation he’d had with an individual who had recently left a large Financial Services institution. The aforesaid Institution’s Communications Department (which is an excellent Communications Department, I hasten to add) had taken it upon itself to write their strategic, or corporate, narrative. Well, that’s its job isn’t it? It’s as close to the business as any department, has an important relationship with the C-suite, and a strategic narrative forms an essential communications tool for leaders. Who, if not the Communications Department, is qualified enough to undertake this essential task?

The problem was that the narrative landed badly, fizzled out and, well, has gone nowhere.

I’m not altogether surprised. Without wanting to be contentious in anyway, here are seven reasons why a Communications department should think extremely carefully about crafting a strategic narrative and expect it to land with a punch in the organisation.

1. If a Comms department is seen to ‘own’ the strategic narrative, it will never be more than just a comms or engagement initiative.  To get buy-in and commitment to it, you need the Executive Team to own it, and thereafter leaders and managers throughout the entire organisation, and ultimately the entire workforce. This is different from the Executive team ‘signing it off’. If they have not been consulted individually on its content, and then brought together as a team to work through it and give it their blessing as a single, unified team, aligning behind it, committing to it and role-modelling it as a co-created piece of work, you will not get true alignment and the narrative goes out to the organisation at risk. And without alignment as a united senior team, you cannot hope to align the rest of the organisation.

2. A strategic narrative needs to be an honest, credible and transparent Story.  A member of the Communications team may well have conducted some interviews to extract the content, but we have seen too many times how Executives are not prepared to open up fully to one of their own, particularly someone in a more junior position. To get to the kernel of truth often requires a third party – a peer – who is skilfully able to navigate the political waters of a very senior leadership team in a non-threatening, objective way.

3. A corporate narrative should be a direct mirror, or reflection, of the views of the most senior team, often supported or embellished by a wider perspective from others, but ultimately owned by that senior team. They need to be credible. They need to be believable. They need to be honest. And you’ll only get one shot at it. Try and repeat the exercise because it went wrong the first time will mean it is received with cynicism and lack of trust. It’s very hard to regain that trust and credibility once it’s lost.

4. A strategic narrative is not about artful wordsmithing. In order to be authentic, it has to be the output of a dynamic, personal and intensely honest conversation between interviewer and interviewee. I have seen so many Communications Heads take pen to paper when the first draft is less than acceptable, only to impose their own viewpoint on the Story. If this happens the authenticity as a truly collective perspective is immediately lost. Nor should a truly effective strategic narrative be judged by its polished words and sanitised view of the world. It’s about tone, language, honesty and emotional punch. If you want to convert your cynics, it’s got to be credible – warts and all. This is something that is often extremely difficult to achieve for an ‘insider.’

5. The benefit of a good strategic narrative is that in almost all cases these days it forms part of a wider change agenda, acting as a catalyst for change. This means that its principal stakeholders should be from all over the business: those concerned with leadership development, culture, talent management, IT, process and system engineering (which may well be affected by the content), Executive coaching and facilitation, brand, sales, marketing, communications capability-building and ongoing strategic development. I repeat, a strategic narrative is never just a ‘communications’ exercise.

6.  A strategic narrative should be crafted within a proper narrative structure – a rational and emotional flow, with a beginning, middle and end. It should be written in down-to-earth language, almost as a conversation, built on a deeply personal collective perspective. What it isn’t is a series of facts about your strategy, vision, goals, objectives, purpose, mission and values. The writer needs to truly understand the power of a proper story structure, and bring meaning to its component parts in an emotionally compelling way. This is quite a specialist skill, not owned nor fully understood by a great number of Communications Departments (quite understandably).

7.  Lastly, for a strategic narrative to be truly effective, it needs to manifest itself in more than just words. It needs to be embellished and brought to life by a powerful creative identity that will enable a Communications team to link future messaging back to the narrative. This creative identity is not just about illustration or applied branding. The narrative will have at its heart a core message or big idea which will form the basis for a sustainable and exciting campaign, and the Story – or big idea within the Story – needs to be told in pictures as well as words. A successful visual identity will heighten the emotional connection and breathe life and soul into it. The team behind the big idea is a creative team, which needs to work hand in hand with the writer as he/she is starting to develop the narrative. One cannot work without the other. It’s not impossible, but it’s rare for an in-house Communications team to have this unusual blend of skills.

This is not an arrogant viewpoint designed to put Communications teams down in any way whatsoever. We work with some of the biggest companies in the world, all of whom have some of the most talented Communications teams you could wish to have and many have been instrumental in helping deliver successful corporate narratives. They are essential facilitators of the process and vital stakeholders. Quite honestly we can’t do without their buy-in and help to build momentum behind the narrative and embed it into the organisation.

But the crafting of the narrative and ensuing alignment process is a delicate, political and potentially risky process. It can be cathartic, energising and the source of great clarity, understanding and commitment. It some cases, however, the process can be disruptive – particularly when there is a political agenda at play, or lack of consensus around the strategy, leading to certain leaders realise that they cannot align behind the strategy and therefore should think about their future with the business. The last thing you’d want is for the Communications team to be the political fall guys.

Think carefully about who you choose to implement the narrative-building process. Go to the professionals; these are often external (objective) consultants who have a great track record, understand what an effective Story structure involves, have credibility in storytelling and who can build trust quickly at the most senior level. Of course involve your Communications Department – they are vital players in the process, but tread very carefully. You may only get one chance.

Brand Bowie: he taught us what it takes to stay ahead of the game

Like millions all over the world, I am mourning the passing of David Bowie.

Bowie was, for me, far more than a superstar rock idol, flamboyant fashionista, musician, singer, lyricist, storyteller, model, and just utterly brilliant artist and entertainer. He is (still) the one who can take me back to my youth in a nano-second. I can remember where I was as a teenager in the 70s and 80s when I hear almost every one of those soundtracks from Scary Monsters, and then Let’s Dance. Usually hanging out in some dark, smoky, patchouli-infused, cavernous tearoom in the town where I went to school, where the owner knew how to keep his teenage customers happy with the latest chart hits, a bit of moody lighting and a blind eye turned when the Sobrani Cocktails came out as we planted ourselves with the best possible vantage point to observe and critique the visiting boys from the local Boys’ College. Bowie spent those hours with us, idling away the time doing absolutely nothing useful for hours on end. He was a friend; one of us, doing time in the tearoom. And even now he has the ability to transport me back to my happy teenage years whenever I want. That is truly a gift.

And how thrilling, on the release of another Bowie single or album, to discover the delights of another zany costume, another effortlessly bouffant/slick hairdo, beautiful make-up (and I never really appreciated just how beautiful his facial features were until now), another daring and different soundtrack, with a stunning set of lyrics which were delivered, time after time, by that oh so distinctive voice and those mesmerising eyes. And usually accompanied by some perplexing pop video which we probably never really understood at the time, but hey, we loved it all. I will never forget seeing him in concert on the Glass Spider tour. And I am still not able to get over the fact that my Mum threw out my precious vinyl collection when CDs came out and she thought I wouldn’t want it any more. I still miss the anticipation and joy of acquiring a new LP: the poster, the must-learn lyrics, the essential information about the artist or band that made you a nobody if you didn’t know it. Bowie. What an era. What a legend.

I couldn’t possibly write as eloquently and knowledgeably about David Bowie as so many have over the last couple of days. But two things have really struck me.

Firstly, Bowie was a brand in his own right: probably one of the most successful living brands of all time. And Brand Bowie (along with Brand Mercury) could teach us a thing or two about sustainable competitive advantage. Always innovating, inventing, pushing the boundaries, producing constant new and different products that surprised and delighted us as he switched from one musical genre to another, with different backing bands and partners, always experimenting, always in a different guise, and with his own unique take on it each time.  Yet delivering each time with that unique voice that made him so consistently safe, and which you always trusted, before disappearing to plan his next musical onslaught on the population of Earth. Each time he left you hungry for more, knowing that you could expect a delicious surprise the next time round. He never failed to deliver on his brand promise. Bowie was a master of surprise, yet 27 studio albums, nine live albums, 49 compilation albums and 58 videos later over several decades proves that he had exactly what it takes to stay ahead of the game.  Genius.

The second was the humility that never left him despite his outstanding success as a global rock star. Never a prima donna (take note Justin Bieber) he just quietly and cleverly moved on to the next Big Thing, his desire for privacy fuelling our desire to see more of him and satisfying us, albeit temporarily, when he reappeared. He consistently kept us on our toes, and it probably gave him the space he needed to create the magic he would then bestow upon us. I loved Brendan O’Neill’s article on this in The Spectator: it’s really worth a read, and reminds us that this intense privacy (almost impossible to achieve in today’s nosy world of social media) was – in true Bowie style – what made his death the ultimate surprise. David Bowie, with his enigmatic persona, stayed on brand right until the end. We didn’t see this coming. And if you haven’t yet seen the BBC’s documentary ‘Five Years’, then get onto your iPlayer right now.

I apologise to those who think this little blog is a bit over the top. I am a little surprised myself at how sad I feel. But for those who are fans let’s celebrate. Preferably in Red Shoes and Dancing The Blues.

RIP David Bowie.