Friday 10 November 2017

Values Matter

You don’t have to work in marketing to know that the commercial world goes around based on a thing called brand and brand values.  Whether you’re studying organisational change, as I did at university, motivating your team in a workshop to articulate what it is they think your business stands for, or clarifying a sales strategy, the concept of values underpinning your brand should come up.  (Unless of course you work for an organisation which displays a list of values under the Mission Statement but doesn’t look at them again until the Annual Report is due.)

We don’t use the same vocabulary when we are subconsciously assessing whether we want to be friends with someone (or not), but actually it’s not much different.  For some reason we decide we like them, we enjoy hanging out with them, and we want to go back for more interaction.  That is because, on some level, we share values.  Not all necessarily, but some.  We share a love of musical genre, humour, food, intelligent debate, politics, religion, sport, passion for the arts, gardening... or our children are at the same nursery and we both care that the establishment looking after our precious infant provides the quality of care they say they will.  In all healthy personal relationships we want to be able to trust that someone or something is as it says ‘on the tin’.  And those respected (or desired) qualities and attitudes coalesce into our values – the things we want to be, the things we would fight to protect. 

Let’s take that a step further.  If you are a writer, there is not a book you can write or sell without understanding the essential nature of your characters (their values, aspirations) as well as your audience (who are you talking to and why?).  When pitching to an agent and publisher - or when writing a press release – you need to be able to tell your reader your USP – unique selling point – in a sentence or two.  (Indeed all products need this kind of definition to survive in a busy marketplace.)  One of the funny things about Hollywood, so I believe, is that whenever you make an elevator pitch for a film there is only one way to get yourself heard: tell your desired producer what other film your script is like, and then highlight how it differs from that.  In other words – capture in a few words what we accept as good, and then show a layer of originality.  For example:  your film is like Murder on the Orient Express but it happens on a submarine and the captain/detective is played by Ethan Hawke.  Ok, bad example, as there’s little scenery deep underwater, but you get my point.  In that case we are projecting pre-existing values (what is already familiar and can be counted upon) and some excitement around the possibility of doing things a little differently (freshness, spice).  These are the underpinning values of people in the story business.  Well, I should say, in the commercial story business. 

Where am I headed?  I have been thinking about #LondonIsOpen and #LondonIsOpenForBusiness. 

I was delighted when the Mayor of London launched that Campaign shortly after the disastrous referendum result.  It comforted me, because I felt what it was saying to our European neighbours was not just ‘you will still be able to come to London’.  But also that the people of London were not all xenophobic or cynical, that millions of us still believed in the great post WW11 experiment to foster co-operation, cross-pollination, respect and peace amongst nations.  One day the concept of a global, multi-cultural village exploded in our electoral faces, and only days later one of our political leaders (at last) was saying “No, Londoners have values, broad inclusive values, from which we will not part!”  Ok, the practicalities of that are far more complex than a slogan – the bungled and slow negotiations for Brexit, a proof in point – but the values underpinning that campaign is what has inspired (and comforted) many.  

So where are we?  Every day lately the world seems to have gone totally off its rocker.  There are so many crazy things happening that I have to take regular radio-digital respite to avoid the negative energy waves corroding my natural inclination to optimism.  Then three things happened as I moved around London in quick succession recently.  In isolation they didn’t mean much, but together I realised it was a question of values (and the dissemination of those values). 


Walking along the edge of a busy pavement immediately adjacent to a bus lane, my stride was interrupted by a teenage girl leaning down in front of me and placing a can of coca-cola on the ground.  I had to stop or I’d have fallen into her.  She stood up and turned away without a word.  Automatically I looked at her, then the can at my feet (registering it was empty), then back at her.  For a moment I think I was expecting her to say something.  Nothing came.  “Hey” I smiled, “you are going to pick that up again, yeah?  “No” she spat.  I was stunned.  I guess an innate sense of responsibility as the adult in this scenario kicked in.  I spoke to her as I would to a niece or nephew, or to a student: “Oh, go on” still smiling “be a good girl and put it into the rubbish”.  There was nothing at all threatening or aggressive in my tone, and I fully expected her to respect her elder and pick it up; perhaps even be a little embarrassed that she was caught out.  Instead she said “F**k off”.  The girl opposite her said the same.  A 3rd girl added “don’t tell us what to do or we’ll kick your head in”.  And a 4th  tried to show how big and powerful she was by spitting: “or we’ll knife you”. 

I was so shocked to be abused by teenage girls in school uniform in broad daylight at Clapham Junction, that I actually laughed.  A black laugh, but none-the-less out it came.  “Really?” I said to the 3rd and 4th girls in particular.  “There is no need to escalate such a small thing...” and I ran out of things to say for a few seconds as my brain struggled to catch up with what had just happened.  “Again someone said “F**k off”, by which time I noticed two girls on the outer circle looked very uncomfortable.  They at least had a conscience; aka better role models.  I knew it was time to leave but couldn’t resist ,  “What I am talking about is good citizenship. Why don’t you look it up in the dictionary” and walked away.   

No, I did not need to leave with a sarcastic remark.  And if it had been a group of boys, or at night, I’d likely have been more circumspect.  However in no way did I deserve their rudeness and resentment.  Yet I have lived in London long enough to know that fear of rebuke, or worse, makes many people stay silent in such circumstances.  Time and time again adults say and do nothing when they witness bad behaviour by children and young adults (even if their intervention might help restore to society some of what we believe makes us civilised and ultimately comfortable).  This is a very sad fact of modern life and as I got on the bus I felt most for the teachers of those children.  For how can they succeed in preparing these rough and tumble balls of angst for the world if the adults of their generation aren’t supporting them? 


Only days later I went to the cinema with reserved tickets.  I was actually on a date, but he’d stopped off to do get something and said he’d meet me in the seats.  When I got to Row J on the end of the aisle a teenager was in my seat and a coat on the other.  This girl was white, pretty and privileged, but when I said “I’m sorry, but I think you are in the wrong seat, these are mine” (and held up my tickets) again I found myself in an unexpected, antagonistic situation.  “Someone else is my seat so I’m not moving” she complained.  No logic could budge her.  Indeed she said I was irritating her?!  All the while I was conscious a) my date would be coming back – which is not a nice way to start an evening, and b) the cinema was full and the feature soon to start.  “Please” I appealed, “I’m afraid you are going to have to go and sort out your own problem.  Go and talk to whoever is in your seat and show them your ticket... or get an usher to help you“.  But this stubborn, arrogant girl – who fancied herself so much more grown up than she could possibly be - was having none of it.  An usher was summoned, then a manager, to no avail.  Finally she got out of the seat only to plonk herself down on the lap of her girlfriend in the next chair.  More voices joined the discussion: the man behind understandably complaining that she was too tall on the other girl’s lap and he couldn’t see; someone else asking for their money back to compensate for the disturbance.  But the young manager had so little training, maturity or confidence that he had nothing in his artillery to persuade her.  I had been standing back against the wall to let him do his thing, but as the movie started I sat down.  He was now leaning over me (and my date) trying but failing to reason with her.  The ‘event manager’ in me kicked in.  I whispered to him solemnly that actually it was illegal for two people to share a seat, and that he should hold the film and/or have her removed by security.  He simply could not let this situation go on any longer – particularly when she had still not been able to produce a ticket for any seat, let alone the ones in which she was determined to perch.  I also said that if he couldn’t fix it quickly the best solution might be to refund all our tickets.  (My date was not in favour of this idea.)  Ten minutes into the film, the manager found his spine and demanded that the stupid girl get up.  Which to all our surprise and relief she did; and he took her out of the cinema to calls like “I still want my money back... this is ridiculous etc”.  Needless to say, by this time NO-ONE was feeling good about the Odeon brand! 


Now let me jump to the positive side of the equation.  On a tube a couple of days later, I watched the opposite kind of behaviour spread as infectiously – more infectiously in fact – than the bad behaviour.  A middle-aged lady got on the tube and a man offered up his seat.  Then an elderly couple got on, the wife taking the seat next to me, the elderly gentleman standing.  I stood up, as did another girl simultaneously, and we offered him our seats.  He declined.  But it was clear his wife wanted him to sit.  “Please I said, I have no doubt that you are well able to stand, but you would be more comfortable sitting and I would be happy if you’d oblige me”.  His wife smiled at me with great warmth.  The gentleman took my seat and thanked myself and the other girl repeatedly.  The district line continued a slow journey towards Tower Bridge.  During the next twenty minutes I watched person after person standing and offering their seat to someone older, of the opposite or same gender, to a mother and child, to someone on crutches, pregnant etc.  Only one person (I won’t say if it was a lady or man for fear of making this a gender debate) in that entire carriage had not changed their original position at least once during the journey.  Generosity of spirit was flowing, the atmosphere of the carriage light and positive.  People were smiling.  People were saying thank you, nodding and bidding farewell as they stepped off the train.  Remember – like it was during London 2012! 

What can we call this behaviour other than kindness? Respect? Or actually, manners - for manners in their essence are behaviours that have evolved out of a desire to make people comfortable and welcome.  Manners is kindness and respect in action.

So may I end this far too wordy blog to say that #LondonIsOpen might also aspire to remind us that good manners can make our daily lives, our commutes and our communities so much more pleasant, so much more cohesive.  So perhaps we could find a way to practise these habits?  Perhaps find a way to collectively project those values ?  For it definitely makes us all feel better. 

#LondonIsOpen            #MannersAreInfectious            #ValuesMatter              #BeKind

Perhaps we might ask the Mayor of London to dedicate a day to remind us of these values?  Now that’d be a campaign I’d get behind!

I wrote about the generosity and positivity which radiated through London during the Olympics and ParaOlympics.  If you need a reminder see: