November 2019


This is an important date for you.

February 28th 2020.

Particularly if you have part of your life you are unhappy about.

Any part at all.

If you want change something.

Then February 28th 2020 is significant.


I reckon that many, many really great things can happen in 100 days.

Weight can be lost.

Songs can be learned.

New jobs can be secured.

Habits can be broken.

Relationships can be started.

Or ended.

100 days. 

100 days is enough.

In this short, 1,000 month life of ours.

To change something for the better.


For you.

Or for someone that you love.

What’s it going to be?

The more I think about it.

The more I am convinced of it.

The secret ingredients of being absolutely bloody brilliant in business.

Are big heartedness and generosity.


Dishoom is an award winning restaurant.

And I was lucky enough to meet it’s founder last week.

Shamil Thakrar.


Shamil is a big fan of generosity.

Shamil nurtures generosity by building deep mutual respect and love into his teams.

And Shamil builds a deep and mutual respect between teams and customers, too.


Here’s how Shamil makes generosity work for him.

(And his customers).

Shamil creates superstars.

Generous superstars.

Generous, talented superstars.

Generous because they are driven by learning.

And they are driven by gifting what they have learned to others.


Shamil’s teams are driven to gift what they have learned to others via real experiences.

For example, Shamil implores his teams to make the very best Old Fashioned (or whatever) they can make.

Shamil implores each and every team member to make an Old Fashioned as if it were the last Old Fashioned they would ever make.

He wants his team to make every single Old Fashioned through gritted teeth.

Through piercing stares.

And with a laser-like focus.

Every single time.

Because Shamil thinks that the most generous thing in the world is to learn an amazing talent.

And then to share that talent.

Call To Arms.

And as one final call to arms.

Shamil asks his team to imagine that the very next Old Fashioned that their very next customer asks for.

Will be the very last Old Fashioned that customer will ever, ever taste.

And as a consequence.

The most generous thing that the server can do is to muster every single ounce of their talent and ability.

And show that customer the ultimate generosity.

By making what could be their very last Old Fashioned the absolute pinnacle of their life-long Old Fashioned drinking experiences.

Big Heartedness.

When Shamil recruits.

He looks for a big heart.

Shamil sees big heartedness as the number one attribute of his team members.

As they strive towards achieving zero defect delivery.

Creating massive customer value.

And giving everything they possibly can.

At every single customer interaction.

What’s not to love about that?

Secret Ingredients

The more I think about it.

The more I am convinced of it.

The secret ingredients of being absolutely bloody brilliant in business.

Are big heartedness and generosity.

I was in London last week.

Brick Lane.

And at one point I was sat in a really lovely coffee shop.

Called ‘Nude’.


Excellent Coffee.

The people that worked there were a bit daft though.

Because whilst their coffee was excellent.

Their doors were rubbish.

And they knew it.

(Yet they did nothing about it).

The Doors. 

The little cafe had double doors.

Lovely, they were.





Both doors had spindled handles on both sides, too.


But the problem was that only one door opened.

And that door only opened one way.

(Spoiler alert!

The right hand door opened inwards).


Now, in the grand scheme of things in this wobbly world of ours.

This is not of global significance.

It’s just a daft niggle.

But it is such an easily mendable niggle.

That someone should bloody well mend it.


Each time someone approached the door.

From the inside or the outside.

They had a conundrum.

First, is it the right door or the left door that opens?

Second, do I pull it or do I push it?

And invariably.

With a 1 in 4 chance of getting it right.

The customer would choose the wrong door.

And/or push when they should have pulled.

Resulting in a loud rattle.

A red faced customer.

(The British are like that when they draw attention to themselves).

And everyone in the front half of the cafe raising their head because of the noise.


Over and over and over.

One of the really lovely waitresses saying,


Everyone does that…

Little Things. 

In business.

The little things can be the big things.

And I think that a business that looks after the little things.

Is more likely.

By it’s nature.

To look after the big things, too.

So, on the outside of the door, a teeny professionally made sign saying:

“Welcome. Please Pull This Door & Come On In.”

And on the inside.

“Thank You So Much For Calling. Push This Door & Away You Go. See You Soon.”

Would do the job.



On the way in.

And on the way out.


Alfie is 18.

And from Clitheroe.


If (the right kind of) entrepreneurialism is (at least in part) about self belief, working really hard, vision, likability, straightforwardness, kindness, managing fear, tenacity, trying the impossible (for example, a settee (see the link)), doing things your way, overcoming barriers and operating outside your apparent authority (for example, potholes (see the link)).

Plus a big dose of not giving a shit what other people think or say.

Then Alfie.

Who is all of those things .

Is the most entrepreneurial guy I have ever come across.


Even if you’ve seen this before.

It is definitely worth another 8 minutes of your time.

It’ll set you up for the week:

I met a guy from IBM this week.

Quite a senior guy.


Challenging in his approach.

A team leader.

A man keen to push, push, push his teams to the absolute limit.

A man keen get the most out of his people.


He revealed to me and to the other people in the room.

The most important thing he did with every single team member.

Every single week.

In order to wring every last drop out of them as team members.

This is what he did.

He emptied half a day of all of their diaries each week.

And sent them out of the office.

Out of Office. 

He sent them to a hotel.

Or a cafe.

With no phones.

And no computers.

And no tablets.

Just each other.

He encouraged them to talk to each other about what they’d experienced in the other four and a half days of the week.

To digest it.


To describe how they saw it.

To help each other.

To explore how they were actually going to apply what they’d learned that week.

And that was that.


The right kind of downtime.

Even at work.

Is important.

Time to pause.

And think.

And digest.

Or you just end up consuming.



Packing all this stuff into your hours and your minutes and your seconds.

Not tasting anything properly.

Not processing anything properly.

Not thinking about anything properly.

Not pausing to work out what’s good so you can do the good things more.

And not pausing to work out what’s bad so you stop doing them.

And this is all wrong.


So pause.

Pause in a fixed pattern like the guys at IBM do.

Make the right kind of downtime a habit.

You – and your uptime – will be better for it.


I don’t do it on purpose.

I do it because is bothers me.

It really bothers me.

It bothers me how big businesses tell us one story.

And deliver us another.

I think it is disgusting.

And that is why I write about it.


This short story is dedicated to Lucy Sermon.

A lady kind enough to comment on yesterday’s 50odd story when it was reposted to Linkedin.

Here’s the story:

And here’s what Lucy said about my story on LinkedIn yesterday.

It sounds like you’re anticipating disappointment Michael?!

I really hope you’re not, it would be such a shame.

Will you fill us in when you’ve visited? 

I wish I lived nearer to one to find out for myself 😉

Lucy was commenting because I said that I really, really hoped that after John Lewis and Waitrose had raised my expectations.

With the delivery into my home of such a polished and high quality visual story.

A Christmas advert.

I hoped that the experience would extend to an actual store visit.


All that John Lewis are doing.

Is spinning total and utter bullshit.

They’d just be incompetent liars.

Because by their investment in advertising.

This is what I, as a consumer, hear:

We will invest millions of pounds on conceptualising and crafting a beautiful story and experience for you and your family.

A beautiful story and experience that you can enjoy in your own home.

The implications of which will be that.

When you actually visit our stores.

You will experience the same love, care and beauty.

The story and the experience will continue.

Because that is the right and honourable thing to do.

Both for you the consumers.

For our team of front line people.

And for our shareholders.

Little Waitrose. Kings Cross Station. 

The photograph accompanying this story is the checkout that I was asked to use at Little Waitrose.

At Kings Cross Station.


Take a look:

It’s fucking disgusting.

It’s filthy.

It’s surrounded by piles of magazines still wrapped in the plastic straps that hold them together for transit.

The fliers that are there for customers to take and carelessly thrown into their containers.

(As staff stand motionless.

Unable to see or care about any of this).

There is a laughable, crude sign sellotaped to the top of the self-serve checkout.

Created by a pig-thick staff member that thinks good enough is good enough.

Scrawled in blue ballpoint pen.

On a torn piece of paper.

The piece of paper shouts:


And just at the bottom of the photograph.

If you look closely.

And I do encourage you to look closely.

(I have left this photograph full colour).

Is the worst thing of all.

You can see a sticker that is brown and black with shitty fingerprints.

And the sticker is about 40% worn away.

Almost half of it is completely worn away.

The result of thousands of filthy fingers and hands passing over it.

And I am expected to put the sandwich that I am buying from Waitrose on there.


Fucking food.

A Message To Retail. 

Get your priorities right.

That disgusting, filthy sticker will have been there for weeks.

You will have looked at it.

And you will have ignored it.

Every morning.

Every afternoon.

And every evening.


For endless reasons at the moment I sometimes find myself ashamed to be British.

Largely because of our self-serving politicians.

But I have to say that if this is what the (apparently) best retailers in the UK think is acceptable.

Then my shame deepens.

It is vile.

You are vile.

And it is disrespectful.


As an Endnote I want to mention Hotel Chocolat.

A retail outlet less than 100 yards from the filthy, thrown-together shithole that is Little Waitrose in King’s Cross Station (see the photograph with this story).

Hotel Chocolat is beautiful.


Masterfully assembled.

The three lovely young people working in there yesterday were excellently presented.


They cared.

I felt like I mattered.

They looked at me when they spoke to me.

They hustled.

They helped.

Hotel Chocolat is a retail hero.

They get it.

And as a consequence.

They get my custom.

Where as you, Waitrose.

You don’t.

The little dragon in the 2019 Christmas John Lewis (and Waitrose) advert is a lovely thing.

It’s clumsy.

And friendly.

And it has nice eyes.

Nice eyes are important for an animal that doesn’t exist and that can’t speak.

Because nice eyes help us to sense what it’s thinking.

So yes.

The little dragon in the 2019 John Lewis (and Waitrose) advert is a lovely thing.


This review is my gut reaction, by the way.

I know nothing of the budget.

Other than it must have been bloody big.

And nothing of the backstory.

I wanted to comment on the 2019 John Lewis and Waitrose Christmas advert as a consumer.

And as a dad.

Is it any good?

So is it any good?

Well, even though I wrote that question.

I am not sure of the answer.

I suppose it depends who is asking and how they are measuring.

It ticks the ‘sugary’ box.

Which is no bad thing.

Niceness is nice.

Families will watch it together.

And I suppose a woven-in-message is that everyone’s foibles can be strengths given the right circumstances.

That’s a good message.

So, OK.

If it’s me that’s asking if it’s any good.

(And it is).

And if it’s me that is also answering.

(And it is).

Then, yes.

It’s good.


Kindness is a theme too.

With a sprinkling of tolerance.

And patience.

I like that.

Customer Behaviour.

Will it make me pop to John Lewis or Waitrose for my Christmas shop, though?

Will the behaviour of this particular consumer (me) be influenced in the way that they want?

You know what, it just might.

For two reasons.

Reason One.

First, I am interested in how they have integrated the loveliness in the advert that they delivered to my home.

Into their stores.

So when I pop in (with Izobel) to check, one of three things will happen.

Izobel and I will either be:

  1. Delighted.
  2. Underwhelmed.
  3. Disappointed.

And if Izobel and I are anything other than number 1, that’s really crap.

John Lewis and Waitrose will have failed.

It would mean that yet again a brand is fishing for customers with big budget advertising.

And at the point of delivery the experience just doesn’t match up.

Let’s see.

Reason Two.

The second reason I might go to John Lewis or Waitrose as a result of this advert is because the advert is a superb quality piece of work.

On every level.

I like quality.

And the advert makes my little brain think this:

This brand is clearly committed to quality in the stories they tell.

And in how they tell them.

So they would be worse than idiotic to give me anything less than as good a quality experience in their stores.

Because to raise expectations to a 10/10.

To then deliver at an ordinary and lazy 7/10.

Is quite simply a worse kind of shit than saying I’ll get an ordinary and lazy 7/10 and delivering at an ordinary and lazy 7/10.

At least that’s honest shit.

Such under delivery would, in the longer term, be suicidal for any brand.

Izobel and I.

So the advert has done it’s job.

I will take Izobel (and my credit card) to John Lewis and to Waitrose.

To see if the TV experience extends to the physical environment.

To see if the store itself is doing as good a job as the advert is.

Because such clumsy misalignment would be crazy, right?

Merry Christmas.

(Here’s the ad:


Creativity is important.

And I think I know what it looks like.

I think it’s what I see and sense when I peer over a creative’s shoulder.

As they stare at the fresh, untrodden snowcover of a creative challenge.

As they are about to embracing wholeheartedly the newness of this opportunity to make a mark.

Their mark.

The opportunity to use their imagination.

The opportunity to generate and then harness their ideas and their ambition.

Into something meaningful.

To muster something fresh and interesting.

(And yes.

It has to be interesting).

That’s what I think creativity looks like.


And I think I know what creativity feels like too.

And that is much easier and simper to describe.

I think that creativity feels like Free Falling.


But beware the enemies of creativity.

Beware the things that block the feeling of Free Falling.

Things like money.

Money, I have found, can be creativity’s greatest enemy.

Because it’s normally somebody else’s money that’s in the mix.

And so there is someone else’s will in the mix.

Or taste.

Or instruction.

Or conflicting ideas.

That can bend your creativity out of it’s natural shape.

Such things can bend and break your natural free flowing, Free Falling creativity.

They bend it away from it’s natural course.

To an unnatural one.

A course where doubt ousts spontaneity.

And metrics neuter the beauty and purity of gut feeling.


So negotiate your freedom to create.

With yourself.

And with others.

Look them in the eye.

Look for trust.

Look for a cultural fit.

Where you want them to be them.

And they want you to be you.

And where these two things sit in perfect harmony.

Because there is nothing worse on a creative brief, than when they want you to be just another version of what they already are.

And they think they can do what you do better than you can.

Free Falling.

Free Falling.

Go after it.

You know what it is.

You can feel it.

Not a lot of people know this.

But there is something (so I am told) very, very unusual about Always Wear Red.

I never anticipated it happening.

But I’m endlessly flattered that it has.

(I’ll let you know what it is in 30 seconds.

It’s to do with just one particular Always Wear Red Baker Boy Cap, pictured here:

So keep reading).

The Three R’s

Always Wear Red is a D2C (direct to consumer) brand.

That way, I can operate at lower margins and pass as much value and quality to the client as possible.

Because no one between me and them takes a cut.

(It’s Always Wear Red.

Then it’s you. 

And that’s it).


Even with this simple model.

The shadow of The Three R’s still frightens me.

  • Returns.
  • Rejection.
  • Rethinking (changing your mind).

Returns. Rejection. Rethinking.

The cost of things coming back to a business can be catastrophic.

And it can happen for many reasons.

I think that reasons include:

  • The customer not knowing about and caring about the brand and the change it is trying to make.
  • The customer not knowing about and (to some degree at least) caring about the people behind the brand.
  • Crap product quality.
  • Crap packaging and point of sale materials.
  • The customer being generally underwhelmed by, and indifferent about, the whole experience.
  • Ordinariness.
  • An uninteresting experience.
  • Carelessly processed and executed packaging, so there is clearly no consideration of the unboxing or gifting experience.
  • The customer being made to feel that once the sale has taken place, the brand does not give a shit about them any more.
  • The product not delivering on the quality promise that was made at the online store.
  • The product and the brand not making me feel how I thought it would make me feel.
  • The brand not saying thank you to me – personally and sincerely – for me choosing them.

There will be more.

The Always Wear Red Baker Boy Cap.


So now to this one particular Always Wear Red Baker Boy Cap.

Pictured here:

What’s so special about it?

After around 1,000 individual relationships with Always Wear Red customers.

Why is the customer relationship around this one particular Always Wear Red Baker Boy Cap so significant?

Well – it’s because it was returned.

And more specifically because it’s the only piece that has ever been returned to Always Wear Red since we launched on Valentine’s Day 2016.

Our returns rate is 1.

Not 1%.

1 piece.

And it’s this, one, Always Wear Red Baker Boy Cap.

(The average returns rate for an e-commerce business is 30%.

And it’s 9% in a bricks and mortar store).

First Time. Every Time.

Always Wear Red is imperfect.

I work hard to be better tomorrow than I am today.

It’s because I want to be extraordinary in everything I do.

First time.

Every time.

For just one reason.

It’s because if I don’t aim for extraordinary.

There is only one other description for me.

And no one but no one should ever, ever be comfortable being called that.

Your category.

The segment within which your business trades.

Or the segment within which your employer trades.

How are you taking your category forward?

How are you progressing it?

How are you changing your entire category for the better?

What is it you’re doing that makes the rest of the category sit up and listen?

What are you doing that makes the rest of the category feel like they have to ‘keep an eye on you’?

Impressed by your foresight and your endeavour.

My Brands.

For the avoidance of doubt.

Here are examples of categories.

My categories.

Always Wear Red is in an existing category called Premium Hand Knitted Jumpers.

ANGELFYSH is in an existing category called Brand Communications.

50odd is in an existing category called Personal Blogging.

(I state ‘existing’ because categories can be created. 

But you need an entirely different approach to, well, virtually everything if you create a category.

That’s another story).


There is a reason that I am asking you about how you are taking your category forward.

It is because someone or maybe a few people will be being pioneering in your category.

Right now.

I say a few people because categories can be progressed in several ways at the same time.

More than just one person in a category can be hungry to change the category.

And I was just wondering whether one of those people was you?

And how you articulate, and work to deliver on, the change that you want to make?

Take It Forward. 

I am taking the Premium Hand Knit Jumper category forward by changing the relationship people have with the clothing they buy and wear.

I am taking the Brand Communications category forward by behaving like an un-agency. I am doing the opposite of what most agencies do. Flushing out bad and outdated practices where the client loses.

I am taking the Personal Blogging category forward by leading by example. Blogging to as high a standard as I can. Every single day. Telling my story. So others are encouraged to tell their story too.

Passion Plus. 

When you know how you are taking your category forward.

It feels like ‘passion-plus’.

It feels like a moral responsibility.

You look people in the eye when you articulate the change you’re trying to make.

And they are interested.

Because you are interesting.

You stand square-on as you talk to them.

You gesticulate.

Your eyes widen as you speak.

And you are consistent.

You are laser-like with your language.

You are bullet proof with your reasoning.

Because your planning is thorough.

And considered.

And professional.

And smart.

And complete.

Because you care.

Because the change you care about making matters to you.

And it matters to them.



Your category.

Which category are you in, first of all?

And how are you taking it forward?

Over to you.