It just depends on how you look at it.

It always does.

Steph Houghton. 

2019 was a great year for International footballer and England Captain Steph Houghton.

A pioneering year.

Because her journey led England somewhere new.

And it also included.

For Steph.

Perhaps the most awful thing that could happen to a professional footballer.

So was 2019 a good year for Steph Houghton?

It just depends on how you look at it.

It always does.

11.7 Million. 

The most watched TV programme for 2019.

Was the women’s World Cup semi-final.

11.7 million people watched England take on reigning champions the USA.

Steph Houghton, MBE.

Manchester City player and captain.

England player and captain.

Was doing what she does best.

In front of almost 12 million people.

So many, many people knowing her name and seeing her do what she loves the most.

So many, many people knowing her name and seeing her miss the penalty that might just have helped England to move past the USA to the final.

Aiming High.

That’s the thing with aiming high.

The view from such an elevated place is stunning.

But when your head bows.

(And heads always bow).

The view down is not so amazing.

And when we fall.

(And we always fall).

It can be a long way down.


So if you decide to be pioneering.

You have automatically decided to fail.

Because you’ll never just keep going.

No one ever did.

You’ll find the limit of your journey.

And the more interesting and brilliant your journey.

The more people will see you journey.

And more people will see the limit of your journey.

The point in your journey where you fail.

So be ready for the good times.

And keep climbing.

But be ready for the fall too.

And how you react to the fall.

And don’t forget that when the fall comes.

It does not have to be the end of everything.

There are more journeys to be had.

It just depends on how you look at it.

It always does.

For me.

The most difficult question.

So difficult that it panics me.

Has always been:

What do I want?



After many years.

I’ve worked out why I find this question so difficult.

It is because when I hear it.

I twist it.

To become a slightly different question.

What Do I Want?

If I just left the question alone.

If I just left the question as:

What do I want?

I am comfortable with that.

I am comfortable that the answer includes certainty, Izobel, warmth, safety, home, dogs and a few really nice material things.

And I am comfortable with the addition of apparently conflicting elements such as a craving for uncertainty, adventure, risk, success, excellence and winning.

I can manage all that.

But once I twist the question.

To become a slightly different question.

That’s when I panic.

The Twisted Question. 

Here’s what I do.

I twist:

What do I want?

To become

What is everything that I will ever want?

And that’s where the problems start.

For me, at least


Ever is hard.

I don’t know about everything ever because I haven’t seen everything I am going to see yet.

I have not met everyone I am going to meet.

And I have not had to think about all of the things I am going to have to think about yet.

So I cannot answer the question:

What is everything that I will ever want?

Because I don’t know.

(Who does?)



I have what I want.

But I definitely do not have everything that I will ever want.

And I have to remind myself of the difference between those two things.

Having what I want.

And having everything that I will ever want.

Because having what I want makes me feel safe and secure.

And not yet having everything that I will ever want makes me feel adventurous and alive.

And I need both.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Dishoom.

Then I wrote about them again.

And here I am writing about them once more.


They are.

By all accounts.

Absolutely superb.

From the food.

To the interior.

To the welcome.


Since writing my stories about Dishoom.

A few other people have told me their stories about Dishoom.

One chap said that on his last visit there were winding queues outside.

And it was cold.

Really cold.

And he also told me that as he and his daughter joined the queue.

A Dishoom team member popped out almost immediately and gave them both a glass of hot, aromatic somethingorother.

With a smile and an apology.

And because the people in front of them and those that joined the queue behind them also got this treatment.

It bonded the visitors.

They made new friends before they’d even entered the restaurant.


The Thief. 


Dishoom has made a thief of me.

Even though I have still never been.

I’ve stolen something from them.

And here it is.

For you.


Here is what service is.

In 6 short bullets.

And when it comes to service.

It really is all you ever need to know.

It’s written on one piece of A4 paper that is associated somehow with Dishoom.

I am not quite sure how I heard about this.

But I do know that the paper is headed up with:

At Dishoom, We Have a Core Belief about Humanity.

A principle (apparently) enshrined in Sikhism of performing service without any notion of a subsequent reward.

And this was expanded upon on the reverse of the paper.

Via a list of six key behaviours that distinguish the excellent practitioners of Seva:

  1. Make eye contact and greet everyone before they greet you. Start every interaction with warmth.
  2. Be generous in everything you do. Keep asking, how can I help?
  3. Show gratitude and appreciation before every interaction.
  4. Start with exceptional groundwork and preparation. Anticipate the challenges and get ahead of them.
  5. With a beginner’s mind, find the issues. Fix them and figure out how to keep them fixed.
  6. Never compromise on quality. Seek tough feedback and raise your game every day.

And that’s it.

6 points.

About service.

And it’s all you need to know.

There are lots of thin lines in business I suppose.

And in life.

Thin Lines. 

Sometimes it’s better to be one side.

Sometimes it’s better to be the other.

Depending on context.

Passion versus Obsession.

For example.

Passion in a personal relationship can be amazing.

Genuine obsession in a personal relationship can be stifling.

Yet in business.

Passion can sound commonplace, contrived and inauthentic.

Whereas genuine obsession can be hypnotic.

As I say.



In branding there are endless thin lines.

And I want to point one out to you today.

It’s a strange one, this.

Because it’s hard to fathom.

It is the thin line between these two things:

  1. Asking a market how it feels.
  2. Telling a market how it feels.

It might be best to read those two things again.

Before you read on.

Tipping Point.

There is a tipping point between the two.


And telling).

And it is hard to work out where it is.

It reminds me a little bit of the difference between ‘Internal Pride’ and ‘The Lived Reality’.

(You can read about ‘Internal Pride’ versus ‘The Lived Reality’ in my free Digital Book – A.BRAND. Get a copy of A.BRAND, in seconds, by signing up to A.NEWSLETTER at

It reminds me a little bit of the difference between ‘Internal Pride’ and ‘The Lived Reality’ because, oftentimes, there is a difference between what is really going on.

And what you really wish was really going on.

And if you lose your objectivity.

You’re screwed.

Because, I think.

You then start to tell a market how it feels.

And that’s a big mistake.


This short story is inconclusive.

I can’t tell you what to do about this.

Other than to be careful.

And very importantly.

To listen much more than you talk.

Especially in the early years of your brand development journey.

And don’t filter what you hear.

Listen to it all.

A Question. 

So next time you are talking to someone about why your brand offer is better.

Check yourself.

Are you talking about how your market actually feels?

Because you asked them.

And you listened.

You listened properly.


And because you know it to be true.

Or are you talking about how you think or imagine that your market should actually feel?

Because you are obsessive about the change you want to make.


This is worth checking.

Because if it is the latter.

You are the wrong side of the thin line.

You are on the lonely side.

Because on that side of the line.

Is a vacuum.

And the only person to whom what you are saying resonates.

In the way that great brand messaging should.

Is you.

I suppose my most unusual job.

When I focus down on the thing that was actually required of me.

Was painting chickens.

Painting Chickens. 

I don’t mean I was stood in front of an easel.

And a stretched canvas.

Holding a paint smothered palette.

And a paintbrush.

As several live chickens ran around my feet.

What I mean is that I’d fill a white bucket with sauce.

And paint actual dead chickens.

With a wallpaper brush.


Fenwick have 9 posh stores in the UK.

Dotted from London to Newcastle.

I worked in the Newcastle one.

In the delicatessen.


Almost always with a hangover.

I’d leave my student accommodation at 5.15am and arrive at Fenwick in Newcastle at 5.55am on bleak Saturday mornings.

I’d shuffle into the cold, dark rotisserie room that was tucked away around the back.

Flick, flick, flick the blinking lights into life.

Hit the rotisserie’s big red starter button.

So that it woke, growling from its slumber.

Before I proceeded to lift the first of 200 chilled chickens from the fridge.


My OCD was useful with this Saturday morning ritual.

Because as I popped the chickens – 3 at a time – onto stainless steel rods.

The distance between them was exact.

Then, I’d slot them into the whirring, warming rotisserie.

I’d mix a bucket full of sauce using a spare stainless steel rod.

Grab my wallpaper brush.

And as the chilly chickens rose.




Into my eye line.

The painting began.

Saturday Job. 

I almost always had a ‘Saturday Job’.

From 15 years old to 22 years old.

I liked being around people.

I liked seeing how things worked.

I liked being the still-drunk teenager that turned pasty, chilly chickens into posh, barbecued chickens.

Adding value.

Adding margin.

Adding about £30 to my bank balance for a day’s work in 1989.

And I was good at painting chickens!

I try to do my very best with any job I do.

Whether it’s a poultry job.

Or a paltry job.

And even when it’s an apparently paltry poultry job.

If a job’s worth doing.

I always say.

It’s worth doing well.

And that includes writing rubbish puns on 50odd.

(You’re welcome).

Here’s how to run a brand.

Any brand.

Using only your bare feet.



Take your shoes and socks off.

Then grab a black Sharpie.

Bend down, and on your right foot, write:


Then, reach across and on your left foot, write:


Then, stamp your right foot.

Your ‘brand’ foot.

Stamp it over and over and over.

Shouting out loud what your brand stands for.

Shouting out the change you’re trying to make.

Shouting out your reason for actually being in fucking business.

And do this knowing that you really, really, really own that brand position.

(You’ll know if you own it. 

Because if people just say the brand position. 

Without saying the name of your brand.

They will still know who you are. 

“No Loss of Suction” for example. 

We all know who that is. 

Without having to say the brand name).

Your Brand. 

That’s the first bit.

The stamping bit.

The bit where we make sure you actually are a brand.

So if you can’t do this first part.

Put your shoes and socks back on.

And don’t waste anyone’s time with part two.

Part Two. 

Part two is quite precise.

First, root your ‘brand’ foot.

Your right foot.

Root it firmly to the ground.

Your right foot must now never, ever move.

It’s fixed.

Then, depending on how flexible and creative you are.

You can do what the fucking hell you like with your left foot.

Your ‘Marketing Communications, Including Creative, Messaging & Design’ foot.


Point your toes.

Wiggle it.

Do whatever it is that feels appropriate for your firmly rooted ‘brand’ foot.

And try not to fall over as you do.



Brand comes first.

Everything else in your business that is – or comes anywhere near – how you communicate yourself.

Is subordinate to brand.

It always follows brand.

Prancing About.

And never, ever move your brand foot.

Because if you do.

Or if your Creative/Brand/Full-service/Whatever agency does.

(And that happens a lot!

Because Agencies rarely understand how to build, communicate and integrate a brand properly).

You are not building a brand.

All you are doing is prancing about.

Looking stupid.

Wasting money.

Eroding profitability.

And jeopardising not only the growth of, but the very existence of your business.

Shoes and Socks. 

Do it.

In your next Board Meeting.

The next time your MD comes up with yet another random, bullshit suggestion that she or he heard on the golf course or down the gym.

You know what to do.

Stand up.

Take your shoes and socks off.

Grab your Sharpie.

Jump up on the board table in front of the assembled suits.

And stamp!

When I was a ‘boss’ of more people than I lead now.

Leading businesses bigger than the ones I lead now.

I think that.


I was a monster.


I wasn’t being a monster on purpose.

I just forgot that the founder of a business might be quite a scary thing to a young intern.

I forgot that actually speaking to team members in a connected and interested way was important.

(One time.

To my shame. 

I overheard one young designer that I employed.

Say to a friend of mine. 

That I had not actually spoken to him for over a year).

I forgot that people deserve to feel important.

Because they are important.

I forgot that deep down we are all the same.

And that we all need to be reminded of that sometimes.

I forgot that everything on this subject.

Was my responsibility to address.

Because as I was the founder of the business.

So I was potentially the biggest monster of all.

Cats and Canaries.

To a canary.

A cat is a monster.

This is an important subject.

And deserves consideration.

So today.

That’s what I am going to do.

Here’s the thing about Case Studies.

Case Studies that you might read, I mean.

Case Studies to inform your work.

Your industry.

Or your next move.

Maybe the thing you’re reading the Case Study about.

Is too late for you to act upon.

Because someone did it already.


Maybe Case Studies are not those things that shine a light on where you should go.

Maybe Case Studies are those things that help us to understand where not to go.

Because whatever they’re illuminating.

Has already been done.

Case Studies. 


Case Studies.

Are you reading them?

Or writing them?

I know my answer.

What’s yours?

They’re everywhere.

The Stupid Plastic Glove People.

You’ll probably see one today.

Around lunchtime.

The Stupid Plastic Glove People.

I’m really not keen on The Stupid Plastic Glove People.

Firstly, because I think.

That they think.

That I’m blind.

And you’re blind.

I think that they think we can’t actually see how contemptible they are.

Well; we can.

Small Businesses. 

I’ve run small businesses.

So I understand that even though multi-tasking should be avoided.

Sometimes, it just has to be done.

But if I am stood in your sandwich shop.

And you’re making me a sandwich.

With one plastic glove on.

Or two plastic gloves on.

And you then beep, beep, beep the cash register.

And reach out for and take my payment.

And rummage and rattle around in the little trays of coins for 10 seconds.

Before handing me back my change.

Still wearing the same one or two plastic gloves that you wore when you made me my sandwich.

Then you are one of The Stupid Plastic Glove People.


Contemptible is a harsh word.

Yet if we define it as (something like):

…a low standing in any scale of values.

Then I think that contemptible is an accurate description for the attitude of The Stupid Plastic Glove People.

Because I think that The Stupid Plastic Glove People don’t value me.

Or my safety.

Or any of their customer’s safety.

Or their own levels of hygiene.

Or their own systems.

Or common sense.

Whether they are disrespecting and undermining and weakening their own brand.

Or whether they are disrespecting and undermining and weakening the brand that they are working for.

And that’s why I think The Stupid Plastic Glove People are contemptible.

Last Tuesday Lunchtime.

And it is also why.

Last Tuesday Lunchtime.

I wandered into my local sandwich shop.

Where two Stupid Plastic Glove People work.

Still wearing the exact same overalls, wellingtons and gloves I had worn for three hours at that morning’s ‘Third Annual Cowshit Throwing Contest’ at Buttertrump Farm in Jesmond.

Before wrapping my gloves around, picking up and sniffing about 30 of said sandwich shop’s Danish Pastries.

And eventually buying just one.

They weren’t amused.

(But I was).


There is one fib in this story.

See if you can spot it.

One of my favourite restaurants.

Is Dishoom.

And perhaps the most unusual thing about me expressing this preference.

Is the fact that I have never been.


I met Dishoom founder Shamil Thakrar in London.

In November 2019.

And I am so certain that Dishoom is one of my favourite restaurants.

(Despite having never ever been).

Because of just two things that Shamil told me.

The first was this.

Shamil said that Dishoom is not a restaurant.

Well, not according to Shamil it isn’t.

According to Shamil, Dishoom is:

A love letter to Bombay told through food and stories.

I love the pictures this creates.

And the sounds that it creates.

And the smells.

And the tastes.

And the atmosphere.

I love the promise that that statement makes.

And because Shamil delivers on that promise.

I love Dishoom, too.


But it was the second thing that Shamil said to me that sealed it.

And it is a simple story.

It is a story about something that happened shortly after Shamil had been explaining his interior design vision to the team that creates his restaurants.

His designers.

And his builders.

(It is important to note, by the way, that Shamil bases his restaurants on precise eating experiences from a very precise period of time in Bombay’s history.

The year 1960).

The pictures that Shamil creates in the minds of his team are alive!

They are so vivid and beautiful that anyone visiting Dishoom today can breathe in the authenticity of the Irani cafés and the food of all Bombay from that wonderful era.

And it was against this backdrop that Shamil spoke to me about something quite simple.

And something quite surprising.

He spoke to me about flathead screws.


One day.

As Shamil stood in one of his completed restaurant interiors.

A restaurant that he had painstakingly overseen the refurbishment of for weeks.

Shamil had a niggle.

Something wasn’t quite right.


Shamil walked over to the bar area.

Crouched down.

And gently touched one of the exposed screwheads with his finger.

It was a crosshead screw.

And whilst such a thing existed in the world in the 1960’s.

Shamil knew that this is not how the establishments in Bombay would have been constructed in 1960.

Little things. 

I pass restaurants every day.

So many of them struggling.

So many of them empty.

I see that they are empty as my eyes squint through their filthy fucking windows.

And as my feet crunch through the litter they they leave strewn outside their doors.

I squint to see the waiters and the waitresses inside stood mouthing their complaints about their lack of customers.

As they lean motionless against bars, chairs and walls.

And I think about Shamil.

And I smile.

Because when you get the the little things right.

You’re sure to get the big things right too.


In the restaurant I mentioned earlier.

Shamil had every last cross head screw removed.

And replaced.

With the more authentic flathead screws that would have been used in Bombay in 1960.


Dishoom serves 400,000 meals each month.

(Half of which they give away.

But that’s another story).

And I think I know why.