I wrote this piece for The Argus, Brighton’s local newspaper, a few weeks back.
It’s basically the belief that I (and others) have that Brighton, by nature of its vibe, its location, its size and most of all its values, has the opportunity to play a helpful role in showing how to do business better.
We get used to drinking our own Kool-Aid in the Brighton business community. “Why, yes, we’re by the sea! Yes, we’re amazeballs at creative and digital and tourism and culture and stuff! Yes, everything is brilliant here – come and buy stuff from us! (Oh, and please tidy the beach before you leave).”
And to be fair, much of that is deserved. It is right that we are so well known for what we do: our mosaic of gorgeous North Laine boutiques, our cluster of world-class digital hothouses, our endless carnival of cultural & hedonistic experiences, and the rest.
But what would it be like if Brighton led the way in not only what its business community does but also how it did it? What if this brave, quirky city could stand up and show the world how to do business better in the 21st century? In how to organise groups, how to motivate people, in what leadership means and how rewards are distributed? What if we can create a new form of business operating system that can spread, but always have its roots in Brighton? I think that’d be pretty cool.
So where are the local pioneers already that we can learn from and build on? Here’s a few to get us started. Mooncup is a business that has both an innovative, disruptive product AND does business differently. Mooncup’s product is an alternative to traditional feminine hygiene products. A reusable medical-grade silicon ‘cup’ design (look it up, I can’t explain it elegantly), it is massively more sustainable, and in a way just operating in this area is pretty radical – the product demands quite a mindshift from customers. And yet customers are huge advocates and most women come to Mooncup after hearing positive clamour from a close friend. But as I say, we’re already good at the ‘what’ we do in Brighton, so how do they do business differently? At Mooncup decision-making is entirely flat – at the weekly team meeting anyone can influence up and coming decisions, ‘we all pitch in’ they say. In the team wages are entirely transparent and are calculated purely based on length of service to reward loyalty and create a clear and fair system.
Down the road, Infinity Foods shows that different business can still be great Business with a capital b: rammed every day with people picking up ethically sourced dried figs and super-sensitive handcream. Whether we’re shoppers or just observers I’m pretty sure we can see that this co-operative, owned by the people working in the business, the people actually creating the value, is doing pretty damn well. What would it be like if we could extend that, and nudge up the percentage of profits made in the city that stayed in the city?
And weirdly, perhaps controversially, I would say the attempt to reorganise our beloved Brighton & Hove City Council had a whiff of the positive, radical and progressive about it. I cannot say as an outsider whether it’s working or how it has been received internally (with resistance, I imagine, given that most of us resist change) but the goal of turning a classically introspective and static bureaucracy into an outward-facing, ‘customer-centric’ organisation should be lauded. If the council can successful evolve themselves into a better shape for the 21st century, they set the bar for the rest of us.
There are more: Big Lemon buses, Wired Sussex, Relentless Games, Robin Hood Pub, Cranks bike workshop, The Skiff co-working space, CityCamp, Moshi Moshi. And every year these ranks grow. Each organisation offers us something different to be inspired by – their purpose, their people-centric policies, the collaboration and openness at their core. This is a growing movement of businesses willing to do things differently, here, in our city.
In these examples, the change is already happening. But for every positive example there must be ten more local businesses doing things the bad old ways. A warning to those business people that believe it will be enough to be great just at what you do. It won’t. It can’t last. Just pick up a copy of the FT – old skool business is creaking, breaking, collapsing in on itself. The rules have changed. To win the best customers, the best team members, the best reputations, we must change. Change, change and change again. Not just our products, services and marketing, but our very core.
And this need for change presents our city and our organisations with a once in a lifetime opportunity: to lead the way, to get there first, and to bring the rest of the world with us. I believe we can do it.
That’s what I believe.