The CEO of innovation and trends research firm Stylus on finding the ideas and inspiration that power his business.
In today’s fast-moving world, innovation is key to survival. The advent of social media has meant that trends can be made overnight, and with technology accelerating at such a pace, we have to continually adapt what we think we know.
At Stylus, we inspire people with expert insights and actionable, cutting-edge ideas. We develop these by tracking shifting consumer mindsets and examining cross-industry trends. You don’t get such ideas from traditional media sources; you get them first-hand by speaking to people. We have 50 in-house journalists and about 150 freelancers. They all travel to see things and meet people, at trade fairs and elsewhere. 100 per cent of our content is proprietary.
I run a business and when people ask me where I get my professional inspiration from, I tell them my late father. Running a business is about common sense. It boils down to one thing: learn by your mistakes. I have made plenty of mistakes, and by and large, I’ve learned from all of them. After 40 years in the business, I have no fear of making mistakes. That’s why I can still make the odd one or two, and still be able to learn from them.
I do read The Times and the FT online during the week, and buy FT Weekend in print. I check Huffington Post, TechCrunch sometimes and I subscribe to Creative Review in print. But I don’t have the time to read other people’s stuff, and even if I did, I wouldn’t. I honestly do get inspired by the things we write: that’s part of why I do the job.
I Tweet a little bit and write a blog, but I don’t use Twitter very often. LinkedIn is very useful for recruiting. I’ve got 40 years’ experience and so I know a lot of the names we’d like to work with, and on LinkedIn I can see what they’re up to. The only podcast I listen to is Desert Island Discs.
The best book I read recently was Start-Up Nation [by Dan Senor and Saul Singer], about start-up culture in Israel. It doesn’t focus on individual companies, but instead looks at the mindset of the overall scene. Fascinating to get that overview. One thing that sticks in my mind from it is that in business you should not be afraid of failure. If you fail nine times and the tenth is a success, that’s fine. I read it in print but I also have a Kindle. Another good one is Predictable Revenue [by Aaron Ross or Marylou Tyler], a straightforward guide to recurring revenue businesses. And the Elon Musk biography [by Ashlee Vance] is really good.
I know a head of a fashion college who doesn’t want her students to get too much fashion content, if any. She wants them to look at architecture, technology and the wider culture. She is absolutely right. If you want to be inspired, you need to look outside of your industry in unexpected places.