Transformation, life and business

Fly free
Thrust yourself into uncomfortable spaces — soar above the clouds; that’s where your growth lies.

You think about life — and, perhaps business as well — before all this advanced technology. Pretty arcane, wasn’t it? We survived because we didn’t know any better. A human mind is a powerful instrument; I’m always in awe when I look at how the world looks like today.

Alphabets and words were invented so we could process our thoughts and document them. Automobiles served to transport us faster; aircrafts even faster. The human mind even devised a way for us to go into space. Despite these exciting leaps, there are always deep-seated doubts and in some instances, an outright resistance to change.

During my stint in the retail sector, working for a large South African clothing retailer, as a Sales Assistant-cum-Cashier, I learnt how important it is to adapt or get left behind. These guys dress about 50% of primary school children in the country — it’s that large a business! But I was often frustrated and wondered why the business didn’t bother improving its systems. Customers would often walk in looking for certain items of and when they didn’t find them or the sizes they sought, they would come to me. What usually followed was a pulsating a headache. I had to go to the office and dial our neighbouring branches and describe what type, colour and the texture of the item in order to check whether they had the size I needed. It was a tedious process.

Why the systems weren’t connected among the many different branches was beyond me. Not having the ability to check an item in another store using my computer and thus accurately direct the customer was frustrating for me. The reluctance to invest money into more efficient systems led to us losing a lot of revenue. I witnessed countless customers walking out as they couldn’t wait for almost 20 minutes for me dial from branch to branch. Consequently, I worked without looking for an elevated position — I was demoralised for the most part. I figured I’d clash with the founding executives that argue: “We have always done it this way!” Or, “We are meeting and surpassing our budget targets, what more can we ask for?” These are the people who often run their businesses in the past, using methods they started off with. Being protective of their baby, as it were.

I have figured that there’s wisdom in uncertainty, and classical British brand, Burberry, knows all too well about this. I was in awe when I learnt about what they’ve achieved using technology, and moving boldly into the new. This saw them create a store that beams with connectivity. It’s one of their unconventional flagship stores in Regent Street, in the west end of London, England. In it, they have a 100 television sets embedded into mirrors all around the store. You have in your hand, say, one of their esteemed handcrafted trench-coats and walk into the fitting room. They attach RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags in some of their items. RFID technology allows customers to view bespoke content about different products on in-store display screens. So when you walk in the mirrors turn into television sets.

They begin to show you how that jacket is made, from scratch. How they sew in the buttons, how the belt is made, how it all comes together. Basically, you’re watching the story behind the jacket in your hand. They aim to connect with you emotionally, and often, most customers fond it difficult to put the coats down. Selling amazing experiences!

The truth is this: no matter how well you’re doing, you always can do better. You can always better your best. I’ve grown from always wanting to protect myself and clutching for safety to being excited by change. We live in interestingly chaotic times. It’s what one global business speaker, Vusi Thembekwayo, often touches on. He says we live in a complex world that’s changing at such a fast pace that when change begins to settle in, it moves. To navigate these uncertain times, he proposes that we begin to exist at the edge of chaos.

Burberry was among the first organisations to take steps to use technology, revamp their business, elevate the customer experience and become one of the best commercial successes in the past decade or so.

When the future beckons and transformation aggressively knocks on your door; there usually is no time to allow your glorious memories to hold you prisoner to your past. Re-imagine life when the opportunity arises. Just perhaps, the percentage of children dressed by my beloved former employer would be comfortably nestling in the 80’s.

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