We’ve been fans of The Royle Family in our house since it first landed on our TV screens in 1998, and crowded onto our own sofa to watch all the episodes from each of the three series and all the specials. The recent Christmas special, Barbara’s Old Ring, hit the mark as ever, and did terrific in the ratings, netting 7.7 million viewers on Christmas night, beating Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife. My son James could probably go on Mastermind and answer any question from the 25 episodes aired, he could do a half decent job of reciting the entire collection of scripts.
On the surface, The Royle Family appears to be comedy narrative round the humdrum of ordinary Manchester family life, low on incident as it never leaves the front room sofa. It has the knack of capturing every nuance of character and dialogue made in the room, it’s as if viewers have simply dropped in to this family’s conversations and watch them channel-hop and discuss various everyday subjects. Despite the simplicity of the setting, it’s sharply scripted, with strong individual characters and an interwoven set of relationships, intelligent dialogue and memorable one-liners, up with the best British comedy writing.
The mundane intimacies and rhythms of family life have always been at the heart of the programme, and family patriarch, Jim Royle, is master of his space – unafraid to rearrange his nether regions, pick his nose or break wind. Jim’s oft delivered My Arse has become a national catchphrase. He’s sardonic, lazy and grumpy, frequently boorish, always laughing at his own jokes, and intent on announcing his lavatorial visits to all and sundry, but he’s impossible to dislike.
James Randolph ‘Jim’ Royle spends his days in his armchair watching the television and doing as little as possible. His stained stripy yellow T-shirt would run away in fright if it ever saw a washing machine. He makes sloths look hyperactive. Watching Jim’s lethargy and stupor, he’s the antithesis of the spirit and attitude of high growth, innovation-led entrepreneurs.
But just imagine if Jim decided to turn over a new leaf for the new year and made a bold commitment to dropping all his bad habits and starting afresh. What habits would he pick up from the likes of Jonathan Ive (designer of the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad), Jack Dorsey (creator of Twitter), Konstantin Novoselov (graphene pioneer) or Jason Fried, founder of 37signals, a web application company from Chicago? What makes these folks wired differently as pioneers, inspirational forward thinkers, that Jim could learn from?
Jonathan Ive is the English head of design at Apple, previously in the shadow of Steve Jobs, but in many ways the innovator behind many attributes of Apple products, and since October 2012 providing leadership and direction for ‘Human Interface’ software teams across Apple. Ive’s father was a silversmith, and he was interested in “drawing and making stuff” since he was 14. Design was always in his mind, but he was unsure about exactly what, since his interests were very broad – from furniture and jewellery to boats and cars. However, after meeting with various design experts he was drawn to product design. Discovering the Apple Mac during his later college years was a turning point, in particular, he saw the Apple user experience was significant because he felt it was a departure from the lack of creativity found in computer design at that time. Eventually he became head of Industrial Design in 1997 after the return of Steve Jobs and subsequently headed the design team responsible for the company’s ‘i’ products. Jobs made design a focus of Apple’s product strategy, and Ive proceeded to establish the firm’s leading position with a series of functionally clean, aesthetically pleasing, and remarkably popular products.
Jason Fried is the co-founder of 37signals, a Chicago-based company that builds web-based productivity tools, named after the radio telescope signals identified by astronomer Paul Horowitz as potential messages from extraterrestrial intelligence. It is one of the most inventive organisations in the world, with a spirit and philosophy that is inspiring and innovative. In their own words their products (Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, Campfire and Writeboard) do less than the competition – intentionally. 37signals also developed and open-sourced the Ruby on Rails programming framework. Fried is the co-author of the book Rework about new ways to conceptualise working and creating. It’s a minimalist manifesto that’s profoundly practical. In a world where we all keep getting asked to do more with less, they show us how to do less and create more. The company maintains a blog, Signal v Noise, and check out their web site for stimulating thoughts http://37signals.com/svn
Both Ive and Fried have been inspirations for me in their thinking and execution about their business, and I’ve followed them both for sometime, learning from their insights. So, what attributes can we glean from these two great technology innovators to help inspire Jim Royle to leap off the sofa?
Never stop learning Both Ive and Fried are curious, agitated and restless, they never believe that they know as much as they should know. Successful entrepreneurs learn from their failures and successes, adapt to changing circumstances, evaluate obstacles, and evolve their ideas. They learn from chefs, kids, dogs, musicians and athletes – a quote from Steve Jobs – they learn from everyone and everything. To be truly successful, you have to continue to stay dissatisfied and hungry. Apple’s iconic Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish campaign reminds us this. Entrepreneurs act fearlessly, even if inside they feel fearful, about their personal learning journey and risk.
Have a laser focus Effective and successful entrepreneurs are geniuses when it comes to identifying market needs, and focus their energies on solving real problems. They spend little time obsessing about the location of their business or other factors that often are irrelevant, and the vast majority of their time obsessing about building great things. Jeff Bezos of Amazon, attributes Amazon’s success to a laser focus on customers: If there’s one reason we have done better than our peers in the Internet space, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience. The lesson from Ive and Fried is that they are committed, dedicated and focused, and you can see they view their achievements as their life’s purpose to give customers something unique.
Listen more than talk A great habit of entrepreneurs is that they first seek to understand, before they seek to be understood – entrepreneurs listen. Listening is not easy, most of us prefer to talk and rarely take the time to listen. One of the drivers of success for an entrepreneur in setting up a new business is to ask many questions and identify market needs, not simply building new gadgets. An inventor who was also an entrepreneur saw things this way – Thomas Edison famously said, I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent. If you have a better idea for a crystal ball that sees the future needs of markets you’ll be set for life. Until then, keep listening out for unsolved problems and gaps in the market, that’s where opportunities and trends begin.
Think ‘small’ rather than search for the next ‘big thing’ We all dream of finding ‘the next big thing’, but there’s a fundamental paradox in business – big ideas are small, simple and focused so they can occupy a specific niche and dominate their category. Kevin Systrom was building a location-based mobile business like FourSquare, but found that only one piece of it, the photo app, was different and had real traction with customers. So he focused on the photo app, named it Instagram and won an entire new market. If you can’t write your business idea on the back of your business card or explain it to a ten-year old, you probably have a big, bad idea – simplicity always wins. Apple’s devices have great elegance and simplicity in their user-interface and usability – Ive’s design work evokes clarity but great user functionality.
Use the start-up phase to take risks and experiment Entrepreneurs use the time between having a business idea and a successful start-up as the time to experiment. High growth entrepreneurs have a clear, deeply held vision, and realise this starting period is a valuable time, because you can create tremendous customer value out of practically nothing. When Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, he thought small and experimentally. He began with students at Harvard and tinkered and experimented with the site to create different user experiences, and then started expanding. The concept of ‘Minimum Viable Product’ – MVP – is a great way to determine what the market and customers want from a new offering.
They realise that when people say You’re starting what? that they’re on to something They create a new trend or product rather than fit into the market – growth entrepreneurs keep a finger on the pulse on what’s happening but don’t try to fit into the market – they try to appeal to where their customers are heading, and where there is a gap or an unsolved problem. You know you have a viable business idea when you find the ‘blue ocean space’ – a marketplace that no one is servicing. Of course, most people will tell you you’re crazy, but by stepping out of the existing, often crowded market, you have an opportunity to create your own market – that’s Apple’s strategy – deliver devices and services that no one had imagined or thought they wanted. Both Ive and Fried weren’t deterred by popular opinion, they had a vision and held that high.
They listen to their heart and emotions as much as their intellect. To be a successful entrepreneur, your goal has to be more than just making money. Entrepreneurship and growing your business idea are about finding your purpose, and making a difference. Your goal must be tied to your deeper story, your sense of destiny for yourself and your business. Innocent was launched by three Cambridge University graduates who quit their jobs in 1998. The idea behind Innocent is authenticity, as their tagline says, The fruit, the whole fruit, and nothing but the fruit. Its brand personality is playful and interesting, and in the early days Innocent experimented with labels listing ingredients such as banana, orange and a lawnmower that got them tremendous publicity. Inner and self- directed, they listened to their intuition and the world around them became secondary if it didn’t accord with their inner guidance.
So for Jim Royle, inspirational guidance from two great entrepreneurs who have been aspirational, daring to attempt ‘the impossible’, feats which any rational mind may have said weren’t possible. Simon Sinek in his brilliant book Start With Why concludes the reason people like Ive and Fried are successful is that they act from the inside out – they don’t sell their products, they sell their beliefs. It is these inspirational beliefs that other people relate to which harnesses their commitment, support, buy in and ultimately delivers success.
Inspirational people lead others by letting them see that their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and values are not only desirable, but are possible, by demonstrating they can be done. Once you have seen impossible being achieved, then the world has changed. As Jason Fried says: We built the company that we’d want to do business with. We hope you do too.