“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired…”. As Toby McGuire delivered Nick Carraway’s immortal line, my life changed forever.
Not by the Great Gatsby, as fine a film as it is, but by the sticky mess in my hand.
Remember when you could go to the movies?
Remember that delicious smell of burnt popcorn and butter?
The anticipation of the first handful?
Not this time. Unaccountably, and unknown to me, my date had added a whole box of Smarties into the hot, salty, buttery popcorn. Just as Leonardo was swanning into view, I was swearing furiously at him. WTF?
He looked at me curiously: “You don’t do this? This is the best combination. Trust me. Try it.”
So I did. Against my better judgement.
Worst thing of all? He was right. To this day I still love Smarties in my popcorn.
The film was great. The date was OK. But what changed my life was the realisation that only by challenging the accepted norms do you actually find new things, tastes, sensations.
Sometimes the best things aren’t what you’re told they are. Sometimes the best things are somewhere between what you know, what you think and what is yet to come. And what was to come for me was the setting up of my first real business: Salt & Candy. So now you know where the name comes from. Perhaps more importantly you appreciate what the company stands for.
Turning accepted ways of thinking on their head.
Stop following rules. Create new ones instead: after all good ideas don’t come from following someone else’s rules.
Question every piece of lazy thinking you can find, and ask why, why, why until you get an answer or an ‘ah-ha’ moment.
Mix it up, and see what happens. Relentlessly seek out a viewpoint or perspective that hasn’t been aired properly before. It might not work, but it might spark something else that does.
Sure, there are some fundamentals you’ve gotta follow, but if I’ve learnt anything, it’s that the only thing you can count on is that things are going to change. How you respond to that change is what defines you, not the change itself.
Whilst we work with businesses, the reality is that we work with people and people change their minds, tastes, outlooks and opinions. Hopefully those people have their own “salt and candy” moments. It’s what makes us human. Straight-lines really don’t work anymore.
And here’s another stark, uncomfortable truth. Everyone has a pigeon-hole for you. A slot they want to put you in, that helps them define you and creates an easier way of interacting with you. When I’m out and socialising, everyone wants to know what I do – they are trying to find a social peg upon which to place me, around which they will, consciously or subconsciously, apply filters, biases and prejudices until they feel comfortable that they now know where I ‘fit’.
It irritates the hell out of me, and is one of my drivers behind refusing to define my business as any one thing. Sure, we work with creative inputs and outputs, we leverage digital channels for execution, we draw down on artistic insights, we work with colour palettes and tones.
So therefore people want to call us a digital marketing agency. Because it’s convenient, expedient and avoids them having to think too hard.
But those are all activities. They are inputs towards an endgame. The output is what defines us, just as it should be the impact that you make on the world that defines you as an individual – not some lazy stereotypes.
Our output for our clients is improved sales and profitability. End. Of. Conversation. There is no ‘cookie-cutter’ approach, no re-heated PowerPoint decks used for another client last year, no shortcuts to understanding what needs to be done to achieve this. In short, we don’t just heat up some popcorn, because that’s what everyone likes, right?
We’ve been mixing it up for nearly a decade. Some people call it disruptive, I call it being rooted to that first salt and candy moment. Being human. We have ALWAYS had a #WFH culture. We have ALWAYS worked around the schedules of our employees so we can get the best output out of them.
Clients pay us for what we deliver them, and rarely care how we get there. Yet for decades businesses have put an emphasis on these things that have never mattered or contributed to the output. Don’t even get me started on offices: I promise that the foosball table you bought your employees is more of a tool to waste time until 5pm than anything that will spark creative output.
Yet suddenly, in the last 12 months, what we have always done is seen as innovative and different? Really? Come on guys…
Our way of working has been leaked into every aspect of our company life. There is a congruency to the things we do that work for us and clearly for our clients who are benefitting from the results they get. It has seeped into our values. We prioritize our employees, we work on the basis that everyone’s voice is heard no matter your position in the company.
Good ideas don’t care what your rank is. I find the less-jaded (oops, I mean, less experienced) are the ones that come up with the best ideas because they haven’t been sucked into the never-ending void, the echo-chambers we call industry best practices and benchmarks.
We take pride in what we do. And pride in with whom we work. Please don’t take this as an ego thing. It’s not. We are just very aware of what we value as a company. It’s why our onboarding process has a Zero Asshole Policy. This applies to everyone. Including me as the owner and our clients.
So there you have it. The genesis of our salt and candy movement, the start of the Salt & Candy business and the beginning of a way of thinking that continues to define us.
Having started with the Great Gatsby, I guess we should close as the film does:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Laura Thomas is a serial entrepreneur who has set up and led numerous successful businesses over the past decade, but is probably most well-known for founding the award-winning, cutting edge business performance agency, Salt&Candy in the twenty-tens. Leveraging her global experience of working with blue-chip clients such as SABMiller, Coca-Cola, HBO, Sky and British Airways, Salt&Candy has become known around the world for digitally savvy, agile, edgy strategies that focus relentlessly on business outcomes and a pathological desire for unlocking business potential from the inside out.
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