What do shoes, banks and satellites have in common
If you have read my various ramblings you know of my passion for character analysis; while I am not a stalker of humans I cannot help being intrigued by the juxtaposition of what we wear and how we behave.
Coming to terms with the new reality has been a challenge for women and men alike, although women seem to trump the hardship and struggle. Research show that in the UK alone over 100,000 women 50+ have stopped working; over 70% of mothers have had cuts in their income; 30% of female entrepreneurs have closed their businesses. The fashion press report other high profile ‘failures’ while, smartly, urging the world to see them as ‘learnings’. There are many layers of struggle to live through – but looking into what we can actually do about is what will make the difference.
I’ll admit that I went into a store at the time when restrictions where beginning to ease off – simply to touch a fresh new collection. However, almost as soon as I went in, I came out again: it wasn’t the quality of what I saw, but being in the same place with a very upset customer who wasn’t allowed to try things on. Where has she been for the past year? And where is she now? Or, more interestingly, where is she going from here?
The other day I had a conversation with a bright, educated lady who was concerned that her personality has changed during the pandemic. The external environment has been truly debilitating for some while, for others, being ‘limited’ was turned into a boon. I re-assured her that there is nothing wrong in changing our disposition: we react humanly when we are under ‘attack’. Indeed, our new behaviour is a healthy sign of becoming better adjusted to a new environment.
As a starter, if you have worn the same pieces or colours for too long, why not wear a bright t-shirt when you take Alfie for a walk. Whether Alfie is your dog or your partner, make this simple, deliberate change as a challenge for yourself – and if you are uncomfortable to start with, good – it means that it is working. Feeling good is not always falling for the same things again and again. Start small, one step at a time, and you will see that your character isn’t under threat!
A few friends have asked me some deep questions of late: will they ever re-live and enjoy their pre-2020 style personality. The fact is that the gluttony of athleisure has proved to be a bit too much for some of those who had always been out there to inspired and lead; those that had an indomitable toolkit in their Classic and feminine wardrobes. Some expressed it as feeling brain-washed by what made you feel good before the ubiquitous loungewear and zoom-able garments.
What can I say? Experiment, play, try and see what makes you feel good now, but you will have to do the work of trying to find the ‘new good’. One piece of advice: jump out of ‘boxy’ as ‘boxy’ can become a trap.
When emerging from the first lockdown, my re-set was helped by wearing soft fabrics and vibrant colours. It worked brilliantly and I didn’t have to spend extra to get there! Different things work for different people: some can’t cope with colour, others need to get it perfect and end up in a colour analysis paralysis. Keep it simple with some Image Fundamentals; set achievable goals as every early win is better than perfect. If you are struggling with urgency and getting moving, get help and don’t delay. Anybody who wants can learn the skills as the good news is that managing change is a highly transferrable skill; in business, and as women we do it all the time. Grow your Image in a Time of Change and make change your best friend.
Emerging out into the whole new reality can be daunting and, while this may sound strange, it does remind me of banks before and after the last financial crisis. After years of opening branches in every possible place, when the crisis hit some went into the same frenzy but the other way, closing them down left, right and centre. The double energy was wasted and the extra cost incurred, while not predicting their customer behaviour, turned out to be even more costly as things were being re-set. New pockets of wealthy middle class emerged in many spots and, while being very digitally-able, they also wanted human interaction every now and then. Those banks that re-set their opening hours did well just by observing those emerging behaviours – precisely where they were occurring.
People learn, grow, move and develop; organisations do the same when they experiment – and what a great time this has been for (digital) transformation. Us, women, do the same: instinctively, if we set that new goal each and every day. What are you wearing today? What can’t you wait to wear when meeting friends you haven’t seen for over a year? Better see what feels good before splurging on fast fashion again – it is a great time to re-set.
Back in the early ‘90s, I had a great character analysis experience. My company was a nimble disrupter in a space of heavy (and slow) industry incumbents (we called them the ‘elephants’); we were creating something unique and did it rather well. When I started commercial discussions with a well-established Swiss company, little did I realise that success was also due to the shoes I was wearing! (I have always loved my shoes and used to change them before going into a meeting: it was part of my preparations).
At the time, it just seemed quite surreal to be negotiating a contract with a company making satellites where the seniors couldn’t relate to transactions less than at least 5 million dollars. A walk to lunch, talking about the shoes women were wearing and what that communicated broke the impasse and we signed the contract. Such is the power of image!
What I learned may help others: so as not to limit your opportunities, put thought into every key detail of your appearance so that you are relevant to the audience you interact with.
This discipline has never failed me. The satellite company became a customer for over a decade – and we never ever stopped talking about shoes, human behaviour and what they say about the state of the economy in European countries…
Behaviour takes time to form and re-set – but with a few key ‘good habits’ in place, magic happens.
For some, most of the time it is simply about waiting and following others; for others, it is about using facts (and data) to signpost a new direction. I invite you to have a think (but not overthink!) and act: enrol in Image Growth in a Time of Change, develop your own relationship with change and make it work for you and win-win for those around you.
So fear not, professional colleagues, you are again emerging in style; it’s not about speed. It is about a new direction and a plan. Just make sure you don’t miss this crisis to re-set your image aspirations – and bring your inner and outer style to the table, too. Whether you are a seasoned executive in banking, coding for satellites or a new entrepreneur baking fresh new ideas, this is your perfect time!
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