There are two stories a business tells: external and internal. External is what the market is told, sees or experiences. Internal is "the story of building the business, expanding and retaining a quality workforce, strengthening the culture, upgrading the systems, learning from experience, adapting the business model, holding down costs and mobilising people to carry it all out perfectly, again and again and again" (Bain & Co The Founder's Mentality). The internal story is the story of building a winning culture, one where people can be fully alive at work.
The internal story is rooted in a noble mission: the purpose that animated the founder to create the business in the first place - this is the story of insurgency, of an underserved customer. Lose this story and the company loses its soul. It's just another company. This plays a fundamental role into why most founder companies fail.
If you want to build a good company, one with a purpose and clear values, there is much to be learnt from the movie business. As the founder of L Brands Inc (Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works) Leslie Wexner put it (referencing Sidney Lumet's book Making Movies): "you have to think of all the creative talents when you make a movie, like designers, actors, producers, directors, costume designers, musicians. Yet when you see a great movie, it's cohesive, as if one person did it all. Great brands have that cohesive point of personality that requires attention to coherent detail".
This interview with Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan builds on this: "my job as a director on large scale films is to Marshall a huge set of resources and then ignore them completely and ignore the thrill of them and really try and be ruthless in my pursuit of the particular image that's going to advance the story. I have to watch it with the ruthlessness of an audience."
Founders who grow their business successfully have the same ruthless obsession with their audience - the customer. They have an intellectual curiosity about every detail of the customer experience and how their business can better serve them. They understand the power of scenius - a term Brian Eno coined to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or “scenes” can occasionally generate (read philosopher Jules Evan’s excellent piece on Bowies’ genius and Brian Eno’s scenius here.)
Successful founders converge the external and the internal plot lines, telling coherent stories about why they founded their business in the first place - again, and again and again.
If you're a founder who's scripting the future now, who's lost the plot, or the story’s getting more exciting, let’s have a conversation to see if I can help.
Values alignment: crafting your founder manifesto
Coherent Organisations: converging the external and internal plot lines to create a winning culture
Scenius: aligning the organisation behind the noble mission.
In crisis? Noble mission CPR
Can I help you re-connect with your genius?
What founders say
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“Meeting Vicky was one of those pivotal moments - our conversations expanded my definition of what success meant for me and where I focus my energy. I know I wouldn't have been as focused on what I'm doing now had we not met.”