What Mr Selfridge can teach me about Life and Business

For kicks, I’ll let you in on a little secret what I had been up to during my 2 weeks break over Christmas and New Year’s… I have been indulging (OK I admit, more like binging) on Netflix! What better way to enjoy the festive food coma than to sink into a couch and watch your favourite TV series; back-to-back episodes – uninterrupted and commercial-free?

So when I discovered Mr Selfridge was available on Netflix, I decided to watch it (again). Previously I caught this series on free-to-air TV and followed it religiously on a weekly basis as I immediately got hooked on the story. Though naturally when you watch a series for the first time, you tend to concentrate more on the plot. However, watching the series again, I discovered three valuable lessons from Mr Selfridge that can be applied to both in life and business.

After all, Harry Selfridge had been hailed as a retail genius and a visionary.

Lesson #1 : Surround yourself with the right people. 


You really are only as good as the company you keep. One of the most important decisions we make in life is who we choose to be around. The types of people we surround ourselves with speak of our values and what we stand for… and quite often, we become like the people we’re around so it is important we choose wisely.

Similarly when building a company, foundation is fundamental. In the first episode of the series, we are introduced to the life of Mr Selfridge and his dream to build the biggest and finest department store at the ‘dead end’ of Oxford Street. We get immersed behind-the-scenes where he assembles his core management team, even before the store has been built. We see his goal to recruit the crème de la crème of the industry, having a clear idea what he is looking for in his people. People he thinks have the credibility and are the right cultural fit for his business – the like-minded, who understand his vision. The what, and the why. In return, we see his trust in his employees to decide on the how. This validates the “birds of a feather flock together” sociological theory where we naturally prefer to surround ourselves with others who share similar attitudes, values and standards. When speaking in his first ever staff meeting, he rallies his troops to this quote – “To work is elevating, to accomplish is superb”.

Lesson #2 : Power of connections. 


Network. Network. Network. We always think that we need to be part of the inner circle to succeed – to be a member of a Boys’ Club, to hold memberships to the finest country clubs or alumni from prestigious universities such as the Ivy League or Golden Triangle of the world. Though somewhat true, the rest of us should not be afraid to reach out from our nurtured network to meet people outside our typical circles. I always strive to take inspiration and influences externally – cultivating the art of serendipity. In art, chance or the spontaneous random event, plays a vital role in the creative process – valuable in everyday life. To be prepared, curious and open-minded about the world enables a leap of the imagination beyond rationality, developing intuition and ideas of consciousness.

Same holds true for Mr Selfridge. When he finds out that his business partner has pulled out from the deal unexpectedly and funds running scarce to accomplishing his dream, he does not despair. Instead, he uses his chance-encounter with Frank Edwards, a well-connected journalist, to show him the power players of London. He uses every meeting to his advantage. For example, securing the “face” of Selfridges from his encounter with Ellen Love in her new play, to befriending influential suffragette Lady Mae Loxley and her circle of friends to whom he obtains the required financial backing to save his dream. It is about unexpectedly finding knowledge during moments of breakdown.

Lesson #3 : Understanding the relationship between image and perception. 


Impression management is an important style of communication, whether is it an image or style. Making a great impression says a lot about you and the company you represent. Conveying the right impression aids in the acquisition of desired social outcomes, such as approval or power and material outcomes, such as status or reward. After all, perception is in the eye of the beholder, right?

Mr Selfridge did this best in two ways; firstly he created an image for Selfridges by the telling of stories captured through experiences. It was not about idolising the concept of luxury or pushing high priced items, but a consistent drive to put on a show for his everyday customers. He used appeal and attraction techniques to please the sensors – a difference between selling a commodity versus delivering an unforgettable experience.  Through this, he created the world’s first ground floor beauty hall when he decided to move perfume out of the pharmacy to entice his customers and served as a welcomed distraction to mask the horse manure emanating from the streets outside the store. It was his keen eye for detail that also charged the hire of Henri Leclair as the head of window designs who was responsible for the overall store presentation, the Creative Director of today.  Henri as the prodigious talent with an artistic temperament to match helped Mr Selfridge create the concept of visual display as we know it today.

Secondly, Mr Selfridge was no stranger to publicity. He was relentless in promoting his accomplishments. He understood the value advertising brings, and used the power of the media to ensure he and Selfridges be the “talk of the town”. It’s how the brand translates or transforms into a tangible feeling, that matters… as people value more what things mean to them, than for what things actually are.

So with Season 2 returning in 2014, I wait in anticipation for many more inspiring lessons I can learn from Mr Selfridge. Who knows what it might bring! To entice you, check out the trailer below – coming soon to ITV.

Watch Season 1 trailer here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLborDbtx3M&sns=fb

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