Why representation is important

Do you remember the Cobra beer advert? Where the guy who ran the company had a beer company and a bra company? And he was this good looking Indian fella with nice hair who was relaxed and did yoga at work?

(I know what you’re thinking – “Baz is talking about himself there” – sorry to disappoint you; good looking and nice hair, yes, but bras are still a mystery to me)

The thing with that advert though, is it’s probably the first time I saw a positive image of an Indian male on TV ever. I must have been in my late 30s, early 40s when I saw it.

That’s my whole life seeing people like me being represented as nerds with bad hair, who are general failures in life. That have to be rescued from social embarrassment by their pretty white friends.

A whole lifetime.

This stuff matters.

Who are you?

A bit about me. I went to a private school. You’ve probably not heard of it, but people who went there went on to become bankers, barristers and the like. I used to sit next to a lad who, I recently found out, became the British Ambassador to a European country. The school boasts not one, but two former Chancellors of the Exchequer as ex-pupils.

A proper “establishment” place.

And I never felt like I fitted in.

There was a general attitude of superiority. “Because my parents are rich, because they’ve made it, that makes me better than everyone else”. Don’t get me wrong; I was there because my parents had money, it’s not like we were poor (although we had nowhere near as much as most of the others; we had a Volvo, they had Rollers).

And I hated the place.

One year, when I was about 7 or 8 (so a long time ago), we went back to visit family in India. Now, even in India, my family was pretty well off, but this particular day we visited my dad’s cousin and also drove past the hospital in which I was born.

My dad’s cousin lived in a two room hut by the side of a busy highway. He wasn’t poor. He had a place to live. His family was well fed and safe. But I was struck by how his house was nothing like mine. How different his life was to mine. And how, if I’d just been born in the next hospital bed, my life would have taken on a whole new shape. A pure accident of birth.

Because where you start from, that’s just luck. How you got here is unimportant. But how you treat people today, how you prepare for tomorrow – those things define who you actually are.

What are your values? And how do you avoid temptation?

People talk a lot about how important values are to your business. But do you actually stick to them? Or do they (inadvertently) go out of the window when someone offers you a big contract?

I was struggling a bit last year so I did a little exercise with myself, and came up with five questions that I need to ask before I take on a new client.

Those questions are:

  • Do we connect?
  • Can I see your purpose in life?
  • Do you like other people?
  • Will I improve your life?
  • Will you improve my life?

If you don’t get 3 out of 5, I will try to help but I won’t take you on. Ideally you should get 4 out of 5 and then I know we’re a good fit.

Looking back at my previous clients, it was a perfect match – the projects that had gone badly also had clients that scored 2 or less.

It’s not a perfect system; I took on a client the other month that was only a 2.5 and I regret it already. But that’s my fault for breaking the rules.

If you’d like help in coming up with your own set of questions, the exercise I used for this is part of my Five Day Challenge. Registration is free and we start on Monday (the 2nd of March), so this is your last chance to get involved.