onthecouchwith_02An anthropological study of change agents in the Dubai business community.

Stepping down from the dais after being on “the breakfast panel” at the Siegle+Gale “future of branding” event a couple of months ago, I started chatting with one of the audience who had asked a specific question about the future of video branding. You could tell this Frenchman was a creative, he looked the part and his passion was evident from the outset.

This was my introduction to Gilles G Vidal, the creative director and co-founder of WOW Agency, the video content strategy team. I told him about my upcoming initiative to film business leaders with my smart phone in Dubai asking them a few questions about the future. He looked serious all of a sudden and asked simply, “Why don’t we do it properly?” And he proceeded to tell me about his upcoming work to “interview people in unusual situations, to find something more deep, based upon their own personal vision, experience, less corporate and business…but more on a human way.” And so it came to be.

With thanks to amazing art sales houses, La Galerie Nationale and Ikonhouse, Alserkal Avenue (Dubai), the first “On The Couch With” series has now been filmed; the business leaders all took a deep breath and looked into the deep recess of their minds for answers. Many were uncomfortable at the outset – lying down on a luxurious sofa in one of the art galleries – but many didn’t want to leave when their time was up, as if their session had hardly begun.

My original plan has transformed, from something of a survey trying to capture the zeitgeist; we now have captured the zeitgeist through a creatively deep, anthropological study. That sounds grand for just twenty five interviews, but it’s the start of something much bigger.

The first part of this anthropological study – to be released over coming weeks in partnership with The Arabian Marketer – examines what makes people tick and what they can see that others might have missed.

Well, to save you the suspense – and in an attempt to whet your appetite – I’ll let you know what we’ve found. Every single one of the interviewees has a burning passion, a sense of purpose and is charming. It’s the middle attribute that makes the real difference. There are plenty of passionate and charming people. But without a clear sense of purpose those passionate people are lost – or just salesmen with a target to meet.

The similarity across the interviewees may be because our anthropological study is flawed: the sample is biased. We have invited people we’ve met already, who we think are interesting and who we thought – from the outside – are driving change right now within their businesses. There’s nothing random about this sample. These people are cherry picked.

Everyone was amused by the notion of work-life balance, echoing a sentiment along the lines of ‘if you don’t like your job, if you’re watching the clock, you’re in the wrong job’. Apart from two interviewees who were fiercely pro a division – or balance if you prefer – of work and non-work. And they promote this division actively across their business teams – and use this as a recruitment and staff retention tool.

All the interviewees were prepared for the dark times ahead as business gets tough. They were not teflon-coated in their approach, but humble insofar as they will freely admit that trial and error has been an important part of their growth to date.

But apart from this there was nothing in common with the interviewees as we discussed themes including self-motivation, the tough business climate, foundations for optimism, attracting talent in this region, what is around the corner – yes they can all see round corners, apparently – and their advice for “the future generation”. They were all very individual, to be frank. And that’s what makes this an interesting study.

Please follow twitter.com/onthecouch_with for upcoming soundbites and video episodes.

This article was first published in The Arabian Marketer, January 2017.

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Article by James Welch, Chief Timpanist, ORCHESTRA MIDDLE EAST

The creative concept is an original idea by Gilles G Vidal, WOW Agency, Dubai

With thanks to La Galerie Nationale and Ikonhouse, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai, UAE.