The Amy Winehouse Effect: Why decline could be good for your business

20th July 2014

At 2’39” in Amy Winehouse’s classic anthem, Back to Black, an extraordinary thing happens.

The song effectively comes to a halt. The rhythm is jettisoned, the clambering bass line is silenced, and Amy herself seems to fall into a funereal trance. ‘Black… black… black…’, she intones.

It is as though all were lost.

I have been chatting to a dear friend this past weekend about his business, which went through a lull of two years. A couple of punts did not pay off immediately, a few investments went astray, and generally he found his resources were spent firefighting rather than growing. At the time it felt tough, but he came through and is certain that his business is all the stronger for the experience.

In general, I think the world tends to over-emphasise the importance of growth, and undervalue the benefit of, let’s say, ‘growth cul de sacs’ (the word ‘decline’ has a ring of failure about it that is just slightly unjust).

Management teams invest most of their focus on their ‘problem children’ – brands, regions or teams which are struggling.

The reverse is also true: businesses in growth seem to encourage a ‘thinking free zone’. The assumption is that we simply keep doing what we do.

Indeed, I have found this to be true in my own business.

It is only after my return to the market in 2011 (I was in full-time education for two years prior to that) that I learned what it was to fully explain and sell the benefit of what I do.

I had spent many years being super busy simply supporting and servicing a few core clients.

A tightening market motivated me to figure out a way to commercialise semiotics, helped me innovate with co-creation and archetypes in the building brands and strategy, and propelled me to widen the geography and talent pool of my client work.

Yes. When things slow, attention grows. And attention delivers value.

This is as true in music as it is in business.

At 2’39”, Back To Black is at its most potent. Ms Winehouse knew there was value in allowing her music to withdraw. She knew that genius could be nurtured in reversals.

I invite you to think of Amy at your next tough-as-all-hell business review. Consider that there may just be latent benefits in reversals. The reflection might even hasten a return to black.


Brian McIntyre. Orchard. 2014

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