This week’s guest on the 21st Century Creative podcast is David Hieatt, entrepreneur, author, speaker and founder of The Do Lectures.
Howies was a disruptive company, making clothes out of natural, low-impact materials, and taking a strong stand on environmental and political issues. Combined with its irreverent marketing tactics, this meant it attracted legions of passionate fans
In 2006 David and Claire sold Howies to Timberland, and the following year they began hosting The Do Lectures. This is an annual event, and a very unusual mashup of a festival and conference.
As David points out, inviting 100 people to a cowshed in Wales is very different to the kind of conference hosted at glitzy venues in New York or London. And yet it attracts speakers such as Tim Ferriss, Colin Greenwood from Radiohead and Bill Drummond of the KLF.
And if you’re not one of the lucky 100 people who can get into the cowshed, you’ll be pleased to know that all the lectures are available to watch for free via the website, TheDoLectures.com
David is also a speaker and author who has addressed Apple, Google, and many other top companies and events. His books include Do Purpose: Why Brands with a Purpose Do Better and Matter More.
A big theme of the Do Lectures and David’s books is about taking on big important challenges, and David’s latest venture, Hiut Denim, is certainly proof of concept.
The town of Cardigan in Wales was once home to the biggest jeans factory in Britain, with 400 workers making 35,000 pairs of jeans every week. But in 2002 the workers were all made redundant and the factory closed, apparently forever.
It’s a familiar story in developed western economies – factories close and industries die as manufacturing is outsourced to Asia and other places that can produce goods cheaper.
But David wasn’t happy with the familiar ending to the story, and decided to re-open the factory and re-hire all the workers who lost their jobs. People thought he was crazy, but the factory is now up and running, with a 3 month waiting list for jeans orders.
If you want to know how he did it, and if you’d like some inspiration on living a more unconventional, creative and rewarding life, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy listening to this conversation with David Hieatt.
David Hieatt interview transcript
MARK: David what made you want to become an entrepreneur?
DAVID: I guess when I was growing up as a kid I was just super curious about brands and business, and I would have my entire bedroom apart from windows and the door handle covered in posters from Nike, Adidas, Wrangler, Levi’s. And when I was at school I was selling ice lollies in the summer because our school was two miles away from the local shop. So it fascinated me from a very early age.
MARK: And why brands rather than rock stars on your wall?
DAVID: I don’t know. I just felt that I gravitated towards them. I was fascinated by the stories that they would tell, by the products. For me, I was going to trade shows at 13. I’d put a tie on. I would get secret past tickets, and I went to Bukta, which was a clothing brand.
I was 13 and I went to them I said, ‘Look, unless you do these 23 points on your marketing, you’re going to die.’ And they went, ‘Oh, thank you.’ And they didn’t do them and they did die, and so I was always interested, and I don’t know why. I love music as well, but and I never really wanted to be a rock star. I just wanted to be that person who started that company that people like loved.
MARK: Okay. I want to pick up on the word ‘love’ because it’s not necessarily a word all of us would associate with companies. Could you expand on that?
DAVID: Well, I think for me, it’s like I was really interested in companies that, not only sold something but did something, and so like the likes of Patagonia now. Patagonia is a really good example; they’re trying to protect the environment by using their business as a tool to go and do the things that they care about. I guess, as I’ve grown a lot older and maybe a bit more smart, I was interested in those companies, and earlier on, I was just interested in companies that did great sports products.
But I loved Nike, and I loved Adidas. And I always asked the question, ‘What have they done to make me love it?’ And it was really about the sport and I love sport basically, and I loved teams. And so, it was really – brands were like a really good question for me in terms of a – like most people will go and try and find the answer. But I’d go, ‘a brand’s a really good question‘, because you have to go and ask brilliant questions for people to think that that’s their brand.
MARK: So I love a quote you have in your book Do Purpose where you talk about brands with a purpose, you say, ‘They do better and matter more because they make you feel something.’
How is it that they make us feel something? What is it the magic ingredient that you see in some brands and obviously is missing in others?
DAVID: I think what most brands forget is actually they’re talking to human beings, and human beings are mostly emotion. And so the most powerful of brands in the world take you on a journey which is extraordinary because it’s not that far, but it’s the 18 inches from your head to your heart, so in essence, they make you feel something.
I was doing a workshop in London a couple weeks back, and I was trying to explain to people, and I loved both brands Adidas and Nike, but Nike made you feel something for sport because actually sport is emotional and for whatever reason Adidas didn’t. Both made great products, both have great athletes, both always have great inventions, both have great marketing budgets, but Nike made you feel something. They took you on that journey, that 18 inches. And I think, actually, it’s the most interesting companies in the world make you feel something because of the thing that they’re doing.
And so most brands are a very well told story and for whatever reason Adidas wanted to use logic, or ‘We make this boots much better,’ and Nike made you want to dream about actually winning the race.
MARK: So in the mid-90s, you founded your own clothes brand Howie’s. What was the story you wanted to tell with that brand?
DAVID: The initial premise for it which appeared on the very first ad which was a very small black-and-white ad, but it said these words which actually was the essence of why we did it was, ‘We want to make you think as well as buy.’ And when I looked around at all of sports brands that were out there, mostly they just wanted you to buy and I’m going, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be a wonderful experiment as a company if it tried to make you think about the world that we’re living in and yes, buy the t-shirt, buy the great merino vest,’ but I was really fascinated by that question, can a company exist by making a great product? Yes. But actually asking you some really fascinating questions.
I heard the other day like, and this fact, I don’t know where this fact came from, but it was like a four-year-old asks 400 questions a day.
MARK: I can confirm this!
DAVID: But actually when they go to school at five, they’re told by the teacher to put their hand up. So they can’t free-form questions anymore, so they’re at their peak at four. So we ask the questions, we’re at our peak at four, and then we get crushed at five. But I think we are guided by the questions we ask and that’s for human beings and for brands.
So that was my question: can a company exist in this world, right now, that seeks to make you think about the world that you live in, and then try and sell you something? Because success wouldn’t have been just selling you something.
MARK: Right. So you want it to be more than a transactional relationship.
DAVID: Yes. I just felt that that was really an interesting company to be a part of as most the companies were really just interested in a transaction. They wanted that long number on your credit card and you to flip the cards and give him that, you know, CCV, you know, or is it CVV number?
DAVID: That was the relationship they most wanted. I’m going, ‘Well, actually, what if we can have a relationship with you as a human being and get you to buy?’
MARK: And obviously on the outside, it looks a huge success.
What did you learn from the process of that? How easy it is to get both sides of that relationship in sync?
DAVID: It’s a challenge because you’ve got to go and try and pay the wages every month. But actually, what I’ve learned is, from that was actually I can’t tell you how many people are coming to me and said like, ‘I’ve got every Howie’s catalog.’ Bear in mind, I don’t think they’ve done a catalog in, I don’t know, seven years and people just come up to me and go like, ‘I’ve got every one,’ and like literally, ‘I’m missing one, is there any way you can get me one?’
So we created a community and actually it was a very, very strong community, in the same way as Patagonia did. So I feel like actually, we were very successful in doing that. And another way to measure success is actually when we would grow in a business, we hadn’t really run a business before. We were kind of ‘clueless in Cardigan.’ But at the end of it PPR, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Puma, they came to us and said, ‘We’ve been trawling around the world and we’ve seen two brands that we would like to buy.’ One was Quicksilver and one was Howie’s.
The guy who started AOL, Steve Case, he wanted to do something. So all those companies, apart from Adidas, would have done something with us. So we’d done something in terms of a brand. The business was growing dramatically quick which is part of our issue. Everybody thinks, ‘Growth is really good for a business,’ but growth can also kill a business because you grow too quickly and you need a lot of money.
So it was a fascinating journey and I was a little bit heartbroken when we sold it because you’re suddenly not in charge of your destiny any more. And actually for a brand like Howie’s, it needs to be independent because that voice is so special. And it can’t be done by committee, there has to be one crazy guy or girl just going, ‘This is my heart, this is what I believe.’ And that’s why Patagonia is successful because as Yvonne and Melinda like saying, ‘These are our values. This is my company, you know, buy from me or don’t buy from me.’
MARK: And do you think the fact that it was from Wales is important as well?
DAVID: Howie’s started in ’95. We didn’t really move the company to Wales till 2001. It was at the same point… I do remember it because it was our first paycheck. So we’ve done it for six years as some kind of quest and hobby, and actually during those formative years we did some really odd amazing things, and we were going down to give some bands some t-shirts on a Saturday and this guy came out to me said like, ‘Who are you?’ I say, ‘I’m David from Howie’s.’ and he’s going, ‘Oh, my mate Jeff owns Howie’s.’ So I’m going, ‘Well, Jeff works for me, but he doesn’t own it.’ And it turns out that was Banksy. He’s doing a backdrop to a band.
But we were doing a lot of interesting things. We were banned from mountain bike events. We were banned from shows. We were just there trying to go, ‘Hey, we’re just going to ask these questions and not everybody’s going to like what we do,’ but it kind of got us this like… I don’t like the word cult following, but like there was a really strong community.
MARK: What questions were getting you banned?
DAVID: We couldn’t afford to go to one of these events to exhibit at and one of these things was like five grand. So we painted some girls with some t-shirts, and they were half naked, from the waist up. And so, we released them into the show at 10:00 a.m. and at 10:30 we were banned. But actually, the whole show came to a standstill. And actually, the question we really wanted to go is like, ‘How do small companies get noticed in this world?’ Because five grand is a lot of money.
And the interesting thing is the organizers of the event… I had to go down to Bath, it was like future publishing and they said, ‘Look, you need to come down and apologize to us in person.’ I’m going, ‘Fine. Okay.’ I went down said, ‘Look, maybe I didn’t think it through. It wasn’t perhaps the smartest thing in the world. I’m so sorry. I’m not going to do again obviously.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, okay. That’s fine Dave.’ And a week later they said, ‘Can you send us some photographs because we want to use that as marketing for next year’s.’ And I’m going, ‘Well, hang on, fuck you,’ in a nice, gentle, cute way.
When we launched the t-shirts, we put five t-shirts in a mountain bike show and we just put a little sign just says, ‘Steal these,’ and then the brackets was, ‘You’ll be rewarded with your good taste.’
MARK: And did they?
DAVID: Well, mountain bikers are much more polite than skaters. It took half of morning for them to walk past it maybe 40, 50 times and we were in the bushes trying to take some photographs, and we’re desperate to go to the toilet. And then when they actually took the t-shirts, they had a massive fight, somebody got a black eye. But, for five t-shirts, we had launched at the event and everybody’s going like, ‘Who’s Howie’s?’
MARK: You didn’t blend in?
DAVID: We didn’t blend in. A lot of people think you have to go and outspend a bunch of people, but I think to get noticed, my thing has always been, actually, well, you can do interesting things and stand out and they don’t have to cost a bunch of money. And I’ve kept that like almost pathos in terms of, ‘We can stand out’. We’ve never had a marketing budget of any real note, and in a way, if you can’t outspend people you have to start thinking at that point. And I think it makes you an interesting company, an interesting person.
MARK: So one interesting thing you’ve done which is really bucking a big trend is that you’ve reopened the jeans factory in your local town, in Wales.
MARK: And at this point in history, you’re not really supposed to do things like that. We’re told that advanced Western companies, countries, we’re supposed to leave manufacturing to China and to be doing, I don’t know, consulting and software, and all of that good stuff.
So what made you decide that you were going to buck this trend and you were going to do it?
DAVID: That’s a great question and the thing is to give your viewers like some context is like Cardigan is a very small town, it’s on the far west of Wales, 4,000 people, super tiny. Except for one interesting thing was it had Britain’s biggest jeans factory and they made 35,000 pairs of jeans every week for 40 years. But in 2002, the factory closed and 400 world-class makers had nothing to make. And all I had to do really was wait 10 years for the internet to happen.
When I happened to be just in the right town, in the right time, with the right people, and so is an extraordinary moment of actually manufacturing like you said, manufacturing goes away and it like almost never comes back and that’s the remarkableness of the story. But the internet has changed the economics for makers. And so suddenly, the old factory fought the battle of who could be the cheapest, and it turned out it wasn’t us, and it’s never going to be us. And so I’m going ask a different question, reframe that question, ‘Can we win the battle if we try to be the best?’ We have, in a very small team, 200 years’ worth of knowledge of making jeans. We can go and play with the elite makers of jeans in the world and there’s a chance that we can win.
And so, that wonderful story of our town doesn’t want to be a tourist town. It doesn’t want to thrive just for six weeks a year. I want us to go and pass those skills on to the next generation and yet our town is a make it town, and it’s fighting for the right to make, and it’s fighting every day to pass those skills on to the next generation. And that’s like every battle that crazy people take.
The battles should mean something to you. It should make you feel alive, and you shouldn’t choose easy dreams. You should choose… well, that’s your mom’s job, ‘Go and be a carpenter.’ Nothing wrong being a carpenter by the way. But you should try and find dreams that are very, very hard for you to achieve because they push you to see actually where your true potential is, and you go, so I tell everyone I’m going to go, 400 people, that the job’s back, and the first couple years people just laughed.
And now, come June, we’ll be a 25-people, and there’s a lot less people laughing than they used to. And I just think that for creative people take on projects that make you feel alive. That push you really hard, and even if you don’t have a budget, then have ideas. Don’t worry about how big everybody else is, concentrate on your own strengths. You might be not big but you might be fast. Be an agile. This is such an exciting time for creative people. It really is. It is the golden time because if you have an idea, guess what? People are going to find out about it, and they’re going to find out real quick.
MARK: I love this. One of the themes of this show is ‘something old, something new.’ And it sounds like you’ve taken a fantastic local tradition and you’ve put it together with new forms of communication via the internet and a new business model.
MARK: Can you say a little bit about how you marry the two?
DAVID: It took me 12 months to figure this one out. I thought I was just starting a jeans factory, and we make great jeans and it’s like the Luddite, right? It’s huge skills 20, 30 years, Gladwell, talks about 10,000 hours to become a chess master. In the factory, some of them have done 50,000 hours of learning how to do one thing well, extraordinary.
And so, we can go and play with the elite makers in the world because we have the knowledge, and we have the skills, and we have the patience to apply them. But this is a very busy world that we live in, and so it took me about 12 months to realize that we needed to start another factory and that was the content factory because we’re in the jeans business, but we’re also in a storytelling business. And actually, the truth is, we have to be every bit as good as telling the story as we are making the jeans.
And so we’ve had to learn to master this old skills and new skills because the sewing machine is the old skill, the internet is the new skill, and the storytelling and actually getting people to know that we exist, and we need those two things.
And people say, ‘Which ones most important to you? The jeans factory or the content factory?’ I said, ‘I think of them as legs. The jeans factory is the left leg and the content factory is the right leg.’ Now, you need both to go forward. And so, you can’t really ask that question because that’s like a dumb question because we actually… if we make a great product, we have to go and tell people that we exist in this world.
MARK: I think this is so important because I’ve spoken to goodness knows how many creatives who make amazing things, and yet they said, ‘Why is that not enough? Why is that not selling? Why am I still struggling?’ And very often it’s the storytelling part. It’s the, ‘Why should people care about this?’ part.
DAVID: I get frustrated sometimes when people just go, ‘Oh, you’re just marketing. That’s just marketing.’ You go, ‘So,’ when I’m there going like, ‘Do you know it’s tiresome,’ because van Gogh needed a marketing guy because he didn’t sell anything in his lifetime. So, food on his table, he struggled. And I’m like going, ‘If you make a great product, tell a great story.’ And there’s nothing wrong with marketing, if you make a great product, your duty is to go and sell it. You’re not artists. You have to go and be commercial about this thing. You make a great product and you get food on your table by selling that great product, and marketing allows you to eat.
So when people say, ‘Oh, it’s just marketing.’ You go like, ‘Why make a great product if you’re not willing to tell the story?’ And why do you say that it’s just marketing when actually selling a product is a skill. It takes a lot of effort, and you have to read a lot about stuff in terms of it to be able to sell it. And you go, ‘So honor marketing because actually, if a great product doesn’t get sold, then why are you making a great product? You’re not van Gogh.’ And so it frustrates me and I kind of get a bit annoyed by that because it kind of sounds like marketing is just like a scummy thing, and you go, ‘It’s not. Actually, telling a great story about all brands,’ right? ‘All brands are a great story well told.’
MARK: And also it strikes me… I mean, it’s a true story and it’s a compelling story because you’ve put yourself on the line, you and your team. It’s not an easy challenge and yet you are restarting this old factory.
You’re reinvigorating the tradition and there was no guarantee it was going to work.
DAVID: Absolutely not. A lot of people begged me not to do it. And starting a factory is hard and that’s why most people don’t do it. I can’t tell you how many famous brands have come to us and said can you make jeans for us and I go like, ‘No. Go and start a factory, make your own stuff because we’re going to go and build a global denim brand, and we’re going to sell direct to our customer. That’s our business. Our business isn’t to go and make your product.’ But I think for creative people you have to do hard things because like everyone’s doing easy things. And that’s the reason we stand out is we’ve done a hard thing.
Starting a factory is super hard. Running it on a daily basis is super hard. Keeping that team together, understand the ebbs and flows of it, it’s hard. But actually, from a creative point of view, it’s like you have to be able to answer hard problems. And actually, you’re going to have a really fun life if you do that.
MARK: And what’s it been like seeing people come back into the factory and become a team?
DAVID: It’s like I have to take you back to 2002, and those gates closed and that clunk. No one out of those 400 people, not one, did they ever imagine, not one of those 400 imagined that that factory, this town would ever make jeans again. And they’d grown up there. Like Claude who cuts our jeans out, he started when he’s 15, and his big thing was, he said, ‘You know what my biggest worry was, is I thought I’d never have anybody to go and pass those skills onto.’ So he felt unfulfilled as a human being because he said, ‘I wanted to pass those skills on but I never thought I’d get a chance.’
And so, it was kind of an extraordinary thing. The interesting thing is mostly, with teams you’ve got to go and try and motivate them. Like everyone’s on a second chance, we did Howie’s, we sold it. We walked away, and for them, the second chance is to go and make jeans again. And the town’s on a second chance, actually this time we won’t fight the battle of who can be the cheapest. We’ll fight the battle of who can be the best. So you don’t need the motivation at that point.
And so, seeing all those people come back in going, ‘God.’ You know, you gotta understand is they’re world-class at doing this thing. Imagine if you were suddenly a world-class writer is told that he can’t write anymore or a world-class photographer, you go, ‘Hey, do you know what? You have to put your camera down.’ That’s like a hard thing to say to somebody. You go, ‘God, I spent 20 years learning this, and now it’s not going to be used.’
And you’ve got to understand, a pair of jeans for us is 75 different processes, and we only have to be world-class at 75 of them. It’s a very simple thing but very complex thing. And in order to make it look incredible and amazing, there’s an awful lot of skill. So they get a lot of satisfaction, and they’re suddenly in the films, and they’re suddenly in papers, and the Hiut Denim Company is a film waiting to happen. When we get those 400 people their jobs back, Hollywood is going to come and make a film on it, you go, ‘Yeah, fine.’
MARK: You told me about a great potential scene from the film the other day when we were talking. You talked about painting the floor at the beginning. Could you tell us that please?
DAVID: I am fascinated by teams, I love sports and actually, you can’t really be an entrepreneur unless you are able to build a team. When we were signing on the lease for the factory that we’re currently in, the landlord – we’d given him a long list of things they had to do in order for us to move in, and one of them was paint the floor, so it looks amazing.
And he went through the list and all the things he said, ‘I’m not painting the floor because I don’t have to.’ And I’m going, ‘Well, I’m going to bring in some of the smartest people on the planet here. I need the floors to look amazing. I want these people to be surrounded by amazingness. We’re making one of the best jeans on the planet. I can’t have a shitty floor.’ And part of me would get frustrated with these landlords, you know? I have problems and issues with people who don’t give a shit about their thing. Do you know what I mean?
MARK: Well, it’s just a transactional relationship again, isn’t it?
DAVID: Yeah. Like when somebody just wants to like do their job, be average.
MARK: I’m not good at that either, I know exactly what you mean.
DAVID: I find it really tricky. I wanted to lock him in the building because we’re next to the police station, so when they get out they’ll set the alarm off and the police will come and go, ‘What are you doing in there?’ And it’d be a funny story if they were the landlords, but in the end, I just walked out. Claire said goodbye to them. Claire is super polite. She’s much nicer than me and she said, ‘Well, you didn’t handle that very well.’ I’m going, ‘I hope I never handle that well.’
When I see people who don’t care about or don’t have pride in what they do, I need to get out of that building because I just can’t do it. So anyway, the next day, I went and spent £460 on floor paint, and the entire company painted the floor. And actually, that point was a really important point in the factory, and the team because actually, we all decided at that point, you know what, we didn’t want to be average, and the enemy was to be average. And actually, we all enjoyed painting the floor. And actually when we moved to the new building, a new factory, we’re all going to paint the floor again because I think that was the point where we became a team.
MARK: You’re literally preparing the ground, aren’t you?
DAVID: Literally. And it was an important moment. Do you know what I mean? It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s go and bond by doing an away day.’ It was kind of bonding by going, ‘Actually, you know what? If we’re going to go and get 400 people their jobs backs, we can’t be average and we mustn’t let that in the building in any form.’ It was an intention.
MARK: Yeah. Okay. So not content with founding companies and also writing seven books, you’ve also created a very unusual event which I’m kind of struggling to describe because I don’t think it’s quite a conference, and it doesn’t exactly look like a festival either.
Can you tell us a bit about the Do Lectures?
DAVID: Yeah. It’s a funny thing because like somebody said I’ve always struggled to go like, ‘What is it?’ I’m going like, ‘Do you know what? It’s two days and three nights of complete nutrition for the soul and the body and the mind.’ And when you start talking like that, people just go, ‘I have no idea what you’re on about.’ And then I ask the question and go like, ‘Well, if you… Okay, describe chocolate.’ And people go, ‘Ah,’ and it’s a really hard thing to describe, but we all like chocolate.
And so Do Lectures is hard to describe because it doesn’t fit into a slot, it’s a festival, it’s a conference. It’s a mash-up of all those things. But it’s a very good amazing three-day pause because most people don’t get that time just to just question everything.
And funny story is we used to have a deal with Virgin Atlantic. I mean, we love Virgin. And the deal was we’d buy the speakers Premium Economy tickets and we’d try and get an upgrade and they worked really well for us. And the deal, for them, was they would send their three brightest down. But after three years, they said, ‘Look, we’re going to have to stop this. Almost everybody that’s come down has resigned.’
And it does that. And people who come to speak think, ‘Oh, it’s for the attendees.’ And then the attendees go, ‘Wow, this is changing my life.’ Also, the speakers come down and go, ‘Man, I’ve never been to a thing like this before, like this has fried my brain.’
And we’re trying to work out why it does what it does, and it’s a combination of all the things. Doing it, the Wi-Fi is horrible.
MARK: Just for somebody listening to this, it’s on a farm in Wales, and is very limited numbers, is that right?
DAVID: Only 100 tickets, yeah. And we sell the tickets on March the 1st, and they’re sold out. That time, we get a waiting list as well, and and the last thing we want is any publicity for it because people go, ‘We can write an article,’ but, I mean, literally why? Because, we sell all the tickets. We can’t make it any bigger. The barn literally is packed.
So, yeah, it’s on a farm, West Wales, hard to get to, over three days three nights. It’s happening end of June this year. And we’ve been very fortunate in getting some pretty amazing speakers from Sir Tim Berners-lee. That’s always a good talk and I invented the internet, that’s a good talk. Perry Chen, ‘I started Kickstarter.’ We had Sachs, ‘I started Vimeo,’ Tim Ferriss came down in 2008. His podcast has got 100 million downloads. So we’ve attracted a lot of amazing creative people. We had Colin Greenwood from Radiohead talking about how Radiohead work.
So it attracts amazing speakers. It attracts, actually amazing attendees. It’s gone on to be a book company. We’re hoping that the Do goes and starts other companies that should exist in this world but don’t currently.
MARK: It’s hard to describe, obviously, but what do you think is the magic ingredient for you personally, what do you like best about it?
DAVID: I think it’s a chance to stop being busy and some of the questions that are asked, you’ve been asking for a long time, and perhaps you just see what is potential or what is possible, and sometimes, I don’t know about you, but those barriers that are in front of you are mostly put there by yourself.
And so, you have to find ways to remove those barriers and, actually one way to remove those barriers is by listening to people who’ve removed them already. And I think it shines a light in the road where you suddenly you go, ‘Oh, that’s the way forward.’ And you’ve learned to get out of your own way.
MARK: Yeah. Well, that’s a big reason why I do this show because I get to ask people like you and others who have removed a lot of barriers. What’s it, like? How did you do it? I hope people listening get something from that, and but also I learned a tremendous amount by just asking these questions.
DAVID: Yeah, absolutely. I heard a story other day from my kids. They came back and I go, ‘How was school?’ And they go, ‘Fine.’ But if you ask a different question it’s like, ‘What great questions did you ask today?’ And so I’ve been asking my kids that they go, ‘No, Dad, honestly, will you stop doing that?’ but they can’t just say, ‘Fine.’
And so, when you suddenly ask a different question our life is really governed by the questions that we ask not the answers that we seek. And so, I find that a completely fascinating way to run companies where you go like, ‘Let’s ask a different question, let’s reframe that question,’ and that gets us into a really interesting spaces.
MARK: Well, that sounds like a great place to finish, David. My final question for you is what question would you like people to take out with them when they finish listening to this conversation, maybe some of the ideas going through their mind?
What question would you like them to take away and reflect on and maybe act on this week?
DAVID: I would like them to do a seven-day exercise and do it just for seven days and that each day just go, ‘What great question did I ask today?’
MARK: Okay, great.
DAVID: And do that for seven days. Because actually we start to then create a habit of asking great questions and then we start to get really interesting answers at that point.
MARK: Brilliant. I love that David, and I will be doing that one myself for sure. Okay. So now, if you’re listening to this and you’re feeling like your nose is pressed up against the glass a little with Do Lectures and thinking it’s so exclusive, actually, a lot of the talks are available online, aren’t they David?
DAVID: Yeah. We get that thing of, ‘Oh, the Do Lectures are elitist,’ but actually 100 people pay in order for there to be free talks in the world. So, I go and look at the app every morning, and suddenly there’s somebody from China watching the talks, somebody from Korea, somebody from Holland, somebody from Germany.
And so those 100 people, attendees, and the people who come to the workshops, they’re like patrons, and they support free. Myself and Claire haven’t earned a salary in 10 years. We don’t earn a salary from the Do Lectures, but I’m glad it exists in the world. Do you know what I mean? I think it’s like it doesn’t have a big sponsor. It’s independent. We pick the speakers because they’re doing interesting things, not because there’s another reason. And I know I’m glad it exists in the world and people write us letters and say, ‘Thank you for it.’ And I’m proud of it. I’m proud that it exists just to help others.
Like that beautiful journey from where you are now to where you could be, most people settle and the Do Lectures doesn’t want you to settle. You go like, ‘Well, what is your true potential?’ And actually, the closer you get to it, the happier you’re going to be because you suddenly go, ‘Oh, my god, I’m really fulfilled.’ And that’s the quest for the Do Lectures, like from a human point of view, is like, ‘Can you get to your point B? Where you are now, you’re at Point A.’
MARK: Beautiful. And so, where can people go to see the lectures?
DAVID: They’re on the website, free talks that I think there’s maybe about 300 talks.
MARK: Is it dolectures.com?
DAVID: And, I mean, obviously, you know, Hiut Denim has its website. We currently have a three-month waiting list for jeans.
MARK: So that’s, Hiut is H-I-U-T denim.co.uk, is that right?
DAVID: That’s correct. We have a little bit stressed on the factory because we got like nearly a three-month waiting list. There’s different stresses in business.
MARK: That’s a good one to have.
MARK: And if somebody’s listening to this and they’re really enjoying the ideas and the provocations you’re putting out there, you’ve written several books, what would be a good book for them to start with?
DAVID: I wrote a book for the Do Book Company, you know, and it’s called Do Purpose. And the purpose driven companies really are the most interesting ones. There’s people who truly understand why they’re doing it and then actually what matters to them. And I think if you’re going to go and start companies, it’s, for me, those are the most interesting companies in the world, and that would be a good start.
It’s a very quick read. My old boss, Paul Arden, when I was at Saatchis, he wrote a book It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be. I wanted to make it like his in as much as you don’t have to spend 10 minutes. It’s like a 10-minute read.
MARK: Excellent. I will put links to, obviously, all your sites and the book in the show notes. David, thank you so much for sharing. It’s been a real pleasure listening to you.
DAVID: My pleasure. Thank you very much. Thank you for your time.
About The 21st Century Creative podcast
Each episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast features an interview with an outstanding creator in the arts or creative industries.
At the end of the interview, I ask my guest to set you a Creative Challenge that will help you put the ideas from the interview in to practice in your own work.
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