Steve leads our strategy team, and bring to &us a huge amount of experience working with businesses from X-Box, Microsoft and Mercedes-Benz to the UN and small tech startups.
Read on to find out what takes his breath away, why lightbulb moments are built from a hundred experiments, the importance of bringing everything back to the customer, and how as AI gathers pace he thinks we’ll start to see more humanity at work.
That, and how he’s getting on with his newfound superhero uniform.
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What’s your work background?
I’ve been lucky enough to work across a number of things, so the answer is “it’s complicated”. But the common theme is building and launching propositions, mostly around emerging tech but also in a lot of other consumer spaces. Early on, I got to work on the launch of Kinect as part of the Xbox team at Microsoft. An epic scale project that earned a World Record as “fastest launch ever”. Since then, there have been stints at M&C Saatchi, Leo Burnett, Pentagram, TMS and smaller digital shops and startups. Some highlights have been getting to work on a project for the UN World Food Programme, building digital experiences with Mercedes-Benz, and experimenting with a few tech startups — an indescribably hard pursuit. My hat off to those who do it.
Why did you choose to come and work at &us?
The chance to bring everything together — the worlds of creative agency and upstream “top table” strategic consultancy. Great things are possible with big ambitions, beautifully made.
What excites you about a challenge/brief?
Every challenge is different. I’ve been doing this for over 14 years, across dozens of sectors and I suspect over 50 clients, and it’s still constantly new and different. At times, it can be eye-watering and leave you puffing for breath — almost every time you think at some point “there’s just no solution here — it’s never going to happen”. But as you work through, it gets clearer and you see the light. It can be exhausting. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What’s the thing that’s most often the lightbulb moment?
The lightbulb itself was the result of 3,000 different theories and Edison testing 6,000 different materials. Most of these tests were spectacular failures. I think that tells us a lot about the nature of ideas, and how they come to form. Whilst — as creative types — we often want to feel like ideas come to us fully formed in one clear and illuminating moment, the reality tends to be quite different. Progress happen incrementally, with a great deal of experimentation — constant ingenuity and trying new angles. So there often isn’t really just one lightbulb moment. I’d argue that instead of “death by a thousand cuts”, it’s often “Creation by a thousand little edits and tweaks” which is something we should feel empowered by — there’s always a way to make something better.
What’s the one thing organisations need to start doing now to be ready for the future?
The future could be a very long time. And that can become a little daunting — when we talk about the future, how much of it do we want and need to prepare for? This can often lead to paralysis — trying to cover many different directions over many different timelines. Attention and resources very quickly get stretched, and little progress gets made. But the answer and shifts forward can often be quite simple things. Instead of worrying too much about the looming future (all infinity of it, all at once), companies can become a lot more relevant by shifting their focus. Think about what problems are being faced by everyday, all-around-you type people. You can never go too far wrong by focusing on real problems for real people. The audience is the answer.
What are your predictions for the year ahead? What will organisations want more of in the next 12-24 months? Where will the market demand most change?
Over the last generation we’ve increasingly taught humans to behave like machines — schedules, processes, timings, standardising ways to talk, behave and do our work.
Over the next generation, we’ll increasingly teach machines to be like humans — freer thinking, personality, charm, inventiveness, creativity, spontaneity.
I think business as a whole needs to think carefully about how to bring the humanity back, be it through life-centred design, welfare, wellness or ESG — let’s enjoy being human, for all its advantages and flaws.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Be useful” from Jon Steel, an old planning legend, great thinker and for a short while a mentor.
Also not to wash colours with your whites. Really, don’t do it, it’s not worth it.
What’s the advice you’d give?
You probably already have everything you need to get started.
Also — people are very generous with their time when they can tell you’re passionate about something. Give it a go and don’t be afraid to ask. So thanks to all those who were generous with their time for me.
What did you want to be when you ‘grew up’?
I grew up in the golden age of Spielberg movies — Hook, Jurassic Park, ET, Indiana Jones. That was prime Sunday night film fodder with the family, and I always wanted to live in those type of worlds. Whilst I’ve never got to play with dinosaurs or aliens (yet), I have been lucky enough to explore jungles, work on space projects, be involved in wildlife protection and soak up a bit of “pirate ship” culture. Next stop, Ready Player One.
How do you relax outside work?
I’ve started getting into cycling. I bought an entire wardrobe of Lycra that turned out to be a size too small. Promising start. I’ll keep you posted.
What would be your super power if you had one?
Fitting into said Lycra. Which, in fairness, I think is a pre-requisite of a superhero.