About hair adventures, experimentation and communication

- 210319

I’m suffering at the expense of a hairdresser I visited recently. The haircut is bad (read too short), the highlights very stripey. I realise you may be screaming at your screens right now, especially if you've not been able to access a hairdresser in a while, but here it is: I have been punished anyway. Whenever I wash and dry my hair (every two days), the anger builds from the pit of my stomach as I see the offensive uneven streaks in the mirror.

My brother Guillaume and I experimented a lot with hair colour in our teens and beyond. Looking back, I can barely comprehend how poised my parents were with it because neither of us did a good job. Let's be honest, 90's hair colouring products weren't great. At some point, my bob's artificial blond was so bright (not my goal I should clarify) it made me look practically radioactive amongst the crowd of students of my lycée. This is just one of my many hair stories, some more dramatic than that (the time when someone burnt half my hair with bleach comes to mind).

So, I experimented! My adventurous spirit, coupled with a sense of safety, led me - if involuntarily - to stand out from the crowd. I guess that was the unplanned side effect of experimenting: taking risks often leads to making people and companies stand out from the crowd. Which can be as beneficial to some as it is dangerous or mortifying to others.

The thing is, aren’t all experiments a way to test our identity? Exploring the boundaries of what’s acceptable, or possible, as a means to expand our sense of self?


Last week, Sri Ganesh Santhiram, the latest guest on my podcast Out of the Clouds, opined that his previous employer Victorinox had missed an opportunity to offer solutions to help clients during the pandemic (ie salon-quality scissors). Like many established brands, they stayed within their comfort zone and didn’t meet their customers where they were: in desperate need of hair management solutions, entertainment and/or inspiration. They didn't experiment. Frustrating for those who, like Ganesh, were at the forefront of the data and who could see the demand and the potential for client engagement.

I went back and asked Ganesh how he would tackle the situation should he find himself in the driver’s seat and he offered the following, all serving the overarching concept of empowerment so team members can go out and experiment:

Hire people who are better than you at the stuff you put them in charge of. People who you trust.

Set a common goal for the team: he made the point on the podcast that we’re all measured on different things so essentially people on the same team are often not working towards the same goals. Unless they are set as such. If there are conflicts (inevitable almost), do your best to remove them.

Put a framework in place so people know the boundaries within which they are allowed to work in and the kind of failure that is acceptable. As we experiment, we are bound to fail somehow. Normalising failure frees us to think outside the box, encouraging creativity.

Experiments like the ones we do as kids with our hair are often scrappy, generally unplanned, inexpensive and answering a need that has been identified.

Instead of continuing to tell you about my hair stories (this could go on for a while), let me tell you about my favourite and probably most successful digital experiment within a brand.

That favourite was #Pigalleis10. Pigalle is the iconic stiletto by master designer Christian Louboutin turned 10 in 2014. The shoe was already adored by legions of fans, so when I realised the opportunity, I rushed with my team to come up with a plan to celebrate the occasion.

It was the same as all of the above: scrappy, inexpensive, not really planned and had to happen fast. The reason why it worked is most probably because I was at that point sufficiently trusted by the other key stakeholders needed for this two-week sprint. We had already established an internal set up where front-end developers, eCommerce head, social media and PR were in the same virtual room every month to work on important projects together. With silos broken, as it were, we all worked furiously with a very tight deadline towards this clearly identified common goal. It was a success: press, fans and retailers alike celebrated the design’s anniversary across platforms.

Plus our fans really wanted to participate, they clearly wanted to take photos of their Pigalles (and of themselves). We made this a UGC campaign and you can still find a good 2K posts under the hashtag on IG.


During our first lockdown, already a year ago, I remember a wonderful IG tutorial from hairdresser and friend Etienne Sekola (ex David Mallett salon star). He went above and beyond to help his locked-down clients and straightened his signature afro in order to offer video demos to show people how to cut their bangs; a demonstration as generous as it was entertaining.

Anyway, back to my hair… Lol. A friend of mine dropped what I saw as a hint of a solution for my streaky balayage. A ‘champagne’ coloured toner by Bleach London. I knew the name, the original salon used to be up the street from me in East London. I explored further and realised that, unlike other hair care brands whose toners are for professional use only, Bleach London has created a range that would have been an absolute dream when my brother and I were kids (FYI kids over 16).

With tons of reviews online and plenty of examples of what the results look like on Instagram, they have essentially built a product truly for their clients. Which is convenient, before, during and hopefully post-pandemic. It struck me as rare, a brand truly built for its clients: Bleach London gives people what they need.

As you may have guessed, all this made me feel safe to take things into my own hands. For the first time since the atomic blond of my late teens, I put hair colour on myself. And per my expectations, the result was great.


The above got me wondering about how we develop an adventurous spirit; what drives some of us to experiment and others to choose a model and stay with it for life.

From the earlier examples, I see that building trust and safety is something that takes time. Processes need to be put in place so that agile testing can happen in a defined and healthy structure. No one should lose their hair (literally or metaphorically) over a misunderstanding or lack of proper communication.

I’m grateful for my hair adventure, which is a great segue into these questions: we are so precious about our hairstyles and the stories they convey about us. Unless you are Anna Wintour for example, who has stuck to a specific narrative and hairstyle for years. I find that wondrous and amazing, what a commitment. But then again, I’m playful and she is the queen of chic so our personal goals probably differ quite a bit.

Talking about goals, this brings me to consider the benefits other service providers like agencies, consultants and freelancers, could gain from following the example of the best hairdressers out there, especially when approaching a new client.

Take time to understand, really get to know the client; look them over properly, ask more questions than they even think is necessary.

Don't be patronising: respect breeds trust and a sense of safety

Make sure to use language that is transparent and if at any point their eyes glaze over a bit, ask them if they have understood your proposal.

Let them lead you in your own evolution by inviting feedback, regularly. You may let the dust settle (like the colour) then follow up with: were you happy with the service? Is there something we could have done differently?

Finally, if you are going to be experimenting with them, they need to be aware of it ahead of time - they should be partners, not victims.

Sure, the above takes more time, it’s a bigger commitment and some of it may be uncomfortable. Some people may not be used to giving this level of feedback; some may shrug and not answer. Others will lay into you and perhaps show you biases, mistakes, areas of potential development that will feel uncomfortable. Some others will sing your praises loud and strong, so much so that you'll probably ask: 'Can I use this as a testimonial?’ And they'll jump at the chance to make their sentiments public.

Whether you make all of it public or only a little, you'll be more prepared for the next client. Whether they arrive with everything sorted in their head or not at all, you'll help them figure out their objectives and deliver against them, because you will be supercharged by the power of knowledge.

It is more time consuming to build the relationship and the understanding, and yet the advantages can lead to exponential development: with clear communication, you build a sense of safety which in turns leads to trust, further enhanced from delivering at or over the expectations. Bold experimentation may even become a possible consideration.

Which is good news. Because by staying safe, we don’t get to learn a whole lot. In knowing the risks we can take, we open ourselves to the possibility of learning. But we must be mindful of not getting ourselves in over our heads (see learning vs panic zone in this graph).


And the more we practice, the more fluent we become, the more comfortable we are with it, the more we learn. The more we learn, the more we grow.

As for me, I'll just let my own hair grow longer, reorder the toner and perhaps I'll reconnect with Etienne's expert scissors (when I’m allowed to go to Paris).