Inspiration for the work that my clients commission on a daily basis doesn't just come from hair magazines and fashion blogs. It comes from a hike in the woods; live music; city architecture; or a gallery of installations like "Wonder," on exhibit at the Renwick.
Every artist has to decide what sort of beauty he or she wants to create. For my part, there has to be an element of surprise. Profound beauty creeps up on us; it doesn't yell in our face (the latter, all high contrast and harsh lines, is the "hairdresser-y hair" we pros love to hate). Beauty feels organic, like it grew out of the environment in which we found it (whether or not it took four hours and four liters of developer to bring it to life). Beauty has a lot to do with flourishing amidst the uncertainty and inconsistency of life.
I take a couple of high-intensity technique classes every year, and that keeps me reasonably disciplined. More curiosity is sparked, however, in questioning my overall approach to design and exploring art and business ideas beyond my own industry. When a woman tells me the pixie I gave her is the best cut she's ever had, she probably isn't impressed with the way I hold my shears, the exact angle at which I point cut, or how neat my sectioning looks. These are things hairdressers care about to keep themselves organized, and also to impress other hairdressers. Becoming remarkable to the people you serve has to do with how you hear someone's desires and how you work with - not against - the canvas of their natural hair. The twining stick huts in Patrick's Dougherty's Shindig are a perfect analogy to how I work with whorls and wave patterns in executing a haircut:
Each structure is unique, an improvised response to its surroundings, as reliant on the materials at hand as the artist’s wishes: the branches tell him which way they want to bend. This give and take lends vitality to Dougherty’s work, so that walls and spires are a record of gestures and wills.
"A record of gestures and wills." Beauty has this job to do. The best hairstylists use beauty to send messages. Since our canvas is a human being, our work is about discerning and projecting her through her ideal image. That image is a beacon to the world that tells others how to address her and take her in. The most important thing I have to know about everyone who sits in my chair is this: what is your most important message, and what is your life about? Because I want it to show.
Business coach Marshall Goldsmith wrote a book last year that pretty much sums up everything you need to know about behavioral change.
If you've ever wanted to lose or adopt a habit; build stronger, smoother relationships; make more money for your business; eat cleaner; run farther; or keep your apartment tidier, then you are well aware how difficult it is to change yourself in ways that last.
Maybe you owned your failures and still struggle to get better, or maybe you threw up your hands and blamed your poor results on others or on your environment. Forces are always at work to pull us off the path we have chosen. The second we start feeling confident in our progress is the second we risk reverting to old habits. He probably isn't singing about habit change, but Tame Impala's "It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" is the song I turn to when I'm really feeling this chief human struggle - the ceaseless, near-impossible climb towards consistency that is the first step towards excellence.
There is no better microcosm for personal growth than a hair salon. Stylists have such control over their own progress, and behavioral change yields speedy and proportional results. Becoming a marathon runner is a slog. Becoming more successful as a stylist, assuming your cut and color skills are already in place, can happen very quickly. Even doing all the "right" things for a single day can produce progress, raising average indicators for financial success. Positive and negative reinforcement signals are sharp, direct and personal when you're dealing in one-on-one conversations about art that define's someone's image of herself.
Yet it's still hard to grow. Even in an environment where your actions directly impact your results, and the connection between effort and payoff doesn't involve lots of middlemen - where your income each week is 100% based on the habits you have in place and the level of passion you bring to your job - you don't necessarily meet your goals or act the way you want to act all the time.
For the last 5 years I've been intensely interested in why it's so hard to do what we want to do. My company had a formula for success long before I got here, but it doesn't necessarily matter. We all know what we should do - the conversations to have and how to have them - but the trick is doing it, and then doing it again tomorrow, and then doing it every day until it becomes part of the rhythm of our lives and we couldn't cut hair except by performing these rituals. It doesn't matter how many people prove the formula by growing quickly when the apply it, or how much time and money gets invested in teaching people how to adopt the wording, the posture, or the timing to do it right. Most of our stylists still aren't consistent in their brand experience, and our average full-time stylist across all levels of experience is only taking home $35k/year plus tips. The scariest thing is that this is good for our area. Meanwhile, those who tackle behavioral change make six figures. What gives?
Recognizing the colossal difficulty of changing one's own behavior was a start. My salon chain has three arms to its education system - cut, color and communication. I created an offshoot of the communications program that was less about interpersonal relationships and more about your relationship with yourself. I ran several iterations of a six-week course in which stylists were accountable to the group and talked about all the ways it was hard to do what they promised themselves each week. We talked numbers for the first time, and in detail. It helped, but over time that level of investment wore off, and old habits crept back when stylists stopped coming to the studio each week. So to acknowledge the long-term nature of change, I started an online club. This closed Facebook group exists to stay in touch with those who most want to change, to give them a forum to ask for support and a reason to check their own progress constantly (participants share results on a weekly basis.)
It all helps, but I've always known there's a factor I can't provide, a factor each person has to bring to the table. The big deal about Triggers is that Goldsmith names and addresses that factor. Someone who wants to grow has to really accept that change is hard; has to strongly want to change; and then has to reframe every end goal in terms of the small efforts that lead to gradual improvement. The focus has to be on what the person in question can control all by himself, and has to be renewed daily and with help from others. In Goldsmith's case, as the sort of guy who writes self-help books and coaches very successful business people, Goldsmith pays a lady to call him every night and ask him if he did his best at each of the goals he previously set for himself. He calls this ritual the Daily Questions. He recognizes that he lacks discipline and instead of getting frustrated, he got realistic. He chose a coach, and told the coach what he needed to stay on track. He didn't expect change to be easy, so he planned for a long-term siege.
The idea of personal trainers in fitness is totally standard, but there's often an aversion to personal trainers in the rest of our lives. This is why my site is called (cut+color)CULTURE. Culture is that sneaky something. Naming culture the multiplier effect of change makes the point that it is much harder to dredge up the personal discipline every day to act in ways that will get us closer to our ideal state than it is to immerse ourselves in a culture that automatically rewards the small efforts that we all know add up, over time, to greatness. If people everywhere would pay a coach to call them each night and ask them their Daily Questions, the world would be a much better place. Barring that, though...culture is the biggest tool we have to improve consistent behavior. If you can change the feel and the values and the reactions of a group of people, individual change starts to happen almost as an impulsive response. What we all desire most, all the time, is connection to others. This desire can trump a lot of the other concerns that pull us off our bandwagons. By steering a culture, you can create a more habitable environment for positive change. Self-change is hard, and it will always be hard. The right culture, though, can make everything a lot easier and a lot more fun.
I know from experience that changing culture starts with individuals who are ready to change themselves. Reading Triggers inspired me to craft my own Daily Questions exercise. Choosing my specific goals was the hard part - I tried to think about when I feel happiest at the end of a long day, and what goes into those days that doesn't go into the less-great ones. You don't have 100% control over your results on any single day, but if you focus on what you do control (your own effort), you can't help but improve eventually.
I made the following spreadsheet of questions about the behaviors that I believe most impact my business using the Numbers app on my iPad. I welcome any and all of you to poke me at any time and ask if I'm keeping up with the self-discipline of recording my answers every night! I have a chair by my bed where I plan to sit for the 30 seconds it takes to rate myself before bed.
What would your Daily Questions be?
A controversial issue for the restaurant industry has a lot of parallels for salons, as well.
Danny Meyer gave an interview at South by Southwest last month that my business partner, Mary, attended. I've been researching the restauranteur's dramatic no-tipping policy roll-out ever since, and find it fascinating. If anything, stylists could make an even stronger case for wanting to go the no-tip route, as we are only half a service industry. We also see ourselves as artists and technical professionals - and neither of those groups are usually tipped. Obviously there would need to be a major compensation restructure to make sure nobody took a drastic pay cut, but if this high-level restauranteur has found a way to address that in his world - could there be a way in ours?
This idea has the potential to elevate my profession beyond any change I've yet seen in my lifetime. Whatever your opinion, it bears consideration!
Here are two sources - the SXSW interview that brought Danny Meyer to my attention....
...and a Freakonomics radio episode that aired March 9. Thoughts??