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Inside track: On poetry and Powerpoint

19 November 2019 by
Inside track: On poetry and Powerpoint

Running a business is often about numbers and data, but Shamil Thakrar says it's vital to retain some of the poetry

I have a confession to make. I was once a management consultant. I used to work feverishly through the night before scurrying off to the first flight and, bleary-eyed, giving what I sincerely believed was sage advice to clients. I was a whizz at rustling up 100-slide Powerpoint decks.

I was so completely soused in this stuff that my mind used to work in slide format – each separate thought with seven bullet points, maximum.

Now I am some distance away from those traumatic events, I can see the damage they may have done. I came away with a pathological need to reduce things, to simplify them until they were communicable in slightly moronic bullet points. It took the nuance and complexity and subtlety and joy out of everything.

I don't think it was just me. There is a wider Powerpointisation of working culture. There is a general orthodoxy that reducing things, simplifying them until they're communicable in bullet points or in an elevator pitch or a simple strapline, is a form of virtue.

I don't think this is always helpful in business. Sure, sometimes you want to understand things quickly. But often, you need the subtlety and the emotion. A few years ago, the US military considered banning Powerpoint because they felt it stifled critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making.

Back in 2013 when we had two restaurants, we wanted to articulate our values and beliefs. Many businesses choose four or five words that they feel represent their values. We started to tread this well-worn path but found it deeply unsatisfying.

How could we reduce our feelings, our inspirations, our desires to five words?

It turned out that we couldn't. We worked together and ended up with some writing that we call the ‘Dishoom Dharma' – ‘dharma' being the Hindi word for essence or duty. We have since used this writing to guide almost everything we do. It's a lot more than five words, but for us it is deeply emotive and conveys the world we want to create: "Our reason for being? To create Dishoom's world. We think of it as ‘our Bombay'. It's an innocent, big-hearted, slightly barmy, sepia-tinted, charmed kind of place.

"It's a place full to the brim with the Bombay food and Bombay culture that we get excited about. One where a genuine love of people means that anyone and everyone is welcomed with warmth – you're always among friends. One where there are no barriers. Where differences are celebrated, not judged.

"One where the food is fresher and tastier, the drink more thirst-quenching and the humour more eccentric. Music sounds sweeter. Scents evoke fond memories. Lights glow golden.

"It's a world that makes its own rules; not in a rebellious or anarchic way, just in a way that challenges the cynical.

"Above all though, it's a world that believes in generous, genuine and selfless giving. We call this Seva. Seva goes beyond service. Seva means that in our world we don't just serve people, we take them in and look after them to the very best of our ability. Guests and team alike. Welcome to our world. Welcome to Dishoom."

Too much Powerpoint and too much reduction can stop you from deepening and evoking. You risk extinguishing the poetry, which is so valuable, but also fragile.

My late father believed that for something to truly succeed, it had to have a little poetry at its heart. Back in my consulting days I didn't know what he was talking about. Now I know he was expressing a deep truth.

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