Learning from Darwin

This morning on my way to Trader Joe’s for that special cereal I am willing to drive a few miles out of my way for, I pulled up behind a blue transfer truck. It was clean, and its attractive graphics were sophisticated. I soon realized the truck was part of the Williams-Sonoma logistics fleet. And also Pottery Barn, and Pottery Barn Kids, and PBteen and Williams-Sonoma Home, and West Elm!

I’ve been had! I believed those companies were boutique, closely held businesses run by the unique individuals who founded them. Then I realized they “are”.

As I followed that truck I visited each of those stores in my head and remembered the feeling I experienced when I was there: quality, great service, sophisticated lighting, durable products, casual elegance. I discovered that each company has a beautiful website with first rate photography and an effective presence on Facebook where, no doubt, 98% of their target customer base also have a presence.

The Williams & Sonoma companies share an essential set of core principals expressed through a unique set of products, and leverage them to connect with a number of different customer needs and wants. Ah ha! Another flash of insight….

I serve my own clients through a variety of “brands.” Occasionally this is confusing, and I’m not altogether certain a service business with so few employees can be four different businesses. Today they are each adventures of discovery. Perhaps one day they will synthesize themselves into one, crystal clear business. Or grow into several fully formed companies.  Am I hedging my bets and diluting my strengths or cleverly and responsively leveraging different and distinct opportunities in the marketplace?

I take my cue from Darwin: the specie that adapts survives. In the design professions we can continue to serve our clients the way we always have and hope that nothing changes. Or we can evolve; adapting to the changes in climate and geography (the marketplace) and thrive. Which is the right direction? How will you know unless you try several?

Only one thing is certain: what worked yesterday will not work tomorrow.