#1

We all need a
mentor to help
show the way

My first mentor was the late Anthony H Wilson.

Factory Records was my first job after leaving University but I soon realised that working for Tony was just the start of my education. This was 1998, and long after the heyday of Factory, but that didn’t matter. Spending time in Tony’s company, listening in to his conversations, watching his reactions, observing his ability to engage and entertain was like learning a whole new language. Over the years, I spent hours in his black Jaguar driving up and down the motorway and I’d be amazed at how he could tell me about everything from the fall of Babylon to the Spanish Inquisition, the War of the Roses to William the Silent and he’d do it while driving at 98mph, steering with his knees and rolling a joint with his right hand. It was like working for Merlin. He woke every morning, breathed in the new air and then set off with purpose to see what adventures the day would bring. As Capote said: “If you’re a special person, you need to lead a special life.” And for Tony, anything was possible. And I adored how wonderfully pretentious he was. But he did it with warmth, and charm, and wit, and he used his intelligence in a way that drew others in. To quote one of the many dedications I saw after his passing in August 2007: “Around my estate, pretentious was the new glue-huffing thanks to T Wilson.” Every second I spent in his company was a true adventure. I owe him a great deal.

#2

Don’t worry about
the name, it’s the context
that’s important

I used to go to university with a guy called Matt White. He played guitar, sang

nicely and decided to form a band. “Matt White and the Emulsions”. Following logic – that a great name should guarantee success – they should have been huge. We called ourselves four23 in a rush and with little consideration. We had been asked to complete our first piece of work for a record label. They had the belief that we could shoot a great music video for one of their artists. But we needed a name so we could send our first invoice. So we referenced the bookshelf in our Apex studio and for a reason that we can’t explain, we chose the Bible (it could have been a book of any denomination). And flicking through we found the perfect quote to start our journey: "And being let go / they went to their own company / and reported all that the chief, priests and elders had said unto them." Act four; verse 23. And that’s how we became four23. We pronounce it four. two. three as it’s easier to explain when giving as a URL. Others say four. twenty three. It doesn’t matter.

I used to go to university with a guy called Matt White. He played guitar, sang nicely and decided to form a band. “Matt White and the Emulsions”. Following logic – that a great name should guarantee success – they should have been huge, but unfortunately they fizzled out after a wave of disinterest. We called ourselves four23 in a rush and with little consideration. We had been asked to complete our first piece of work for a record label. They had the belief that we could shoot a great music video for one of their artists (which turned out OK actually). But we needed a name so we could send our first invoice. So we referenced the bookshelf in our Apex studio and for a reason that we can’t explain, we chose the Bible (it could have been a book of any denomination). And flicking through we found the perfect quote to start our journey: "And being let go / they went to their own company / and reported all that the chief, priests and elders had said unto them." Act four; verse 23. And that’s how we became four23. We pronounce it four. two. three as it’s easier to explain when giving as a URL. Others say four. twenty three. It doesn’t matter. On reflection, the choosing of a name wasn’t that important. Instead it’s the quality of the work we produce, the way we treat people, the relationships we build, the reputation we garner, how we ‘do business’, the offers we turn down, the opportunities we create, and the ambitions that we have that make the name good or not. If Matt White had great songs, it would have made for a great name.

#3

Strike a balance between
Turnover vs Romance

There’s a story about Factory Records, that may or

may not be true, that comes from a time when they were battling against bankruptcy in 1992. The founders called an emergency board meeting to try and decide how they could cut costs, as they were losing substantial amounts of money on a weekly basis. After much discussion they decided they had two options. The first was to lose the receptionist who had been with them for eight months and was good but not great. The second was to lose the weekly flower delivery. They agreed unanimously to lose the receptionist. OK, we understand that’s not good for the receptionist. We accept that. But the moral of the story is that the one thing the founders couldn't give up was the romance of what they were trying to do. These weren't just flowers. At Factory they symbolised something much more important about the ethos and beauty of the business they had created. Everyday for them was a balance between TURNOVER vs ROMANCE. If you concentrate fully on the romance then at some point you’ll go bankrupt, but if you concentrate fully on the turnover then a life without romance is no fun at all. Any creative or cultural or artistic endeavour that wants to be truly creative has to try and find that balance every day. Maybe Factory was too romantic when it went into bankruptcy in 1992. We have always had flowers at four23. Arranged weekly by Pip Roche, who’s been at four23 since the very start. She’s also a trained florist.

There’s a story about Factory Records, that may or

may not be true, that comes from a time when they were battling against bankruptcy in 1992. The founders called an emergency board meeting to try and decide how they could cut costs, as they were losing substantial amounts of money on a weekly basis. After much discussion they decided they had two options. The first was to lose the receptionist who had been with them for eight months and was good but not great. The second was to lose the weekly flower delivery. They agreed unanimously to lose the receptionist. OK, we understand that’s not good for the receptionist. We accept that. But the moral of the story is that the one thing the founders couldn't give up was the romance of what they were trying to do. These weren't just flowers. At Factory they symbolised something much more important about the ethos and beauty of the business they had created. Everyday for them was a balance between TURNOVER vs ROMANCE. If you concentrate fully on the romance then at some point you’ll go bankrupt, but if you concentrate fully on the turnover then a life without romance is no fun at all. Any creative or cultural or artistic endeavour that wants to be truly creative has to try and find that balance every day. Maybe Factory was too romantic when it went into bankruptcy in 1992. We have always had flowers at four23. A weekly flower allowance was put in the first ever cash flow we created back in 2004. And it’s a cost line that’s stayed there ever since. The flowers are arranged weekly by Pip Roche, who is four23’s Operations Director and has been a vital part of four23 for the full ten years. She’s also a trained florist. It’s not just the flowers that we’re sharing. It's an idea, a belief and an ethos that we’re trying to protect. We can never lose the romance. We must romance each other every day.

There’s a story about Factory Records, that may or

may not be true, that comes from a time when they were battling against bankruptcy in 1992. The founders called an emergency board meeting to try and decide how they could cut costs, as they were losing substantial amounts of money on a weekly basis. After much discussion they decided they had two options. The first was to lose the receptionist who had been with them for eight months and was good but not great. The second was to lose the weekly flower delivery. They agreed unanimously to lose the receptionist. OK, we understand that’s not good for the receptionist. We accept that. But the moral of the story is that the one thing the founders couldn't give up was the romance of what they were trying to do. These weren't just flowers. At Factory they symbolised something much more important about the ethos and beauty of the business they had created. Everyday for them was a balance between TURNOVER vs ROMANCE. If you concentrate fully on the romance then at some point you’ll go bankrupt, but if you concentrate fully on the turnover then a life without romance is no fun at all. Any creative or cultural or artistic endeavour that wants to be truly creative has to try and find that balance every day. Maybe Factory was too romantic when it went into bankruptcy in 1992. We have always had flowers at four23. A weekly flower allowance was put in the first ever cash flow we created back in 2004. And it’s a cost line that’s stayed there ever since. The flowers are arranged weekly by Pip Roche, who is four23’s Operations Director and has been a vital part of four23 for the full ten years. She’s also a trained florist. It’s not just the flowers that we’re sharing. It's an idea, a belief and an ethos that we’re trying to protect. We can never lose the romance. We must romance each other every day.

There’s a story about Factory Records, that may or

may not be true, that comes from a time when they were battling against bankruptcy in 1992. The founders called an emergency board meeting to try and decide how they could cut costs, as they were losing substantial amounts of money on a weekly basis. After much discussion they decided they had two options. The first was to lose the receptionist who had been with them for eight months and was good but not great. The second was to lose the weekly flower delivery. They agreed unanimously to lose the receptionist. OK, we understand that’s not good for the receptionist. We accept that. But the moral of the story is that the one thing the founders couldn't give up was the romance of what they were trying to do. These weren't just flowers. At Factory they symbolised something much more important about the ethos and beauty of the business they had created. Everyday for them was a balance between TURNOVER vs ROMANCE. If you concentrate fully on the romance then at some point you’ll go bankrupt, but if you concentrate fully on the turnover then a life without romance is no fun at all. Any creative or cultural or artistic endeavour that wants to be truly creative has to try and find that balance every day. Maybe Factory was too romantic when it went into bankruptcy in 1992. We have always had flowers at four23. A weekly flower allowance was put in the first ever cash flow we created back in 2004. And it’s a cost line that’s stayed there ever since. The flowers are arranged weekly by Pip Roche, who is four23’s Operations Director and has been a vital part of four23 for the full ten years. She’s also a trained florist. It’s not just the flowers that we’re sharing. It's an idea, a belief and an ethos that we’re trying to protect. We can never lose the romance. We must romance each other every day.

There’s a story about Factory Records, that may or

may not be true, that comes from a time when they were battling against bankruptcy in 1992. The founders called an emergency board meeting to try and decide how they could cut costs, as they were losing substantial amounts of money on a weekly basis. After much discussion they decided they had two options. The first was to lose the receptionist who had been with them for eight months and was good but not great. The second was to lose the weekly flower delivery. They agreed unanimously to lose the receptionist. OK, we understand that’s not good for the receptionist. We accept that. But the moral of the story is that the one thing the founders couldn't give up was the romance of what they were trying to do. These weren't just flowers. At Factory they symbolised something much more important about the ethos and beauty of the business they had created. Everyday for them was a balance between TURNOVER vs ROMANCE. If you concentrate fully on the romance then at some point you’ll go bankrupt, but if you concentrate fully on the turnover then a life without romance is no fun at all. Any creative or cultural or artistic endeavour that wants to be truly creative has to try and find that balance every day. Maybe Factory was too romantic when it went into bankruptcy in 1992. We have always had flowers at four23. A weekly flower allowance was put in the first ever cash flow we created back in 2004. And it’s a cost line that’s stayed there ever since. The flowers are arranged weekly by Pip Roche, who is four23’s Operations Director and has been a vital part of four23 for the full ten years. She’s also a trained florist. It’s not just the flowers that we’re sharing. It's an idea, a belief and an ethos that we’re trying to protect. We can never lose the romance. We must romance each other every day.

#4

We have
always created
a HOME

The Clash had Rehearsal Rehearsals, Picasso had Le Bateau-Lavoir, Talking Heads had

The End of the World, and we, at four23 at the start, had the Apex. Our first home back in 2004. The building, in the Castlefield basin of Manchester, was owned by a chap called Phil Chrisp and it had been in his family for over 100 years. It had always been a family letterpress printing business; it was a craft that ran through four generations of his family. We went to collect some print one morning and he showed us his storeroom – the top floor with a pitched roof. It became our studio and the first thing we did was to christen it the Apex. We then defined the gender as female, drew an Apex logo and with the red neon sign as our light mast, we set sail. Ever since then we’ve paid the same attention to the creating of the environments that we work in as we did when we first set foot in the Apex. We’ve all studied and worked, studied and worked. We’ve been in libraries and basements, flats, garrets, lecture theatres and island hotels open to the blue ocean. And one thing we’ve all learnt is that we do our best work, in the best space. In 2007 we grew beyond the Apex and moved to Carver’s Warehouse. Jane Jacobs’ theories on the knowledge economy include the concept that "new ideas often need old buildings" and Carver’s gave us that structure perfectly. Built in the late 18th Century, made from Yorkshire stone, it was a former warehouse for the boats that docked from the Rochdale Canal. We swung rope lights across the beams and spent five years safe within the walls of the oldest standing stone building in the North West of England. Then in 2013 we opened our first real studio in London. Berry Street in the heart of Clerkenwell. In January 2013 it was simply four brick walls and 360-degree windows until we put our faith into the brilliant interior designer Harriet Paterson to craft a flexible space where we could think, create, exhibit, perform and relax. A home for four23. At the first meeting Harriet brought with her one picture. It was a photograph of a toolbox. It was a special toolbox. It was the toolbox crafted by the furniture makers Benchmark for one of their founders, Sir Terence Conran, to celebrate his 80th birthday. Harriet explained to us that the toolbox represented the four23 studio. How the individual tools each had their own role: their own specialist ability to help craft and build. And this toolbox in particular was designed perfectly to make sure that every tool in the box had it’s own place and when everything was placed together it was a full tool set from which you could craft anything. Within six months of this conversation the brass and oak toolbox became our studio.

#5

Take the time to
explain what’s in
our heads first

In 2007 four23 was selected by the Department of Trade and Investment

as a business who was trading successfully internationally. We had a global client who was taking us across the world on creative missions and the DTI had seen this activity and offered us ‘coaching’ on international trading. After a few courses they offered us a trip to the Chicago Business School to join a programme on Creative Leadership. It was an education. A high-intensity atmosphere of US academia. Read the cases, argue your point, show no hesitation, stay up all night, and when the morning comes go for a 10-mile run. It was great learning. One thing we brought back was from a session taken by a Professor of Communication. We’ll replay it here.

1. Sit across from someone and say nothing.

2. Think of a famous song. A song that everyone will know.

3. Now, without speaking, bang out the song on the table using your hand only.

4. Play it for 30 seconds and then at the end ask the person across from you to
name the song.

Chances are they won’t have a clue what you’ve just been doing. To them, you were hitting a table hard in a non-rhythmical manner, with no tune, or melody. You, on the other hand, think you were playing the song perfectly. How couldn’t they have understood what you were playing? Now do it again. But this time:

1. Think of a famous song. A song that everyone will know.

2. Now say to the person across from you: “I am now going to play, from the start, a song called ‘XYZ’ by ‘123’ do you know it?”

3. If they say yes, then say: “Great, well feel free to join in.”

4. Then start to bang the table again and watch how this time the person opposite you starts to join in. You both start to smile as you synchronise rhythms. You start to improvise as they hold down the beat, while you kick out the top line using only your hand banging on the table as the instrument. At this point you both want someone to film it. It’s too wonderful not to be captured forever. You are as one.

The professor demonstrated this exercise in class in Chicago and I was the subject. Failing to guess at first and then joining in at the second attempt. After we’d finished our duet we got a round of applause. Her concluding statement was that 99% of miscommunication is down to the fact that we don’t share the information in our heads with the person we want to communicate with. Instead of stopping and trying again, this time by sharing more information, we just bang the table louder and louder. I left thinking all the arguments in the world could be stopped if we just told each other what tune we want to play together.

#6

Doctor,
our flamingo
is sick

Tom Waits was an established artist when he met his partner and future wife,

Kathleen Brennan, in 1978 (they married in 1980). They met during a period where to his own admission he wasn’t creating his best music. Far from it. His early creative spark had gone. But with Kathleen as his collaborator, Tom Waits found a new voice (literally) and a newfound wealth of creativity, sparking a decade of possibly his most interesting work. Together they developed a code for a troublesome moment when creating. They say to each other: “Doctor, our flamingo is sick.” Because how do you heal a sick flamingo? Why are its feathers falling out? Why are its eyes runny? Why is it so depressed? Who the hell knows? It’s a flamingo – a weird pink foreign bird. And creativity is just that weird, just that foreign. It is at difficult moments like those that Kathleen would show up with novel ideas and take the flamingo off his hands for a while, take it for a walk, try to put some food into it and make it better. There are many moments at four23 where the Flamingo hasn’t been well at all and many times someone has stepped forward, taken responsibility and with their own imagination, intelligence and inspiration they have managed to bring good health back not only to the flamingo but to the team as a whole. Which is why we have always been better as a team, than simply individuals.

Tom Waits was an established artist when he met his partner and future wife,

Kathleen Brennan, in 1978 (they married in 1980). They met during a period where to his own admission he wasn’t creating his best music. Far from it. His early creative spark had gone. But with Kathleen as his collaborator, Tom Waits found a new voice (literally) and a newfound wealth of creativity, sparking a decade of possibly his most interesting work. Together they developed a code for a troublesome moment when creating. They say to each other: “Doctor, our flamingo is sick.” Because how do you heal a sick flamingo? Why are its feathers falling out? Why are its eyes runny? Why is it so depressed? Who the hell knows? It’s a flamingo – a weird pink foreign bird. And creativity is just that weird, just that foreign. It is at difficult moments like those that Kathleen would show up with novel ideas and take the flamingo off his hands for a while, take it for a walk, try to put some food into it and make it better. There are many moments during our 10 years at four23 where the Flamingo hasn’t been well at all and at many times someone has stepped forward, taken responsibility and with their own imagination, intelligence and inspiration they have managed to bring good health back not only to the flamingo but to the team as a whole. Which is why we have always been better as a team, than simply individuals.

#7

Planning the final
destination is important,
but allow the journey route
to evolve

The Christmas of 2009 we took the four23 team to Marrakech for

a celebratory weekend and I packed into my bag a book on the Cuban invasion of 1959 to read on the trip. Apparently when Castro left the boat on the shores of Cuba, he turned to his small team, a handful of men, and asked them for the compass. They all looked at each, checked their pockets and realised they had forgotten to bring one. Che Guevara stepped forward and said: “Don’t worry men, I used to work on a farm, so I’ll plot our path by following the stars.” He pointed to the North Star and off they went, five days later arriving at their intended destination in the Sierra Maestar hills. On arriving, their supporters in the village asked why they were three days later than expected. Che explained that they didn’t have a compass but pointed to the sky and said: “Instead we were guided by the North Star.” To which one of the Villagers replied: “That isn’t the North Star, Che, that’s over there,” and pointed in the opposite direction. However we plan out our future aims, there will always be detours and things we simply cannot account for. But with hard work, belief in the team, a bit of luck, we’ll usually get there in the end. And the journey will actually be that little bit more interesting if we allow the route to evolve along the way.

#8

We are all creatively
unique and can only
unite as complementaries
not as similarities

The title is a quote taken from an exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

It told the wonderful story of the creative relationship between the artists, and husband and wife, Ben and Winifred Nicolson. It reminded us of a project four23 embarked upon with Paul Robertson in 2011, a virtuoso violinist and the founder of the acclaimed Medici String Quartet. His quartet had been together for 20 years, practicing and rehearsing every day in the pursuit of musical perfection. And Paul had developed a theory that there are four different but complementary types of personality, namely the Cleric, the Phlegmatic, the Sanguine and the Melancholic. “I am a classic Cleric. When in doubt, I lead. I never suffer from indecisiveness. The Quartet's cellist is a classic Phlegmatic – doing everything to make others happy. He would tune his cello out of tune to please others. Our first violinist was a Sanguine. Constantly spontaneous. Always popping off for an offer at the hairdressers. Flawless but for one exception: she is always sight-reading. The second violinist was a Melancholic. A perfectionist: patient, thoughtful, painstaking. But after a wonderful performance where I thought we had almost 'touched God' he would say: ‘you rushed a bit in bar 33.’ But, together, as a quartet, we are perfect.” Creative teams are built not by bringing together people who share the same backgrounds, skills, interests and knowledge but instead by celebrating the diversity and differences that individuals can bring to the team.

#9

Individual
ambition is best
realised through
the prism of team
success

A friend of mine, many years ago, was a few months

into a relationship with someone who was training to be a psychiatrist. One evening she handed him a notepad and a pencil and asked him to draw a picture. Knowing that this wasn’t simply just about drawing a picture, it was instead a veiled psychology test, he tried to swerve it. “No, no, you’ll analyse it. I’ll do it wrong,” he suggested. “No I wont, please it’ll be fun.” “It won’t be fun, I have a bad feeling about it.” “Don’t be silly, come on, draw me a picture.” He relented, picked up the pencil and with little thought but much trepidation he quickly drew a tiny boat, with a sail. He handed the book back to his partner and the smile instantly disappeared from her face. “Oh no, what’s wrong? What have I done?” He asked. “Nothing.” “Oh please, what is it?” “No, nothing, it’s fine.” It obviously wasn’t. “It’s just a boat. I like boats. I drew a boat.” To which she snapped: “Yes but you’ve only drawn one person in it!” And stormed off. In the final analysis it turned out that in that situation, my friend’s ambitions weren’t wholeheartedly striving for a future together with his then partner. In psychology there are three types of Ambition Profile – the 0s, the 1s and the 2s. The 0s are the people that have no ambition at all. These people don’t contribute much to a team and, in the worst case, can in fact hold the team back. The 1s are the people who are full of ambition but that ambition is purely filtered through themselves. They could be the star players in the team, but when it matters they will always put themselves first. And worse case, after a while, they can begin to disrupt the team as they try to engineer situations to their own personal benefit. In the long run they have no place in your team. And finally, the 2s. These are the people that are full of ambition also but with one vital difference from the 1s: they always see their ambition through the prism of what’s best for the team. They crave success for everyone and strive to help the wider group achieve their collective goals. These are the people we always need in our team.

#10

IF YOU SELL ONLY YOUR
EXPERTISE, THEN YOU HAVE
A LIMITED REPERTOIRE
VIEW GALLERY

Orson Welles was 24-years old and a successful

Broadway theatre director when he embarked on his first Hollywood film, Citizen Kane. The first day at the studio lot, Orson walked through the different stages and sets, watched the cameramen set up their tools and observed one thing: none of the sets had any roofs. He approched one of the camera people, a guy in his 50s, a long time member of the Hollywood Camera Workers Union, who quickly dismissed Orson's question: "We don't have roofs in Hollywood, why would we have roofs if no one is going to see them?" Orson then politely and sheepishy approached the Director of Photography who was eqully dismissive of his query. To them he was showing his naivety and it was their job to teach him the facts. That evenning, Orson went to the Producer's home in Beverly Hills and explained that without roofs he wouldn't be able to shoot the film. Without roofs he couldn't get the perspective he required, with the angles he wanted to shoot, to show the power of this characters. In his 30 years in Hollywood, the producer had never heard this before. But he believed in Orson and and agreed to his request. The next day roofs were installed. Orson shot Citizen Kane and the rest is cinematic history. If you sell only your expertise, then you have a limited reportoire. It's the journey of our team going from not knowing to the discovery of knowing that has been a recurring feature of our work and where fresh perspectives and original thinking have been developed. We have made many expressions, in many different mediums, across many different industries, using many different platforms. And the best projects are always the ones we've learnt the most from. As Wilson once said to me in his black Jaguar. "Dive into the river first and then ask yourself if you can swim. Not before."