Fashion’s Messy Middle
image courtesy: Stephanie Hess
If you are in any creative field, you would not have missed Behance, a platform for creative people to organise their work. It’s founder Scott Belsky is one of the knowledgeable professionals in the world who comes with a great blend of creativity and business.

This edit is inspired by his recent book “The Messy Middle“. I could not resist relating the process of innovation with the fashion business. The fashion business is one of the unique businesses wherein we have continuous innovation of products at a rate much faster than any other business. As you go through the edit below, try to relate your last season, your last project or the one you are working on.

When people build something, typically what gets talked about is the launch and the Finish. Very rarely the middle is talked about. Most of what happens are actually in the middle. Think about the last range or project that you worked on. Isn’t it true?

image courtesy: positive slope

but the real journey looks somewhat like this…

image courtesy: positive slope
Press especially loves the start and finishes.
What’s easily summed (start and finish) is talked about and the dynamic middle is not.
Another way to put it is “Success is never a straight line”. Unless we talk about the middle, we will never know what makes the wins and losses happen. It is a space of uncertainty and a zone of discomfort. It is the space to endure the Lows and optimise the Highs. This needs a culture of encouraging talking about the Lows and Highs equally. It is the Lows that build the muscle of the organisation.

How to Endure the Lows?

Being focused on what is in your circle of influence helps in this phase. During this phase, you may get ideas on how things can be done differently, which may not be in your job description. Those who move out of their comfort zone and do such things themselves when no one else is there to do it, create unexpected innovations.
While we all wish we had more budget, what counts is being resourceful not resources. Resourcefulness is like a muscle which will always be with you but resources are like carbs, you will burn through it and it does not make you better.

How to Optimise the Highs?

When Scott spoke to Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann in his early days on his focus for the next 1/2 years, Ben replied to Scott’s surprise “My only focus is to improve our processes”. His vision was to build an organisation that will withstand the ups and down of the business and hence the focus on process.
Business keeps us busy with tactical actions through the season. When we take these actions, we get a temporary dopamine lift, but rarely those solve the big problems. In the fashion context poor sell-throughs, inventory pile up, loss of relevance etc.
One way you can optimise is to work with people and partners who when you discuss a problem, they elevate the conversation. They are builders, not repeaters.
If you want to innovate, be willing to consider at times what sounds weird.

How to Navigate the finish line?

When you reach the finish line, remember Jeff Bezo’s formula “It is always Day 1”

To sum up, in order to create a real slope of success one needs to,

1. Recognise the lows and highs: Data informs what’s high and what is low. Be prepared by using prediction capabilities rather than waiting to hear what works and what does not work. By that time it may be too late.
2. Endure the lows: Get well informed of the uncertainties and react timely. Real-time insights prepare you to be resourceful than just spend resources
3. Optimise the Highs: Invest in next practices/processes which will build the organisation for the time to come which can predict the highs, and manage them timely. Timeliness is super critical in a business-like fashion.
4. Face the big problems: Tactical actions like discounts, disposals do not solve the fundamental challenges in fashion. Asking the question “why” and using relevant tools can fix these at its root.