Smashing Paradigms – Happy Business

{latest in a developing series on Smashing Paradigms}

For my story-telling explanation of the definition of a Paradigm, see “What is a Paradigm“. 

One way of defining a paradigm is “an unconsciously held belief that limits us from fresh thinking” or “we’ve always done it this way”



Online retail is on the march, and any walk around a shopping mall in the USA, UK, Canada and other Western nations will show this in terms of closed stores, reduced footfall. The term “retail apocalypse” was common in 2017, as “bricks and mortar” retail continues to struggle.

Within the retail sector, the area that seems the most archaic and doomed to be engulfed by the march to online retail is absolutely “old school” department stores.

However in amongst all of this is one of the most beloved brands in their country of operation, with hugely loyal staff and customers, and this business continues to thrive.

Their secret?


 The John Lewis Partnership: Since 1929 the purpose of our business has been the happiness of those who work in it. Some things never change.

Now, who is this company?

First, I have recognised very much since moving to the UK that gaps between the UK and the countries I have worked in most of my career (primarily the USA, Canada, Caribbean) remain big.

In terms of business and leadership, this is frequently brought home to me where people in the UK are not aware of amazing case studies of business success in other countries that I simply thought “everyone” knew.

I’ll, therefore, share some of these for the broad audience of this site in the coming weeks. My focus will be on businesses innovating through culture, and as I oft repeat, my definition of innovation is :

“Doing things differently and doing different things”

For today, though, the company we are speaking of smashed a massive paradigm in 1929, as illustrated in the image above.

It is a company in the UK called The John Lewis Partnership.

Two quotes from this 2’42” video from Will Hutton of The Ownership Commission :

“this might be the way of leaving behind the world of targets and top-down controls and punitive sanctions if you don’t do well”

“you can combine the merits of giving employees voice, giving employees membership, giving them voting rights… with hard-headed commerciality”

Powerful words, echoed by Luke Johnson, writing in the Sunday Times on December 31, 2017: “Without a share price to worry about, or dividends, hostile takeovers or an exit for shareholders, the stewards of John Lewis can concentrate on keeping their patrons satisfied. The magic of retained profits, growing markets and a motivated workforce has created a retail brand like no other in the British imagination”.

So many paradigms around conventional capitalism smashed by The John Lewis Partnership, reminds me of the quote by Churchill, and as you read that, imagine switching out “democracy” for “capitalism” etc ! :

‘Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’

Now, I leave you with this. I have had the privilege of working closely with the amazing Sam Nehra for a number of years. In writing this, I asked her for her thoughts on John Lewis :

“I joined Waitrose (part of the JL Partnership) in 1993 as a young feisty “management trainee” and I have NEVER experienced a culture quite like it since. I worked as a partner in the business for 10 years and my blood still runs green, (A quirky thing – only the Chairman is allowed to write in green!). The psychological contract they infuse is that powerful. I can even remember their values: Value, Assortment, Service, Honesty. The values were lived, breathed, walked and talked no matter what your position in the business. Waitrose will always hold a special place in my heart, they have built a life-long ambassador in me. Not something many organizations can claim to achieve.”