I often write this on the train on the way back from Edinburgh. It’s a picturesque journey, across the Forth Bridge and east along the Fife coast, then inland through the soft, fertile farmland of central Fife, a short climb and down again to the glint of the Tay estuary and Perth, and finally into the hills for fifteen miles before the train deposits me at Dunkeld and heads on through the Highlands for Inverness.
Today there’s a real breath of autumn on the air. We’ve had sunshine, cold squally rain, and now a ragged sunset. The geese have been back from Greenland for a couple of weeks and today, the forecasters said, the first snow would dust the high hilltops.
The journey reminds me why I choose not to live in the city, and never more so than after a day like today. There were three long meetings, each one stimulating in its own way, but now I need to be out of the buzz to digest them and let my mind clear. The movement of the train and the passing view of the darkening countryside helps.
The first meeting was with one of the world’s largest producers of collagen casings – which you or I know better as sausage skins. Collagen holds us mammals together. It’s what our connective tissue is made of. And if you scrape it off the underside of cowhide, then subject it to clever chemistry, you can spin it into incredible lengths of absolutely uniform, unblemished, edible sheathing for sausage meat. In a single year this company makes enough to go to the moon and back five times.
The second meeting was with a designer colleague who has worked for a number of years with one of Scotland’s more famous hotels. Now it’s looking for a new voice – and more specifically a fictional character to embody the brand and provide that voice. If the project comes off it will stretch my imagination in enjoyable ways.
The third meeting was with my branding expert friend and another designer colleague. We were tidying up loose ends on projects we’ve undertaken together for several different educational establishments, all of which, for differing reasons, need to raise either funds or student numbers. Robert is a genius at helping them identify their unique selling propositions, which we then work together to articulate.
Sausage skins, a luxury hotel, an Oxford college and two private schools, one of them for children with specific learning difficulties. What could they possibly have in common? The answer, it struck me as we left Edinburgh, is that they are all searching for stories to tell. Stories that connect them with their audiences just as firmly as that extraordinary monument to Victorian engineering, across which we now rattled, connects the two sides of the Forth.
Take away our stories and we are nothing but husks. The same is just as true for organisations as it is for people. The trick, as I said here a few weeks ago, is knowing which one to tell when.