The most frightening company on earth?
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Date: April 2003


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The idea for Ikea's 'Chuck Out Your Chintz' campaign came from an accounts clerk: corporate hierarchy hadn't got in the way.

Experiment at Work - explosions and experiences at the most frightening company on earth
Andy Law
Profile Books
Hardcover, 256pp

We live in an age of globalisation where corporations pollute, corrupt and endanger. So when a highly respected business magazine, the 'Harvard Business Review', describes a British advertising agency as 'the most frightening company on earth', you want to know why.

The reason, however, is simple: it's a company with morals, alternative working methods and genuine care for staff. And a multi-million pound turnover.

'Experiments at Work' is the second book by Andy Law about his experience as the co-founder of the St. Luke's advertising agency.

Started in 1995, St Luke's rapidly gained an enviable client base and was enjoying turnover of £90million by 2000.

At a conference a few years ago, I heard Law describe his wok at St Luke's and it was captivating. He spoke about a very different way of working where the individual was placed ahead of the corporation and where everyone had a voice and this, too, is referred to in the book.

The idea for Ikea's 'Chuck Out Your Chintz' campaign came from an accounts clerk: corporate hierarchy hadn't got in the way. Staff seemed to enjoy work and Law spoke about parents' evenings where staff would invite their mums and dads to come and see their working environment!

Experiments at Work paints the picture of St Luke's five years after that speech and in the midst of the worst advertising recession of recent times. Law brushes off typical corporate concerns about income, pointing out that the firm has saved in the good times to live through the tougher times - none of their 110 employees have been laid off.

Law starts off well citing the factors that are affecting business today and even mentions Christian Aid as one of many global change agents.

He sets out the three 'manifestations' of what makes St Luke's different: the business has an episodic nature where growth is managed in unrepeatable episodes rather than some grand five or ten year plan; They thrive on negative capability, being able to 'not understand something' making them open to new ideas and inputs from anywhere; Thirdly, Law talks of an institutionalised instinct where a sense of desire instructs business decisions - a clear example being new office development in Mumbai and Stockholm rather than the more traditional New York and Sydney locations.

He continues with many stories but fewer ideas. He describes in detail the ten elements that make up the 'DNA' of the company. For example, a strategy defined for St Luke's about the speed and direction of the company's growth is directly proportional to the value and values of its staff. It all makes for an enjoyable, if a little woolly, read.

Experiments at Work has the design and feel of a school chemistry study book, complete with notes pages after every chapter! I really wanted this book to be one of the few that I refer back to time and time again. It was an easy read and it did raise one or two questions around my work, but ultimately, it doesn't live up to it's billing.

If you're looking for a truly instructive book on how business can work differently, read 'Maverick!' by Ricardo Semler.

If it's a treatise on globalisation you're after, then 'No Logo' by Naomi Klein does it.

'Brands in the Balance' gives a good corporate insight to this new world of responsibility.

If you've got spare change after that, buy 'Experiments at Work' as well.

• Find out more about St Lukes

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