Podcast – Diversity-Agility-Sustainability-Purpose- In Conversation with Minter Dial

“Disruption is uncomfortable yet exciting, painful yet liberating, destabilising yet energising. It really depends on your point of view.”  Minter Dial & Caleb Storkey – Futureproof

This week with Minter Dial, we revisit some of our research, exploring key notions for the future of Fine Wine: Diversity, Agility, Sustainability and Purpose, and what they could mean in a post-Covid 19 world.

After 16 years leading the digital transformation in L’Oréal, Minter Dial is now an acclaimed author and international speaker, looking at the world through the lens of technology, branding and digital strategy. Through his boutique agency The Myndset, Minter creates bespoke executive programmes designed to activate strategy and accelerate transformation.

We ask Minter his view on our changing ecosystem, discuss his latest books, and craft a vision to futureproof our businesses.

In Future Proof, you identify 12 different forces of disruption. ARENI has six that we think are forcing the fine wine world to adapt and change. The first key factor is diversity – the diversity of offer, diversity of routes to market. But the one I’d like to talk about is the diversity of people. We see more and more women in the fine wine world, but the consumer is still mainly masculine. We also see one colour. How can we welcome more diversity?

My co-author Caleb and I had a long ping pong about whether we should include diversity as one of the three most important mindsets. We wanted to stick with three and it was the last one to be ejected. It is absolutely vital. The first three are meaningfulness, responsibility and collaboration and the idea of diversity is fundamental. Where I would push back a little is that what’s most interesting about diversity is diversity of points of view, as opposed to diversity of skin colour or gender. At the end of the day, I have very like-minded opinions with people of all sorts but if we’re like minded we might be thinking the same. What’s more interesting is to have a plurality of perspectives and that’s where you get the power as far as the business is concerned. When it comes to creating diversity, first, you have to really want it, it’s not something you just do to tick a box. A lot of companies might hire a president of diversity and it might be a black man or a black woman, and they’re the ones that are supposed to lead the charge. But really, what it comes down to is a mindset of the top hierarchy in the company and I should have someone with influence in that position to help drive it.

Empathy is so important for you to appreciate diversity – that means a guy needs to completely get off his own high horse and think about what it’s like to be a woman. That notion of thinking in the shoes of somebody else is the way you can bridge into diverse people, diverse cultures, because at the end of the day it’s about taking perspective. The glory of diversity is about bringing different perspectives to the game.

In one of the interviews you gave on empathy, you said empathy is way more than listening. How does it relate to the concept of diversity – is listening not enough compared to empathy?

Let’s start with what is empathy. ‘Listening’ is a beautiful word and is quite widely encompassing; there’s listening to words, listening to body language, or at least watching and understanding what’s going on in somebody else’s mind. So, empathy is understanding the thoughts, feelings and experiences of somebody else. That’s cognitive empathy.

There are also some people who can feel what other people are feeling. In the first case, I see you, you look happy. I see your dog beside you, I’m going to guess you’re happy because your dog is jumping up and down. I gauge your context and I can attribute a feeling to you, and I’m also understanding why you have that feeling. That’s the understanding part. (I may be wrong, by the way. It could just be that you got a beautiful bunch of flowers from your husband.)

The feeling part is, well, because you’re happy, I’m going to smile with you. There’s the contagion of laughter. I feel your feelings – that is what empathy is about.

How are you going to act on this feeling you have? The act is not necessarily part of empathy.

Go out and get people who are different, sure, include them, but I’m not the kind of person who wants just to tick a box. I want a woman on my team because I know she’s going to be brilliant and add in, and it’s going to be better for her. I don’t want to have people according to some list that’s being put out by the government. That’s how I operate within my business, and how I tend to promote empathy and diversity.

How would you encourage people to get that mindset of diversity, or to be more empathic?

What I like to do, especially when I’m up against a senior team of white men, is ask them to register their self-awareness. If you do it in private – in public is different – they realise they may not be as empathic as they believe, if they have a self-awareness.

When I ask people if they believe themselves to be average, above average, or below in empathy, 76% of people identify themselves as above average. Which means that some people have a delusional view of their own empathy.

Then, how do you develop it? There are many different strategies. You can play games, you can get them to read novels, you can get them to speak to strangers. There is an exercise I love to do which is called an empathy circle which is where, in a group, you listen to each other intensely one at a time, and here’s the kicker: you have to reformulate back to the person who was speaking, what they said, without judgement, without using the same words. And you’re doing that in front of other people, and I can tell you, that many of us – me included – do not always have great listening skills. It’s about creating situations where people trip up and go ‘Oh gosh, I want to do better’.

I’ve been talking a lot about empathy in webinars and even though we’re using screens, what I do is show them a certain number of slides, but they’re trick slides. You can either see the old woman or the young woman, and what I’m trying to do is show that we see things differently.

The next mindset is agility. What technology and new skills do you see as the most challenging, in both a positive and negative way?

I look at luxury companies, because they’re birds of a feather. What I believe both the luxury and fine wine worlds have is a tremendous attraction to the Old World. It’s imbued with lots of tradition and lovely heritage, but as soon as we start thinking that’s the way it has to be, that’s trouble. You get into stuck mindsets and things that are taken for granted – 750ml. Why? Why 750ml? There’s something that’s way too predictable about that and the colour and the shape, and of course there are nuances around that and you do see differences, but we tend to stick with what we know.

There is some element of needing to be more creative, and breaking down the things we’ve taken for granted, whether it’s the size or shape of the bottle, or names and colours. We’ve seen how the French wine market in particular, whether it’s the appellations, Champagne in particular, have been upended by the boisterous, troublesome Californian bubbles or Prosecco in Italy, or alternative types of things to drink. We need to take a bit of a pick axe and go in and undo some of these preconceived ideas. I’m not saying we throw everything out, but I do believe that in luxury and fine wine, in particular, there are many sacred things that we should be reviewing and not take for granted, and that includes distribution, despite the legal issues. The way we sell things, the language we use, it’s very daunting for some people to buy a bottle of wine.

So for you, it’s not technology that’s going to challenge the fine wine sector, it’s mindset?

Absolutely. We’ve seen some great things – Vivino, augmented reality. There is education we need as an industry to have about changing the experience of buying wine. Of course there are some lovely human things about it – the taste in the mouth is still the taste in the mouth and you can’t circumvent that or digitise it – but bring those stories to life. Use digital tech to make these stories, of the vintners and the people working the vineyards, come alive.

Sustainability and your concept of collaboration. What we’ve seen is the companies that are more successful are the ones that favour collaboration a lot.

I want to step back one second. The other mindset I tend to talk about more with regards to sustainability is responsibility. And that goes to intentionality – why are we looking at sustainability? The key word is “trust”. If we’re doing it just because it’s good to write on the annual reports, or to say that we are sustainable so we tick this box, it will wash very thin, especially if you get into a time of crisis – it will become “we can do without that” because we don’t have a real purpose behind it. The reason why the trust issue is critical is in order to in order to be more sustainable is you might need to develop more expertise. You might need to bring in other partners who know how to create soil that is regenerative or whatever the processes are. The key piece locking in collaboration for the long term is when you have trust. Then there is the issue of how do you develop trust and elements like transparency, which are a keystone piece of building trust. It’s not the forte of the luxury industry, where we tend to use opacity to hide the type of pricing that we want.

In the realm of Covid, we’re seeing some companies really step up and do things that are selfless. We see dedication to a wider community than just their shareholders or just their customers, and I would tip my hat to Bernard Arnault, where he converted a factory in the space of 72 hours over a weekend, to make hand sanitisers. That is going to give him tremendous kudos. Others have done it since, following him.

This notion of trust and how you build it; part of it is transparency, the other is you do what you say. You build up your credibility through actions, not through hyperbole and hot air. A lot of luxury brands love to spread out these beautiful images and the gold-plated words, but I want to see what you do

Can we talk about empathy and trust?

Empathy is an amazing tool that is used for good and for bad. If you use empathy so you can manipulate someone to buy what you want, that’s not a good example of building trust. Consider demonstrating good listening skills and having long conversations. That is a more powerful way to develop trust with one another. Talking with listening has an effect, especially over time, of making you connect. If you have two diverse opinions but you are demonstrating respect in the way you listen, we may disagree, but I’m allowing you to express yourself. When you express yourself, I reformulate what I heard, and we can disagree respectfully. If you can do that over an extended period of time, that’s something that creates quite a bond.

That can be the case with a producer and a distributor, where they obviously have contradictory interests.

The last factor that we’ve identified as a force of change, is what we’ve identified as ‘purpose’, and what you’ve identified as ‘meaningfulness’. This is a challenge for wine people when telling their stories, because if you ask them why they’re making wine, it’s “because we do”.

The challenge with wine is that it’s a bottle on the shelf. Sometimes it’s brought alive by the salesperson in the store, but there are so many wines out there and it’s an extremely fractured space, so how do you make something stand out? There are a few that have a recognition factor, but for the rest… It is extremely confusing for most of us.

The second thing is that, especially in this Covid moment, is that people are coming to some realisation that maybe the things they were doing weren’t that important. My business is fine without back-to-back meetings every day. At a more meta level, how important is it to be selling shampoos? Yes we need clean hair, but are we making the world a better place?

Many people are running on fumes. Uncertainty has been around for a long time and this is just more, but now we have a situation where we may be wondering what matters. Does what I’m doing matter? And how can I make my brand stand out? There is always the founder story, but when you have millions of founder stories, there is an opportunity to ramp up the storytelling component. Find something that’s meaningful, so it’s not just a nice story. Purpose has to be bigger than yourself, but also tie in with integrity and authenticity of who you are. This time right now is a time to self-reflect on who you are and what matters and out of that pull out a story that isn’t just a fabulation, but something meaningful. Make that the purpose of your company.

To learn more about Minter, subscribe to his newsletter or grab a copy of one of his books, including Heartificial Empathy and Futureproof.

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