Sunday, 11 December 2011

"Body and Soul" - Anita Roddick

A happy mishap has seen me end up reading a book I never intended to buy. When I tried to order Anita Roddick's second autobiographical business book "Business as Unusual", I struggled to order it online. Despite finding it on a number of websites, it seems to be out of print with originals rarer than gold dust. I eventually managed to put in an order, but when I opened up the package days later the book that had been dispatched was her first: "Body and Soul".

I was initially disappointed, having been particularly interested in the decisions she made to sustain her business in the expansion that followed its early success, but reading about the beginnings of The Body Shop has possibly been one of the best things to happen to me.

There are lots of reasons to admire Anita Roddick as an activist and entrepreneur, and after I'm further on in the book I'll probably post about those things. But having read the first three chapters, I've been forcefully struck by the fact that Roddick doesn't seem to have set out to be those things - she was simply determined to be herself in the circumstances she found herself in. Her business plan was the accumulation of adventure, experience, intuition and necessity. 

The shop's dark green branding came from the need to cover up damp patches on the walls of her first premises. Her knowledge of and commitment to natural ingredients in cosmetics was founded in the lessons she learnt in conversation on her travels as a "restless spirit". Her customer care ethos and work ethic can be traced to her mother's work and Roddick's own experience running a hotel and restaurant with her husband. I won't ruin the magic by listing it all here; it's infinitely better in her own words. Suffice to say that as the 'plot' unfolds over eighty pages, it's easy to see that nothing is wasted - every haphazard thing from family and personal passions to setbacks and flaws played their part.

Reading a book I didn't intend to is teaching me a lesson I personally find incredibly difficult to learn: we can't plan everything. What's more important  than the 10-step career plan or list of life goals is being attentive - even in the minutiae - because we never know when we'll have the opportunity to draw on what seemed insignificant and see it grow into something great.

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