Posted 30 May 2019
Interview by Indi Davies

“Don’t take the obvious route in anything you do” – Paul Smith on innovation and balance

Following the first half of our interview with Paul Smith on the Creative Lives podcast, this week we return to our chat with the British fashion icon to pick up where we left off. After hearing about Paul’s alternative route into the industry and using humour to build important work relationships, we spoke to him about longevity in business, design innovation and his advice for budding designers.

If you missed the first past of our interview last week, we highly recommend listening in to hear all about Paul’s early odd jobs, ambitions of becoming a professional cyclist and how playfulness and humour has been integral to growing his business. “It’s important to be able to communicate with people,” he shared. “One of the reasons I’ve been able to progress my career is because I’m able to talk to people. Having a sense of humour, in my opinion, is really, really important.”

“Think laterally, don’t take the obvious route in anything you do… Think left and right of the problem.”

In this week’s edition, we moved on to the topic of longevity, and how he’s managed to keep the business successful for such an impressive amount of time, having been founded nearly 50 years ago. “Dozens of companies that were heroes to me don’t even exist as companies any more,” Paul reflects, going on to share what he feels has helped his own company’s journey. “We’re still independent, we don’t have a big advertising and promotional budget, but we do have character: we’re polite and deliver on time. A lot of it’s just common sense.”

If you’ve ever read one of Lecture in Progress’ newspapers, you might be familiar with some of the Post-it notes that have been included in their pages, featuring Paul’s handwriting. These Post-its make up a big collection of concisely-worded memos, each containing a motivational message. We find out how this tradition came about, and the thinking behind one of our favourite messages: ‘Make space to break the rules’: “Think laterally, don’t take the obvious route in anything you do… Do [things] with your own slant; think left and right of the problem.”

We also touched on the nature of innovation in Paul’s work, which often begins with what he refers to as a “childlike” approach and curiosity. He explains how it led to design choices that include the much-photographed, bright pink building that houses their Los Angeles store. “I’m blessed with the balance of experience, but also have a childlike mind. That means asking, ‘Why can’t we paint that building pink?’ – which is what we did in Los Angeles and has now become the most-Instagrammed building in all of California.”

When asking Paul the tips he’d give to emerging creatives today, he advises becoming totally “immersed” in your area of interest. “Know what other people are doing, and the history of [that world].” Once you have a good grounding in your passion, Paul also stresses the importance of applying your own twist, or character: “If you know the rules….you can play with them in whatever way you want. It’s up to you.”


To hear the first half of our interview, tune into last week’s episode of the Creative Lives podcast.

Interview by Indi Davies
Mention Paul Smith