I tend to be an extremely loyal person.
Long after friendships have died out and have no reason for existing anymore, I'll still try to re-connect and ask about the latest news. One time, in college, a friend from high school came over to visit me in my dorm room.
"I'm not really sure why we're still friends," he said. I never saw him again.
Yes, loyalty can be a fault. It's hard when you are so hyper-focused on work or overly committed to some random new obsession to pay attention to the fact that this thing you are aligned to is no longer aligned to you. They've gone perpendicular and you're still a square. The reason why the phrase even exists (no one knows where it originated) is that people don't realize it's OK to move on to some other business partnership or explore some other new avenue of success. They are stuck looking in one direction while the object of their interest is no longer interested.
And, there's another problem. Loyalty is overrated. You may be a card-carrying member of the Starbucks rewards program but, as a coffee chain, they barely know you exist. And that problem plays out in many relationships at work as well. When you are extremely loyal, you end up over-focusing on something or someone that is not showing the same loyalty back to you. Some relationships, particularly in marriage, have equal amounts of loyalty and that's invaluable (not to mention rewarding and fulfilling), but in business, there is barely an advantage to being so loyal. That's why it doesn't make sense to be loyal to a brand or an idea or even a person at times because it's not reciprocal. There are times when you need to break from the idea, the brand, or the person because that's a smart decision.
One of the main reasons why a business fails is because someone was overly loyal and refused to adjust and change. A business owner gets stuck insisting that there is only one way to sell a new gadget or there is only one person who is good at handling the customer support lines. It's the loyalty that ends up creating the friction. It's the loyalty that prevents a company from pivoting and trying something new.
There are times when it is better to hold loosely to something because, in modern work culture, you either adjust quickly or you fail quickly.
So why do so many people show loyalty if it doesn't really work?
This is the part where it isn't really your fault. You show loyalty because it's a human reaction. Think about it. Growing up, we all were taught to be loyal to the team, loyal to our siblings, loyal to our culture. Even from a young age, we are taught to be loyal at all times. That's why I know so many Minnesota Vikings fans even though the team is not exactly winning any championships. That's why companies who make a big bet on a trend sometimes keep throwing money at a new product after the trend has died. It's good to be loyal in normal life. In business, it can be major detriment.
Even more puzzling is that we tend to show loyalty to things long after the object of our affection has changed into something completely different (or has even died). That's why there are highly active Twitter accounts for dead celebrities, dead athletic teams, dead retail chains, and dead concepts. We don't like letting go because that act of letting go is considered a sign of poor character. We stay loyal because a bad idea is wound so tightly into our thought process we don't know it's a bad idea.
Then there are the outliers. One of the reasons some companies seem to excel more than others is that they break from this notion that we should remain loyal to something for a long period of time. What if you don't? What if it doesn't really make sense anymore to have hotels or taxis? What if it's better to store your files on a server in Iceland and not on your own laptop? You might even define innovation this way: Disloyalty to an idea in order to create something truly original.
Every amazing company decided to break their allegiance to an idea. Every single one. They're all traitors! They all made a pivot away from something that wasn't working to discover something that is working, and it led to a major windfall.
Here's my question for you. Think about something right now that is receiving your allegiance and loyalty. Does it make sense to stay loyal? Is it reciprocal? If you broke the loyalty to an idea, a brand, or even a person, would it lead to better things.
To be clear, I'm not advocating divorce. Keep going to Starbucks. In everyday relationships with people, stay loyal. What I'm saying is that there are times in business when you loyalty is the one thing that is causing a roadblock. To keep making progress, you might need to make an exit and find a different route.
'I think the public have had quite enough of people lining up to kick this man's head in.'
'One of Jeffrey's great faults is that precision is not one of his strengths.'
One palpable untruth, one galloping understatement and one long, meaningful silence which tells us a lot about the extent to which this man and his God, Jeffrey Archer, feel betrayed by the Tory Party.
Stephan Shakespeare, né Kukowski, is not fascinating in himself. He's pleasant, and he's not stupid. What is fascinating is how unbelievably smitten he is, still, with his employer.
He was chief-of-staff, bottle-washer and spokesman during the mayoral campaign and right through its explosive collapse after one-time Archer admirer Ted Francis admitted lying in court for him; right through those happy November days when, as it were, the fan hit the shit and vice versa. Last week he began running Archer's Mayfair gallery for him - it's now called Shakespeare Fine Art - and speed-writing a book on the mayoral affair, with Archer's blessing, which promises to settle some vicious scores against Right, Left and press alike (its working title is Theatre of Cruelty ).
This is a man who, as he took Archer's flak and defended the indefensible, actually believed what he was saying . Most of it, anyway. His loyalty is unquestionable; his fervour evangelistic. I'm meeting him near his Barbican flat, and he keeps swinging the conversation back to Archer. 'I do admire the man. I like him and I admire him.' But he admits there's a relief in moving from politics to the (relative) cleanliness of the art world. 'The best thing is dealing with artists rather than politicians. It's more honest. You can say what you like. You can be direct if you want to.'
He was direct enough, on his first day last week, to the staff of the Bruton Street gallery about his plans to revamp it; to have a 'shop-front' approach, to pull in punters and encourage new pop art. Three handed in their resignations immediately. He shrugs. It's no problem.
He talks with love and vigour about post-Duchampian art; about Archer's Warhols and Harings, about the plans to showcase the radically left-wing Derek Boshier ('there is almost no right-of centre art, by definition,' he says). Shakespeare, you see, is going back to art, not coming to it afresh. Born in Germany, arriving here at the age of five, he spent some time in the Seventies, before Oxford, as a conceptual artist. 'Nailing down pianos, that kind of thing. And politically, yes, I was on the Left.'
'I went to America. I was there for ten years, most of the Eighties, teaching in Los Angeles. And when I came back I couldn't believe anything Labour said. Specifically, in the schools.'
Working in a Lambeth school, where 70 per cent of the pupils were black, he says he was shocked by the gulf between what was wanted by the parents - tradition, discipline, results - and what they were getting from the 'white liberals' in charge. Especially when what they were getting was seven per cent exam success against a national average of 40 per cent. It changed his politics to Conservative, although he says his conversion was 'pragmatic, not ideological.'
Maybe not, but it was firm enough for him to stand for them in Colchester in 1997, having first changed his name to Shakespeare. He insists this was a favour to his wife, Rosamund, long connected to Stratford and wanting their children to keep the Shakespeare name. He failed, and looked around for another seat, but now admits it's 'less likely' he'll try again.
As for the Archer book he says his aim 'is to show that when you see all of Jeffrey it's impossible not to admire him'.
'No it's not.'
'But there is a complete absence of malice. You don't find people who have been hurt by him. And, look, if you attached all the stuff he's been accused of to someone else, it would be seen as minor; it's just that Jeff's so flamboyant, so vigorous, people resent him. He lives his life at a... creative level. And, as I say, not good with precision. With figures, say.'
What about imprecision with facts?
'Well, yes. But trivial ones.'
Anglia? 'He shouldn't have dealt in Anglia shares. But he was not guilty of insider trading.' Monica? 'It was a stupid thing to do. Jeffrey's very easy to set up.' Did he ever wonder, in his darker moments, whether Archer had, in fact, slept with Monica? 'No. It's just not Jeffrey.'
The evangelising continues, his soft voice rising. 'He's a risk-taker, an achiever. Jeffrey is - always was - a deeply anti-Establishment figure. But, yes, of course, that's the double-edged thing; he's also always wanted to be accepted by the Establishment, and yet he's never really been accepted, so he's tried even harder. It's his lower-middle-class upbringing; you either fight the Establishment, or try to join it.'
Risk-taker, achiever - I agree, but point out that he was also deputy chairman of the Tory Party; the risks he was taking were with the country; the achievements were for the rich.
These days Archer's enemies are not necessarily on the Left, and the sense of betrayal by the Tory party seems to run deep. 'I think they used the situation to try to score some pretty trivial points. Lies were told to do him further damage.'
In Archer's absence, and with the continuing rancour against Steven Norris and the Tories, who did Shakespeare (and, by extension, Archer) think would make the best mayor for London?
'...' The silence stretches to breaking point, and he begins to smile.
'Go on,' I urge. 'Say Ken.'
'You know I can't answer that. You know I can't say...' He grins, purses his lips and reverts to spokesman mode. 'Steven Norris would be the best mayor of London.' His eyes twinkle.
He's not a bad man, Stephan. No more than Archer is an evil one. But it's hard to feel sorry for either of them for being 'betrayed' by the Tory party. Right, boys; you and the other 55 million.
Also, he tells me that Archer's writing another novel.