The British musician and pop culture phenomenon Ed Sheeran has showed the type of intuitive industry leadership that is reserved for the young. Yet there is much to learn from the curiousity, humility and raw enthusiasm that Sheeran´s work and career is built on.

In his early teens, the young Ed was busking – or gathering rapid user feedback as we would say in innovation circles or Malcolm Gladwell would highlight moving towards the 10000 hours that signifies the tipping point for expertise. Exactly that was the aspiring star´s next step, he moved to London and did what he could to play a gig every night.
He self-released an album and went to the HMV store to play for the staff, acknowledging their expertise and influence on his success. From his perspective, they know where the best shelf space is and will be having conversations with customers and if he gives them a bit of his talent, they might be inclined to give some of theirs..

Ed Sheeran is unbelievably hardworking, charmingly open and commonly recognised as one of the most independent talents to have emerged out of the UK recently.

LEADERSHIP TYPE: Industry leadership, group leadership
GOAL: Art, self-expression, business
CONTEXT: Unsigned semi-autodidact artist making his way
ACTION: Being extremely handson, understanding every step to success
‘I put all my time and effort into making my music successful’
Busking to understand the reaction of the crowds
Self-funded self-released EP´s, selling from his backpack
Three gigs a week when everyone else does one
Learning from the best (James Blunt´s diary)
Playing for HMV staff (to get a better position on the shelve)
METHODS: Everything around music, writing, performing, marketing
TRANSFERABLE PRINCIPLE: Recognise all factors in the success of your product or service and align, improve and win them over

In the next story of industry leadership, we´ll take a look at the legendary London black cab drivers. They are known for their extensive local knowledge and excellent typical English manners. The cabbies became subject to neurological research at the University College London when Eleanor Rigby attempted to understand the elasticity of the brain. The black cab drivers were the perfect subject for research, because the part of the brain used for spatial recognition would have been trained and nurtured extensively. To become a black cabby, one has to pass , famously demanding test to plan routes from any place in London to any other, pointing out place of interests on the way. Black cab drivers who have passed the knowledge have a monopoly on being hailed on the streets of London.

Nevertheless, the black cab market was being undercut by prebooked taxi services and was continuously loosing market share. In 2010, an average black cab driver spent about half of his or her time on looking for the next fare.

This difficult situation was simultaneous to the surge in smartphones with built in gps and the market of mobile applications. Putting two and two together, three leaders from the Driver Community (of black cabs) joined forces with three internet entrepreneurs and Hailo was born.

Hailo utilises the gps technology to locate customer and driver, respectively, matches the two based on proximity and allows the one to book, the other to respond.
The Hailo app has been an undisputable success since it opened for business to Londoners in late 2011. It has since launched in 12 other cities with the outlook of seeing Ireland as the first country fully covered by as the slogan is over there.

LEADERSHIP TYPE: Industry leadership
GOAL: Business
PERFORMED BY: Hailo, three cabdrivers + three internet entrepreneurs
CONTEXT: Pushed cab market in the wave of recession, more unlicensed or prebooking driving services entering the market
ACTION: Combining smartphone geolocation capacity with travelling needs in an app. Essentially cuts out call-centres and utilises the fact that each cabbie is a sole trader to build trust, one person to the next
METHODS: App based booking business
New market to black cabs
General innovation in the cab market, possibly overhauling Hailo
TRANSFERABLE PRINCIPLE: When new technologies arrive, understand what they add to your customer relationship and establish how they offer new opportunities for your business


Mpesa is a banking service without a single bank branch. Launched as a microfinance and money transfer service in 2007 in Kenya and Tanzania, it now offers deposit, withdrawal, transfer and payment for goods and services via a mobile phone. The service has expanded to Afghanistan, South Africa and India and as this goes to press there are talks of Eastern Europe, too.

Apart from Mpesa being very good business for its founders, Safaricom and Vodacom, it solves what I would call ‘an interesting problem’. Lets set the scene: Because of the way the banking system is set up, many residents of the developing world did not have a bank account. For most of history, that hasn’t made any difference to their lives, but suddenly it blocked them from taking part in the global economy, whether that be as vendors, recipients or benefactors.

The brilliance of Mpesa is that it observed this group, who were excluded from the global economy because of a technical detail. Many of the modern amenities are not available in these communities, but there are more than enough little cornershop-shacks and most of residents have a mobile phone. So rather than thinking that banking essentially is the bricks and mortar of the branches, the reserves and the credit assessments, the guys behind Mpesa thought about what the users needs most from a bank. Unsurprisingly that is paying for things and sending and receiving money, and revolutionary (in 2007) are all manageable from a mobile device. The logical conclusion: Mpesa.

LEADERSHIP TYPE: Industry leadership, societal leadership
GOAL: Access to fomal financial system in the developing world
PERFORMED BY: Mpesa (Vodafone for Safaricom and Vodacom)
CONTEXT: Traditional banking system not reaching large parts of the developing world, with increasing demand for transfer possibilities
ACTION: Launching a branchless banking service, that makes use of existing infrastructure. Thus, money can be transferred via pin-secured text messages, this is paid out by agents – typically local tradesmen
METHODS: Service product development
17M Mpesa users in Kenya, private and retail use
Measurable crime reduction in otherwise cash-based society
Expansion to (Tanzania) Afganistan, South Africa and Eastern Europe
TRANSFERABLE PRINCIPLE: Follow developments in new target markets and offer your product or service based on what is already established


Next up is the distillation of industry leadership is the trend. As far as food-trends go, 2014 was the year of the kale. A couple of highlights from kale’s immersion to grace:
– Kale was in 248% more salads in restaurants at the end of 2014 compared to the end of 2013
– Growers were struggling to match demand and in Australia, many farmers have had to stop growing red cabbage and leek
– 262 babies in the US were named Kale

In the noughties, no one even thought of kale, but there was a growing attention to nutrition and what came to be known as ‘superfoods’. When ‘The American Kale Association’ contracted Oberon Sinclair to help them bring kale back on the tables in 2012, the time was just right.
Sinclair’s advertising agency ‘My Young Auntie’ had otherwise created campaigns for the fashion and music industries and they applied the exact same methods – only this time they were promoting a vegetable. Tapping in to the zeitgeist of superfoods, they succeeded in positioning kale as a vegetable with extraordinary nutritional benefits and then played the trickle-down-effect game of influencing the influencers of the scene. Sinclair convinced the coolest eateries in NYC to serve up kale, so when food trend scouts went to NYC to do their research, kale is what they saw. Let that roll cleverly for a couple of years and the rest is history. We now find ourselves in a world with kale crisps, kale pizzas, kale desserts and kale smoothies – and seemingly a growing number of lads named Kale.

LEADERSHIP TYPE: Industry leadership, group leadership
GOAL: Business, health
PERFORMED BY: Oberon Sinclair of the ad-agency ‘My Young Auntie’ in collaboration with the ‘American Kale Association’
CONTEXT: Superfood hype
ACTION: Cultivating a word-of-mouth type campaign, enticing hip eateries in NYC to serve kale and then feeding the momentum with superfood facts, nurturing foodie-bloggers and creating merchandise
METHODS: Advertising campaign
TRANSFERABLE PRINCIPLE: Playing a zeitgeist or trend to your advantage from being unknown, over a hyped period aligned with communities interested in your strengths to being a popular stable in the mainstream vocabulary

Leadership series: Industry leadership