Hugo Macdonald (MONOCLE MAGAZINE)
Charm is being written out of modern life at a time when we’ve never needed it more. It’s being destroyed by an increasingly risk-averse generation of managers with an agenda to do the impossible: turn maximum profit while pleasing as many people as possible.
Charm is effortless but it’s also a responsibility – you don’t have to smile or thank the person who picks up your dropped change but if you do, then an interaction becomes something a bit nicer than a meaningless transaction. Charm also requires a degree of honesty and integrity – it’s not something you can fake (though the US service industry tries hard), which is precisely what makes it such a special quality.
Charm is entirely human – it is about character and individuality. Whether it be a hotel or a street, a city or a shop, an airport or a café, if it’s deemed charming, it’s because there is something deeply human we connect to in it; the wear-and-tear of repeated use or the familiarity of a perfected routine. There’s nothing charming about Dubai, where skyscrapers and 12-lane motorways collide. Or automated phone calls.
Charm is about conviction – having an opinion, following an instinct, feeding a passion – not asking a thousand people what the think and meeting everyone somewhere in the middle. The internet isn’t just charmless as a vacuum of human interaction, it is also a tool whereby everyone is entitled to an opinion. From comment threads to the poison of TripAdvisor, the internet gives voice to a million armchair commentators, encouraging people and businesses to “play it safe” to please the masses.
Charm is unquantifiable, which is why management consultants and MBA graduates overlook it. Decisions about the future of a town, building or business that are made in the boardroom don’t consider the importance of charm. Taking a punt on a quality that can’t be measured in facts and figures is deemed the ultimate risk. And yet charm is arguably the most important factor for securing repeat business, which in today’s financial climate is invaluable.
Charm is fragile too – it’s not something you can buy (Dubai, again), it takes time to nurture and requires safeguarding because, once lost, it’s near impossible to reinstate.
It’s for all these reasons that we have decided to put charm in the spotlight for 2012. On the following pages we’ve selected 10 key proponents of charm – each of which is doing what they do perfectly without following any management consultation. It’s a call to arms. Or perhaps a call to charm. — (m)