John Whalley - The Superpower of the Ordinary
Updated: Jul 31, 2021
Catch the conversation here: The Superpower of the Ordinary
The foundation of ONEOFTHE8 is underpinned by family. It’s a brand built by family, inspired by family and nurtured for family. Not just in the biological sense either, but also within the sense of family that can be fostered in community, unity and shared culture, without any blood connection at all.
In this article, our co-creator Jake sits down with ONEOFTHE8 founder, John Whalley - who he more commonly refers to as ‘Dad’ - to share biographic insight into the brains behind the movement. We talk creativity as a powerhouse platform, the innate human inclination to share stories, and what we can expect from ONEOFTHE8.
“Creativity is a powerful thing to have and something we can all use to the benefit of other people”
For Jake and his sister Steph, (resident ONEOFTHE8 wordsmith) John - ‘Dad’ - has always been a storyteller. The familiar voice which led them to sleep with the fantastical adventures of fabled characters. Our founder is a storyteller by trade though - a branding specialist sculpting brand stories for businesses far and wide, with decades of experience in the North West creative industry under his belt.
Trace back to the very beginning though and John attributes it all to a father who so often had his head (or paintbrush) in a sketchbook, and a determination to alight the world of education for real life experience in 3D design and architecture. That transpired into a focus rather on 2D design and an apprenticeship at an agency which led to an experience which still imbues John today - neck-deep in his successful career.
It’s safe to say that creativity is in this guy’s DNA - a hereditary faculty which he believes should be used for the power of good: “Creativity is a powerful thing to have and something we can all use to the benefit of other people”.
“The human condition is hardwired to share stories”
Of course, creativity comes in a billion and one different forms, from billboards and big brands down to haircuts and homemade recipes. One of the most almighty channels of creativity in John’s eyes though is the art of storytelling - something every single one of us has stitched into the fabric of our genetic make-up. Humans have been sharing stories around campfires since the Stone Age - we’ve just found more elaborate ways of doing it now.
Storytelling is a core behaviour we all practice, consciously or not, as “the human condition is hardwired to share stories”, John tells us. Whether you’re the CEO of an international conglomerate launching a global marketing campaign or a teenager posting holiday photos on social media, we’ve all got a story to impart on whoever will listen.
“The whole thing around connecting with people through stories is that it sits within every single sector and every kind of consumer”
Companies today are learning more and more about the impact a compelling brand story can have on their audiences - something our founder is at the forefront of, by way of both passion and profession. John pays homage to household names like Lego, Patagonia and TOMS when talking about how true business success lies in creating a brand story and helping consumers become an integral part of it.
In order to flourish in the bustling brand-scape of today, businesses need to open their eyes to the catalytic effect human emotion has on consumer decision-making. “The whole thing around connecting with people through stories is that it sits within every single sector and every kind of consumer”, he says, affirming the notion that storytelling is a powerhouse of potential no matter who you are or what your message is..
“There’s a new cohort of consumer [...] who want to interact with brands that give a damn”
These days, consumer behaviour isn’t just about finding the most bang for your buck. These days, being a customer comes with the responsibility of having a conscience. Most of us have made even slight changes in the brands we choose to engage with or the ways in which we shop as a result of being more aware of the environment, our carbon footprint, fair trading, equal labour etc, etc, etc. As John says, “95% of our decisions are now emotionally driven” - that’s not scientific fact but you get the gist.
“Brands are one of the biggest ways we reflect who we are as people. The brands we wear, the brands we drive, the brands we eat, the brands we watch” - as modern consumers, we now want the companies we interact with to say something about us, something positive and powerful. That’s why it’s of such paramount importance that brands today now find the sweet spot between purpose and profit. It shouldn’t be a case of choosing between doing good or making money because now, businesses can do both - “not just can but should”, implores our guru.
“Each and every one of us is living a life where we can affect and inspire other people”
It’s not just about business though. It’s about people, it’s about humans - every single one of them. Creativity and storytelling isn’t just a saleable commodity - it’s something that resides in us all and ONEOFTHE8 was born out of ambition to give these stories the spotlight. It’s a movement which looks at real world people and their real life stories from a complete granular perspective because - to quote that epic Just Jack song from 2009 - ‘we are all embers from the same fire’. We’re all part of the bigger picture and we all have a story to tell.
Ask John where the idea for ONEOFTHE8 came from and he will tell you: “from a couple of places really” but hone in on the “misconception that ordinary people don’t have an impact” on the world. The name refers back to being one in the 8 billion world population, many of whom are doing incredible things that will never make the news headlines. We know the Kardashians’ every move but we never hear about the amateur photographer from Costa Rica in the process of making a grassroots documentary about suffering children in India. Nor the yoga instructor from Montreal making lemonade from lemons through the power of Vinyasa. Until now that is.
“There’s a misconception that ordinary people don’t have an impact”
John recounts an experience he had on his way home from work in the centre of Manchester - an encounter which bolsters the ONEOFTHE8 philosophy. Stuck in traffic, he noticed a pile of rags on the side of the road which, naturally, hot-footed pedestrians passed by without flickering an eyelid. The traffic crawled, time passed and before the bottleneck of vehicles eased and moved the bedraggled mount from John’s line of vision, a scrubs-clad nurse from the hospital over the road approached…
By peeling away the rags, the nurse revealed a human being hidden in plain sight - just one of Manchester’s many homeless. John got out of his car, offered to assist to which the nurse politely refused, but did leave a profound statement imprinted onto John’s brain... The nurses parting words: “This is someone”. A succinct manifesto which later carved the first concepts of a name which eventually came to be ONEOFTHE8.
Tangibly, ONEOFTHE8 will be a podcast, digital library of stories and uncomplicated apparel line, all engineered with conscience, sustainability and unity in mind. The aim of the podcast and the online archive of stories is to provide an inspiring and uplifting experience to anybody who stumbles across them. The ambition for the apparel will not be brand exposure nor slogan indulgence but rather a tactile symbol for those who want to join the movement too. It’s not just Forrest Gump who understands the power of a message on a t-shirt after all.
Purchase of any apparel will trigger a donation (to recipients we’re keeping hush for now) and form ONEOFTHE8’s three-pronged approach to giving back. This trinity of good-doing will be shaped by the mantra: “to listen, to share, to learn”, whereby giving back doesn’t always mean the voluntary exchange of money. At ONEOFTHE8, stories, lessons, empowerment, human connection, positivity, inspiration, education and an eager ear are all non-monetary assets we aim to hustle - to deliver something more meaningful to social media feeds, reading material and the content we, as humans, choose to consume and share.
“The apparel will evolve as the brand develops but the message will never change. Whether you wear it on your head or on your chest, it will always be about being part of the movement - being ONEOFTHE8”
So, as a human being with such a burning desire to ignite inspiration and instill a voice in others - most recently adding associate lecturing at Manchester Metropolitan University to his arsenal - how does John fuel his own vision and aspiration? As with all ONEOFTHE8 subjects, we asked him what inspires him most to which he quickly responded with ‘family’ but then expanded with an anecdote about a creative director he once worked alongside…
This creative director told John that if you ever find yourself stagnating in creative frustration - and hey, we’ve all been there - then read a book, listen to a song or watch a movie with what you’re trying to do in mind. Devour this piece of inspiration from the perspective of your project to unlock new possibilities - and that is what ONEOFTHE8 is all about, unlocking new possibilities and empowering the narratives of people just like you and me.
To find out more about John, get some great reading recommendations from our self-confessed bookworm - Good Is The New Cool and Tribes by Seth Godin. Be inspired by John's music recommendations - Ludovico Einaudi and Tebra or find out how ONEOFTHE8 plans to ‘give back’ by heading over to our podcast episode.