Does your hat fit?

Blog #22: Fiona considers the unexpected similarities between managing an annual report and making a hat

My godson’s about to finish primary school, and last week he showed me something that started the most unexpected train of thought. The class is making a year book so they can all remember each other after they go to their new schools in September, and they’ve each written a paragraph or two about what they want to be when they grow up. From the truly hilarious to the achingly poignant, it was no surprise that not a single child had included ‘annual report project manager’ on their wish list. In fact, I doubt any of them – except perhaps my godson – even knows what an annual report is.

But one of the girls had written ‘I want to make hats’. And as I thought about what the career path for a milliner might be in the 21st century, it occurred to me that if she did end up making hats, she’d be pretty well trained for doing a bit of moonlighting in the annual report season.

Mad as a hatter? Do hear me out… For those readers who don’t know me, I spend Friday afternoons (clients permitting) at my local college learning millinery. And, although I’ve always seen it as a kind of antidote to work, it struck me that making a beautiful hat requires all the same skills that it takes to produce a great report.

Surely not… well, here’s how I see it – and feel free to interpret it as you will!

You plan – who is it for? What does it need to do – keep the rain at bay or show off to the competition? Or a bit of both?

You measure – too small and you don’t get the coverage you want; too big and decorative and you run the risk of people thinking it’s all for show and won’t stand up to a day at the races.

You research – and work out the most economic use of time and materials.

You draw up the plan – and create a solid structure that will take the weight of the embellishments.

You get creative – every hat needs a spark of inspiration, some time in creative freefall, just having a play with the fabric, the straw, the ribbons – so that, when you put it all together you create something unique and beautiful.

You have a reality check – to make sure you don’t lose sight of the finished product; spend so long on beautifying your creation that you run out of time and your client has to go bare-headed to Ascot (now that’s career suicide).

You build it – that’s the easy part, right? Well, most of the time. But sometimes the plan doesn’t quite work – the wire won’t actually bend doing it the traditional way, so you have to find another way, without wasting precious time. Sometimes you have to build it twice, when your client decides she doesn’t like pink after all and your entire, agreed concept was based on shades of magenta and cerise.

You finish it – to the untrained eye your hat looks finished, and your client, on seeing it will want to take it away and wear it immediately. But no, you need to stitch in the Petersham (making sure the stitches are invisible); check the lining isn’t baggy; give it a test run to make sure it won’t collapse at the first sign of rain; or fly off at the first gust of wind. All this finessing takes time, and is often accompanied with ‘is that really necessary?’ ‘Can’t I just have it now?

But in the end, the diligence pays off. After all, when your client arrives at the meeting, would she rather hear (behind her back): ‘Oooh there’s a bit hanging off the brim there’ and ‘Do you think she looked in the mirror before she left?!’ Or rather, to her face, an envious ‘Wow! Where did you get that amazing hat? It’s to die for (although I’d prefer it in turquoise)…

Sound familiar?

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