Mentors. You’re supposed to have them, aren’t you? Very in vogue.
I don’t have any mentors at the moment. Nothing active. But it occurred to me last night that what I’ve got from people previously comes with me wherever I go.
People who’ve given me perspectives.
I think of them, the individuals, as I recall the nugget or the way of being or I wish they were on hand to just answer this one tricky problem with me.
(It’s an amazing gift that isn’t it? To have given people knowledge and ideas they carry with them wherever they go. The miracle of humans with our infectious tools and ideas).
Last night it was a guy called Ray Richards who came to mind as I sat on the roof watching the skyline waiting for a rain storm to come. I’d had a good thought about work and remembered a conversation between me, Tom and Ray and Ray had said ‘anyway, you’re always working – you guys don’t switch off’ in the context of us and anyone like us in that early stage, being entrepreneurial, of running a small new thing in a start up phase, of being people wanting to do something. And I remember feeling the relief that other people knew that was what it was like and that it was recognised.
As I waited for the rain (it sounds so zen, I’m going to keep saying it) my thoughts then went from that ‘always on’ thing that I see in the most driven people to what makes us good at our jobs.
What does make us good at our jobs?
I think it’s:
Who We Are – our character, what we’re about, what makes us tick
How We Are – how we interact with others, how we behave under pressure
What We Know – the actual stuff
..in that order.
I would rather be in a team of people with the best character, attitudes and behaviours than a team with the best expertise in their domain areas.
You can probably find countless examples to prove this. And countless more to disprove it (a heart surgeon operating on one of my kids – do I care how she is or who she is or do I just want to know that she’s the best in the world at this kind of procedure?). It’s just what I feel, what I’ve seen, what I think it all comes down to in the long run.
If that’s right, what about What We Know?
Of course it matters, is hugely influential. But maybe my hierarchy is because the context I’m thinking of is constantly evolving and we’re writing the playbooks as we go. There’s a body of knowledge to build on but every organisation, every market, every ecosystem is unique and changing.
In fact, I do think that’s it.
If the heart surgery needs to happen on my kid tomorrow, I’ll take the best surgeon in the world and forgive their bedside manner. But if we’re a team going on an adventure together, one that’s going to last years, that’s where my hierarchy fits.
So then what?
It’s about doing the work
Being willing to admit when it’s gone wrong or we don’t know
They say it’s good to be vulnerable, but I know from personal experience that it can confuse and it can create doubts in others. But ultimately it’s what’s needed.
To finish the adventure we have to be able to adapt and learn. We have to be able to pull together. None of us really know what it will take. Even people who’ve done it before, because this time will be different. What we have to believe is that whatever it is, we’ll overcome it. And that’s about Who We Are.
Balance is interesting.
I watch my kids in the skatepark, and the older and younger kids and adults too. Flexing, swaying, tilting; it’s all about balance. There was an adult guy today, he had the basics but he just looked so stiff every time he came to land something. Too rigid to balance. And a tiny kid the day before – 4 maybe 5, seemed to be stuck to his board, so flexible were his joints. At times he would be lying horizontal after an attempt – like he was superglued to the skateboard. He was probably too flexible!
I see it at work too, in teams and in myself. Keeping balance in the priority list. Being balanced in ones reaction. In energy levels and health – burn outs before holidays, bounce restored at the return to work. Crashes at weekends. But also the bigger balancing act – rigour and process balanced with agility and instinct, risk and flair balanced with consensus and thought. And across functions – the interplay between marketing and sales, finance and HR, support and product. Planning vs execution. Most of this happens around us. We’re part of it but it’s part of something much bigger.
All of these things are in tension, are interconnected, pull at one another. Balance isn’t static, I don’t think it’s an achievable or even desirable state. It’s a promise, at best a momentary flicker in time. The plane is never on course, it’s just always nearly on course.
(Aside: probably the most incredible masters of balance I’ve seen have been working mothers. They’ll tell you what an exhausting never-ending pursuit ‘balance’ is).
My current challenge with balance is around short-term vs long-term. We usually take the long view in my team but it’s coming to the year end and I’m desperately keen for the team’s short-term results to give us the proud finish we deserve after the year of effort, growth and achievement. So there are I am, consciously and deliberately chucking balance out the window, and instead relentlessly chasing the short-term.
I’ve also seen balance in our company.
I’ve seen us sway and tilt, learning to land tricky new shifts. It’s just as hard as any other kind of balancing act. Sometimes the changes feel like sine waves – a rise in chaos and ambiguity, the smell of entrepreneurial cordite in the air, and then a counter-wave, a tranche of new process and accountability, as the company lurches back to a more sober state, for a while…
The thing is, we need it all. It’s all right. And it’s all about balance. About how much and when and where. Its about forever tweaking dials. It’s like cooking or conversation or music or – most of all – nature, of course. It’s the growth that follows a forest fire. The art that follows a recession.
I love all of this, I have to confess.
I love the dynamism. I love the lack of knowability. And the bloody challenge.
And as for what to do, I think this is the best advice I’ve found in recent times, from Gianpiero Petriglieri:
Here’s to balance. Shout when you find it.
Two things to share, both pretty exciting:
- My new adventure
- Meaning 2013 lineup
1. My new adventure
We’ve announced a whole raft of exciting changes at NixonMcInnes, including me joining Brandwatch (‘whoah! YAY!!!!’), a company I’ve been a fan of for a long time, as Chief Marketing Officer in a global role based in NYC. So a very exciting new adventure for me and my family that blends my experiences, talents and values in a really interesting new way.
My brilliant colleague Max St John is taking on the MD role at NixonMcInnes, my co-founder Tom Nixon is returning in a Founder role, and Jenni Lloyd will be providing continuity as a board director looking after products and services. (I will continue to be a fan and shareholder, but will be inactive day to day).
To get the whole story, read more on the NixonMcInnes website.
2. Meaning 2013
Blimey, if that wasn’t exciting enough, check out the Meaning 2013 line up now.
- A pirate
- A rogue economist
- A story-teller
- An activist
- A startup MD
- An artist
- A co-operativist
- A rebel CEO
- Plus two more to be announced over the next two weeks.
This is the place to come to if you believe that business can be better and want to get inspired, get practical insights and connect with likeminded people. Last year was AMAZING.
Our numbers are growing by the day, and I will be there in my last moment as a regular NM-er, so it will be special for me too.
Tickets go up in price on Monday, so grab ’em today.
See you out there in the wild :-)
Big idea landed in my head last week, crystallised in conversation with Ray Richards from Do Something Different.
Having done NixonMcInnes for about ten years, I’ve become accustomed to the reality that we can do very little right now that will impact the company’s performance right now.
In fact, it’s tended to be the case that what we do now, today, shows up as tangible impact six months later. Earliest. Sometimes a year later. Sometimes more.
The truth that I have very limited ability to influence my organisation right now is both scary and hugely freeing.
I love it because I know it is true, from first-hand experience. But I also love it because it lifts the lid and opens things up. I can get on with the now, freed by the belief that whatever comes up over the coming weeks is the harvest of seeds that were sown half a year or more in the past. (It’s all very Buddhist I know. But that’s OK with me too.)
This big simple idea was reinforced by Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, in his commencement speech at the University of Michigan. Dick talks about improv – about reacting to what happens in the moment and making bold, courageous decisions. It’s a nice talk.
He also says something great along the lines of ‘whatever impact you are having right now, you can’t see it yet’.
It relates to something in Systems Thinking about stocks and flow. I cannot immediately deplete a whole forest or immediately replenish a whole sales pipeline. Even with focus these things take time.
Yet in life and in business especially, we’ve gotten used to this addictive little lie that we can have immediate effects on the here and now. That there are linear relationships between inputs and outputs and that doing more of X and Y will lead to a very clear and definable Z.
My experience so far has been that it doesn’t really work like that. These things take time. And some of the consequences and outcomes are mysterious, loosely connected, and arrive sideways.
The thing I want to hold onto is this. Your impact has been delayed. My impact has been delayed. Or that’s what it really feels like. The reality is, it hasn’t – we’ve had an impact, it’s just we can’t see or feel it yet. But it’s coming. It’s coming.
What is your chosen strategy?
- Inbox zero, prioritise staying on top of email first and foremost, and you thereby ‘win‘ at the email game
- Farming email in between everything else – you stay in the game, but admit partial, daily failure
- Do what really matters first (including – if it’s a worthy priority – things within email), and let the rest of the email pile languish, even when it’s full of nice to haves and moderately importants
Genuinely curious to know.
I have been operating Option 2 for years, but am consciously shifting to Option 3 (with the associated feelings of guilt and ‘fuck you Email you irritating pervasive twat’ resentment.)
What about you?
We are at a time when it would be good if I knew clearly what my plans are for the future. Maybe that’s the wrong way round – maybe I need to find out what the future has planned for me :)
I know that I’m loving my work at NixonMcInnes and am very excited about being part of taking it on to the next stage of its journey. There’s a good amount of work to keep me busy for the next few years! I feel like what we are doing there is preparing to embark on the next 3- 5 year phase.
But yeah, the longer term vision is less clear.
The things I do know are more like threads, themes, hallucinations or sketches. Small pieces, loosely joined :)
These are some of the things I enjoy:
- Nurturing and realising talent – in people around me and in myself
- Having meaning and purpose
- New-ness – harnessing the near-future and right-here-now
- Humanity – being ourselves, caring
- Proving a new kind of organisational DNA is not only do-able but actually *better*
- Starting initiatives, maybe movements
- Adventures in foreign lands (current wishlist: USA, India, China)
- Doing things differently
- Fear and being stretched and challenged
- Engaging with groups of people – from the training room to standing on a stages
- Helping people
- Sharing the journey – working with partners like Tom, Pete, Lasy and Jenni (so far)
One fairly known thing is I think I would enjoy creating some kind of family of organisations. NixonMcInnes is the motherlode – the founding partner if you will. I think it would be cool to apply some of the practices we’ve developed and lessons learnt to other endeavours to see how that’d work.
This would also be tremendous given the immense and at times overwhelming potential of the people in our team. They can and already are seeding ideas that become projects that can become independent things. See Datacopter, NMStereo, Tellyflux, CityCampBrighton, Happy Buckets and more.
From a selfish point of view, to see them running their own gigs would be hugely gratifying (inside or outside the family – but inside would be extra cool ;-) ). Just an amazing idea that makes my tummy fizz.
And then there are more concrete possibilities or things I’m attracted to…
…ideas of shapes of things in this future
- Maybe a product company – more of a traditional ‘startup’.
- Something to do with food! Maybe local, specialty, healthy, tasty, high quality?
- Maybe something social enterprisey – better let Tom go first though!
- A progressive business school – a new form for this new world
- Some academic research or collaboration
- Something in Music or TV or Film
- Publishing interests me
- Schools interest me
So yeah. Funny how when I write it down it all seems clearer. That’s better.
Jay-Z is interesting to me.
I found this Wall Street Journal piece about his new book and the wider growth of his entrepreneurial empire exciting.
I like his purpose, and how he frames it within a sense of culture and advancement and responsibility.
Behold the Golden Cockroach!
This gorgeous cockroach came to me as a metaphor when talking recently with the team about how well our little business is equipped to fare in the continuing global financial ‘long bath’ double-dip recession.
I love cockroaches. And foxes, seagulls, rats, honey badgers, that kinda thing – animals that thrive in changed circumstances. (I think this value is also why I love the Hexayurt, and keep going on about it).
There’s a lotta shit written about the future of business. And some of it is good shit. Particularly enjoying Makers by Cory Doctorow at the moment which speaks directly to this vibe too.
I hope that in our efforts to be different that we are designing NixonMcInnes to be a special kinda cockroach – our bejewelled Golden Cockroach. If it needs to, it will survive whatever comes next :)
NixonMcInnes is a tiny company. Teetering on twenty people, we are but a teeny sliver in the global economic market-thingy-bob.
And yet for those of us engaged in this endeavour, and certainly for me as a founder, this small company is *a very big thing*. A big thing in our lives.
As the company matures, I have stopped worrying as much about some things, at least in a detailed and weekly way – cashflow, the administration of our work, if not the results – stuff that is well looked after by team mates much better at it than me.
But there are always things to worry about, a bit like parenting I guess.
The fear I’m snuggling up with the most in more recent times is the fear of getting in the way, of stifling this brilliant thing, and blocking and filling all the spaces that better people and ideas could fill.
This is my new favourite fear, and I feed it with good evidence I have seen and heard of in my travels about agency-land in the last couple of years.
It is both horrible and deeply instructive to hear about well-intending and successful entrepreneurs getting in the way once their companies get to a certain phase or place, and to hear bitter recriminations about ‘how things really get done in company X’.
Given this awareness, I feel I know what I need to do but doing it will be hard.
I feel I need to balance giving what I have to give and being there with consciously making room for the other talented and grown up people in our team to have their impact, make their decisions – good and bad, and live out their ideas.
It is increasingly common that I find myself thinking ‘sheesh, the only difference between me and Tom and some of these guys is that we had the room to make a decision and put it into action’ when asked for my opinion on the right way to approach a problem. This isn’t coming from a critical or patronising point of view for the person asking for advice, but quite the opposite – it comes from a total confidence in their ability to make as good a decision as we ever could.
Given that I intend on being around for the next couple of years at least, this isn’t a problem for today so I can probably stop worrying about it and find something more productive to attend to.
But when the time does come balancing things won’t be simple.
When it is time to get out of the way, if I make way too soon, I risk moving too fast, leaving people feeling abandoned or uncared for, or leading to questions about my real intents or commitment. ‘Does he just want out?’.
And if I move too slowly, I risk poisoning everything that has been good about what we’ve built together. That would be truly sad…
I am completely committed at NixonMcInnes for its next phase of evolution, and having more fun than I ever have, learning more, and often feeling fulfilled. These are, touch wood, good times.
But my small company MD fear-du-jour is of spoiling the thing I worked so hard to forge by not knowing when to get out of the way. I must remember this when the the time comes.