Keep swimming or risk drowning

The idea of running my own training / consultancy business has been lurking around in the back of my mind for some time.  It is for this reason I decided to explore it further.  I wasn’t making any progress on my previous business idea as I seem to have developed some form of mind block, so now is perfect time to explore a different route.  What I have learnt it not to waste too much time stuck on one pet project.  I guess I need to be like a shark – keep swimming or drown.

Referring to another one of my favourite books: The Innovation Expedition by Gijs Van Wulfen, I quickly wrote out my mini business case in my lovely new notebook.

Shaun Tan notebook
An aspect I learnt about myself recently is I work better on plain paper.  I find lines restrictive; they dictate an order I don’t necessarily subscribe to. I therefore treated myself a lovely plain notebook by Shaun Tan (an Australian illustrator) admittedly, I hadn’t heard of him before but what caught my attention about this notebook were the illustrations; it was perfectly fitting.  It’s amazing how a simple sheet of paper can make me feel differently about the way I approach what I am doing.  Plain paper provides the freedom to write in any which way I see fit.

Making Progress

I completed the business case and was actually pretty chuffed with the progress I had made, so I started to think about names for my business.  I did a bit of research for inspiration which led me back to vision and values. So what is my vision for this business and does it still sit true with who I am and what I value?

My vision for this business is: To provide individuals with the creative skills and confidence to identify problems and empower them to be self-sustaining in how they go about identifying solutions.

I would do this by running workshops on creativity and innovation.

This is very much in alignment with my desires to create a self-sustaining society as per my vision in an earlier post My Personal Brand. Tick.

I went back to thinking about me and my story, how did I get to this point?  My second attempt proved a fruitful exercise and I think you will agree, it makes sense.

My Story

Having spent over 10 years working in the not-for-profit sector, the need to create something from very little is very familiar.  I wouldn’t have said that I was a ‘creative person’ but what I am is incredibly resourceful and an extremely good problem solver.

Throughout my years as an acquisition fundraiser, I would regularly need to develop and refine propositions and products.  This was no mean feat.  Often the most impactful way to refine the product was via the training of groups of incredibly highly charged, caffeine-induced dialogue fundraisers (those who speak directly to the public either on the street, door or phone). Employing creative techniques was a must to improving an existing offering.

I currently lead on innovation for my employer.  It’s not the role I signed up for, however I have turned it into a role they should have employed me for. Internally it has always been said that innovation should be everyone’s responsibility, however in reality, it sits with a relatively small group of employees, where it is not a full time role.  This means innovation and product development work is slow, not exactly fit for purpose in a rapidly changing society.

I lead a group of Innovation Ambassadors, working with them, I aim to educate and up-skill our colleagues in their understanding of insights, innovation and creativity.

It’s all about Innovation

Everyone is talking about ‘innovation’ but I see very few charities doing it well. There are many barriers and the lack of guidance/support from senior leadership only accentuates the problem.  It is for this reason I believe that we need to take a step back, we need to empower individuals with knowledge and skills; they need to understand the expectations and their roles in the process.

As much as charities may be in desperate need of radical innovation, they aren’t demonstrating readiness. There is however nothing stopping them from taking the baby steps needed to provide them with the crucial incremental improvements that could pave the way to radical innovation.

One of the barriers we constantly face is time and resource – is it really about acquiring more staff and increasing capacity or is it about looking at what is already in existence and changing processes?

Questioning the status quo

For me, it’s about looking at how we do things now.  Can we do it differently? Can we introduce new processes to stream line our work?  Can we interact and engage with our colleagues differently in order to take on new viewpoints? By questioning the status quo we are not only engaging in innovative process development, but we are also fostering an environment that will be fit and ready for more radical innovation.

If we want to create a more innovative workforce, we need to drive creativity and increase collaboration. Individual creativity is important but so are the social relations. Providing individuals with the tools and encouraging active collaboration should lead to overall improved productivity. I say should because ultimately you cannot legislate creativity. Although creativity can be taught, it tends to emerge naturally where people are motivated and within a culture that encourages exploration.

I have already run several successful creativity and innovation training workshops for my organisation and am about to run another in October. As someone who really enjoys creating and facilitating these types of sessions, it seems natural to want to focus on this as a career. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

My next goal is to shorten the story and make it a little bit more succinct.  It was a really useful exercise and got me to really focus on the ‘why’.

100 Days of Commuting

After having week off – away from London and away from work. I was full of renewed energy and lots of ideas.  My ideas were mainly for the creativity project I am working on at work.  Unfortunately, the energy quickly drained upon entering the office.  This week has been a complete drag.  I feel incredibly demotivated.

Rush hour in London Waterloo station

My commute is long and unyielding. London is busy – full of rude people, all in a rush to get somewhere.  Every week I spend at least 15 hours commuting; most weeks (especially when school is in term) it’s closer to 17.5 hours.  This equates to at least 60 hours per month and a whopping 660 hours per year (based on 11 months – I’ve kindly given myself a month off, aren’t I lucky?).  Scarily this works out as 94 working days! 94! This might as well be 100!

100 Days of Commuting

What could I spend 100 days doing? There are a lot of things I could be doing: pursuing my interests for a start.  I used to do a lot of photography but it took over my life, well truth be told Instagram took over my life. I was also faced with internal conflict about whether photography should be edited and whether I should be digitally enhancing my photos.  The result was I stopped.  I’ve had some time to settle the internal argument and I am ok with the editing – I see my photography as an art now so the editing process is about creating a particular look.   I want to make a return to it but not on Instagram.   I just need to find the time.  I think I may undertake an iphonography project first – take a photo everyday.  See where this takes me.

I enjoy water sports but my current lifestyle does not cater for it.  I could be out kayaking and enjoying the river. Last week I went canoeing on the Norfolk Broads, it was so peaceful and hundreds of miles away from the hustle and bustle of this crazy city.  Even the coastal resort of Great Yarmouth was an amazing break.  I love being close to the sea and would love to live on the coast.

It’s so important to take time out to reconnect, however this makes returning to work incredibly hard.

On Monday, my first day back at work, my bus got caught in traffic, I therefore missed my train and thus I arrived at work later than I’d planned. To top things off, it was pouring down with rain.  My renewed energy had probably drained out of me before I even arrived at work.

Reconnect and Remember

It was a combination of all these things that reminded me why I am planning my big escape.  I need a change in lifestyle. I need to reclaim my time. I need to stop commuting. Reminders are important otherwise we easily lose track of what we are doing and why, and the motivation evaporates.

I am planning to escape because I want to live my life on my terms.  Thankfully there is a long weekend approaching, time to invest in Project Escape.

Is it a case of the ‘what ifs’ or something else?

I’ve discovered that developing new products for an employer is a completely different ball game to starting my own business.  I have a business idea, in fact I have several, but why am I struggling to make progress? I know what I need to do but I am I really struggling to get anything done.

I’ve come to the conclusion that fear is my barrier.

In order to get started, I need to gather my supporting insights. I need to:

  • validate assumptions about my users
  • build my user profiles
  • research and understand the competitors – direct and indirect


fear ahead

Rather than just get on with it, I’m sitting here writing a blog about it.  It’s clearly an avoidance technique.  Is it fear that is holding me back? What if no one wants to use the service I am offering? What if the market doesn’t exist? What if there are already lots of competitors? What if, what if, what if?

I am overwhelmed by the ‘what ifs’ and it is starting to drive me a little bit crazy.  If I am really honest about it, I truly believe there is a market for the service I want to deliver and there are few UK suppliers, if any (I have already done a bit of research) so what’s the real problem?

Do I fear failure?  Well no, because I have already said that this is very much my first project and I need to do it to learn from it.  So what exactly is my problem?

A lot of my anxiety is around starting an online business and the legalities and technicalities behind it. I did some research into starting an online business but I don’t feel the information is sufficient and I am not confident with what I have read. I think this is what I am truly avoiding. I need to speak to someone who has done this before, who can provide the advice I need to crack on, as this avoidance technique is hampering my progress.

Reaching out and asking for help

Some people have no problem asking for help, in fact a colleague of mine drives me insane as her first thought is always to ask someone else rather than to turn to her own internal ability. I, on the other hand, am used to being self-reliant.  I rarely rely on others for anything and this can hamper.  I recognise this as a weakness and is one I need to face head on if I am going to make progress faster.

There are so many different levels of fear, but fear is a good thing.  If I wasn’t aware of it, I wouldn’t know how to really challenge myself. I am therefore going to set myself a task of identifying potential mentors by mid September as I am going to require assistance in quite a few areas.  Asking for help is not a weakness but a necessity in growth and development.

My personal brand

This week I attended a workshop entitled “What’s your big idea” held by The Happy Startup School.  I’d registered to attend a couple of weeks ago when I was looking for networking opportunities without a BIG idea to hand.  At the time I thought it might be good just to go along and see who else was there and absorb.

A few days earlier, whilst at work, I was discussing a major barrier to future proofing the organisation and how this problem might be solved.  Thinking about that, I saw an opportunity – a startup opportunity, so I used that as my big idea.

I actually had another idea en route but that one is far more challenging.  In short, I am suddenly having ideas. Not lots, but some, and that’s a good start.  I feel alive. I haven’t felt this way for such a long time.

The workshop

The session was very practical and required a lot of brain work.  Despite the fact that I had previously covered some elements as part of my recent things to do, I still found it challenging because I was discussing it with someone rather than just working on my own and we were approaching it differently to how I’d previously covered the exercise.

One of the tasks was about identifying our values.  Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work.  They should determine your priorities and deep down they’re probably the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out as you want it to. Your values define your character.

They impact every aspect of your life:

  • Personal and work behaviours
  • Interaction with friends, family and colleagues
  • Decision making processes
  • The direction you take in life

We talked about Why, How, What.  Although I had done this before, I didn’t really appreciate its meaning until Carlos, our trainer, talked us through it.

I was interested in finding out more so I watched Simon Sinek’s TED talk  How great leaders inspire action.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

If you don’t stay true to your values, you are less likely to persevere.  You have to truly believe in what you are doing.

Who am I?

Why do I do what I do? My Vision and Mission

My vision is of a world where everyone has the power to create opportunities for themselves and to achieve their dreams.

My mission is to empower people by providing them with the skills they require to help themselves.

How do I do it? 


My values: collaboration, sustainability, honesty, accountability, Empowerment, ambition.

My behaviours: I am enterprising, resourceful, adventurous and solution focused.

What do I do?

I listen to other people’s goals and help them identify what skills they require to achieve their goals. But as I am a firm believer that you create your own fate, people need to be responsible for themselves.

Good things do not just happen; people need to want it and they have to take the right steps. I help them take those steps.

I have been doing this in everything I do. I’ve only just realised it. So this is who I am.

This got me thinking about My Big Idea and whether it fit with who I am. I think it does. Ultimately it is about enabling people to help themselves. I am therefore progressing this tennis ball.