The Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness – this seems to be the recurring theme.  Ever since I started my journey to escape my current job, I have heard countless people talk and write about the search for happiness.  Am I looking for happiness?  I’m not per se.  What I am looking for is contentment and fulfilment which I don’t feel I have right now. I guess, achieving the latter and former should ultimately lead to happiness.

So why is it we are all so unhappy?

What is happiness?  Having searched Google, I’ve found there are a whole host of definitions.  This however is my favourite and it resonates with me. happiness-quoteAre we all so unhappy because we aren’t achieving our values or goals?  Are we not flourishing as individuals?  For me this is true.  Why are so many of us now seeking a new way of living?  How did we end up where we are in the first place?

Ken Robinson describes the fault with the education system “every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects…at the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities and at the bottom are the arts”.  Why is this?

Ken Robinson has written many books on this subject and his famous Ted Talk – Do Schools Kill Creativity is a favourite of mine.  The education system was created in the Industrial Revolution to produce academics.  The subjects that were placed at the top of the education hierarchy were there because they were the subjects that would lead you into jobs.   Back then this was what we needed and it meant a steady well paid job for those who chose that path. Today there is so much more choice and the working environment has completely changed.  The paths the academic system led us to are not necessarily areas we particularly excel in, so is this the cause of our unhappiness?

The fact that the education system stigmatises individuals who choose to study arts means there is an unfair pressure being put on individuals to choose subjects they don’t excel in. Are we unhappy because we haven’t found our element?

Finding your element

Another book by Ken Robinson is Finding Your Element.  Ken recommends using a multitude of methods to find your element; he never recommends one over another because he recognises that we are all individuals and we have different learning styles.  He points out that we may believe ourselves to be weak at a subject, but the reality is this may be down to the way we were taught.

We all have unique learning styles.  Having completed the Honey and Mumford learning styles questionnaire, my preferred styles are pragmatist and theorist, followed by reflector and lastly activist.  This makes sense as I like a good plan and I like to understand why and how things fit together.


Thinking back about my education and experience, I have always favoured pragmatism. I am a pragmatist – someone who is practical and focused on reaching a goal. So long as I have a goal in sight, I am pretty happy working my way towards it.

I went through school to get to university.  It had been drummed into me from an early age, in order to get a good job, I needed to go to university.  I studied Business and Marketing, my favourite part was my sandwich year – practical application.

After university, I did several temporary jobs in the public and not-for-profit sector before I went travelling for a year. I returned to work in the charity sector (as a fundraiser) because working for a commercial organisation didn’t feel right.  Many people are unhappy because they don’t see the value of the work they do.

Should I be happy just because I work for a charity?

To be honest, I think the work our front line workers do is amazing. However I am not happy because I still find my role unfulfilling and I don’t like the culture I work in. I would feel more fulfilled if I was having direct impact, working for myself and with more like minded people.  There are several boxes that need to be ticked. Is problem solving for social good my element?

Organisational culture is interesting.  Freedom, flexibility and creativity are important to me.  Areas of which I don’t feel are promoted or encouraged enough where I work.

In fact, I feel creativity is quite often stifled due to laborious processes which drain the fun out of everything.  Also, shortsightedness – the inability to plan for the future and see what might be is frustrating.

This has made me focus on who my actual target audience should I follow my creativity and innovation consultancy route.

The Opportunity Exists

Our education system is no longer fit for purpose; it no longer meets the needs of changing society. It doesn’t respond to the fact that children are growing up in a digital and always connected world.  This creates different needs and brings many different opportunities.  The present education system doesn’t prepare them for the future.  The fact that our education system still chooses to be based on a hierarchy established in the Industrial revolution means that many young people are being excluded unfairly.

Children are taught to conform, following a standardised curricula so they can perform well in their standardised tests. Standardisation means we are ignoring and only developing in areas dictated by a few individuals – mainly politicians – and let’s admit it, what do they know about the real world?

We are all born with the capacity for divergent thinking but studies have shown that this ability deteriorates with age.  It is educated out of us because of standardisation. By the time we leave school, our ability to think laterally has all but gone.

In this current age, we are looking for innovative solutions to the world’s problems, we look for collaborators as we know that the best ideas come from groups rather than individuals working alone.  Our education system has not and does not prepare individuals for this.  Tapping back into our creative mind set takes effort and requires re-education.  There are a lot of people who could do with this training, finding and working with those who it would benefit most is now the challenge.

Choose wisely

Even as a consultant, working for myself, I am still accountable to my client.  Therefore, I should choose my client base based on who will bring me most contentment and fulfillment.  Who will achieve the most from what I have to offer and where can we make the biggest impact.


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’.