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’.

You have to know what you want… that ideal job

As planned in my last update Getting Granular, I have been actively working away on my targets for this week. Right now I am feeling very inspired and hopeful. It’s been a progressive week, in many ways, which started with focusing  on getting onto paper what my ideal job was.  A lot of it was just things I like about my present role and things I enjoy doing that should be a main part of my job but aren’t because I work in a mammoth of a machine for an organisation and I am a mere cog.  The culture is definitely killing me, whether it be slowly or fast I’m not quite sure yet but I sure done want to hang around too long to find out.

A Clear Vision

So I wrote my job description. It is by no means full and complete. I’ve trained myself to just be able to get things done without worrying about it being perfect and complete. If the bare bones are there, it’s a starting point. I can’t grow something which doesn’t exist so I aim to get anything down just as long as it’s something. I wrote down five aspects I enjoyed and would like to continue doing.  I felt a weight had been lifted; I had a clearer vision of what I enjoyed.

Here’s where the strangest thing happened. My current job has been under review for the last few months because I have raised that it is not fit for purpose from a business point of view. I have had various discussions about what might work better but nothing has been agreed.

The day after I write my ideal job description, I come across an article about replacing Chief Innovation Officers with Innovation Enablement Leaders – the IEL role is to my surprise more or less the job I had drawn out for myself. To top things off,  my boss raises the question about the direction of my role again. It could not have been more perfectly timed.

The organisation I work for needs to go undergo a number of cultural changes before it is ready to take the next step. It wants to be more innovative; it needs to be, but everything that is a move from the norm is a struggle, or fails because the foundations are poor. The house isn’t in order and there’s too much bureaucracy and internal politics.

The previous discussions I had about my role have been merely plasters over a wound. They don’t treat the cause. I like to use the sand castle analogy. I can build a castle and make it huge, but if the foundations are poorly arranged then the sea will just erode away anything I build.

Insight, Values and Opportunities

With my newly developed insight and the timely article, I feel that actually my role should be something different, more than a plaster, more like a breeze block. This sounds like an amazing opportunity; to be doing what I want to be doing, however I am only part excited by it. I am not jumping for joy, but why?

Fact is I no longer like my employer. There are parts of the business that don’t fit with my values. I never wanted to work for a religious organisation but it is becoming more so. It’s a huge machine and everyday is an uphill battle. I spend more time thinking about and trying to resolve politics than doing the things that make a difference to the bottom line. Besides, I have felt like my skills will diminish if I don’t leave soon. I don’t practice what I am self learning fast enough and I am impatient and thrive on growth.  Although this opportunity is tempting, I’ve learnt to stick to my guns.  If it doesn’t fit with my values and what I am striving for, then I shouldn’t choose it. The role is right, but the environment is wrong; I’m striving for the full package.  I am more excited about leaving this all behind to start a new phase of my life.

My manager has no idea of my intention to leave but as we have been discussing a change in role, the time is fast approaching for that awkward conversation. I have however made a plan – a proposal of sort – for what I’d like the role to do and to make it a six month project. This way the project is defined and I get to help deliver substantial changes which should leave them in a much stronger position than they are in now. That’s the theory anyway.

My vision for the role is to build innovation capacity so that they can deliver innovative solutions. It’s a self sustaining model and it’s about capacity building which is ultimately what I stand for. Empowerment of individuals who can collectively make a difference. I feel excited by this. I just hope they buy it!

Making Substantial Progress

Other progresses I’ve made have been about what to do after my placement. I have more ideas now. If the project above succeeds that’s a string to my bow as I’d definitely like more of that. But having returned to The Escape Manifesto – my Bible – I have found inspiration from the suggested readings and case studies of fellow escapees. The article that resonates with me most right now is How to become an idea machine. Reframing questions:  “when is an idea too big” re thought as “how do I make all ideas smaller and achievable”. The Richard Branson story of how he started the airline business inspired me to have faith and confidence in myself. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do anything new because I didn’t have the right expertise but you know what, when you break it down, it becomes instantly possible. The opportunities now appear to be endless. I shut down many ideas because  I thought they were too big, but now I have a renewed energy to chase those tennis balls.

If you read The Escape Manifesto or talk to anyone from Esc, you will immediately understand the tennis ball reference. It’s about finding your passion.  Apparently, it was Drew Houston, founder of Dropbox, who made the first reference to Tennis Balls in his MIT Commencement Speech but I first heard it at the Esc taster session I attended.

With my renewed energy and focus, my mental to do list has grown exponentially. I am starting to feel a little overwhelmed with the things I want to cover and get through.  I woke up with a busy mind, which frankly is not a great way to start the day.

Prioritise and Chill Out

As I have made a lot of progress in identifying things I need to read, sites I need to visit, videos I need to watch, people I might want to connect with, I feel a prioritisation exercise looming. Being someone who can often be impatient, I have to remind myself that this is a marathon and not a sprint.  I need to pace myself to avoid burnout.

This week I will:

  • Get organised – make lots of lists on my OneNote account so that they are accessible where ever I am.
  • Prioritise the information I want to get through
  • Decided on my meetups as I’ve still not done this
  • Confirm my _SocialStarters placement

With a clear focus comes excitement

It’s funny,  once I have a focus my time suddenly disappears. Previously I felt like I was drifting in a big ocean in a small rowing boat with no sight of land in any direction. My days would drag and I would feel miserable.

These days I have a renewed energy as I strive to tick off all the things on my project plan, which will result in me leaving behind a job I no longer desire to do.

With this renewed energy however comes a new problem. An overactive brain. My brain won’t switch off, resulting in me gaining all of 2.5hours sleep last night.

My sleeplessness is partly related to the excitement behind the prospect of escaping my  job but also the feeling generated when I am actually doing work I enjoy.

I suffer many emotional ups and downs in my  job and it’s really driving me insane. Last week I had a roller coaster of a week. A project I had been trying to get off the ground for the past 3 months was finally gaining some traction. Hooray! I thought. Two days later the project ground to a massive halt (for some completely ridiculous reasons) which resulted in my boss and I withdrawing our budget from the delivery managers and pulling the plug.

I had finally lost the fight in me. It was a very sad state of affairs. The worse part being I felt it reflected really badly on me despite the fact I followed every single bureaucratic bit of red tape. I (along with a few others and a group of young people- target audience)wanted to make something amazing happen. We were so close, alas we were shot down. Needless to say I was brutally wounded in that battle.

Anyway, being the resilient individual that I am, I vowed to find another revolutionary project to work on. I am meant to be a product designer after all.

A colleague contacted me about a project she needed help getting off the ground. After some thought I realised how it could be mutually beneficial.  To cut to the chase I’ve found a new project, in the confines of ‘work’, to get stuck into. Because I am interested, I work so much more efficiently and effectively. A renewed focus on delivery. With this comes my over active mind and the tendency to get carried away with ideas and plans, and general excitement.

An exciting project at work alongside my own super fantastic personal escape plan – can you imagine what my mind is like?

I shall add mindfulness to my list of things I need to be doing!

Destination: Unknown

So I’ve finally got round to starting the blog.  In my head, I have already written at least three posts but time has been scarce and I’ve had a lot of things to do.

I’ve decided 2016 will be a year of massive change for me career wise.  I have felt stuck for a while, but after returning from a holiday to North Sulawesi, Indonesia earlier this year, and suffering from some terrible post holiday blues, I felt I really needed to act.

It’s not that I hate my job, it’s just I feel underwhelmed by it. I feel constricted in my current organisation and I feel like I am wasting my life there. Over the past year I have done a lot of self study on innovation in order to help me in my role but I feel like I am developing at a pace that is too fast for my employer and I feel like I have outgrown the organisation.

I work for a charity and ultimately I am a fundraiser. Although over the last year I have been working on designing and developing fundraising products as opposed to actually delivering campaigns. I enjoy the type of role I do, but I feel I am in the wrong place for it. Besides, I no longer want to be a fundraiser.  I want to help people and communities and actually seeing the direct impact of the work I do.

Being a goal oriented person, I’ve always found that I am at my happiest when I am striving to achieve something.  I don’t operate well when I am drifting; I feel completely lost and without purpose. Making the decision to change my career has provided me with a renewed focus, but it’s a huge step and I can’t say I’m not scared.

There are a lot of unknowns.  The biggest being I don’t really know where I am heading. I have a few ideas but nothing concrete and that is frightening.  How can I possibly quit a job to chase an unknown?

Thankfully for me, I have already taken some steps to validate I’m making the correct decision.  I’ll write more about this soon but for now, I have made a choice and I’m focused on sticking to it.  I want to live a life that I will find more fulfilling. One that I can be proud of. I know myself well enough to trust that I will make it work.

Onwards and upwards to destination: unknown.  Anyone fancy coming along for the ride?