Interviews Archives – MFL Global

Mission…Possible – Robert Hannigan

Robert Hannigan was Director of GCHQ, the UK government’s largest intelligence and cyber agency, from 2014-17 was interviewed alongside Mike Rogers, Director of the National Security Agency by David Ignatius, Associate Editor and Columnist, The Washington Post at the Aspen Security Forum.

Mission...Possible - Robert Hannigan

In the session entitled ‘Mission Possible’ Admiral Rogers and Robert Hannigan explain how they go about accomplishing their mission impossible. The Commander of US Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency has never been busier with the perennial intelligence task of trying to distinguish the signal from the noise. Adding to the challenge are cyber threats from nation states and non-state actors that are unprecedented in their scale and sophistication. The pace of change in security over the past 10 years and the rate at which they expect change to continue.

Robert Hannigan goes on to describe the relationship between US technology companies and intelligence agencies, having been known for recognising the initially difficult relations between the two. At the initial stages of his role as Director of GCHQ, Robert wrote for the Financial Times, stating the need for a new, better relationship. Years on, he states that tech companies are now becoming more helpful in assisting intelligence agencies with cyber security, as well as new legislation that is contributing to a “more sensible” cyber security climate.

Robert Hannigan (keynote speaker) discusses the new operational arm of GCHQ, the National Cyber Security Centre, in the UK. He describes the centre as being “driven by people and data” with a mission that attracts the best cyber security talent. Finishing by explaining the critical importance of fusing the data available, open-source, in the private sector, with the skill of intelligence agencies.

Watch the interview in full below.  For more information on Robert Hannigan, get in touch here

Interview with Sports Presenter and Communications Trainer, James Pearce

Maria’s guest on the show is James Pearce. For two decades, James has been one of the most regular faces on the BBC’s television news bulletins. An award-winning correspondent, James freely admits to having one of the best jobs in the world. You name it, he’s reported from it. In this week’s show, James tells us how Gloria Hunniford gave him his first broadcasting break at the tender age of nine, he teaches me how to elegantly deflect awkward questions, and James shares with us an embarrassing broadcasting moment.

Maria: 

Hello, James, lovely to have you here today.

James Pearce: 

Lovely to be here, Maria.

Maria: 

Wonderful. Listen, let’s get started. Let’s take you back to when you were a child. What did you want to be?

James Pearce:  

Well, it’s interesting because everyone sort of has different memories of what they really thought when they were a child, but there is an audio tape of me aged about nine and a half, and one morning I hadn’t gone to school because I wasn’t feeling very well, and I was listening to Radio Two, Gloria Hunniford. My mother had gone out to walk with the dog, and came back, and she picked up the phone, which was ringing when she came in. The phone call was from Radio Two, saying, “We’re going to put your son on air in two minutes time. Can you please get him ready?” My mother said, “Excuse me, my son’s in bed sick. I don’t know what this is about.”

Of course, when she’d gone out the door, I’d listened to Gloria Hunniford. She was interviewing someone called Nigel Dempster, who many people will remember was a very well-known gossip columnist from the Daily Mail. I’d rung up to ask Nigel Dempster a question, and they’d rung back to say they were putting me on air. My mother, to her horror, then had to go upstairs and get me, who was meant to be sick in bed from school, put me live on Radio Two to chat to Nigel Dempster.

At the end of that, Gloria Hunniford said to me, “So, what would you like to be when you’re older, James?” I said to her, “Well, actually, I’d like to be a journalist.”

So, there you are. It definitely was in my head certainly at the age of about nine and a half. That was my broadcasting debut. I’ve still got the tape somewhere.

Maria: 

Oh, that’s fantastic. Well, let’s hope that Gloria is listening in. That would be brilliant.

I mean, most people know you as the face of BBC Sport, and that’s where we’ll have seen you, but your broadcasting career didn’t start in sport, did it? Where did it start? What’s the journey?

James Pearce:   

Well, I was very lucky because after university I went straight into the BBC. The normal route into journalism is to do a post-graduate course at university, and I was lucky. I had a couple of offers from the universities that do the best courses, but I got on the BBC training scheme. So, I went straight from university into the BBC.

It’s one of those interviews, you know, I got to the last four for the southwest training scheme. So, each region of the country was able to appoint one person a year. Sadly, the scheme doesn’t work in quite that same way now.  I was the southwest trainee because I’d been at Exeter University. I went for the interview knowing I was in the last four. I was so close to what you dream, but obviously still so far away. It was a terrifying interview in so many ways because there’s so much at stake, financially as well because you’ve got the option of being paid for a year to work as a trainee, rather than having to fork out lots of money to spend another year at university.

I went to the interview, and again, it’s probably another parental phone call story here because I did the interview, which was in Bristol, and of course, this was the days before mobile phones, and I came back home that evening and my father was there, and said, “How did it go?” I went, “Well, I think it was OK, but obviously we’ll have to wait and see. They’re going to write to me in the next couple of weeks.” My father said, “Well, actually, I think it went better than OK they just rang half an hour ago to say, ‘Could I please let you know that you’ve got the job?”

That would never happen these days, obviously, because they’d ring you on your phone. They probably wouldn’t even be allowed to ring your parents without your permission under data protection, or something else. It was actually my father who told me that I’d got the dream job at the BBC.

Maria:   

Fantastic, so you cut your teeth very young then, really.

James Pearce:     

Yes, and that, I think, has helped me all the way through. I was trained to be a news broadcaster for television and for radio, and then worked in BBC Plymouth. One of the great things at the time then about BBC Plymouth was there were quite a few young people around, and so being in a region which is a slightly lower profile than some of the others, they weren’t frightened of pushing young talent. I started broadcasting on television there aged 22, and even when I then got a job in London, I was 24 by that stage, I was doing mainly sport, but people tell me I was the youngest ever regular reporter on the six o’clock news. Whether that’s really right, I don’t know if someone’s really gone through all the archives, I don’t know. I was very, very young to be doing it. That was because I’d started off so young.

Maria:   

You still look very young, James, but we might go into the secrets of that later off-air. One of the highlights of your career, you have said, was covering the journey of the London 2012. You covered it for 11 years, from the bid. What an amazing place to be for you, amazing historical place in sport. What are your fondest memories of that experience?

James Pearce:  

Oh, there is so many. I mean, it’s interesting because starting off on that journey, I studied politics at university, and when I went into the BBC, I always wanted to be a political journalist. I got into sport really by mistake.

Let me tell you quickly how I got into sport, but I will answer your question, Maria, I promise you. As we’ll talk later, I’m sure, I do some media training on how to deflect questions, but I’m not going to deflect your question.

To tell you quickly how I got into sport. I was just sitting in the Plymouth newsroom one morning, a Monday morning it was, and we had the morning meeting. The boss came in and said, “The sports presenter has quit, and we need someone to do the sport,” and no one was interested. In those days, I suppose, sport was a little bit more frowned on. It’s more respectable, I think, now as a journalistic career.

No one put their hand up, so about a minute went past, and I sort of said, “Well, I’ll do it if no one else wants to do it,” because I’d always had a passion for sport. They all laughed at me. No one said anything, they all just had a bit of a chuckle, and the meeting moved on.

It was a Friday evening, so four days later, about half past five in the evening, I was sitting at my desk writing up some news story, and the boss came up, sat behind me, and just put his arm around me and said, “James, I didn’t want to tell you earlier in the week because I knew you probably wouldn’t sleep all week, but you are the new sports presenter, and your first bulletin, program, is an hour’s time at half past 6 this evening.”

I had an hour to get ready for my first ever presenting broadcast in the studio. One of my male presenter colleagues put some makeup on my face. You had to wear makeup to make sure you’re not shining too much in the studio and stuff, and I was so nervous. I’d never even been in the studio before. The reporting I’d done had all been out on the road.

I went into the studio, I’d never read autocue before, sat down, and they give you your earpiece, and you put an earpiece in, so the director can talk to you. Somehow got through the autocue and got through the bulletin. I was so relieved, and then I hear in my ear, “Well done, James. That’s it. Just say good night to camera three.”

I looked at the camera, which I was talking to, which the live camera always has a big red light on it … Sorry, I’m telling this slightly wrong. “Say good night to camera one,” was what they actually said to me because I looked at my camera, and it had a three on it, to my horror. I was like, “Right, so this three. I have no idea where camera one is.” I looked to my right, and gambled, and to my absolute horror, there was a great big six on the camera. All you can see, and I’ve still got the VHS of my first presenting broadcast, you see me mouthing down “Goodnight”. That was my first ever studio broadcast. It got slightly better after that.

Once I got into sport, I never lost my love of politics, to come back to your original question, and so when London started the bid for the Olympics, for me, that was a perfect combination of sports and politics. It’s fascinating. I mean, you’ve got an electorate of about 100 for the Olympics, so one vote here or there can make so much difference. When you’re talking to the actual electors, you’re getting a really good, strong feel for how the process is going. It’s not like a general election, when you’re relying on opinion polls. You’re doing your own polls yourself, and you’re actually talking to the voters. You can see their minds changing during the campaign.

To be in Singapore in 2005 on the morning of the vote, July the 6th, 2005 was when the vote was. Most people assumed it was going to be Paris. I could feel the momentum starting to swing behind London, and you were nervous of being too optimistic on air because you didn’t want to look stupid, but on the other hand, you wanted to make people realise that actually genuinely London had a chance.

I think the strongest thing I said was about an hour before the vote. I said, “Look, I’m not going to make any promises. If you care about British sport, you must be watching in an hour’s time because I think something special could be about to happen,” and, of course, it did.  Then a seven-year journey all the way through to London 2012, which wasn’t really a sports correspondent’s job at all because the job then became one of construction and marketing, of a lot of politics around who was going to pay for everything, etc. The sport just came for the last few weeks of that job, really.

Maria: 

It was a gift of a story to cover. It was brilliant. Yeah, brilliant, brilliant.  Do you play any sports yourself?

James Pearce:   

Well, not to any great skill level. I mean, people, don’t they, joke about teachers, saying, “Those who can do, those who can’t, teach.” It’s the same about sports journalists, really. Those who can do are presumably playing sport, and those who can’t are talking about it.

I love my sport, a bit of tennis, golf, football, whatever, but I would be lying if I sat here, Maria, and said that I was some amazing athlete with a great pedigree because I simply am not.

Maria: 

Except you did score the very first goal in the new Wembley Stadium. Why did that come to you, that honour?

James Pearce:    

Well, I was saying how I became a bit of a construction correspondent with London 2012. Well, the other big construction project during my career was Wembley Stadium, and some people will remember the long drama, drawn out saga of Wembley Stadium not being built because the old Wembley Stadium was knocked down, and then they spent ages trying to build the new stadium. There was an Australian company called Multiplex came in and things didn’t go well for them at all. In fact, they ended up going so badly that Multiplex had to pull out of the UK, they got so much bad publicity.

I spent a lot of my job outside Wembley giving updates. I had some good contacts there, I was lucky. I did a couple of quite big exclusives about the fact that Wembley was being delayed by another six months, or yet another year.

When it finally came to them laying the turf in Wembley, the person who was in charge of the communications for the building company kind of felt sorry for me. I think they thought I’d done my hours outside Wembley, so now I was finally in and on the pitch. We had a media day for about 20 journalists, so we could broadcast live from the pitch, so me, and Sky News, and ITV, and everybody else.

What the woman told me, she said, “I’ve got a bag here, James, but don’t let anyone know. In this bag is a ball, and when you do your broadcast, I’m going to throw you the ball so you’ll be the first person to have a ball on the pitch, and you can then take it into the goal and score.”

So, this is what happened: so, Sky News had done their broadcast, and it came to my turn to do a broadcast, and I was standing there and she threw me this ball, which is amazing. I was ready to score the goal at Wembley, but the trouble with a 24 hour news channel – and this was for the BBC, what was called News 24 at the time, BBC News Now – was, of course, another story broke. It’s like air traffic control waiting to go on air sometimes when there are other stories around, so all I could hear in my ear was a story about Syria, or something. I was standing there with this ball and Sky News and everybody else were like staring at me, dying to take this ball off me and go and do it themselves. I was like begging the News 24 controllers, like, “Please, just come to me now because I’m going to lose this ball.”

Just in time, they did come to me. I had wellington boots on because the turf wasn’t properly laid, and I just very gingerly took the ball into the net. I didn’t shoot from a long distance. I’m not going to miss the Wembley goal. I shot from about two yards out with my wellington boots, and luckily hit the back of the net.

It was lovely, actually, because some of the builders who had been working there had been watching, and I could hear from right around the stadium the applause ringing out from the various builders who had been working on it. It was a really special moment.

Maria:

That was a very wise move to get close because if you missed, that would have been unbelievable. It would have been one of the bloopers, wouldn’t it, on the telly every year? Fantastic.

Maria: 

Actually, yes, we might have to share those on a separate discussion.

So, tell me, you cover a lot of different sports. Which is the one you enjoy covering the most?

James Pearce:  

People ask me which sports I enjoy. The answer I normally give is I enjoy sport that matters. For example, tennis: Wimbledon, football: a World Cup, golf: one of the majors. What I don’t enjoy is sport where you don’t think it really necessarily matters, so a football friendly, for example. It’s just people going through the motions.

That’s why I love the Olympics because when you go and sit in an Olympic event, if it’s a final, say an athletics final, for example, you know that people’s lives are going to change in front of your eyes, change forever. It’s something that they will be talking about to their children, their grandchildren, in 50 years’ time. Those are big moments, and that’s what I love covering as a sports journalist, is moments that really can change lives and matter. Every sport has an event that can do that to an athlete. It’s watching athletes go through those life-changing moments, I think, that’s special.

Sport is drama. It’s unscripted drama. It’s drama that, actually, if you wrote some of it in a script, people would send it back to you, saying, “This is complete fantasy. It’s unrealistic.” Things happen in sport that are completely unpredictable, and that’s obviously why I, and so many other people, love writing or broadcasting about sport.

Maria:

Brilliant. You’re so passionate about it. It’s lovely to hear.

After 2012, you actually started your own media training company. Who are the people you were trying to help at that time?

James Pearce:  

I’ve done a long time at the BBC. The journey to 2012 had been so amazing, and the BBC is full of people who kind of get wheeled out when they’re 60, and I just didn’t want to be one of those people, but I love the broadcasting, so I had this massive dilemma after 2012. I thought if I’m ever going to do something different, I’ve got to do it now. This is the right time to change.

I had lots of chats with the BBC, and decided to go freelance, so I’d continue broadcasting on BBC, but I had the freedom to do some other stuff. I wasn’t really quite sure what I wanted to do. I just knew that I needed to do some other things.

The British Olympic Association spoke to me, and said, “Look, could I work with some of the athletes with their media training and helping the prepare for Olympics.” The National Lottery are fantastic, they actually fund media training for all athletes who get into an Olympic or Paralympic team.

I started working with those athletes. I hadn’t really got experience teaching at all, I’d been too busy broadcasting. It’s not until you start teaching that you realise just how much knowledge is useful that’s in your head because there’s stuff that is second nature to me after doing it for so long, but you realise, actually, there’s a lot you’ve got which you can pass on and is useful to people. The more of it I did, the more I realised that and, I think, the more I enjoyed it because you can see people improving in front of your eyes. When they’re high-profile Olympians, and they’re coming up to you, going, “James, that was the most useful two hours I’ve ever had in a training session,” or whatever, you think, “Oh, OK, I need to maybe think about doing some more.”

I got approached by the Football Association very soon afterwards and then won a contract, which I still have five years on, to run all the media training for the English Football Association. I work with all the different age group squads, from under 17s up. So, some of the England players you watched in the World Cup in Russia, I’ve worked with.

It’s an absolute privilege, but without blowing my own trumpet too much, I think I am genuinely helping them, and if I can help people, it’s a really good, rewarding thing to do. I then realise that I’m just working with athletes, but the techniques I’m teaching aren’t just for athletes, they’re for anybody who’s in any job that requires communication.

For example, I do a lot of training for NHS England, I work with FTSE 100 executives. I can’t say all of my clients, but you can look at my website jpmediatraining.com if you want to, and you’ll see some of the list. There’s a wide variety of clients that I work with, and those are just the ones that I’m happy to put on the website. Some of them remain confidential.

It’s really interesting work, and when you’re working one-on-one with a FTSE 100 executive, you really get to see the real person. You break them down a bit. There’s no spin there in the session, it can be quite brutal, but really rewarding at the end.

Maria: 

Brilliant, and actually, more and more, all of us are using video … I mean, some of us have our own podcast show, you know? You might be aware.

Is there a tip or two you could share with me and our listeners as to what we can do with our broadcasting maybe?

James Pearce:  

I mean, the challenge is to make it interesting, isn’t it? If something’s not interesting, people aren’t going to want to watch it.

Of course, it’s content that’s key in there, and trying to come up with content which is interesting and memorable, and not too long-winded. Some people just go on and on. You get 45 seconds in and you’re bored. I mean, the average person’s attention span is roughly between 30 and 45 seconds to an average answer, so if you’re under 30 seconds, you’re underselling yourself, and if you’re going over 45 seconds, which I have been on a number of these answers, I’m probably starting to lose you and to bore you, but you really don’t want to go on too long. Less is more is one of the things I try and hammer home in communications training.

I know you call it media training, and often it is, but actually for many people it’s communications training. I go to people’s company’s offices, they’re never going to do any media, but they need to get better at talking to clients, either on a positive note or how do you handle difficult questions? If a client asks you a question you’re not happy answering, how do you answer it in a way that’s actually going to give them an answer that they’re content with?

Maria:   

Actually, on that, let me ask you, so if my partner asks me a question that I don’t want to answer, how do I deflect it?

James Pearce:

Well, this is free media training you’re getting.

Maria: 

Oh, yes, thank you. Thank you.

James Pearce:                      

It’s the ABC, a lot of it’s about the ABC. So, acknowledgement is really important. Say, for example, something’s gone wrong in a company, and I say to the boss, “How serious is this crisis?” Now, if that boss spends the next minute or so saying how serious the crisis is, that boss is probably saying all sorts of things that the boss doesn’t want to say. If the boss goes, “Well, isn’t is a lovely, warm day in London today?” That boss is looking like an idiot because they’re deflecting the question completely. You need to have something in between, and that’s where we bring in what we call the ABC technique.

The A is for acknowledgement, and that is the important bit really. If you can acknowledge a question and move on, it doesn’t look like you’re deflecting. The acknowledgement to, “How serious is this crisis?” Might simply be something like, “Clearly we’ve still got some big issues to resolve here.” You haven’t hidden away, but that’s only two seconds.

The B is for bridge. The most common way to bridge, to take it back to where you want to get to is “but.” “Clearly we’ve got some big issues to sort out here, but,” and then the C is continue.

You’re C, Maria, is whatever you want to talk about, so if it’s your partner giving you grief, you’re taking yourself back to where you want to get to, and your C could be whatever. “Clearly, we’ve got some issues to sort out here, but I’m really looking forward to going to the theatre on Saturday night,” or whatever you’re comfortable talking about. It’s getting the acknowledgement right is the one of the keys to handling difficult questions.

Maria:  

That’s brilliant. I’m going to look out for that when politicians are deflecting, but also that’s quite useful. It’s not usually that he’s in trouble. It’s usually that I’m in trouble.

Let’s talk about your corporate work. How did you first start working with corporates, and what were they asking you to do? Was it the communications training?

James Pearce:    

A lot of it was confidence stuff and even hosting panels. Even when I was at the BBC, I used to love hosting panel sessions. The trouble with being a BBC correspondent is you can say yes to something, but you can never 100% say yes because I’m on call, and if a big football manager has resigned that morning, or something, I can’t say to my boss, “I’m really sorry, I’m hosting a panel discussion in the middle of Birmingham, and I’m not going to be in London until the evening,” because obviously I was on a staff contract, whereas now as a freelance, I can take a booking and stick to it.

I host something, for example, called the Sport Industry Breakfast Club, which meets every few months. I’ve done that for quite a few years now, and they get one or two senior sports executives onto a platform, and people in the industry pay to come and listen over breakfast, but that’s two or three hundred people. I do quite a few things like that, or conference moderating.

Since going freelance, I’ve got more of the conference hosting stuff as well, which I just enjoy. It’s a very different skill, talking to an audience that you can see, rather than talking to a camera. In some ways, I think it’s much harder talking to people you can see. If I talk to a camera, and I tell a joke, I just assume the whole world is laughing with me. You talk to an audience, and no one laughs, you’ve kind of fallen flat. You have to make sure the content is probably better if you’re talking to an audience.

Maria:   

Yes, true. You get immediate feedback, don’t you?

James Pearce: 

Yes

Maria:  

You’re one of our favourite conference hosts, and you’ve said you’ve done a fair bit of hosting, but there’s a lot of companies that don’t bring in a professional host for their conference. What do you think a professional host adds to an event that perhaps somebody who isn’t experienced or trained to do it wouldn’t add?

James Pearce:  

I guess, someone who’s obviously comfortable in front of people talking, but the most important thing everyone says when you sit down to plan a conference, it’s the timings. Everyone squeezes everything into these tight time schedules; they’re three hour slots, or they’re one-day conference, whatever it might be. If people start going over, the whole thing falls apart. You book the venue until five o’clock, and you’ve got to be out. You can’t be only on speaker number three when the time comes to kick you out of the room because you’re off.

I think what someone external brings, more than anything, is the timing. I was a broadcaster, I’m used to working to times. If I’m on the six o’clock news for one minute, 10 seconds, I have to speak for one minute, 10 seconds. I can’t go a second over because the whole program has to stop at a certain time. As an outsider, if someone is starting to go on too long, or you’re moderating a panel, you have to shut them up.

It’s quite difficult for someone who’s working in the same company to maybe politely, or not so politely, tell people to stop. You’ve got to be in control. I think being external, it’s much easier to have that whip and to keep people under your command than it is for someone who’s got to go back and face them on a Monday morning, especially when potentially the person who’s moderating or hosting isn’t as senior as the person they’ve got on the platform. If you’re from the same company, if it’s your boss talking, it’s very difficult to tell your boss that they need to get off the stage.

Maria: 

Yes, true and also dealing with live things as they happen, which obviously, you’re used to being live, you’ve dealt with all sorts of things, and I’m sure you’ll maybe share a story with us a bit later.

If you are hosting a conference for a day, how much preparation goes into that for you?

James Pearce:   

Quite a lot. It depends a bit about how much you’re moderating, and how much you’re linking. If you’re throwing to other people, it’s more getting a feel for the company. If you’re moderating and asking questions, obviously you’ve got to make sure that those are the right questions. People are traveling often a long way to a conference. I love the research.

It’s the same with the media training as well. I can’t go to a media training session with someone who’s senior from a FTSE 100 company and not know everything about that company because I’m not going to give them the right training. I can’t turn up for a company’s conference and not know everything about that company because I’m not going to be guiding them in the right direction. I’m not going to be telling the right jokes. A lot of research. You’ve got to kind of live and breathe the company, especially if you are going to be asking some questions. You’ve got to make sure you’re asking the right questions.

For me, that’s part of the fun. Of course, it’s enjoyable when you’re actually on the stage doing it, but learning about new things, hopefully for anybody, is a good skill to have, and is something which is challenging your brain and expanding it. It’s a positive thing to do and hosting events definitely makes you have to do that.

Maria:   

I think that’s invaluable, as you said, also asking the right questions. I mean, many clients will script the host, but what’s great about somebody who’s got journalist experience, who’s got presenting and broadcasting experience, you will actually potentially come up with a question they haven’t thought of or phrase it in a way that maybe they hadn’t thought to phrase it, so that’s great value, I think.

James Pearce: 

It’s not only that, obviously it’s listening to what somebody says. If someone gives you six questions to ask, and the first answer someone says something really interesting, but you’re given a second question which has nothing to do with that first answer, you’re not getting the best out of the speaker.

Part of the skill of obviously being a journalist is to listen to what somebody’s saying. The weakest journalists, or the inexperienced journalists are always ones who turn up to any interview with just a list of six questions that they ask. Good journalists are the ones who develop what they ask depending on what somebody says. If somebody says something interesting, you’ve got to follow that lead.

Maria:  

And that’s a good lead because I’m going to completely change the subject and not go further into this wonderful answer, and take you on a totally different topic. As an inexperienced journalist, I wanted to ask you about your own quiz game. So, you’ve created a quiz game with the creators of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? First of all, why? And then what do you do with that, and who can play it, and how can they play it?

James Pearce:    

I love this. The reason it started was because when I first started working with the Football Association, running their media training, they have an amazing Centre of Excellence in Derbyshire called St. George’s Park. You’ve seen some coverage of it during the World Cup because it’s one of the reasons the England squads have been doing well because they’re now starting to go through this Centre of Excellence.

I spent quite a lot of time working there with the media training for the England squads, but they have a lot of conferences there. There’s a big Hilton Hotel complex there. A lot of people go through for conferences, and the Football Association said to me, “James, can you give any help for how we can entertain these people because it’s a brilliant facility and people love coming here, but once we’ve shown them the England dressing room and the England training pitch, there’s not a vast amount to do.”

I came up with a couple of ways to entertain them. One is we have this commentary challenge. People go into a little booth and they become TV commentators, and we get a commentator down to help them. They commentate on famous England goals over the years.

The second is an interactive quiz, which often, being St. George’s Park, is a sports quiz, but it doesn’t have to be a sports quiz. It can be any topic you want. It’s all done with electronic keypads, but rather than just doing a quiz that can alienate people because some tables are already miles behind after 10 questions, we divide it over a dinner. It’s spread out, which is better.

We have one round of 10 questions before the starter, and each round there’s a winner, a team wins, so a table will win. The scores get reset after each round, so you can come last in the first round, and still end up winning the quiz as I’ll explain in a moment. We have three different rounds during the dinner, and each round will be a completely separate topic and separate winner, and obviously, it’s all electronic, so you can see on the screen who’s winning as you go through. The three winning teams come to the front of the room, and we have these proper great podiums, which they go to, and stand behind big podium buzzers, and that’s a fastest finger on a button round. At the end of that, obviously the winning podium team is the winner of the quiz.

It’s a really good way to keep people engaged because you can be the quiz round that’s after dinner, having had a disastrous first two rounds, and still get on the podium and still win. There’s about 10 to 12 questions each round, so we keep them quite short, maybe 10 minutes each round, so that the people are staying engaged.

For me, rather than just having an after dinner speaker, I think it’s quite a good way to do something a little bit different. People love it. The podium round is always very, very competitive at the end with these great, big buzzers and people slamming their hands on the buzzers and seeing if they can light up their buzzer before anybody else.

Maria:  

That sounds great fun. What are the best numbers for that, or can you be very flexible?

James Pearce: 

It can be very flexible. You can have sort of 50-odd tables, or so, so 500 people easily. You could have 50 buzzers among 50 people, and everyone have their own buzzer as an individual, so yes, anywhere from sort of 10 people to five or six hundred people really.

When you get to the podium, if one table qualifies, obviously you don’t have all 10 people on the podium trying to press the same buzzer. They all nominate two or three people to be their podium people with their hands on the buzzer.

Maria: 

Perfect. Sounds brilliant fun.

You mentioned after dinner, so I’m going to put you on the spot here. To close the podcast, I’m going to ask you to share one of your favourite anecdotes from all your years of broadcasting. Are you able to do that for us?

James Pearce:  

Yes, I’m sure I can.

You mentioned Auntie’s Bloopers, which is the BBC show of things that have gone wrong, and I always love it when things go wrong because you know that no one switches off. Some people panic when things go wrong, but I just think that no one’s ever switching off when things go wrong. They love it. Auntie’s Bloopers actually pay you when they use your broadcast, so actually, I always say it’s probably the only job in the world you get paid to mess up because if something goes wrong you have to sign a contract to agree to let the BBC rebroadcast it again. They pay you not a vast sum, but they do pay you for doing it, so you get paid per mistake. Can you imagine working for Amazon, or someone, and getting paid to lose someone’s order? It wouldn’t quite happen.

One of my bloopers, which is probably one of my best known bloopers, was back in 2002, the football World Cup, and the football World Cup then was shared between Japan and South Korea. South Korea did amazingly well. In fact, they got to the semi-final, and each round bigger and bigger crowds were coming out into the streets of Seoul to watch the matches.

South Korea were playing Germany in a semi-final in Seoul, and because of the time difference, the kick off time in the evening in Seoul was breakfast time in the UK, or leading up to the kick off was breakfast time.

I was doing live broadcasting for the BBCs breakfast program, and there were over a million people on the streets of Seoul, and we’d hired or got permission to use the roof of the Mayoral, the Mayor’s building, so we could look down on a crowd. It was an amazing view, but the noise was indescribable, I mean, you could not hear a thing. It was just singing, dancing, cheering. I couldn’t hear a thing.

I’d gone inside and spoken to the presenter of the program who I knew was going to be doing the interview, someone called Michael Peshart, and I said, “Michael, I’m not going to hear a word you say, so you’ve got to tell me what you’re going to ask me and I will answer those questions, but I’m not going to hear them, so please just stick to what you said you’re going to ask.” We agreed three questions.

I got up onto the roof and I hear the first question. I can’t hear anything, but I give my answer. The second question, the same. I didn’t hear anything, but gave my answer. Third question, same, gave my answer. I thought I’d finished. Of course, then I hear in my ear, “Blah, blah, blah, blah,” and I was like, “I have no idea, Michael.” I was thinking, “You idiot, you know I can’t answer anything else if I haven’t heard it.”

I did the normal technique of, “I’m really sorry, I couldn’t quite hear what you said, but let me tell you this,” and I told him something I hadn’t said before. What you then do as a broadcaster to be safe is give a really long answer, so there was no danger of them asking you another question. I went on, and on, and just filled the air time.

What I didn’t realise was actually what Michael Peshart said to me was, “James, thank you very much. Enjoy the match.” I started answering the question, and they had to go to the weather forecast, and I, of course, didn’t stop. I went on, and on, and on. They couldn’t shut me up. When they were trying to talk to me, I couldn’t hear them say, “Stop, stop.”

In the end, they went to the weather forecast, and what they did was very clever, I think the director thinking on her feet. In the corner of the weather forecast, you can see me carrying on talking all over the screen.

It got to the end of the weather forecast and I was still talking. One of my favourite bloopers.

Maria:  

Fantastic. He should have given you some hand gestures. I’d have given you some hand gestures.

James, thank you so much. That was a real pleasure. Thank you for your time.

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Interview with Business Leader and expert on Transformational & Entrepreneurial Leadership for Success, Chris Roebuck

Maria’s guest on the show is Chris Roebuck. Chris has vast experience as a leader. He was Global Head of Leadership at UBS during the implementation of one of the most successful corporate transformations. This period now forms a Harvard Business School case study on transforming organisational performance. Chris has also worked in government and public sector on major change and leadership projects, from UK National Health Service and local government to London Underground PFI partnership. Chris is currently visiting professor of transformational leadership at Cass Business School in London. In addition, he has served as a military officer and now works as an executive coach and mentor across a range of different sectors, helping senior executives to be more successful.

Maria:  

Chris, welcome to the Speaking Business podcast. Thank you very much for joining me. So let’s go back in time, and let’s start and review. Because you’ve done a lot of things, you’ve worn lots of hats, you’ve been a military leader, a professor, a corporate leader. What were you thinking when you were child, what was it that you wanted to be? What was the plan?

Chris Roebuck: 

There wasn’t a plan, I just wanted to do something that I found interesting. I suppose at that point in time, in the very early stages, I wanted to be a train driver because everybody in those days wanted to be a train driver. So boys anyway. So go to school, off to university, Economics degree, University College London. The plan was to go into some profession, probably accountancy with an economics degree, but I got persuaded in my second year to join a students’ union committee. That ran all the catering services, including the bars for about 8000 undergraduates, by a friend of mine who was chairing the committee.

I was on that for nine months, then he resigned because he actually needed to go and do some academic work, to get a degree. I ended up chairing the thing, and it was very, very strange that suddenly at the age of 20 I discovered that I was running what was a … in those days, a commercial organisation with a purchasing consortium, albeit with professional full-time advisors, I should add. But turning over about a million pounds a year and doing all sorts of stuff.

So suddenly at the age of 20, there was this academic world I was in but also there was this real world business. We have to make sure these bars, these food outlets produce food for 8000 undergraduates and postgraduates, should that be required, at a price that is beneficial to them as students. So that injected the world of business. I then went on to sort of study accountancy, but that same friend was also an officer in the British Army at the same time and I was an officer in the reserve army, so I was having a schizophrenic lifestyle with one part during my working day, I was the lowest of the low within the accountancy profession, photocopying everything that could possibly be photocopied and then on the other side in the evenings and at other times, I was actually in charge of about 20 people in the reserve army. So, this schizophrenic lifestyle got to the point where in the end I just said, “OK.”

My friend actually took me out for a drink and said, “Look, you need to join the regular army because you’re obviously not happy photocopying.” I know it was a wild move but actually five years in the regular army was preferable to three years photocopying.

Maria:

Amazing. Your friend has got a lot to answer for. He sort of led you, didn’t he really?

Chris Roebuck: 

Yes, he plied me with large amounts of alcohol before asking the critical question. To be honest, I’m being flippant here but the other decisions I’ve made in my life, it’s something where an opportunity appears to do something that you haven’t done before, to do something that is a challenge, and to do something that would add to your experience in a different way to the things you’ve done before.

Clearly, the Army itself had a significant impact on me personally. It also gave me some skills and abilities that I now use naturally on a day-to-day basis, that I don’t even attribute to the Army. For example, one of the things that is absolutely rammed into your head is the ability to time manage, prioritise, delegate, communicate, and give feedback in your sleep under extreme stress.

So, within the world I work in now, outside the army, I can look at other leaders and I can instantly see whether there are weaknesses that they have in how they implement that in their organisations. At the most basic level of being a leader, because the benchmark to which I was developed in that is probably one of the highest bench marks you can have. So, it was really interesting that many of the things that I was taught in the military, I didn’t realise how valuable they were until years later.

Maria:   

Although it is interesting because people do believe that the military is one of the best places to learn about leadership. So when you left the military, how did you get back into the corporate world?

Chris Roebuck:  

What was interesting was I was offered a number of roles. I was moving from a world where I was responsible for the life and death decisions for 50 soldiers. Most people don’t also realise that I was in Germany and their families were with many of them. Therefore, I was personally responsible for the well-being of not only them but the well-being of their families as well. That’s a pretty significant responsibility at the age of 24/25.

Therefore, to then come out of that environment and go into a world where you’re doing a standard eight-hour day and you don’t have that level of responsibility, and it isn’t that challenging. You suddenly think, “This is rather boring to be perfectly honest, compared to what I was doing before.” So interestingly, I ended up advising SMEs on how to develop leadership and how to perform better. I found that really stimulating. The problem with SMEs is you can look at the big corporates.

You know, large organisations have money, therefore, they have HR directors, they have finance directors, they have marketing directors. They have all of these things that make life easier. But the SME, as the entrepreneur grows and develops, does not have an HR director, does not often have a finance director, does not have a marketing director. They’re entrepreneurs because they thought up a great idea, but they’re not necessarily great leaders because that’s one of the challenges of SMEs as they grow and develop.

So I found it really rewarding working with SMEs, helping those leaders start to understand what leadership is about. Because you get to a point as an SME grows, that the original entrepreneur either has to become a good leader or they have to hand over to a manager who can do the managing for them. For many of them, that’s very, very difficult because it’s their baby, so to speak. That was really rewarding.

I work with people, everything from small publishing companies with 10, 20 people, to a film, promotion companies in Soho, who promoted blockbuster films with posters and radio ads. So it was a complete spectrum. I think it was a really interesting sort of seven or eight years. What it taught me above all else was that actually the country runs on SMEs. Actually, we know that 70 to 80% of people are employed by SMEs. It’s these organisations that are working hard against a background of many people within those organisations not actually having the critical skills to be successful.  So, giving them some of those critical skills was really rewarding and I could actually see a difference in people’s ability to perform. The publishing company with 20/25 people in, the Managing Director became better at dealing with people. He wasn’t just focused on the task, he understood that dealing with the people then enabled them to be more motivated to do the task. So, that was really interesting but then again, I got to the stage, “I think I’ll do a change. I’ve done this, this is really interesting, let’s move on.”

So, I did an MBA, and that introduced me to all the other elements of how a business works in terms of finance, operations, marketing, strategy, etc. That then moved me into what could be described as the more corporate world of the bigger organisation. I did some consultancy work for various organisations, but I think the move again that was critical was when I was approached by somebody who said, “Look, would you be interested in working with London Underground on the Public-Private Partnership because of your military background?” Because I’m a military engineer, etc.

So, I got involved with the Public-Private Partnership setup for London Underground as it now is. Which was effectively taking a 50-year public sector organisation, chopping it into four parts, privatising three parts and keeping one part under public sector control. Now, if you think about that, that is a very drastic thing to do. Particularly when it’s also being done with the government interfering because it’s London Underground, against completely determined union opposition and that then taught me a lot about how an organisation works on a bigger scale, highly unionised environment, public surface ethos.

Having to transform into a customer service ethos, the movement from, “We have passengers, we run our trains, the passengers use our trains.” To, “We actually have customers and we need to provide customer service rather than basically treat them like cattle and they sort of get on, get off and that’s all. We just run the trains.”

That was another example of something really interesting that I was offered unexpectedly but I thought, “Wow, this could be fun.” It was challenging and it was fun, and it taught me a lot about that particular type of organisation.

Maria:  

Excellent, thank you for sharing that. Can you tell us a little bit about the UBS and the Harvard case study? That’s quite sensational that you have a case study about some work you’ve done there?

Chris Roebuck:  

Yes, that was interesting. So, after London Underground, I was then approached by KPMG to help them setup an outsourcing business around the development of the Financial Services Authority, who then went to financial institutions and said, “Hey guys, we want training records to make sure you’ve got trainers who are actually capable and qualified to do training.” So there was a panic amongst the financial services community saying, “How can we get all these record together quickly?” So KPMG set up a business to do that.

I did that for a year, which introduced me to professional services, introduced me to the financial services’ sector. Then KPMG was approached by HSBC to get me to go into HSBC’s Investment bank to help that investment bank, which was a small and new part of HSBC. Because HSBC is basically a large, global, retail bank. But that introduced me to the challenges of highly-focused, highly-intelligent people who want to make money and how do you get them to actually think about what’s going on around them, not just the cash that’s coming in? Now, I did that for a year.

The reason I mentioned that was critical setup for the UBS. Because a couple of people at UBS had heard what I’d been doing at HSBC and they approached and said, “We have a completely new world at UBS.” UBS was created by actually putting together about six or seven separate organisations. So, in 2002, UBS wasn’t really one organisation. It was actually five, six, maybe seven organisations. All of which, to some degree were doing their own thing. They were making money but the concept was that actually if we utilise the knowledge of all of the people across all of these seven organisations, we must be able to make even more money. Because there must be people who are customers of this part, who could be customers of this part.

One of the other things that most people don’t know is that financial services institutions, often, some of their people, just to give customers what the customers want, will occasionally use products from a competitor. That sounds completely mad but it does happen. So, the UBS idea was to create an organisation where everything happened within it. It was called the integrated business model, the creation of one UBS. So you can see what the challenge was. Six separate organisations that never talked to each other before, had always done their own thing. The brief is to make them all work together in harmony to achieve a greater whole rather than having the individual parts.

So, the reason I went there was because the HR director at HSBC said, “You must go. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to build something where there is nothing.” That’s what I and my colleagues on the sort of leadership team of that project did. Which was effectively to take the top 500 leaders of that institution, get them together on a regular basis and turn them into one team of people who were all aligned to what the wider organisation wanted as well as to their own success. So, that they were networked such as that they trusted each other, they would pick up the phone to each other, they would refer business to each other.

Now that sounds a reasonably logical thing to do, but getting 500 people to want to do that, rather than just focus on making money for themselves, has an element of complexity in it. You can’t just tell them to do it. You have to effectively create a complete ecosystem where everything they see around them, every experience they have is pointing them in the same direction. So, it’s about consistency of messaging, it’s about hitting the right buttons mentally, emotionally and rationally for the right people. We spent five years doing this.

Because it went so well, the organisation’s performance increased, example, 235% increase in profit in two years, brand value up over 50% in two years. But what was interesting was that the headcount went down. So, we actually were getting higher performance from fewer people to make more money. That’s the point at which Harvard approached us and said, “Look, no one has done this before. This is an example of excellence and we’d like to make it a case study.”

Maria:  

That’s fantastic. Fantastic, brilliant, thank you for sharing that. I love that. I’m going to talk about a little bit about some of the things you’ve shared with your audience. I know that when you’re talking and speaking to audiences, you often ask them to reflect on who their best boss was and what their attributes were, Who the best leader they have experienced?

Chris Roebuck:  

Yes.

Maria:

Who was your best boss?

Chris Roebuck:  

I think one off my best bosses was in the Army but to some degree, I think that that’s an exception in that it’s not fair for me to say I had a best boss in the Army because obviously, the people in the army are pretty well-trained to be pretty good bosses, that’s the idea. I think one of the best bosses I certainly had was the HR director at HSBC’s Investment Bank. When I say that, that particular person had a reputation for being very tough. But the interesting thing was that there was a clarity about what was required, that what was required wasn’t imposed, it was agreed. But once you’d agreed it, you had to deliver it.

The reason within that world that it was important to be tough to get it right is that pretty much in all the areas that I’ve ever worked, probably I would say one of the ones where perfection has to be delivered every time, on time, is the world of investment banking. In that world, there are no second chances. OK, you might be able to make a small mistake once but your reputation can be destroyed. The degree of perfection might sound perhaps going over the top, but I’ll just give you an example.

In a 10 slide presentation, if one of the bullet points is one font size out from the other bullet points, somebody will spot it and they will take it as an example of failure to have attention to detail, failure to deliver excellence. The difference between 11 points and 12 points is minimal but the people within those sort of institutions, because of their own total focus on success, expect total focus on success from everybody else. It is a very, very tough, you either sink or swim environment.

Now, for me that was good because adding to the military experience, it gave me a level of clarity about, “You need to get this right.” The other thing it did was as an HR type person, what it also does is it makes you totally clearly about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what you want from the audience, so to speak. So that meant that if you went in and had a meeting with a really senior leader within that context, you had to get their attention in terms of what the benefit was to them of their conversation with you in under the first minute. Otherwise, they would lose interest and you might as well walk out the door.

So you had to have complete clarity, consistency, simplicity in terms of what you are saying. “So, this is what I’m proposing, this is why I’m proposing it, this is how much it’s going to cost, this is how long it’s going to take, these are going to be the benefits, do you want to do it?” None of these fluffy, over-egg language. Anything more than five slides would be thrown in the bin.

Maria: 

I like that, I like clarity, I like getting straight to the point, I like things that are direct. So you’re talking my language. Now, you say also that being an effective leader isn’t complicated or time consuming. You say it’s quite simple. Is there anything that you can share about making leadership more simple?

Chris Roebuck: 

Yes. We over complicate it, I mean, we introduce leadership model. What does a leadership model do? A leadership mode analyses people’s behaviour, puts it into a model, then the models are given to people to say, “If you follow this model your behaviour will be right.” My feel is, why not take out the middleman, take out the models, just tell them what the behaviour is?

Maria:    

Very simple.

Chris Roebuck:     

Yes, exactly. But then also, that’s about you telling people what the behaviour is to be successful. The simple point, going back to your previous question is that anyone that’s been in a job for more than a couple of years knows what being a successful leader is about. Because they’ve had good bosses, and they’ve had bad bosses. One of the things I will do with an audience and in fact I did this yesterday. I will stand up in front of, I don’t know, 300 people, and I’ll say, “Look, think of the best boss you ever had. What did that person do on a day to day basis that made them so special, that made you give your best?”

You say, “OK, fine. How long do you give them?” I give them one minute. I don’t give them five minutes, they get one minute maximum to think of two or three things that that person did. Then I ask them what they’ve either thought about or written on their piece of paper in just one minute. I will then flip chart what they say for a maximum of two to three minutes. Within that time, I guarantee I will get 12 to 14 things from that audience. I will them ask the audience if they all agree that if they get that, they give super performance and everybody does. What I know is that the list they’re going to give me, I know what’s on it, because I’ve been doing this for years.

What every single audience I have dealt with around the world in the last seven, eight years has given me, has been the same list. It doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter the culture, it doesn’t matter the sector, it doesn’t matter the level in the organisation. The list is always the same to the degree that I then actually have a slide of my consolidated list, which will completely match the list that the audience gives me on the flip chart. The reason it’s so powerful is that it’s things like lets me get on with things, ask me for my ideas, develops my career, builds trust, acts with integrity, helps me develop as an individual, backs me up, understands I make genuine mistakes, shows they care about me.

When you analyse that list, what is amazing is that, A, everybody knows it and probably most leaders are already doing some of it already. B, that doing more that list, costs nothing. Doing more of that list can be done more of tomorrow because it doesn’t require a course. What is really interesting, the people then realise that when you analyse that list consistently, if we have a list of 12, 13 things, probably only one of those actually relates to the practicalities of delivering the task specifically.

80% consistently relate to the emotional relationship between that individual and that boss. It suddenly dawns on people that getting the best of people is not about telling them what to do, it’s about creating an environment where they’re inspired to do the job.

Maria:

Yes, beautiful, love that. It’s interesting because you’ve joined a company and you leave a boss. It’s what I would say.

Chris Roebuck:  

That’s true. It’s true. What is also interesting is that that list confirms all the data. The data is, for example, that an employee’s decision to give high performance is 60% rational, 40% emotional and in organisations, we shy away from talking about the emotional because it can’t be quantified, it’s just there. One of the things I now get audiences to accept and to think about is quite simply this, the human brain has not changed significantly in the last 250,000 years.

There is a quote that I often use which is ‘pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work’. I ask people where they think that quote came from because that’s about employee engagement. That’s about the modern world of work, that’s about creating an environment where people are enjoying themselves to produce perfect work. Everybody in the audience says, “Oh, that must have been Steve Jobs or that must have been Richard Branson.” No, it’s Aristotle 500 BC. The simple fact is that what human beings want from work, what is going on up here is not time related, it is consistent.

The comments about what will people want from their leaders in five years. Everyone will still want praise and recognition, everyone will still want to know their boss genuinely cares about them, everyone will still want their boss to ask them for ideas. Now, the technology that supports that, the culture within the organisation and how it operates may be different. But those things are consistent and that’s what people want. I think it’s really powerful to get people to understand that what drives behaviour at work is quite interesting.

Before we started understanding more about what’s going on up here, the idea was, “We are an organisation, this is the way we like work to be done. You are an employee, you will do the work this way because this is how we want it done.” Over the last 25, 30 years, since the Second World War in terms of certain things, but certainly with the understanding of neuroscience and the brain and all the rest of it. We’ve now got ourselves to the point where we can say, “Actually, organisations like to work like this but the brain works like this.”

So, you have to choices, you either say, “Right, let’s ignore how the brain works and force people to work in a way that their brain doesn’t like or let’s adapt how we work to leverage how the brain works best.” Now, I say to people, “Look, which of those are you going to do? So what do you think? Do you think your great strategy is going to beat 250,000 years of human evolution? Because to be blunt, it’s not.” So accepting just the most simple thing.

Example, there’s a neuroscience response about reciprocation. We as human beings, if somebody says something nice to us, there’s a switch that floods our brain with dopamine and we go, “Oh, that’s nice.” You think, ” That person said something nice to me, now therefore, they must be a nice person. So I’m going to react in a positive way.” You then react in a positive way. They think, “Oh, this person has reacted positively to me, therefore …” You start this chemical-driven, virtuous circle.

Equally, if what he said is threatening, cortisol comes in it and the reverse happens. Now, it’s not just about what your boss says, going to your point about people leave bosses, not organisations. But, it’s also about what the organisation does in terms of presenting, “This is why we want you to do it, this is why we need to transform and change.” The fundamental thing that people need to understand therefore, is that if people are not fully on board with what you’re asking them to do as a leader, it is probably not a conscious decision. It is probably a subconscious response to them perceiving something negative.

When leaders have that fundamental understanding that that person is not responding positively not because they’re a bad person, but potentially because you haven’t presented what you’re asking them to do in a way that causes the subconscious to be positive about it. The responsive leader is really interesting because senior transformation leaders and change leaders I’ve presented it to and really senior people have come up to me afterwards and said, “You know what, I never knew that much of that reaction was powered subconsciously. That explains why this worked and this didn’t work back in my career.”

So, that’s what I try and do. I try and give even the most senior leaders a different perspective on how to make themselves successful. It’s interesting that all of those things that are assumed are not necessarily by leaders, are not necessarily the reality of how life works. It’s not bad people, it’s your bad presentation of what you want them to do that triggers a natural defence mechanism that they can’t even stop.

Maria:  

Chris, listen, I could talk to you all day and we’re gone overtime but I’m going to ask you one last question.

Chris Roebuck: 

Go on.

Maria: 

I might have to have you back again, but I want to ask you one last question. Can anybody become a leader?

Chris Roebuck: 

Yes.

Maria: 

That’s a really positive note to leave it on.

Chris Roebuck:

The reason is this, right, I will caveat that.

Maria:   

Thank you.

Chris Roebuck:  

Everybody can become a competent leader and get stuff done. There are the basics of time management, delegation, communication and giving feedback that from my experience of the military, can be systematised. You can train people to do that in a structured way. They can then do that for their teams, which means they’ll be able to get tasks done. They might not be a great leader, they might not be an inspiring leader but they will get stuff done. Then, those that are going to be the brilliant leaders will also have that emotional intelligence. That ability to react with people that then makes the inspiration that you have to add on the top of that mechanical process easier.

So, in fact, yes. Everybody, because I’ve seen it done and done it myself, everybody even if you think they have no emotional intelligence whatsoever can actually, if given the mechanics to get the task under control, then have the bandwidth to start developing their emotional capability as well. So everybody can be a leader. We have to remember, the reason most leaders are ineffective at work is because their organisations haven’t given them the basic skills of time management, prioritisation, delegation and giving feedback that the Army gave me. So, those leaders are constantly firefighting to try and get control of tasks they’re losing control of. That means they’re not spending time with people.

So, the people think, “Oh, this leader just wants to concentrate on the task, they’re not interested in me.” So it creates a vicious circle. What is really annoying for me, when I ask audiences, “How many of you have been given any training at any point in your career on how to delegate effectively?” I promise you, never have I seen more than 30% of the hands go up. So, we’re in a situation where 70% of the leaders out there have not been taught how to delegate effectively day to day, when that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do for their job. It is complete madness. Training someone to delegate effectively takes no more than two hours.

Maria: 

Fantastic. Well, that’s good news. It’s good to know that anybody can be a leader. So I’m going to go off now and talk nicely to someone. Thank you very much.

Chris Roebuck:   

My pleasure Maria, my pleasure

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Interview with investor, author and serial entrepreneur, Tony Fish

Maria’s guest on the show is Maria’s guest is Tony Fish. Tony is an author, investor, serial entrepreneur, and maverick. He’s a visiting fellow at Henley Business School for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and an EC expert for big data.  He is entrepreneur in residence at Bradford School of Management and Law, lecturer in innovation and entrepreneurship at the London Business School, and lecturer in AI and future of disruptive technology at the London School of Economics.

Maria:

Tony, I’m surprised you’ve had time to join me with all of those things that you do. How are you?

Tony Fish: 

I’m very well. Thank you very much, Maria. Yes, I’m very lucky that I have a very diverse portfolio of things that I can get interested in and follow through my passions.

Maria:

Yes, you like to keep busy. What did you want to be when you were a kid? What were your thoughts?

Tony Fish: 

I’m severely dyslexic, slightly autistic, and somewhere on the Asperger’s scale. So, when I was a kid, I did one thing, which was probably climb trees, rode my bike too fast, and avoided everything to do with formal education and schooling. One of my proudest things is I tell my parents is I don’t even have an English O Level.

Maria: 

Brilliant. I don’t think this should be an advert though, should it?

Tony Fish: 

Well, yes and no. It’s one of those things that people get obsessed with qualifications and schooling, and actually reality, your question is, “What did you want to do at school?” Mine was go and have fun, and reality is I can’t manage to maintain that. Yes, and therefore, I’ve never been employed and just goes to show that there is an complete alternative universe out there to just following the same routine that everybody else has done.

Maria: 

Excellent, but you did qualify as an engineer, so how did you become an engineer if you didn’t study?

Tony Fish:  

Yes. Basically, I lied. It was really easy. Thankfully, I went to university at a point where they didn’t verify and have the ability to check what you filled in on the form, so when the applications to university came along, I’d done night school in HNC higher national in electronics and engineering, which actually interested me. You filled in the form and one of the boxes was, “How many O levels have you got?” I didn’t quite fill it in, so I skipped over all of those bits, and nobody really checked. It was all OK.

I got into Reading and read my engineering there, and at the end of the first term, I handed in my first report, which was on goodness knows what. My lecturer gave it back to me. He was Professor Atkins at the engineering school, and he threw it back to me and said I’d failed because my English was so poor. He said, “I bet you haven’t even got an English O level.” I very proudly informed him that I didn’t, of which he went anaphylactic because you had to have an English O level to get into university.

Maria:   

Brilliant. Fantastic. Now, you say you’re a maverick. This is your words. Why are you a maverick would you say? Is it because of what you did with your studies and that you chose a different road, is it because you’ve never been employed, or is there more to it? What else have you done that we don’t know about?

Tony Fish: 

Oh, I’ve climbed some of the world’s highest mountains, done really stupid things. I used the word maverick because I’m not trying to be awkward. It’s just that I’m very bad at just going with the flow. Oddly enough, as a fish, everyone sees people as shoals of fish, and reality is I’m a fish who’s swimming up the stream as opposed to the fishes that are swimming down the stream. Lots of life is people want ease and they like to swim with the flow and just swim down, and I’m not. I will find a way to swim against the flow. It’s just because I enjoy it. So, If you go for what makes you happy, then that’s why.

Maria:  

I love that. That’s really cool. You did your engineering. You’ve come out. You’re qualified, and as you say, nobody’s ever employed you, so did you decide when you started your first business, “I have to do it so that I’ve got some employment,” or did you have a brilliant idea? How did your first business come about?

Tony Fish: 

Because I don’t have any qualifications, employers don’t employ you. It frustrates me that people say, “I want to be an entrepreneur.” It’s like, no, most entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs because they have no choice. Entrepreneur is not a choice. You end up doing it because there is nothing else left for you to do, so you create a business because actually it’s the right thing to do because that is the thing that you’re left with.

Did I have a bright idea? So, this is now 1990, so it’s pre-web, so the internet existed. Came across a protocol called TCP/IP, help you use dial up modems working at 14.4. You could dial up a remote access server, download the still image, put it onto a TV, and then you can navigate with your remote control through still images on your TV to buy and reserve products. It was given the glorious name Electronic Home Catalogue Shopping.

Maria:   

Wow. I understand all those terms because I am of that age, but anybody younger won’t even know what dial up is. They would think, “What are we talking about here?”

Tony Fish:

Correct. We built that business up and got some funding. We listed the business and eventually sold it to Microsoft for $770 million in 1997. I have some wonderful bits of paper from some venture capitalists who basically said, “The idea of anybody doing electronic shopping at home is stupid. Do not ever darken our doors again.”

Maria: 

They said the idea of doing electronic shopping at home is stupid. Oh my goodness. They’ve obviously not been sitting in my house. Fantastic, fantastic. As a serial entrepreneur and investor, you’ve been really successful at growing businesses very fast. What is it do you think that successful businesses have that those that fail don’t have? What are the elements? Is it easy to see that or not?

Tony Fish:

I’ve learned over time a process, and I always come back to the same one thing that differentiates a high growth business from a non-high growth business, which is the team. A team either gets it or don’t. It’s why I’m so against people saying, “I want to be mentored and coached,” and all this when you’re growing a business. If you’re growing a business, there’s not enough time to breathe, let alone to be mentored and coached.

If you’re in a place where you’re not into growth and you’re actually starting an idea, that’s fantastic, but once you’re into growth, you’ve got to run with it. The thing about growth is what you very quickly learn is what you achieve almost every week is more than you achieved the week before, and lots of people, they get very scared when they start achieving more and more and more and faster and faster and faster. Some people want more and more control, and that’s when you slow growth down. It doesn’t happen.

The other side of it is kind of like relief and you let go and you find people, it’s not just you trust, it’s people who actually can just take on the responsibilities and deliver.  As a team, you think community, which is why I always come back to team. It’s not just people capable of delivering, it’s people who also communicate what they’re about to do and deliver and manage the risks and can think through the issues. So many people don’t do those things, and that’s why growth happens to exceptional teams. Exceptional teams make things grow.

Maria: 

Wow. It’s not easy to find and put together an exceptional team, though. That’s the challenge, isn’t it?

Tony Fish: 

I come back and I was challenged about this very question, exceptional teams. I ended up by saying, “Actually, what I mean by an exceptional team is one that has diversity of thinking.”

Now, I’m very careful what I mean by diversity of thinking. In one way, I’m one of those members of the team who’s a bit dyslexic and autistic, but you also need somebody who’s an Oxford graduate who can do something, as well. You need somebody who’s an art literature person. You need somebody who’s a designer. You need lots of different people, so diversity of thought, thinking and delivery.

Now, you can get a room full of white males who have diversity of thinking, or white females, or lots of different people from lots of different backgrounds and different ethnicities, as long as you have diversity of thinking. It’s not diversity in terms of colour, race, creed, and anything else, it’s diversity in the ability to think differently because that’s how you bring together the teams who actually makes things happen.

Maria:

Really good. I like that a lot. Fantastic. That word, ethnicity, is not an easy word to say, so well done on that. I had to put my teeth in while I was listening to that. In your introduction, we said that you are an EC expert for big data. What is that?

Tony Fish: 

I spend roughly two weeks every year. EC has a pile of money under H2020 which it distributes to companies who are trying to work in big data. I’m part of the expert team who actually helps award that money, and then goes and does assessments to see if that money has been well spent. It’s helping people who understand how to use big data in projects which are going to make a difference for humanity.

Maria:    

Oh, I like that. That’s good. Brilliant. Let’s stay on the topic of data because it is such a big topic. Do you think that we as individuals give away our personal data and our identities at the end of the day too freely?  Should we be a bit more careful? Big question, big question.

Tony Fish:  

It’s a big question, and unfortunately, the subtlety in so many aspects of it is insane. You’ve talked about identity and I imagine you probably actually mean identifiers.

Maria:

Yes.

Tony Fish:

You’re talking about your name, and your name is not your identity. It’s a way of identifying who you are. Unfortunately, your name, your parent’s kind of believe they gave it to you, OK, and actually it was society who gave it to you based on a series of preferences that your parents came through. They went to the government, who then wrote down your name. That became your birth certificate, a certification of trying to prove that you are who you say you are.

There’s a whole series of problems, actually, and that record is public. On public record, if you vote, it’s your name and your address. I need it to be public to know who you are and that you can be tracked and you have voted. Why are you worried that you’re giving that piece of data away, because actually it’s public. Your date of birth is public record. So is things like your marriage certificate. It’s public record, and then people are going, “Oh, but it should be private.” It’s like, “What the hell are you talking about?” People are very confused what they mean by identity, identification, the verification of what identity or who you actually are is.

You’ve got a whole question around data, which is that information that you’re picking up because you’re moving around with your mobile phone and a pile of sensors and whatever information from your bank card to your Oyster card, and what happens to that data? We’ve argued for years and put it into silos and said it has value.

Under the latest hacks, we’ve realised that centralised data in single repositories in silos is actually more of a liability than an asset. Under new regulations of GDPR, you now have a right to get a copy of that data back, so you can now take all of your data from every different provider and put it into a single repository. Most users are never going to work out what to do with that or how to do it, so what you’ve got to find is a way to get information or that data into a single repository that has value for you.

We’re not quite there in terms of articulating these arguments to users, and we would do far better to drop words like privacy and actually turn it round and say, “I’m going to give you control,” because there is no privacy, but what you have is a choice of control, who data goes to, and how your data is used. We’ve got some of the words wrong and some of the arguments wrong and we argue some aspects of law versus actually some aspects of interpretation.

The really interesting bit of all of it is that we’re at a point of influx in what the value of data is and the value you’re going to get as a person from having data versus actually the money, being the value of that data. Just making your life easier, which is what a lot of this data could do, is worth its weight in gold.

If you use an equation and you went back and said, “We all now have washing machines and we love washing machines because actually we don’t spend two days of a week washing clothes. We can now just throw them in the washing machine and they wash,” and therefore it has value to us. The same with the dishwasher. The same actually with just cold and hot running water in the house. The same with central heating. They’re not monetary value, but they free time, and data, you’re going to have much more value to you to free more time or make things easier for you. That’s suddenly going to generate a new income for you.

Maria:

I think time is actually our most precious thing though, isn’t it really if you think about it, especially when you get to a certain age. Let’s not go into that.

Tony Fish:

Yes. We don’t have enough of it, do we?

Maria:

No, we don’t, we don’t, we don’t. That’s really interesting. I was very wrong about how I looked at it. I used the wrong terms, so that was really education for me. Thank you. The internet for me is another area which is of concern. I call it the wild wild west rather than the world-wide web. It seems to have limiting policing. There’s a lot of cowboys out there doing all sorts of things. Is that a problem? Should we be worrying about it? Should it be policed? Should we be imposing some kind of behaviours? Can we?

Tony Fish:

In a way, it’s a great question because it’s actually far wider than the internet, which is society has grown up under a centralised authority. We believe that centralisation is the best way of delivering controls. Kind of like when life was relatively simple, a few hundred years ago, and you could centralise and you could have centralised control because actually, the individual citizens were not desperately well-educated and the level of harm created to the individuals was quite limited, centralisation really worked. Actually, you could provide democracy with centralisation.

What is evident today is that our view of what democracy is, is broken and our view that centralisation as the only mechanism for delivering those controls is broken. Now we need centralisation and decentralisation as two methods of control. Neither one works better than the other and you have to pick the right one, and the same with democracy. We are moving into a different view of actually what democracy is.

When you talk about the internet, the internet is actually creating a model of change from centralisation to decentralisation. That becomes the really interesting part. Now, the level of harm currently on the internet is increasing, and so we have to find better mechanisms to be able to deliver to the individual and it’s not about privacy, it’s about control.

If somebody comes along and effectively provides abuse to you online, you should be able to have the ability to control who that is and your ability to go back and say actually that I have been harmed and what happens. That’s not about more centralisation. That is, going back to your point about identity, that’s about knowing who actually has done it and how and hopefully how you can reach them.

It will not happen in a centralised society. Therefore, we do need ideologies of decentralisation, but we do need the immutability of things like the blockchain that have come along, which says actually if you’re going to do something, we can find out who has done what. Anonymity has to disappear, but actually you will end up with a far better and more even-levelled base of democracy. We are in the change. Now, that is not the answer because that’s got to evolve again.

Maria:  

You mentioned that we’re in change, and I think there’s a lot of disruption going on and there’s a lot of fear about what’s changing. One of the big areas that we get asked about compliance and this fear around AI and what that might do in terms of how it might affect the future of work, of course there’s going to be an effect, but what do you think are the immediate effects that we might see?

Tony Fish:  

The Luddites came along as a famous bunch of individuals who broke the weaving machines in the north of England because they believed that the future of work was about to change. Most of the jobs in computing did not exist 50 years ago. In fact, most jobs that we currently do did not exist 50 years ago.

We’ve gone over the last several hundred years from less than a billion people on the planet to eight billion, yet we’ve managed to get unemployment down. This idea that suddenly technology is going to make us all redundant or unemployed is against absolutely every piece of evidence we’ve got.

One of the big issues that annoys me is that people interpret AI from what they’ve seen as Terminator, and they believe the machines are coming to kill them. Now, there’s a difference between effectively specific AI, which is something on your phone which improves the way that you actually have an experience, and generic AI, which is what we perceive as actually an individual human person as a brain being able to do something.

The generic AI, which is part of the singularity in terms of pieces of thinking when the machine becomes more powerful than the person is still a long way off. It’s a long, long, long way off. We’re just nowhere near that ability. It’ll happen at some point, but we’re nowhere near it. Specific AI, we can get loads of benefits from it.

The issue that we’ve got with AI, and it is very specific about bias, so there is no algorithm. It’s not about bias of the algorithm. It’s about bias of data sets. If you take a biased data set and put it into an algorithm that learns or into an AI that learns, what happens is you end up with a biased outcome.

If we take our existing data sets and we put them into an AI, we are going to end up with biased outcomes. Today, white males are favoured over everybody else based on data. If we take our data sets and put it into an AI, we will continue the propagation of bias for white males against everybody else. That’s not good enough. That’s just not good enough.

We’ve actually got to get the machines to learn their own ethic. That fundamentally is a change, because actually if we want to bring around better democracy and we want to bring around better ability for everybody to have the same opportunity, we’ve actually got the machines to start to take control of some of our decisions.

That is so controversial because actually it’s going to affect more than anybody else white middle class males. We’ve got these societal changes coming along. It’s quite amazing, and people will fight for control to defend themselves. To me, these are going to be some of the most interesting debates coming forward.

Maria:

This is interesting. It’s fascinating, really fascinating. Wow, OK. We haven’t got time on this podcast to go into it in the detail that we probably should, but hopefully we’ve whet some people’s appetites. What do you think of the industries that are going to be most disrupted by AI?

Tony Fish: 

I’m glad you used the word disrupted as opposed to say destroyed or lost, because too many people go, “Oh, that’s the end of say, banking or automotive.” It’s just that we’re going to go through change. As an example, I cannot wait for self-driving autonomous vehicles. Just can’t wait.

What’s interesting is the asset change. You Maria as an individual own a car. OK, that car depreciated in value 30% when you drove it off the forecourt and then on a straight line until you basically end up with a pile of rust sitting on your drive and a liability.

In a self-driving autonomous vehicle future, your vehicle if you decide to own it then becomes a pool of cars which then earns money on a daily basis. It’s not so much about changing the way manufacturing works or the way we use it. It’s actually what the asset class is going to be.

Where one asset class is going to be increased, i.e. the car, because actually it becomes a value to society, a value that may be decreasing is banking because actually, it’s just a payment mechanism. We may not need banks in the future because they’re just delivering payments.

We’re going to see changes as industries change to work out what becomes more valuable and less valuable. To me, it’s very exciting because actually all the opportunities come when people start to look at the new economic models, because they’re models that are changing from what we had.

Maria:  

That’s very exciting. I’ve actually got my self-driving car ordered, so I’m really looking forward to it. I never considered the fact that I could actually send it off to earn me some money, but-

Tony Fish: 

You won’t send it off. It will take itself.

Maria: 

It will take itself? OK. As long as it comes back when I need it, that’s fine.

Tony Fish:  

It will come back when you need it because it’s been your diary. No need to order it. It will just arrive. It will know where you want to go. It knows that you’ve got somewhere to go early. It won’t turn up half an hour early, it will turn up five minutes early, on a preference. It might turn up a minute early if you want it on that preference. Suddenly, massive change.

Maria: 

I’ve suddenly got a chauffeur.

Tony Fish:

Yes.

Maria:  

I’ve now got a chauffeur, which is one of the things I wanted. Wow. I’m really excited about that. That’s brilliant. Fantastic. Let’s talk about your speaking. Can you tell us how you got your first speaking gig? Do you remember it?

Tony Fish:  

No, I don’t. Listen, I really, really don’t. It’s probably such a long time ago. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what it was about. I’ve always been fairly relaxed. I love telling stories, so most of my speaking is trying to take a story about one thing I’ve done and how that works into a piece of learning and the piece of learning, what it allows me to do next.  I’ve kind of always done it. I just love it.

Maria: 

Yes. OK. You are very natural, I know. What are things that clients are coming to you for these days? What are the topics that you are being asked for time and time again?

Tony Fish:  

Some of the stuff you’ve covered here. AI and ethics is one that seems to be coming up on the agenda an awful lot. That’s both understanding what AI means, but also ethical considerations about what AI is.

Lots of people are now asking about blockchain, ICOs, initial coin offerings and tokens, tokenisation, because that’s kind of trendy and what the currencies mean and where they’re going. I spend a fair amount of time on that. Still, obviously, I’m nearly 20 years into digital identity, digital footprints and the value of data, and that still runs as a massive theme because people are interested in it.

A lot of about incubators and how to do innovation. Particularly, corporates drag me in wanting to understand what the hell innovation actually is. They’re usually very upset by the time I leave because innovation is not a word and people like to put down to KPIs, and actually there’s a much bigger philosophical debate around what innovation means and how you carry it forward. I’m trying to think. They’re the core topics I’m tending to focus on.

Maria:  

Excellent. OK. Because you are a bit of a serial entrepreneur, have you got some kind of venture going on the moment?

Tony Fish: 

Fairly recently, I lost my dad and my dad was diagnosed with skin cancer five years ago. I’ve built a service, which is called My Changing Skin, when that happened. It takes photographs of your skin, puts them into a little picture book, and allows you to send them to a doctor to see if your skin is changing, particularly around moles, and he had a mole that became cancerous.

We’re just going through the process of relaunching that, but in a way which actually makes it completely free and the data is owned by the users, so the way we built it originally because we couldn’t build it any other way, we centralised data. Now we’re moving the whole thing over to decentralisation and decentralised data, so that’s really exciting because it means that we can actually provide it to everybody completely free, a service to provide management of their skin. Anything that you want to know about on your body, you can now provide that in a very secure encrypted manner, which can be shared.

Maria:  

That’s great. We’d love to share that, actually, that information with our listeners because I think that’s really important. I’m very sorry about your dad, but something very good is coming out of it that hopefully you’ll prevent.

Tony Fish: 

On his deathbed, I had a chat to him and I said, “Dad, got any regrets?” He went, “No, son.” Do you know what? It kind of sets you free. We’re all going to die, and if you die in a place where actually you’ve got no regrets, job done. I want to be there.

Maria: 

Perfect, perfect. Finally, you’re a really busy, busy man. How do you spend your spare time if you have any, that is?

Tony Fish:

Spare time. Oddly enough, I love the gym, so I go to the gym a couple of times a week. I really enjoy yoga, but more because I love stretching and keeping up flexibility and being fairly nimble. I love mountain biking. I love climbing. I love skiing. Basically, anything that involves adrenaline and doing something a bit obscure, so yes, lots and lots of downtime. If not, I’ve got two daughters. They’re 24 and 19. They tend to keep me very busy as well.

Maria:    

This explains why you’ve had to be a serial entrepreneur to pay for your young ladies there I think.

Tony Fish:  

There’s a truth in that. It’s hardly relevant.

Maria: 

On that note, I think it’s a lovely place to stop. Thank you so much for your time, Tony.

Tony Fish:

Thank you, Maria.

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Interview with Productivity Ninja, Graham Allcott

Maria’s guest on the show is Maria’s guest is Graham Allcott. Graham is the author of the global bestseller How To Be A Productivity Ninja. He is the founder of Think Productive, one of the world’s leading providers of personal productivity training and consultancy. His podcast, Beyond Busy, explores the issues of productivity, work life balance, and how people define happiness in their lives. Previous roles include chief executive of Student Volunteering England, head of volunteering at the University of Birmingham, advisor to the UK Government on youth volunteering policy.

Maria:

Graham thank you very much for joining me.

Graham Allcott:

Great to be here.

Maria:

Yes, wonderful, I’ve not interviewed a ninja before.

Graham Allcott:

Although you once told me that you’d become a ninja from reading the book.

Maria:

We’re going to explore some of that, I need you to help me sharpen some of my skills.

Graham Allcott:

Sure.

Maria:

When you were a youngster, did you wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to be a ninja?” Or did you have other plans for your life?

Graham Allcott:

No, so my original first career, as you were just in the lead off alluding to there, was in volunteering and the charity world and the big transition for me came when I left the job of chief executive of Student Volunteering. So I became a chief executive at quite a young age, and then I left that job, I went freelance, I was doing freelance strategy and fundraising and stuff like that in the charity sector and one day I had a really great idea and I looked up from my desk as I would always do to see who was going to help me with it and realised that because I was freelance, I was on my own and didn’t have a team and didn’t have all these people that could help me achieve stuff. I realised in that moment that the first part of my career was basically me having ideas, getting lots of other people to do most of the work and then calling it leadership and getting away with it for quite a long time, and realised that actually my own skills around being a completer finisher, around being focused on particular tasks were just not that great.

So, I set about changing me, that was really the start of the ninja journey and my natural style is quite flaky, strategic, big picture, so if I can develop the skills to make myself a completer finisher and someone who can be down in the detail and really get clarity around everything I’m doing, then I kind of felt, well if I can do that for me, I can do that for anybody else and that was really where the idea for Think Productive, my business, really came from.

Maria:

But volunteering is also a challenging role and it’s not something people think about doing. How did you get into volunteering? What brought you that? Was that a family thing?

Graham Allcott:

Well yes and no. It’s funny, I did a podcast interview a few weeks ago and it was all about childhood and it was quite interesting to make some of the linkages. I grew up with a background where my parents were heavily involved in different churches and stuff like that, and I think you always have that kind of influence, don’t you, from your family. I was lucky that my family gave me really good morals and very high ethical values. But no, volunteering really was something I got into at university. I’d been working for a year before that, for HSBC, doing a year out and being a supervisor in one of their data centres, basically and then having gone from full time work to being a student, I just felt really guilty that I had 12 hours a week and I was just like, “What am I doing with my time?”

So, I ended up alongside my studies doing a lot of volunteering and ended up running some kids’ camps for eight to 11-year-old kids around Birmingham, taking them out to Wales and beaches and places they’d never been. It was really through doing lots of volunteering as a student that I decided that that was something I wanted to promote in my work, so then I fell into jobs that were around charities and volunteering.

Maria:

Fantastic, that’s really brilliant. You also are involved with the charity Centrepoint. For anybody that doesn’t know what that is, what does Centrepoint do?

Graham Allcott:

So Centrepoint is the UK’s largest youth homelessness charity. Based in London but also with a big presence in Manchester and Sunderland and various other cities and it’s really about giving a home and a job to young people who, for a variety of different reasons, have found themselves homeless, either sleeping on the streets, or sofa-surfing, sleeping on buses, all these kind of different things. It’s a problem that is, sadly getting a lot worse at the current time, so there’s a huge need for the work that Centrepoint does. I’ve been part of their board for about nine years and now, just a supporter from the side lines really but I just think it’s an amazing charity and something that I’ve just had just a huge privilege to be involved with at such a high level.

Maria:

Brilliant, brilliant. So for productivity, you said began because you had to do the whole thing all by yourself-

Graham Allcott:

Yes.

Maria:

You had to teach yourself to be much more productive and much more organised. Where did you start to learn about it? How did you teach yourself?

Graham Allcott:

Well my thing was just reading every single book and blog that I could come up with, this is probably back in 2007/2008 so it’s kind of the early days of blogs, and lots of stuff on the internet and lots of different books, and there were a few books that really resonated with me. ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ was a big book for me, David Allen, ‘Getting Things Done’, was a big book for me, some of Seth Godin’s work and some of Bernard Mans’ work and lots of people like that. What I started to do really was to take different bits of all these different approaches and say, “What’s working for me, what’s not?” and just use myself as a bit of a laboratory. In the end, I just came up with a framework and a system that seemed to work for me, that seemed to cut away some of the stuff that was a little bit too complicated, I thought, from some of those other books, and just start to create a system the really works for me.

Maria:

It’s interesting actually, because there’s lots of different views about work life balance out there. There’s people saying that you shouldn’t work weekends and then there’s people like Gary Vee who has a great following that’s saying you should be up at 5 o’clock in the morning and work 18 hour days and effort, effort, effort. What’s your take on work life balance?

Graham Allcott:

Well I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Gary Vee. I love his philosophies on many things, I find his view on hustle, as he often terms it, just deeply disturbing and actually quite dangerous. He, to be fair to him, in interviews has said things along the lines of, “I have the energy to do this, I know that most other people don’t, so they shouldn’t try, this is just what works for me.” But people just take it too literally.

So I don’t work weekends, I work a four day week, I work Monday to Thursday, I do essentially 37 and a half hours, a full week but basically Monday to Thursday and that’s due to me having childcare and various other things going on as well. But I have a three day weekend and actually my company does too. So, Think Productive does a four-day week and what people really love about that is that you know you have a weekend, which is a couple of days of relaxation, but usually, in a two-day weekend, you’ve also got work to do, you’ve got laundry and you’ve got house admin and mortgage/re-mortgage forms to fill in and all these things we have to do in life. Life admin. So what often happens is, with our team, they tend to do that stuff on the Friday and the still have two days off and I think a three day weekend feels infinitely bigger and more expansive than a two day one.

There’s lots of studies that show that actually it’s more productive to work four days, even cutting down the hours as well, which we don’t do. We basically still work the same hours but actually cutting down the hours, you can actually get more done in a shorter amount of time as well.

Maria:

Did you find that hard to implement though because there are always clients who want things on a Friday and are they happy to wait till the Monday?

Graham Allcott:

Well it doesn’t affect clients. We have a system where the four day week is basically, everybody does one Friday in four and that’s what makes it much more easy and palatable to do five days in four. So there’s basically always someone on a phone on a Friday. When we implemented it, it kind of came through a discussion between myself and some of the other staff members and one of the things that I said as the business owner, and at the time, the leader of the business, I said, “There are some lines that we can’t cross here. One of them is, it doesn’t affect clients, it doesn’t affect our front line service, if people want workshops on a Friday, that still happens.” All these things have to be set as non-negotiables first and then we see how we can fit that in. We’ve managed to make that work really well and do you know what there’s some amazing positive so it as well.

So I think it really helps to define a culture within Think Productive that’s very focused on work life balance and on emotional intelligence and avoiding burnout and all those kind of things. I also thinks it probably really helps with retention. I think it would be quite difficult to go from having a three day weekend back to having a two, so it really helps us to keep good people and keep people motivated as well.

Maria:

People listening to this podcast won’t see this but we’re doing this on a video call and I can see how young and rested and well you look. So obviously it’s working.

Graham Allcott:

Oh that’s nice because I’ve just been up really early with my son who was being a bit of a rotter, so that’s good to hear that sort of thing.

Maria:

Well done. So going back to the book. I read your book, ‘How To Be A Productivity Ninja’, over three years ago now and I was trying to find my copy because I thought, I’m going to ask you some questions from the book and somebody has pinched it. In fact, we had a load of copies, we’ve sent them all out to clients, but what’s brilliant about your book, I remember the stuff, I’ve been using the stuff, I read it a long time ago, I read it over a Christmas holiday in fact because I was trying to get organised because I wanted to go into January with new systems.

Graham Allcott:

Cool.

Maria:

So, I actually don’t need to go and find the book because I can tell you what worked for me and I’d like you to share some of the things. So, the first thing I learned which was a huge shock, I’ve been trying all my life to manage my time and that was the wrong thing to be managing and when I read that in your book and thought, “Oh goodness”. Can you share what we should be managing rather than our time?

Graham Allcott:

Yes, so don’t manage time, manage attention. Attention is a much more precious resource than time and so in an average day, you’ll have two to three hours of what I call proactive attention. So the time in your day when you’re most switched on, you’re most able to do the most difficult work that’s on your plate. And really the trick to all this is how you manage that two to three hours. The problem for most people is that, when they’ve done studies of this, a lot more people are morning people than evening people, how do you tend to spend your mornings? Either catching up on email, or in someone’s boring meeting, or doing stuff where your time is not your own to be autonomous. This tends to be the way a lot of people’s mornings go. So actually, it’s quite difficult to defend ruthlessly that two to three hours, because it tends to be times when everyone else is having demands on your time. But if you do that, then what I say is what happens in the rest of your day will look after itself.

If you’re spending the time in those two to three hours really focused on the most difficult thing you need to work on, the most strategic, the most intellectually challenging thing that you need to do, then actually the rest of your day, the emails will look after themselves, the other meetings will take place, everything else will be fine. It’s often the big stuff that can sit on your to do list and move from one day to the next, to the next, to the next. That’s the stuff that really needs the focus and the reason that stuff moves down the to do list day to day is because it’s difficult and because you really need to apply the most quality attention you have to be able to get that stuff done.

Maria:

Yes, I know, brilliant. That really changed my way of thinking. The other thing that you talk about is the concept of a second brain. Now I’ve got to that age in my life where I forget stuff. In fact, if anybody meets me in a networking event and I go blank and I’ve known you for years and I look like a rabbit in the headlights, please introduce yourselves because my brain just stops. So could you share with us what a second brain is?

Graham Allcott:

Oh man, that was also me from the age of about 19, I think, I don’t know what happened in my brain but it all went and I can bump into people in the street and they’re like, “Graham? We’ve met before.” And I’m like, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” There’s a condition isn’t there where you don’t remember faces, I think I might have it. So yes, the concept of second brain is basically saying if you try and manage all of the stuff that you’re working on, so all of the different projects and actions and all this kind of stuff, if you try and manage it all in your head then you’re going to get lost very, very quickly. We all know that our short-term memory is not that great, and if you don’t believe me, remember the times when you played that game, “I went to the shops and I bought … ” someone says a thing, someone says another thing, you can’t get past five or six things in that game. So what that means is we know our short term memory is not great at trying to retain information and the best use of our brain really is all the other stuff so strategic decision making, intuitive thinking, prioritising, our brain’s really good at looking at all that complexity and then making really good choices, generally speaking. So managing all of those projects and actions in the second brain frees up your brain for the creativity, the strategy, all the other stuff that it’s really good at and the second brain is something that you learn to trust.

So, having a really good system of projects and actions and also having those actions laid out within your second brain based on the level of attention you need, so having the proactive attention, the hard stuff, in one little list so that when you have that time, that’s the only stuff you see. When you’re out and about, here’s the five things I can do when I’m nearby some shops, or whatever. Having all your calls in the same place. Once you start to trust that as a system that’s going to really work for you, then you don’t need to keep any of that stuff in your head, which just frees you up, it’s an incredibly freeing place to be, to be able to just capture a new idea, put it in your second brain and you don’t need to think about it for the rest of the day and it gives you focus and energy on the work you do.

Maria:

Yes, that was really powerful too and the other thing that revolutionised my life was your email zero policy. Now I have to confess, I can’t do it every day. I tend to do it once a week, I haven’t managed to get it down to every day and in fact, it’s a whole workshop, I think you could talk about it for an entire day so I’m not going to ask you to tell us how to get our emails down to zero literally in one answer, but maybe give us one tip on how to manage a raging email inbox?

Graham Allcott:

Well I was just going to say one thing about that, you said you have to “confess” that you only get it down once a week, I don’t know that that’s actually a confession.

Maria:

Is it not?

Graham Allcott:

What is zero ultimately? I mean, zero doesn’t really matter, so a lot of people get this confused with inbox zero that it’s somehow about, “I’ve got to get to the end, yes, tick.” And of course there will always be more emails coming through. It’s much more about saying, “I’m on top of the decisions that I need to make about all this different emails and I know there’s nothing buried on page four or page five, or further down.”

So it’s much more about just saying, “Do I have a good handle on this?” If through the course of the week you know that nothing’s going to slip between the cracks, then it’s actually fine. If you get six emails a month, do it monthly, right? It’s fine, unless all of those six emails might well be the million dollar deal kind of emails and then you’re checking it every hour, or every minute, or whatever. For me, it’s again about the relationship we have with information and how we make sense of how that information affects everything else that we’re working on. So for me, once you’ve got a really good sense of that, then the system allows you to be really in control. So, for me, probably every two days, I’ll get back to inbox zero, and then it just gives you that really good sense of calm around what I’m doing.

I’d say anybody listening to this with 5,000 emails just thinking, “Well how on earth do I do that?” When we look at the email software, if you open up an email in Microsoft Outlook or Google, and our eyes read left to right. So the first thing you’ll see on the left hand side is usually the big button that says, “Reply.” So email is kind of geared and our brains are kind of geared that everything needs a response. If you flip that round completely and say, “Actually what I’m doing here is there’s a whole heap of rubbish and I’m panning for gold within that.” There’ll be three out of those 100 that really matter. If you flip it round that way, if you’ve got 5,000 emails, the very first thing you can do is anything older than three months, either chuck it in a folder, or press Delete and just Control A Select, or get rid of all that stuff.

Once you start to think of it in that way, you don’t have 5,000 emails and a 5,000 email problem. You have a two month problem, or a one month problem, or just the stuff that’s come in recently kind of problem. So once you start to see it in that way, then you can pan for the gold there with the stuff that probably still does matter and still does have something that needs doing with it.

Maria:

I like that, looking for the gold, I like that. I’ve written that down because that will help me again every week when I’m doing that. So you’re talking about lots of emails, you’re talking about lots of noise, there’s so much information which, as you said, there’s so many distractions, now there’s social media which there never used to be. I think it makes it really hard for you to focus, so is there any advice on focusing?

Graham Allcott:

That’s a massive question.

Maria:

I know.

Graham Allcott:

I think there’s so many different ways of focusing. I think one thing that really matters is we need to think about our thinking. Often, it’s seen that thinking at work is some kind of luxury that we’ll get to in two weeks’ time. Actually, we’re in a stage now where as knowledge workers, thinking is our work. So the creativity, the strategy, all of that really high value thinking that we do as humans, that’s the stuff that really matters because ultimately, a lot of the other stuff can get replaced by machines and robots and everything else and ultimately, the stuff where you really add the value is the stuff where you’re being creative or you’re making decisions, you’re solving problems, all those kind of things.

So giving ourselves the space for thinking is absolutely essential. It should never be seen as a luxury. What that then means in terms of the practicalities deep down in the weeds of, “I have my phone, it has Facebook on it, it has Twitter on it,” and all those kinds of things, is you need to really recognise that willpower is completely overrated. If you’re not thinking about the fact that there’s 1,000 people sat in Silicon Valley whose entire job is to bring you back to your phone as often as possible and to make it as addictive as possible, then you’re going to lose, sorry.

I use an app called QualityTime at the moment which basically turns off certain apps on my phone and makes them inaccessible for certain hours of the day. So the time when I have that proactive attention, I cannot access Twitter, I can’t get Google Chrome on my phone, I can see WhatsApp if I go into it and want to message somebody else, but I don’t see the notifications coming in, I don’t have all the beeps and noises and all that kind of stuff. So it basically screens out a lot of the noise. Once you get into a sort of mode, a way of working where you say, “All those things are really addictive, I don’t trust myself because willpower’s overrated,” then you can get some strategies in place to deal with that.

And you can use this software, you can use this across desktop PCs and everything else. There’s an app called Freedom which does very similar things on a desktop, so it will just cut off the internet at certain times. I’ve had times, particularly when I’m on a writing deadline, where I’ll literally turn the Wi-Fi off at source, at the wall. Have it on a time switch basically, so for certain hours of the day, it’s just not accessible.

So, recognising that we’re going to lack focus and we are going to be interrupted, I think you can either take that as something that you can control and take hold of it and deal with it, or you can play the victim and say, “Oh, I’m in an open plan office,” and, “Oh, Facebook”. Well you have choices over most of those things and actually when I coach people, often the open plan offices is a big thing that comes up as, “I don’t have a choice around that,” and I say, “Will anyone mind if you go and sit in a coffee shop round the corner for an hour while you do your thinking and prioritisation and all that kind of stuff? Can you take your laptop and sit in a little cupboard and do your emails in there?” There are ways of doing this where you can make yourself in the ninja terms, stealth and camouflage, deliberately unavailable in order to really do that quality thinking and create that space.

Maria:

No, it’s fantastic advice and you’re absolutely right. I was going to ask you about open plan offices, so thank you for that. What about virtual teams though? We have virtual teams, so what will happen is somebody will come, have a problem, and their priority is obviously to do their work and they will interrupt me or interrupt another member of the team, so that can be quite difficult then to say, “Do not disturb, don’t contact me because I’m in my two-and-a-half-hour zone.” I suppose you’d have to be a little bit flexible to do that?

Graham Allcott:

Yes, and I think also that’s about give and take, isn’t it? So I think what’s important here is within the team, bringing those full conversations to the surface. So rather than the conversation just being a micro one about you saying, “I’m in my two and a half hour zone, don’t touch me,” kind of thing, actually having a team conversation about when collectively do we have the best attention? When individually do we have the best attention? How do we deal with that? Which communication channels are we using? So, for example, within Think Productive, Think Productive does a lot of its work virtually. So, we have a bunch of what we call productivity ninjas who are around the country doing the workshops, we have members of our team who used to live in Brighton and have now moved away to London and Manchester and different places, so we do a lot of our work on Slack. I am not on Slack, you can’t get me on Slack and that’s because my main job in the Think Productive these days is writing and Slack is just not conducive to writing, but it doesn’t mean you can’t get hold of me, I’m still on WhatsApp, I’m still on the phone and people still know that if there’s something that’s really urgent, they can call me or they can email me or whatever, depending on how quickly they need a response, there are ways to reach me.

But that’s my decision, but also couched in what do the team need from me? I think you can have these conversations and they are either going to happen when people are stressed because it’s like, “I’m defending my sanctuary right now,” or you can bring them to the table where no one’s stressed and have them in a group environment and have it on a kind of macro level rather than a micro level. I just think, people are just not having those kind of conversations often enough, particularly when tech changes and culture changes. I think when we’ve been into organisations and done that kind of work with people, you really see the benefits of, “Oh, I don’t need to reply to an email instantly? I can wait an hour to get back to a client?” These expectations that are unsaid and built on assumptions often end up not being true anyway.

Maria:

Brilliant, I’ve written so many notes during this and I’m going to go back and listen again and write more notes, absolutely fantastic. So, you live in Brighton, you mentioned before.

Graham Allcott:

Yes.

Maria:

You are the productivity ninja; how does a productivity ninja spend his spare time?

Graham Allcott:

Ah, ok. So, I have a little boy who is four and a half. He also has autism, so I spend a lot of my time preparing for things that we’re going to do. So this weekend, we’re actually going to stay at a friend of ours, we’re going to go camping in her back garden, basically as rehearsal to go camping at WOMAD Festival which is in about three or four weeks’ time. We did WOMAD Festival last year and we did all the preparation again last year, but he just needs that kind of extra bit. So there’s a lot of rehearsing and a lot of hanging out with small children and that kind of thing.

My other big obsessions are sports. For my sins, I’m a big Aston Villa fan. It’s been pretty miserable over the last few years, but I still have a season ticket there and get there regularly. My other big love is baseball so if I’ve got spare time where I can get away, I will generally fly to Toronto and then follow the Toronto Blue Jays around. So I’ll go to Toronto and then the team goes off to Kansas and I’ll go to Kansas and then they go to New York, I go to New York and just follow them around for 10 days basically and then come home. They play basically every day, baseball is 162 games a year, so in a 10 day trip I’ll generally see nine games.

Maria:

How did you get into baseball? That’s an interesting one.

Graham Allcott:

So geeky, eh? I got into it because Think Productive had an office in Calgary in Canada and my publisher was in Toronto. So I’d often come over to Toronto, stay over there and then go to Calgary. In Toronto, I didn’t know anyone, so I had really nothing to do and I just thought, “I’ll go and watch baseball, it’s on, great.” The first couple of times I went, I didn’t really love it, I didn’t really understand it. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and everything and then one day I sat next to a guy from KPMG and he spent the whole night, really generously explaining all the rules, all the tactics. It’s a huge intellectual game, there’s so much going on in terms of the tactics and strategies of baseball, both from a really micro level like, this one pitcher and this one hitter, right through to what they’re going to do in five years’ time. You kind of track the whole strategy, it’s really very engaging.

So he explained all this stuff to me and I was just like, “Wow, this is so cool,” and I’ve just been obsessed ever since. I came back to England and you can download an app where you can watch all the games live. Some of them are on in the evenings here, which is fine. Some of them are like one o’clock in the morning, I try and avoid those ones if I can, but if it’s a big game, I’ll stay up late.

Maria:

Brilliant, that sounds fantastic. So finally, you are also a podcast host, you’ve been doing it a big longer than me, so congratulations.

Graham Allcott:

Yes.

Maria:

So, tell us a little bit about your podcast and why you haven’t invited me to be a guest?

Graham Allcott:

Because I can’t pin your diary down Maria, that’s the thing. I looked at our Skype message which said, “I’m just adding you on Skype ready for our interview,” and it was February, we’re now recording this in June, so we have very difficult diaries. I definitely want to get you on the podcast-

Maria:

Thank you, that’s put me on the spot, hasn’t it?

Graham Allcott:

And actually part of the reason, logistically, I don’t do that many podcasts is I do them all face to face. They’re all about an hour, sometimes even an hour and a half long and they’re very in depth, it’s a whole afternoon, a whole travel trip and that kind of thing. The basic idea is, it’s called Beyond Busy and it’s really a podcast that explores the intersections and the tensions between the topics of productivity, work life balance, and then how people define happiness, success and basically the idea of living a good life and what’s important to people. The reason I wanted to explore that, I think there’s a book in there somewhere and I thought if I started doing a podcast and talking about these topics, it would basically become research for the book. So, the idea with the podcast at the beginning was that the podcast would not only have these interviews, but also track the progress of me writing the book.

The writing of the book’s been really slow, so I’ve ended up actually putting that book on hold and I’m doing a couple of other books at the moment, I’m going to come back to that book, but it’s like a slow cooker. You know, slow cooking a casserole over four years or something. So, the idea is just to explore these tensions and I think it’s really interesting where people really solve productivity and they go, “Yes, I’m being really productive,” and what they don’t realise, or sometimes do realise is they’re burning out, or their work life balance has become appalling to make that happen.

You talked about Gary Vee before, I’d imagine he’s hugely productive, I don’t know how much time he’ll see his kids and how many hours he sleeps and various other things like that. So I think productivity, work life balance, and on the other side of it, happiness and success, I think I’m really interested in what motivates people, is a great work life balance and productivity enough? Do people really get their sense of self more from being productive than from, say, their family life or the other way round? I just find that human motivation piece just really fascinating. I’ve interviewed everyone from Olympic gold medallists to CEOs to founders, to professional clowns, comedians, all these different people. Probably the only safe conclusion I’ve drawn from all the hours of interviews I’ve done is humans are weird. Humans are so weird and I think once you recognise that and once you start to see that actually there’s so much complexity and so many of us are carrying stories from childhood and from things that we were taught at school and we thought that that was the truth and all of these kind of things. I think that really adds to what makes it a fascinating topic.

There is a book in there somewhere, well there better be because I’m on a deadline in two years’ time for it. I’ve signed a deal, but at the moment I’m still exploring the topics and working out where I sit within it as well. It feels like a daunting one because in some ways, it’s, “Graham, write a book about the meaning of life,” isn’t it, really? But I think what’s interesting is you can start to also frame that not only just on what do I think about it, but I’ve also got these hundreds of people that I’ve interviewed, what do they think about it too?

Maria:

I think there is a book in there, I think it’s a very productive way of using your time on your podcast, that you’re also going to create a book and I agree with you, we’re all a bit weird. Thank you so much, Graham.

Graham Allcott:

Thank you, it’s been a pleasure

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Interview with Founder and CEO of Lab of Misfits Studio, Beau Lotto

Maria’s guest on the show is Dr. Beau Lotto. Beau is a world-renowned neuroscientist, bestselling author, and entrepreneur. Beau is also the founder and CEO of Lab of Misfits, the world’s first neuro-design studio. His studies in human perception have taken him well beyond the scientific domain and into the fields of education, the arts, and business. He has been a two-time main stage TED speaker and spoken at the G8, Google’s ZeitgeistMinds, Wired, and made contributions to BBC’s Horizon, National Geographic Channel and PBS. Beau’s aim is to use the principles of perception to enable people to think differently about both themselves and the world around them.

Maria: 

This week, my guest is Dr. Beau Lotto. Beau is a world-renowned neuroscientist, best-selling author, and entrepreneur. Beau is also the founder and CEO of Lab of Misfits, the world’s first neuro-design studio. His studies in human perception have taken him well beyond the scientific domain and into the fields of education, the arts, and business.

He has been a two-time main stage TED speaker and spoken at the G8, Google’s ZeitgeistMinds, Wired, and made contributions to BBC’s Horizon, National Geographic Channel and PBS. Beau’s aim is to use the principles of perception to enable people to think differently about both themselves and the world around them.

Maria: 

Hello, Beau. Thank you for joining me.

Dr. Beau Lotto:

Hello, Maria. It’s lovely to see you.

Maria:  

Thank you. Let’s start. Why neuroscience? Where did that come from?

Dr. Beau Lotto:  

Why did I study neuroscience?

Maria: 

Yes.

Dr. Beau Lotto:  

Ah, well, let’s see, do you want the honest answer or the other one?

Maria:

I want the honest answer.

Dr. Beau Lotto: 

The reason is because I wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, and I was at Berkeley. My first two years, I was on academic probation and my last two years, I was on the honour wall. The first two years, I was in the bottom 2%, and the last two years, I was in the top 2% so on average, I didn’t have the scores to get into medical school. But I still was fascinated by biology, and I was fascinated by how the body works, and how we engage in the world. So, I thought, “Well, if I’m going to study the body rather than fix it, I want to study the most interesting part which is the brain.” Then I went to Edinburgh Medical School in Scotland to do that. I’ve since learned that you can fix the brain, but you can fix it in a different way.

Maria: 

Tell us a little bit, because you mentioned Edinburgh, and I know your background, but you’ve got a very global accent. What is your nationality? What is your background? Why is your accent so global?

Dr. Beau Lotto:  

Global or just confused? I was born and raised in Seattle and then San Francisco. I was an undergrad at Berkeley University and I have family that lives in San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC, so I spent time in all three places. But then when I was just early 20s, I moved to Britain, Scotland, in particular, and there I remained for 25 years.

Basically, almost quite literally, half my life was in the States, and the other half was in Britain with a bit of sojourn into Paris.  The Brits don’t necessarily think I have an accent nor do the Americans. I just sort of don’t fit anywhere it seems hence the Lab of Misfits.

Maria:

Yes, absolutely, and we will go on to that. But I wanted to ask you, first of all, about the fact that you say that we experience everything through our brains. That we never, ever really see reality. I’m here, people listening to the podcast, obviously, are listening to an audio. But we’re actually on video, we’re on a video link. Am I not really seeing you then?

Dr. Beau Lotto:  

Yes and no. I mean this is not post-modern relativism. The world exists. There’s a physical world out there. It’s just that we don’t see it. What do I mean by that? What we see is the meaning of the information off information. The information that’s falling onto your eyes is in quite a literal sense meaningless.

Data by itself is pointless. There is no inherent value in any piece of data. People working on big data, data’s pointless. Which makes them essential, because data doesn’t tell you what to do. It’s the interpretation, it’s the utility of data that’s meaningful. That’s true at the most basic level of your eyes, or your nose, your touch, your hearing.

The data could literally mean anything. That it could be something large and far away or something small and up close. Your brain has no way of knowing from the data itself. The only thing it can use is its history. The brain evolved to continually redefine normality.

Maria:   

Wow, OK. So, once you understand that, does that help you in terms of your relationships, and how you see the world, and how you interact with people?

Dr. Beau Lotto: 

I think it’s fundamental to exactly that. Once you understand how perception works, you can’t but help see yourself in the world in a different way and engage in it in a different way.

First of all, we learn that everything that you see as soon as you open your eyes, in fact, even before you open your eyes, everything your thinking is grounded in your history of biases and assumptions. That’s what history gives you. Many of those biases and assumptions you actually inherited. You might have inherited from your family, from your culture, from your organisation, or even your evolutionary ancestors which means most of your life happened without you even there.

Every time you engage with the world you’re engaging through assumptions and bias, not sometimes, all the time. The first step to being able to see differently is to acknowledge that, that’s the case.

The problem is that many of those biases and assumptions, if not most of them, we don’t even know what they are. You’re engaging with the world through this objective lens, you think is an objective lens when in fact it’s subjective. You’re not even aware of the biases that are part of that subjective experience.

Again, having that awareness creates possibility that you might then be able to see differently. So, yes, understanding perception gives us the way to be able to engage with the world in a different way but we can also use the principles of perception to see differently, because that’s what the brain evolved to do.

Maria: 

OK, wow!

Dr. Beau Lotto: 

It is to take advantage of the mechanisms that are already there to see differently.

Maria: 

OK. What is neuro-design that you do at Lab of Misfits? What is that about?

Dr. Beau Lotto:  

The idea with neuro-design is that the lab does two things. We want to understand what these principles are, but then we want to apply those principles. The neuro is, of course, understanding the principles, and the design is the application of them.

Everything that the lab does, and, basically, the lab is here to become an experiential space, an experiential lab. We create experiences that enable people to see differently. We do that by combining our expertise in neuroscience, but also, design and production. We then create these opportunities for people to embody those principles and, again, to have the possibility of seeing themselves in the world differently.

Because the fact is the world is changing faster and faster. As it becomes more interconnected, your control over that world becomes increasingly less. This is just mathematics, which means that the most successful systems in nature are the ones that adapt. What we really need to do is not just adapt, but become adaptable.

The brain evolved to do that. Why try to solve the problem again? We’ve had millions of years of evolution that enabled us to do that. Let’s just figure out what those principles are and then apply them. That’s where the design comes in.

Maria: 

Can you give us an example of perhaps one of these experiments, these labs that you’ve created for a client? Are you allowed to share something like that?

Dr. Beau Lotto: 

Yes. We’ve created one, for instance, for L’Oréal on empowerment. We created a whole set of experiments where women would come into a space, and we would literally create an experience for them but as an experiential experiment, so it’s both an experience but an experiment. We’re collecting data etc. The women walk away with a better understanding of themselves. We’ve actually shown that through the project with L’Oréal, we’re actually better able to create a sense of empowerment in those women, and we filmed it etc. L’Oréal were then able to use that as content for PR and Marketing as well.

Another project we’re doing is with Cirque du Soleil where we’re doing the neuroscience of awe and wonder. We’re able to record the brain activity of participants while watching a Cirque du Soleil event and also look at the unconscious changes in their behaviour before and after the event.

For us, that helps us better understand awe and wonder, but for Cirque du Soleil, they then can own awe and wonder for their PR and marketing and the content and the data. In terms of their ability to engage with the world, they’re able to engage in a far more meaningful way, and they’re able to have hits at PR and marketing that they never had before.

Maria:  

That’s amazing. Cirque du Soleil obviously is an incredible experience in itself anyway. If they’re going to have an even greater understanding and a greater connection, I can’t even begin to imagine what that could potentially look like. That’s very exciting.

Dr. Beau Lotto: 

That’s right. It also feeds back into the ability for their own organisation to become adaptable. Of course, their audience walks away with a better sense of loyalty, because Cirque du Soleil creates an experience that helped their audience better understand themselves.

For us, it’s a new way for brands and organisations to engage with their audiences through the neuro-design. The one thing hits multiple things simultaneously, brand engagement, loyalty, attention, understanding, insight. They also create the possibility of being purpose-driven, and they actually contribute to our deeper understanding of what it is to be human, all at the same time.

Maria:

Wow. That’s huge. That is just brilliant.

Dr. Beau Lotto:

And it works. That’s the beauty of it.

Maria: 

Wow. That’s very exciting. When you and I talked about this before where often brands and companies are engaging with the average consumer, that’s a really big problem. Does this get around that? That you’re actually able to engage on a much more personal level?

Dr. Beau Lotto:

Yes, to a large extent. The fact is that brands engage with people, and if you don’t understand what it is to be human, how on earth are you going to be able to engage with them in a meaningful way?

First, you have to understand what are the drivers of people? Also, brands want their audience to expand or to change. Well, what are the barriers to change? How best to engage with an audience in that way?

Or if you want your audience to have a stronger sense of loyalty, what is required for the brain to feel loyalty? What’s more that if they can engage with their audiences in a new way that actually enables their audiences to have insight into themselves, they also create loyalty that way as well.

Maria:

OK. I know also that you’re big into augmented reality. Can you tell us a bit about some of the work that you’re doing there?

Dr. Beau Lotto: 

Yes, so we have an actual augmented reality startup company that we founded about six years ago. We have patents in AR space, four or five patents in AR space. Of course, as everybody knows, AR is now possibly one of the hottest topics in technology. Everyone believes it to be the future. We were very fortunate to be very early on that.

We are now creating a number of platforms for augmented reality. One will be the world’s first social AR platform. The other is an augmented reality product that’s around storytelling and location, so imagine podcasts, but podcasts in location.

But the first one, which is called Akeela, what it enables you to do is to take your social platforms, your social networks and carry them wherever you go. So, you can be at a conference, for instance, and you can float your Akeela. What that means is you have your photograph, and it follows you wherever you go. People can get it off their phone. They can see the photograph. I can see Maria’s photograph up there, so I wonder who she is? I can see her photograph. I can grab it, and then I can see all of her social profiles that she lets me see, her Spotify playlist, even her personal website, or her Facebook page.

What it’s really about is using technology to get people to re-engage with the world and re-engage with each other, because that’s where your brain lives. Your brain makes meaning is in the physical world, not by passively receiving information but by actively engaging with the people in the space around you. We’re creating technologies that enable that. Those can actually be used at the talks that I give or in nightclubs and conferences etc.

Maria:  

So, you’ve got to be careful what you put out there on your social media now, because people are going to be able see it when using Akeela.

Dr. Beau Lotto:

Well, if you so choose. But what’s interesting is it also enables people to be more honest. Because what people do with Facebook is they can put anything up, but there’s no recompense. You can hide behind it. But here, you’re present. You’re there.

It’s basically a digital handshake. Why do we say, “Hi, how are you?” Then three minutes later, you say “So, how are you?” Because we need that ritual in order to start a conversation.

When you go to a conference this doesn’t say just say your name. It says what you might be interested in, talk to me about this. It’s a way of facilitating those conversations. We’re basically the initiator of conversation.

Maria:

Brilliant and better conversations in that case. I wanted to come back to another area that I know you talk about, and I think it’s an area that again relates really strongly in neuroscience, it’s risk and uncertainty. How does the human brain deal with risk and uncertainty?

Dr. Beau Lotto:  

Ah, right. Risk and uncertainty, probably the fundamental challenge that your brain evolved to resolve, in fact, not just human brains, all brains evolved to resolve is uncertainty. We hate uncertainty. We hate uncertainty, why? Because to not know during evolution was to die. If you weren’t sure that was a predator, it was too late. Your brain evolved to take what is uncertain and make it certain. What is unpredictable and make it predictable.

That’s why if you go down below on a boat, you’ll feel seasick. Because your eyes are moving to register your boat, and you say, “Well, oh, we’re standing still,” and your ears are saying, “No, no, we’re moving.” Your brain gets ill, because it can’t deal with that conflict.

Almost every human behaviour is about decreasing uncertainty. That’s why Uber is successful. It’s not simply because they tell you, because it’s a faster way to order a taxi. It’s because they tell you when the taxi’s going to arrive.

That’s why they have times on bus shelters. Because if the bus is going to be 25 minutes late, at least I know it’s going to be 25 minutes late. Everything is about decreasing uncertainty.

The irony is that it’s only by stepping into uncertainty that you can actually see differently. That’s basically what I talk to people about. How can you actually go against these millions of years of evolution and go to the very place that you evolved to avoid? The beauty is that the brain evolution gave us a solution to that because to step into uncertainty is so essential that we had to have a mechanism. It’s that mechanism of perception, of changing perceptions that I talk to people about.

Maria: 

Brilliant. Brilliant. When you speak you often say to audiences that they will come away knowing less at the end of your session than at the beginning which might not be the best way for us to be doing the marketing of your sessions actually when I think about it. But there’s a very good reason you say that. Can you share with us why you say that?

Dr. Beau Lotto:

Yes, because nothing interesting begins with knowing, it begins with not knowing. Because if you think about design thinking, design thinking almost always begins with a problem. But if I come up with a great solution to a useless problem, who really cares?

The cache is in a good question. That’s what’s the powerful thing about the brain, and the powerful thing about science is the ability to ask a good question. The only way to do that is if you enter with humility, you enter with the excitement of stepping into uncertainty which is to enter a situation with a question and then to iterate and find better and better questions. Iteration is not really about finding better and better solutions, it’s about finding better and better questions.

I want to get the audience to experience that process of actually not knowing, i.e. asking a question and being excited about asking questions. That’s where the leadership comes in. That’s where ecology comes in, it’s creating that environment that enables people to step into uncertainty and to ask a good question.

Maria: 

OK, so do you think that companies often are asking the wrong questions of their people when they’re focusing on efficiency and profitability and not focusing on innovation?

Dr. Beau Lotto: 

Yes. Companies are often, not always, of course, but often asking the wrong questions, because, partly, they’re not even asking questions.

Innovation, you mention innovation, it has two sides. It has creativity, and it has efficiency. This is true in biology as well, in nature as well. You have exploration, and you have exploitation. You always have these two sides.

Almost every company begins with creativity. They have a great idea. The next best step is to make that idea efficient. That is a very good idea. The best environment in biology for creating an environment for efficiency is competition.

The problem is the company then stops, but the world doesn’t. The world continues to change. What companies then try to do is they find themselves becoming increasingly inefficient, because the world around them has shifted, so, again, they try to maximise efficiency again. They’ll lay off people. They’ll try to cut costs, etc., not necessarily a bad idea, but the world keeps changing.

What they have to do is then enter the cycle again. They have to again begin with creativity, begin with a question, and then they go through that creativity to efficiency cycle again, but they rarely do that. Instead, what they do is they want their employees to be creative, but they have an environment of efficiency in which to be creative. It’s the wrong kind of environment.

The environment they’re looking for is one that can enable them not to be in one or the other but to be able to move between them. Because to be adaptable is not to be in creativity or in efficiency. If after my talks, I tell them I don’t want them to walk out of the space and start trying to see everything differently, because if a bus is coming at them, I want them to get out of the way as fast as possible.

Wisdom is knowing when to be in one or the other and how to create an environment and actually be able to move. Because life is movement. It’s not being one or the other.

Maria:  

Brilliant. I love that. You come out with so much great stuff, Beau. I want to talk a little bit about your book. Deviate and deviation, what does it mean? Is it to be a deviator or deviant? What is the word?

Dr. Beau Lotto:  

It’s to be a deviator. To deviate is really actually to be yourself. What I’m trying to do is demystify creativity. There’s nothing creative about creativity. Creativity is only created from the outside not from the inside.

It’s because we have this illusion that to be creative is to put two things that are far apart together. That somehow your brain has to make that magical leap. Your brain doesn’t make leaps. Your brain only ever makes small steps to the next most likely possible.

But what’s possible for one person is different from what’s possible for another. To deviate is basically to give people the principles and the understanding for how they can change that space of possibility, not to make big jumps. It’s still to make small steps but to change the steps that you make by changing your assumptions and biases that define that space. But to question what you assume to be true already is very, very difficult, because that takes you into uncertainty.

So, how can we get people to challenge their biases and assumptions in order to change their space of possibility, so that their next step is a new one? That’s what Deviate is about. That is to deviate, to deviate from what everyone else is doing, to deviate what you might have been doing in the past.

I want to demystify it and say, “This is something you can learn. This is not something you’re born with. We can all be deviators.”

Maria:  

Brilliant. Well, let’s all go be deviators, not be deviant but be deviators. Sorry, you were going to say something.

Dr. Beau Lotto: 

Well, actually as a consequence, you become deviant, because to be deviant is deviant relative to a norm. But to be deviant is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just to be different.

The best things in life don’t literally make sense. Because what makes sense is the medium, is the average, is the mean. But that’s not where innovation lives. Innovation doesn’t live at the average. It lives out in the periphery and becomes the future average.

That’s why you have to deviate. You have to step away from the average and to do so is to follow your own trajectory, because everyone has that possibility. It’s just whether your reference for your next step is what everyone else is doing, or what you are doing.

At a future time, what will happen is you will look up, and you will realise, “Whoa, I’m in a different place.” Not because you tried to, just because you followed what made sense.

Maria: 

Yes, absolutely, absolutely, I love that. Beau, how did you get into speaking for companies? How did that begin?

Dr. Beau Lotto: 

How did that begin to speak with companies? Because I actually really enjoy it now. When I first started, I wasn’t so keen but, now, I really enjoy it.

It’s because I’m interested in companies changing, but if you want to change a company, you have to change the people. If companies want to be more creative, the individuals have to be more creative. They can’t just be creative within the context of a company, they have to live creatively.

My talks are not just about the organisation. They’re about the individuals of the organisation whether or not they’re at the organisation. It’s how they are at home with their kids, with their partner, how they engage with life. Because these principles transcend business. They’re relevant to what it is to be human, but they’re directly applicable to how we engage in the world with business.

But what’s more if we can change businesses and get them to be more creative and innovative that actually will facilitate a more creative and innovative world. Because companies have tremendous influence on how the rest of us experience our lives.

There’s a positive feedback system that I’m trying to facilitate through the public speaking. When I better understood how perception works, it felt so obvious. What’s wonderful is once you communicate that to people, it also feels obvious to them after.

Maria: 

Yes, and it’s really useful to understand it and to apply it, brilliant. Finally, I want to ask you a bit of a personal question here. I wanted to find out, how did you get into the world of bonobo monkeys?

Dr. Beau Lotto: 

Ah, bonobo primates.

Maria: 

Oh, primates, apologies.

Dr. Beau Lotto:  

Bonobo primates. Well, I’m not into them at all. It’s my wife who is into them, because I happened to meet this wonderful woman who studies play behaviour. She studies play behaviour, because that is in fact one of the secrets which is, what did evolution give us that enables us to step into uncertainty? It gave us play.

Play is a deeply, not just philosophical, but a deeply significant behaviour. There’s tremendous cost in playing, so it has to be there for a reason. This is one of the reasons. That it enables us to step into uncertainty, and how to be in that space of uncertainty.

Bonobos, who are one of our closest living relatives, they are remarkable at play. It’s in trying to understand the principles, the deeper, deeper biological principles of play that we can then apply and create environments and spaces, architecture, organisations, way of interactions by these principles. That’s what she studies.

That’s also what we were studying, because science is play. We created a whole education programme around that concept that resulted in the youngest published scientist in the world and the youngest ever TED speaker. Thinking that science is play but play with intention. In fact, anything that is creative is play with intention. It’s how you create that environment within an organisation, a business that will enable them to then step forward in new ways that they didn’t think so before.

Maria: 

Well, listen, it’s a lovely place to end to think about play and also for us to consider the amazing conversations you and your wife must have over the dinner table. Thank you for that, thank you, Beau.

Dr. Beau Lotto:      

Thank you so much.

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Interview with Learning Futurist and Co-Founder of We Do Things Differently, David Price

Maria’s guest on the show is David Price. David is an expert in organisational learning for a complex future. He is a senior associate at The Innovation Unit and co-founder of We Do Things Differently, a cultural change practise. His book, Open: How We’ll Work, Live, and Learn in the Future, has been an Amazon bestseller since its publication. In 2009, he was awarded the OBE by Her Majesty the Queen. He writes, talks, trains, and advises around the world on some of the biggest challenges facing business, education, and society, solving the problems of employees, student, and civic disengagement, maximising our potential to be creative, innovative, and fulfilled citizens, and understanding the global shift towards open organisations and systems of learning.

Maria Franzoni: 

So, David, welcome, and first, before we start, I have to say Happy Birthday.

David Price: 

Thank you, yes. Don’t remind me.

Maria Franzoni:  

You thought I’d forgotten. How will you be celebrating, apart from obviously doing this podcast?

David Price:  

Working. And then we’re going out tonight, at least I’m told we’re going out tonight with dinner with friends, so it’s compulsory. I tend not to make a big deal out of birthdays. I never have done that. I usually forget it’s my birthday, so thank you for reminding me.

Maria Franzoni: 

That’s all right. You’re very welcome. The present is in the post, not. So David, take us back to maybe earlier birthdays, when you were a young lad. What were your aspirations? What did you want to be?

David Price: 

Gosh, initially I wanted to be a journalist. I had no idea why. It was just something about writing that I enjoyed doing. It was probably the only subject that I was halfway decent at school. But then, once I kind of discovered music, that became the obsession for a long time, I guess from the ages of about 13 to well, I was a professional musician for 15 years until I was about 30, and then I thought, this is not really a job for a grownup. Having said that, look at all the grownups, Rod Stewart, etc. They’re still doing it. I saw Billy Joel in New York a couple of weeks ago, and he’s 69. It’s just amazing. And he said, “I never thought I’d doing this job when I was this age.” But I guess I also felt there was something more that I wanted to do. I didn’t know what it was, had no idea. I was just drifting really.

And then a friend of mine said, “Why don’t you go to college?” So I went to college when I was 30, and I ended up, just through no particular plan, in education. Initially, it was community education, and then I realised I was fascinated about how people learned outside of the formal structure. So having worked in institutions, including universities, for a while, I just thought I wanted to delve into this deeper. We always look back on our careers, and it makes perfect sense in hindsight, but at the time you just kind of go from one opportunity to another.

When I sat down to write the book, I really had no idea what I was going to say, but as I was writing it, I realised that this fascination I’ve got with how people learn informally, and now the way in which we can all learn so much from each other, I realised that that had been a kind of common thread almost right throughout my career, even when I was playing in bands, because that’s how you learn in bands. It isn’t like you get some music and start playing it. You just learn from each other. So that capacity, I think, that people have got to learn from each other is enormous, and the system tends to drive it out of young people. And so I’m about trying to make sure that we recognise it and incorporate it.

Maria Franzoni:    

That’s fascinating. You’ve covered a lot of things that I was going to ask you about. We’ll go a bit more in depth, actually, because I was fascinated to know where that interest in organisational learning came from, and so as you said, it’s a thread all the way through. Do you think life might have been different had you stayed in your music career? Would you have been a rock star, do you think?

David Price: 

No, I was never good enough, and I kind of realised that not long after. But I was one of those people who 1977, the punk movement just, it decimated so many careers, mine included, in a very, very short space of time. It’s ironic that that whole do-it-yourself ethos, which drove the punk thing, which I loathed at the time, I felt bitter about it, and these people couldn’t play, and I’d worked for 10 years to get where I was, and now I couldn’t get any work, because people who couldn’t even play three chords were now forming bands and in the charts. Now it’s the thing that I’m really fascinated by. The whole do-it-yourself ethic is, I guess, what’s driving, I think, a lot of the changes that we’re seeing, not just in the way organisations learn, but in the way society is changing. So I’m a kind of latter day punk, I guess.

Maria Franzoni:  

Fantastic. I could see that from your hair style as well today. David, congratulations on your OBE. I mean, I know you’re very proud of it. Can you tell us what that was awarded to you for?

David Price:  

Well, I wish I knew. The whole process is clothed in secrecy, and indeed, when the Queen gave it to me, that was the question she said. She said, “So what did you get this for?” And sometimes, I guess, when I’m in the presence of well-established people I drop all pretence. I said, “Well, I don’t know. You’re giving it to me. Do you not know?” Then I realised that was perhaps a little forward, but she had seen me years ago when I helped establish the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, so it may have had something to do with that, but then I also worked, and I think this is more likely, I worked with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, which is a charitable trust, and I set up a project, which ironically was about music.  Again, it went back to that thing where there was this question, why is the most popular cultural activity the least popular subject at school when kids have a choice? I hated music at school. Loved music outside of school. So I set up this project, which was attempting to bring that informal learning into the formal context of school, and it’s gone on to be hugely successful. It’s kind of all around the world. So I think it was perhaps in recognition of that.

Maria Franzoni:  

You’re a modest man. You’re a modest man, and I’ve heard you say that OBE stands for Other-

David Price:  

Buggers’ Ethics.

Maria Franzoni:      

Yes, yes. Might have to edit that out. I will leave that in, but you’re a very modest man. Talking about the education system, do you think that the education system prepares students for this really fast-paced changing world of business that we are finding ourselves in?

David Price:     

It depends where you go. There are some countries like Finland, New Zealand, Canada, who I think are leading the way now and doing very different things to what we see in the UK. Although in the UK, if you’ve got enough money to be privately educated or send your kids to an international school, you are probably preparing them and giving them a big advantage. But right now, in the UK, we have this obsession with what we call a knowledge-rich curriculum, which is essentially just cram as much bits of information into kids’ heads, without thinking about what are the skills that actually employers are saying that they need, which are all the so-called soft skills.  But soft is the wrong word for them, and not enough schools. There are some great schools in the UK that are doing this, but not enough schools are equipping kids to be able to present their ideas, to be able to articulate their ideas, to be able to work collaboratively, to be able to work in teams to problem solve. The countries that I mentioned are doing this now and putting it right at the centre of their education systems. Sadly, we are not. We are one of the countries that are lagging way behind.

Maria Franzoni:  

It makes me glad not to have children, to be honest with you, when I hear things like that, because it’s such a worry, such a worry. I’ve heard you say that you inhabit the intersection between education and business. I mean, that’s a big sentence in itself. What does that mean?

David Price: 

If you look at what’s at the heart of both of those environments, although I think one is very overt about that, which is school, and we think that we go to school to learn things. We don’t always think that we go to work to learn things. There is still a common perception that you do school, and university if you’re lucky, and then your learning stops and you use that learning. The truth is, the way the world of work is now changing, that’s going to be impossible. We’re all going to have many, many different jobs throughout our careers, and we really will have to be lifelong learners.

So although it may not get the recognition it perhaps deserves, I think, in the workplace, what we see when you look at the research is that the companies that are the most innovative and future-focused, it seems to me anyway, are the ones who regard work as an opportunity to learn. The reverse of that is true in our education system. We need learning in schools to be more like work. We need to put kids out in the world to understand how the world works.

So there’s a curious kind of paradox within that, but that intersection is really that question of what is the best way for people to develop themselves as individuals, as human beings, as efficient workers, as curious citizens? That’s why I’m fascinated by learning, because I think the big shift that’s gone on in the last 10 years is that we are finally recognising this thing that I call social learning, which is our capacity to learn from one another. And it’s causing employers quite a lot of angst, because we all know that if we can do so much more in terms of our professional learning outside of work, that’s telling us that there’s something not right.

The model of the training room where you sit down and you endure death by PowerPoint, that no longer cuts it for most people, because when they go home, they’re communicating with people all around the world. They’re following their passions, they’re talking about really interesting stuff. So they are becoming … the phrase I use is they’re becoming self-determined learners. The challenge for most corporations and most organisations is, how can you manage self-managed learning? It’s almost a paradox in itself. So what I’m fascinated in, and where most of my work now sits, is helping people to understand that there are ways in which you can support people to be self-determined learners.

Maria Franzoni:  

Fantastic, really fascinating. You also talk about engagement and disengagement. Do you think those two things, do you think the learning and the engagement is linked?

David Price:   

Absolutely. There’s a clear correlation between innovation in an organisation, between the learning culture and how seriously people take engagement. I’ve been doing the research now for the follow-up to Open, which is going to be called, very originally, Learning To Be Open, and I was in New York last week at a company called Sparks & Honey. It’s a kind of company that could never have existed 10 years ago. They’re culture seekers, so they have a network of people all around the world who essentially pick up on any kind of memes, anything that’s happening in social media, and they feed it into this computer that they’ve got, which is artificially intelligent. And they turn these kind of signals into what appear to be trends.

They’re now advising big corporations like McDonald’s, the US military on changes in culture, because that’s going to enable them to get ahead of the curve. But the fascinating thing is that they’re doing that through completely open and networked clusters of individuals all around the world, and it’s almost a kind of an organic model of leaning. It’s fascinating to see, and they’re highly successful.

And to go back to the engagement piece, they place very high regard on engagement, so one of the questions I’ve been asking everybody as I’ve been doing the interviews is I say, “Learning or free lunches?” And by that, the inference is, we seek to get employees’ loyalty through perks. Everybody’s read about Google and the way that you can get free food, and there’s pool tables, and all of that kind of stuff, but actually, when you go to Google, as I did recently … I was in Australia, and I went to their headquarters … it’s the learning environment that they’ve created that really is why people stay, because when millennials are asked about do they want more money, do they want a boss that trusts them? Well yes, trust is a very big factor, but actually their main drive and the reason why they change jobs is to learn more and to grow as individuals. So for me, engagement and learning are indivisible, and sadly, too many employers take neither of those very seriously.

Maria Franzoni:  

Yeah. I mean, we’re blessed in the business that we’re in, because we’re constantly learning from our speakers. We are working with experts, and in fact, we are constantly learning from our clients, who are demanding the experts in the next area, which is why I’ve stayed in this business for over 20 years, because at the end of every day, my brain is fried from learning from people like you.

So anyway, I’m really thrilled that you’re writing your second book. I think it’s about time, because I absolutely devoured your book. I took your book, Open, on holiday, and I couldn’t put it down. I think it was brilliant. It absolutely changed the way I looked at my business, so you’ve had a huge effect on me. But anybody who doesn’t know what you mean by Open, could you just summarise what that means?

David Price:   

Okay, yeah. It took me a very long time to do the 30-second sell on the book, and eventually I saw in the Guardian, of all places, I just saw this little ad that they put out, and they said, “The Open exchange of information and ideas has the potential to change the world.” Essentially, that’s what I was picking up on. So I looked at Open as a mindset. I looked at Open as a structural vehicle, so we are seeing now more organisations that are completely self-managed, there is no hierarchy within them. I looked at Open in terms of that thing that we’ve already talked about between informal and formal and how you achieve that kind of blend.

So I looked at a number of different definitions of what we might deem Open, and I guess what I’m trying to do with this book now is, a lot of people said, “Well, the ideas are great. How do we do it?” And so this next book is much more a kind of how-to guide to create an open learning environment, because it’s easy to talk about, and it’s easy to describe, but it’s hard to actually achieve that.

Maria Franzoni: 

Absolutely. Absolutely. You also say that the next big shift is people-powered innovation. Will you be writing about that as well, and will you share what that’s about?

David Price: 

Yes. What I picked up on was … let’s take an example. The humble potato chip came about as a result of a disgruntled businessman in a restaurant in Saratoga. I think it was about 1853. He went in and his meal was served, and the potatoes were just soggy, and he really didn’t like them at all. He said, “I want these taken back, and I want them cooked really thinly.” Their chef was really quite upset about all this, so he decided that he would cut these potatoes incredibly thinly, throw them in a frying pan and put tonnes of salt on them, and served it up. He expected the guy to storm out. The guy actually loved them, and of course, that’s how the potato chip was born. There is no patent on the potato chip. The chef should have been wise, because it’s a $6 billion industry in the US alone.

David Price: 

What I always ask when I talk about that particular example, I always say to people, “So who invented the potato chip? Was it the chef or was it the customer?” And the truth is, it’s both. I think what we’re seeing now is we’ve moved from sharing what we know, which is what I really wrote about in Open. We’ve then moved into sharing what we own, so Airbnb, Uber, all of those things, you’re using your own possessions and you’re sharing them. Now I think we’re going to start to share what we can create, and by people-powered innovation … Not many people know this, but almost all, certainly well over 50% of the mobile banking innovations in Africa have come about as a result of the customers inventing things.

This is presenting another challenge for organisations, because we now for the first time have the capacity to make these things ourself. We can make things, we can invent things, and we can now go to scale, because hitherto we were missing two things. We were missing capital. If I had an idea, or my friends had an idea, how would we raise the capital for it? Well now, we’ve got all sorts of Kickstarters, GoFundMe. There’s all kinds of peer lending, which makes that possible. But we also didn’t have the means of production. But with 3D printers costing $1,500, we can build these things ourselves.

And what I’m observing is this people-powered innovation in so many fields. I see it particularly in the field of healthcare, where more and more people are taking responsibility for their own healthcare. And there are things like garage pharmacists, which are people who are not trained medical practitioners. They’ve got a DNA editing machine from eBay, because they’re relatively cheap and affordable. They’re sequencing DNA. They’re creating their own pharmaceutical drugs. None of it is being regulated, which of course presents another challenge, but there is no point in trying to outlaw these user-led innovations.

What we need to do, as Proctor & Gamble did, is to work with them and to say, “We’ll be your partner. We’ll help work with you, but you own this and you are the people now who can take this to scale.” Because what happens is, when the big organisations come in and then kind of buy it up … I’ll give you a concrete example. Skateboards were created by surfers, who during the winter wanted something that they could use. So they essentially cannibalised a pair of roller skates, put a plank of wood on it. It was as simple as that, and then that was the first skateboard. And the skateboard community grew and grew and grew. There was no commercial involvement. Then along come the commercial organisations, you get people like Billabong, what they do is to take it to scale. But if you followed Billabong’s fortunes, they’re sharply on the decline, because they’ve lost that punk ethic

The thing that drove all these people was this desire to hack and to tinker, but also to share it. Nobody was in there to make a tonne of money, but it was to share those ideas with other users and to keep it within that spirit. And surf culture is really fascinating for this, because as soon as Rip Curl and all those big companies got involved, the real surfers just said, “To hell with that. We’ll just go back to the garage, and we’ll just make our own again.” So there’s a kind of ethic which goes with it, which sits alongside that open learning, but I will predict it will get bigger. This notion of people-powered innovation will get significantly bigger over the coming years, simply because we can now.

Maria Franzoni: 

Love it. I’m really looking forward to the book, so make sure you focus on writing it. Now tell me, David, how did you get into speaking?

David Price:   

Well, I’d always sort of done that, and when I was working at the Liverpool Institute, because it was quite an innovative project, we had to set up essentially a new university, doing things that no other university had done. Once we opened and word got around, people started asking me to speak. There’s a performance gene in my body, and I thought, “Wow, this is just like being on stage.” I loved it, and I still do, and since the book came out, it’s kind of opened up so many other doors and so many other opportunities to speak. So I’m really fortunate that … There are some people who just speak domestically, and they’re experts in what’s going on in some narrow field or perhaps in one country or another. I’m lucky that I’ve got this jack of all trades, master of none approach, which has meant that I’ve been able to speak in many different companies on many, many different topics.

Maria Franzoni:  

Actually, you spend a lot of your time every year in Australia, don’t you?

David Price: 

I do.

Maria Franzoni:    

So you skip the winter, you skip the winter here? How did you end up working in Australia?

David Price:

Well, that was through that project I talked about, the music one. The first country that really picked up on it was Australia, and so they asked me to go over and help set it up. As a result, I then started working with … it was mainly educators initially, and then I started getting requests to speak over there. But that’s only part of my work. I really enjoy training, so there’s one part of my work which is kind of up here, it’s the strategic policy. But the other part of it, which I could not leave behind, is either going in working with teachers or employees and doing workshops with them. Really enjoy doing that.

I think sometimes when you’re working as a consultant, you do the report and it goes on the shelf, and maybe something happens. You don’t know, though, because they’ve moved on, you move on. But there’s something about going into a school or a college and giving them a new way of working, which you can do very quickly. I can do it in a couple of days. Giving them a new way of working, and you know that it’s had an impact. Now, it may only be one organisation at a time, but I actually think that’s how the world’s going to change. The big sweeping radial changes, it seems to me, don’t often stick.

Maria Franzoni:  

Yeah, and actually, it’s not just educational organisations, because we’ve sent you into businesses as well to do the same thing. Finally, I’m going to end on something very personal here, and I hope you don’t mind. I hope I don’t have to edit it out.

David Price:  

You can’t write a book called Open and then put a barrier up.

Maria Franzoni:  

Okay, so we’re going to end on something that is a big deal. It’s a big deal. You often open your speeches these days saying that you’re happy to be here when you’re actually on the stage and that actually has a huge meaning, doesn’t it? Why do you say that, and what’s happened, and how has that changed you?

David Price:

Well, I’m currently on my third about of cancer, so I got prostate cancer about nine years ago, and it was fine until two years ago, when it started to reappear. But you know, prostate cancer’s quite a manageable condition. But in between that, I also got colon cancer, and I had surgery for that, which went horribly wrong, and I ended up with severe sepsis, of which the death rates are 50%. So it’s a 50/50 chance whether you’re going to survive or not. I was lucky that I did survive, but it genuinely was a life-changing moment, because I had to consider what was it I wanted to do with the rest of my life?

None of us know how long we’re going to be around, and it ties back into my work interest, insofar as currently I’m kind of following a fairly unconventional path, from people that I sourced through that prostate cancer community. I think sadly, too many people go down the surgical route with prostate cancer, which is not always in your best interest, because it’s also about the quality of life. Again, I take responsibility for my own health, and it’s astonishing. I was talking to a nurse the other day, and she said, “You know, sometimes I’ll have patients, I’ll say, ‘You do know you’ve got cancer?’ And they go, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, I know.’ And I say, ‘Do you know which cancer you’ve got?’ And they go, ‘No, no, I don’t really know.'”

I find that astonishing, that anybody would not know what kind of cancer they’ve got, but it shows … I think, I can’t prove this, but I think being curious as an individual, taking that responsibility, having the confidence, I guess, not to panic and not to say, “Okay, doctor, whatever you think,” and to recognise that out there, there are millions of people who are doing some very different strategies. And I think the medical community, to go back to that open learning thing, the medical community all over the world is failing to recognise the enormous range of skills in its patients, and the experience in skills. And largely, they’re not tapping into that, those skills and experience. So to cut a long story short, yep, I’ve had some major health challenges, but touch wood, everything’s under control right now, and yeah, I think I’m going to be around for a while yet.

Maria Franzoni: 

Fantastic. Well listen, I’m glad you’re here. You’re looking great. Have a wonderful birthday, and thank you for your time.

David Price: 

Thanks a lot, Maria.

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Interview with the CEO and Co-Founder of Bridging Health & Community, Pritpal Tamber

This week Maria’s guest on the show is Dr. Pritpal S. Tamber.  Pritpal is the CEO and co-founder of Bridging Health & Community, a Seattle based non-profit dedicated to transforming how healthcare works with communities. At the heart of its work is the insight that our current approach to health, deploying technical solutions to biomedical problems, is failing in a world of circumstance related chronic conditions. Bridging Health & Community has gleaned 12 overarching principles for how healthcare can work with communities. These principles also have the potential to foster the agency of communities, their ability to make purposeful choices, something increasingly recognised as core to health. He is the former physician editor of TEDMED and began his career as an editor at the British Medical Journal.

Maria:

Welcome, Pritpal, thank you for joining me on the Speaking Business podcast. How are you?

Pritpal Tamber:

I’m very well, interesting to go through this podcast.

Maria:

Yes, fantastic. Well let’s find out a bit more about you then, Pritpal. Let’s find out, what did you want to be when you were growing up?

Pritpal Tamber:

Great question. An astronaut. I thought I was going to be an astronaut, that was the idea, that was the hope. It didn’t last very long, I sort of realised how hard the sciences were so medicine was as far as I would take it but yes, it was an astronaut when I was a kid.

Maria:

But were you interested in medicine, per se?

Pritpal Tamber:

Not a huge amount, I actually wasn’t that bothered about medicine when I was a kid, it was more that I was a bit of a science nerd, so I just was very good at biology, physics and chemistry and then you’re sort of trying to ask yourself what a teacher, especially one quite influential teacher when I was a kid, encouraged me to be an engineer, but my family were a bit more interested in having a doctor in the family and so in the end, I went in that direction.

Maria:

Always good to have a doctor in the family, I think. So you became editor at the British Medical Journal, how did you get that particular job and how long were you there?

Pritpal Tamber:

Well, I became an editor there, so not the editor. When I was there, I first won a scholarship when I was a medical student, so at the end of my fourth year, they were doing eight week scholarships. So medical students quite often will go for six to eight weeks somewhere to study some branch of medicine in a way that is off curriculum but is educational in its own way, and I wanted to learn about publishing and editing and so I was interested in being a writer at the time and so I won a scholarship there, that was for six to eight weeks, and then proposed to them that they take a student, who I also then happened to propose it to be me, for a year to be a student editor in office.

So I did that, so I was there for 14 months before I went back to medical school, graduated and started my medical career. But yes, I was there for that 14 months and that job became a permanent job with they’ve recruited a student for every year for, I think that job lasted for 25 years before they finally closed it down, I’m not quite sure why they closed it down in the end, but that’s how it all started.

Maria:  

A very good start as well. You worked at Map of Medicine and if I’ve understood correctly, that mission there, at Map of Medicine, was to improve the flow of patients through the healthcare system, which is a great thing to be doing. Have you seen improvements in patient flow through healthcare do you think?

Pritpal Tamber:    

There might have been, it’s very difficult to know.  So the premise of Map of Medicine was that there’s this thing in healthcare, and I think probably in most industries, called the know-do gap. The difference between what we know from research and what is actually happening in practise. Map of Medicine’s premise was that if we can deliver knowledge at the point of care, in a way that is context sensitive, then you can improve decisions of doctors and therefore improve the flow of patients through healthcare systems, because they’re not bouncing around, they’re going in the right direction each time. In the end, and in hindsight, I was there for four years, in hindsight ultimately it was a naïve proposition because what you learn by trying to do that work is that knowledge, even when coupled with powerful technology, and even if surfaced in a context sensitive manner, cannot really influence what happens in the complex environment of health and actually so much more about how systems improve come down to people and culture.

So we were a technical solution in a world that needed a social solution. So, although it was a very good proposition and I think we did some really great work there, we weren’t enough, essentially, of an organisation trying to change the culture in healthcare delivery. We were really just trying to produce a technical solution.

You know, the shame of it is, is that we were not the first to learn the challenge wasn’t technical, the challenge was social, but when you look at what’s happening in the NHS and other healthcare systems, we continue to see solutions that are technical in nature and not social. So it’s amazing how we in healthcare, as a global industry, really just fail to learn that message over and over again.

Maria:     

Wow, yes, I wasn’t expecting that answer, that’s a really interesting answer, we’ll come back to that a bit later, I’m sure. Thank you for that. So I see you as a bit of a disrupter, and I hope you don’t mind me saying that about you, and one of the examples is when you were at BioMed Central, where there you made some great changes in academic publishing. I didn’t even know there was a need to disrupt academic publishing and make it more transparent. What was the need there?

Pritpal Tamber: 

I don’t know that I am a disrupter, I was just a staff member there but I learnt from the founder who himself was a serial disrupter. For me, it was just an interesting job. Really what happened was, was that what he perceived was the advent of the internet changed distribution of knowledge. So the distribution of knowledge is classically defined in academic publishing was really just subscription. You would buy a subscription to a journal and you would get it.

What the founder there realised and what lots of people were talking about at the time was that because the unit cost of delivery, i.e. what it takes for the person to receive a research article, was radically diminished almost to zero because you could just basically put it on the internet and that would deliver it to whoever wanted to be able to access it. And so actually, you could distribute knowledge a lot more effectively with the internet. That was really appealing, especially to funders, because so many research funders are essentially funded by tax and so we have a sort of odd situation where taxation funded research and in order for the researchers to get access to the fruit of research, they had to subscribe to private companies that were publishing journals.

Now don’t get me wrong, these private companies publishing journals were creating a good service, but that service became less required, or basically not required, once you had the internet. So there was a sort of an idea of the internet changes the distribution of knowledge, changes the business model, let’s work out how to do it, and that’s what BioMed Central was trying to do. The idea was especially just to democratise knowledge, so you make it more accessible and more people can process it and come up with new ideas, etc, etc. That was what BioMed Central sought to do, and achieved it, and it became, I think, was the first company in academic publishing that went into the black and then was eventually purchased by a corporate publisher.

For me, I think what I learnt from that process was that I learnt a bunch of things. First of all, just new technologies should enable you to think anew about existing solutions and come up with new ways of doing things. That certainly wasn’t a way in which I thought when I first went to work there, I sort of thought the world was the shape that it was and that’s it but working at BioMed Central kind of made me realise that you can question everything.

I think the second thing I learnt was no matter how daft the status quo is, there are so many vested interests in the status quo, that radical change is extraordinarily hard. That was actually quite eye-opening to me and I sort of assumed that people were always willing to make things better. You then realise actually people in systems, quite often do their best to keep things as they are, even if as they are is pretty bad and dumb, and not really creating the value that could be created. So those are sort of things that I learnt by working with a disruptor, whether some of that willingness to disrupt rubbed off on me, that would be a kind interpretation. I certainly learnt a lot by working with him for the six, seven years.

Maria:    

So Pritpal, in your intro, we heard that you were physician editor of TEDMED, for anyone who’s managed to miss it, and I can’t believe there’s anybody on the planet, but can you tell us about TED and tell us about TEDMED and your role there, please?

Pritpal Tamber:   

You know, it’s funny, I think in Europe, lots of people don’t really know that much about TED, which I always find interesting, and maybe not in your circles, but certainly in mine, I quite often mention TED and people look at me and wonder what that is. TED started, I think it’s about 35 years old now. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and the original idea was that those were three industries, there wasn’t really a space for them to get together and work out how they can cross-pollinate ideas, and so the first meeting, or the first event, was about bringing together leaders of those three industries to see if they could cross-pollinate with new ideas.

So that’s what TED tries to do, it still tries to do that. Of course, the worlds of technology, entertainment and design overlap a lot more these days than they did back then. If you look at companies like Pixar for instance, that’s an entertainment company that used technology with design at the forefront of how it works. So it’s become a business reality in many places.

TED carries that ethos on about how do you share ideas across sectors by creating an environment where people can rub shoulders, get out of the day job and hear about ideas from other sectors. I think the thing that people always misunderstand about TED, even though the strap line is very clear, the strap line is, “Ideas worth sharing.” People think it’s about innovation and there’s a significant difference between an innovation and an idea. An idea really is something that you can take from a sector and try to work out how you would apply it in your sector, or in the problem that you’re seeking to address, and those ideas are often personal ideas, or borne of personal experience, which is why classically TED talks are people often reflecting on their own life before they start speaking about their current work and that’s different to an innovation. An innovation usually is some kind of technical solution to something and those are quite often industry specific, or sector specific. So there’s a vast difference between an idea and an innovation.

So that’s what TED is, that’s why they talk about ideas worth sharing, etc. TEDMED is essentially its health spin off, they tried to use the same approach to think of big ideas that are going to improve health and my role there was to help them be a little bit more robust in how they were looking at the science underneath some of these ideas, and thinking very critically about whether those ideas were likely to be deployed in the healthcare system, if they were ideas for the healthcare system, were they likely to be deployed in healthcare.

One of the things about change in healthcare is,  and people don’t talk about this enough, is that any change essentially creates some kind of clinical risk, and the clinical risk is essentially hurting or killing someone. So healthcare innovates very slowly because of the caution around clinical risk. Actually, when you try to do something in healthcare, the biggest thing you have to think about is who’s indemnifying who, and that very rarely surfaces in these events because there’s a sort of fetishizing of ideas, or sometimes innovations, without sufficient thinking about, “Well actually, how might this actually roll out?” I was so obsessed by that that they eventually made me do a small talk on it myself.

Maria: 

Brilliant, fantastic. Is that how your speaking career started?

Pritpal Tamber: 

Yes, probably, that was probably the hardest one I’ve done. They made me do a four minute talk. So the short talks are very, very hard, much harder than trying to do the classic 17 minute talk, and takes a lot of practise to take an idea and package it into four minutes.

I think my talking started when I met Mark Stevenson, who’s the author of the Optimist’s Tour Of the Future, he was a friend of a friend and I think he actually eventually introduced me to you and then this sort of started off me doing talks more regularly. That was probably where it started. I never saw part of what I did as speaking, but it’s actually become a big part of what I do now. I’m not a great fan of talk, I’m much more interested in action but I speak in order to try to catalyse action, so that’s probably where it started.

Maria: 

Fantastic, we’ll come back to that a bit later, I sort of digressed a little bit because I actually wanted to go on to talk to you a little bit about the Health Service. Why do you think the Health Service is failing us?

Pritpal Tamber: 

It’s a difficult topic. I think it’s a topic that a lot of people don’t want to talk about because in the UK, and actually in lots of other countries, it all just becomes about it needs more money, but actually there’s something much more fundamental going on. So first of all, if you just look at the stats, people in difficult social circumstances, either low income or some form of exclusion, are getting sicker way earlier in their life, and are dying way earlier in their life. So sometimes that difference is 10 years. So two people born in the same year, the one that goes through difficult social circumstances will die 10 years earlier. Now, the health system isn’t able to respond to that because in many ways, the health system is a kind of one size fits all approach. Actually, I wanted to go and understand that, why is it that our health systems are struggling to meet those people? So that actually has underpinned my work.

So I’ve spent time with people working in difficult social environments, to understand what does it mean to work there. I think at the surface level, there’s a very obvious answer, which is there is a very significant lack of understanding of what it means to be in difficult social environments, so health systems are providing square pegs that don’t fit round holes. So that’s the surface level, pretty clear problem, that is not being responded to.

I think the other thing that became clear to me is that as I did this work more and more, it’s increasingly understood that what gives us our health, there’s about 70% of that comes down to our social circumstances, and people talk about that being kind of lifestyle, that’s actually a scientifically inaccurate term to use because when you use the term lifestyle, there’s an assumption it’s about choices that people make. Actually lots of people are in circumstances where they don’t have choices. A very obvious example of that is where people live in environments where they don’t have access to fresh food.

So you still hear it, you hear it even from government bodies who talk about lifestyle related, and health behaviours, and things like that which is sadly scientifically very poor use of words. If you think about people’s circumstances, and whether they’re able to stay healthy or otherwise, that’s really what matters more than how good a healthcare system is. The stats are really clear, about 75% of your health comes from your circumstances. Only about 20/25% comes from how good a healthcare system is and that could be based on if it’s the best healthcare system in the world. Most of your health comes from your circumstances and our healthcare systems are failing because we continue to think of healthcare, hospitals, primary care doctors, that kind of stuff, as the sources of our health, whereas actually the science is really clear that that is not the place that we should be playing, or at least only 25% of our efforts should be there, 75% of our efforts should be elsewhere.

Maria:  

That’s really fascinating actually, it’s a really different view. Is that what you’re trying to do with Bridging Health & Community, is that the message you’re trying to get across to governments and to organisations?

Pritpal Tamber:        

Yes, so Bridging Health & Community really came from my writing and my talking. So I was really just trying to understand this problem. I left TEDMED with a clear feeling that the ideas on stage were really not going to touch communities in difficult social circumstances and I wanted to understand why there was that big gap between where all the excitement in ideas and innovation was, compared to where all the need was. So that’s why I went to spend time with people working in difficult social circumstances and just work out what it meant to be there. That’s what made me really appreciate this 75% versus 25% stat, which is actually very well documented. It’s at least 30 years old, about 25, 30 years old, the science behind it is at least 25, 30 years old. So it’s interesting that it hasn’t yet penetrated policy in any real way, despite a lot of rhetoric.

Bridging Health & Community, what we’ve been trying to do in the US, is think about how can healthcare systems quite literally bridge better to communities in difficult social circumstances? What does that mean? In the US, the emergency departments there, they’re called emergency room, the ERs, so people turn up in ER with their sickness and then the healthcare system tried to do something about that but by then, it’s quite frankly too late. They’ve got ill for other reasons. So how can a healthcare system reach into a community and understand that they need to start working out how to influence the 75%, even though they don’t own 75%?

Part of the 75% are things like access to fresh food, that’s not something a healthcare system can directly own but how can it influence it? How can it influence the food delivery system, the commercial food industry, in order to try to help people have better health? So that’s what Bridging Health & Community is trying to do, but as you said in your intro, one of the things that I learnt by doing this work is that it’s also been pretty clear, at least since the late ’80s, that if we look at why people are getting sick, so we can say it’s because of diet, lack of exercise, living in environments that are toxic to the body in some manner, stress from life, etc, etc, those can account for illness but lower down the socioeconomic gradient, we actually realised that it still doesn’t really explain more than 50%.

It turns out that actually, the scientists in this field are called social epidemiologists, and it turns out that they’ve been struggling with this for a long time and realising that they can’t explain it. So we find more and more risk factors over and over again. Every day on the news, you hear something, “Burnt toast is going to give you cancer. Too many eggs are going to give you cancer.” You hear this stuff over and over again. This is epidemiology trying to find more reasons why we’re healthy or otherwise, and it’s a good and important science. The problem is, is that we have this gap in our knowledge and it’s been known, again, since at least the late ’80s. What it seems is that lower down that socioeconomic gradient, what really matters is that people do not have what the technical term is agency, the ability to make purposeful choices. It turns out as you go up the socioeconomic gradient, people have more agency, basically by how they’ve been brought up and the education they’ve received.

So what we’ve realised is that when you’re reaching into communities in difficult social circumstances, if you’re not being purposeful about how you foster the agency of those communities, you’re really not going to have a material impact. So what we’re trying to do is help healthcare work out how to show up in those environments, and be intentional about fostering agency, while also thinking about the more obvious things, like access to fresh food.

Maria:  

So Pritpal, tell me, why have you based the organisation in Seattle, when you’re based in London?

Pritpal Tamber:  

That’s a good question. So it started off because I started this work when I was just finishing off with TEDMED, so a lot of my network was American at the time, as I started to explore this topic, it was largely Americans I was reaching out to. That’s how it started. I then discovered in doing this work, that actually the fragmentation in the American healthcare system actually creates an interesting Petri dish of experimentation in different forms all around the country. So that also meant that it was a rich seam to follow. So that’s why it really got hold there and why we decided to incorporate there.

We do actually have work in the UK, the UK manifestation of what we’re calling in the US, Bridging Health & Community, and in the UK is actually called Beyond The Systems. The reason why we have a different shape to it is firstly, there’ve been different advisors and actually we all felt collectively that it needed to have its own identity. Secondly, the challenge here is different in the UK, because we’ve had this fully developed social welfare system since 1948, and actually it’s surfacing the same issues as we’re seeing in the US, but for different reasons and so the solutions that we should propose would be different. So actually, I do work in both countries but we’ve been going longer in the US through Bridging Health & Community.

Maria:

Pritpal, would you say then that education could play a huge part as well? We have to learn English and maths, basic English and maths at school, should we be learning more about health as well?

Pritpal Tamber:   

My answer is sort of yes but not entirely. So if we go back to this idea of agency and the ability to make purposeful choices, agency in many ways, it’s the ability to solve problems, can you work out what to do, can you overcome barriers in your own life? Actually education is really pivotal to that and it starts at home, it starts with how your parents bring you up, all that kind of stuff. We know that actually education and economic security are the two things that matter long-term to your health, more than anything else. More than how shiny your hospital is, more than the fresh food etc. Education and economic security are the two things that matter most.

I would say that education matters, but I wouldn’t say that the way in which we think about education is we have to sit people down and say, “Eat fruit, eat vegetables. Walk to work rather than just drive all the time,” etc, etc. I don’t think it’s that kind of education that really matters. In fact, we’ve got ample evidence that shows that when we try to provide education information to people, it has a very limited effect on their behaviours and so there’s something about working much more fundamentally on people’s ability to really just handle the obstacles in life, and education plays an incredibly important part of that, basic maths, basic English, all of that kind of stuff to enable you to overcome the obstacles in life and that is you essentially expressing agency.

As they say, at least from the late ’80s, it’s been clear that that matters to health and yet you won’t ever see it in health policy in many places. In fact, I don’t really see it intentionally either in the UK, the US or anywhere else I’ve been speaking or writing.

Maria:     

We touched earlier on the fact that you’ve started talking about this to business audiences, to corporate audiences, to all kinds of audiences actually,  all sorts of industries. What are you hoping when you speak to audiences, that they will do differently as a result of listening to you?

Pritpal Tamber:   

Well for me, it’s all about getting to action. I see my work as the kind of 20 year journey, and so right now it seems that that knowledge exists in the nerdy journals and actually what’s going on is, is that when we get to implementation, we take the stuff that is a little bit easier to get our heads around. So we can sort of understand food, exercise, that kind of stuff is easy to get our heads around. So we see that going into implementation but I’m not sure how much impact it’s having. It seems to me this much more fundamental problem is a little bit of a thorny issue and so feels to me like right now the challenge is just to get the message out there. I think the science is strong and I think my work defined the 12 principles for how you operate in these environments, which essentially are the principles for fostering agencies. What we’ve learnt by doing this work is really about getting the message out there and creating a framework that enables people to start thinking about how to act.

Now, I’m being really cautious about saying, “start thinking about how to act,” because you could imagine, healthcare’s a business, I think it’s about a seven trillion dollar industry across the world and people will start with those things where they’re very clear that they can have clear ROI and agency isn’t this thing that you can go and implement get an intervention around and then get a three to one ROI within a 12 month timeframe, which is how business strategy tends to work. This is a much more fundamental thing about the shape of society. The challenge, I think for now, is just to get the message out there and get people thinking about it.

When I talk to audiences, I always have this thing of if there’s 100 people in the room, there are really only two or three who are really going to want to come and have a deeper conversation about it. That doesn’t mean that the other 97 are not interested, but two or three are going to be the type of people who’ll say, “I really want to get into this,” and that usually is what happens. Afterwards you get two or three come up to the podium and ask a lot more deeper questions. Then usually one or two will really want to get into implementation, really start thinking about, “How do we change our thinking?”

I think that’s ultimately the fundamental thing and ultimately what Bridging Health & Community has to do, is you just have to start getting healthcare to look in the mirror and realise that it’s not as effective as it could be, and realise why. At the moment, there’s a misunderstanding because there’s a feeling of, “Well, we have to get the food system to change.” Yes, but that’s probably not going far enough. Yes, we have to think about transportation, yes we have to think about stress environments, yes we have to think about the environment and whether that’s polluting people’s health, etc, etc. All of those things, yes, but there are much more fundamental things we need to be working on and sensitising people to that and getting them to work out what their role is in that, is actually where I’m trying to take this work.

Maria:  

That’s an enormous challenge, Pritpal, it’s a huge thing you’re trying to do and it’s wonderful. So when you do get some time out, and you aren’t working, how do you relax?

Pritpal Tamber:                  

Football. Everything’s about football, me. So I’m 44 and somehow still playing, although I’m sure that saying that I play football is a crime against football, but I play as much as I can. I probably watch too much although I’m an Aston Villa fan, so they’re not on TV as much as they used to be and I no longer have my season ticket, so I don’t see them as much as I used to. Then I’m usually in a pub with mates, talking about football, so I’m sort of horribly uni-dimensional outside of work, I can assure you.

Maria:    

I didn’t know that about you Pritpal, I’ve learnt something new. You fortunately haven’t talked to me about football, because I know nothing about football, so that’s brilliant. Now listen, I’ve left my most controversial question till last here, and I need you to think long and hard about it because you know me and you know where I stand on this, this is the big one. Are you a dog or a cat person?

Pritpal Tamber:    

My answer is it depends on who’s my girlfriend at the time. So I guess I’ve had a girlfriend who’s been a cat person and for the sake of peace, I’ve entertained the idea of having a cat, and I’ve had a girlfriend who was a dog person and for the sake of peace, I’ve entertained getting a dog but on neither occasion did it actually ever happen. Yess, I am very flexible on that, I don’t think I particularly have an opinion, which probably is the worst thing to say.

Maria: 

But do you know what? I think pets help your health. Pritpal, listen, thank you so much for some really amazing, thought provoking ideas there and things that we really need to focus on. Thank you for your time.

Pritpal Tamber: 

Thanks a lot.

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Interview with the Disruptive Innovator, Jim Harris

This week Maria’s guest on the show is Jim Harris. Jim is one of North America’s foremost thinkers on disruptive innovation. Jim is the bestselling author of The Learning Paradox, The 100 Best Companies to Work for in Canada, and Blindsided. Blindsided is published in 80 countries worldwide and is a number one international bestseller. The Miami Herald calls Blindsided “brilliant stuff”. Jim is a catalyst for conversation and change. He excels at leading people to new ways of thinking, making productive, profitable change possible

Maria: 

Jim, thank you for joining me.

Jim Harris: 

It’s great to be on your podcast, Maria.

Maria:

Fantastic. It’s not easy to say: productive, profitable change possible. That’s quite hard.

Jim Harris:  

Well, it’s like embedded in there, just as a little test.

Maria:  

It’s a test. It’s a test. So, Jim, tell me, when you were a child, did you wake up one morning and say “I want to be a disruptive innovator?” I don’t think you did. What did you want to be?

Jim Harris:

No. Oh my God, I can’t … I haven’t been asked that in … ever. I can’t remember what I wanted to be as a child.

Maria:

Wow. What was your first role then, what was your first real job?

Jim Harris: 

As a child?

Maria:   

No, as an adult. Or did you have child labour back then?

Jim Harris: 

One of my first serious jobs that relates to what I do today was when I was in university. I ended up being on the editorial board of Canada’s oldest daily newspaper during my summer off between university years.

So, in that capacity, I wrote my first ever editorial for a newspaper. I wrote op-ed pieces. It was really great. That was one of my first experiences as a journalist.

Maria: 

Wonderful. So, the writing started really young, didn’t it?

Jim Harris: 

Well, while I was still in university, I was at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. While I was there, I was the editor-in-chief of one of the newspapers on campus, so that was another journalistic endeavour.

Maria: 

Fantastic. Now, you’ve been passionate as long as I’ve known you, and I don’t know if this started when you were young, but you’ve been absolutely passionate with regards to the environment and green. Did that start as a child?

Jim Harris:    

Yes, it did. I had a great-aunt, so this was my grandmother’s sister, who didn’t have any children, and she put a lot of time and effort into myself and my brother and my sister. Her name was Auby and she loved just the natural world, and so she’d take us walking through the forest and point out this type of mushroom and that type of fungus and this type of bug. She introduced me at a very early age to appreciating the natural world we live in.

Maria:

That’s lovely. Everyone needs an aunt like that, don’t they?

Jim Harris:  

Exactly.

Maria:  

Yes. You actually went on to work with the Green Party. I don’t know if many people know that, but can you tell us a bit about what you did there?

Jim Harris: 

I used to be a Conservative. In Canada, we had a party called Progressive Conservatives, and I was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party. In my final year of university, I read a book on green politics, which said that a species is going extinct every 25 minutes. Now, this was 30 years ago now, and that is 1000 times faster than extinction that the world has historically experienced.

So, in that, reading that one sentence in a book, I switched from being a fiscal Conservative, first and foremost, to being an ecological Conservative. That was my political conversion. That one sentence. Then I travelled around the world after university and I was the national press officer for the UK Greens. The UK Greens have elected MEPs, and, of course, Caroline Lucas from Brighton, who’s in Parliament. I continued my travels around the world and came back here to Canada, and I was elected leader of the Green Party of Canada. We saw massive expansion in the four years that I led the party. We ended up growing from 700 members to 10,000 members. We ended up growing from a budget of 25,000 a year to 2.5 million. We ended up going from 1% in the polls to 35% of all Canadians saying they would consider voting Green. So, by whatever metric you look at it, we had an exponential growth phase, and then I helped recruit my successor, Elizabeth May, who’s in Parliament. We’ve subsequently elected Greens from coast to coast, in Prince Edward Island on the East Coast and then British Columbia on the West Coast.

In fact, in BC, the Greens decided who would be Premier. It was such a close election that they decided who would be the governing party. In the East Coast, in PEI, the Green Party is more popular than any other party at the moment. So, we may see our first Green Premier with Peter Bevan-Baker leading the Greens in PEI. But, all of this has taken a lot longer than I imagined when I … I thought this kind of change would happen in maybe four years, and it’s 14 years.

Maria:    

It’s still amazing, very impressive change. You’ve done brilliantly. So, how do you think, overall, in your opinion, we’re tackling looking after the planet? Are we getting it more right than we’re getting it wrong these days?

Jim Harris: 

Unfortunately not. We are not changing fast enough, and that’s evidenced by climate change, by melting glaciers, by the melting of Greenland. We are profoundly and dangerously changing our planet to make it uninhabitable.

Maria:

That’s really sad to hear, Jim. I thought you might say that. I was hoping there might be a glimour of hope. I mean, I know that you’re a regular participant at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and this is a slightly loaded question, but do they see that as a priority? Do they see climate change as a priority?

Jim Harris: 

Well, there’s a difference between what we say and what we do, and so certainly at WEF, we have seen climate change be high on the risk assessment, the annual risk assessment that WEF puts out. But, when I look at the actions of governments in general, although there are some governments that lead, definitely, but when you look to, for instance, the largest economy, the US, we see actually the opposite, working against our future. We see coal companies, we see the current President saying he’s going to bring back coal, which is ludicrous because it’s not only bad for the planet, it’s not economical. It’s like saying, “We’re going to bring back the horse and buggy,” because we have horse and buggy people and we want them to have good horse and buggy jobs. It’s so last decade.

Anyway, we see this. In part, we need to look at the underlying systems. For instance, the fossil fuel companies, coal companies, oil and gas companies, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to actually create confusion in the general public. They’re actually working to kill the planet. The funny thing is that executives of oil and gas companies and coal companies, they have children too, and they’re actually threatening their own children’s and grandchildren’s’ future through their actions.

Maria: 

Oh, Jim, Jim. I mean, we could talk about this for the entire podcast, but I’m actually just so … There’s so much to talk about with other areas, so let’s leave that for the moment. We might have to do another one, entire one, on that topic because it’s such a big topic.

So, when you and I first met many years ago, let’s not share how long ago, we were younger, you had just published The Learning Paradox. For those who haven’t read the book, can you give us a quick synopsis of what is the paradox with regards to learning.

Jim Harris:  

Sure. Well, the thesis of that book is that 80% of the technology we’ll use in our day-to-day lives in just 10 years hasn’t been invented yet. So, my job security is based on learning, changing and accepting uncertainty, and what I fear most as an adult is learning, changing and uncertainty. So, paradoxically, our job security is based on the very thing we fear the most as adults.

Now, thankfully, children aren’t afraid of learning, changing and uncertainty. They live with it all the time because they say they know nothing, right? Like, they realise they have so much to learn. But, once we become adults, we somehow think we’ve arrived, right?

Maria:  

Yes.

Jim Harris: 

This is the challenge. We have to continually be engaged in new learning, which means, by definition, we’re not going to be expert, which means, by definition, we’re going to be uncomfortable. So, we have to embrace this and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Maria:    

OK. Let’s embrace that. Actually, talking about embracing, you’ve embraced social media, which was a big change, of course, when it first started. In fact, you are now considered a global social media influencer. What does that title mean? What does that mean, and what does it mean for your clients and for you? How does that help you?

Jim Harris:  

So, global social influencer. So, on Twitter, I have 270,000 followers. What that allows me to do is I’m the most influential person in the world for the hashtag “disruptive innovation”, which is what I actually speak about at conferences and seminars all around the world and work with executive teams for strategic planning sessions.

I also am in the top 100 most influential people in the world for hashtags like “cloud”, “cloud computing”, “innovation”, “internet of things”, which is IOT, “Blockchain”, “Cryptocurrency”. There are about 45 topics that I’m in the top 100, and that skews … I’m number 1 for 4, in the top 10 for another 10, in the top 20 for another 20. So, that means that companies like IBM and Huawei and SAP and Accenture hire me to either be at their events, or when they’re doing a product launch, because they want the world to know about their new product or service and they want me to be there live Tweeting about it.

So, this is a whole new area that has emerged because we’re seeing the collapse of traditional media. For instance, print media, at least in North America, gets about 12% of all ad dollars, but we’re only spending 4% of our time reading newspapers and magazines. That means we’re going to see a continued collapse of print. But, on the other side, on social and mobile, it’s under indexed, meaning we spend a lot more time on social, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, but it is not attracting the same level of advertising focus that it does. So, that is where this whole area of social influencer comes in.

It’s funny. Like, if I see an ad in the Financial Times of London saying, the company’s saying, “Our product is great,” I will actually believe a social influencer more than I’ll believe the company saying it itself. So, this is a whole new field, and some clients, some meeting planners, if they’re having an event launch, want to make sure there are social influencers at their events. When they hire me as a speaker, they get the social for free, or they can hire me just as a social influencer to be at their event.

Maria: 

Amazing. It’s like a new job, isn’t it, a new career, to be a global social influencer. It’s brilliant. You touched on disruption. We talked about it at the beginning, that this is your area of expertise. What would you say is currently the biggest disruption we’re facing?

Jim Harris: 

Oh, that is such a difficult question because there are so many disruptions coming at us, right? First, I’ll give an example of what is disruption. In North America, Uber is worth more than every taxicab company added together. So, while the taxicab companies, thousands of them, collectively own billions of dollars of assets in the form of limos and cars, Uber doesn’t own a single car and yet it’s worth more than all of them combined. That is disruptive innovation.

So, I look at why is disruption happening. How can, if you’re in an industry, how can you identify as it’s beginning to happen to you? How can you put in place strategies to mitigate that risk? How do you become more innovative as an organisation and as a culture yourselves? If you look at the economic impact, here in Toronto, a taxi plate, a licence to operate a taxi, used to sell for $400,000 10 years ago. They’ve traded now as low as $50,000. In other words, an almost 90% reduction in the asset value of owning a taxi plate in Toronto. That is the economic consequence of not being innovative.

Every single organisation is facing disruption today, which is why the focus, my focus of disruption, is so hot today for meeting planners and conferences and seminars all around the world, and strategic planning sessions with executive teams.

Maria:  

So, listen, one of the things I want to talk to you about, actually I thought you might have brought it up, but there are, as you say, there are so many disruptions. We had a fascinating discussion a few weeks ago about how driverless cars are going to disrupt much more than people realise. I wonder if you could give a couple of examples because I was absolutely horrified when you said some of the things you said. I’d never thought of that. Could you share?

Jim Harris:    

Sure. The first thing to realise is that 94% of car accidents are due to driver error. So, in 7 to 10 years, when the only new car you can buy, Maria, is an autonomous vehicle, the great news is that in North America 40,000 people will not be killed every single year in car accidents, and another 2.5 million people will not be maimed or seriously injured. That is a fantastic news. It’s just great.

But, if you sell auto insurance, you’re going to witness a $500 billion a year market collapse in the next decade or two. So, if you sell insurance or you’re an insurance company, you’re an insurance broker, you’d better be looking for a new market that’s worth 500 billion, like cyber security, which they haven’t been selling and focused on.

But, think about this. What happens when we take 2.5 million people off the roads in terms of being killed or maimed? Do we have too many ambulances, and is that bad for an ambulance maker? What about this? Are emergency rooms too big right now? Because, if you take 33% out of the mix in terms of being killed or maimed every year with car accidents, what happens to an emergency room? If you’re building a new hospital, shouldn’t you design the emergency room to accordion down by 33% in 10 years’ time?

We will, in 10 years, drive to work. But, we won’t be driving. We’ll be in the back seat. You’ll be sleeping, or you’ll be writing a report, or you’ll be Skyping with your grandchildren, or you’ll be watching a movie. So, what happens to radio stations? Because the reason we listen to radio right now while we’re driving is we have to keep our eyes on the road. But, if you don’t have to keep your eyes on a road and are watching a movie or Skyping with your grandchildren, you’re not going to be listening to the radio. So, what happens to the value of radio stations?

Wow. What happens when you arrive at work, you’re going to get out of your car and then you’re going to say to your car, “Go forth and earn your keep.” You’re going to put it in Uber or Lyft’s autonomous pool to go earn money rather than pay $40 a day, like we pay in downtown financial core, for parking. So, what happens to the value of parking lots all of a sudden? If your company is a paving company that paves parking lots, what happens to your company when nobody wants to pave parking lots anymore? In fact, McKinsey estimates the US has 61 billion square feet too much of parking given the rise of autonomous vehicles and autonomous vehicle fleets. What about the company that sells the tar to paving companies? What’s going to happen to them? If I don’t park anymore, what happens to the value of parking lots?

What happens to municipal finance? The city of Toronto makes $153 million every year on parking. What happens to municipal finance? What happens to government finance if people aren’t buying cars, because every one car that is in an Uber or Lyft pool, every one car that’s in car2go, AutoShare or Zipcar, car sharing services, eliminates 12 to 30 people buying a car. So, wow. What happens there?

Maria: 

Absolutely.

Jim Harris:

What happens to car companies if people are using car sharing? Like, do you know for young people here, it is cheaper to use Uber and Lyft than it is to own a car? Why is that?

Well, if you’re a young male, 16 to 24, insurance right out of the gate is $5,000. You buy a clunker because you can’t afford a nice car like you, Maria. So, you buy a clunker, and that means you spend money on repair, and then you have to change tyres winter/summer tyres, and oil, and parking’s a nightmare.

Wouldn’t you rather be treated like the president of a small republic, where a car arrives, you get in the back seat, it drives you, you get out … Like, millennials aren’t even bothering to get a licence. Like, that is so 2016, really.

Maria:

That is just brilliant. It’s brilliant. I have got my electric car, driverless car, on order. I’m looking forward to that. I’m hoping that’s going to arrive next year.

Jim Harris: 

Woo hoo.

Maria: 

Yeah, fantastic. So, Jim, listen, I could talk to you all day, but let’s talk about your speaking. How did you start your career as a speaker? Where did that begin?

Jim Harris:

So, 30 years ago, I wrote a book for the Financial Post, which, at the time, was 25% owned by the Financial Times of London. It was our financial newspaper in Canada. I wrote a book called the 100 Best Companies to Work for in Canada. I was one of three co-authors. The book was a national bestseller. People then began calling and saying, “Hey, we’re having a conference, we want to know what the 100 best companies have in common on strategy, or pay”. All sorts of topics. So, that began the speaking side of the business.

Then I hooked up with a guy called Stephen Covey, who wrote “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Fantastic. Stephen died a few years ago in a bicycling accident. Sad. His material still is profound in its impact on me today. For six years, I taught … I was one of only 12 people in Canada who could publicly teach Stephen’s “7 Habits”. Recently … It’s fun. I was on a programme with Stephen’s son, Stephen M. R. So, Stephen and I, M. R., were on this programme together for a client, it was kind of fun, and I told him what an impact his father had had on me. We had a great little chat there.

So, I represented Stephen, then I brought out my second book, “The Learning Paradox”, which we’ve already talked about. I brought out “Blindsided”, which has been published in 80 countries around the world and is a number one international bestseller. “Blindsided” really was the start of the focus on disruptive innovation, but that awareness of disruption occurred all the way back on the first book. So, with “The 100 Best Companies to Work for in Canada” 30 years ago, IBM was one of those companies. At the time, IBM had 400,000 employees. Then, when the recession of 1990 hit, IBM laid off 200,000 people, and I began to ask if not even the best companies can provide job security, what will create job security? That led to the rise of writing “The Learning Paradox”, because it’s learning, changing and accepting uncertainty that creates job security, not working for a large company.

Then, “Blindsided”, which is all about disruptive innovation, is looking at, in past, it used to be large companies that dominated small. Today, it’s the fast that are eating the slow. So, speed is important. How do large, incumbent organisations, which are historically bureaucratic and slow to change, adapt and begin to compete at the speed they need to in today’s fast moving, fast changing economy?

Maria: 

A very good question. Actually, not only do you speak, but you touched on the fact that you also lead strategic planning sessions with executive teams. When you do that, how is that structured? What does one of those look like?

Jim Harris: 

Well, it depends on each organisation, right? It’s almost like asking how long’s a piece of string. Very long. Very long. But, you know, to really get into the issues in a serious way, you need to be spending at least three days on this. What I find is, executive teams often think, oh, well, can we cram this into an hour? Let’s have an hour. Let’s think about some strategy, some strategic issues for an hour. We really need to engage in what’s called “scenario planning”, which is really exploring what the future possibly could look like.

It’s not to predict the future, it’s to engender flexibility as we move forward. Because, if we’ve already thought about what could happen, if we’ve really explored it deeply and understand the consequences of the changes, we understand how we have to change in the present moment in order to prepare for potential in the future. So, scenario planning isn’t about predicting the future, it’s about being prepared for whatever does occur, engendering flexibility, resilience and fast response.

Maria:  

Excellent. That’s brilliant. I think every organisation should be looking at that.

Jim Harris: 

Absolutely.

Maria:  

So, finally, Jim, you are one of the busiest people I know. You’re always taking onboard new things, embracing new ideas. What do you do to relax?

Jim Harris: 

Oh. One, sleep. Leanne, my wife, says I have a super power of sleep. Now, I don’t know what super hero is going to save the world one sleep at a time, but maybe it’s just because I end up being more happy and bubbly. In fact, I listened to a doctor, and this was profound, and he said the three biggest determinants of health are sleep, eating well and exercise. Absolutely. Is that how you exercise, Maria?

Maria:   

Yeah. People can’t see us because we’re on a podcast, but I’m just … I’m showing my exercise techniques. But, yes. Actually, sleep is the big one, isn’t it? Absolutely agree with you. You’re so lucky that you have that super power.

Jim Harris:

I am. I am. So, that is one thing I do. I love cycling. I have three different bikes, and my farthest season to date is 6,300 kilometres. I’m not on track to beat that this year because I’ve been travelling too much, but I love getting out cycling. My longest cycle is 124 kilometres. But, I’ll often, in a day, do 60. So, it’s a great form of exercise.

So, exercise, and, Maria, I happen … You already know this. I happen to love food. I love good food. Then, Leanne’s a big movie buff, so we end up seeing lots of movies. I love going out to dinner with friends, so those are some of the things I really enjoy doing. But, I believe we need to thoroughly enjoy our lives. After all, it’s fantastic to be here.

Maria: 

It is. Jim, it’s been fantastic to have you here. Thank you for being my guest.

Jim Harris:     

It’s been my absolute pleasure, Maria.

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Interview with the Futurist Monk, Bruno Marion

This week Maria’s guest on the show is Bruno Marion. Bruno nicknamed The Futurist Monk, is an expert in global trends and innovation. For the last 30 years, Bruno has been traveling around the world, meeting CEOs, monks, all kinds of gurus, people in jail, super rich people, super poor people, artists, scientists, high-level politicians, members of the special forces, activists, and successful entrepreneurs. In that time he’s read thousands of books on the latest innovations in science, technology, philosophy, and spirituality. He has been experimenting with cutting edge technologies, investigating new types of governances, smart cities, and disruptive ways of living. Bruno himself is the author of several best-selling books on Asian cultures, and the aptly titled book, Chaos, A User’s Guide. All about taking advantage of chaos and uncertainty

Maria: 

Bruno, hello.

Bruno Marion:   

Hello.

Maria: 

How are you?

Bruno Marion: 

I’m super good, super happy to be with you today.

Maria: 

Super. I hope everybody’s got their … What do you call it? When you put your head on so that you can hear the French accent? What is your machine that you have?

Bruno Marion: 

Well, you better ask your listeners to upgrade themself, and download the French accent software so they can fully understand me.

Maria: 

Fantastic, I love your accent. Bruno, let’s start off with all this travel you’ve done. You seem to have travelled an awful lot more than the average person. What set you off on that adventure?

Bruno Marion:

Well, I guess I started to travel with my first around the world trip, which was about 30 years ago. At that time I finished, I already graduated, and I had started to work. And that was my first futurist vision at that time. I thought that Asia is going to be big. I know it sounds ridiculous today because Asia is obviously very big, but at that time Asia was not very, very big. It was big, but not on the markets, not in the economy. China was very small, India was very small too. And I had this vision that Asia is going to be big, and we don’t know how to work together.

Basically, I put my backpack on, and in the bottom of my backpack I put a pair of clean shoes, and a suit, and everywhere I would go in Asia, and I would meet expatriates. I would meet local business men, and ask them, “How can we work together?” Basically this is how I wrote my first book about how to understand each other, to help each other to design our future already at that time. So this is how I started to travel.

Maria:

That’s amazing, and you met some really diverse people. Does anybody stand out still in your mind today?

Bruno Marion:

I think the people who are really standing out in my mind today, they are the most ordinary people. I was lucky enough to meet super famous people, super powerful people. But, for me, the most amazing people they are what people would call, “Normal mother,” who is in the slum in India, is taking care of her kids, and trying her best to design them a future. The farmers in China, who in 10 years became multi-millionaires, but started as farmers.

All of these very, very ordinary people. Basically, I think they were the most inspiring to me. You have all these books that you can read about multi-billionaires, and I met some of them, and they can be really, really inspiring. But I think today ordinary people, you and me, you’re not ordinary, but I am. We can design our own future, and we can have an impact. I don’t have big names to tell you, but I have many, many names. First names mostly, coming to my mind, and I can see all these people doing day after day their job for themselve, and for the kids to design their own future, and their kids’ future. They are my heroes.

Maria: 

Fantastic. You say you’re ordinary, you’re so not ordinary, Bruno. And you’ve got this nicked name, The Futurist Monk. Who gave you that name, and why do you think you have that name?

Bruno Marion:  

This is really funny, because I have no idea. And, of course, I’ve been asked the question all the time. At one point I considered just making up a story, but I have no idea. It came slowly, and I just accepted it because basically this is me. When you look at my life, I would say a big part of my life I’m living like a monk. Right now I’m in my house in the south of France. My closest neighbour is 2KM away on the other side of the mountain, so we cannot see and hear each other. And I’m reading a lot, I’m reading more than 100 books a year.

So this is the monk life and the other part is I’m traveling, as you said, I’m trying to meet extraordinary people. Even if they are, as they said, ordinary. And I’m trying to share, I’m trying to share my tools, so we can design our own future. So I kept this name, The Futurist Monk, because I think this fits my life, and this is also how I see myself evolving in the future.

Maria:

Actually,you mentioned your home in the south of France. I know you’ve got two bases, one in Paris, and one in the south of France. And your home in the south of France, you call it an experimental resilient home. What does that mean to somebody who understand those words?

Bruno Marion:   

I think we are living an absolutely amazing time. Not everybody would agree with me, but I really believe from what I’ve seen, from all the people I’ve met in my life, but when you look at that, at all time, in 200 years people will look back and think, “Wow, I wish I was there.” And we have amazing opportunities, we have amazing risk also. And I don’t believe this will always be a very smooth ride. That is to say, we will go through crisis, that is why resilience is very important. And resilience is the ability to come out of a crisis at least as good as before the crisis, and hopefully better.

So, I’m trying to experiment whatever tools I’m sharing. So I thought, “What would be a resilient house? How can I have a place that can be sustainable, but can be a nice place, and sustainable through all these crises for myself and my little family. So I have this house, as I said, in the middle of nowhere. We produce our own energy. We have an amazing organic garden, etc. ,etc. And when I tell this story to my friends, to people I meet they say, “My god, so you can live on your own. You are self-sufficient.” And my answer is always, “No, no, no. I am not self-sufficient, and I don’t want to be.” Resilience by yourself doesn’t exist. You need people to be resilient together.

So, basically, I am connected with one windmill I have, which is a small windmill. I can produce two times more electricity than the one I’m actually using, and on top of that I have solar panels, etc,etc,etc. So I’m connected. A resilient house is a resilient that is connected. And there are many, many other things. I’m not a gardener. I’m not a farmer, obviously. I had to learn everything. And what I’m trying to prove is that as a regular family, let’s say two, three, four, five people. You can, even if you have a regular job, even if you travel, you can take care of your garden, but it can be reasonable financially and that it can be rewarding eating your own tomatoes, and making your own ratatouille every year.

Maria: 

I love that. I love that you’ve got your own windmill. I think you’re the only person I know who has their own windmill. That’s brilliant. You mentioned that we’re going through unprecedented world change. In fact, I think I read that you were calling it a reset. What do you mean by the reset?

Bruno Marion: 

By reset, I mean everything will change. Everything is changing, and everything will change. And a big, big, big difference, that in this reset you can design your own future. But most of my future is friends, which I love most of them, and we are good friends. They look more at technology. And they talk about what the future will be, and this is very important. And I’m doing partly the same. But I’m trying to go further than that. It’s not only about talking about the future, it’s how can you design your own future? This time as a total reset, is extraordinary because never in history you can, you have so much power to design your own future, if you understand what’s happening to you, and if you have the right tools. You can design your own future. You can not only be future fit, which is the first stage, but you can go further, and you can design your own future for yourself, for your family, for your community, for the world, if you must.

Maria: 

That’s incredibly exciting, and is this something that … Because you’re a member of The World Future Society. Is that something that, that organisation’s trying to do? What is the mission for that organisation?

Bruno Marion:

Basically this is an organisation, so futurists, we can meet. There is an even once a year, there are smaller events. Basically this is a group of people trying to discover, and understand the future, which for me is really great because it’s so amazing to meet all these people with the same goal, which is to understand what’s happening to us.

Maria: 

That’s brilliant. I wonder what you call a group of futurists? I’ll have to come up with a name for that, that sounds great. You also co-founded the … I’m going to try a bit French now, Université Intégrale Dupre. Was that all right? Which is the first think tank in Europe to discuss experimental, integral philosophy. What is integral philosophy?

Bruno Marion:  

Well, for the past millenniums human beings have been, some of them at least, have been trying to understand why are we here? What’s happening to us? Everything about life. And depending on the time, there were mostly three ways for us to understand our world and our life. That is religion and spiritualities for the first one, the second one has been science, and the third one is philosophy of philosophies. And depending on the time one was more stronger, or more powerful than the other one. I could say, but in the past 2000 years for most of the people on this planet religion and spiritualities have been the most important part to understand the world.

In the past 200/300/400 years, in all world science has been big, and in some pockets of time and geography, philosophy has been important. Like for the Greeks, etc. So I’ve been trying to understand and learn from these three ways to understand the world. I have a scientific background, I’m an engineer. So this is where I come from. And I try to learn from religion,  spiritualities, and philosophies. And today I’m using sciences. Science of chaos because I think this is a state of the art of technology, and science, to understand the world. For philosophy, the state of the art is what we call the integral philosophy, or the integral approach.

It started, you could say 100 years ago, was more popular for the past 30/40 years ago. Especially with the philosopher who is called Ken Wilber, and American philosopher who popularised most of the ideas. The main point is that never, never in human history we had access to so much, about so much knowledge. So the idea is how we can have meta philosophies, so we can understand and put all this together. So that’s the idea of the integral approach.

Maria: 

Wow, that’s blown my mind now. You are so not ordinary. You mentioned chaos, chaos science, chaos theory. How do you apply that to business? How can businesses take on board chaos science?

Bruno Marion:  

Well, to make it very simple, I believe our world has become chaotic. Chaotic in a scientific sense. For mostly, not only, but mostly three reasons. The numbers, there have never been so many people on this planet. 150 years ago there were approximately one billion people on this planet. Today, there are seven, maybe eight billion people. We have never been so many humans on this little white, blue dot in the universe. Second thing, connection. We have never been so connected. Obviously, through internet, and mobile telecommunications. We have never been so connected, because we are living together.

More than 50% of the population is living in big cities, and speed. Things are changing faster and faster. Because of these three reasons, the world has become chaos. And for most people chaos means mess. And what I’m trying to show, and to answer your question how we can use that, how we can use chaos theories. We can use them by understanding that chaos doesn’t mean mess. Basically you have mess, which is random, or randomness, and random is, well, random. There is no pattern behind it.

And then you have order. Order you can easily find patterns, and act on this order if you want to change it. And chaos is somewhere in between. When you look at it, for most people, this world looks like mess. What I can show you is that, no, for some aspect, it’s ordered, for some aspect it’s random, and for some aspect it’s chaos. And there is a hidden pattern. By the way, the world which looks like a poetic world, but is a scientific world, it’s called a strange attractor. There is a hidden pattern. If you not only understand this hidden pattern, then you can act.

Let’s say you’re the manager of a big company, or you’re just the manager of your own life, you can hack chaos. You can actually create your own strange attractor. You can create what I call in a very simple way, your dream. You never had so much power by hacking chaos to achieve your dreams. This is the main way, the main tools. Understand chaos, understand that it’s not mess. Create your own strange attractor, create your own dreams, and make it happen.

Maria: 

Wow. So, we actually had lunch back in February, late February. I don’t know if you remember.

Bruno Marion:

Yes.

Maria: 

And we were talking about that, but from a personal point of view. And you were talking about … You have a daily ritual of visualising your dreams. Could you explain to our listeners how you do that?

Bruno Marion:  

Yes, it’s very simple. If you want to hack this chaotic world, you need, as I said, a vision, a dream, which is like a strange attractor. Which may make you, whether bad or good things happen. Slowly, stay on the path of your dream, even if sometime you don’t understand how and why. You may think your daily life is chaotic, but if you have this vision, and what I call routines. You need rituals. One thing very important in a chaotic state, things are auto-amplifying.

That is to say, it’s like a broken thermostat. A thermostat went totally crazy. And a normal thermostat, when it’s too hot, it will stop heating. If it’s too cold, it will start heating. A crazy thermostat, when it’s too hot, we put more heat, and when it’s even hotter, even more heat. This is typically what we call auto-amplification. Chaos is auto-amplification. Because we have never been so connected, we have never been so many people on this planet.

There are many, many auto-amplification phenomenons. Let me give you an example. The more people on Facebook, the more people on Facebook. If everybody goes on Facebook, everybody goes on Facebook. This is what we call in marketing, the winner takes all. If you are the first, because you are the first, everybody comes to you. You can do the same with your own life. You can use these auto amplifications for yourself, by having routines and rituals.

Let’s go back to the dream. If you want your dream to happen, if you want your dream to become true, just have a daily routine. Every day live your dream. Read your dream, but not only read it, live it. Have what we call positive visualisation. Like, I have a dream for next year. I have a dream for the next 20 years. For instance, I don’t like the cold weather. So my dream is for next winter to be in a nice house by the water, maybe in South-East Asia. I’m reading this, and when I’m reading it I can feel the warm temperature. I can see the ocean. I’m feeling it. I’m feeling it. By having a clear vision, by having what I call a strange attractor, by repeating it every day, every day, you can make it happen. This is the easiest way to hack chaos, and make it to your advantage.

Maria:   

I’m going to tell you a little story now. When I met you for lunch at the end of February, I said to you that my partner and I had lost our dream home. And you said you should make a vision, and you told me to put it down on paper, to put pictures, make it bright, look at it every day. We went to see the people who owned our dream house. They’d taken it off the market and decided that they weren’t going to sell. We went to see them, we spoke to them, and on the 4th of May they accepted our offer to buy their house.

Now, when this podcast goes out, I’m going to update people and let them know if we’ve moved in. In fact, let me say it differently, that we have moved in, is what I’m going to say. That’s what I’m going to visualise. Hopefully that’s going to be the situation. But Bruno, for me, I’d given up actually on that. And you made me think about it differently. I went back from lunch, straightaway, and I immediately took all the photos from the website I could find, and the house had been removed from sale, but I managed to find the photos, and I put them all in one folder, and I kept looking at it, and I was in there, I was imagining myself in the office, living in there, cooking with the animals around me, my furniture there. Anyway, I will keep everyone posted. But I’m very excited.

Bruno Marion: 

I am so thrilled. And really, you are the proof that this is happening, this is true. Of course, there is logic behind that. It’s like making a little prayer every day. So if you believe in God, God will fulfil your prayers. If you believe the laws of attraction, the universe will provide. And if you believe in chaos theories, and you can believe in all three of them by the way. It can help, who knows. But if you believe in chaos theories, all the micro decisions, because you have a clear vision, a clear dream, because you are repeating it, you are living it every day.

It just takes a couple of minutes, by the way. Because you are doing that, all the micro decisions you are making day after day, even during the day, after hours, keeps you aligned. Mostly unconsciously, with your dream, and make it happen.

And by the way, you can do the same with your company. If you’re the manager of a team, if you’re the CEO of a big company, have clear vision. And clear vision, by the way, it’s not to increase your turnover by 20%. What makes you dream, and share this dream with your colleagues, with your employees, repeat it. If you’re the CEO now repeat, repeat, “How are we going to achieve?” Repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat again.

Maria: 

I love it. I love it. Tell me, Bruno, all of this wonderful knowledge, how did you start speaking and sharing this message with companies and with businesses?

Bruno Marion: 

This is really funny, at least to me. I was already, because I wrote all these books about Asia, I was delivering talks about Asia, and what’s going to happen to China, and how can we understand each other? And at the same time I was having my futurist monk life. I was reading, I was writing, I’ve had a blog about how you can use chaos theories for 18 years. Well, of course now it’s different, but at that time it was the beginning of blogging.

And one day I was discussing with a CEO, we just had a masterclass about working with Asians, and of course, I’m talking about my passion over lunch. And he’s like, “But Bruno, you should come and tell my executive committee about that.” And I’m like, “No, this is just a hobby, this is my futurist monk life. This is not my job.” “No, no, no, no, I want this.” And this is how I started, and I thought but, “Look, this is really what I want to share with the world. Not only you can be future fit, you have power.” By the way, I can prove it to you.

In the previous world, things were what I call linear. They were not balanced, but not too far from equilibrium. If you wanted to change things, you needed at that time to be very, very powerful. That is to be a CEO of a very big company, the prime minister of a big country, or be super, super rich. Or many of you, so you can make a revolution, like in France. This is the past.

Now, because of what we call the butterfly effect, you remember auto-amplification, something very small can get bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and bigger. You never had so much power to change things today. And I can prove it to you scientifically. So I thought, “Okay, now this is my mission to show people that we are living an absolutely amazing time,” what I called and you called a reset. And you have the power to design your own life. Not only to be future fit, but to design your life.

Maria:  

And that’s such a powerful message, and businesses really need to hear that, to design their business future, and design their lives. Absolutely fantastic. And when you speak to audiences, do you give them some tools to help them afterwards to design their future?

Bruno Marion: 

You mentioned my routine. So every day, every day, and I promise, I did it this morning. Well, actually, one of my routine is to break my routine, so I only do it six times a week. And I have one day off, and it’s not always the same day. Every day I read, but during my talks and during my sharings with people, I want to be mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting, actionable, immediately actionable, and sustainable. Why is that?

I want to be mind-blowing because now we are living in such an entertainment era, that you’re mind-blown by everything. So you need to be mind blowing to change people’s mind. I want to be paradigm shifting, so after you listen to me, you won’t see the world … And I promise, this is one of the comments I get the most after my talks. People they come to me, “Bruno, now I understand. I don’t see the world as before,” paradigm-shifting, and actionable. To answer your question, yes, I think people they need tools. Like the one you mentioned for the personal life, write your dreams, read it every day.

But the same for an organisation. How can you have the right organisation, to be more resilient, to benefit from crisis. How can you make as a CEO, as a manager, how can you make the right decision when nothing you have learned still applies. How can you listen to your instinct? What kind of tools. So, yes, I want it to be immediately actionable. This is a thing I tell my audience, “Try tomorrow. Don’t believe me, try tomorrow,” like you did for your house. And sustainable, I want to make sure the tools you can learn from me, you can use them not only tomorrow, but for the rest of your life. If you can find they work for you.

Maria: 

Yes. No, fantastic. Bruno, our time is almost up. I could talk to you forever. So finally, and this is going to be a really difficult question for you, I think. Because you’ve read so many books, I’m going to ask you, can you recommend one, other than your own, of course, that really impacted your thinking?

Bruno Marion: 

One comes to my mind, you mentioned integral philosophy. So I would definitely advise, Integral Vision, by Ken Wilber. If I had to pick one that really changed my way of things, of seeing the world, I would pick this one. There are many, many others. But if I have to pick one, Ken Wilber, Integral Vision.

Maria:

That’s brilliant. Thank you so much, Bruno. That was mind blowing. Thank you.

Bruno Marion:  

Thank you, and I can’t wait to visit your new house.

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Interview with Co-founder of organic chocolate company, Green and Blacks, Josephine Fairley

This week Maria’s guest on the show is Josephine Fairley. Having been the UK’s youngest ever magazine editor in her twenties, Jo Fairley co-founded Green and Blacks in 1991 with her husband Craig Sams, now a one hundred million pound a year brand under the umbrella of Mondalez. Passionate since her teenage years about clean, green living she continues to work as an ambassador for Green and Blacks while also acting as a consultant to brands that are seeking increasingly to become more ethical, sustainable and to embody stronger values. A serial entrepreneur, she has translated her lifelong interest in the senses into a series of successful ventures, Judges Bakery and the Wellington Centre in her hometown of Hastings, and the Perfume Society, the world’s first networking organisation for those interested in the sense of smell. Author of twenty-five books, she has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Times, YOU Magazine, Mail on Sunday, Red, Psychologies, and more.

Maria: 

So, this week my guest is Josephine Fairley. Having been the UK’s youngest ever magazine editor in her twenties, Jo Fairley co-founded Green and Black’s in 1991 with her husband Craig Sams, now a one hundred million pound a year brand under the umbrella of Mondalez. Passionate since her teenage years about clean, green living she continues to work as an ambassador for Green and Black’s while also acting as a consultant to brands that are seeking increasingly to become more ethical, sustainable and to embody stronger values. A serial entrepreneur, she has translated her lifelong interest in the senses into a series of successful ventures, Judges Bakery and the Wellington Centre in her hometown of Hastings, and the Perfume Society, the world’s first networking organisation for those interested in the sense of smell. Author of twenty-five books, she has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Times, YOU Magazine, Mail on Sunday, Red, Psychologies, and more.

Jo, thank you for joining me.

Jo Fairley:    

Thank you, Maria. It always makes me sort of feel like I want to go and have a lie down when I hear a list like that!

Maria:   

Yes, you have done an awful lot. So, let’s go back to the beginning. Tell us a little bit about becoming the UK’s youngest ever magazine editor. Is that what you studied to do?

Jo Fairley:

No. I left school when I was sixteen with six 0 levels and that was it. The words of my careers mistress were just ringing in my ears telling me I would never amount to anything. And when she said that to me, it was like she ignited rocket fuel under my chair and I was just so determined to prove her wrong. I trained to be a secretary, which was something you could actually do and actually I think everybody should train to be a secretary because I just think it gives you the most amazing life skills and it teaches you how to get stuff done and I think I’ve carried that with me. But I ended up with a job at the age of 19 on a magazine and I worked my way up there from secretary to become the senior feature writer, interviewing incredible people, lots of Hollywood film stars like Bette Davis and Charlton Heston and I mean, honestly, living legends.

And then at the age of 23, my boss said Jo, I need your help on something and I said sure, and he was a very young, dynamic guy and he had a sister publication called Look Now. And I said okay, Terry, how can I help? And he said well, I need a new Editor for Look Now. Okay, Terry, what sort of person are you looking for? He reeled off a list of attributes and at the end, I said as a joke, well what you really want is someone just like me. And he said yes, I’d like you to start in the morning. And that was extraordinary. I mean, he had just spotted something in me that I didn’t know was there. And so, I became a magazine editor literally overnight.

The first month I was convinced I was going to be found out. I suffered a real imposter syndrome, so I totally understand that. And after a month of feeling like I was going to be fired any day, we had put a magazine together and I’d been through all of the kind of mechanical processes of actually producing a magazine. And the second month came round, and I realised, actually I know how to do this now. It’s a mechanical process and that freed me up to be creative and so I was a magazine editor throughout my twenties, until I was almost thirty and then went freelance.

Maria: 

Wow, there’s so much in there. I mean, so much in that. I remember, I think it must be a generational thing, I remember when I was in school and my mother said to me learn how to be a secretary. And she said that to me because … she said, if ever you’re out of work, you’ll always have something to do.

Jo Fairley:

Yes, and I think it’s absolutely true. You can organise anything. You just learn to get stuff done. You learn how to get stuff from A to B. You learn how to organise your own diary as well as somebody else’s. You just start to know where to go for things. And I think all of those skills have really helped me.

Maria:   

And I think its skills that we’re losing, actually, and of course I never was unemployed, so that was great. The other thing you said which is really, really profound is that once you’ve got a system in place and you follow it, you can then be creative.

Jo Fairley: 

Absolutely. And you know, I have something up on the office wall in the Perfume Society that just says things only get done if you do them. And I’m a great believer that most things happen by putting one foot in front of the other and not actually just sitting around talking about stuff all the time. We know lots and lots of people with dreams and schemes and actually they never follow through on them. But that whole process of just doing things is what gets you from that very baby step to your destination.

Maria: 

And of course, one of the very big things you did was Green & Black’s. Just to tell you my favourite flavours so you know for future, Maya Gold and the 70% Dark Chocolate. I’ll send you a note. Can you tell us how that started?

Jo Fairley: 

So, I had had a bit of green streak in me ever since I was at school. A friend actually gave me a copy of a book called A Shopper’s Guide to Saving the Planet, and there was nothing I could do in Bromley in those days to save the planet except get my mum to drive a lot of gin bottles to the bottle bank. But that stayed with me and so I always was a bit of an eco-warrior. And in fact, just before founding Green & Black’s I had been writing a column for the Times called Ecosphere and I had been presenting a thirty-week series for BSkyB or Sky as it became, called Go for Green.

And then I married Craig Sams who’s incredibly green. He was a sort of a hippy entrepreneur … is a hippy entrepreneur … who had gone on to found a company called Whole Earth Foods and was Chairman of the Soil Association.  I’d never expected to go into business. I was having a great time interviewing lots of other business people and fascinating folk and I walked into Craig’s office and I found two squares from a sample bar of chocolate sitting on his desk. And of course, when you do that, you’ve obviously got to eat the chocolate sitting on your husband’s desk, it’s the law. And it was the most incredible chocolate I’d ever eaten. It was much darker than anything you could get on the market in the UK and I just said to him, what is it? And he said, “oh, it is a sample of the world’s first organic chocolate but I can’t really do anything with it” because his business, Whole Earth, was founded on the principles of no added sugar. And of course, chocolate has sugar in.

So, there was no way it would sit easily underneath that brand. And actually, the samples were on their way to a friend of ours in Denmark who might have been able to launch it under her brand because she had a much broader brand. He’d been speaking to a guy in West Africa about peanuts and this guy had said, I’ve got cocoa beans as well, are you interested? Craig said “well, not really but I might find you someone who could do something.” Because actually, it is hard to imagine now, but back in the early nineties, the natural food trade was so tiny and we were all such kind of crusaders, that we all knew each other. And you did a lot of this kind of well, I can’t do something but have you spoken to so and so.

Anyway, I just kept on and on and on at him and eventually he turned round and said look, if you’re so interested, you do it. And what he really meant was that I needed to do the PR and marketing which was obviously something, as a journalist, I had an insight into and I had to finance it. And that was my twenty thousand pound nest egg from selling my flat before I moved in with Craig which went into buying the first two tons of chocolate.

Maria:

Wow, that’s very brave.

Jo Fairley:

It was really brave, but you know, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And fortune favours the bold and all of those clichés. But actually ,they may be clichés, but they’re true. And I just felt that I would always wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t taken that opportunity. You know, if I’d just sat back and took the easy path … which was fun and well paid and exciting but wasn’t ever going to change my life.

Maria:

Brilliant. That is amazing. And why do you think Green & Black’s has been so successful?

Jo Fairley:  

I think we embodied incredibly strong values from the very beginning. My mentor and friend Anita Roddick, used to say that she felt that there was such a thing as business karma and that when you were trying to do good things, magic happened. And I think that what we had was a product that was not like anything else on the market. I mean, it was the darkest chocolate on the market at the time. It was the first organically certified chocolate in the world. It became the first product in the UK to carry the Fairtrade mark. And so, from the very start, it had great quality product. We packaged it not looking like a kind of niche product from the health food trade, but looking like something that you might find in a spiffy shop like Fortnum & Mason or the Conran Shop, which was an early stockist, or Harrods.

And then it had these incredibly strong values embedded in it. And we told the story of the chocolate of where it came from and the producers who grew it and whose family is benefited from this Fairtrade relationship on the inside of the wrapper. So, I’ve talked to lots of people about how they remember. They would sit there and they would open their early bar of Green & Black’s and they’d read the story on the inside of the wrapper of who grew it and where it came from and how it had made a difference to them. And, you know, in business now we take storytelling as a kind of given. It’s common currency. But actually, again, back then, there wasn’t that much storytelling around but for us it just felt completely natural. It was the way we did business and we wanted to share that with people as part of a kind of crusade to change the way that business was done.

Maria: 

And it worked brilliantly. And in fact, you went on to influence Cadbury who bought Green & Black’s because their milk chocolate is now Fairtrade.

Jo Fairley: 

Absolutely. Well beyond that, they have an incredible 400 million dollar investment programme in West Africa which has been put together with about thirteen different NGO’s and is policed by the Fairtrade Foundation and they’re working on the grant to improve women’s empowerment, to put in water infrastructure, to teach farmers how to farm better and improve their incomes. Also, to build schools, etc. working with those communities … whatever they want. And that has its roots in what Cadbury did with Fairtrade. Cadbury was really transparent about the fact that it was looking at the way we did business that really showed them that you could do good through doing business.

And, of course, Cadbury as a company sort of like to think they invented corporate social responsibility because they did so much work right back in the roots of their business to improve people’s lives. They built Bournville for their workers. They always took very good care of everybody. And so, I think that that came very naturally for them. But I look around now and I just see that … you know, I’m hugely gratified that that is the way that business generally is moving. And I think it’s happening for lots of different reasons. I think all of us are starting to think more about the impact of what we buy, whether it is you know, a single use plastic bottle that gets thrown away or whether it is organic versus non-organic, Fairtrade versus non-Fairtrade, etc. We’re all starting to question that and brands want to offer products to people who are consumers with a conscience.

And I think also on a kind of grander scale, big companies everywhere, if they want to recruit talented young people, have to have a strong message of values embodied in that organisation because the fabled millennials are asking lots and lots of tricky questions and they want to work for companies that reflect their beliefs and their philosophies.

Maria: 

Yes, quite right, and it’s great that it’s moving in that direction, as you say, I didn’t realise you were such a pioneer back then. It’s lovely to hear. Well done.

Jo Fairley: 

It was so unusual to be honest but lovely Anita signed me up for a networking organisation called Social Venture Network, which was literally a small group of people who were trying to good through business, through these social enterprises. And we would meet in places like Boston and Zurich etc. and it was people like Anita and Gordon, it was Ben and Jerry, it was Gary Hirshberg from Stonyfield Farm who went on to sell his brand to Danone. But we had to get it together and kind of mutually support each other in that kind of environment because we were kind of outlaws in a way. We were doing things so differently to the way that business was done generally back then in the early nineties that we needed a bit of a gang to say it’s OK. You may feel like a lone salmon swimming upstream but we’re actually a shoal and we’re all trying to move together.

Maria:

I know. Fantastic. Congratulations. Well done on all that brilliant work. I want to talk about you and your lovely husband. So, how do you … because I think you got married the year you actually founded Green & Black’s. So, how do you do the work/life balance? Did you have a work/life balance?

Jo Fairley:  

Yes. Pretty soon, I realised that I had to set some boundaries. And I think this is very relevant because I know lots of couples who are in business together and it works really well in one way because you’ve got this partner who you completely trust, who you pretty much know inside out, you know what decisions they would take in a particular scenario. But if you’re not careful, you’re going to end up talking about business 24 hours a day and you’re not going to have a marriage.

So, I realised after about a month it was heading in that direction and I said OK, what we are going to do is we are going to go for a walk every night for about an hour and we’re going to discuss everything to do with business during that hour. So, everything that had happened in the day. We actually worked in adjacent buildings. So, Craig worked at 269 Portobello Road and I worked at 267.  I took the top floor flat for my office. But we’d get home. We’d, you know, pull on our raincoats probably, and go marching off the streets up and down Notting Hill and we would download everything from the day and we would brainstorm and we would talk about HR issues and we would have product development ideas.

And long before iPhones, Craig had this little voiceit gadget in his pocket where he would record his big ideas. Because I think it was Buckminster Fuller said that you have 42 seconds to capture an idea before it disappears into the ether. I think we all know that, I think 42 seconds is quite generous some days. But then when we got home, he was banned from talking about it. And we would go on holiday and well, although he likes to do his emails on holiday, I like to just completely switch off and have some sort of defined downtime. And so, he wasn’t able to talk about it on holiday, either. If he tried, I would be like a five-year-old and I’d put my fingers in my ears, I’d go la la la I’m not listening, I’m not listening.

Because I realised that was what we needed. Otherwise we were just going to be a business. We weren’t going to be a couple. I have quite a few friends who are in business with their partners and they have all had to set some kind of boundary for it to be successful. And I’ve got one friend who, they do go on holiday and what they do is they schedule one morning on holiday to talk about business and then the rest of the time, they’re on the sun loungers or jet skis or whatever.

But I think that it is really important, but on the other hand it was great being in business with Craig because what we had were two completely complementary skill sets. And I think that this is crucial in a business. It’s no good having two creative people who want to do all the fun stuff, all the outward facing stuff. Or it’s no good having two accountants. Because those two creative people might have lots and lots of great ideas but nobody’s ever going to get invoiced. You have two accountants … you know, two sort of very logical thinking people you know, they can strategise and plan the living daylights out of a business. But I’ve had people come up to me and go well, I’d really like to be in business but I don’t have any ideas, you know. So, what really works is you’ve got two people … I mean, Craig does have a lot of ideas but our skill sets just kind of overlapped a bit in the middle. I was customer service, product development, PR, marketing … you know, can be seen as fluffy stuff. He was strategy, money, distribution, operations, all that kind of thing. So, that was brilliant because we had two people who let each other get on with stuff and we had these very complimentary skill sets which added up to one really good business.

Maria:

That sounds absolutely perfect.  A marriage of business and personalities. Fantastic.

Jo Fairley: 

It’s gorgeous. After 28 years and I love him to pieces.

Maria:  

That’s wonderful. And what happened then on the children front? Because you’ve got a bit of patchwork family. How did that all fit in?

Jo Fairley: 

Oh, yeah. I don’t have biological children, but I have magnetised a lot of waifs and strays basically. And so, I have a sort of adopted daughter, I have a whole bunch of goddaughters whose mothers sadly died and I ended up kind of having to be much more responsible for their growing up than I ever anticipated. I have two stepchildren who lived with us and I have now quite a raggle taggle band of grandchildren who obviously think I’m their Grandma because they’ve never known anything else, really. So, there were always a lot of kids around. And we were always working around them.

Maria: 

As well as your Green & Black’s, we talked about a couple of other ventures that you set up. One of them being the Wellington Health and Wellbeing Centre. Is it true that you set that up because you couldn’t find a yoga class to suit your diaries?

Jo Fairley: 

Well it was partly … I did rather greedily when we opened up this, or rather, selfishly scheduled an 8 am yoga class just so I could go. And I would underwrite the teacher’s fee if nobody else turned up but actually it rapidly became not an issue. We moved to Hastings from London and in London you’re just so used to being able to walk into any area of London and find a beautiful health centre, lovely décor, great teachers, coffee bar or whatever. And I got to Hastings and it was all sort of chilly church halls or people’s front rooms with the dog shut in the kitchen barking. And I thought, you know what … and this is my starting point for all my businesses … if I need something and it’s not being fulfilled, chances are lots of other people feel the same way.

So, we bought an incredible Regency tumble down building from the council and it had the most perfect yoga room to turn into a Yoga Studio and another perfect room to turn into a Pilates studio. And then we put in nine treatment rooms as well. Because I just felt that there were lots and lots of people moving down from London who would want great massages or aromatherapy or psychotherapy or physiotherapy or all those different things in one place. You know, not having to go here and there. And also one beautiful place. So, again, everything I’ve ever done has been … if it’s good enough for me, and I’ve got quite high standards, then hopefully it will be good enough for everybody else. So, I’m a bit of a kind of control freak about it.

Maria: 

All the best entrepreneurs are. So, tell me, you also have a Judges Bakery and you have the Perfume Society.

Jo Fairley: 

The Bakery I ran that for many years. I mean, we bought the bakery on our street just as we were selling Green & Black’s and I took it organic, 200 recipes, I think we had the thickest file at the Soil Association ever. We put in a one stop natural and organic food store. And to be honest, I never really planned to work there but it just so happened that my manager got pregnant and the very nice girl who I’d taken on to cover for her maternity broke her ankle on day three. So, I actually ended up in the bakery in the store for, I think, 363 days out of 365 in the first year.

But it was fascinating. I’ve never even had a shop job before and I completely learned how to run a bakery, how to run a shop, how to manage retail staff, how to do display, which you know, I’ve always loved design and so I got great stimulation out of the fact that retail is unbelievably visual. You know, you are constantly having to make things look really attractive for people to buy them. So, that was fascinating. And then it was sold to a local baker who offered to buy it from us and now it’s created a real kind of retail hub on our street, of a great cheese shop, the bakery and then next door we’ve just got a green grocer run by two dynamic 23 year old boys.

So, I am really proud of having offered people in Hastings an alternative to going to the supermarket.

Maria:

Yeah, you can eat well in Hastings, basically now. Okay, so you’ve also founded the Perfume Society. I mean, I love perfume but I think smell has such an effect on your mood. Is that why you started it?

Jo Fairley: 

Partly. I mean, I’ve always loved perfume myself since I was a teenager. My dad travelled a lot and used to bring back lots of stuff from duty free so I had a very sophisticated fragrance wardrobe from an early age. But funnily enough … I mean, throughout running Green & Black’s I had to continue to work as a journalist because all our money was tied up in stock. So, I would just get up very early and do my journalism before the kind of Green & Black’s day started. And one of the things that I wrote about and became quite good at writing about was fragrance. I loved the challenge of turning smells into words which is hard. I mean it’s really hard. So, I continued to write about fragrance and won lots of prizes for writing about fragrance, which was amazing because I’ve never even won an egg and spoon race before that, I think.

And one day I was doing a feature for YOU magazine about perfume with ten women and ten fragrances and I was putting out the ten fragrances that they were going to smell and I made this throwaway remark, “it’s so weird there’s no Perfume Society”. And I just got these shivers down my spine because I was thinking, this is extraordinary. You’ve got this business that’s worth billions. You’ve got people who are passionate about it. But there’s no hub for them, there’s nowhere for them to kind of, you know, bone up on it properly and maybe smell things together and meet perfumers and all that kind of thing.

And to begin with I thought am I hallucinating? Surely, I would know about this. So, I Googled it and the fourth entry that came up was Steak Appreciation Society. And that’s when you know that you’ve found a gap in the market. And then I went to my domain name provider and fragrance society, scent society, perfume society, all just sitting there. And I think nobody had done it for couple of reasons. One is mostly that you have to know everybody in the industry to make something like this work well because we have incredible events with perfumers, we do gorgeous discovery boxes like wine boxes but for scent lovers with smelling notes, etc. And really, you know, to make that happen you’ve got to be able to go and knock on the doors of the Chanels and L’Oreals and the Estee Lauders of this world and have them open.

And you know, when I was setting this up, I went to talk to Chanel, slightly with my heart in my mouth because they are Chanel and they turned round and said, can we host your launch party? So, I went, oh, let me think about that for a minute … Yes. You know, so it’s been really fascinating and I think for me what’s exciting is that kind of perfume is where food was twenty five years ago when the chefs started coming out of the kitchen, they started talking about ingredients and stories and producers and recipes, etc. And they’d previously been sort of shut away. And that is happening with perfume. The noses have come out of the lab, if you like, and they’re talking about their craft and their art. You learn much more about ingredients. And it’s very, very exciting and what we’re seeing is kind of people picking up on that like they did with food twenty five years ago.

Maria:  

I think you’re absolutely right. And having a good, big Italian honker of a nose, I appreciate perfume. So, listen, I could talk to you all day but I think what we should end on is just to hear how you got into speaking because we’ve worked together for a while now but how did that happen?

Jo Fairley: 

Most things in my life have just kind of been opportunities that presented themselves to me without me actively going out and pursuing them. And I think one day, I just got approached by somebody to speak somewhere and I went along and I did it and I found that it was incredibly rewarding. And I realised that as I was building my business, I had gone to listen to a lot of other people. I mean, I learnt business by listening to other people, by reading business books, by reading business magazines and trying to take lessons away from that and doing it on the job.

And I always … whenever I would come away from listening to a speaker, I would have that amazing brief window of opportunity to look at what I was doing from afar and maybe see how I could do it differently. And the other aspect of going to listen to somebody else was that realisation that you are not lone salmon, you are actually swimming upstream with a whole group of other people you often don’t get the chance to meet.

And so, I suppose I just felt like having got so much out of hearing other people speak that if I now was in a position to share a story and to share insights in such a way that kind of fired people up to go back to the office and keep going and do better and be stronger and move ahead, then that was something that I really wanted to do. And so I love doing it and I love the talking but then I really love the Q&A at the end usually when I get to talk to people who want to ask me stuff that I have to answer on the hoof and put me on the spot, rather as you have today, Maria.

Maria:  

And I’ve enjoyed it. And we love working with you. You do a wonderful job. And thank you so much for your time.

Jo Fairley:   

Thank you.

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Interview with Futurist and expert on global trends and innovation, Mark Stevenson

This week Maria’s guest on the show is Mark Stevenson. Mark is a futurist, broadcaster, and expert on global trends and innovation. As I’m reading this out he’s actually bobbing his head up and down, going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” But he’s a highly respected thinker on the interplay of technology and society, helping a diverse mix of clients to become future-literate and adapt their cultures and strategy to squarely face the questions the future is asking them. He’s the author of two best-selling books, An Optimist’s Tour of the Future, and the award-winning, We Do Things Differently: The Outsiders Rebooting Our World. Mark’s many advisory roles include, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth Challenge and Atlas of the Future. Mark is also resident futurist at the National Theatre of Scotland. TED curator, Chris Anderson said, “Stevenson wears no blindfold. His tools are curiosity, open-mindedness, clarity, and reason.

Mark talks to us about how he came to be a futurologist via stand-up, about technology change over the next 20 years and why cultural change is so important. Mark tells us what he is doing with Richard Branson and the Virgin Earth Challenge and that he has an album coming out this year with plans to go out on the road! All this and much, much more.

Maria:

So, this week my guest is Mark Stevenson. Mark is a futurologist, broadcaster, and expert on global trends and innovation. As I’m reading this out he’s actually bobbing his head up and down, going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” But he’s a highly-respected thinker on the interplay of technology and society, helping a diverse mix of clients to become future-literate and adapt their cultures and strategy to squarely face the questions the future is asking them. He’s the author of two best-selling books, An Optimist’s Tour Of The Future, and the award-winning, We Do Things Differently: The Outsiders Rebooting Our World. Mark’s many advisory roles include, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth Challenge and Atlas Of The Future. Mark is also resident futurist at the National Theatre of Scotland. TED curator, Chris Anderson said, “Stevenson wears no blindfold. His tools are curiosity, open-mindedness, clarity, and reason.

Maria:

So, Mark, what a great accolade to bring you in on. Thank you very much for joining us.

Mark Stevenson:

That’s all very well. I’m pretty sure Chris was drunk when he said that.

Maria:

Well, I might have to edit that out. But, no, let’s leave it in, let’s leave it in. So, Mark, before we start, can you tell people who don’t know what a futurist or futurologist is?

Mark Stevenson:

Ah well, it’s a great question, Maria. So, there’s some debate as to whether it’s an art or a science, but it’s basically, the idea is it’s helping people think about the future. But I don’t really like being called a futurist. I regard myself as a reluctant futurist. The reason is that it’s very often associated with prediction, and people telling you what’s going to happen, and I think anybody who can tell you what’s going to happen, or thinks they can sort of 10 or 15 years out, is a vain glorious buffoon. And there’s a couple of reasons for that. The first is that we tend to make our predictions from within our own set of prejudices and our own sort of frame of reference. So, we predict what we already see around us a little bit different, or what we’d like to see because it helps our salary or our investments or whatever.

The second reason is, the second and third order effects of any new technology or idea are just too hard to predict. So, when the internet arrived it’s easy to predict the rise of email, but nobody really predicts the rise of social media, the spreading of fake news, how that affects the way democracies work, because it’s all just too complex.

So what I do is I help my clients become, as you mentioned in the introduction, future-literate, by which I mean, understanding the questions that are being asked, whether that’s about climate change, artificial intelligence, or whatever is coming down the track, understanding those questions in a systemic way so you’re looking at all of them, and then trying to get you to answer those questions you’re being asked by architecting your business, your career, your organisation in a way that allows you to make the world more sustainable, equitable, humane and just. So that’s kind of what I do.

I get called a futurist, and people started calling me it because I wrote two books with future somewhere on the cover. So that’s what I do. But as to what a futurist is, most of them I think are probably just unemployable dilettantes.

Maria:

Fantastic! So, what do you study to become a futurist or futurologist, or become future literate?

Mark Stevenson:

Well, I mean, all human beings are futurists. Martin Seligman says this rather well, he said, “We shouldn’t be called homo sapiens, the wise ape, we should be called homo prospectus, the ape that thinks about the future.” Because it’s the only thing that really distinguishes us from other species, that we think quite systemically and quite long-term about the future, where no other animal seems to.

So, there are no qualifications for becoming a futurist as I said. My own background is I was a geek, really. I was into computing science, all that kind of stuff, and cryptography but I actually came to be a futurologist via stand-up comedy. So, I realised I wanted to communicate, I guess, some of the things that I thought were important, about the challenges the world is facing, and also give people knowledge about things like genetics and AI and climate change and social inequality and all these things that I thought were important that weren’t communicated very well and often communicated by geeks to geeks. So, I decided I’d try and communicate that stuff to as wide an audience as possible and I thought the best training for that would be stand-up. So, I spent a year as a stand-up comedian trying to talk about the future in a way that was entertaining but also true and as a result of that, I got offered my first book deal and the rest is history.

Maria: 

Did you do well as a stand-up comedian?

Mark Stevenson:   

Yes, I did surprisingly. I love the way you ask that question as a heckle. It does remind me of the best heckle I ever got, I was doing a gig and somebody laughed and they’d got a very peculiar laugh, almost like a loud, rasping kind of Mutley from the Wacky Races laugh and everybody kept noticing it. At one point, I just had to say, “Look mate, what is that noise you’re making?” He went, “Oh that’s the noise I make when I’m mildly amused. No, but I was good I think. I wouldn’t say I was brilliant but the thing about if you’re curating a stand-up gig is you’re always trying to get three comedians that are different and I was always different because I was the only person at that time really doing that kind of comedy. I got to the stage where I could certainly have done it as a career but I didn’t want to. I thought, “Well, I’ve done what I set out to do.” Which was learn these skills and now I want to apply them to a wider career.

I quit the night I supported a much more famous comedian than me so everybody had paid to see him. It was a 600-seater theatre and I did 45 minutes ahead of him and actually stormed it and I thought, “That’s it, I’m done now.”

Maria:

Oh brilliant.

Mark Stevenson:

“If I can do that, I’m finished.”

Maria:

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. So, let’s go back to future, technology and all of those kinds of things. You talk about three different types of technology; can you explain to us the three types?

Mark Stevenson:

Well, yeah this is … I’m kind of channelling the late, great Douglas Adams here, so he said this rather funny thing but I take that a bit further. So, he said there are three types of technology, the technology invented before you were born, which you don’t think of as technology, it’s just there, you know carpet tiles are a technology but not much to be excited about those. Anybody born after 1989 doesn’t think of the internet or the World Wide Web as a wonderful, exciting thing, they just expect it to work. So, we’re ambivalent about that kind of technology, we just expect it to work. The second type of technology is that comes about between you being born and your middle age, which is terribly exciting, your grandparents don’t understand it, you can probably get a job out of it, it’s definitely going to change the world, it’s wonderful. And for my generation, that’s things like the internet and mobile phones and you can tell I’m over 40 because I say “mobile” phones. And then there’s a technology that’s invented after you’re middle aged which is completely pointless and makes you angry. For my generation, that’s things like Twitter. I’ve got friends who just are incandescent with rage about the whole thing, “What’s it for?”

So there’s three types of technology and when I read that, I thought that’s funny but also it strikes me as unwittingly profound because in the work I do, whether that’s with a corporation, or a government, or a university, or an investment house, you’ll find that the people who decide the strategic direction of the organisation are usually in that last category and most of the people they’re trying to deal with, their employees, their citizens, their students, their customers, are in that second category. That causes bewilderment where large organisations find it increasingly hard to deal with new ideas and new technologies.

Maria:

Brilliant, really good answer.

Mark Stevenson:

Well, thanks.  I feel like I passed a test.

Maria:

And also Douglas Adams, just like you, was very funny, you see?

Mark Stevenson:

Well I think that’s an accolade too far. I wouldn’t dare be compared to the great, late Douglas.

Maria:

OK, modest man you are.

Mark Stevenson:

I’ve made a career out of self-deprecation. Well, I wouldn’t call it a career.

Maria:

So, you said before that the future is up for grabs.  How can we grab the future? What does that mean?

Mark Stevenson:

Well, we’re at a point in history where we’re at this extraordinary sort of tipping point where everything has to change. So, we’ve got all these old systems that don’t work anymore and it doesn’t take more than a pint on a Friday night for most people to agree about this stuff, that government systems are still using a 19th century framework for trying to deal with 21st century problems.

The education system in most countries still thinks it’s the 1950s, healthcare is very expensive sick care, the climate is falling apart around our ears, we’ve got less than 60 harvests left at the current rate of soil erosion etc., etc., etc. Half the world’s population live under water stress, the media is divisive, not really free, owned by nine billionaires. And then you’ve got one-sided echo chamber of racist, homophobic establishments, phone hackers. The other side, you’ve got the establishment left of nerds and catastrophists and you’ve got the Financial Times somewhere in the middle. It’s not great. So, the government doesn’t work, the press doesn’t hold it to account properly, the education system isn’t preparing people for the world that’s coming and the environment is falling apart around our ears and that’s why 85% of people don’t like their jobs.

Maria:

Hang on a minute, hang on a minute Mark. I thought you were an optimist here?

Mark Stevenson:

Well I’ll come to this. So Gallup do this survey every two years, they go round the whole world and ask, “How engaged are employees?” across thousands of organisations in 142 countries and they conclude that 85% of people don’t really like their jobs and the reason is because the average worker is getting a smaller and smaller slice of the pie as welfare equality goes through the roof, they’re making money for other people, not being able to afford the basics and they realise that the future is being destroyed in terms of the short term profiteering. Nicely summed up by the Tom Toro cartoon in The New Yorker, “Yes, the planet got destroyed, but for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.”

So, we have this absolute systemic crisis which, as I say, doesn’t take more than a pint, or a couple of glasses of wine on a Friday night for most people to agree. But at the same time, we have these extraordinary changes happening, particularly in the world of technology, that will allow us to do things differently. So, if you look, for instance at the incredible exponential growth of renewable energy and how that renewable energy is going to be owned by individuals and schools and small businesses, rather than individual big corporations, that changes the fundamental way that the world can operate and also it stabilises the energy price so you don’t have the oil price going up and down all the time, which is really good for investment and the economy. You have 3D printing that’s getting to the stage where, fairly soon, 3D printers will be able to print 3D printers.

This is stuff I cover in my books, this is why I’m kind of optimistic because I spend all my time going around finding people who can come up with new systems of drug development. Very often, bottom up, network systems and, as I say, we’re moving from a world which was economies of scale to one which is economies of distribution, where networks can now outperform the monoliths.     Not in all circumstances, but in a lot and often people can now come together and say you know, “We want a new social contract, we’re fed up of being consumers, we want to be citizens again.” And there’s a lot of that going on.

So, I’m not an optimist or a pessimist, I’m a possible-ist and I think my job is to say, “Look, there is another game in town, there are ways to solve these problems that involve more of us in a more sustainable, humane, equitable and just way.” I want to put that option on the table and I think we will necessarily have to get there because everything else is collapsing. The existing systems we have, have proved themselves wholly incapable of dealing with the challenges we’ve got, so they’re either going to fall over just because they fall over, or we’ll replace them at something.

I talk about in my work, the good, the bad and the ugly. So, the bad news is everything’s broken. The good news is we can fix it. The ugly news is the next 20 years is going to be a bloodbath as the old world has to die, a very well-funded state is grown and a new one has to be born and I see my job as trying to shorten that mess by as much as I can. If I can shorten it by six months by getting some big corporations to think differently, then that will have a huge beneficial effect on a lot of people.

Maria:

Wow, fantastic. Actually, one of the things that you say is, you say that the change that we’ve seen so far is the cocktail sausage of the meal. Are you seriously saying that we’re going to see so much change in the next few years?

Mark Stevenson:

Yes, and there’s a number of reasons for that. The first is that when you look at technology, technology speeds up because each technology provides you with the tools and the platform to build the next technology, ever faster. So, if you look at adoption of technology, it took 25% of Americans 42 years, I think, to get TV in the home. When the World Wide Web comes along, it takes them seven years to embrace the internet, that same proportion. 25% of Americans in that period was a lot more than when television was. So, you’ve got this concertinaing of technology life cycles, which means that technology’s getting adopted very quickly but also, we do have this systemic crisis. Nobody that has really looked at it thinks that for instance the financial system is working and there isn’t another massive crash coming.

So we’re going to see these old systems falling over and these new technologies coming along and part of the work is to try and create a new culture which is sort of distributed by design, a new democracy which is based on a much more networked way of thinking and we will necessarily have to deal this and we’re going to have to do it in the next 20 years because if we don’t deal with climate change, for instance, in the next 20 years, all bets are off and that’s not going to be solved by carrying on with fossil fuels and old ways of thinking.

Maria:

Wow, that’s scary as well, and challenging isn’t it for all of us to think about? You mentioned culture actually and cultural change. You founded a company didn’t you, We Do Things Differently? What do you do there?

Mark Stevenson:

Well is it a company or is it a loose gathering of unemployable dilettantes?

Maria:

Yes, I think it’s the latter.

Mark Stevenson:

All our problems, I think, come down to culture. When I wrote my first book, I concluded that we have all the tools and the technology really and the talent we need to make a much better world. What we seem to fail to do is organise ourselves in the right way and organisations find it very hard to change and I define innovation as the culture of asking the right questions. How do you create a culture that says things have changed and we’ve got to change? Because as Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can know you’ve got to change but if you’ve got the wrong culture, you can’t do it. So, culture change is really interesting to me and I try to do that both with my corporate clients but also with books I write I’m trying to sort of change the culture of the future with the TV series I’m hoping to do next year.

We Do Things Differently, which was named after the second book, is a group of people that actually understand culture. So, when you want to do cultural change, why would you go and hire, for instance, as some people do, KPMG or McKinsey? They’re very good at some things but they have, generally, a worse culture than most organisations and they’re very boring corporate places, they’re not going to give you that spark, or whatever, that you need. So, I decided to assemble a bunch of people who actually understood what culture is and so the We Do Things Differently network organisation, everybody in it is world class in some kind of organisation discipline. Whether it’s David Price to do with learning or it’s Tim Reid to do with innovation, innovative thinking, or it’s Jamil Qureshi to do with high performance or Jack Milner with communications. But they’re also all, or have been, professionally successful as artists or writers. So, they understand how culture works and that, for me is like, let’s form a cultural change agency that actually understands culture.

Because if you don’t move the heart, the mind hardly moves at all. We all post-rationalize our decisions, so how do you move people’s hearts? And you have to have those skills as well as the harder skills to have any kind of success in doing cultural change.

Maria:

Brilliant and of course, your background in performance is comedy as mentioned but you’re a musician as well aren’t you?

Mark Stevenson:

Well, there’s a rumour. I was a musician for 10 years, so when I first started out in my career, I spent half my time being a brain for hire and the other half of the time playing in a band and we got one album out and a couple of singles and disappeared into obscurity and the drummer went to jail. But no, I’ve gone back to it recently with a friend of mine, just as a hobby. My wife said, “You have to have something to relax.” But rather sort of unfortunately, or luckily, we managed to get a record deal. So, we’ve got an album coming out later this year and as my wife says, “You turn all of your hobbies into jobs, Mark.” So yes, back out on the road probably after the second album to do a few gigs.

Maria:

Oh wow. So, are you going to tell us the name of the group and the name of the album?

Mark Stevenson:

The group is called Quantum Pig. It’s a progressive rock outfit and the album is called Songs Of Industry And Sunshine.

Maria:

Brilliant, once it’s out we’ll share little links so people can go and buy it.

Mark Stevenson:

Yes, absolutely and I hope you buy it in your tens.

Maria:

Fantastic. Our listener might do that.  Brilliant. I want to talk to you a little bit about what you’re doing with Richard Branson as well with the Virgin Earth Challenge. Can you tell people what that is about and what’s going on there?

Mark Stevenson:

I can. So back in 2006, Richard was having a chat with his wife on the beach in Necker Island and they were talking about climate change and the fact that one of the large problems associated with that is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and she said, “Well why don’t we just take the carbon back out? There must be a technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere?” And actually, there is and it’s been around for a long time because we use in it submarines, to keep submariners safe. So, we’ve always been able to scrub carbon out of the atmosphere because, you know … But the question was, could it be done in ambient air? Could it be done in a way that would be non-damaging to the environment? And also, the criteria Richard added, which was very sensible, was could it be done in a commercially sustainable way?

So, the prize basically said, “We’ve got $25 million of Richard’s own money to say you win this prize by being able to prove that you can take carbon dioxide directly out of the air at a gigaton scale. You can’t damage the environment while you’re doing that and you have to be able to make a profit while you’re doing it.” Now everybody said, “That’s crazy, there’s no way anybody can win that prize.” But we didn’t feel that was the case, we had 2,400 applications for the prize, most of them mad people in sheds, it does have to be said but we announced a few years ago 11 finalists, all of whom have a credible roadmap to winning that prize, and I can’t say much more at the moment because there’s some very interesting stuff going on.

But yes, Bill Gates is one of the biggest investors in one of our finalists so that’s public knowledge. It’s a company called Carbon Engineering based out of Calgary and they’re building what they believe is a commercial scale plan to do this and the way they make a profit is they take the carbon out of the sky, they mix it with some hydrogen taken from water and they make fuel. So, they make gasoline and petrol and all those kind of things. What’s great about that is if you can make fuel out of the sky, you dis-intermediate the people who are taking it out of the ground which totally changes the economics and the politics of the entire world. Bill also knows that if that technology starts to work, he’s sitting on top of a trillion dollar market because you can create a carbon neutral fuel source.

So, there’s some very interesting stuff coming. We have to be very careful because it’s not a panacea, we still need to move away from using liquid fuels and we still have to transition to renewables and we still have to sort out all sorts of other things but it’s certainly a very interesting tool in the kitbag.

Maria:

That’s very exciting, really exciting. So how did you get into speaking for corporate audiences?

Mark Stevenson:

Well it’s all off the back of the stand-up. So, I did the stand-up and then I wrote the book and then when you’ve got a book out, you obviously go out and do book tour stuff and people starting asking me, “Will you come and talk at my school and will you come and talk about … ” and suddenly it was like people would be in the audience and people would go, “Will you come and talk to my staff and would you come and talk to my board?” And then they said, “We’ve got money for that.” And I was like, “Oh, great.” I remember my favourite moment, which was hilarious, I got an email from the National Space Symposium in the United States and the guy who runs that had read my book and he sent me this email saying, “We’d really like you to come and do the closing keynote at the National Space Symposium” which is a terrifying gig. It’s all five star generals and the whole of the space industry and I think the year before they had Sigourney Weaver or something. They said, “Unfortunately we can only offer you $25,000!”

Maria:  

Which you obviously turned down and said …

Mark Stevenson:  

And I said to my wife, “I would have done that for free.” And then I realised, actually people pay for this stuff and having been a stand-up and also working in theatre and stuff, when you’ve got those skills and then you can marry them to access some deep knowledge, it’s a compelling, I think, offer for a lot of organisations. Of course, my subject is the future, which there is no organisation in the world which isn’t interested in that. So that’s how I came to it and I love doing it and the reason I love doing it is not just the money. Although that is very nice. It is that it brings you into contact regularly, with a whole different set of audiences.

So, one day I’ll say well, “Will you go and speak to a bunch of cardiac nurses?” Yes. Next day, “Will you speak to an investment house?” Yes. Next day, “Will you go and speak to a bunch of scientists?” Just spending the day with those people and finding out how they think and the questions they ask you gives me a whole new set of perspectives as wide as my own knowledge. So that’s one of the great joys of speaking, is the amount of times you’re in a room with a whole bunch of new people who are interested in you and you can be very interested in them.

Maria:  

What’s wonderful actually, when people book you to speak, is that you challenge people’s thinking about where they’re going and what they’re doing and it’s a great set-up really, at the beginning of an event, or at the beginning of the year when people are thinking about, “What am I going to be doing next?”

Mark Stevenson:

What I generally like to do is open you up so that the whole event is now open to much more radical thinking because by the time I’ve finished with them, they’re like, “Oh my God, all bets are off, the future has to change and that means us.” And I tie that to how … you know, innovative thinking as well and that’s always a fun thing to do.

Maria:

Yes, we like to think of you as a little catalyst.

Mark Stevenson:  

Oh, a little catalyst, thank you. One of my clients calls me the chief question asker, which I quite like as well.

Maria: 

So finally, Mark, as one podcaster to another, would you like to tell us a little bit about your Futurenauts podcast?

Mark Stevenson: 

No.

Maria: 

OK.

Mark Stevenson:  

So, the Futurenauts is a loose gathering of me and Ed Gillespie, who comes from a sustainability background and it’s really us trying to approach these systemic, big problems with a bit of humour, with a bit of levity but really interviewing world-class people on how they are solving these problems. So, it’s very much future-facing, it’s very much, “Tell us what you’re doing.” We’ve got some fantastic interviews in the bag, coming up. So that’s what we do and we occasionally go out and do the odd bit of stand-up as well and we collaborate on all sorts of other bits and bobs. So, it’s another way to try and make this stuff accessible to a wide audience.

Maria:  

And again, I’ll put a link in the notes. So, thank you Mark, thank you so much for your time, it’s been a real pleasure.

Mark Stevenson:    

It’s always nice to be interviewed by you.

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