This week’s mentor session for me was unlike any previous ones to date. First off, rather than meeting in the plush lounge of One Alfred Place, or an imposing glass walled corporate HQ, I found myself wandering the quiet residential back roads of Oxford Gardens, nestled under the roaring traffic of West London’s Westway. Here, tucked away at no. 117, is the innovating consultancy, Industry Approved.
Its founder is an impressively intelligent and laid back individual by the name of Matt Hart, who I had the pleasure of meeting as mentor no. 3 of my Marketing Academy programme. When questioned on his career trajectory to date, he modestly assured me it was neither exemplary nor should it be heralded as a worthy path to follow. Well, sorry Matt but I think we could learn from your example.
A Kiwi by birth, Matt had come to his current situation via an eclectic mix of Zoology, TV Production, a fair bit of surfing and a very lucky break at Ray-Ban, among other things. The concept of a leadership vision as such was not one that seemed to fit into this picture, and yet Matt has achieved an extraordinary amount throughout his experience, revolutionising the way BBC Radio 1 looked at their audiences and re-shaping their programming accordingly, securing an extra few million listeners in the process. No mean feat.
So what did I learn from all of this? Well, I’m not quite ready to tear up the leadership vision just yet, but it has helped me re-shape certain elements.
Re-express or re-define what success looks like to you
Always a fan of a grand plan and the ‘big picture’, I am supremely risk-averse by nature and the idea of leaping into the unknown frightens me half to death – be it in a professional context, personal relationships or even (as a recent experience at South Africa’s Bloukrans Bridge bungee point taught me) in a literal sense. I don’t jump. Why? Largely, a fear of failure (or, in the case of Bloukrans, a significantly more legitimate fear of death).
But Matt challenged me to ask what happens when I start to examine the root of that perceived ‘failure’. Is success climbing the ladder of promotion in one avenue, or experiencing as much as possible across the board, even if it means dropping down a ‘rung’ every now and again? Is it committing unwaveringly to a plan for the future and being hard on yourself when best laid plans don’t come to fruition? Or can a leadership vision change with the tide, remaining flexible enough to adapt to new frontiers and directions as they arise?
There were other little nuggets that surged forth from our chat: insights, not ideas, create ideas; in driving innovation, don’t always be tempted to start with creativity, start with discipline; DIGITAL – if you don’t know about it, or you don’t know enough, go and learn about it now, because it is the future.
But at the forefront of my mind as I walked back up Oxford Gardens was this drive to question my own pre-conceived notion of success. The very name of Matt’s firm made me ask this question: do I design a career path that will give me the stamp of ‘industry approved’, or should I rather achieve things for my own seal of approval? Do I define my own success, or do I let others define it for me?