Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Illumination through interaction - Day 48

Day 48 (Wednesday 17th January 2018)
48% of those who voted in the UK referendum on June 23rd 2016 wished to remain
in Europe and 52% voted to leave. A year ago, on 17th January 2017, Prime Minister
Theresa May made her much commented upon Brexit speech at Lancaster House in
London, which resulted in EU Chief Donald Tusk commenting that the UK was "getting
more realistic". It is a year later and we still seem to have much yet to be agreed.

Last night I went to an interesting talk on the future of personal investment with a focus on diversity, social mobility and the changes impacting the wealth management industry. It was hosted by the Cornhill Club (a club founded in 1931 by a group of City bankers early last century with a view to bringing learning, awareness and CPD to people who work in financial services - L&D long before it was a thing). It was a wonderful mixture of tradition and future thinking and  the speaker was Sarah Bates, the Chair of St James' Place Wealth Management and an excellent example of social mobility and success through personal endeavour.

Today's post is by Rob Baker, the Founder and Director of Tailored Thinking. He is based in Durham and I rather wish that I had hooked up with him when I was in the City at the start of the week - ah well, there's always next time... Rob initially studied Psychology at Loughborough and was an international athlete and coach. He then commenced a career in HR (spending 5 years as a consultant with PwC; 2 years as an HR Manager for a joint venture between Rotherham Council and British Telecom where he established an HR shared service centre for 12,000 employees; and worked in HR supporting academics in Sheffield University for six years), before uprooting himself to work in a range of HR related positions at the University of Melbourne. Whilst in Australia he also managed to attain a first class Masters in Applied Positive Psychology. Rob returned to the UK in autumn 2016 and resumed working at Sheffield until March of last year, when he took the entrepreneurial plunge he had been planning (more of this below). 

Rob is both a chartered fellow of the CIPD and the Australian HR Institute. He is passionate about helping people thrive and is an advocate of positive business approaches. He writes a good blog on his business site. You can get to know him better via Twitter (his handle is @BakerRJM)


In March I was in the dark. I knew I wanted to start my own business, which I had been planning for some time, but I lacked clients, contacts and (at times) confidence.

Hard to start
In this contribution to Katie’s (fabulous) advent blog series, I wanted to share how I have been building my personal and professional network and “shedding some light” on different perspectives and experiences of the world of work through a personal challenge I set myself in April.

My challenge was to have 100 interesting conversations with 100 interesting people about work.

It is my hope that in a small way my experiences may encourage someone else who is thinking about, or facing, their own personal or professional challenge.

How it all began

I was speaking to a good friend Lesley in March about one of the key challenges that I saw in starting my business - developing a personal and professional network, of leaders, practitioners and researchers who had interest, experience or curiosity in positive psychology, positive approaches to business and HR consultancy.

Knowing that I was someone often inspired by (sometimes stupid) challenges she jokingly suggested that I could set myself a target of meeting 100 new people during the year.

Whilst I initially dismissed the idea, it rattled away in my mind.

On a train a couple of days later, I took out a notepad and scribbled a few further thoughts. Rather than just meeting people, I wondered whether I could use a positive psychology approach, and frame the challenge so that it played to my strengths and interests. Perhaps I could use my curiosity of learning about different aspects of work to – in my mind at least - help shape and frame the purpose of any contact and conversation?

By the end of the journey I had written a myself a challenge “to have 100 interesting conversations with 100 interesting people about work” during the first year of starting my business, Tailored Thinking.  

Nine months, in, I’ve had 112 conversations.

How have the conversations gone?

My criteria for what constituted a conversation was (and is) quite fast and loose, but involved a meaningful discussion about some aspect of the world of work.  

I’ve had these in person, by phone, on Skype, over breakfast, lunch, coffee and (often most entertainingly) beer. They have ranged from 5 minutes to 2 hours. They have all been (almost entirely) enjoyable and – if I am honest, one of the most fun parts of starting up my business.

What have I learnt?

Well, quite a bit. I am still in the process of unpicking the many themes and points of wisdom generously shared, but here are a few immediate learnings that have jumped out at me (in no particular order):

1)     People are kind and generous, often incredibly so.

I have often been sideswiped by how generous people have been with their time, ideas and personal contacts. I’ve found this both tremendously humbling but also inspiring and of great support to me during what has, at times, been a lonely process as a start-up.

2)     My “natural” networks aren’t very diverse.

It turns out that my engineered serendipity led to meeting people who shared broadly similar age, education and ethnicity. This is perhaps not a big surprise, but something I am conscious of.  It would be dangerous to assume that the ideas, views and experiences which have been shared with me are representative of a wider population. 

3)     I really enjoy making connections amongst those people I have met

An unexpected, but positive, outcome of my experiment is that I have been in the position to connect people with others and spread ideas and resources that have been shared with me. This has been a real joy and a small way to “give back” to those who have taken the time to meet with me.

4)     It turns out there might be something in this social media malarkey

A small, but significant number of my conversations have resulted from people I have “met” through social media, Twitter in particular. Having been a serial lurker for many months, I plucked up the courage to get involved in the fabulous #HRhour and have never really looked back.

5)     You never know where your conversations will lead

A bit of a cliche I know, but opportunities to write, learn, consultant, present and podcast have all come about through my conversations – and many of these opportunities have come someway along a chain of conversations I have had, where one person connects with another and so on (I think my record for a chain of conversations is 8 people).

6)     Things sparkle and fizz when you connect over common ideas

I have often found myself swept upwards in a spiral of energy and excitement during and after my conversations. Rifting on, developing and picking apart existing ideas and developing new ones has, at times, been some of the most fun I have had during the last 9 months (I know I should get out more).

I’ll continue to reflect on, mine, and potentially blog about some further reflections of my 100 conversations about work project later in the New Year.

I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who was a part of this (knowingly or not) and for those I have met through social media or in person for continuing to share, stretch and stitch together ideas, thoughts and communities of practice.

Good luck to those of you setting, or facing, your own personal or professional challenges in 2018. If you would be willing to share some of your thoughts about what works well at work then get in touch (@bakerrjm). I would love to hear from you.

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