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Advice to your younger self

16th Apr 2018
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(Collaborative thought piece by Ian Buckingham; Kevin Keohane; Dan Gray and Hilton Barbour).

A father recently walked into his kitchen to find his child clearly upset.So he dropped what he was planning to do to stop and listen.

Seems the child had been disturbed by much buzzy noise on social media about fame and success. They were starting to feel that they would just never be able to shape up as people expected them to. Turns out they were feeling the pressure of making certain subject selections at school that they worried would set them on a path in life when they hadn't really made up their mind. But they felt like they should know and it was worrying them.

Dad was just grateful he was there for the moment. So he started a series of conversations to help them navigate their way.

He shared this story with a few of us recently. It so happens that we are each relatively experienced friends and fathers who have worked in the Marcomms space, both agency and in-house, for some time.

One question in particular prompted an online conversation:

Q1:"Reflecting on your career to date, what is the one piece of advice you would give the younger you/or your son or daughter when entering the world of work?"

Here's a precis of our reflections, for what they're worth:


Find and follow your bliss

It took me a while to see this because of the games that all people play with each other.

There's much talk about progress. But even if you reflect on what has happened since the industrial revolution, infamous for cramped housing, serfdom and little real time for what makes life great, things haven’t really moved on. Not as much as they should have.

People still live in the same or smaller houses but they somehow pay a fortune for them now; they work even longer, have fewer children, spend even less time with them and still donate their labour for other people most of their lives. They are quite often producing stuff that’s pretty useless and leaves a mess for others to sort out.

There’s more to life than stuff, there really is.

We all have to make sacrifices and compromises in life.

Some involve decisions we feel we have to make to survive.

But whatever you do, always strive to make an impact on the world and leave it a better, wiser, happier place for you having been here.

You stand the best chance of doing that by finding your passion, trying lots, sharing lots, failing lots, succeeding some but growing lots. Eventually, with lots of determination and not a little luck, you will find the sweet spot where work and you crossover.

If you’re really lucky it will seldom feel like work.

When you find that place, whatever it may be, it will be your “bliss”. Until then, good luck spotting the dragons on the way, the takers not the makers, the talkers not the leaders.

The greatest tragedy is not a life lived without money or power or fame. It is a life wasted, without taking risks just trying to impress others while forgetting or not discovering what brings you joy.

You, for me, are part of my bliss. You are my joy. I just hope you’re as lucky as I am to know that feeling too.

Always keep a ‘growth mindset’

Be a humble and voracious learner. Go broad, not narrow, in your quest for knowledge, actively searching for new ideas and perspectives, especially from disciplines outside the one you have chosen. Therein lies the key to long-term success and fulfilment.

Others will tell you you’re wasting your time filling your head with stuff that they think bears no relation to the ‘day job’. Don’t listen to them. Ten years from now, they’ll probably find their job has been eaten by a robot, and they’ll be screwed because they invested all their time and energy in developing deep technical skill.

It’s good – necessary even – to be a polymath. Seek out experiences that will help you develop and hone the timeless mindsets and metaskills that are at the heart of what makes us human – initiative and self-reliance, communication and collaboration, critical reasoning and creative problem-solving (to name just a few).

Your prowess as an integrative thinker, sense-maker and problem-solver will be what keeps you one step ahead of the robots, grants you the ability to adapt and thrive whatever the future of work holds in store, and makes you valuable in an era when business is increasingly expected to step up and help solve society’s ‘wicked problems’.

No-one’s going to solve those problems with the inch-wide, mile deep perspective of the functional expert, so stand tall and be proud to be a generalist.

Because the future belongs to you.

Whatever you may lose, never lose your optimism. 

Much has happened since you were born my darling son.

Man living on Mars. Oceans now free of plastic waste. Racial and gender equality that seemed a pipe dream when I took this role. Many of these advances were made by businesses and business people. Hard to imagine growing up that we once looked on politicians to solve the issues of the world.

Whether its politicians or business people who’ve solved some of our most systemic ills, one thing I’ve learnt is that humanity needs leaders with imagination and with optimism. 

Your mother, who I wish deeply each and every day, instilled a curiosity in you that has served you well. Never lose that desire to question. To go back to 1st Principles and understand why? Why? may be a small word but it has been at the heart of many of our greatest discoveries and our incredible leaps forward.

But "why?" is not enough.

You need to do more than understand. You need to actually do something with that knowledge. But do it with optimism. Don’t just create, but inspire. Don’t just solve for others, infuse them with hope and optimism. Optimism is the warmth that fills a weary heart. Optimism is the hand that lightens the burden of the downtrodden. Optimism is the light we all seek in the dark.

When I was a young man, an optimistic leader once said this to his country: 

"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills." 

You will face many challenges in the years ahead. You will not always win.

But whatever you may lose, never lose your optimism. 

That is what separates true leaders from the mediocre one’s. And you are far from mediocre, my darling son. 

Time is all you really have

Time is going to drive some tough life choices. You’ll have to learn to balance genuinely rewarding time spent against time wasted buttressing ego and self-esteem. Avoid time-vampirizing behaviors that are ultimately not in your best interests. The sooner you learn this, the better.

Learning this, you’re going to encounter two kinds of people inhabiting the ecosystem in which you seek to play (however it’s sliced and diced – and we’ll come to that in a moment).

You’ll meet those who say, and those who do. Spotting the difference is essential to understanding human nature. And while building eminence and dare I say “personal branding” is important: Become not desperately distracted in seeking the oxygen of attention.

Be a doer, not a sayer.

With ever increasing ease of access, it will unfold around you: personal brand builders with the same search engines as everybody else. They’ll form and join clubs. Achieve the giddy heights of important-sounding voluntary board positions. Sayers dive deep, debating to the death then decoding and defining the minutiae of “best practices” and the essential esoterica of the doers’ capability set. Sayers seek to mark lines around disciplines. Sayers unearth things first discovered and since internalized by doers, polishing and repackaging them as distinctive points of view to present at conferences and breakfast briefings.

Ignore turf-protecting boundaries between disciplines—because when you fly above the sayer landscape, you’ll notice something. There aren’t actually any lines down there. You’ll be a designer. A connector. You’ll think adjacently. Your reputation will spread—with those who matter. As a doer, what will you earn instead? Meaningful work at the Big People Table. 

Despite this, yes, you’ll probably feel the sting when sayers win trinkets.

Don’t sweat it.


Q2: But enough of our reflections. What would be your one piece of advice to your child, or the younger you?

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