Work like you’re on holiday

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I always do some work on holiday. Much of our first #wiredwomen conference happened via twitter on trains in Europe. Last year ExCo (that would be me and Dunne) had a great strategy session at the Palace while both kids were at camp. And this year, in between walks, chilling and putting body and soul back together, we sharpened our vision and redesigned our website (still to be revealed) It’s the kind of thinking that we seldom have time for during the year.

It feels a bit like tidying my desk on a Sunday in preparation for the week ahead. It’s hard for a chaos junkie like me to learn this lesson, but as Gretchen Rubin author of the Happiness project says “outer order contributes to inner calm”

I know that many people disapprove (I am rapped over the knuckles by well-meaning friends and family when they see work-related status updates on facebook) but the truth is, I find a creativity and clarity on holiday that often escapes me in the hype of the year.

In fact my best ideas probably happen in between. Often I’m able to accomplish more in the few hours the family is still sleeping on holiday than in entire days spent slogging at my desk. Which makes me wonder of course how efficient I might be if I worked a whole lot less during the work year, played a whole lot more, went for more walks and gave myself the gift of uninterrupted extended relaxation time more often.

And that will be my resolution for 2014. To bottle this feeling and try to organize my year as if I’m on holiday the whole year through

Wish me luck – I’ll keep you posted 🙂

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What entrepreneurs, bloggers & Rumplestiltskin have in common

My Dad says that much of the work that I do is to create something out of nothing. I’m not sure whether he thinks this is a good thing but it’s a concept I think about a lot.

I thought about it again when I read Matthew Buckland’s article on entrepreneurship yesterday where he describes “the entrepreneurial way “— starting your own company, raising capital for it and do what entrepreneurs do best — create something out of nothing and follow their own destinies.”

In fact  if I was to choose a fairytale character I relate to the most it’s probably the rather random Miller’s daughter in Rumplestiltskin because when there is important work to be done, I know  that, like her, I should lock myself in a dark room and spin straw into gold.

That I think is the challenge of the digital economy. To take the straw that is verbage, information and clutter and transform it into something that adds value to the world.

It’s also the dilemma of the freelancer, the leader navigating uncertain territory, the knowledge worker.

In an age which prizes collaboration and working together, all introverted workers (who thanks to Susan Cain and her book Quiet are now proudly coming out of the closet)  know the value of locking yourself up, facing a dark night of the soul and trying to produce gold.

Gold of course doesn’t need to be lucrative. (although if you’re in business, whether or not people want to buy is a convenient test of whether or not you’ve hit the mark) But sometimes it’s a sense that you are proud of the contribution you’ve made.

Whether or not it’s completely original, as long as it has a unique and authentic stamp to it, there’s nothing to beat the feeling of pride when you’ve created something you’re proud of. Something that makes you feel: ‘I worked hard, this might not be perfect yet but it’s good and I’m ready to show it to the world.’

And this is probably why we should all blogImage

The Dark Side of the Little Red Hen

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Never mind the usual leadership gurus, it’s the story of the Little Red Hen and her can-do approach that has shaped my work life.

There are a few childhood narratives that strike a chord at the right time and have the power to stay with you forever. Together with a few other favourite stories my mother read and told (like Pookie the Rabbit whose whimsical illustrations gave me a love of blue flowers forever) the force of the Little Red Hen remains strong within me.

So imagine my delight to learn in Time that Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the recently released Lean In, was also  influenced by this famous fable. In sixth grade, Sandberg took second place in a Florida-wide oratory contest when she used the folktale of the little red hen to talk about the importance of everyone doing their bit for America.

There’s a strong sense of industry, self-sufficiency and reliance in the tale. When the dog, the cat and the duck refuse to help her make bread “Then I will make it all by myself” said the Little Red Hen. “And she did.”

So over the years whenever I get frustrated that my ideas haven’t attracted the right support or sponsorship, I hear the feisty words of the Little Red Hen and remember “Then I will make it all by myself”.

It’s a liberating way to live. And I’ve launched a few businesses on the strength of this philosophy.

But as much as I love her and all that she represents, I’ve learned that there’s a dark side to the Little Red Hen and her self-sufficiency.

It’s the shadow side of the entrepreneur.

Benjamin Zander  conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and author of the Art of Possibility told the story of how he once apologized to his students who didn’t attend an important concert because he, as their leader, failed to convey sufficiently how inspiring and beautiful that concert would be.

This I’ve learned is one of the most important roles of a leader – the ability to communicate a vision that takes people with you and allows them the joy of participation.

So I’ve learned that the Little Red Hen is missing a few tricks and these are a few ideas I’d like to share with her:

  1. Yes you’re tough, multi-skilled and resilient but are you a great leader? Take time to share your vision of toasty, freshly baked bread and how delicious it will be
  2. When you invite others to participate in your vision, you’re sacrificing complete control. There will probably be a mess in your kitchen that alone you wouldn’t make. But there’s fun, festivity and a sense of something bigger that can emerge if you tolerate the mess
  3. Don’t take perverse pride out of being a bad delegator. Everyone can learn to bake if you take the time out of your busy day to show them how
  4.  Sharing the bread you’ve baked is far more fun when you do it together in a spirit of love and generosity. Have your friends over and give them a slice

With love and appreciation for all you’ve taught me.

Debby