Curries, rabbits and taking the scenic route: my stand out lessons from 2018.
I love a list - so here are my 18 things I learned in 2018 to round off the year:
- Wander around and your curiosity will be rewarded. This year I visited cities I hadn’t been to in years — places like Liverpool, Hull, Leeds, Madrid. Whilst I was there to do a talk or presentation, on every visit I made space for wandering around the city, taking it in, finding places that might provide inspiration. In Hull I stumbled across a little coffee shop and had a great chat to the proprietor about his story. These little activities around the edges really add another level to my work trips.
- Good things happen when people eat together. This year I visited the Jamie Oliver Company HQ. It was lunchtime and everyone was lining up at a kitchen counter for a serving of vegetable curry. Even Jamie was there. This sharing of a meal has become an important ritual that brings everyone together in the same place to share the same dish. It acts as the glue to bind the team together. Those who eat together, stick together.
- Choose the venue with soul, even if it’s tatty at the edges. At the start of the year I ran my two-day ‘Reignite’ workshop for a bank. The bank works with lots of emerging and growing businesses, so I wanted to take them out of their shiny office block and closer to their customers’ world. I discovered a lovely co-working space on the third floor of an old building down near the harbour. Some of the attendees seemed surprised when they walked into the venue. I agree, it looked a bit tatty at the edges, but it had soul and character. It was the perfect venue for my workshop, getting the attendees away from their usual corporate realm and into the lives of their customers.
- The best connections are the random ones. I’m constantly surprised and delighted by the randomness of the connections I’ve made over the years. There’s the recruitment consultant, Mohan, I met — and who I’ve subsequently introduced to a handful of my own connections — just because I happened to go for a last-minute drink in a bar. He was in a band, playing the keyboard. A few months after that I asked his band to play my 40th birthday party. Earlier this year one of my Cardiff-based connections, Marc, was really helpful in giving me his customer perspective on a client of mine. How do I know Marc? Five years ago I happened to pick up a copy of a magazine in Tate Modern. Marc had written a piece about his fondness for a stove top coffee maker. It resonated with me and I started following him on Twitter. Reach out to people, you never know where it might lead, not least them playing at your 40th birthday party!
- When team members share their personal stories, magic happens. One Monday afternoon in June, in an old coaching inn in a village in Surrey, I worked with a team from a global organisation. I ran a workshop getting them to share their personal stories. They each told the group of their journey of ‘how they got to here.’ The honesty and emotion that tumbled out that day was humbling and inspiring. Through the telling of the stories, each of us could see we’re all the same — same worries, same wishes, same challenges. The people in the room bonded through their stories and left a lasting impact beyond that of the workshop.
- You’re not for everyone… and that’s okay. One of my gigs stood out this year. It was with a group of attendees who worked in a very corporate environment. There was always a risk that my approach, my style and my ideas might be too leftfield for them. Turns out, I was right. And that’s OK. I’m not for everyone and won’t devote energy and resources to those who just don’t get me.
- Capturing the secret sauce that makes a company’s culture adds a lot of flavour. A fast-growing organisation wanted to make sure they didn’t dilute or neglect their culture. At the team’s awayday in rural Norfolk, I led a session to capture their culture. Colleagues were asked to get together in groups and discuss what they felt were the working practices, habits and behaviours that make the company special. These were written down and shared at the end of the day. A final list was agreed on. Now the company has a touchstone, a list of principles which will guide them as they grow.
- Take the scenic route. I was in Edinburgh last month to speak at a conference. I could have flown back, but decided to take the slow route on the train. It’s a wonderful route that hugs the North Sea coast before passing across the majestic Tyne in Newcastle and heading south towards London. What I particularly love about a long train journey is how the view out of the window is a shifting slideshow. It really fed my creativity.
- The joy of catching up over a slow Saturday morning coffee shouldn’t be underestimated. Lizzie and I live on opposite sides of the UK. When we both happened to be in London on a Saturday morning it was an opportunity too good to miss. We caught up for coffee in Earls Court. We weren’t in a rush and it was lovely to share what we’d been up. More than that, we had a bloody good laugh. That felt good. Thanks Lizzie.
- When something merits a old school letter or thank you card, do it. I love sending thank you cards in my business life, something I learned from Tom Peters. It’s rare however that I write a letter to anyone. But when I was reflecting on my experiences working with the BBC, I felt I wanted to feedback my insights to the Director General Tony Hall. So I decided to write him a letter. I knew his office would get inundated with correspondence but Tony was good enough to respond, adding his own handwritten comments at the bottom. He also took the time to say ‘thank you’ on his reply. A reminder that one-to-one, snail-mail communications aren’t dead.
- Make more time for what matters. This year an old, old friend of mine became ill. It was natural that I wanted to see him so I took him out for lunch. Picking him up to take him out to a Turkish cafe was the most important thing I did that week.
- Know when it’s time to hang up your hat. This year I clocked up my twenty sixth session for the BBC. It had been quite a journey and I had enjoyed it but I decided to call time. After all, I had started to feel less fresh and energised myself, so how was I going to energise others? Quit while you’re ahead.
- Treat yourself. I really wanted to see Steve McQueen’s film ‘Widows’. I’d just finished a meeting in Soho, and checking cinema times, I reckoned I could just make it to the 12:30 screening at The Curzon. It was a real treat, going to the cinema in the middle of the working day. It turned out it was a screening just for me — I was the only one there!
- It’s harder to feed a rabbit water than you might think. After landing at Madrid’s Barajas airport, a fellow traveller — and complete stranger — asked if I would help her give her pet rabbit Gogo some water. The rabbit had just endured his first flight from London to Madrid, and was now heading to Lisbon. She was worried he was dehydrated. Could I give him some water through a pipette whilst she held him? Sure, I replied confidently. Then after five minutes trying to find its mouth, we had to give up. Who knew it could be so tricky!?
- Two heads are better than one. This is nothing new, but something that has become more noticeable this year. When I’m designing new workshops and writing up talks and other articles — having two heads is crucial, not least to give an objective, outsider perspective that helps see themes and acts as a sounding board. Does this bit go there? Does that bit work next to that slide? And so on. Thanks to my creative partner Zoë for all her help this year.
- Say hello in the lift. People sometimes look at me like I have two heads when I say hello in office lifts (and I’m not even the one that works there!). Yes, I know it’s not the done thing but here’s to being more human with our fellow lift-riders in 2019.
- It feels good to let the inner teenager out. A couple of weeks ago I went to see Johnny Marr play live in Amsterdam, in a venue I’d first been to in 1986. I remember the first time I heard The Smiths’ ‘There is a light that never goes out’. That was 1986 too. The track was on an album I had on cassette and I played it to death. First in my bedroom. And then in the tape deck of my Ford Escort, hitting the fast forward and rewind buttons trying to cue up the one track I wanted to hear. Johnny co-wrote the song. It was wonderful to relive those teenage years, watching him live all these years later and performing the song I’ve always loved so much.
- It matters where you put your attention. This year I’ve been focused about what matters, what doesn’t and where to put my attention. I’ve been clear when to say no to projects and approaches, and I’ve only accepted gigs where there’s a chemistry and culture fit with the people and organisations I work with. I’ve not allowed any space for toxic relationships in my life. Making time for swims, dog walks, looking after my mental health. As happiness and productivity guru Gretchen Rubin says, “to live a meaningful life means making meaningful choices for what we do at 10am and at 3pm and in the evening.” So, I wish you all much more of the freedom and clarity to do that in 2019.
Ian Sanders is on a mission to get people fired-up so they can do their best work. Through workshops, presentations and one-to-one sessions, Ian brings his passion for doing things differently, creatively and energetically to inspire and engage others, whether that’s for organisations, teams or individuals.