fireworks and bonfire
entrepreneurship, focus, impact, innovation, purpose

Firework, bonfire or home-fire: what kind of impact will you have?

Bonfire night, or Guy Fawkes’ night, has always been one of my favourite nights of the year.  Partly, it’s because I love fireworks – both the experience of them, and a geeky delight in the chemistry which creates them – and partly it’s because it marks the autumn, a time of year full of the winds of change. As an innovator and entrepreneur, I’m excited by possibility, and the power, beauty, creativity and startling nature of fireworks fills my mind with the possibilities of life.

Like many of you who have experienced a career change, a life change, or what might be classically called a mid-life-crisis (at whatever age!), I wonder what my legacy will be – whether my short life will shine bright, or fizzle out like a damp squib. Will any of my dreams come to pass?  Will I manage to make a difference to anyone or anything? Can I ever be as impactful as the bright colours lighting up the night sky, even for a moment?

It’s worth remembering, as you experience that moment of awe at a fireworks display this year, that there are many different contributions to make.  Many businesses, projects – and lives – are like the fireworks, new innovations shining brightly in their time, then fading away. Others are like bonfires, more mundane, but flaring fiercely with great impact; still others home-fires, burning slowly and steadily to light the path for years to come. All of these have merit: it’s up to you to decide what kind of impact you want to have, and how best to achieve it.

As we mark the passing of another November 5th, and start the inevitable race towards Christmas, what are you going to do to make an impact before the end of the year?  And are your choices taking you towards the legacy you imagine for yourself?

Action Learning, entrepreneurship

Are you setting up your own business or considering a portfolio career? Looking for a peer group in Oxford?  

Are you setting up your own business or considering a portfolio career to better have the impact you want to have on the world?  Or do you know someone who is?

As part of my training as an Action Learning facilitator, I’m running a free fortnightly set in Kennington village near Oxford for new and aspiring entrepreneurs. See below for details – I can take up to two more people for the set starting at the end of October, but might run another in the New Year – possibly in a different location – if there is enough interest.

Action Learning is a peer-group based methodology which involves a small group or ‘set’ of people (usually 5-8 people) coming together on a regular basis to discuss challenges that they face. Challenges can be personal or professional, and there are a wide variety of types of set, some with very diverse participants and others involving colleagues in the same organisation (sets are used widely in the NHS, for example). Participants benefit both from exploring their own challenges with the group and also from understanding others’ problems and solutions. Sets work best when participants are good listeners, ask lots of open questions and don’t try and ‘coach’ people to answers, but rather allow them to reach their own conclusions. There is a strong structure to the sessions and they are actively facilitated to enable people to give each other the space to explore.

I’m running an introductory set of 5-6 sessions, each two hours long, run fortnightly in school hours at my home in Kennington, Oxford. There is no cost to you except your time and no obligation to continue beyond the 5 or 6 sessions initially committed.  I hope that participants will find it fun and informative – a chance to explore a new technique, meet some friendly people and get the opportunity for some insights into a challenge of their own.

If you’re interested, drop me a message on Linkedin or email me at

entrepreneurship, life lessons, resilience

True Resilience

Much ado is made of resilience in today’s literature.  Everything from mental health to success in business seems to rely on this elusive trait.

I thought of resilience as being the ability to withstand stress, to be calm under pressure, to maintain a positive outlook even in life’s darkest moments.  The dictionary definition is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”.  I’ve always considered myself to be a strong person – indeed, my name means ‘the strong one’ – but sometimes it is the strongest branch which snaps in a storm rather than bending to the winds.  I realised that resilience in effect captured the type of strength I wanted to cultivate, and I wondered how to work on it.

In my usual way, I turned first to a combination of self-help books and scientific literature (more on this later).  However it wasn’t until one evening, exhausted by a day of child and baby-care with the added stress of a cold, that I really understood the meaning of true resilience.  I was tidying up, past my bedtime, and felt as though I was once again fighting a never-ending tide of ‘stuff’ the chaos caused by the inevitable entropy of a family. I thought ‘this what my life will be like for years to come…the tidying and sorting will never end, I will never quite get to the nirvana of a well-ordered household, no matter how much I nibble around the edges.’  And that’s when it hit me. Resilience is not a one-time thing, an ability to handle the acute pressures that ebb and flow in a workplace and in life, hanging on in there until things get better. Resilience is the ability to face up to slow, creeping progress, and a never-ending task, a constant state of being that is not quite what you’d like it to be. To face up to it, to accept it, and to improve on it, without giving in to hopelessness, despite the fact that you know the problem will never be ‘fixed’.

This constant low-level stress – punctuated by more acute moments – is a state of being certainly familiar to entrepreneurs and change-agents working to make a vision reality. Progress is rarely as fast or as smooth as you would like, so it’s important to cultivate a positive, resilient attitude where you try hard every day, and celebrate the small wins along the way.

business management, entrepreneurship, sales

Benefits, not features: but benefits to whom?

Sell the benefits, not the features.  It’s one of the most basic of sales lessons, and has been said many times before.  What often remains unsaid is ‘the benefits to whom?’  It’s really important that you work out who you’re selling to, and put yourself in their shoes.

One classic example is investors versus customers.  I sit on a dry-run panel in Oxford, UK for companies looking to get angel investment.  Most of the companies who pitch have a decent presentation.  Some of them (much to my delight), start with ‘I can solve this problem for my customers’ rather than  ‘my product/technology is great, it works like this’.  However very few start with ‘my company is a good investment because…’ They’ve taken on the benefits not features message, but have forgotten to adjust to the audience.  Show an investor that you have a big market hungry for your unique solution, you’re an experienced team and you know who will buy you out or what your exit strategy is.  Convince them that you’re an opportunity not to be missed and that their money will come back many fold – and then back it up by describing why your customers will buy, how your technology works and how you will beat off competitors.  All of the detail is important, but the investors need to be inspired, need to see some clear benefits to themselves before they’re interested in those details.

The same goes for any presentation.  You have just a few minutes to convince someone to pay attention to what you have to say: so start with the benefits to them, and then move on to the detail once they’re convinced it’s worth listening.  Put yourself in their shoes, and ask the crucial question: why do I care?

Got any other tips and tricks for working out what your audience wants to know?  Has the ‘why do I care?’ question helped you change your perspective before?  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.