Mentorship Director, CIPD
1. Do you remember a time when you were happiest as a child? Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing?
Summer holidays when I was about 11? Sitting in the font room of the house watching cricket, eating peanut-butter on toast whilst the sun bathed the room in a summer heat. Mum at work. Nothing to do but read, watch TV and laze
2. At what age did you become an adult? What happened, and how did you know?
About 31? I slipped whilst carrying my young daughter on my shoulders and almost crashed into a rock pool (head first). I think if I’d fallen it would have killed me – or her. I realised that in trying to regain my footing I’d instinctively twisted so I’d take the force of the fall. I thought ‘Maybe this is what being a grown up feels like’.
3. What do you think is true that most people think is false? What do you think is false, that most people think is true?
I think most people think they are special. And they both are and aren’t. The one thing most of us have in common is that we think we are somehow unique. It’s ironic that what binds us is that we somehow aren’t bound. I think that lots of people – I couldn’t say most – but lots of people seem to think that belief and hope can carry them through or solve things. I’d rather rely on a plan and activity than belief and hope, but then maybe that’s where I get my belief and hope from. I’m not sure I’m anywhere near answering this question
4. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?
I wanted to answer this one because it sort of leaped out at me. I don’t unhesitatingly recommend much to anyone. The exception to that might be Paddington 2, which is just an amazing film and just a bundle of delight… but normally everything can and possibly should come with a caveat. We’ve all had someone say ‘read this’ and then thought ‘this stinks…’ and not known quite how to tell the person that they’ve got your preferences so wrong. Books are highly personal. If someone has a need ‘Can you recommend me a good book on x’ then I’d probably suggest something, but I’d probably still say ‘Gets a bit weak at the end’ or ‘The research is a bit patchy’ or something similar. And I’d default to non-fiction because that’s mainly what I read these days. I’m getting old.
5. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?
I didn’t finish university. I dropped out after mental illness and a lot of problems in my family and went and stacked shelves in a supermarket. People think I’ve had a proper corporate career, but mainly I’ve just stumbled about from place to place and I only even really thought about having a proper career when I was about 28. People talk to me like I did a grad programme and then progressed in a sort of traditional way – but in fact my career is a range of random unplanned events. Which is why whenever I’m asked for career advice I’m happy to oblige, but I’ll talk about what I’ve seen in people I know and respect who have been successful. Because mine is mainly luck. Nobody would ever plan a career like mine – nor should they.
“People think I’ve had a proper corporate career, but mainly I’ve just stumbled about from place to place”
6. What is your untrainable superpower?
I don’t have one. All of the superhero rhetoric we hear in business is just noise isn’t it? It’s hard enough being an adequate human being without stretching things out further. I know I have advantages in work due to speed of thinking and critical thinking – and honestly if you are lucky enough (as I am) to combine that with speed reading then the thing that looks like a superpower to others (and isn’t) is that the time eating work of reading papers, writing summaries or sorting out an inbox takes me comparatively no time. If you can do that low value stuff in 1/3 of the time it takes others then you get far more freedom to do and think other things. It’s not a superpower, but it’s an unfair advantage/useful cluster of skills. I used to have a ridiculous memory – now I have a good one. But my good one remembers being excellent.
7. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What did you learn from the experience?
I always feel like an outsider. Every conference, every time I meet people for drinks – even a group of close friends. I hate crowds and all I’ve done over the years is develop coping strategies. Which are, at times, too good because people think I love a lot of stuff I hate. Can’t believe I didn’t see me at that event? I’ll do anything I can to steer away from having to make conversation with random groups of people. Asking me ‘Why do you enjoy networking so much?’ makes about as much sense as asking me ‘How do you remain so clean shaven?’. I sort of like Twitter, but not for the reasons that many people are on there. Broadly I’m not sure I like people – which is problematic for my career choice, but seemingly a surmountable problem
8. What do you think is acceptable today but will become taboo tomorrow?
Boards and Senior Teams that are all white. I know some people will say they aren’t acceptable now, but a glance at the composition of the FTSE100 Annual Reports would suggest they somehow still are.
9. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?
Lab Rats by Dan Lyons. It is a book I would recommend with reservations. But if you’ve read this far you will know that I don’t recommend without them. It’s a thought provoking polemic that addresses many of my concerns about modern business and the odd cult like behaviour that otherwise seemingly sentient human beings submit to in work.
10. Cheese or Chocolate? What kind?
Mint Aero. It’s the only acceptable answer. Although Milky Way would be close. Or Finger of Fudge or Dairy Milk. No, Mint Aero. Although do you remember Pyramints? They were brilliant. But I’ll say Mint Aero. Or a Crunchie.
“Mint Aero. It’s the only acceptable answer”