James Driver

Head of People

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?

Lots of times – I had a great childhood. We didn’t have much growing up and there was a charity nearby that provided short holidays for children – Every year I would go to Staffordshire and stay with a family up there for a week – I still keep in touch with them now (although not as much as I would like) but they were some great times.

2. Who was your favourite teacher at school? What did you learn from that person?

Neil Price – my primary school teacher – I had just been diagnosed dyslexic and moved out of one teachers class that, from my memory was the opposite to Neil (we used first names in my primary – very modern for the 80’s). Neil understood my difficulties and had a great mix of being patient and approachable but would push you to do better where appropriate. It was less about what I learnt and more about providing exactly what I needed at a time when I didn’t know what I needed.

3. Name a well-known person you admire and explain why you hold them high esteem?

Simon Sinek – I could listen to him all day. Something about the way he tells a story really resonates with me (and I assume a lot of people hence his fame) his advice is simple and straight forward but really well delivered, IMO

4. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?

I’ve recently found 8D audio and it seems to really help me drown out the distractions (internally and externally) and get through larger chunks of work.

5. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?

I generally listen to books on Audible. I would say

Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte.

In todays world holding absolutely everything in our heads and being able to access it and it’s relevant points at any one time is near on impossible. I personally have a terrible memory and can sometimes feel that pang of panic when asked about something that’s not on my mind at that moment. I’ll hold my hands up and say I haven’t managed to implement it fully yet (only just read it) but have started organising my projects and their various parts across home and life on Notion.

No Rules Rules by Erin Meyer and Reed Hastings.

I enjoyed this book on a professional level it has some really interesting and ‘new’ ideas in it – the very act of ripping up the rule book and building something purposeful is interesting to me. But – BIG BUT – it needs to come with a caveat – I’ve seen so many founders pick up this book, read that honest and open feedback works, and try to implement it on it’s own – The reason, IMO, this worked at Netflix is because it was a part of a wider culture and belief. It’s no good lifting the part you like and expecting it just to work on it’s own. Take heed think about your culture and the impact that it might have.

Super Pumped by Mike Isaac

I couldn’t work at Bolt and not read the story of what and how Uber started out. This is a great book and lesson in what not to do in a company. It’s full of drama and shock and the appointment of Dara to take over from Travis was, in my opinion, the only reason they survived – interestingly I’ve since found out that one of their values since Dara joined was “Do the right thing” in everything you do – something I think a lot of companies would benefit from putting this at the heart of every decision (you can still do the right thing and be commercial, they’re not mutually exclusive)

6. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?

Two – 1, that I went to Uni and 2. That I’m not old enough to have 18 and a 20 year old daughters

7. What is a Ted Talk that changed your life?

Celeste Headlee – 10 ways to have a better conversation – whilst I haven’t mastered all of the points I strive to follow everything here and it has lead to some great conversations

Also – just a cheat extra – The “song” Everyone’s free (to wear sunscreen) I listen to this every couple of months or so and try to follow it as much as possible (with the exception of living in NYC and California)

8. If you wrote a ‘user manual’ on how people should interact with you, what would be the most important point in the manual?

For a long time I’ve lived by the mantra – “I take work seriously, I don’t take myself seriously” I like to work with people that have the same outlook.

9. What is the number one thing you would recommend every person in the world to practice from now on in order to increase their happiness and wellbeing?

Have a mutual, psychologically safe, sounding board at work. In the last couple of years I have implemented, what I like to call “Tea Time” This doesn’t go out to everyone and is reciprocal but basically it’s this – When it feels right I explain to a colleague that I’d like to offer them something. There will be times when you need to bounce an idea off of, or need to rant about something to get it off your chest, or just tell someone what’s going on in your head. At those times, find 30 mins in my diary and title it “Tea Time” I’ll know exactly what it is and will show up. Couple of rules. Unless you ask, I will not offer up any form of ‘solution’ I am soley there to listen and give you the space in a safe environment. Anything discussed, is strictly confidential and doesn’t leave the room.

10. What do you think is acceptable today but will become taboo tomorrow?

Asking if your content is your own or AI generated 😉

11. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What/How did you learn?

As someone that suffers, as many do, from imposter syndrome this can be an all too familiar feeling – the unshakable thought that I shouldn’t be there with everyone else because I haven’t gone through the traditional routes or education or even career. A while ago whilst I was listening to some Ted Talks I came across a great talk (Amy Cuddy, Fake it till you become it) At the end of that talk I found an important lesson in the idea of not “fake it till you make it” (this suggests that there’s an end to the journey that you need to arrive at) but rather “fake it till you become it” I still get moments of, sometimes, crippling doubt, but this one lesson has allowed me to understand that the very act of doing what I do makes me good at what I do – So i try to embrace the feeling of nerves – say yes, and go for it. I wont always be right, Im not meant to be right all the time or have all the answers and that’s ok – as long as I keep learning and adjusting.

12. What’s the last image on your camera roll? Care to explain?

I love pictures that show off natural light and, call me bias, but I love London and all it has to offer (not something I felt growing up in London) I was at a business meeting last night and caught a great picture of the sunset over London (genuinely the last picture I took)

13. What app or tech product have you most recently fallen in love with?

Not super recent but I was fortunate enough that a founder I was working for had access to Superhuman and gave me an account. As someone that doesn’t get on with emails (I have an embarrassingly high amount of unread emails in my personal account) this changed my life, ok a little dramatic perhaps, but within a week of using it I was on a streak of 4 consecutive days of clearing my inbox before the end of every day. It honestly changed my view and opinion on emails completely and made me feel more put together and organised.

14. If you were to survive the zombie apocalypse, what role would you play in the new society that would follow?

I’ve recently moved in to a new house which has a lot more work to do with it than we originally thought – I am doing a lot of it myself, learning as I go – so right now I would say builder – I enjoy seeing the results of what I am doing. But we will all live in bungalows because stipping, fixing and painting stairs is not fun!.

15. Aside from family & friends, if you could invite any 3 people - living or dead - to your final dinner party before the end of the world, who would they be and why?

Tim Berners-Lee

I was 8 when he invented the internet I’d love to have a sit down chat with him and get his thoughts on the progression, how it measures up on his expectations, and if there’s anything he generally regrets.

Ken Robinson

A little niche – Ken gave amazing Ted talks on education and it’s role in todays society – a really captivating speaker I can imagine it would be good to put to world to rights with him

Sigmund Freud

I have always had a great interest in Psychology and whilst Freud wasn’t the nicest person (a sexist and plagerist) I would like to download his brain on the subject of Psychology

If I could have a forth (maybe for a drink after the meal) – Simon Sinek

16. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received? Who gave it and when?

Embrace networking it will help you and you will eventually help others (paraphrasing) – Mel Hayes over a coffee before I got into internal recruitment.

17. Tell me about that one project that was a total off-the-rails disaster? What was your role in that shitshow?

Not a complete off the rails disaster but the first time I implemented Performance Management in a company – it was my first senior HR role and my CEO asked me to look at best practice and put something together. The very next all hands announced that I would be releasing it the following week!!! Some very quick work, research and hasty decisions later I delivered a technically sound, but clunky and confusing editable PDF. I learnt how to stay humble in that role. It was also where I learnt to Take my work seriously but not to take myself seriously.

18. Have you ever been the weakest member of a team? How did you handle it?

Of course! We all have moments/subjects where we’re not the expert in the project or team. The important thing is to concentrate on what you are great at and continuously learn from those around you.

19. If you could add a question for the next person to answer, what would it be?

What popular tool or subject matter do you think is a waste of time? And why?

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?

Hung Lee – to find out more about the man behind the newsletter/pod – Let the interviewer become the interviewee 😉

Charu Malhotra – a great personality in the industry that is lovely to everyone she meets.

Thank you to James Driver for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Make sure to follow James on LinkedIn.

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