Natasha Osmond-Dreyer fits more into her days than some do in a week. An expert in operational excellence, executive coach, business consultant and founder of ‘Blue Marbles’ Natasha can be often be spotted on the South Coast wearing her signature blue with a green smoothie in hand. We managed to snaffle some of her time on the drive home from Sydney for a WorkLife chat where she reminded us how it’s the little things that add up to true excellence, why our current leaders wouldn’t even pass the marshmallow test and that planning really is everything.
1. How and when did you choose life? What’s your tree change story?
I left the UK 14 years ago and have been on a bit of a sea change ever since. I originally moved to Sydney when I was working as a business analyst at UBS wealth management, coming here gave me the opportunity to be 2IC to the CEO and I grabbed it with both hands. I met my husband Murray in Australia (after a Christmas party at the Coogee Bay Hotel but that’s a story for a different time!), we then moved to NZ for a couple of years, on to Melbourne, and finally landed in Kiama. The shift to Kiama came with a job opportunity for me at National Australia Bank to look after an area of roughly 100,000 square kilometres, from Wollongong to Bega and out to Griffith through the ACT. My boss said I could live anywhere in that area and we chose Kiama.
I grew up in the UK in Dorset which is on the South Coast, so the ocean has always been a big part of my life and a grounding force. Murray and our two daughters, Lucia (4) and Ivy (7) now live 300 m away from the ocean. I had the opportunity to set up my own business in September last year after a restructure at NAB. I’d been talking about doing it for years and the stars aligned. The first thing that a girlfriend of mine said to me was ‘do you have any co working spaces nearby? If you do, you should get into one because that will help you stay sane’. She was right.
2. What was your greatest fear about making the leap?
For Murray it was about getting good coffee, we’d been in Melbourne for a couple of years (he’d argue that it’s the home of coffee in Australia) so the challenge was on. For my part, I’ve always lived in smaller places so wasn’t overly afraid. In NZ we lived in a town where the one takeaway would shut at 7 pm so anything that was a build on that was going to be amazing! We have travelled around for such a long time that we were looking for somewhere we could stay for a while. I wanted somewhere where the we and the kids would be part of a community and belong.
3. What’s been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest hurdle would be the sense of insularity and inferiority that dogs the South Coast. Someone here might think a local consultant is too expensive, yet they would be willing to pay a premium for someone from Sydney because that guarantees expertise and quality. Or they might think ‘if you’re not from around here, I won’t give you a chance’. I’ve learned that you need to get into local networks to successfully grow a business as well as continuing to think and work with an ‘Australia wide’ mentality. It’s about being willing to jump in and have a conversation with as many people as you can. Having said that networking functions per say scare me. I’m an introverted extrovert which means I’m happy in front of a lot of people on a stage but I’m not that comfortable having to network with 55 in a room. I’ve had to challenge myself and get out there and talk to people to grow Blue Marbles. Creating partnerships is one of my top tips; I have a great relationship with a couple of local accountancy firms which has seen me having the opportunity to present to their clients. I’m also building a good relationship with the economic development manager at Kiama Council and have been able to run workshops with local community. LinkedIn has also been a great resource. In a world where there are a lot of great people coming out of big corporates you have to think differently and constantly be trying to add value to any conversation. I’m not a salesy person, but if you’re interacting with me then I want to be able to make it a worth your while.
4. How does it work for the rest of the family? What’s been the impact on them?
In order for me to do this Murray has taken a step back from his career as a commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor. It has been a big change for him. Societally we’re still not very good at having the guys being the ones staying home and looking after the kids which has made for some interesting and awkward conversations out and around. I certainly wouldn’t be able to do what I do without his support.
Our girls absolutely love it here. What I love in Kiama is that we know all our neighbours by name, we’re friends. We know enough people that if girls were somewhere they shouldn’t be, someone will recognise them, step up and help. I’ve got friends who have been in tricky situations and here people do the right human thing and help. I think in the big cities you tend to lead a more insular life. Societally we have lost that connection between people, it’s something we crave as humans and yet it seems so hard to have. Since my husband’s family is from the north coast of NSW, we really are on our own. So it’s great to have people around who can help if we’re in a jam. My neighbour just texted half an hour ago to tell me that the fire was on and she had the kettle boiling. I said I was in Sydney and her response was then to ask if we needed her to drop over some dinner. So, that’s just glorious.
5. What’s the biggest cliché of country life that’s turned out to be true?
We can get so absorbed in our day to day life that we forget that we are a very small part of a very large whole. It’s important to step back every now and then and appreciate that there is a big wide world out there on which we can have an impact and behave accordingly.
6. Is there anything that’s been a surprise to you?
Not really……let me think….maybe it’s how easy it has been to make friends. I thought it would be more difficult. I have found is it’s easier to make friends with the newbies to the area (17 years is still new right?!), rather than the locals. The blow ins are generally less well established and more open to bringing new people into their circle.
7. When it comes to money, how do you make it work?
My new venture Blue Marbles is gathering momentum. Blue Marbles does three things, which I’m really passionate about. The first is adult development. I am an executive coach, so I work with people who want to push the boundaries of their own cognitive development and help them achieve growth. The second is operational excellence. I work with small to medium businesses who have reached a plateau and can’t work out how to grow more, who might be on a slippery downward path and can’t find a way out or who may want to work on an exit strategy. I’ve honed those skills over 19 years in financial services working with people and thousands of businesses of different sizes. The third is leadership development and strategic facilitation. I find I’m doing a lot of that at the moment too.
It’s not easy opening your own business. You have to have a lot of faith and confidence — particularly if you’ve taken on the mantle as lead provider in the family for a while. The savings account runs out pretty quickly so you have to trust yourself and the plan you put in place (and know when to call it a day). Part of what I do is helping others through this very process so it’s very useful for me to be in the thick of it and living it. It’s really important to have people around you to learn from and take advice from. The caveat is that there is a point where you take on too much advice and you have to just go and do something. Having a plan, sticking to it, reassessing it and doing that cycle again and again is the key.
8. What’s your passion project/side gig? Is there anything that you’re hustling on?
My husband will say I need to do less! I have 3 things that occupy my spare time. Firstly I’m mid way through studying my MBA part time. I’ve thought about deferring several times but it’s providing a great academic backing to what I do intuitively and giving me great information that I use daily in my business.
I’ve got two other passion projects. The first is I’m a co-founder of a business called Evolve in the UK (www.evolvemc2.co.uk). We want to build emotional intelligence and resilience in our children and young adults and at the same time create a social shift through programmes we create that are derived from the needs of our young people. We are aiming to create an alternative, collaborative, supportive, innovative and inspirational approach to emotional well-being and educational development for teenagers, parents and educators and are committed to providing young people with the opportunity to become thought leaders of the future. We have a pilot program starting at a leading public school in the UK starting in a couple of weeks that will focus on teaching the Year 10 and above equivalents about the use of drugs and alcohol at a young age, peer pressure and the impacts those all have on mental health.
Secondly, I strongly believe that globally we’re not doing enough to keep life going on this planet (it sounds dramatic but it’s true). I don’t think we have the sorts of leaders who have real gumption. None of them would pass the marshmallow test; they’re short sighted and self-serving. We need a different kind of leadership (which links into adult development). I also don’t believe that the mass population know just how they can help (and are stymied as a result). To make positive forward motion I’m now part of a group called ‘Trees to Live’ who are going to facilitate the planting of a trillion trees — watch this space for how you can get involved.
9. Picture your book shelf at home. What’s the one book on it that everyone should borrow?
I’ve got a book by the American management guru Tom Peters, ‘The Little Big Things’ that I love. The subtitle is ‘163 ways to pursue excellence’. The premise is that it’s the tiny details that matter. Tom gives the example that when he drives from his home to the airport, he passes by about 45 possible places to stop. Yet he always goes back to the same one, which has flowers in the bathroom. If they care enough to put flowers in the bathroom, you know they care about the quality of the food. If you take the time to care about the tiny things, they all add up to an excellent end result.
10. What piece of furniture in your house makes you the happiest?
My bed! When we moved to Kiama we invested in a king size bed — and some plush linens. I love a nana nap, but I haven’t been able to indulge for many years. My children don’t sleep well, so if I’m in my own bed I like to be able to sleep quickly and easily. It looks out onto the garden and then the sun comes in in the morning, which is beautiful. I often look at it longingly. One day I’ll get to sleep in it ad past 6 am.
11. If people come to the South Coast, what’s the one thing they should eat?
Kiama fish market is awesome for local fish and seafood.
12. What’s your go-to listen for your trips up to Sydney?
I’m up once a week as a minimum, sometimes twice or three times and I come up and down in a day. I try to multitask on the trip. Because my side hustles are based in the UK, if I’m on the car by 6am I can catch up with the teams there. My Mum is a serial stalker (bless her cotton socks) — thanks ‘find my friends’!!, so she’ll see when I’m driving and use the chance to have a long chat. I also love Audible. I’m currently preparing for a keynote presentation for the Intersect fintech conference in Melbourne next month where I’ll be presenting on culture in banking pre and post Royal Commission. I use Evernote to help take notes from the research books I’m listening to. I can ask Siri to take an Evernote while I’m driving, for future reference. It’s brilliant, and a sign of machine learning working is that Siri is starting to understand what I say (I use the Irish male version who seems to like me better than the Australian female version). But I also love podcasts. One favourite is ‘The Knowledge Project’, by Shane Parrish, he has some amazing people on it. I do like Tim Ferris but find him a bit much after a while, so I found ‘The Knowledge Project’ is a good alternative. Then there’s also music. I am partial to the Spotify list of ‘80’s hits’, so I might be singing a bit of Dolly Parton or the Spice Girls while I’m driving back.
13. What’s your best productivity hack to get the most out of each workday?
Planning is everything. I sit down on a Sunday and plan the whole week. I’ve got a Passion Planner diary, which I love. They have the week split down into hours and then they have space for ‘top priorities’ for work and personal life and also a ‘space for infinite possibilities’ so I can pop in mind map or two. In addition to that, each day when I wake up I grab my journal, go to a new page and write down ‘Today I will’ at the top. I then put five things I’m going to do that day. This keeps me accountable. As an example, fitting in exercise can be challenging for me so I may write; ‘today I will do 15 minutes of yoga before bed’. Since I’ve written it down, I’ll feel guilty if at the end the day I haven’t done it — I mean, it’s only 15 minutes and it’s a much more productive 15 minutes than scrolling through facecrack. I then tick my completed list off before I go to sleep. There’s something in the psychology of writing the commitment to yourself that helps you achieve your goals.
14. What’s the best thing about your membership to WorkLife
It has great gin. No, seriously, great gin…..It really is about the little details! And there’s a great stash of stuff in the bathroom to use that you may forget to carry around with you (like band aids, Panadol and deodorant) and a great shower. I do love talking to the other members, I’m insanely curious about what they are doing and how they’re going. What WorkLIfe has given me is a new group of people, who I wouldn’t ordinarily have come in contact with. It can be lonely working on your own, so it’s great to get to know people who are in a similar situation. What WorkLife have done is find a way of combining a co working space and a co creating space, it’s filled with people who are really interested in what you are doing — and, importantly, how they can help.
15. Imagine tomorrow is a perfect snapshot of your Best Life. What are you doing?
I’m getting up around 5.45am and writing my ‘today I will’ list. I’ll do some yoga (uninterrupted) outside preferably and say good morning to the day. I’ll get the chance to drop both kids off at school. Then I’ll go for a run, get to WorkLife and have a shower. I’ll then smash out some work and pause to break my fast. I follow the 16:8 intermittent fasting habit so generally don’t eat until 12.30/1pm. In my best life, I’ll have a beautiful lunch looking out over the ocean at one of our local cafes or in the park and chat with some friends. My most productive period is between 2 and 5pm, so I’ll get lots done then and get everything finished before I head home. Once at home, I’d then make dinner with my husband, while listening to some jazz and drinking some wine. We’d cook up some veg from our garden, maybe throw some lamb chops on the barbecue. Meanwhile the kids will playing beautifully on their own, with no fights or need for mediation (this is the Best Life after all and not reality). Then we’d sit down to eat as a family. In my Best Life I’d stay up past 9 pm….actually past 7. 30 pm to be honest. We’d put the kids to bed (and they actually stay in bed for the whole night) and they’d go to sleep without one of us sitting with them until they were asleep. Then I’d close out the day on the deck, with a glass of wine and my husband next to me. Bliss.
You can follow Natasha on Instagram @bluemarblesconsulting/or to find out more visit https://www.bluemarbles.com.au/