A year in the wild
Reviewing a year of trying to bring my own projects to to the world, and build a working life that works with my needs and values.
A year ago I opened the doors of the old betting shop on Baker Street in Brighton to the ten students of Cohort One.
With help from friends and supporters, in the space of three months I’d created an alternative business school that I was exploding with excitement about. I was nervous and scared and had no idea what to expect.
Only nine months before this I’d had to make myself redundant, helping to wind down a much-loved company, leaving colleagues I’d known for the past eight years and wave goodbye paid employment for the first time in 15 years.
Over the year following the launch of Wild Things, I found myself leaving the space I’d set up and the nature of my work changing. It’s been a full-on journey — exhilarating, fulfilling and full of uncertainty, mess and stress at times. Like any other founder or entrepreneur, I’ve had to learn a lot, about the work and about myself.
For my own benefit as much as anything else, I’ve decided to chart what’s happened in the 12 months since, and try to pick out some of the things that I’ve learned.
Turned a derelict betting shop into an alternative business school / collaborating with Simon Griggs and others, we turned the shell of an empty property in central Brighton into a venue for Wild Things, an alternative business school in the heritage of Kaos Pilots, Knowmads and others. Full story here
Took ten students through a three month course and they graduated on / I taught, supported and worked with ten very different people to learn about NVC, applied mindfulness, working with money and the Art of Hosting, with the intention of each one taking it into their work and life beyond the course.
Held 10 workshops and events for 250 people in the Wild Things space / each event was aligned with the principles and philosophy of the school, with the intention that anyone who came through the space was inspired or found connection to others, just by attending something held there.
Co-designed a management programme for 50 people at Brandwatch / working with Conscious Business People, the core principles of working with authenticity, needs and vulnerability were brought into a 10 month programme that kicked off at Wild Things. Full story here
Ran a six-month NVC programme for Helpful Technology / taking collaborative communication (based on NVC) into a busy London agency, to help them build stronger relationships with each other and clients — thanks to the visionary Tim Lloyd, who I’d worked with years previously. Full story here
Left the Wild Things space and published a review booklet / realising that the money wasn’t going to line up without making serious compromises, or running the school in a way that was unfulfilling, I decided (with support from Andy Bradley) to leave the space. It was a tough call, but filled me with relief when made. I worked with Zoe Olivia John to produce a review of our time there, at least in part because I felt I wanted to show the patrons what they’d helped me to achieve.
Took the Happy Startup School away to get clear on purpose and roles / Laurence, Carlos, Fiona, Oli and I worked on why they did what they did, how it all aligned, and what part they each played in it. A company in massive transition, I aimed to help them find some solid ground while everything around was shifting. Full story
Clarified the structure and roles for the leadership team at Helpful / The senior team at Helpful needed to understand each other better, and get more clarity on how to align their work more clearly. The NVC work we’d done had laid the groundwork. Interviews, coaching and a facilitated away day catalysed the process. Full story here
Began coaching the leader of a £5m business / Took on a significant coaching client — someone with heart, vision and a need to get clear in order to make life at her business better for herself and everyone else.
Resigned as a trustee for a charity / After four years working with the awesome Stay Up Late, I realised I didn’t have the time and energy to continue playing a really useful part. It was hard to do at first, but it allowed me to celebrate what I’d enjoyed about it, and continue working with them.
C0-hosted an Art of Hosting Training in the Netherlands / Through Maaike, who taught at Wild Things, I was asked to join the team for this residential training in Hilversum. It was a long time in preparation, and the training was a success, but it left me wondering how much I want to make my work about travel and leaving family.
Began supporting co-founder of a new care home for refugees in Stockholm / a Kaos Pilot graduate had approached me for some supervision on developing his organisation and personal practice. With some friends he’d set up a care home for young, unaccompanied male refugees in Stockholm, with a vision of setting up a compassionate healthcare business. I’ve been doing this for about five months, and I love it.
Taught at the Knowmads in the Netherlands / I was over the moon to be invited to teach at Knowmads, Amsterdam. Two days of working on how to be clear, and working mindfully with money, with very smart, creative, inspired and outspoken people. Full story
Began supervising co-founders of the Happy Startup School / Following our initial work, I started spending time with co-founders Laurence and Carlos each month, giving them time and accountability to have the conversations that matter, during this liminal period of ‘getting to next’. Full story
Got two co-founders of a music business to clear and happy in three months / Referred by a coaching client, two co-founders asked for my help on getting their business and relationship back on track. Over four day-long sessions in London, we got them to understand each other, feel clear about the purpose and direction of their business, and set out a plan for shifting the culture of their team.
Reviewed 12 months of working with Helpful Technology / we took time out for an honest look back at what we’d learned and achieved from the time working together. It feels like a big deal that these people have invested themselves in learning and growth around their emotional and social intelligence, because they can see a clear business value. Full story
What I’ve learned
I can do anything. It might sound delusional or conceited, but I’m very confident that I can make anything happen if I want to. And I believe this applies to everyone. If you want to do it, it’s possible. If you’re clear enough, and you have the energy, it’s just about commitment and willingness to ask for help. It’s never about the money.
Don’t push too hard. The energy and effort I put into making something happen is proportionate to the energy and effort it will require to sustain it (or the amount that someone else pushes back). And my energy is finite. It’s why sustaining Wild Things in Baker Street would only have happened if I’d employed a team and found a steady source of income. I’d made it happen so quickly that continuing it with the same model would have required me to continue with the same ethos or by trying to use money as a proxy.
I need to slow down. So, instead of putting masses of effort into making things happen fast, I’ve learned that a more relaxed and steady pace to realising ideas will make those ideas more sustainable and successful. Ultimately, great things grow at their own pace, in their own way. The more I push, or bolt bits on, the more likely they are to falter or feel unnatural to me and the people around me. This doesn’t negate effort, putting the call out, asking for help, having conversations — it does negate going it alone, too hard, for too long, for the ‘wrong’ reasons.
Think long term. Building further on these two points, I’ve realised how hard it is for me to see past the end of my own nose sometimes. I have my whole life ahead of me and I can’t see a time where I won’t be ‘working’. This gives me huge capacity to contribute during my life time. Instead of a gnawing anxiety to create, I am at my best when I remember have nothing to prove, nothing to ‘achieve’, no challenge to beat, right now.
No shame, no regret. I can only learn if I’m not attached to what a particular outcome says about me. Moving out of the building we had was initially a deeply painful idea. I felt I was letting people down — those who’d supported me (financially or otherwise). I felt I might have failed, and worried what people might think. But as long as I stayed with this ego-centric guilt-trip, I realised I couldn’t see the learning, the new possibility, or share that with others in a way that was valuable to their journey.
Choose carefully. Lots of other ideas and opportunities came along that aren’t listed above. One or two had significant money attached. And they’re not listed because they weren’t quite ‘right’. If I’m to advocate an approach to work which is about being fulfilled in what you do, because it contributes to your wellbeing/growth and that of others, then when I don’t think something is going to do that, I have to say no. It’s not always easy, but it seems critical.
Know why, or don’t act. While it is easy for me to disappear into my own navel if I sit around looking at it long enough, having a minimum level of clarity about why I’m initiating a project is essential if I want it to have a chance of ‘success’. With wisdom in hindsight, I can see how a lot of my work in the past few years has been about a need to matter in the world (a result of having worked in leadership positions, with very big and complex organisations, plus my schooling, upbringing, gender etc). The point is, it’s easy to fool myself that I’m doing something for one reason, when it’s really driven by something else. And then nothing lines up.
Money. I don’t know where to start with this but it’s a huge topic for anyone starting out on their own. I went from 15 years of a monthly salary that grew year-on-year, to no income, two kids and dwindling savings. I asked strangers for money. I got given it. I spent it. I’ve had to deal with every story and anxious little gremlin stored up in me around money from 37 years of living in our bonkers culture. It’s been the source of tension and conflict, fear and shame. And sometimes still is. But overall, it’s in its place. I/we have just enough to get by, I do work I love, and I generally spend all the time I want with my family or doing things for myself. We may need more money in the future, it might show up, it might not. I’ll deal with it when it’s a problem.
Get supervision. Working alone is, well… lonely. And mentally crippling. One of the most valuable things I’ve done this year is have regular supervision sessions with my friend and collaborator Matt Weston. We take it in turns to talk through whatever we need to. Work we’ve got coming up, decisions we’re struggling with, or just a general moan. We help each other make sense of our own mess, offering a different perspective or our experience. It’s been immensely helpful and I’m very grateful to Matt.
Overall, the short answer is: I have absolutely no idea.
I have a bunch of interesting potential projects with interesting people in organisations. The ideas around collaboration, creative compassion and mindful action we taught in Wild Things have flowed naturally into working with leaders and teams. It’s work I love, with people who really care about what they do, and on the whole I’m pretty good at it. I can see more consolidation happening around how Wild Things approaches these kind of projects, and more collaborations with people like Lasy and Jamie, Matt, Maaike, Tom and others.
I’d love to work longer-term with a group of people who want to start and make change — a Wild Things v 2.0. What this looks like, where it happens, how and when it starts, I don’t know. From my prototype in Baker Street last year, and my work with Knowmads, Kaos Pilots and lots of graduates from both schools, I have some questions to explore first.
I am fascinated by school at the moment, and the idea that we could nurture children’s innate hunger to learn and ability to self-direct, in a much better way than the current model does. I can see how the work I do in business and my own journey so far stems a lot from the issues thrown up by education. And with two very young children I‘m quietly, determinedly exploring this further.
Maybe the two could line up somehow. Who knows? (Do you? Let me know!)
Reflecting on the whole thing, and where I am now, all I know is this: I wouldn’t change anything.
Going down this path is not right for everyone, and I don’t believe in the cult of the founder/entrepreneur. Anyone can be an employee and live a very happy, fulfilled and purposeful life, and there’s a big cost attached to stepping out of those roles.
But for anyone who wants to that’s willing to take a few risks, work on themselves, and ask for a lot of help along the way, I’d totally recommend doing your own thing.