Confidence boosting, the entrepreneurial ‘leap’ and how singing makes you feel bigger
In this interview, founder of Turn Lights On Georgina Jones and I got to grips with how singing makes you feel bigger, taking the entrepreneurial ‘leap’ and how to deal with failure (especially if those are new feelings for you!)
What do you do?
I run a company called Turn Lights On, it’s a practise that I’ve developed myself that helps people slow down and properly connect with other people, ultimately so that they can enjoy their life. I wrote a book called Turn Lights On in 2013, about presence leadership in organisations, but really it’s all about human connection, and the massive link between that and happiness. Connection is the foundation to your relationships and your relationships are the foundation to your happiness!
Turn Lights On has gone through loads of different forms over the last four years. Today it looks like leadership programs and engagement programs, and I do lots of public speaking all about human connection, how to improve collaboration and creativity and have less ego in business.
What led you to this path?
Previous to this, I ran Sing and Inspire, using singing to improve business results. I set up all these choirs that used singing to motivate people, like it’s always been. Look at football, rugby matches, look at church, it’s always been this big magic way to connect people. Then I created these programs called vocal power, with all the magic you get from singing, but without singing! And that’s all about connection, and presence. Being able to be in the moment.
‘Turn Lights On’ came from a term I was using all the time when I’d work with people, for presentation skills (for example) I’d say: turn your light on! Turn something on that isn’t your ego on, turn your energy on.
If you look at enthusiasm, passion, trust, it’s all limbic, it’s all stuff with no formula to it, it’s a feeling, an emotion. So I help people to unlock that. I ended up doing more of the vocal power stuff than the actual singing stuff, and realised it was gonna keep getting bigger.
So then I left that business that I’d grown for six years, to set up Turn Lights On on my own. I had investment in the first year, which was a bit of a golden cage to be honest.
Before Sing and Inspire I was a senior manager at Admiral for eight years. So I’ve worked with big teams, I’ve worked leading people and I’ve always been fascinated with staff engagement, staff morale, what makes people tick, but ultimately — energy. Now I’m allowed to talk about energy in work! Harvard has only just done a series of really interesting books (one of them’s called Presence Leadership!) all about things I’ve been teaching for 10 years! It’s just like ‘Yeah! I’m not a weird one anymore! Awesome! I can talk about feelings and emotion and people will get it.’
I’m a singer as well, and a performer, so that’s where the singing part of things came in.
What kind of singing?
My earliest memories are being on stage! Started singing at about 6, or 7. I did lots of theatre, performances, shows, used to sing in a soul band for like 10 years, done session singing, singing on TV. I’ve done lots of different kinds, I can turn my hand to anything really, singing-wise. If you’re a session singer you have to sing what you’re given.
It has been all about Turn Lights On lately, a bit tunnel-vision, which you need to do sometimes! But I haven’t done much singing lately which I am remedying.
I get that! When I haven’t sung in a while, it’s almost like I get a bit smaller.
Yeah! You need to unlock the voice. I do a program for Cardiff University called Confident Communication Course — sounds very dull but it’s not, it’s awesome! It just needs to sound dull to be on the syllabus really. A lot of it is all about the voice.
It’s amazing how many people don’t understand the voice, how intrinsic it is to our own personality, and how affected it is by our confidence.
You can manipulate the voice, and sound more confident, and if you sound more confident you feel more confident, if you feel more confident you are more confident! So it does make a massive difference. I’m a bit of a voice geek really.
When you went from Admiral to Sing and Inspire, did that feel like an obvious transition?
Oh, everyone thought I was crazy! I still think I’m crazy. There’s not a week that goes by where I don’t go, d’you know what? It would’ve been so nice…I would have definitely had my four bedroom house by now! What was I doing?
But you know, in 2006 the CEO decided to give everyone shares in the company, which is very rare. When you have these shares they kind of keep you there, so it’s really hard to leave. It’s also a great company to work for, a real sense of community, they’re always in the top companies to work for. There was nothing really wrong, if I’m honest, I wasn’t sitting there miserable. It’s just that I knew that I was not using skills I could be using, that I could be making more of a difference.
I did a television programme called Britain Sings Christmas (it’s on the internet, I look hilarious, I’ve got this like, purple robe on) and I was part of the choir that helped the celebrities sing. It was my first time singing in a choir, I had a fabulous experience, and that sort of planted the seed of Sing and Inspire. So I went back to Admiral and said: give me 30 people, let’s see if they sing with me for 3 months whether we can improve their business results. So I did that and, well, if you’re singing Queen everyday you’re gonna be happier in work, and if you’re happy you do better work, and if you do better work the company makes more money — it’s easy! I was still working in Admiral, but doing my little creative project and thinking ‘Right, OK, I think it’s got legs…’
You know this whole thing about the ‘leap’, I see it a lot across the community, people working on their passion projects and stuff, I think there’s a lot of really bad advice going around on this subject. They say things like ‘Just quit your job and the money will come!’
The money will come, if you’re in a good mental state. If you’re in a positive place. But if you’re worrying about paychecks, you’re not gonna create anything beautiful! Nothing will happen
I’m not saying everyone needs a big cash injection, you just need to know what your survival income is and you need to be secure in that. When we’re stressed, we’re not creative. We can’t be! The blood that goes to the innovation and creativity part of the mind doesn’t go there when you’re stressed.
Security is one of my base needs. For a fluid, creative kind of nomadic-y person, I need security, in order to be that way.
What’s been the greatest challenge you’ve overcome?
My life is one big challenge to be honest. All created by myself, it’s quite frustrating! I’ve got so much support, friends that pull in favours, two investors who absolutely believe in me, all of these people…and my biggest challenge is me. Always. I’m the only one saying I’m not good enough. I think that’s why I’m good at doing the work I do.
Because I come with that level of empathy, I always say I’m not an expert, but I’ve got this amazing toolkit that I can teach you, and I know it works because I use it.
My belief in myself is fleeting, sometimes. But I think I’d be a narcissist if it wasn’t. I wanna be a human being with fears and worries. I’ve just gotta be careful they don’t drive. Everyone has them, right? You can’t be fearless, but you’ve gotta manage the fear.
My other challenge is dealing with failure, not to sound like Pollyanna, but I’d not failed at much before. When I first did Turn Lights On, everything was gonna be online — basically Mighty Networks! I was building it but with no experience or technical skills, a (lovely) team of people that weren’t right, haemorrhaging money weekly, and just sitting in rooms doing software design and thinking “I’m in the wrong place here, I don’t know what I’m doing. What am I doing?’
We did a little MVP test one and I had to sit down with it. The numbers looked sweet on the business plan. But I wasn’t thinking ‘Ooh, I’d like to do this everyday!’ I hadn’t really asked myself that, and it turned out that I really didn’t. So I felt like I had to let everybody down, make everyone redundant, let my investor down and go back to the drawing board and come up with a different model. It felt that way, but it was a feeling and not reality. My investors told me it was just learning.
Turn Lights On has never failed, never ever. The model has — loads of times! But every time I’ve gone to give up (which I have tried most times) I have an email from someone who’s found the material and goes ‘Don’t give up George! It’s awesome! I use it!’ And it’s like, oh no! I’ve gotta carry on! Exhausting.
What’s been your greatest reward?
I did a keynote two weeks ago for Sony, 500 people, f*cking awesome. You touch all of these people with your message and you know they’re gonna operate differently. They’re gonna go to work, and be different! Or go home to their families and sit there and listen to them, and look at them, and have better relationships! That is my purpose. That is my goal. To inspire people to do that. Finding a way to do it has been a trickier challenge.
It’s still hard now, cause I miss having a team. I’m back down to just being me at the moment, and it’s lonely. Because I’m a people person! I’m talking about human connection and I’m on my own a lot of the time.
The beginning of this year was a testing time, I literally phoned my investor up and I was like, I can’t do this anymore, I’m burnt out. It can’t be this hard, it shouldn’t be this hard. And she just went, ‘…that’s bollocks.’ And I was like…really??
She said you can’t expect to be happy all the time, you just can’t. Stop having this expectation that you’re gonna be happy everyday in your business: you’re not, you’ve still gotta push through.. She said I could slap you and hug you at the same time. She saved me, literally. Cause I’m doing great work, working with really interesting amazing people, but there’s my hungry ego, which is a bit of a monster I have to tame. It makes me sound like a bit of a twat, but I know I have to manage it, I do. It’s bigger on some days than other days.
I think having a big ego can be a really great thing! It’s magnetic.
Well it’s funny you say that, cause with Turn Lights On I do this thing where you go out and you turn five people’s lights on, it could be anyone, anywhere. It basically means you connect with them on an emotional level (not like touching them or anything!) you just listen to them.
Introverts are like Jedi at turning lights on. Cause they actually listen! Being in the moment, having a laugh, seeing a little difference in them. You know when someone’s with you emotionally? When you’re in that rappor. You do five of them a day, increasing your own level of connection, but also your level of self awareness. Cause I know that if I can’t be present with you, I need to go and do some self care for myself. It’s a great way of knowing that you need that for yourself too, if you’re finding it hard.
The impact of that is huge, if we were all to do it. When we look at the world we live in now, all these big problems everywhere that we wanna solve, we can actually just go in, look at ourselves, and just be nice to the guy in the shop, you know? Lets start there. It’s the ripple effect. You see so many people who aren’t tolerant of each other anymore. So quick to fly off the handle and not be there, completely present.
We’re not taught how to connect, how to be vulnerable. We’re actually taught the opposite, we’re taught bravado. That’s why I love the grit and growth mindset stuff.
What do you want to learn or gain from the Happy Startup School?
I’d like to to be more involved. To learn from other people, I feel like I’ve already gained so much, I gain all the time. I’ve met some lifelong friends, proper best buddies. And I know when I go to Summercamp (this is my third) I’ll leave there feeling incredible. I just know that. I wanna give more to the community, add as much value as possible. Especially because I’ve made so many mistakes! So I can give advice to people!
I really admire Carlos and Laurence, they set up Happy Startup when I was setting up Turn Lights On, and I saw them doing stuff on twitter and was like, ‘Oh, they’re cool! This is cool!’ And when I went to my first Summercamp I was just like ‘Oh my God…there’s more people like me!’ It’s nice to be part of a community where’s there’s more people like you.