Older, wiser, more productive
We’re all getting older all the time. But sometimes you really begin to notice it.
I’m now 4 years into my life of independent working – and I’m 44.
Apart from the neat numerological unity of that, these numbers make it hard to avoid a sense of maturation, both in my practice, and in myself.
And if the numbers aren’t doing it, the growing creaks in my muscles and bones surely will!
Time, perhaps to settle down a bit?
At which point, all my alarm bells start ringing and the dashboard starts flashing.
I’m a person who finds flow in intensity of action, in a sense of progress on whatever arbitrary axes I’ve created for myself (combined with the right amount of total, mind-wandering inactivity.)
So at this point of maturation, I’ve shunned the appeal of coasting a bit, and gone for quite a heavy reboot of my professional life. I set out quite a few of my ambitions a year ago in a marathon of 3-year posts…and I’m pleased to say I’ve been able to bring quite a few to fruition!
For those who have followed my journey over time (thanks!), here are the four key headlines of what’s driving me now.
1. Sharpening the blade, and seeking bigger battles
Compared to many other strategic consultants, I’ve never been overly driven by repeated process, frameworks and practices. My best work has been driven by a series of beliefs about people and the way the world works, a deep body of practical experience, and a flexible set of natural skills.
There’s no doubt that the numerology factor begins to erode some of those underlying natural skills! The sheer levels of physical and mental endurance with which I used to navigate pitches, transformations is definitely beginning to ebb (though a lot of swimming, still, is helping); and my once bulletproof memory is not quite what it was.
But on the other hand, I feel like my ability to improve is improving. I think that’s about mindset, about open-mindedness – and also about reaping the benefits of the flexibility that Hook Strategy had given me. I’m now a much better interviewer, facilitator and creative than I was. And my overall outputs are getting better, even as my raw skills feel a little blunter.
What that’s opened up is the ability to take on much bigger challenges, with bigger and more diverse teams. Some of the work I’ve done this year, building comprehensive business and organisation strategies, new positionings and roadmaps for innovation is some of the biggest and best work I’ve done. Exciting!
Unusually, my Hook Strategy website is pretty up to date. If you’d like to take a poke around what I’m doing, take a look…
2. Co-defining, and sharing knowledge
I love people. I love being around people. I find the process of collaborative work fun, enriching, even soulful.
But historically, when it comes to the crunch, I’m like Batman. I work alone.
There are probably some psychological knots in my excessive self-reliance that I could do with poking around in – but for the moment I’m trying to do the good work by opening my boundaries and bringing people inside my working process, and becoming a more effective servant to theirs.
This is one of several impulses that has brought me to co-founding my new initiative, LookUP. The intent of this is to do something very different from the uber-customised work that I continue to be very proud of under Hook Strategy – to build experiences that a repeatable, communal, constantly enriched and improved, that help to transform people’s mindsets and skillsets.
That’s a challenge that has brought me into a highly fruitful collaboration with Caroline Keylock, in which we are constantly co-building and codifying together. As she will testify, I don’t always find co-ownership easy (!), but we’ve created some incredibly valuable things together – with a lot more in the pipeline.
This has in turn opened up a new opportunity – to begin to share some of our experiences, our curiosity and our skills more widely. We’ve just launched our first open access transformation session, bringing together everything we know about pitch storytelling into one place.
If you are a senior person who would love to be a pitch superstar, or you are already pretty good but you’d always like to get better. This is for you. Take a look!
3. Putting skin in the game
One of the most common, and most justified, criticisms of strategists is that we are willing to be commentators, critical passengers, without dealing with practical contexts and constraints.
I’ve always tried very deeply not to be that kind of strategist, but having been an active observer of change in marketing and media over the last twenty years it has often been my job (and my passion) to commentate on technology change.
I’ve always tried to do that with knowledge, and with integrity, and that’s not always easy. But I’ve always had the nagging feeling of not quite being a full participant in some of the big changes of our time. And at this lifestage that feels like something you’ve either got to go big, or go home and wait for your kids to tell you how the internet works.
When I began to see the rise of LLMs, and the consequent transformation of the trajectory of AI, I decided that had to change. This is a technology that has the potential to change human society and the economy in ways that are far-reaching, pervasive, and intriguing. There is as ever, potential for great harm here – but also to solve real problems in how we inter-relate and how we get things done, and I am certainly on the positive end of the spectrum.
At the same time, I know how much I do not know, and so I have decided to get my hands dirty. I am working as an advisor (and now investor) in Shimmr, an AI business with the very germane goal of bringing books that struggle to get the right attention into the light.
They are lovely people, this is a noble goal that I believe we can achieve, and I am learning at an unbelievable speed – hopefully without losing a broader perspective. At the very least, I know enough to know with surety that 99% of what I read on this topic on LinkedIn is poorly founded and misleading! (but you probably guess that already.)
More on Shimmr here…
4. Completing the cycle
No career in marketing, honestly reviewed, can be seen without some sense of guilt.
I’ve delighted at being part of some really effective teams that have done some great work – but that means I’ve told a lot of one-sided stories, and sold a lot of fizzy drinks, average movies and gas-guzzling cars.
I’ve enjoyed periods of wild, rapid growth in agencies, but that also means I’ve created a lot of pressure, a lot of stress, and stood behind business decisions that I didn’t always think were right.
I’m not riven with guilt, or driven by it. But inevitably in this phase of life and career it begins to feel more necessary to engage full with the implications and conclusions of those actions.
This time last year, working with non-profits and others who are working to address issues within and across the media ecosystem was right at the top of my list – and it’s been a joy to see how much of my work has been in this area over the last year.
I’ve been able to work with NABS, the Rory Peck Trust, Wikimedia, the Communications Network and multiple charities in that time, and whilst this sector has its own unique challenges, I’m proud of this work and helping to make a difference.
If you’d like to get involved in the NABS community consultation on mental wellness in the advertising industry, sign up here.
As Adam Buxton says on his podcasts, ‘thanks very much for reading, if indeed you still are’! There’s been a long break since I last wrote one of these pieces, but it won’t be so long the next time.
Thanks as ever for your support, and for your interest, and see you soon!