2020 show-cased the resilience and creativity of human society in a number of admirable ways. A taxing year for so many of us with dreams shattered and loved ones lost, I am going to focus on a number of positive takeaways in this piece. Here are 10 fairly personal positives I intend to take with me into 2021.
1. You need mentors – now more than ever
Somewhat of a cliché but the world will never again change as slowly as it did last year. None of the people I hired last year had degrees that existed when I was in Uni – and I’m not THAT old. Maybe you have a clear life and career path in mind. Or maybe there is immediate need for change. Either way someone who works as a sounding board and provides clarity is immensely helpful. Especially if they are what you hope to become. My latest mentor is six months old. 2020 brought massive changes – from traveling 200 days a year to none and from teaching and public speaking to Zoom – the little man provides all the perspective and prioritization one could ask for.
2. Your team knows better than you
when the proverbial poopoo hit the spinny thing I observed a number of leaders revert to the “I am the boss, therefore I must have an answer to everything” behaviour. The reason we turned up with wins very early in the pandemic was that our Marketing and Sustainability team at Wipak operates with a degree of confidence, freedom and passion that I have not seen in any previous job. The combined creative and intellectual energy of the team saw them rise to ever greater heights during a difficult year. Top teams train for this type of professional turbulence all career. All I needed to do was get out of the way. I intend to stay well out of the way in 2021 😉
3. Have fun at work
Every day, not just when it has been ordered by corporate at the annual mindfulness shabang or at the Christmas Do. We laugh. There is banter. Political incorrectness. Pranks. And inappropriate birthday presents. It is fun. Human. Much needed in this year of all years. If there is one thing I pledge to work on next year it is to focus on the fun more than the KPIs. Because it makes perfect business sense. Think about it: which of the following leads to more positive changes to the behaviour of a team? Focusing on enjoying working together or focusing on numbers?
4. Hire more pros
We hire professionals to fix a light switch. We hire them to paint a wall. To clean the staircase. We hire them to make and bring us food. As Londoners we spend the cost of a Porsche on beer alone during out lifetime. We have now grudgingly begun to spend on professional help for the body – personal trainers, Pilates instructors and the sort. We still shy away from spending on what in a knowledge economy is surely a much more important part of ourselves to train: the brain. Most of us work in jobs requiring thinking. The good news is physical age matters less to us than for a professional footballer. The bad news is we can’t expect to become our version of Michael Jordan in our chosen profession without being coached by the best. 2021 will see me continuing to encourage people to find spending on a therapist as easy as on a boozy night out, spending on a good life coach as relevant as spending on online retail therapy.
5. Trade fairs are dead – and no-one misses them
Well that was perhaps unnecessarily harsh. I for one love a good fair. It is a sign of their enduring appeal that these types of events have not had to evolve in the past 20 years. Until 2020. The clear winners have been the few state of the art digital formats in a sea of cringeworthy attempts at moving something designed for an exhibition centre online. In 2021 those who are able to produce credible and cost effective hybrid events that combine the best of face-to-face interaction with digital concepts will win.
6. Ask better questions
We have asked poor questions individually as well as a society for far too long. The quality of your question informs the quality of your answer. If you ask “why can’t I never get a pay raise” your answer will follow a pattern of “because I don’t deserve it / the boss is a prick / I lack the required degree etc. etc.” Not constructive, am I right? Had you asked “what do I have to do to get a pay raise in 2020” your answer would have included the first steps of an action plan. As society the better questions could include “what will it take today to be carbon neutral in 2035” or “where do we have to spend today in order to eradicate homelessness in the two wealthiest cities in Europe (Paris and London)“? The bottom line is: ask better questions, achieve more, create more positive change.
7. To-do-lists are dead
Most of us in corporate do the best we can and as much as we can. To-do-lists just remind us of all the things we didn’t do or ought to be doing. Yes, I should have contacted the building management office today but then the power outlet on my laptop broke and my baby son had an allergic reaction to egg. Now what? Complete the to-do-list no matter what at the end of the day? Does that sound like a good long term strategy? Do away with the damn guilt reminder and start the day by defining the highest priority instead. Choose a Must-Win-Battle according to the criteria of “what one thing must I accomplish so that if all else fails this was a good day”.
8. You are as old as you choose to be
One radical life change I undertook in early 2020 was to stop training and eating to look a certain way. Instead I refocused on working out how to maximise energy and well-being. That’s right – I stopped raging against the proverbial fading of the light, accepted the fact that no matter what (short of an untimely death) I would be 40 at the end of the year. I stopped focusing on external signs of health and focused on long term health benefits. Not only did I lose 10% body weight without any radical changes in diet or additions to my exercise regime. I now also enjoy about 2h more of good energy per day. My biological age has decreased by 4 years in 2020. I intend to be biologically 29 by 2022. Biohacking sounds slightly creepy so take it from an average office dad: There is a ton of good information online as well as easy access to credible health products to back up implementation of better habits. Genuine organic superfoods that were not available to our grandfathers are now just a mouse click away. And then there is the timely reminder that grandma knew best: she made me eat kale and spinach in the 80s long before they became ingredients of the oddly coloured smoothies now enjoyed by Shoreditch hipsters.
9. Improve your personal process
So 2020 was tough. I was in the middle of shifting 36 moving boxes plus furniture to a new apartment using a small rented van with my son Rio about to be born while two of my companies that I am a founder and active board member for went into chapter eleven with revenue collapsing by 95%. Usually being a board member is cozy. A few strategic meetings a year, get out of the way of the exec team, say nice things to the MD and so on and so forth. But when the going gets this tough it is all hands on deck. Move, day job, pro-bono commitments and a new family – the pressures started to pile up. The rock solid foundation that saw me through these challenges fairly smoothly I have the Empowermotion process to thank for. Daily morning routine, prioritization, careful energy management were up to the task and became even more important from June when nights-with-a-baby were added to the equation. Level up your daily habits to level up personal efficiency as well as mental resilience!
10. Gratitude is the word
If there is one word that sums up 2020 for me more than anything it is gratitude. The pandemic has required a rethink of many status quo ways of working. What I missed the most was the stage. A webinar with a live comments stream just isn’t the same as a theatre with 2400 people in it. I miss that buzz. The reassuring weight of the microphone. The call-and-response with the audience. And yet having to find new ways of delivering my lectures has been one of the great wins of 2020. I finally found the time to roll 15 years of coaching and lecturing into five neat modules. There is no way I would have found the time to create this much content if 2020 had been a carbon copy of my mad 2019 schedule. Have a look at the curriculum behind the link and let me know if there is someone in your circle who would benefit greatly. I will offer the first three people a free place in the 2021 cohorts of Empowermotion.
Thank you for a great 2020. Here is to a better 2021 – but without forgetting the vital lessons of 2020. Or at the very least these 10 great things to take with us into 2021.