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I wanted my working life to make me happy

Having recently set up Adnovar with my long-time co-conspirator, Ben Hickman, I have been thinking a lot about motivation. I’m not talking about motivation in terms of motivating others but more about what it is that drives people to set up their own business, to venture out on their own away from the comfort of paid employment with its clear structures and routines.

For me, setting up my first business almost 30 years’ ago, one of the things that drove me to leave my secure job was that very comfort and routine, I didn’t want my working life to be governed by structures and routine. The very fact I thought I could see my career laid out before me following a similar pattern to my colleagues filled me with dread! As a boy I’d always been very struck by how much my Dad disliked his commute and his job. It was a means to an end, which I fully understand, but it does take up an awful lot of our waking hours and if you don’t like it that feels a bit grim. I didn’t want to be trapped; I wanted my working life to make me happy, or at least not make me sad.

As a boy I didn’t know what a happier work life meant but after a few years of work in a couple of professions in fairly large organisations I realised one of the things that would make me happier was freedom or at least a sense of freedom.

Freedom to choose what I wanted to do, who I wanted to work with and to do it the way I wanted to do it. I wanted to decide which path to follow, not be constantly told which paths were open or closed. I was frustrated by my lack of opportunities, with most of my colleagues and the slow nature of change at the place I worked.

Looking back, I was somewhat naïve and impetuous handing in my notice to the utter surprise of my manager and heading off with a poor plan and a lot of hope.

Even if I was a little naïve and things turned out differently that’s sort of the point it was fun, it felt like freedom, it was exciting, it was definitely an adventure.

I haven’t lost that motivation today it’s still really important to me that work is fun, or more realistically, has the possibility of being fun. I’m fully aware that it isn’t always fun that there can be dark and difficult periods and that, at times, you have to make extremely difficult decisions but if there’s no possibility of fun and excitement then I’m out!

Building on those themes of freedom and excitement, other things that matter to me, motivate me and get me out of bed in the morning (other than cycling) are creativity and impact. I want to use my brain and create something, a new product, a new approach, a new solution to an old problem. More often than not this involves working with others be they colleagues or clients. I like the fact that every day is different, that every day presents something that requires me to think, be creative and solve a problem. From freedom and creativity comes impact. I have always had in mind that what I do at work should have an impact, a positive impact that, without it being too cheesy, makes the world a slightly better place. Freedom is a much misused word and is too often associated with the individual; with the freedom to do what I want to do and to hell with everyone else. That’s not my view of freedom, for me freedom at work brings responsibilities, to treat others fairly and to do work that ultimately has a positive effect on the world we live in.

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