I am an adventurer… What’s your story?
I’m sharing my story for four reasons:
i) to help me reflect and learn
ii) to share my lessons to help you
iii) to connect and learn alongside people who are interested in their own development
iv) to be honest and open about my experiences, good and bad (to lead by example)
Two weeks ago, I talked about How I Work (the Principles I follow), and a way of telling the world…
This is Alex Papworth. This is how he views the world of work, this is how he goes about it and this is how he can help.
This tells you the principles I follow or my ‘rules of the road’ but it doesn’t tell you about my strengths and what it is like to work with me. I don’t think focusing on weaknesses is helpful but it would be helpful to communicate the environment where I would thrive and what I need to be successful.
So I’m going to try to describe that now to help you think about how you might describe yourself to your current and future team.
(I’m also hoping you will let me know how I can develop this to improve your understanding of me)
I’ve done work on improving my self awareness in the past that feeds into this. Some years back, I took the StrengthsFinder (thanks to Penny Pullan for introducing me to this). This helped put a name to things that I already knew about me.
The top 5 strengths that were identified are shown below:
It also highlighted why I was experiencing frustration in my role as a business analyst. Where was I going to find my opportunity to explore futuristic visions?!
This leads neatly to my recent history. Having spent over 15 years as a contract BA, I wrote in June of 2018 on how this was limiting my opportunities. I have been joking over the last 18 months how I am a recovering business analyst. This is not intended to denigrate the business analyst role, it is simply a comment on how putting myself in that ‘box’ limits my opportunities for growth.
I needed a new role or a new purpose. I played around with a few ideas and found myself more energised by having a new mission. There were plenty of new roles that I could adopt but I knew they would have their own boundaries and limitations which I would also find.
However, a seemingly impossible but worthwhile and inspiring mission would give me motivation and plenty of room to experiment and grow.
I had found a long-standing desire to provide a positive social impact and the frustrations and limitations of our approach to work were converging to provide me a mission.
My wife introduced me to Simon Sinek who expressed what I wanted to achieve so much more clearly than my previous clumsy efforts:
Imagine a world in which the vast majority of us wake up inspired, feel safe at work and return home fulfilled at the end of the day.
I will be getting to my point soon…
As I studied Simon’s work, I realised the importance of tieing your purpose to the larger ‘mission’. In other words, what did I have to contribute to this and what would be the impact?
I had a sense of this from my past reflections but struggled to put it into words that felt true.
In his book, Find Your Why, he has a very specific way of expressing this. Here was one of my more refined attempts:
To help individuals discover how to create inspiring and fulfilling organisations so that we are all successful together
I felt this read quite well but I didn’t have that sense of satisfaction that I had really nailed it. Of course, this is the final statement after much reflection and what is most important is not the statement itself but how you describe its relevance for you personally.
I had helped my friend Kav through the ‘process’ to help her ‘find her why’ and found it made her purpose more visible and concrete. It was something that she, perhaps, intuitively ‘knew’ but making it visible would make it easier to progress in the right direction.
So I decided to try the Find Your Why method for myself by starting with picking out some personal stories that seemed significant from my childhood.
We went over quite a few stories which they felt were significant. Funnily enough the very first words that were mentioned had the biggest impact.
My mum said that I had always been adventurous (this started with climbing an 8 foot wall when I was 3 apparently!).
As I thought about it more, I realised how this seemed to be a consistent thread when I look at my behaviour or what motivates me. This could range from always choosing the weirdest meal on the menu (shark lips in Hong Kong, don’t try it) or the enjoyment I have had from being in very early stage startups.
And there seemed to be an obvious connection with being motivated by futuristic ideas (i.e. the excitement of an unknown but better future).
So I am an adventurer
Now I have an easy way to talk about myself and my strengths that I am experimenting with. It is a useful analogy that I’m going to use where it helps me communicate.
I have revised my Find Your Why statement:
To help people navigate uncharted territory towards an inspiring vision so that the world of work becomes an inspiring and fulfilling place
My hope is that this creates a story where the reader can fill in some of the details through his or her understanding of adventure. It should start to paint a picture of how Alex Papworth works best. And as with any user guide, it should also provide some guidance on how to get the best results and what to avoid.
So, for example, I am resourceful.
having the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties
I have a network of contacts that I have ‘collected’ to help on a journey towards this vision. I understand what the needs are but will always utilise others with greater experience and skill to be more effective. It’s not practical to master everything myself.
I quite like this definition of adventurous:
willing to take risks or to try out new methods, ideas, or experiences.
I look towards the horizon and start planning how to overcome future obstacles. I look for ways to grow that network or access new expertise by predicting obstacles or being able to respond to the unexpected quickly. And I try to learn from previous ‘expeditions’, to make faster progress. This often involves questioning accepted beliefs or assumptions. It may require me being bold by challenging the status quo to gain more powerful insights. For example, in the world of business, I have learnt that the way business was designed (Taylorism) and the accepted mindset was established in the first half of the 20th century. It was an understandable response to the world at that time albeit it did have some objectionable aspects in the way it treated human beings as cogs in a machine. It is somewhat accepted now that this is not fit for successful organisations today but the mindset that it created still pervades much of our thinking on designing organisations.
If I am to overcome this, I need to prepare for the adventure with new tools but, perhaps more significantly, be watchful for the old mindset and help others to do the same. Much of the work I do is on helping others as I know from experience that this adventure needs a variety of skills and people committed to the same cause. This will help on what is undoubtedly a risky venture.
In the last year, I have deliberately sought out others with a similar mission who also recognize the shortcomings of the status quo. I have offered my help to learn alongside them.
What is important to me?
In my role as an adventurer, I need an inspiring and worthwhile vision to motivate me to invest my time. Earlier in my career, the vision was smaller in ambition and tended to focus on technology. When working for startups, the journey was exciting enough on its own. As I’ve got older, it needs to involve people and making a positive dent on the universe. Improving people’s lives in some way is good enough for me but it needs to be challenging and the way forward needs to be far from obvious.
I need to work for a team but be trusted with the freedom to work together to find the route. I need space to be creative, challenge convention and accepted wisdom and experiment with bold new ideas. I am no lone wolf - indeed, I need other people’s inputs to help with my blind spots and to shape or reject ideas.
For example, one of my recent areas of exploration has been in developmental psychology using Robert Kegan’s adult development theory (and practices). I believe this is important because helping individuals grow by becoming more self-aware will help them shake off accepted but out-dated beliefs. It will also increase their compassion and understanding of others to help them grow. (and thanks to Bard Papegaaij for introducing and helping me with this).
How to support me
The adventure can be scary at times.
I will achieve very little on my own.
I can also head off course or try to run before I should be walking. I value a supportive team who can help provide that corrective guidance. Team members who embrace unusual ideas and will use them to encourage productive debate and challenge the direction or the strategy.
The only thing that makes a team truly successful is committment to a shared purpose with a foundation of trust that is protected and nurtured above anything else.
In my younger years, I was very task focussed. This meant I was productive (or thought I was) individually but thought the team productivity wasn’t my responsibility.
I’ve recognized as I grew older that I can achieve very little alone. My mental picture of me as an adventurer has also helped me realise that my desire for autonomy may be at odds with some team relationships. So an environment with high autonomy but also agreeing a shared vision is where I will be most effective.
I’ve also realised that the most unpredictable and fascinating adventures are with other people. I’m enjoying learning about other people and trying to check myself from making lazy assumptions. For example, I am guilty of making lazy assumptions about well-paid executives who have access to coaches and training to help them grow. When I recognize that they have challenges and pain regardless of apparent material comfort, it helps me find more positive ways to help them grow.
I’m putting this out there as a ‘minimum viable product’. I expect to build on and adapt this. I would really appreciate constructive feedback so please comment below or contact me directly (LinkedIn)with your thoughts on how I can improve this.
Note: I spoke about this initially to Alanah who saw some echoes of what I was describing in Self Determination Theory. There are three psychological needs to motivate the self to initiate behavior and specify needs that are essential for psychological health and well-being of an individual. These needs are said to be universal, innate and psychological and include the need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.