I've become a Possibilitologist
And so to the global HQ of Barclays Bank in Canary Wharf, for GrowthLab.
I was asked by Victoria Powell to deliver a talk about how to Pivot Your Business For Success.
It was a brilliant event that brought together the UK's entrepreneurial producers and focussed on growth.
And I've put together my main points for you below:
What is the one thing you would change if you knew you couldn't fail?
I used to hate change.
Change can feel remarkably difficult. Humans find safety and comfort in routines and habits.
Our brains build slick neural pathways between areas that we regularly use, making the tasks that follow those pathways feel effortless in comparison to completing a brand-new task for the first time.
So trying something different always feels more challenging.
But how do I know that? I'm not a neurologist... Or a psychiatrist? My inner saboteur reminds me that I have to be able to back up any science I spout.
No, I'm not an expert. I read a small amount about a lot of things.
And then I use that knowledge to fulfil my objectives.
The fact I'm not an expert in any one medium used to bother me.
But now I realise that embracing change has become my superpower.
And pivoting a business is all about having the courage to try something different.
I've realised that being a jack-of-all-trades is actually very useful when running a business.
It allows me to select the right tool for the job when I need to change direction.
Running a successful content business in a time of great change requires the ability to pivot quickly and meaningfully to adapt to the ever-fluctuating marketplace.
And if you are only brilliant at one skill, change can be very hard indeed.
When I was 15, I was determined to become a famous bass guitarist with my band.
Together with my friends, we even built a recording studio in a basement in Hackney.
But after a couple of years, I realised that wasn't going to work out for me without a lot of short-term sacrifices which felt too scary to commit to.
I went to University, then dropped out at the end of the first year to work full-time at a photo agency, filing transparencies and prints in another basement for £3.50 an hour.
People said I was mad. But it was right for me.
I wanted to get on with life, not sit around waiting for something to happen.
After around 9 months, I took a job on Fleet Street at a Sunday newspaper. The bosses of the press agency were not happy that I'd left after such a short time.
But I'd worked really hard for them, and I was in a hurry.
After three years on the photo desk, I quit my exciting staff job to travel the world. I was 23. And although I thought that would be the first of many staff jobs, it was the last one I'd ever get.
After working at a press agency in Australia, and then freelancing at the Daily Mail photo desk back in London for a year, I realised my destiny was to become a full-time freelance photojournalist.
So I borrowed £10k from the bank, bought a brand new digital camera and hit the road, covering whatever newspapers would pay me to shoot.
This was a great job that took me around the world.
But with a family to pay for, it was very stop-start.
So I started my own press agency.
I worked with other photographers and editors to share out assignments between a group of people, whilst I went out on the road less and looked after my daughter more.
This grew into a great small business, and we started creating our own exclusive content which we sold to newspapers and magazines around the world.
After a while, the newspaper websites wanted video, so we took another loan and bought video kit.
But they didn't know how to use the video - we were too early.
So we decided to make TV shows by co-producing with TV production companies.
After a slow start, that model worked, and we made 17 films in just three years for UK and US broadcasters.
By that time, I understood the TV production business at a minimum viable level, and decided to start our very own production company.
We then started publishing videos again on a new site called YouTube.
One thing led to another, and before too long we had built the world's biggest news channel on YouTube and became the first company out of the UK to get an unscripted original series with Netflix.
We grew to become a prolific television production company and an award-winning digital channel that had over 70 million followers.
Eventually, we sold Barcroft Studios to Future Plc.
After the sale, I helped integrate the business into its new parent company for a year.
And then my wife and I saw a farm for sale local to our home in Herefordshire. So we bought it.
And now I spend time thinking about fencing and wood chippers.
Reading that story back, there was a lot of pivoting going on.
Each of those moves took a lot of thought, led to a huge amount of stress and worry, and ultimately took me far out of my competency zone.
But every pivot felt like the next most obvious move to ensure survival and/or success.
I developed the ability to look for what was possible, rather to concentrate on what was impossible.
And when I was thinking about making this speech to peers and colleagues in the TV industry, I realised that sometimes the best thing to do when you are unsure about your role is to make up your own one.
So today, when my inner voice challenged me that I wasn't an expert, I decided to become a possibilitologist.
The job description is to concentrate on the remarkable possibilities that exist if you are prepared to commit 100% to your objective.
If you want to be the best in the world at something, often it pays to create your own game.
The only qualifications I got were two A Levels.
The awards, the success, the recognition, the money I earned, the amazing relationships I grew?
That was all down to realising that anything is possible if you are willing to suffer for it.
I've developed five rules for successfully pivoting that I'd like to share with you:
- Don't give up the day job: Pivoting is tricky and timing is often key. Keep going with whatever is currently paying the bills until your pivot is clearly successful.
- Experiment: Try lots of small, low-risk experiments. When one works, try it again, and again. Then, when you're confident, execute your pivot.
- Fail fast: Don't waste time on things that aren't working. If something doesn't show promise, stop testing it.
- Trust your gut: You'll know when things are right or wrong. Nobody else cares, so you have to trust your deep feelings when making important decisions.
- Keep going no matter what: You don't fail until you stop trying.
So now you know that almost anything is possible - what are you going to do?