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In this episode of the VOOM Podcast Nikki Bedi is joined by two entrepreneurs who’ve used personal experiences as catalysts for their businesses.

Michelle Kennedy (formerly from the dating app Bumble) explains how a period of loneliness after the birth of her first child inspired her to create an app for mums called Peanut - helping mums chat, meet and solve problems together.

She is joined by Doctor Sue Black, an entrepreneur whose life-changing journey in computer science became a springboard for her to enable others through the social enterprise #TechMums.

Plus we’ve got a special guide to investment from VOOM competition partners Grant Thornton, as Sarah Abrahams (Head of Growth Finance) debunks some of the common myths and mistakes companies make whilst raising capital. 

Head over to iTunesAcast or your podcast app of choice to subscribe. Alternatively, to find out all the latest from VOOM 2018 head over to the Virgin Media Business website.

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Image credit: Virgin.com
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Pirates might not be the most obvious source of inspiration for how you should run a business or a campaign but click below to discover how adapting to their ways of thinking could lead to some interesting results...
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Individuals who head up companies, such as Sir James Dyson or Steve Jobs, are often praised for each and every creative success or original idea that flows from the organisation. But should we look beyond the person at the top of the tree? Would the likes of Apple and Dyson have been such a force of nature if it really was just all on them?

In this article you will learn:

  • Why behind every great creative is an army of vital connections.
  • How a leader’s vision is translated by their team.
  • The real power of an executive assistant.

John Donne wrote that “no man is an island” and, despite what many people would think, no entrepreneur is an island either. The well-worn phrase ‘it’s lonely at the top’ is true, but it would be foolish to think that some of our most remarkable leaders have achieved success without a right-hand man, or team of willing soldiers, ready to fight their cause.

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Behind every great leader is a network of powerful players who support, advise and most importantly, act on the crazy ideas cooked up by the entrepreneurial mind. Entrepreneurs need a counter-balance in order to maintain stability and maintain the momentum in a business as they continue to innovate and drive forwards.

Take Apple CEO, Tim Cook. He was long seen as the humourless and unemotional man in the shadows, standing behind Steve Jobs, running the show from behind the scenes. Apple could never have more than one charismatic leader, or creative talent, but Jobs relied on Cook to keep Apple running - something which he is now doing as CEO himself and which has resulted in the firm reporting record-breaking profits.

Read: How hard is it to sustain originality in a business?

The people that keep the day to day ticking over can often garner the most power. Consider that, for many leaders, there are few people in their lives who know more, or hold more power than their executive assistant.

They are the gatekeepers, the wardens of time and are often privy to the most private information. In my experience, even the most powerful CEOs, who take advice from nearly no-one, will accept a stern talking to from their assistant. They are the right-hand man or woman, without whom the day job would not get done.

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The British entrepreneur and inventor, Sir James Dyson was mentored by Jeremy Fry, who identified Dyson’s talents in the 1960s, when he was a student. Together, they invented the sea truck, a high-speed maritime vehicle that skims along the water on a layer of bubbles. Dyson’s career was kick-started by this relationship, which he says taught him the entrepreneurial spirit of taking "an iterative approach to a problem...adapt and improve on an idea ...rather than giving up at the first hurdle".

Of course, the role of 'best supporting…' rarely wins awards outside the entertainment industry and these right-hand men and women often remain in the shadows. This is no less true of the team behind the leader. In many ways, an entrepreneur’s team acts a little like Sherlock Holmes’ Watson, translating the eccentric, brilliant but sometimes inscrutable mind of their leader into something tangible. This takes tenacity and talent.

Anyone who has worked for a creative entrepreneur will tell you it is exhausting, but rewarding. The same reason why these enigmatic leaders succeed in business, are the same reasons they inspire their teams into action.

So behind every great creative is an army of vital connections, a network of people that help the dream become the reality. These players shouldn’t be forgotten, because every ship needs a captain, but it also needs a crew.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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In a previous life, entrepreneur Daniel Richards was the Virgin Group's Digital Director. Having left two years ago to start Garden Tags, he explains how the brand's intrapreneurial spirit prepared him for life inside a start-up.

It was the intrapreneurial culture at Virgin that inspired my entrepreneurial endeavour. Virgin taught me how to think and act like an entrepreneur which ultimately set me on my new trajectory. This got me wondering… What is it about Virgin’s culture that makes it so intensely intrapreneurial?

1. A start-up within a start-up. A bit like a matryoshka doll, Virgin’s start-up culture permeates into each and every team. Teams act like mini start-ups and are positively encouraged to bring forward ideas that can step change the business. The Virgin Disruptors programme is just one example of a start up project incubated within the digital team which grew beyond all our expectations.

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Image from Virgin.com

2. No fear of failure. I can’t stress the importance of lifting away the stigma of failure within an organisation. This stigma can kill a game changing idea even before it’s been written down by it’s originator. Virgin gives people the freedom and the guard rails to fail gracefully and learn from it.

I’m not saying Virgin pops a champagne cork when an idea fails but it does give people another crack at the whip as long you’ve learned from the experience.

3. Practice what you preach. If you walk around the Virgin HQ and randomly ask a few people about themselves, I bet at least one of them will be either incubating a big business idea or already have a business interest on the side. They certainly don’t closet it away, in fact it's celebrated. What better way to bring fresh thinking into an organisation through your own practical experience? A lot of the agile thinking in the Virgin digital strategy was brought in from my experiences bootstrapping my own start-up GardenTags.

BATTLESHIP, TEAM, Virgin Management

4. Vive la difference! Virgin is an ideas machine because it encourages diversity in the workplace. If everyone is the same you’re going to come up with the same ideas and that’s highly limiting. The more diverse an organisation is the better in my book!

5. Make it purposeful. Allegedly money makes the world go round but that isn’t going to be the sole motivation of your intrapreneur. If your starting point is making a positive difference to people’s lives, that’s hugely motivational.  As Richard says: "Companies that survive and thrive over the long term" have a strong sense of purpose. We started off on this course at GardenTags with our "How to spark a growing revolution" debate.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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Companies don’t fail behind their own backs. Disruptive technology doesn’t sneak up on you and pounce undetected. There is no element of surprise, especially when you have entire teams of people dedicated to market intelligence.

So why are the largest and most successful companies, the triumphs of free-market capitalism, so paralysed into shock that they’re failing to adapt? Having once been the disruptor, many companies soon find themselves being disrupted by others. Original ideas can seem hard to come by at times, so does creative thinking simply dry up after a while?

Peter Drucker’s famous adage rings as true today as it ever has: "The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence - it is to act with yesterday’s logic." Are large companies heeding his advice, or has a great corporate revolution already begun?

I wanted to know why corporate giants, with their abundance of human and financial resources, were finding it so difficult to adapt to the 21st century. I was also curious to talk to people who had made it their business to help these companies navigate the bumpy road to securing their futures. I knew the theory: the only way to thrive in times of change is to become as nimble and agile as change itself. But was this easier said than done? 

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Richard Stobart is the CEO of Unboxed, a London based company that collaborates with ‘traditional’ organisations to start, build and grow internally-driven innovation projects. Unboxed also helps the same organisations to realign their corporate cultures to befit an innovative and agile style of working. 

"Innovation is by its nature difficult to plan and impossible to systematise," Stobart told me. "Corporate giants have grown to the size they have because they are great at execution. They execute very well on their existing business model. They build structures where the processes are more important than the people; corporates can’t have individuals who are indispensable."

"They discourage free thinking, going against the grain and not following the processes. Innovation, real innovation that disrupts industries, requires subversive thinking.  Corporates believe that innovation is a continuum, from changing the types of pens ordered by the stationery team to cannibalising the current cash cow to disrupt the corporate’s industry. It isn’t."

Companies become large when they’re able to create a repeatable, scalable business model that delivers value to a specific group of people. Scalability is achieved by creating an internal workflow that can be maintained regardless of who does it. As the company grows, the scalable workflow becomes further refined and engrained into the organisation through systems and processes. The role of human input, especially towards the bottom of the pyramid, is largely to follow and repeat the prescribed processes that have proven successful many times over. If the process is overly reliant on any particular individual, then the system is at risk. The more mechanical, the better. 

Read: How to innovate in the confines of an airplane cabin

Innovation is simply a euphemism for subverting the existing system, the same system that has created a culture of following the rules. Herein lies a number of problems for large companies.

"The more radical the innovation the higher the returns but equally the more incongruent with the corporate culture the innovators need to be," said Stobart. "Even those corporates that encourage innovation try to control the innovations. They expect budgets, business cases, milestones, market research, organisational charts and detailed plans."

"What they often fail to understand is that the radical, high return innovation is nearly impossible even in the most conducive environment. Adding constraints makes the chances of success vanishingly small. A natural environment for the go-it-alone entrepreneur is naturally dynamic, free of constraints, time-pressured, scarcely resourced and high energy where the rewards are personal gratification, wealth and power. All these things are foreign to the corporate entrepreneur and their superiors."

So where does the responsibility of change lie? Is it up to free-thinking corporate employees to push change from the bottom up, or is it up to the senior leaders to set a new tone from the top down?

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"Expecting 'company men' to arrive at work one morning and revolutionise their industry is naïve," according to Stobart. "I think it was W. Edwards Deming who said that the organisation is perfectly designed to deliver what it is currently delivering. The implication is that only organisational redesign will deliver different outcomes."

The question, then, is what can an organisation do to promote innovation from within? 

"The organisational constraints need to be removed. The individuals chosen need to be radical thinkers, rebellious, keen to break the corporate mould and not truly aligned with the organisational culture. Learning is most rapid through repeated failure and re-trial; failures need to be encouraged and celebrated. [The Lean Startup author] Eric Reis says that in entrepreneurship, the measure of progress is learning. Speed of execution, repeating the cycle of execute, fail, learn, change course and execute again, needs to be inherent in the culture of the innovation team. As the Highway1 accelerator preaches, 'experiment like you breathe - all the time.'"

 

A post shared by Virgin (@virgin) on Apr 24, 2018 at 9:17am PDT

For many organisations, a transformation of thinking and behaviour requires a deeper rooted cultural shift. But this takes time, and it’s not easy (or cheap) to train your employees to adopt an unfamiliar working style. It’s not about teaching them a few new words, but a new language altogether. Not to mention, widespread cultural overhaul could threaten the stability of the organisation and jeopardise their existing business model. 

"The cultural change required is the most difficult aspect to change and for many organisations, paralysed by the fear of losing their current market position, impossible."

According to Stobart, senior leaders at large organisations are caught in a game of tug-of-war, with the fear of abandoning the status quo at one end, squaring off against the growing necessity of revolutionary cultural change at the other. 

"The biggest challenge for an organisation is the need to understand that they need to change from within. Most leaders want to retain the status quo and pay lip-service to radical transformation, until the organisation has deteriorated to the point where transformation is necessary for survival. Unfortunately, at this point, it’s normally too late. The organisation doggedly holds onto its traditions to stabilise itself against impending doom and digs in, resisting change and making the change painful, ineffective and acrimonious."

The tug-of-war is far from over, but one thing is for sure: somebody is going to end up in the mud. 

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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With Cape Town facing an ongoing water shortage Virgin Active South Africa have been determined to be part of the solution, fast-tracking their commitments to have a net zero impact on the environment. We spoke with Managing Director, Ross Faragher-Thomas, to find out how the team have innovated in order to reduce water consumption.

What was the spark for reducing water consumption in Virgin Active health clubs and when did the process begin?

At Virgin Active South Africa, we had committed to net zero environmental impact by 2030. This means we’ve committed to reducing water consumption and waste; switching to renewable energy to drive down our carbon emissions and eliminating solid waste by recycling.

The drought we are experiencing in the Western Cape, and the subsequent city water restrictions, was the catalyst to fast track our water stewardship initiatives not only to reach our net zero goal but also for our 30 clubs across the region to remain operational. Our immediate response to the problem was looking at where we could make changes in our operations to reduce our water consumption, and to simultaneously put a plan in place that would steer us to a position of long term water resilience by going off grid.

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Image from Virgin Active South Africa
Ross Faragher-Thomas shows Richard Branson around one of the Virgin Active South Africa health clubs

How did the team practically first start trying to tackle this?

It has definitely been a team effort! A Water Crisis team was convened and we meet weekly. Collective thought and action has given our interventions great impetus. We maintain regular dialogue with stakeholders such WWF and Green Cape. There is an absolute recognition that collective action is required, and this starts with our members, all the way through our clubs to our people.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

  • We have re-configured plumbing in clubs with pools, to use the pool water for ablutions, providing up to two month’s supply.
  • In clubs without pools, we connected our hot water storage tanks with up to 20 thousand litres of water to our ablutions, providing up to a week’s supply.
  • Transporting run-off waste water from manufacturing plants to top up our pools. It is filtered and purified through the pool pumps.
  • Fitted low flow showerheads and taps across 30 clubs in the Western Cape
  • Introduced 40 rainwater harvesting tanks. During the dry season these tanks are used to store water we procure through donations.
  • Introduced plugs in basins to stop members leaving the water running when they shave.
  • There’s now instantly hot water, meaning there’s no need to leave the tap running for water to warm up.
  • There is hand sanitizer at basins instead of water.
  • Buckets in showers to capture the run-off water to use for flushing toilets.
  • Shower timers are a constant reminder to power shower.
  • Plumbing the condensate from air conditioners into our pools. We can get up to 5000l a day into our pools from this intervention.
  • Conscious consumer messaging campaigns to engage members and encourage them to reduce their consumption.
  • Closure of Sensation Showers, Steam and Sauna which has reduced water consumption by 660,000l a month.
  • Disabled the full flush on all dual flush toilets.
  • Waterless urinals.
  • Completed environmental surveys for 12 potential boreholes, and have drilled three.
  • Installing grey water systems at Western Cape clubs.
  • Procured storage tanks to store up to 20,000l of potable water per club.

It’s not just about what we are doing at club level but also in our own offices

We are working with WWF, and presented our measures as a case study at the launch of their Watershed Wednesdays. This initiative sees corporates mimic Day Zero in their office environments in a bid to highlight the harsh reality of taps that have run dry. We are hoping to drive additional behavioural change in our employees, and mark this weekly by turning off all taps on a Wednesday.

WATER STEWARDSHIP
WATER STEWARDSHIP - YouTube

What were the main challenges faced and how were they overcome?

The notion that water is a single-use resource is antiquated. How we think about water and how we use and reuse water has to fundamentally change if we are to weather drought and changing climates. And the drought is the catalyst we are using to change behaviour.

Members pay for a service and some expect all facilities to be operational, despite an unprecedented drought. This may not be reasonable but it is what we face. We are reliant on water for facilities such as the pool, the sauna and steam room and the showers. In May 2017, we made a made a decision to turn off the saunas and steam rooms given the amount of water required to run the facilities, not only in operation but also in cleaning and the additional showers members take.  We did this with good intention but it was a deed that did not go unpunished.  It has been a journey to convey that if we don’t take action on every level now, we will be in position where any facilities requiring water will need to be turned off indefinitely.

Read: What is creative tension and how can it help you?

Municipal water is drinking water. We are on a journey to go off grid to conserve drinking water reserves. When you look across our estate, there is no ‘’one size fits all.’’ With the grey water systems, each one has to be designed around the existing plumbing infrastructure, as well as the quality of ground water from our boreholes. The challenge with this is that it can slow our rollout process.

Another challenge was keeping our pools topped up despite restrictions stating that no municipal water may be used to fill pools.  Tenants, such as the swim schools and PT’s, are reliant on our facilities being operational in order to run their own businesses. We managed to source run-off water from a manufacturing plant and we truck this water to our various clubs to top up our pools. We have up to three trucks making two deliveries per day. The water is run through the filtration system before reaching the pool.

We have a full plan in place in the event of Day Zero. This includes a plan for ablutions. Health and safety standards require we have a minimum of 258 toilets available for members and staff, excluding the urinals which will operate without water.

HOW WE REUSE WATER
HOW WE REUSE WATER - YouTube

How does Virgin Active encourage creative thinking in situations like this when the answers might not always be easy to arrive at?

We have a team that doesn’t take no for an answer! Couple that with deep expertise in their respective fields, and we had some robust discussions, and left no stone unturned. Key to this was a blessing "from the top" that we had to do the right thing without being constrained by budget (within reason). This meant that our team literally explored every option available in our bid to reducing our consumption of municipal water.

Do you think problems such as this drive innovation forward in a business - is it always important to have a problem to try and solve?

Definitely. And innovation doesn’t need to be grand or tech-based. By placing buckets in our showers to capture water to use to flush our loos, we not only saved water but also demonstrated that simple interventions could have a big impact.

We’ve also looked into our various communities to assist various charity organisations to reach a position of water resilience.

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If you’ve ever experienced that niggly feeling of frustration that you’re not quite fulfilling your potential, let me introduce you to a concept called ‘creative tension.’ Not everyone has heard of it but as many experts suggest, creative tension is something that we should all tap into in order to lead a more fulfilling and creative life.

What is creative tension?

Maybe you’re hoping to take your business in a new direction or perhaps you need to tackle that creative writing essay that you’ve been mulling over for days. Either way, it’s widely suggested that creative tension refers to the feeling or process we all have to go through to get from A to B and achieve our creative goals.

Psychotherapists and authors of the book Metaphors in Mind, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley sum up the concept of creative tension quite nicely.

“A brilliant idea will not be birthed before its time, but we don’t like waiting,” they explain, “and creative tension is the feeling that occurs when we are looking for a new idea, wanting to solve a problem or get a start-up off the ground.

“The gap between what we want to create and it not happening generates a tension, and for many people, this is an uncomfortable feeling. One way or another, this tension will seek resolution. It pushes us to find innovative solutions, to finish a project or to seek out new markets.”

How did the creative tension concept come about?

One of the first people to discuss the role of tension in the creative process was organisational consultant and tension-resolution theorist Robert Fritz. Author of the book The Path of Least Resistance, Fritz explained that a gap between our creative vision and current reality, which he dubbed ‘structural tension,’ exists in all parts of our life.

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“During the creative process, you have an eye on where you want to go and you also have an eye on where you currently are,” Fritz explains.

“There will always be structural tension in the beginning of the creative process, for there will always be a discrepancy between what you want and what you have. Why? Because creators bring into being creations that do not yet exist. Structural tension is a fundamental principle in the creative process.

“In fact, part of your job as a creator is to form this tension."

Read: How to innovate in the confines of an airplane cabin

The elastic band metaphor

To explain the creative tension concept further, Fritz came up with a metaphor. Imagine yourself stretching a rubber band between your right and left hand. Your right hand represents your ‘vision’ and your left hand represents your current reality. The greater the gap between them, the greater your creative tension will be.

The Psychology of creative tension

Writing for their website Clean Language, Tompkins and Lawley were some of the first behavioural experts to draw a parallel between creative tension and a concept known in psychology as cognitive dissonance.

It was social psychologist Leon Festinger who first coined the term cognitive dissonance, defining it as ‘a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions that are psychologically inconsistent.’ Some examples include coming up with excuses for something you’ve done that is not in line with your usual behaviour, blaming others for your actions or giving overly edited versions of your actions, to cast yourself in a good light.

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Image from Tompkins and Lawley

And although creative tension and cognitive dissonance are not identical, Tompkins and Lawley claim that our mental processes for each are very similar.

“When the way the world is, and the way we expect or want it to be are different, a ‘cognitive dissonance’ and an internal tension result,” they explain.

“Both creative tension and cognitive dissonance demand resolution. Creative tension pushes us to create something new, whereas cognitive dissonance pulls us to find ways to maintain our existing views and beliefs.

“The creative tension which results from not being able to think our way out of a problem can lead to a mismatch – a cognitive dissonance – between our self-image and reality, amplifying the tension we feel.”

Tompkins and Lawley explain that when we’re presented with our internal creative tension, we have a decision to make: “Do we acknowledge reality and look for a way to productively utilise it, or do we find a way to justify staying the same?”

Creative tension as a source of motivation

Many experts argue that however uncomfortable creative tension may feel, it is a positive driver in the creative process. Peter Senge, colleague of tension-resolution theorist Fritz, agrees with this. The author of The Fifth Discipline explains that for many of us, it is our source of energy and motivation.

Read: Can fickleness be a spark for creativity?

“The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy,” he says. “If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision.”

Dealing with the discomfort of creative tension

Cath Duncan, life coach and creative grief support practitioner points out that creative tension can be so unpleasant, it can create feelings of fear and anxiety. Whether or not it successfully motivates us all depends on how we use it and whether we are willing to take on the challenge.

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Image from Cath Duncan

“Creative tension can grow unnoticed in the soil of dissatisfaction,” she explains. “Depending on the size of the gap and the significance of your vision, resistance to creative tension can turn into difficult, self-defeating problems such as self-doubt, stress, poor motivation, anxiety, anger, envy, conflict, depression, poor health, sleep troubles, and numbing or addictive behaviours.

“The discomfort of creative tension may not feel good, but it facilitates the increased release of important problem-solving resources such as attention, focus, energy, and creativity.

“This leads to greater success at innovating new ideas and taking action to bring that special and dearly hoped-for vision to life. When we understand how creative tension works, we can learn to intentionally construct and leverage creative tension to more easily and effectively create the professional products and changes, and personal life experiences that we really want.”

Tompkins and Lawley agree that creative tension can empower you, if you approach it in the right way.

“Rather than trying to get out of creative tension, we have found the first thing to do is to name it and then to ‘become comfortable with being uncomfortable’,” they explain.

“Learning to live with creative tension means we can take a more considered, longer-term perspective. “The most successful entrepreneurs [and creators] keep evaluating whether what they are doing is likely to work, or whether the feedback they are receiving from the outside world is a message that they need to adjust or change their approach to – or do something else entirely.”

Using creative tension to fulfil your life goals

If you’re prone to procrastination and know you could use your creative tension more wisely, check out the work of Mark Hopkins. In his book the Shortcut to Prosperity, Hopkins claims that tapping into your creative tension will help bring more happiness, fulfilment and prosperity into your life. “You might believe, like many people, that the world dictates the situation you now find yourself in and that you can either accept it or be bitter about it,” Hopkins states in his book.

“Frankly, that’s a load of bull. In fact, you can shape your life into almost anything you want it to be.

Can you start a new career track? Absolutely. Can you go after that promotion? Yep. Can you go back to school? Why not? Can you do something more meaningful with your time? Please do!”

He adds: “Your vision is the prize. It’s what you think about when you’re hauling your butt out of bed in the morning, when you’re pushing through a long day, when you’re tackling one more challenge, and when you’re having fun doing it.

“You just need to take the time to think about what you want, what you really want, and then write it down and internalize it. The result will be a creative tension that starts working for you, pulling you toward the vision you created.”

Laying out your creative ‘vision’

When it comes to laying out this vision, Hopkins says it’s simple and it can be applied to any area of your life. Simply ask yourself how you feel about your self-image, work life, home life, or even life purpose, and then answer the following question: ‘Based on this reality, what changes would be necessary to move from your current reality to your personal vision?’

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Think big

Hopkins claims that you should avoid stating what you ‘should be’ and instead, write down what is personally motivating to you, being completely honest about where you are now and concentrating on what will ‘fuel your internal fire’.

“Your vision should be so big that a part of your brain is saying ‘No way, I could never do that,’ while another part of your brain is already starting to plan the steps on that path,” he says.

Finally, if your creative tension has been lying dormant for some time, be warned. “Once you start the process, you’ll never stop,” he says, suggesting that you should check-in with your personal vision every few months, to assess where you are at.

So, as you’ll see, many experts believe that tapping into your creative tension can be challenging at times. But overcome the fear, lay out your personal vision and ‘think big’ and you could reap all sorts of rewards.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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The most recent episode of the Voom Podcast focused on all things social media, with Jamie Bolding (founder of viral content producer Jungle Creations), Martin Adams (founder of Codec.ai) and presenter and author Emma Gannon in the studio.

Here’s three important things every business should know about social media.

There’s no magical formula for viral content

With the success that Jungle Creations has experienced, it’s easy to suspect that they’ve found a magical formula to make every piece of content ‘go viral’. But Jamie says that’s not the case.

“I think the thing is with social media, it’s always changing, it’s always adapting, the algorithm is changing so that formula is always going to be old,” he explains. “The main mission is just to try to make content that resonates with people, that evokes emotion, that’s the basic stuff. The way you that and the different formats will change over time.”

But how did Jamie even realise that this was a viable option for a business? He says: “I think it was because of the sheer numbers of people that were using the platforms, Facebook and Twitter, and the opportunity to show these people videos or send them to websites or show them information or utilise that massive opportunity. It was just the sheer numbers and having that access to people through Facebook or Twitter or Instagram just showed there was a huge opportunity there.”

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Image credit: virgin.com

Numbers matter – but not necessarily in the way you think

Emma Gannon admits that she is “all about the numbers” – they’re the way that she judges if a piece of content has been successful or not. “That’s obviously something that you need to grow and to get interest in what you’re doing,” she says. “I’m all about that percentage of people who actually care. I think we’re all over the whole ‘influencer with millions of followers when no-one does anything.’”

As Emma says, the important thing with numbers is less about followers and more about engagement. For example, she explains: “I have quite a small following on Instagram – I would say like 20,000 – but apparently I’ve got the same engagement as someone as big as Kim Kardashian because of the percentage conversion. I think that’s quite interesting for brands because why would you just go for the biggest person all the time?”

Focus is crucial for growth

Jungle Creations now boast over five billion views each month across its channels, making it one of the highest ranked content publishers in the world – the biggest of the traditional entertainment institutions averages around half of that. So how did Jamie and his team achieve it?

“It’s a huge focus on social,” he admits. “A lot of other business – Disney, Time Warner etc – are focused on many different platforms. We were very focused on Facebook at the start. 

“Facebook was, and still is, the most used social media platform there is and therefore that’s where you can get the biggest scale and we’re a boot-strapped company, we don’t have investors, so we had to choose our battles very carefully and that’s why we went into Facebook and now we’re diversifying a bit more.”

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Creating a culture where creativity can thrive and innovation is rewarded is a great way to keep your people motivated, interested and engaged.

Businesses are getting ever cleverer in encouraging watercooler moments and strengthening team bonds, whether that’s investing in research to understand the psychology of office layouts, or intranet-based technology to make sure mobile workers never feel isolated, or upping the social events budget.

But giving people room to generate great ideas is just the beginning. How do already creative businesses make sure these ideas see the light of day?

The short answer is by adopting a working method that truly supports the execution.

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Agile working is one such method. Popularised by tech companies developing software, agile is all about working fluidly and reacting to change as it comes – and sometimes anticipating it – rather than being stuck within the confines of a rigid, pre-agreed strategy to which people unquestioningly adhere.

Research by The Agile Future Forum, a not-for-profit alliance of UK businesses, found agile working practices are currently generating value equivalent to three per cent to 13 per cent of workforce cost.

It requires a significant cultural change, to one of autonomy and empowerment supported by teamwork, and enabled by flexible and virtual working practices.

There is structure. For example, at Claromentis we have periodical strategy meetings, but the emphasis of these meetings is to tweak or adapt the existing programme in response to external or internal demands, and to assign tasks. Those with an aversion to hot air will be happy to hear that talking ethereally is banned - these meetings are all about creating actions.

Millennials love agile

For businesses looking to win over millennials, agile translates well because it offers flexibility and responsibility, and signals that the employer trusts its staff. Everyone gets the freedom to help drive decisions, and the chance to shine, but that comes with the safety net of the combined experience and democracy of a team. No one’s the fall guy.

Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2017 states that flexible working arrangements are “not simply nice to have” but are “strongly linked to improved performance and employee retention.” In short, it breeds loyalty.

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The report states: “In highly flexible working environments, the difference between those who see themselves leaving within two years (35 per cent) is just two points above those anticipating to stay beyond five years (33 per cent) - among those in the least-flexible organisations, there is an 18 point gap (45 per cent versus 27 per cent).”

This corroborates with a 2017 survey of 3,000 UK adults by Timewise, which found that nine in 10 employees dislike the strict nine-to-five working day. It also revealed that 92 per cent of working 18-34 year olds wanted flexible hours, compared to 88 per cent of 35-54 year olds and 72 per cent of those aged 55+.

So what can go wrong?

Agile is part of a big picture. Making operations more flexible, virtual, autonomous, empowering and democratic will be popular with employees, but these are not simply employee benefits. This is a powerful business strategy that will benefit staff, customers and the bottom line.

As former chairman of Lloyds Banking Group, Sir Winfried Bischoff, writing for the Agile Future Forum, puts it: “Historically, workforce agility (or flexibility as it is more commonly known) has largely been positioned as an employee benefit, part of the employee value proposition, rather than a way for companies to meet their strategic business goals in a challenging business environment. That needs to change – this can be about benefits to businesses, as well as employees.”

Another common problem is that agile teams can easily end up prioritising the wrong things. Knowing when to react to change or demand, and when to leave it and carry on with the existing plan, can be tough to call.

The solution is to decide what to prioritise as collectively and democratically as possible, as well as how much work a team can take on.

The agile working method is already helping companies that have created environments that help people to think distinctly and creatively to act differently and empower them to create their own solutions.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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For some people, coming up with ideas comes really easily but for others it involves more hard work and effort. But what is it that is getting in your way of being creative?

In this article you will learn:

  • What’s stopping you from thinking creatively
  • Why you might need to limit your creativity
  • Strategies to help you be more creative

1. Fear

The fear of failure often stops us in our tracks. And that’s still true when it comes to thinking creatively.  But Michael Parker, former ‘ad man’ turned pitching expert, said on the Live.Life.Better. podcast last year: “Some people just have that ability to let go of the emotional side and somehow have a freedom of expression. Think Usain Bolt doing his gestures. Even as they come to the starting line you know who's going to win. I think that is a sort of emotional mentality thing. A lot of athletes are very happy training like crazy, but don't feel quite as happy when you have to do that little bit extra and expose yourself.”

If you can tap into that ability to “let go of the emotional side” then you have the ability to free yourself to think more creatively.

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2. Excuses

It’s easy to come up with all the reasons you’re ‘just not someone who’s good at creative thinking’ but that’s holding you back from fulfilling your true potential as a brilliant idea generator. Antony Burrill, famous graphic artist, says this is something that’s preventing creativity: “I think it's things like making excuses for yourself too. Not getting out there and showing people your stuff. I remember I worked on my portfolio for probably about three or four years after I left college, and I was always saying, 'It's not quite ready yet. When it's finished, I'll go and see lots of people with it.' You kind of... it never got finished. It's still not finished. I think it's a matter of just kind of getting out there and showing people your work through whatever means that is. Whether it's through your Instagram or actually physically meeting people face to face. It's just a matter of getting on with things really.”

Instead, put yourself, your ideas, your work out there. You never know what might happen.

Read: How to discover ideas we won't be able to live without

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3. Thinking too big

Sometimes you can get overwhelmed by the task at hand and end up being paralysed when trying to come up with ideas. Iris Shoor suggests on Lifehacker putting constraints on your idea generation. She says: “When we use constraints it's usually easier to come up with more ideas. The way we think relies on connections – a certain smell can conjure an old memory, a name can bring up someone's image. When we use constraints we trigger more ideas, and come up with more solutions. Even when there aren't any constrains people tend to create them. When most people are asked to name 10 cities they'll use some kind of connection between them – capital cities, cities I visited this year, etc.

“So, in a way we're never really outside the box, we simply move between boxes. One of my favourite creativity tricks is creating a set of constraints by placing myself in someone else's box. Try taking an existing or a half baked project and rethink it in someone else's shoes.”

Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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