This piece from Richard Nichols is a fascinating piece on career transitions, learning new skills, and the quality of the learning we need beyond the education/instruction side of things.
I don’t edit or amend the pieces being written for me. I’m not an editor, and that’s not something that matters for the purposes of this series. Each piece is submitted in the author’s own writing style.
You can connect with Richard on LinkedIn.
From Expert to Learner
I had always been keen on sport. I played cricket to county level as a junior, and then fell in love with golf. I turned pro, got my PGA card and playing professionally in my early twenties. I wanted to be the best: the support and development as part of my golf training was the first time that I realised the value of coaching. When I gave up playing as a pro, I turned myself toward helping others, mainly working with up and coming youngsters that shared the dream I’d had.
I had a sense that there was a bigger agenda waiting for me somewhere, but I couldn’t yet see what it might be. So, I went to university, as a mature student, to study a management degree. What really hooked me was my love of innovation and start-ups, and I decided to carry on and study this as a MSc degree (I focused on rapid innovation and spin-offs, and I ended up being part of a team that won the UK and European student entrepreneur of the year competition).
When I finished my Masters, I managed to get myself into an marketing and PR agency as an intern and whilst there, I worked on some really interesting clients, Hugo Boss and Alex Thompson Racing (one of the world’s greatest solo sailors) on their mast walk campaign, this really excited me. My love of sports, and a growing awareness of the power of brands, led me into sports marketing. I joined up with a global leader in outdoor sports clothing, Helly Hansen, and spent a two years working with elite sailing teams and events such as the Volvo Ocean Race.
I saw at close hand the behaviours of people in charge of product development and innovation. It was here that I first noticed the importance of listening. Helly were really focused on listening, and really understanding, what the athlete’s needs were, which lead to fast prototyping and new designs made to meet their needs. For example, working with the Swedish ski team, Helly developed a ski jacket which had a smart heating technology that focused on applying heat to the blood vessels and nerves close to the skin in the neck, which then would be pumped around the body keeping you warmer. Working with the Volvo Ocean Race team to develop a jacket which could withstand the punishing Southern Ocean waters, Helly noticed the importance of developing a fabric that would also wick moisture when sweating (racing is hard physical work, you sweat even when there are icebergs about!).
I watched a lot of my friends start businesses, and quite a few had turned to me for advice and feedback on their new products or routes to markets. I really enjoyed working with them on their projects, their passion was infectious. I also got a lot out of helping them, and it was at this point my desire for doing something grew too big to ignore, and I decided that it was time to make people and skills development my professional focus. I decided to learn whatever I needed to learn to be equipped to help individuals and teams to flourish, particularly in my major area of supporting innovation and creativity.
This launched me into a whole new avenue of personal learning. My first step was to seek out some advice about where to start – the move into the people development side of business was totally new to me. Through talking with others, I came to see that developing my coaching and facilitation skills would be a strong place to start, and I was fortunate to find the Wise Goose coaching programme ran by the psychotherapist and coach trainer Helen Sieroda. Stepping into this was a deeper level of self-examination that I was expected, and I didn’t find it easy. But I can see, as I near the end of this training, why Helen’s work is so highly recommended. I’m finding myself asking a lot more questions than I used to, and listening in new ways to what people are saying and why they’re saying it!
My next step is to develop my basic skills in facilitation and OD, and I’m signed up for the introductory programmes offered by Roffey Park. It’s an almost vertical learning edge for me right now – and it’s giving me a powerful sense of what it’s like for all the clients when they step into new roles and new learning. I’ve given up being an expert is something, where I was a pro and a teacher, and moved into a field where I’m the beginner. It’s a remaking of my professional identity, and my personal identity too. It’s exciting, but also at times really quite scary.
I’ve been fortunate that GameShift, the consultancy I work with, has actively looked for ways for me to use my existing skills – the social media skills I learned at Helly, alongside my photography and film-making interests and my innovation and entrepreneurship experience. This has given me a foundation to join in some client work from the first days in the new role. I’ve been developing a movie channel to tell some stories of change and transformation of this. Some of these films are on our public platform as video blogs, and some have been used as ways of recording and retelling client experiences to reinforce their learning. I’ve worked in on a series of NGO clients so far, in the age and health care fields, and I’m now helping to plan a very large group process for a global engineering company. It’s amazing that work that looks so simple in the room involves so much preparation. I’m noticing that some really emergent and creative work that looks effortless in the room actually involves a lot of work behind the scenes for it to exist at all!
It has been a challenge, learning the new skills required to work effectively in a different industry – and I’m far from “trained”. I’m lucky to work alongside some really experienced people, and some of what I need to learn comes from shadowing and having a mentor. But I know I’ll need many different kinds of development experience before I’ll feel that I know this field. Perhaps that’s part of what is so exciting about it – there are so many angles to learn about to be ale to work skilfully with people on their development. I’m thrilled to be starting to step into client delivery work now, assisting on some projects. And I know that this is a profession with almost limitless learning along the way. I’m looking forward to the discoveries it brings.