What you know vs. Who you know vs. Why do you do this at all – is it really a “versus” or is it a holy trinity?

why how whom

Finally, my MBA dissertation topic stands.

It is about the challenges for freelancers in an increasingly competitive environment and the choices for them to select the right mix of ingredients for a sustainable career – in terms of knowing why, how and whom.

Do skills matter, do freelancers need to develop their knowledge – corporations have entire departments focussing on learning & development….

Is it better to be a generalist or an expert/specialist? Are freelancers expected to be jacks-of-all-trades, being their own CEO, CFO, CTO, CMO and CSO (and in a way their own HR Manager – schizophrenia not required, I’m talking about learning and development  here i.e. the what you know)?

Or is it really about who you know – someone that acts as your “door-opener”, word-of-mouth-free-of-charge-marketer? Is it the quantity or the quality of your network – and how about the strength of weak ties (Granovetter)?

This is what I am trying to find out with my qualitative research for my dissertation – based on the wonderful framework called the “intelligent career framework” (DeFillippi et al, further discussed by Parker et al and finally taken towards the freelancers’ world by Dutch academics van den Born and van Witteloostuijn)

I am going to look at these “drivers of freelance career success”, in other words, the knowing why (your personal capital – your identity, personality and values, the reasons why you do things, your motivation), knowing how (your human capital – your skills, experience, competencies, knowledge) and of course your knowing whom (your social or relational capital – network, relationships, reputation, alliances).

The trick will be not to be subjective. I mustn’t turn this into an either / or scenario but tickle out views from my interviewees that may even suggest that there’s a little more than the three knowings mentioned above.

Or, as someone at a networking event at the IOD said yesterday: It’s not what you know it’s whether you know how to use it. And it’s also where to use it and when. From a future perspective, as strategies only make sense looking forward, not backwards, there’s also the topic of not running out of motivation or steam – as my previous post said: the loneliness of a long-distance runner…. freelancers also suffer from loneliness, underlying values such as belonging might be something you miss when you’re a sole trader. As a consequence, I believe the why is really important – your personality, and your personal development – your emotional resilience especially.

As I embark on my research, I must, above all, remain objective and unbiased when interviewing the research participants. But all will be well in the end. And if it’s not well, it’s not the end yet, as we know from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Just like my learning journey hasn’t come to an end either. It has only just begun.



There’s a light (over at the Frankenstein place)


Every cloud has a silver lining….. there’s a light at the end of the tunnel….

Different people deal differently with failure. The healthiest way is, in my experience, to let it all out (emotions) on Day 1, then look at it ‘neutrally’ on Day 2 (facts only), take stock of what you learned on Day 3 (analysis) and move on altogether on Day 4!

In other words, follow the Atkins cycle of learning (cf Chris Dalton’s blog:

Day Two – Model answer to the question “what just happened”?



To do these things in isolation, however, is not the best idea as the tendency of human nature to mull over the negatives rather than focus on the positives is all too present.

If you have just come out of a difficult work situation, a job interview or a relationship issue, try and do these steps for yourself AND together with someone else.

During the pursuit of your career targets, you will undoubtedly encounter some setbacks, and a friend in need is a friend indeed. They can help you find that light leading you out of the tunnel (and not necessarily to Frankenstein’s place).



Digital courses, e-learning and all that

It’s all about knowledge. Intangible assets. Nobody can take it away from you (except maybe Alzheimer).

It’ll be your armour, your tools and your means to stay ahead.

How can you learn about something that you didn’t grow up with (digital gadgets)? By participating in e-learning, that way you familiarise yourself with the vehicle and the subject?

Self-experiment: signed up to ‘futurelearn’ about digital leadership. And already I am glad to find sentiments from others: that there is a knowledge gap in the workplace between the “geeks” and the “not geeks”.

It seems easier for the geeks to learn the not geeks stuff than vice versa. Why is that?



Sprint vs long-distance or: can you see the real me?

Following from the loneliness of the long-distance runner posts and a conversation I had with a friend who runs marathons, I find another parallel in these two universes (sport  & work).

At marathons, people sometimes actually talk with each other on their long journey.

At 100 metre sprints, people definitely do not talk with each other.

In my opinion, this mirrors the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. (thanks to Richard Branson’s http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/my-top-10-quotes-on-togetherness)

How would this translate into working for an organisation as a team or working as a freelancer/sole trader? What is better for personal development? Time to yourself to reflect or time with others to use them as a mirror to look at yourself in? Such would be the suggestion by Michael Ende in his book “The Neverending Story” where heroes looked into a magic mirror which showed them their “real me”. Many of them apparently expected to see a heroic perfect specimen of a man but the mirror showed them an absolute gruesome monster and they ran away.

So, my conclusion is that life should be made up of solo sprints and treks together in order to succeed with whatever goal you may have, whether it is to have professional success or to find out who you really are.

Can you see the real me



The art of being a good listener or: short and long distance running, Part II

As the Athletics are in full force, and I have just returned from another workshop at Henley Business School, I thought I’d follow up from my last post.

Having recently read Edgar Schein’s “Humble Inquiry”, short- and long-distance running as an analogy seemed apt yet again. Note how it is much more important for a short-distance runner to get a great start, pushing themselves off the starting block, while long-distance runners seem nearly relaxed at the start…

What does this have to do with the art of listening, you might ask?

According to Schein, “deep down many believe that if you are not winning, you are losing. If you don’t tell first, someone else will tell and get the brownie points. The tacit assumption is that life is always a competition.”

So does this ring a bell? Do you like to push people to get to the point if you feel that you are not getting anywhere near a conclusion in a conversation? (Impatience kicking in!)

Or, as Schein would tell us: “When we are listening to someone and don’t see where it is going, we say “So what is your point?”. We expect conversations to reach some kind of conclusion, which is reached by telling something not by asking questions”.

This ties in with a quote often allocated to the Dalai Lama: “when you talk, you only repeat what you know; when you listen, you might actually learn something”.

Maybe we should all try some long distance running, aka, preserve our energies, park our impatience, forget about that Pole Position, and take a deep breath before trying to force a conclusion of a conversation.

Or we could try and be children again, following the slogan intended for crossing a road and apply it to conversations/situations in our business lives instead:

Stop! Look! Listen! Think!

It doesn’t mention “TELL / TALK / INTERRUPT”, does it?

I’ll go now and buy some duck tape to put over my mouth.

Correlation between learning styles and sport styles or: the loneliness of a long distance runner

One of the hypotheses I recently made (but yet need to find corroborating stats for) was that there might be a connection between the learning styles of a long distance runner vs. those of a short distance runner.

Would the hypothesis stand if I claimed that

  • long distance runners are used to have long-term stamina and patience, thus may also be better suited to work on their own (“the loneliness of a long distance runner”) – would this imply that they are more successful in long-term projects, and stay longer with a company (“loyalty”)? Would they fall under Belbin’s completer/finisher or Gardener’s intelligence type of INTRAPERSONAL (inner)?
  • short distance runners have short bursts of energy, and a lot of that, thus may be more extrovert and enthusiastic, better suited to work in a team and give off some of that energy – would this imply they’re good at short -term projects but run out of steam quickly and then move on? i.e. they would not be “completer/finishers” according to Belbin or  would they match Gardener’s intelligence type of INTERPERSONAL (social)

This topic has occupied me since I started my MBA at Henley Business School. And in case you are wondering, I am a short distance runner/swimmer.

To quote Iron Maiden (“The loneliness of a long distance runner”)

Run, on and on, run, on and on,
The loneliness of the long distance runner.

I’ve got to keep running the course,
I’ve got to keep running and win at all costs,
I’ve got to keep going, be strong,
Must be so determined and push myself on.

What is the definition of a good leader?

In our personal development and managing people workshops at Henley Business School, we are asked to critically think and analyse questions, not just take things for granted just because someone famous said so….

be the leader that you would follow

In a conversation with some fellow HBS students, the discussion led to different opinions about whether the person that is the “glue” in the team could be their leader at the same time.

Many thought this impossible, as the leader needed to be respected and be somewhat removed from the team, as the risk otherwise arose for him/her to be “too pally” or “lowering themselves to the level of the ‘subordinates'”.

Others pointed out that a good leader always needs to be at the pulse of what’s going on and listen between the lines.

I have recently come across some MDs from various countries, and some of them were the leaders that remain remote (even though paying lip service to having an open door policy), while others really “feel” their staff and having adopted a position of listening and glueing the team together, even in difficult times of redundancies and mergers.

As the song goes:

“I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint …..”

Would a good leader therefore be

“a listener, a teacher, a priest, a role model, a team mate…..” (insert more words here)….?

I’ll be listening for more views and am intrigued to hear about the experience others have had.