An MBA can make you even more of a “Wonder Woman”

Henley Blogs

By Rachelle Gaskell (Executive MBA 2014)

In the words of Wonder Woman, if you want to discover and hone your full powers and drive towards true destiny, a Henley MBA will play a huge part in helping you make that happen!

For cinema-goers and DC Comic fans, June 1st 2017 was a big day: the new Wonder Woman film hit the big screen.

Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, Princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior.  Raised on a sheltered island Paradise, Diana meets an American pilot who tells her about the massive conflict that’s raging in the outside world. Convinced that she can stop the threat, Diana leaves her home for the first time, fighting alongside men in the war to end of all wars and she finally discovers her full powers and true destiny.

Director Patty Jenkins is the first woman to…

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Olympics for Freelancers

Gold Silver Bronze shutterstock_29607409 (2)

Medal rankings of the why, how and who of knowings

Have you ever asked yourself whether it’s WHO you know or what you know (your “Know-HOW”) that made you a successful freelancer? Or have you actually considered taking the WHY into consideration – why do freelancers choose their careers, do they choose them at all (or is the choice made for them) and what makes them stay freelancers?

My Henley Business School MBA thesis on independent music industry professionals focussed on strategic options for freelancers (such as creating freelancer co-operatives).

It also dealt with the “intelligent career framework“, in other words, I interviewed music industry players which of the three “knowings” (why, how, whom) they considered to be the main ingredient for the recipe to success.

But first….

So what comes before the WHY?

According to the authors of a recent HBR article, the three things employees really want are

  • a career (the how)
  • a community (the whom)
  • a cause (the why)

So, you may ask, what are the three things freelancers really want?

Well, the cause in the case of freelancers can have two faces – the reason they want to be a freelancer and the reason they have actually become a freelancer.

Why (part 1): the reasons you become a freelancer aren’t always pretty

Digitisation – which obviously also affected the music industry – has led to a slump in profits for some of the bigger companies. Their reaction was a crash diet consisting of mergers, acquisitions and a big red pen. Three guesses what this did to the number of freelancers in the music industry. Exactly. Their numbers grew a lot!

Of my MBA research group, 25% mentioned redundancy or job loss as the main reason for becoming a freelancer. Despite such relatively negative triggers to their career change, not all of them considered their new workstyle as an interim solution, or a ‘stepping stone’ only back to employment. Quite a few actually began to enjoy being a “solopreneur” and reported wanting to remain self-employed. They witnessed a shift in their motivation to work and the alignment of their values with their work.

Why (part 2): Pros of being a freelancer

The major attributes listed by interviewees as the main pros of being a freelancer were:

  • Flexibility
  • Freedom
  • Autonomy
  • Independence
  • Work-life-balance
  • Choice
  • No more politics
  • No more bureaucracy
  • Control
  • Variety

What struck me in particular is that none of my respondents mentioned “getting rich” as their main motivator. Instead, being a freelancer was more a “lifestyle” than a career to them!

Why (part 3): Cons of being a freelancer

The main cons of being a freelancer lie in the insecurity and uncertainty related to issues such as the next payment, as you sometimes have to bang on your customers’ door for payment 4 months after you sent them the invoice despite a 14 day payment term. Being a freelancer isn’t as seamless as many think – the majority only see the benefits (“och, you have it well, you can go for a walk in the sunshine on a Monday, it always rains on Mondays”).

It seems there’s no sunshine without rain (or no spring without snow as the recent weeks showed), as freelancers do:

  • yearn for individualism yet they lament a lack of belonging or loneliness –Richard Branson tweeted “are we better connected but lonelier than ever?”
  • want to be independent, yet they crave a support network – many struggle without an IT helpdesk, and don’t get me started on pension, accounting or tax issues
  • enjoy their flexibility, yet wish they had more structure – this starts with simple things as having some sort of external time management or timetable to guide you through the day

As is the case with many aspects of people and careers, opportunities can also be threats and motivators (the “why”) can also become demotivators.

So what comes after the WHY?

Surely, you might argue, it doesn’t matter after a while why you became a freelancer in the first place. You are partially right as many freelancers’ entry into this world of flexibility and freedom has been involuntary.

However, there’s another side to the coin. The WHY actually continues to be important in your freelancer career as it represents your values, motivation and personality.

In my opinion (and my MBA conclusion), the WHY fully deserves a gold medal. This is due to the fact that your know HOW and know WHOM alone are not enough for success and are thus joint silver medal holders, needing the WHY as the ‘glue’. Success is more likely in the long run if you have got the drive and the passion to go ‘solo’ in the first place.

So, to answer the question from the first paragraph, what are the three things freelancers really want? Well, the first one, an in-house career that employees seek, may not be one of them for freelancers.

But it’s likely from what we have seen above that freelancers may concur with their employee counterparts on the two other things: the notion of community (belonging & networking) in terms of the WHOM and cause (motivation & values) in terms of the WHY.  And as Dorie Clark suggests in her many fabulous publications, the third one is likely to be competence (expertise & mastery), reflecting the HOW.

So how would you dish out the medals?

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

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.