The Work-Life Balance is a Myth

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Just before the Christmas break, we finished our last two events for the year, and Amy (our Senior Event Manager) and I spent a day at the wonderful Scarlet Hotel and spa. It’s a reward for a tough year with many projects and many changes and challenges. This juxtaposition brings the need for balance into sharp focus. I know that I rarely achieve that balance – I miss too many bedtimes for my boy, I don’t spend enough time sailing, I don’t spend enough time with my friends and family. But that’s not the balance I am talking about.

 

I know that every minute I spend on the business is moving us forward, getting things done, enabling the team to succeed and whilst I do of course have a responsibility to my family and friends, I also have a responsibility to my team. And I have a responsibility to myself. The balance that I try to find and maintain is about what is right and possible for me. Not anyone else’s view, just what I feel is right.

 

The work-life balance is a myth. It’s actually an ebb and flow process like the tide coming in and out on the beach. There are times when it’s right to prioritise work, and times when family and friends come first. It’s all about the context, individual responsibilities and what is important to you. I know that I would be a terrible mum if I didn’t work or didn’t spend time going to the theatre. Similarly, I would be a terrible leader without time and space to let my brain be creative. So we have to find the balance that is right for each of us, right now, in our own contexts.

 

So sorry, this just means continuing to juggle all those balls but rather than feeling that someone else is running the show, that it’s run by you. And up you have the choice about how you handle it. I don’t know about you but I choose to find my own balance, to run my own show!

 

A very happy 2014 to you and yours.

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director Mackerel Sky Events & Event Cornwall

 

Events Aren’t Rocket Science

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An attendee at Truro City of Lights said, “Well it’s not rocket science organising a one night event like this”. And this is true to an extent. Each of the tasks involved are not in themselves rocket science at all. One does not require any kind of qualification to undertake each individual task. The point at which it requires expertise, experience and sheer guts is when it all has to come together. The difficulty is in the multitude of tasks and the increasing degree of complexity when you include 25,000 people in the equation.

The risks involved are immense and if I think about it too much I get scared. Really. I am calm under pressure, work very well with other people, communicate well etc etc but City of Lights tests me every year and I learn new things every time. I really value the feedback from attendees and from all our stakeholders across our portfolio because it means I and the company can get better, improving the experience for attendees, clients and suppliers alike.

The thing about complex projects is that they are inherently risky in terms of content, relationships, coordination, physical risk and strategic challenges which I thrive on but it also means that the potential for failure is higher. It means we will please fewer people but we will create an experience that has greater meaning or value for them because of the creative risk. I like the idea of being a disruptor of the norm, someone who makes ideas happen by involving people throughout the process and delivery but, as Richard Reed says, we have to start small and grow it. This means that we take the idea, make it happen, manage the risk, push ourselves, grow it, challenge the norms, get feedback, learn from it and do it all again but better this time. To do this repeatedly does require a bit of rocket science, a bit of magic, a bit of knowledge and some careful creative thought and risk; all of which goes to create an experience that is highly valued where the input and complexity is recognised and where the intricate network of stakeholder relationships is the key to making it all work.

So for those who think it is easy, I am glad that you haven’t seen the flaws and the panic and the risk. Please do keep giving us your feedback so we can keep on making every project better and make more people happy more frequently. But also spare a thought for those of us who are managing all of these variables and all of the risk to make those ideas a reality. Think of those “rocket scientists” who are experimenting with challenging ideas and projects with the aim of satisfying your needs and wants, to make you smile.

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director Mackerel Sky Events and Event Cornwall

You’re Only As Good As Your Team

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You are only as good as the team you are part of.  I think this might be true.

 

In fact, I know it’s true and I know this because I have been part of all kinds of teams, those built by me, temporary project teams, established organisational hierarchies, those I have been put into… I wrote this when I was on a train to London for the Eventia Awards because one of my team was shortlisted for the Rising Star Award.  I nominated her because she has innate talent, is invested in her role and the company, is passionate about quality and the people we work with, and works incredibly hard.  She also knows me well and can anticipate exactly what I need and want in order to make the event work more effectively or to support the wider team.  She exhibits leadership at every stage of a project and she simply gets on with the job.  I am so proud of her and of her work and she is, without doubt, a fantastic asset to the company.  I know that without Amy, my work would be more difficult, if not impossible. We make a great team!

 

Similarly, having the right advisors and supporters behind you is vital in developing and running a business, whatever the sector. Last week I had a meeting with a relatively new contact who has offered to support me and the company and help us to grow.  It was this conversation that made me realise anew how vital this support is at a strategic level.  All too often, I have carried far too much on my shoulders as the business owner and manager. Whether that’s been because I haven’t wanted to share or because I haven’t felt able to trust or I have been very British and not wanted to burden anyone else, I don’t know which but that approach has taken me to breaking point.

 

If the owner/manager breaks, then the organisation disintegrates and even before actually breaking, the impact of this pressure on the wider team is significant.  With the boss under pressure, it means less communication, increased tension, worry, instability and stress and it’s at this point that I found myself several months ago and realised that I needed to step back from the brink.  It was my advisors, non-exec directors and associates who enabled me to figure out a strategic reconfiguration of the organisation which means that I do, of course, retain the same directorial responsibilities but that I am supported, part of a team making this business work.  

 

It may seem strange to admit weakness and to recognise that being in business is not only hard work but is also lonely. For me, it is in recognising this that I can create a team around me that is more than the sum of its parts, that is effective, communicative, engaged and proactive, that is helping to grow the company.  I and the company are only as good as this team of advisors, supporters, staff and associates and I am making it my business to seek out those who want to be part of that approach; finding those who want to play, to add to the team, add to the direct support and enable all of us to succeed.

 

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director Mackerel Sky Events and Event Cornwall                   

5 Points Away from Success

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Last week was a revelation.  I not only identified and met 3 new role models, but I learned and absorbed so much about the opportunities and challenges of the creative sector, particularly in terms of entrepreneurship, technology and cultural leadership at the REMIX London conference with Culture Label.  Every session had incredible value and my mind is still actually blown right now! At the event itself, I felt confident enough in my own abilities to approach those new role models and say “I like what you do, let’s work together”.  I’m not saying this with a “let’s work together NOW!” kind of approach, but rather an ‘at some point’ kind of thought.

 

In particular, Richard Reed (formerly of Innocent Drinks) talked about 5 key points for success:

 

1.      Organise around a single idea – not only a single idea, but a simple idea that people can ‘get’, that everyone understands and sees the relevance and importance of.  I know I am guilty of confusing things too much with too many possibilities, too many ideas and not enough clarity.  I get all excited about potential with not enough focus.

 

2.      Recruit dreamers who do – not just those with ideas, not just those who make it happen, but that fantastic combination of both.  People who get and commit to the idea and who can bring all of their expertise and ability to making it happen.  Again, I haven’t always sought these people out but rather had to fill a gap.  And every time it has backfired on me, so this is my new rule for recruitment!

 

3.     Start small, but start – by all means dream big dreams but know where the starting point is and get on with it.  There are plenty of people out there who have great ideas but few who have made them happen and made them successful.  I have always worked on the basis that if I would always ask ‘what if I had’, then I should get on and try it!

 

4.     Work the details – I cannot stress enough how important attention to detail is throughout what we do.  It’s all part of creating that event experience that people love, engage with and want to be part of.  Working the details means getting the best from all of the resources available, including people, and ensuring that all of it works towards achieving that single idea to its best potential.

 

5.      Be open – I have been criticised previously for being too open, sharing too many ideas and being too generous with time and intellectual capacity.  I find it hard to not share when we are talking ideas and connections and exciting projects!  I have only had my fingers burnt on this a couple of times over the last 6 years and we may have lost cash or ideas as a consequence but if someone or an organisation works like that then they are definitely not the right people for us to be collaborating with.  I had this with a charity where I put in significant time to develop an events strategy and write funding bids only for them to progressively work us and our fee out of the plan.  It still hurts but it won’t stop me from being open to ideas, people and opportunity.

 

Each of these points have been a useful reminder of what really makes success in a creative business.  In fact, I think in any business.  I’m off to rewrite the business plan!

 

Claire Eason-Basset, Managing Director Mackerel Sky Events and Event Cornwall

Role models are like buses

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Yesterday I met my new role model. Jude Kelly is the Artistic Director of the South Bank Centre and she is one of the most inspiring women I have ever met.  She celebrates the intrinsic and distinct value that being female is about.  Not the “woe is me, I have ovaries” approach that some of the women in business organisations perpetuate but rather one that is about understanding humanity and recognising the value in the individual irrespective of gender.  Her focus is on being the best you can, collaborating with partners, engaging people where they are at….all to achieve that bigger picture impact.  At the same event (REMIX London), I have also met two more role models – Richard Reed formerly from Innocent and Peter Tullin from Culture Label.

 

I have been through a bit of a phase of not knowing who I admire within the sector and it’s like buses – not one role model for ages and then three come along at once!  I think I was perhaps hiding in Cornwall not really taking in who is doing really exciting things within the cultural sector and I can’t recommend it.  I realise now that I was in a bit of a rut – doing the same things and getting the same results.  The fact is that the same results are no longer acceptable.  The expectations and requirements of clients continue to increase and our service and approach  needs to fulfil those needs.  Role models are part of ensuring that we strive to be better, that we keep learning and that we gain new perspectives.

 

On the other hand, I know that I have disappointed a client today.  It doesn’t matter that the circumstances (and particular suppliers letting us down) meant that we couldn’t deliver; the client just sees us not helping him achieve his objectives.  He is under pressure from his Board of Directors and is quite rightly passing that pressure on to us.  We have a lot to prove for the remaining events with this client.

 

So highs and lows, a normal day in business, a normal day in the creative sector.  I know that I can’t keep everyone happy all of the time but I shall take a leaf from Jude Kelly’s book and shall keep on keeping on, doing my best as an event manager, as a boss, as a mum, as a wife, as a sister etc etc etc, wearing all the hats that we all wear.

 

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director Mackerel Sky Events and Event Cornwall