We’re All Perfectly Imperfect!

make-mistakes-e1333154059480We are simply human and we all make mistakes. Last week, talking to a business person I really respect, we shared the pain of making mistakes in business, recognising that this is something we all deal with.  It wasn’t just the mistake; it was the fact that as the MD, one has to take responsibility for those made by your team.  And it’s not just those of paid
members of staff but also volunteers and associated suppliers. That’s a lot of people on whom we rely to deliver our product or service to and for our clients.

This conversation brought into focus for me the risk and challenge of growing a service-based business and the importance of the decisions we make about who we work with.  Given the importance of these appointments, we often go into these relationships with relatively little knowledge about the other parties. Maybe a formal application process, maybe an interview, maybe tasks or presentations but generally no more than 4 hours in their company before offering them a job.  It’s almost always less time when appointing

Of course all of our time is precious and often recruitment feels like a burden and we just want to get on with the job at hand! We are often under pressure which is why we want to appoint someone in the first place but the point I am trying to make is that we cannot afford to make mistakes in this process.  The impact of making mistakes is that we appoint the wrong people to roles where they go on to make mistakes that jeopardise results, that
negatively impact on our relationships with clients, that affect the culture and morale of the team…..and we as the responsible person for the project or business have to take those mistakes on as our own.

It is vitally important that our teams know that we have their backs and that we will take the flak. This certainly applies publically but internally we also have to ensure a degree of accountability within our teams so that individuals know where they stand and that they can be confident in the company, in their position, in their relationships and therefore be as
productive as possible. This kind of accountability for our actions matched with a public taking of responsibility builds commitment and motivation so creating a team that is resilient and agile.  This ultimately makes our businesses more productive, more profitable and more impactful.


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events


There Should Be Space for Arts and Science

TZ_Weight_and_Height_ScaleEarlier this week, Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary, said that studying the arts holds people back, that it doesn’t give them options and doesn’t offer any long term job prospects. I couldn’t disagree more!

As a lecturer in a non-science subject, Creative Events Management, I passionately believe in the value of what we teach and the skills and abilities of our students. More importantly I believe that the greatest value of all is about how we teach it. That is, we teach from a basis of active business practice so that we are supporting students to become useful contributors to our economy and our culture.

The arts and the skills that are needed and used within the creative sectors are not only a critical part of our culture but are also a significant proportion of the UK economy. The skills of creativity, production (making ideas a reality), high performance teamwork, collaboration, problem solving, research, critical appreciation, reflection and social engagement are developed to a high level when one studies an arts field. To a level that is significantly higher than that supported in STEM subjects. I say this as a maths graduate and a STEM ambassador.

The point is that we need STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) to create balanced, engaged students and ultimately productive citizens. In fact, I would be more satisfied with a model that included business, humanities and languages as part of a rounded education. None of these should be excluded as each engages different capacities of the brain and the soul.

And this is where the argument for the English Baccalaureate begins….and I have a problem with that too as it doesn’t necessarily give room for specialisation and depth of learning.

Even in the most scientific of classrooms I would suggest that creativity should be one of the primary skills in the pursuit of scientific endeavour. As Ken Robinson argues, creativity (a core artistic skill) is part of what makes us human and is a skill that enables us to develop and invent and innovate in any sector of work.

So Nicky Morgan, how can you say that the arts hold you back when they are actually the key to success?


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Fantastic Mr F


Just recently I was posed the question, “Who’s your superhero?” My thoughts were professional? personal? If personal there are members of my family who would instantly fall into that camp, but I won’t embarrass them here!

Instead of going down the professional route, I chose to think more of a ‘life superhero’ who could span both the categories. So who do I think of that I admire, aspire to be, respect and generally consider to be a good egg? Well for me, and countless others I suspect, one of those superheroes is the indomitable Stephen Fry.
I can’t say I know any more about Stephen Fry other than what is already public knowledge. But what I know I really like. He is, of course, incredibly brainy. But the thing I’m more impressed by is not necessarily his intelligence and insight, but by the way we shares this with us in a way that’s not patronising or condescending. He clearly thrives on feeding his own knowledge and always seems open to learning from others which is not something all brainboxes do I think!
As a fan of language, in particular, English I also love how much Stephen Fry celebrates our crazy, nonsensical language through his studies and observations, but also own use of vocabulary. And this of course extends to his thoughts on the normality of swearing which as someone who’s never been very good at curbing that side of my vocabulary, I now feel fully justified!
I also hugely admire his utter honesty when it comes to speaking of mental health, addiction and the rollercoaster that seems to come with it. Most of us deal with our own inward struggles at various stages along the way so we can all relate to some degree. But Stephen Fry speaks with such frankness and honesty that you can’t help but listen to someone who’s prepared to lay themselves bare.
I doubt very much that I’d ever have the opportunity to meet the fantastic Mr F and even if I did – what on earth would I say? What could I possibly offer to the table?? And anyway, you’re not supposed to meet your superhero are you for fear of dispelling the myth of their superhero-ness?
So enough gushing. Whoever they may be, we need superheroes, or the idea of superheroes for many reasons: to shore us up, to measure ourselves against and strive to improve ourselves, to keep us admiring and aspiring, professionally, personally, whatever – and that can only be a good thing.
Helen Rowe, Marketing Manager, Mackerel Sky

So … You Want To Start A Business?

open-roadThis week I am developing a programme for a creative business boot camp style training programme that will help start-up creative sector businesses to understand and be able to deal with the challenges of being your own boss, running a business and producing the work. In the process of thinking about this, I was reminded of the five lessons that were shared with me when I first started:

– if you never say no, what value is your yes?
So simply people (clients) will assume that of course you will do it because you have never said no. Even when it would cost you time, money and impact on your relationships, if you always say yes, your input and ideas will never be appreciated as a scarce resource. Obviously, that’s not to say you should refuse work all the time out of some misguided arrogance but rather that you need to balance your workload and choose the right projects for you. This can be incredibly difficult when you need the work but keep your eye on your vision and take on work that helps you get there.

– plan and then adapt
We can only plan so far. For me, anything beyond 6 months is guessing so we keep our detailed planning to this limit.  If we try and go too much further (in detail), we are potentially wasting time and effort (and therefore money). So plan in overview, in general, for 3 – 5 years but don’t create plans that are then a millstone and drag the business down. You definitely need a vision and a direction of travel but be prepared to adapt to whatever life throws at you! There may be great opportunities; people may change; market conditions certainly will change and will require your business to adapt in order to maintain and build market position.

– get support
Starting up completely on your own is very hard. We all need support and someone to talk to and bounce ideas off. It could simply be a family member or friend, or it could be a more structured relationship with a business mentor, or even your bank manager. Be aware that they will have their own bias and perspective on your business and on your role in it but now is the time to be a magpie and collect people who will, between them, give you a balanced and constructive view of the situation. You may not like what they have to say but those difficult conversations are some of the most supportive and productive development discussions for you and your business.

– what’s the worst that can happen?
Now if you are starting a business that requires a high level of financial investment to get going then this may be a very challenging question. I would argue that we need to allow for the emotional risk of setting up a business as well, particularly those that are based on our personal skills and approach. It can be too easy to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the risks and responsibilities that we have as businesses, whatever our structure, so we need to face up to it and find ways to mitigate the risks involved. If it’s financial, emotional, practical, whatever the risk, by recognising it, we can start to identify how we can deal with it so that the worst doesn’t happen.

– stop every so often
You are not a machine. We are human and every so often we need a break. Even if we love what we do and we are successful, we still need to stop occasionally. If for no other reason than to appreciate how far we have travelled. When you are working in and on your business, it can be all consuming and it can feel like a constant uphill fight to make it work. So we need to stop and look back and appreciate that all of that work has got us somewhere – Hopefully towards achieving the vision that we set out in our plans.

And aside from appreciating the view, our bodies and brains can only cope with so much and they need some down time so indulge in a guilty pleasure occasionally – for me, it’s reading in front of the fire with a cat on my lap in the middle of the afternoon on a work day with a small vat of tea and a slice (or two) of cake….or it’s watching trashy TV with my family….or cooking, making chutney, cakes, bread, stews, soup…..what would yours be?

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky