If you do what you love …

JessGoodwinThe past couple of months have been a bit of blur, travelling across the South West and UK whilst working at a variety of events – I am writing this sat in my hotel in Manchester having spent the week at Tatton Park Flower show. Earlier this week Joey and I were chatting over dinner and how we came to know about Mackerel Sky, which I thought would be a good intro into my first blog.

I first met Claire 5 years ago; I was an enthusiastic events management student in my 2nd year at Plymouth University. Claire was a guest lecture sharing her knowledge about sustainability in events and talking about her company Mackerel Sky (then known as Event Cornwall). I didn’t speak to Claire after the lecture but I left inspired, thinking what a cool company Mackerel Sky would be to work for.

Wind the clock forward and I now work for Mackerel Sky Events. I have now been an associate for nearly 4 months and I have already had a great (and busy) summer! From day one I got stuck in, spending my first weekend at St Ives Food & Drink festival. Despite it being a long weekend, I enjoyed every minute of it. Meeting lovely traders, eating delicious food and spending 3 days on Porthminster Beach in the sun, who could complain?!? Since then I have worked at Tunes in the Dunes, 2 prestigious flower shows and I am getting ready to pack my bags for France to go to Lorient Festival (I’m a little excited for that!).

I have been welcomed into the Mackerel Sky family with open arms and so far it’s been a blast. As they say ‘if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’.

Jess Goodwin, Event Associate, Mackerel Sky Events homepage

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New is Good For You

Steve JobsI attended the AEME conference hosted By Mackerel Sky’s Claire this week and had the privilege of sitting in on a key note speech by Dr Jen Otter Bickerdike. The conference, and Jen’s talk, was themed ‘Creative Risk’.

I really liked the sound of those two words together despite the fact they could be seen as polar opposites; one suggesting innovation and excitement whilst the other, well, scares the living hell out of most of us.

Google tells me that ‘risk’ literally means “a situation involving exposure to danger”. This alone is terrifying – why on earth would anyone willingly expose themselves to danger?! ‘Creative’ means ‘To use imagination or form new ideas’. So for me, the two words together are a perfect union and bring about a whole new meaning, that is; Embark on the new. New thinking. New action.

It is not a revelation that new is what drives business forward. New is what makes sales happen, connections form, careers develop, businesses start and grow. Every new step is arguably a risk, moving from the comfort of where you currently are to where you haven’t been before with absolutely no guarantee that things will work out (oh hi danger part!) But what Jen outlined in her speech is what is key here – Things don’t work out… ‘as you planned’ but they always, always work out. The risk becomes then a challenge to trust that the new will leads you to places you simply can’t imagine… and that’s ok. What’s the worst that can happen?

There is a youtube clip that made a real impression on me a few years ago and inspired me to take a significant risk in my career and personal life. It’s a fifteen minute video of the late Steve Jobs addressing Stanford University at their graduation ceremony. He speaks of, amongst other wonderful things, how the worst things that happened to him in in his career (*getting fired by apple) led to his greatest achievements (*starting Pixar… and then being re-employed by Apple!) He talks of how you can’t connect the dots between events in life looking forward, only looking back – and I love that. I bet there are situations or experiences you can look back on now and say ‘wow that was painful/risky at the time but my god I’m glad it happened because it lead me here’. Maybe you met someone, started something, did something amazing as a result of that experience.

Taking a risk is scary. Risk is putting yourself, your ideas, your business out there. The danger is fear of the world rejecting or criticising you, or it all going wrong. But what if we viewed risk creativity and realised that staying the same could actually be more dangerous to us either personally or to our businesses. What if we take away the concept of fear (the danger) and see risk as a creative action to invite new experiences and opportunities into our lives and trust that it will lead us to places we simply can’t imagine.

Taking a risk doesn’t have to be as grand as starting Pixar but it can be something that puts you out of your comfort zone. Writing this, my first ever blog post to go up on my new employers website, is utterly terrifying but this is my new, my risk. SO, here’s the challenge for you today – do something that scares you and put yourself out there; pick up the phone to your dream client, send that press release, go to that networking event you’ve been putting off. Take a risk. Be creative. Somewhere along the line we may realise, when we look back to connect the dots in our lives and careers, that the ‘dots’ are in fact when we’ve taken creative risks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc

 

Joey Hulin, Business Development Manager

 

There’s Nothing Wrong With a Bit of Healthy Competition!

rushI just watched Rush, the story of two fierce competitors, Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Both very different characters competing beyond excellence. Their competition was before I was even a twinkle and yet their story has really resonated with me.

Both excellent formula one drivers in the 70s for very different reasons – one a technician, a perfectionist, the other a passionate risk taker. Both confident in their abilities and capacity to develop and handle a fast car in (almost) any conditions. In 1976, at the German Grand Prix, Lauda had an extraordinary accident with deep facial burns and no-one thought he would race again. James Hunt continued through the season and won enough points to contend for the world championship. It was watching James Hunt win those points that got Lauda through numerous surgeries and back on to the track in only 6 weeks! At the end of that season, Lauda is head to head with Hunt for the championship…..a deep competitive spirit between these two individuals.

Towards the end of the film, after Hunt has won the world championship, they meet and Lauda says to Hunt to get back into training so that he has someone to compete against.

The point is that we don’t want to beat our competitors, but rather have competition who is worthy of beating! Good competition means that we all do our best, work our hardest, fulfil our potential and achieve great things….so bring on the competition!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

We Tread A Fine Line Between Stress and Pressure

Stressed businessmanFeeling stressed? Epic to do list and no end in sight?

Stress is endemic in our industry with constantly high (and increasing) expectations of clients and attendees as well as the need to be great at everything and deliver amazing experiences on a budget of 20p. Let alone any personal challenges that might come into play.

It is important to recognise the difference between pressure and stress – pressure is what enables to work quickly to meet a deadline or step up to take responsibility whereas stress is a destructive force that is counter-productive. Pressure drives efficiency and effectiveness; stress can make us flap!

More importantly, stress can erode our mental wellbeing and lead to any number of mental health issues including depression and anxiety so we have to face up to how it impacts on us individually and collectively. We as organisations need to support our people in creating a workspace and workflow that is productive, adaptable to individual needs, flexible and can accommodate the challenges and changes within our work. As leaders and managers of teams, we need to flex to accommodate the personal stuff. And individually we need to recognise the symptoms and impacts of stress on ourselves and those around us.

It’s not just our industry either – it’s everywhere. Any job, any context, anybody. And we all need to do something about it. We can start by talking openly about mental health issues and creating a culture where it is ok to struggle and ask for help. Two of our third year Creative Events Management students at Falmouth University are taking the lead on this, particularly in the context of higher education, and they are running a smile appeal followed by a conference for their third year final assessment.

Ben and Hannah both have personal experience of the challenges of mental health and the stigma around it and they want to help fellow students to recognise it and do something about it. The Smile Appeal will run for a week and will engage over 20 other students in running activity and promoting the campaign, which will hopefully in turn generate interest from the 4000+ students at the Penryn and Falmouth campuses. For Ben and Hannah, it’s not about being ‘woe is me’ but rather having fun with it, making it acceptable and opening up conversations.

They are following the Smile Appeal week with a one day conference targeted at health and education organisations and practitioners as well as students. These guys are nothing if not ambitious! The point is that they really want to help others and this is not just a single project. They are crafting this project into a saleable service for other universities and higher education institutions to buy in. It’s all on a social enterprise basis and has the potential to be a truly viable business.

We need more of this to make our world less stressful and more productive, more enjoyable. So good luck Hannah and Ben – let’s make the world a better place!

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

We Can Be Heroes

bowie

We all need a hero….and we can all be heroes…

In creative problem solving methodology, there is a technique called superheroes. A technique that I introduced to the second year event management students at Falmouth University this week.

Think of a superhero. It could be a cartoon figure, a real person, a celebrity, an Imagined character.

What are the characteristics that you admire about them? Perhaps think of superheroes who complement your own skill set or bring new abilities.

Think about the problem you are facing. How would your superhero deal with it? What would they think about it? What would they do?

Perhaps view the problem through their eyes. What insight or fresh ideas does that give you?

In Mackerel Sky, we have a whole team of superheroes that everyone in the team has been involved in selecting. We use them as additional collaborators in our strategising, problem solving, performance management and evaluation. It might seem a bit bonkers to have this imaginary squad of heroes but it is just a creative (and enjoyable) way of gaining perspective and extending our thinking,

Bear Grylls is one of my superheroes and he is a member of this unique cohort because I value how he approaches life.  That is, the idea of being comfortable in your own perspective but being able to appreciate others by having confidence by being in your own natural habitat. When Bear is out on a mission of some form, he is in his natural habitat and he is confident. That confidence enables others to be comfortable with the challenge and to feel the fear and achieve.

The process of enabling one’s team to thrive and achieve is a fundamental aspect of leadership in any context so I utilise Bear’s perspective to help me see how I can be comfortable and confident in my natural habitat in order to support and enable the team.  I also keep Bear’s voice in my head supporting me and enabling me to take on the next challenge, feel the fear and achieve.

Helping someone else is a pretty heroic thing to do so I think this definitely qualifies Bear as a superhero. Who would your superheroes be?

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Work Experience Can Be Make or Break … We Speak From Experience!

Did everyone do the compulsory work experience in year 10/4th year? I did mine in a solicitors’ office in Bodmin and I entered timesheets data for a week. Dull dull dull. But not actually my worst ever….

We’ve all had challenging/ bad experiences at work and a bit of challenge should be expected as it can motivate us to overcome it and achieve the desired outcome. But if every day starts to become a bad experience, then we really need to evaluate what we are doing and what we are getting out of it. This applies to employment just as much as voluntary placements (or compulsory school work experience) but it is the latter that I shall describe now.

I was 21, just graduated from University with about a year’s worth of theatre, agency and dance work placements developed over the previous 7 years. I took an internship with a theatre company based in Brighton (the name shall remain anonymous to protect the guilty). I didn’t know anyone in Brighton; was living in digs (with a very odd cat called Wanda who used to sleep on my head); my family were all in Cornwall and boyfriend in London. I didn’t have a specific role but was a general admin assistant. None of which were in themselves a problem but all contributed to the experience I had.

I started work with this company in the September and over the course of a couple of weeks the hours became longer and longer. It got to a point where the only lunchbreak that I was allowed in my 12-14hr day was a quick nip out to the shop to by a roll and some cheese and to be honest, that was frowned upon.

The company had 5 staff but only two computers, one of which was an Amstrad green screen. In 1999 this was behind the times. I was a fresh faced graduate who knew how to use PCs and email and I am an intelligent person who can communicate reasonably well most of the time. I wasn’t allowed time on either computer but was expected to write up everything I did. In fact, the only PC was in another office which was used by one of the company directors and nobody else was allowed to use that one. So there are 4 of us trying to work using one Amstrad green screen.

Then the company prayer meetings started. Which we all had to attend and contribute to. Nothing against prayer, in fact I rather encourage it but it should never be a compulsory company activity (unless a genuine occupational requirement of course).  As a practising Christian, I found it uncomfortable and inappropriate. But it wasn’t this that made me walk out after 12 weeks.

No, it was the phone. Not the phone itself obviously but every time I made a call, everyone in the office would stop what they were doing and listen to my side of the call. When the call was finished, they would give me critical feedback on what they heard me saying telling me what I should have said instead. Now I am sure that I have made this into more than it really was but the principle doesn’t change.

I should say here that I absolutely believe in the value of feedback and that includes appreciating the context and environment in which it is given and received. This wasn’t constructive criticism, this was just criticism and over the 12 weeks it became a constant constraint on my work and progressively destroyed my confidence.

It took a stolen lunch with a freelance colleague to make me see that this wasn’t actually how the industry really works.  Even with all of the various projects and experiences that I had had previously, I was worn down so much that I was questioning my choice of career and my own ability to work in the industry.  By him reflecting the reality of the situation and with that wider knowledge of the sector reassuring me, I realised that enough was enough and I left.

It took me about 6 months to rebuild after this experience and I will always keep it in my mind when I am setting up and running work experience placements. It is part of the reason why supporting work experience is so important to me and to the company as a whole. After feeling so destroyed, I realised the incredible power that we hold as employers in creating an environment where all can thrive. This is particularly important for those who are just entering the business environment, just starting their careers. We should take particular care with hosting placements recognising that it can be a make or break experience.

I am delighted that we have over 50 work placements on offer this year, with more coming as projects are confirmed, and these are open now for applications. I’m looking forwards to creating some great learning experiences for our WEX (work experience) and enabling each one to explore their interest in events and creative project management.  If you know someone who might be interested, do suggest a placement with us – all the details are on the website!

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Are you as cool as a cucumber, or a headless chicken?

FlappersHow do you respond in a crisis? Are you a flapper? How do you prefer to make decisions?

We would probably all like as much time and as much information as possible to be confident of making the right decision about something. Maybe you feel that you are making decisions all the time with none of the time and information that you would like. Maybe having to respond without the information is an uncomfortable experience for you….however you feel, making decisions quickly about important stuff is something that event managers have to do all the time.

We aren’t necessarily comfortable with it but perhaps have developed the ability to make good decisions under pressure through practice and a bit of event intuition. I know that the decisions I make on event are based on a whole heap of activity leading up to it. I can only make good decisions if I have thought through some of the basics first and if I have completed all of the documentation so I know exactly what my parameters are.

It is important to know the legal aspects, safety requirements and production process well enough to be able to draw them all together to find a solution. And build a team around you who can help you do that but make sure you use them. In fact, get people on board who are better than you and can collaborate to create a better-than-plan solution.

With all of these resources at our disposal, we are well equipped when we have to respond to an emergency. We need that team to work to their optimum, to instinctively know what to do in their section so that we can together ensure safety for all but doing so in a professional, friendly and consistent way.  If we can do so in a way that is consistent with the overall event experience as well, then we are definitely working above and beyond the plan!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky