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.


Joey Hulin, Business Development Manager



Planning for Every Eventuality …

riskassessmentIn this business we ask ‘what if….?’ quite a lot – in every risk assessment, every emergency action plan – and we can apply the same thinking to our organisations. The process of strategic risk assessment is a vital health check for a company and can highlight areas where the organisation is dependent on certain factors.

We start by asking ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ and by exploring some potential future scenarios, we start to identify the key risks that could jeopardise the existence and success of the organisation. It can be a challenging process and can uncover issues and challenges that haven’t been considered previously.

One of the major challenges is considering the key people that the organisation is dependent upon for its success.  This group may include clients, suppliers and staff and the organisation needs to understand how manageable that dependency is. If the company is dependent on one client for over 50% of its turnover, then what happens if that client contract ceases? Perhaps the portfolio needs to be revisited and new projects sought to ensure that the pipeline of work keeps moving and dependency is reduced.

It may be that the company is dependent on one or two key members of staff for managing the organisation (and avoiding some of the financial or operational risks) as much as for producing the company output. It may be that the company is built on the skills, ability and personality of the chief executive or other key individual and so there is a risk that the company’s capacity is therefore limited by the individual, meaning that the
company simply cannot grow. Let alone what happens if that key person can’t work for some reason.

For founder managers, it can be particularly difficult to critique how the company works and to plan for their succession. As much as we are taught that business is business, I would argue that it isn’t. It’s personal, particularly for entrepreneurs and small businesses. So in considering these big challenges for an organisation, we must consider the people affected by and involved in them and how we respond to those challenges also influences how we are perceived internally and externally.

There are some brilliant things we can do to mitigate these strategic risks. We can insure our key people in case of injury or similar. We can create delegation structures that share workload, information and responsibility as well as develop skill and capacity across the organisation. We can talk to other people and get support and advice from sources you trust and respect. For me, I do this by having a non-executive Board including a freelance Finance Director, all people who know a lot more than I and who I trust to advise in the best interests of the company. My Board is invaluable in assessing and managing these strategic risks, keeping me on track and enabling me to take all of those mitigating actions, enabling all of us to work to our best and enabling the company to succeed.


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

There’ll always be risk … but it’s how you deal with it

new-balance-990-boston-marathon-2014-2Juxtaposed against the saga of the Sheffield Half-Marathon, the Boston Marathon this weekend seems even more poignant.  What happened at the 2013 Boston Marathon is an event manager’s worst nightmare.  There is very little one can do to really control this but there is a huge amount we can do to manage the risk.

Before I go any further, I wish all those who were affected by last year’s bombings hope and happiness and a huge well done and thank you to all those who are running this year, raising thousands of dollars for charitable causes.

So what can we do to protect ourselves against a bomb blast? The big problem is that the most likely targets are those with high attendance and high profile which means that it’s the large scale open events like marathons or celebrity appearances or Christmas lights switch-ons or city-wide festivals that attract the attention of potential threats.  There is very little we can do to directly control where public go and how they interact with the event – or is there?  We can certainly increase stewarding and increase the capability of those stewards so that should the worst happen, you have a means to evacuate and the team works to minimise the impact.

We could consider ticketing those open events but this is a logistical nightmare and presents significant costs which, for most of these events, are untenable.  We could consider screening all those who attend but again, this is costly and not necessarily effective.  We can definitely liaise with local and regional Police to get their input into how to manage the crowds effectively to reduce public order issues and also to gain their feedback on the likelihood of threats and current intelligence.

So we are left in a position where we can really only respond to circumstances but our response is an area that we can control.  We can plan for the worst; we can bring others into that planning process so that there is a broad comprehension of the challenges and responses across the project stakeholders; we can brief our teams and provide training for volunteers so that everyone knows what to do; we can communicate to keep everyone up to speed and highlight any issues, changes or actions required.

All of these mean that we as event organisers and our wider team are prepared and hopefully we’ll never have to use that preparation. Or when something else happens, like water not being delivered, we’ll have a means to respond ensuring that the event goes ahead as smoothly as possible. So, all credit to the organisers of the Boston Marathon who dealt with last year’s bombings with calmness, consideration and humanity, working hard to save as many as possible and who have drawn on all their resource to make it
all happen this year.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events