Five things I have learned since going solo again

It takes a bit of working through the process and decision to leave a full-time gig and boldly head off into the world of self-employment. In my case, there were two things that made it easier - I had run my own business successfully before and I was able to secure an on-going contract with my very supportive employer, at least for a while.

Perhaps what I had least thought about was whether the move would actually improve my capability and productivity in what I did. The answer is that I believe it has and here’s why.

  1. Productivity

I’m not attending meetings into which I have little worthwhile input and from which I gain nothing in terms of insights or advantage in doing what I am supposed to do. I haven’t done the mathematics on what this has meant in terms of productivity. However, what I can say is that my output has remained more or less the same and has generally been of better quality in 40% less time spent in the office.

Very basic sums suggest that not attending unnecessary meetings probably reflects the amount of relatively unproductive time spent in them. I think organisations should seriously think about abolishing group email lists that automatically commandeer people’s time without great thought about the value they add. Building a list of invitees might take a convenor a little more time, but would encourage them to think about who was absolutely essential to have at the meeting.

2. Thinking

Correlating with point 1 but with no assumptions about causation, I am thinking more clearly and, most importantly, more broadly and deeply about the issues for which I am responsible. I simply have more time and license to do it. In a similar way into which the quality and scope of news media has been diminished by the pressures of the 24/7 news cycle and social media, the daily pressure to just instantly respond to requests and churn stuff out is reduced by being able to manage and prioritise your own time.

3. Reading

Contributing to the thinking is more time spent reading. I have been able to immerse in an increased number of blog posts and articles on a much broader range of subjects and I may even get to more books down the track. My work, in particular, through the broader perspectives brought to scenario planning and social, political and economic influences on events, is being enriched.

4. Creative

In corporate life, you’re constantly dancing with the devil that is groupthink. Workplaces are communities like any other. Over time, mythology builds within organisations, much of which is bunkum and based on personal opinion. That’s why I love research and data analytics. Teams working in these areas are the real organisational mythbusters and pave the way for creative thinking and disruption.

You cannot underestimate the environmental influence as a factor impacting creative thought. As you repeatedly walk into your work environment over time, it can envelope you in a cloak of physical and mental behaviour that is of itself a constraint on creativity. Busting the mythology and the routine unleashes the neurons to create new connections.

5. Risk taking

There is little opportunity in most corporate environments to really take risks. Risk aversion seems to increase with scale - sort of like being radical in your younger years and transitioning to becoming morbidly conservative as you accumulate assets and have more to lose.

Even training frameworks become more rigid. For example, since going solo I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of software, exploring and learning new skills and developing new capabilities that data and malware paranoia precludes in the corporate world (with reason, I should add).

These five things are elements of work life that are important to me. Others may, for example, have low tolerance to risk and hate learning and working with new technology. Others may think some of the things that make my job rewarding are really just ways of frittering away time that could be better spent responding to their email or attending their meeting.

It matters not. The decision to go solo might result in crash and burn, but the adrenalin rush is great and worth thinking about at least once in your life.