Belfast Telegraph

Learn to obey your ‘inner compass’ in business


By Karise Hutchinson, Provost, Ulster University

Do things you believe in because life’s too short to waste your time doing anything else.

It’s advice that could sound glib, even condescending coming from the wrong person, in the wrong context — the sort of thing you might see in a greeting card or a fortune cookie.

But it was a message that really resounded at the second annual Lead2Grow conference, staged by Causeway Enterprise Agency in partnership with Ulster University at the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine.

It was a sold-out event, streamed live across the globe and attended by 200 business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs eager to hear from an expert panel on topics related to leading a business and becoming a good leader.

The man making the statement about “doing what you believe in” was keynote speaker Patrick Dixon, a world-renowned futurologist and innovator.

His advice that “life’s too short, do what you believe in” was not simply a motivational quote to be put on a poster in the office of aspiring entrepreneurs.

He was in fact making the point that the old roadmap of how you create and grow a business no longer applies and that new businesses which are succeeding today are ones driven by people who have found their “inner compass” and started from a point where their passion meets its purpose.

Patrick’s colleague Ravi Dua put it another way, advising entrepreneurs to tear up the map and instead pick up their compass — don’t just do things the way they’ve always been done, discover what you are born to do, follow that purpose and bring it to life within your business. Patrick went on to describe the world as it has become and described the FUTURE for business in a neat acronym as Fast, Urban, Tribal, Universal, Radical, Ethical.

His view is that this future world is actually one which plays to the advantage of small businesses who have the ability to be agile, to reach out and to grow their influence among certain “tribes” based on the trust they are able to build with them.

In a world where people are sceptical of big corporations, small businesses who are authentic and guided by the things they are passionate about have a much better chance of connecting with their customers.

Talking about tribes in Northern Ireland perhaps has negative connotations, but in this context Dixon was explaining that by reconnecting with our own beliefs and putting that into our businesses, we reconnect with the needs of the customer.

That creates a tribal mentality that fosters loyalty.

The futurologist illustrated the risks for businesses which are not guided by passion by noting how impatient we have all become — how, for example, we lose interest if a video hasn’t loaded within three seconds.

For business leaders that lack of tolerance means they need to connect that much quicker with their customers’ needs.

Patrick told us that he encounters “institutional blindness” everywhere he goes and that often simple things were being missed and overlooked by leaders around the world.

Northern Ireland is no exception. One example of this loss of perspective was illustrated in a simple story of his time working as a waiter.

He learned quickly that if he smiled and was speedy and courteous his tips would be good. He compared that to a restaurant he was recently at where it was so dark all the guests were using the torch on their phones to read the menu, reducing their enjoyment of their experience.

It seems simple but the point was clear — no one can take their customers for granted today. There has to be some magic created by organisations for their customers if they are to enjoy sustained success. In the 1920s a business was expected to have a lifespan of 67 years — today that figure is just 15 years.

Every business person cares about the business they have started, but those who are passionate about what they do are perhaps focused more on customer experience.

The expert panel at Lead2Grow made a similar point, highlighting that business leaders are the culture chiefs of their organisations — the ones who set the values and create the culture.

If you are doing what you’re good at and what you love, it is easier to get the right talent on board, to empower your team to become leaders in their own right and to use language that creates confidence across the business and breeds success.

It is easy to say, but maybe Patrick is on to something. Life’s too short, do something you believe in.

  • Karise Hutchinson is Provost at the Ulster University Coleraine campus

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.