When you are working for yourself, the ‘why?’ question is one you will face many times, both from yourself and others. I believe it has a number of facets; Why me? Why now? Why this? Why not that? Simply, why?
The five whys, if you will.
I believe that in this new era of distributed, global teams working across timezones, your answers to these questions can allow you to find the teams and networks where you best fit and so can make your most significant contribution.
With so much ‘signal’ out there about ‘purpose’ (think of it as chatter/interference), it is critical to be ever clearer about ‘your why’ if you want to find others that want your unique take on the world, and have values you can work with. Values that blend and complement yours.
Because even if we disagree fundamentally on the best way to achieve the outcome (isn’t that the beauty of diversity?), shared or complementary values can connect us across continents and cultures.
In this article, I will attempt to answer the five why questions above, giving you an insight in to my values, so you can work out whether ‘your why’ and ‘my why’ complement.
So, why me?
I have always seen myself as an outsider. I went to private school, for a time on scholarship. I kept my head down and rarely felt like I fitted in.
As I journeyed through, there were people who did the exact opposite. People who put their head WAY above the parapet.
The sports champion, who won everything. The bone-china teapot drinking enthusiast with a gramophone and collection of Noel Coward records. The IT genius, now programming robots to take over the world (actually working on APIs). The newspaper editor, who believed in ideas and getting to the heart of a story. And now works as a Doctor.
People who ploughed their own furrow and who saw in me values they liked and shared.
When I think further about the ‘why me?’ question now, there are two values which impact all I do today; fairness and freedom.
Over the last 20 years, much of my work has been alongside those on the margins. Those with little power, but lots of need. Those whose voices and struggles I can amplify, using the privilege my networks and education has gifted me, getting them to take centre-stage.
At the same time, I have always wanted the freedom to roam. To see what is just round the corner. To ask the tough questions, and to follow through no matter what.
Freedom is not always easy. Sometimes, in the dead of night, I wonder where the next job will come from and whether I have peeved-off someone just that little too powerful. Usually, I drift back to sleep, uncertain of the answers.
I have also come to learn the beauty of collaboration and now the question is less ‘why me?’ and more ‘why us?’ as I collaborate with a gang of uber-talented, geographically dispersed, senior only researchers that see insight as a tool for social justice.
I have run my own business for 5+ years and love it. I love the independence and the difficulty. The chance to find out new things everyday and learn without limits.
Part of my answer to the ‘why now?’ question is ‘because it is time’.
It is time for me to keep trying things that are very difficult and learn faster. Life is short, and learning makes things hugely interesting.
I heard a podcast where one of the interviewees talked of “entrepreneurship like defying gravity”. Oh, but what fun when you take off!
I believe our uncertain times also demand I step up. Whether it is the refugee crisis, Covid, Grenfell Tower, deaths at the hand of the state, data privacy, or adults buying social care; I have always wanted to be alongside and working to design answers to these problems first hand to help people. I have also worked hard to go to places where things happen.
Like the little Iraqi Kurd girl, I met in the Jungle refugee camp in Calais.
I will never forget her head popping out of the ruined caravan, in that rain-sodden camp. Her dad was so hesitant about bringing her to the doctor with me and my fellow volunteer, an Arabic linguist and all round b*d*ss.
It was as if slipping their whole-family bond for just one second could see them parted forever. That one encounter told me more about the love between parents and their kids than anything else. It has been a gift I have carried as I parent my two.
We eventually persuaded them both to come to the camp doctor. I was expecting a plush medical tent. Instead another caravan. A huge, snaking queue of people waiting for help. And the interpreter bringing this girl to the front of the queue and getting her seen straightaway.
As her and her father disappeared, so did I. To go round the corner and weep big, angry tears. Tears at a world that forced families to trek continents. A world that allowed children and families to be unwell. A system that relied on volunteers, rather than governments, to help.
I am an insight researcher. I work with people impatient for change.
Over 20 years, I have helped respond to armed sieges, abuse scandals, Covid response, premature deaths in the NHS, the digital rights, mental health and more. Throughout these projects the constant has been to grow organisations, so they not only thrive but also deliver real change for people.
I see the two as inextricably linked. Someone said (shout if you know who and I will credit), “no margin, no mission”.
Why not that?
For me, this work is at the sweet spot of insight research and humanity defining questions.
So in summary, why?
The world needs to change.
That is what Outrageous is all about.
What’s your why?