No matter what 2020 brought 2021 starts anew and we all get the chance to reflect. Take stock and focus on what really matters. For me that includes family, friends and work and 2021 will be no exception when it comes to focusing on doing all three as best I can. This is perhaps the first year I will seek balance as part of the mix my following top 10 will explain more.
1. What to talk about in 2021?
I was given the honour of being asked to offer a TED Talk. This offer came on the back of a Keynote I gave at a Think Network event on the prevalence and use of data and how “The Data Gods,” would rock our world. 2020 accelerated that reality and who knows if my suggested reality is indeed 2 decades away or very close at hand! Initially for my TED Talk I considered developing further my thesis to cover the topics found within my books “The Neverminds,” & “Creating God,” and my contribution to the ILM title written by Doug Strycharczyk & Charles Elvin Developing Resilient Organizations. Concepts including The Fifth V of big data web 6.0 and the impact of data capture on our lives when considered within the context of future AI. But I pulled back from penning anything further as the mainstay of my predictions of what would happen hadn’t changed despite COVID-19, which probably accelerated the race to my conclusions.
So I decided to chose another topic, albeit some of my fascinations may not be shared widely and may perhaps consequently engage on a few. So I searched through my eclectic interests and penned a talk on biodiversity.
I have seen other talks on biodiversity but yet most focused on false solutions in my opinion. The argument that CO2 emission reduction would bring a life devastated by humans back from the brink had no baring in fact, indeed our false view of recycling and waste was responsible for much more destruction of wilderness as the now largely accepted arguments of eating meat.
Only approx. 4% of mammal life is “wild,” from stats interpreted from a PNAS article promoted by Greenpeace significantly less than 1% of all the mammals by mass that were present before humanity began. I have personally witnessed the destruction of areas of endemicity such as in my beloved Madagascar in the 20 years since I first visited in 2001. Deforestation continued in 2020 at a rate higher than it had in 2019 despite us being locked in our homes. Why? There is no direct single answer. Was it in part because we all want those big houses and outdoor rooms for us and our families? Ignoring the plight of the life whose habitat we steal? We wonder why COVID 19 hit when at the heart of it all is our consumerist lifestyles. Until COVID 19 we had got away with it in the West, and yet pandemics will be a factor in our futures. Biodiversity is all but gone and the predictions of Dr Ostfeld in 2009 born true through WNV, LD, and demonstrated by SARS and EBOLA now hit “we the cause,” ie all human life in 2020. A lifetime of abundance and over-exuberance given its first reality check, one this time we had to take note of.
I ask genuinely why when we say “black lives matter,”/ “all lives matter,” are we restricted to only human lives? I coined the word “Specism” at the age of 11. I was shocked then and still today not to find it in common use but then just like racism, humanity has to go on a journey to acknowledge injustices. While they exist injustices are profitable business.
I defined specism as:
The preferencing of one’s own needs and wants as a species beyond the requirements of existence of other elements of the natural world. This includes whether it’s willful or just carelessness, the unfair treatment or extermination of a species due to habitat destruction, property development, cruelty, over fishing/hunting or over harvesting/ monoculture, wastefulness, buying too much, wasting what is bought, not eating food provided or through direct environmental impact or the destruction of bio diversity in any way.
Sir David Attenborough in his witness statement argued areas we could all accept and get behind and yet despite my respect for him I wonder if he didn’t go far enough. Surely, I felt this was a topic worth sharing?
The debate then ensued. Surely people won’t like what I had to say? I’d be telling those who felt they contributed enough, that they were still a cause of the problem. Vegetarianism is not enough. Take an animal’s life and you rob it of its life. Take its habitat and you rob us of an infinite treasure. Unfortunately we all had our part to play. I openly include myself for I do waste food despite trying not to, I live in a house beyond the essentials, I have more children than my allotment (4 in total). The burden is great for “a gadfly” in that I acknowledge that my life is as unsustainable as the next and that it must change. The considerations although potentially profound may change the views of a small band of those in the audience and then be ignored. It’s a debate worth deep consideration and requiring impeccable delivery.
With reservation, I went back to pen a second topic. I’d come full circle with my relationship with capitalism and felt the journey had taught me a few things. How does the worlds economic engine actually work? Is there a different or better way? Why did adults believe in money; was it the same false premise upon which their children believed in fairy’s?
Certainly, money is engrained in our society and yet we have both counter revolutionaries (such as Mark above) and some 1.7 Billion people remain outside the grasps of the monetary system (such as Etienne below). Having lived amongst some of those people who do not experience the monetary system during parts of my life I wonder is money really required to motivate us, or have we got it all wrong?
Is the distribution of wealth ever fair when it can be acquired as tokens (whether that be sea shells, coinage, paper or digital transaction) I looked to my time in venture capital to date and after all our pitches I can split investees into two main camps. Those that at heart believe money is what they want from VC as in money is all that matters in building and motivating a team and then those that don’t hold such beliefs. There are those that believe that people change the world. I myself hold that belief. Wealth has so many connotations for some it defines success, for others it defines them as failures and yet there is a rich and complex tapestry of reality underneath all that. Wealth is hereditary in a way; salaries tend not to be. Equally wealth is non-discriminate either of skill or of personality and intentionality. In fact, it’s normally those intent on getting the most out for themselves that acquire wealth the fastest a phenomena that I have observed many times.
I wanted to explore the concept of “the little venture capitalist who stopped believing.” I personally stopped believing in money as a way to motivate people back in 2001 when I formed DoYourService, as a poor individual I learned money and wealth did not define me. Today despite aiming to acquire it for my investors and investees my belief is arbitrarily focused on the drive and purpose behind the transaction. So much is built on money as a way of qualifying success and beliefs however money is a tool that is inadequate for the task at hand. I’d love to expand the debate around the topic and find a new way.
So I had two topics that would either ‘damage’ my reputation or would rub people up the wrong way! Not good practice for a fledgling Impact focused VC so I moved to consider an area I have been working actively in for some time.
My third penned topic was the concept of innovation and its delivery. BOOM for those I work with directly. We would be enshrined in TED X history as one of those talks on innovation that mattered. Rather than use arbitrary personal examples I could help people understand the very fabric of the topic. What is a novelty? What is creativity? What has systematisation or transferability/ optimisation got to do with the execution of an innovation and how does an innovation strategy actually work to make clear plans related to real world change. Why in fact do most venture capitalists repeatedly misname models as disruptive when they may be incremental, radical, or architectural in design?
I felt compelled to explore the concept of innovation versus direct capital return. There is a price to pay short term for innovation. The short-term returns are always less as a result of the risk level of innovation. Margins go down. It simply put is not a get rich quick scheme to innovate. Innovation’s main driver is long term sustainability and value add to GDP. Innovation drives both blue and red oceans. It creates new originations of revenue if successful and because it is invariably successful in some sense if well planned and organised by teams and firms with the right expertise then it is a constant source of new money. With disruptive and radical innovation the conceptual “money tree,” becomes the reality so despite the risks we continue. If you want to make money but don’t want the hassle of innovation use tried existing technologies in existing markets and be sure to execute as well as the competition.
So, my third topic was penned I hoped it would be my last.
You can see I have thought quite a bit and written three reasonably sizable talks. I hope each would stretch the boundaries. Which one to practice or deliver? Still considering it! Help appreciated! Only about a week to go to the big day!
Don’t worry I’ll keep my other points brief!
2. Asset Nexus, when you own the company focus on it in 2021!
The next point may surprise many! I have finally “come out of the closet” and admitted that I am a co-founder and in fact the person behind the idea of Asset Nexus. My dad died when I was 7 and it’s had a profound impact on my life, not least due to the financial burden a death puts on a young family. Now a father of 4 children I feel Asset Nexus is the type of technology we need to see in the world, to help struggling young families and would be impact investors make the right choices.
The truth is I started this company and then focused on The Change leaving Roger Mulligan, my co-founder who had never started a business before to work on the key day to day elements of the business. This was never going to work! Roger knew that, I knew that and our team at The Change knew that. For me the big mistake was how I spent my time in the business. Any contribution I made was likely to fail because we didn’t have a team in place who could execute, despite in this case having the stage appropriate money we needed in place! Had we known then what we know now in terms of what the demand for the product would be then no doubt we would have planned this better but alas we failed to predict the success that could come.
The definition of madness as we all know is doing something repeatedly you know won’t work. Yet we did it for nearly 2 years and I had my head on other things. This was not the only failure I had of this type over the last 2 years, and I’m sorry for the lack of commitment I showed. Those who read this will know who this apology is directed to. Now 2021 is the year of Asset Nexus! Watch this space for some of the great hires who will help lead our company forward. People better than either of us in their respective fields.
For Roger and me, we have begun a movement that really will change the way people are educated about legacy and financial freedom going forward. I’ll be proud to put my name to it and get behind the wheel so as to make for success.
Expect great new things! Coming soon!
Lessons learned job done.
3. Venture Capital has unlocked more than I expected for 2021…
I started out all that time ago with the misplaced self-belief that I was needed to create The Change. That there was something about me that was special or different enough that would make me a success. Wrong! I have met so many amazing people from the industry. Individuals who come from different perspectives but whom when I work with them, I help create bigger better things.
2021 is the year I will execute the training I got through 2020. It doesn’t just stop with one fund but with the creation of a methodology that creates funding for the projects and movements I and my colleagues collectively believe in.
Funding is a consequence of the right people, the right project with a prospective market. That’s the story that I tell our startups because it’s the story of The Change. What was missing was that we hadn’t in the beginning met the right people, many of them turned out not to be the answers we expected and hence we took some wrong turns. What journey doesn’t start that way?!
Many a lesson was had in 2020 and watch to see the new faces at The Change this year in 2021! This year we fill our fund and in the interim complete on some great investments.
2020 was the year we got involved with:
· Avocet Battery Materials
· Stable Innovations (Updates to be announced)
Great people great companies, all of which deserve more time than this article allows. Watch this space with our investees!
4. Revenue models have to stack up in time and place
So much of the focus at The Change is Innovation and hence it will pay off in the longer term. That doesn’t pay our team’s bills in the short-term though so we have been doing some revenue-generating engagements to fund the exercise that are beginning to pay dividends.
As with all “cash cows,” our cash generating businesses need our focus and attention and as such, where we can’t complete any of our roles beyond expectation, we will be swapping ourselves out in 2021. Time to land and expand and make hay while the sun shines, let’s bring in the harvesters!
Applied process is required to grow exceptional businesses. After all we only want to be involved in the exceptional!
5. Recruit the right people to lead your journey, Stand back and get out of the way!
I’ve spent so long training others to do things beyond the skills they started with, in general it has worked BUT it has never set the world on fire! 2021 is an epiphany; set the vision, bring in the people, target them and stand back and get out of the way!
I am currently reviewing some earlier experiments, experiments that were no doubt worth the time and energy but which never saw the light of day at the time.
Some leaders are ideas people entrepreneurs if you will, others are leaders of opportunity enterprises and at present I am experimenting to see if the right people are capable of growing potentially failed concepts now in 2021.
It’s a full hand over and step back bar guidance and I’m extremely excited about watching these ideas grow!
6. Don’t just do it, engage! A Lesson from Wallrus Island!
So 2020 ended with no social media posts from my business partner and very understanding friend Gavan Wall. I have learned so much from Gavan and I hope he has learned a little from me over this journey to change the world that we’re on together!
Gavan is the master of PR in my opinion a born natural who needs no guide on content. I am perhaps the opposite as a gadfly I think out every detail of every word lacking the intuitiveness that Gavan has.
Each morning Gavan has brought insight to others on his day to day tribulations via Linkedin and each morning he has made a major impact on the lives of others. So what needed to change? Seeing the day to day trials of a venture company may not enhance the appearance of consistency, baring our soul for the world to live through ups and downs with us may not promote the steady hand of venture driven decisions.
As a result at the end of 2020 Gavan took a new approach one which I am fully behind and support from a strategic perspective.
Between our team we have an exceptional network of successful and ready to be successful people. From millionaires to billionaires and more importantly we have the eye of a global band of world changers. Gavan is going to bring The Change Makers take to how success is really formed and it will be a series worth watching.
“The Change Makers” should be the go to place for lessons from the lives of some of our most successful compatriots.
It’s time to bring the vision behind Silicone Valley to all shores of the globe. I’m excited to share what it really is that makes an Agent of Change tick…
There is no greater lesson than the fact that engagement is needed to build success and that it takes diverse set of approaches to life to form success.
Thank you Gavan I have learned so much from you! We see the world so differently and that is so great!
7. The Gadfly “bit too much,” in 2021 action is needed over reflection!
So 2020 I had the pleasure of working with one of the most amazing, understanding and considerate individuals I have had the pleasure to meet my whole life. Sarah Doyle is an enigma she has in a period of continuous change been a shoulder to lean on. Like all of us Sarah too is on a journey and I am humbled to be part of hers.
We tried to figure out many a new process together and tried many ways to make our approaches fit. I won’t say we evolved daily but we did evolve quickly all being considered! We focused intently on doing the right thing and often our office could have been confused for a symposium on ethics where together we put the world to rights. I enjoyed every minute and yet the only world we changed in our debates was our own and we both agreed when back in the office 2021 we had debated too much and have done too little to make 2020 the success we both wished to.
From here we have a solid focus less on justifying our Weltanschauung and instead focusing on actionable SMART deliverables. Let’s accept our own inspirations and intentions rather than challenging them to death and lets set out to deliver in what is a world that needs all the help it can get.
8. Time waits for no person! I’ll look at the gifts I have been given and honed for 2021 and use them!
It’s an interesting time. One of significant global change and yet many of us wait to see what happens next. I came to accept my own mortality in 2021, and perhaps for the first time in my existence considered age in a new way. It wasn’t a “BIG” year on the age clock for me but it was one of heightened understanding of what my current age set as the boundaries in which I could play. Although some of these lessons are from previous stages in life, this year they came together in a new way.
· I am too old to be a mathematician, or a young prodigy
· I am too old, too unfit and perhaps too short to be in any way competitive at sports
· I am too old to be a young success story. Despite a life less ordinary I look back at disconnected potentially irrelevant successes with part shame
· I have spent too much time at work to have been the hands on dad I expected myself to be. Even though I make the most of the moments I take too few of them. I can’t say it’s all because of work, it’s because of how I spend my time!
· I have spent a lot of time coaching and working with the wrong people and am readily aware I have the tendency to do the same thing again
· I have made many mistakes some of which I learn from, many of which in reality I don’t
· I think too much! I deliver comparatively too little. Perhaps WHY needs removed from my vocabulary, perhaps there is another way of working with others?
· I am enormously self-critical, a stoic and a sophist rolled into one. I feel a desire to contribute to society and yet unless in the company of others take too little out of the success. I can understand the principles of equitable remuneration and compensation architecture but I struggle to be motivated by them as others are.
· My hair is thinning, I have been well overweight!
· I have met and hope have the respect of a diverse range of experts and distinguished generalists with whom together I can see the potential for world-changing deliverables
· I know myself well and accept my limitations now I must learn to apply them in sync with others to bring about successes
· To lean on others to support me in setting fair personal rewards transparently and fairly in return for what I do and achieve. So that my family and stakeholders who lose out on my time ultimately win
· To discover brand new radical and disruptive approaches through a plethora of applied expertise
· To shape the debate around key global topics as a clear voice of reason
· To shape the future of impact investment taking capitalism beyond the constraints of money and personal wealth
· To work with the best and brightest in the creation of a brand-new world
· To stand against unfair remuneration & reward within the organisations I found, engage with, and champion.
· Make life a balance rather than a chore, work is a part of life and people must love what they do, whom they do it with, and where they do it. Epicurus in action!
· A little exercise would not go amiss! 20km a week should do it as will an improved diet!
· It’s time to spend quality time with my children and wife. Making every precious moment count!
9. Time to learn again in 2021!
A tired brain is a dried-up brain. 2020 saw me learn many new concepts and required dedicated research time. I must sharpen my skills in learning at a personal level and also ensure I continue to champion life-long effective learning.
Many have missed out from the joys of effective learning through inappropriate teaching styles and ineffective methodologies and testing. I was one of the lucky ones whom testing suited but just as BLM changed the shape of race so LSM (Learning Style Matters) should shape the future of a generation of children and adults.
Although 2021 may not be a year of longform courses I commit to learn each and every day so that my brain stays bright and my attitude right.
10. Be Happy in 2021! 😊
2021 no doubt has a host of nasties ahead as well as many a good time. There is no fire without ice! There is no success without failure, Yin without Yang. Despite being a lifelong stoic, I am perhaps with age becoming epicurean.
I, like the rest of us don’t know exactly how many moments I have left and I plan to make sure I enjoy life and take what I can from the experience of it. As per the Epicureans I profess to attempt to work and pour my heart into the things and ideas I love, with the people I love in places that stimulate philosophically positive thoughts.
What a mental download! 2020 was an amazingly transformative year from BREXIT to COVID, there was a monumental social and physical change in our world and it’s up to us to apply what happened for good in 2021! Enjoy the year!