Happy new year! Hope you had a fantastic end to 2021 and that ringing in 2022 has brought some level of joy, whether that was with family and friend or - in my case - early nights, big sleep-ins, and having no expectations on myself for a few days.
I just published my 2020-21 Year In Review on LinkedIn, the theme of which was 'Finding Purpose'. Naturally you can check it out there or if you're feeling lazy, I've also replicated it below.
Now heads up, this is quite a long article (~9 min read time) that gets quite deep and personal, so here's the TL;DR summary of the key points I cover to help you decide if you want to read on:
With the tumultuous 2021 now behind us, I finally find myself with some breathing space to sit and reflect. I also just realised that I skipped a Year In Review last year but then again, since Covid reared its ugly head in early 2020, the past 2 years really feels like it's been one big journey (as I'm sure it has been for many).
In 2019, I wrote that it was a year of 'Finding Alignment', by which I meant it was a year in which I had begun to align my intellectual and emotional selves. I stopped letting my brain override what I felt, and listened a great deal more to my emotions and intuition. For those familiar with the Multiple Brain Preference Questionnaire (MBPQ) type of thinking, another way of describing this is an alignment of the head, heart, and gut brains.
The net result of this alignment meant that I entered 2020 with a greater sense of self. I understood and focused my energy on things I found nourishing, I stopped over-intellectualising things, and I let myself 'go with the flow'.
And then of course Covid happened.
At this point, my sole focus was ColourSpace. I had graduated from the Collider Accelerator program in mid-2019, welcomed on board a fantastic Advisory Board, started to find our product-market fit, and almost tripled our revenue within 6 months. I was gearing up for a big 2020 when lockdown threw 'a bit of a spanner' in the works. I am now running a business that services offices... whilst offices were all but shut down, if not facing an existential crisis.
So... what on earth am I supposed to do?
As was the case with many, the lockdowns in Melbourne forced me to become quite introspective. What is it that I actually do? What's my purpose? It doesn't help that I've had a bit of a 'portfolio' career that covered everything from tech consulting at Accenture to management consulting for the public sector, launching a financial literacy app, and founding an arts social enterprise. So... why do people come to me? Am I an entrepreneur? A consultant? Someone passionate about art and creativity? Leadership? Social impact? Startups? Philosophy? All of the above? I don't know.
It was around August 2020 when we realised that Covid was here to stay that I posted this sentiment: "Today is not about what I can't do. It's about what I can do."
Based on this mantra, I embarked on a bit of a quest to figure that out. I recorded and published videos on LinkedIn covering everything from 'pragmatic optimism', livestreaming working hackathons, running an interview series called Open Minds where I explored long-form conversations with interesting people, and of course, the obligatory sourdough bread article.
My LinkedIn tagline throughout this period got quite a workout, cycling through various iterations of 'I help people create social impact' to 'Everywhere I go, I help people create human-centred, innovative solutions to big problems'.
Then I realised in a moment of existential crisis: "Hang on... if what I do is centred around helping people, what's my purpose if people don't need my help?". My LinkedIn tagline got another round of workouts, cycling through 'Creative Strategist', 'Idea Craftsman', and 'Design Thinker'.
Somewhere along the way, I interviewed over 50 people from around the world to explore what other people thought about purpose, resulting in an accidental white paper on what it means to be Purpose-Driven.
I also joined the Thought Leadership Foundation Program, lead by Matt Church and Peter Cook. For those unfamiliar, this is a program that teaches people how to refine their ideas and IP, leveraging them into various modes of delivery. Whilst this program is designed to help people turn their knowledge into financially viable business practices, what it did for me was help structure my ideas in better ways, done via a methodology called Pink Sheets.
As with my LinkedIn taglines, I churned through numerous pink sheets, generating models on everything from business design to social impact to ways of thinking. Ultimately, I could feel that something still didn't quite sit right. It all felt just a bit too cold, too corporate, too... at arm's length, And it wasn't just me; reactions to my experiments on 'purpose' were honestly kinda lukewarm. My friends still didn't really get what I did, and honestly neither did I. Cue sad violin music.
It was around this time that I had one of my fortnightly calls with my best friend. For the past couple of decades, we would catch up for long, in-depth conversations where we would go deep on our thoughts. We would dissect our mental models, prosecute biases (which we shorthand to 'sneaky f--kers'), challenge beliefs, and explore new perspectives. These were nourishing, energising conversations that I absolutely loved, where my brain was firing on all cylinders and I could see ideas and concepts dance around me.
And that's when it dawned on me: I really love to think about thinking. The one constant that's been with me ever since high school was an endless background hum of: Why do people think the way they do? Why do people react differently in different circumstances? What drives people? Why do people think differently in groups? And by extension, how do I think? Why do I think the way I do? How can I think differently? What new perspectives can I embrace that expands the way I think? Furthermore, how can I help other people explore new perspectives as well?
In other words, the domain of 'self-awareness'.
For me, this was a huge, resonating moment of clarity. This is the 'thing' that connected large swathes of my life together. The shows and articles I'm most drawn to, the conversations where I felt most energised, the activities I participated in, and even how I approached my career. If it helped me expand my scope of thinking and my perspectives, I was drawn to it.
A wide spectrum of experiences means I can jam different perspectives together to create something new, which is both fun for me, but also beneficial to others. In my time as a management consultant, I loved designing new tools that changed how people worked. I would take ideas from web design to nudge theory, and then apply them to a PowerPoint report to make it easier for people to make critical decisions on complex matters.
What does ColourSpace fundamentally do? We bring art – a visual and often emotional expression of different ideas and perspectives – and change them in a shared environment, creating a physical environment where people are exposed to different perspectives.
As part of writing this very YIR, my best friend and I played around with theories of electromagnetism and how it applies to 'true norths', leadership, and polarised communities (future Ko Lab).
With this realisation, several other things also fell into place. If 'self-awareness' is my domain, then 'curiosity' is the tool that helps me cultivate it further. In February 2021, I launched Curiosity Journals with business partner Ian Mason, a tool that structures curiosity in a way to help people ask better questions in order to better diagnose problems.
In April 2021, I joined Leadership Victoria. As a graduate of one of LV's programs back in 2019, I knew first-hand that the way LV cultivated leadership behaviours in people was highly aligned with the way I think. The programs teach people how to engage unusual voices and perspectives, to better diagnose problems from different perspectives, etc. And what's more, because its raison d'être is to create purposeful leadership for an inclusive, equitable, and sustainable society, it was also aligned with my experiences in social impact.
And whilst I am currently in the seat of Acting CEO at LV, I've also come to realise that this isn't what defines me, nor is 'Founder of ColourSpace'. I am simply me, a pure amalgamation of all of the experiences and perspectives I've gathered over the years, that I jam together in the service of helping those I can, wherever I might be.
At this point, some of you may think that what I'm describing is my 'true north', which is also referred to as a 'calling' or an amalgamation of values, beliefs, and purpose. That may indeed be the case (and I'll cover it in future Ko Labs) but as I wrap up this Year In Review, I want to reflect on and offer something meta: Everything I've described in my journey thus far, I've only been able to articulate in hindsight. The themes I've described have emerged over time, as opposed to something I could clearly articulate that drove me in 2020-21.
Why is that distinction important? Because I think that sometimes, there can be an over-emphasis on being able to articulate what our personal true north or purpose is. In fact, I was rejected from a program because my 'true north' wasn't clear enough. Thus the focus on having a clear purpose / true north can be quite stressful and – in speaking to others – I know I'm not alone on this. I liken it to asking a high schooler: "What career do you want to pursue for the rest of your life?"
The reality however is that whenever I thought I found my purpose, a few months later it turned out to be not quite right. I either learned something new, or circumstances changed, or it just didn't sit right. You can argue that it just means I've not yet found my purpose / true north, but my argument is: Even if that's the case, how do I know it won't change or evolve? Coming back to high schoolers, there are highly viable career paths now that did not exist 10 years ago.
Thus my biggest realisation of 2021 is this: 'Finding purpose' is not about the purpose, it's about finding
Being in a state of 'finding' means I continue to remain open to exploring. Just because I've found my purpose now, that doesn't mean I stop being open to new perspectives, experiences, and changing environments.
I believe that the act of 'finding' pushes me to remain in a state of curiosity, of growth. It means I get to remain in 'the grey', which is where all the great ideas and new perspectives gestate. It allows me to recognise that there are different, concurrent paths I can take, and that it's ok to show up as a complete amalgamation of all my experiences.
And as part of that ongoing journey, things like true norths will continue to emerge and be refined. I'll finish this YIR on a preview of a model I'm working on that aims to encapsulate everything I've described above, and will be the subject of a future article. [Update: 11 September 2023 - The article has now been published here]
So looking forward, what does 2022 hold in store for me? What's the next dot on that chart? I don't know. But I'm quite ok with that. Whatever I find, I'll be sure to share.
Happy new year everyone!
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And if you come across anything you'd like to 'Ko Lab' on, send it my way! I'm equally keen to learn about and share new perspectives and thoughts.
Have a great week!