by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
I recently received a beautiful gift. It’s a turntable or what used to be called a record player. It allows me, now and again, to dust down my precious vinyl from the 70s. I get to listen to well-worn, scratched and cracked records like Carole King’s Tapestry, Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky or John Denver’s (remember him?) Poems and Prayers and Promises, the title track of which opens with the following works:
I’ve been lately thinking about my life’s time
All the things I’ve done and how it’s been …
Denver’s cogent couplet prompted a reflection on my own quarter of a century in the Meeting Industry and set me thinking about key milestones along the way – people who helped me, episodes that shaped my way of thinking, experiences that taught me valuable lessons.
Taking stock, calculating your personal P&L, doing a balance statement on your life or career achievements all become more and more important as you get older – not unlike your new found focus on pension entitlements or your greater understanding of the need for a good healthcare package. But, of course, linking your life or career to the cold sterility of a balance sheet is unhelpful in the extreme as so much of your “value” is genuinely intangible, off the balance sheet, locked up in what the poet Patrick Kavanagh called “the bits and pieces” of everyday work and life. But it’s still important to do the checks and balances.
Amidst my checks and balances a number of phrases floated to the surface. These are phrases linked to key insights that I gained over the past 25 years. Some were easy wins, nuggets of wisdom dispensed randomly, gratuitously, often unknowingly over the arc of a business life. Some, on the other hand, were hard fought insights, the result of painful experiences, embarrassing, bitter lessons. For what they’re worth, here are some:
No. 1 – Don’t look at the colour of the badge
Often in the Meetings Industry, at Association events or Trade Shows, we like to label or colour code each other as buyers or suppliers, the assumption being that it facilitates networking. And, of course, it does nothing of the sort bringing out the prowling predator on the supplier side and the rude and arrogant elitist on the side of the buyer. As someone who has played on both sides of the fence (to coin a phrase) I’ve attended events where I was either summarily ignored or savagely assailed. My own approach has always been to ignore the colour on the badge. Engage with everyone, irrespective of where they’re placed on the spectrum. Sometimes your best leads come from other suppliers. Sometimes your best suppliers become your best buyers. Look people in the eye and value them for who they are, not what they do.
No. 2 – Only do what only you can do
When @Supergreybeard and I started Delaney Marketing in 1994 we both did everything (and therein our fatal flaw as we were both useless at figures!) As we grew from 2 people to 60 people we were joined by functional experts in Finance, Administration, HR etc and needed a more focused, targeted approach. At an Advisory Board meeting for IHG hotels I picked up this brilliant piece of advice from Andrew Cosslett (now CEO of Fitness First):
Only do what only you can do
It’s a sound bite infused with great wisdom and applies, in particular, if you’re an entrepreneur starting or trying to grow a business. A crucial lesson for you will always be around focusing on your strengths, hiring great people to compensate your weaknesses and then getting out of the way, only doing what only you can do. This will be your greatest contribution to the success of your company.
No. 3 – Hold something back
My introduction to the Meetings Industry came in the mid to late 80s when I worked as an Italian speaking tour guide for the likes of Sue Uda, Brian McColgan, Kevin Shannon and Derek Wallace, 4 super-bright, pioneering, incoming tour operators in Ireland who today I’m proud to refer to as my colleagues. Anxious to display my vast erudition on one of my early assignments I delivered a tour de force commentary on Georgian Dublin which lasted 10 minutes longer than the drive around the Squares. When eventually I released my exhausted, captive audience for their visit to the National Gallery my driver (who spoke no Italian) called me aside and, with great kindness, said: “You seem to know your stuff but, remember, you have these people for the next 7 days. Hold something back. Otherwise when they ask you a question you’ll have nothing to tell them”. Less is more but this, I guess, is a lesson I’ll be learning until my dying day.
No. 4 – Always be learning
In the movie version of David Mamet’s great play “Glengarry Glen Ross” Alec Baldwin delivers a truly chilling speech to the assembled sales force during which he mercilessly humiliates them for their failure to convert the leads that they’ve been given into sales revenue. His famous acronym “ABC = Always be closing” reminds us of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman where Willy’s conclusion that a person’s value is only equal to his or her net financial worth leads to his suicide. It’s a reductive, dehumanised world. Personally I prefer “Always be Learning” as a guiding principle for my life. I was fortunate to realise a long time ago that learning is a lifelong process. Sometimes the lessons are harsh and eviscerating, like a game of snakes and ladders where you end up back at the start having made great advances. Sometimes they’re easy, enjoyable and pleasant. Either way it’s of lifelong duration and, whatever your business sector, you never, ever know everything.
No. 5 – Live the Golden Rule
The Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do to you – has been the cornerstone of most world religions since time immemorial. When fully lived it can bring us to a place of immense creative energy, equality, tolerance, acceptance, compassion, kindness. It has certainly been the defining sentence for my life in business although, sadly, my behaviour hasn’t always matched the unambiguous significance of its imperative. It’s definitely something that’s “easier said than done” but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be written over your desk as the ultimate piece of amazing advice that anyone could give you.
Pádraic Gilligan and Patrick Delaney run SoolNua, a boutique agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for MICE aka Business Events