I’ve worked in many industries — firstly in publishing, then in tech, and now consulting for a whole range of different businesses. The one ability I’ve seen consistently in every successful individual (and therefore the thing I try to improve in myself) is brilliant communication.
So called ‘hard skills’ are important, but will only get you part of the way — at some point you’re going to need to transmit ideas to other people and get them to follow you.
Outside of your organisation, you’ll be telling compelling stories to customers, users, clients or investors. Within your organisation, you’ll be distilling complex ideas into concise presentations, constructing a convincing narrative to motivate a team, or persuading your boss to let you try out a new idea. In the most important professional conversations you’re not trying to win an argument — you’re trying to win somebody over. Storytelling in the best way to do that.
My number 1 lesson is to not compare myself to other people. It's basic but true. I think the world is so often set up to pit people against each other "if someones doing this at a certain age then I should be doing this". It forces us to make bad decisions. At school, at university, on grad schemes we're graded and compared to our peers but I've forced myself to let go of that mentality.
There's always someone who will be younger, prettier, smarter, more successful than me, so why allow that negative energy into my life?
I make decisions based on what I want to do, live life to the beat of my own little (weird) drum and fundamentally am happier for it. When you're pushing yourself to try new things you're opening yourself up to a lot of rejection, criticism, people knocking you back. You can listen of course, but fundamentally there's nothing wrong with living life on your own terms. If we start to think about the world as winners, losers, better or worse, we start to feel unsatisfied with what we have and lose our sense of community. Life's tough enough, why add more things to worry about to it?
Founder of Fire Plus Algebra, an agency specialising in data visualisation, product development, content strategy and the communication of complex ideas. Alan formerly led digital efforts at Conde Nast, The Guardian and Time Out Magazine.