One of the great pieces of wisdom passed to me by my dear Dad was that showing interest in others and giving people time, will stand you in great stead.
You never know who you’re going to meet. You never know where a chance meeting takes you. He was right!
I got my first major job following my Dad’s advice. Meeting a Managing Director of a tour company in the south of France we got chatting. I was on a working holiday. He was waiting for clients arriving on a plane from London. Fast forward nine months later and I have my first job after graduating.
Whilst most of my cohort were based in public service offices after completing their degrees, I found myself based in London and the south of France. Incredible.
A year later I had to be reminded by the same Managing Director that in my work I need to always give people time. Never dismiss people. You never know who they will speak to about you.
It’s a small World! He reminded me about this because I had made a couple of rookie errors in my attention or lack of attention towards a couple of our clients. It was a lesson to be remembered.
When you’re in your twenties and thirties, the World seems far from small, yet as you get further into your career, be assured, you realise how small and connected the World is.
I have had so many instances where people I have met and shown interest in, have opened doors for other opportunities and in other instances led to connections with the most amazing people.
I was appointed to a senior role at Standards Australia due to a deep relationship I formed with the future CEO when I was working at Ernst & Young. I spent five years in the role.
I spent ten years at The Wiggles due to friendship, work and support I had developed over several years prior to my appointment.
I joined the Sydney FC as emotional agility and mind coach due to a trusting relationship with Terry McFlynn and subsequently joined Graham Arnold at the Socceroos.
The way we treat others defines us. It becomes habit-forming; good, bad or indifferent.
What do you notice about your responses to a conversation, a call, an email from someone you don’t know or do know? What’s your approach when you meet new people?
What’s your response when someone who is linked to you, makes contact and seeks a meeting about a possible business opportunity?
I have been curious about this, particularly given the current World order and have asked these questions of several people recently. In virtually every instance, there’s an acknowledgement that we are far too quick to dismiss or ignore people. We’re too busy or simply don’t see it of value.
Right now, across the globe, there are many thousands of people who are feeling vulnerable and lonely. Unable to fulfil their usual roles. Unable to apply their skills when their organisations are struggling to survive.
I am thankful that at XVenture we’ve found a different way of working. Of course, it’s been difficult but we’re the lucky ones. But what of those who aren’t so? What’s our response for such people?
A couple of weeks ago I had one wonderful week with a group of young people who have been challenged by this changing environment. Most of them are members of the Australian Olympic Team who were fine-tuning their preparation for the Tokyo Olympics. We know this didn’t happen, but what’s next for all of these young people? Rather than ignore their plight, I felt obligated in my role as a specialist in providing emotional support to elite athletes to help.
We created a unique XVenture Mind Games program to bring them some joy and to start a process of putting the spotlight on them. Through these activities, it became very clear that just showing attention helped several of these athletes to feel they were of value and that they were cared for. Interestingly and surprisingly, several athletic associations didn’t respond to the offer of providing this to their young people. A deep example of a habit. Unfortunately as a result, some athletes missed out of this joyful experience.
XVenture headquarters is located in a stunning location by the lake at Narrabeen on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. In fact, some of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes we were with during Mind Games, train at Narrabeen. It’s a little isolated, so we tend to stock up the office fridge with food provisions for the week. This is best achieved by dropping into the local Woolworths at Narrabeen village which is about a fifteen- minute drive away.
On this particular Monday morning, I was driving from my home at Avalon Beach to our headquarters for work and decided to stop at Woolworths. Milk, butter, bread for toast, some fresh fruit, roast chicken and so on. I picked everything up and then proceeded to the automatic checkout. Typical experience for me. I might be a Professor and TV Director and writer but still haven’t mastered the auto-checkout fully.
I called for help and in a few moments, I had a staff member come to my aid. A masked man arrived and fixed the problem efficiently and effectively. I appreciated his support and help. He had a warm attitude and I noticed his northern English accent. He noticed mine and asked me where I was from. It turned out we had grown up not too far from each other. He’s from Ellesmere Port, on the Wirral, across the Mersey near Liverpool. Myself from Stretford in South Manchester. We got chatting. How long in Australia? Ever go back to the UK? Family still there? Liverpool or Everton supporter? Manchester United or Manchester City? The banter had begun.
It was early and quiet at Woolworths, so we were able to have this nice chat. In recent times I've tried to become more cognisant of taking more time to be in the present. We have a habit of missing what’s in front of us. Me included. I also thought that whoever had appointed this man into a frontline role was smart. He was articulate, friendly, interested and interesting. I became curious. Curiosity is without question one of the most important skills I’m trying to teach and educate for these times. It’s important for any entrepreneur. For any employer, any employee. For all of us.
Consider these quotes.
Walt Disney said, "Curiosity. It keeps us moving forward, exploring, experimenting, open new doors.”
Albert Einstein said, “The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.”
Finally, Stephen Hawking said, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wander what makes the Universe exist. Be Curious.”
If it’s good enough for Walt, Albert, and Stephen, it’s good enough for me!
As I paid for the provisions, we said our goodbyes. I asked him what his name was. He told me it was Billy Ryan. I asked him about his role. This wasn’t his real profession. He was a photographer!
Back to XVenture headquarters and coffee in hand, I checked out Billy Ryan on Google and got a big surprise. He was a World-class photographer who has worked with some of the highest-profile people in our life. His website was like a Life magazine. David Bowie; Julia Roberts; Bill Clinton; Princess Diana the Rolling Stones and many more. Photographs of indigenous leaders, brands, the Olympic Games and many special moments in history.
To capture such images, it was obvious that he was a rapport builder with expert communication skills. He has had to build trust within a small- time frame to take a photograph which would sell a story, a newspaper, a celebrity, a brand.
A few hours later and Billy is sitting in the XVenture headquarters with a cup of tea in hand. I was curious about his story. As fascinating a human being as I anticipated. A humble man who is currently unable to apply his incredible talent. Instead, he is working at the checkouts in Woolworths. He’s grateful for the work and it’s seemingly not affected his positive perspective of the World. He still observes much, even from his current position. Every day he sees and learns something new. I asked him where his resilience came from. How is he not disappointed with the c situation that he faces? “It’s how you’re brought up!”, was his response. One of seven children, he learned, that the only way you can really make anything of your life is hard work, dedication and a commitment to learning a craft that you become passionate about. "Life has ups and downs. It’s how you treasure the great moments and know that difficult times will pass."
In a couple of hours, he was generous in sharing so much knowledge about the real art of photography. Light, focal lengths, apertures, shutter speeds and film. Camera bodies. Lenses, developing black and white and colour images. He is without question a master craftsman. I was enthralled as I had spent many hours of life intrigued by camera and photography. In my younger years playing with a second-hand Russian Zenit camera and in more recent years directing and producing for tv.
The incredible imagery on his website captured unique moments of many people who we recognise instantly. However, the quote on his website was just as captivating:
“The power of imagination allows a photograph to be created, the pictures are there ... you just have to make the difference.” Billy Ryan
This resonated with me greatly. Think about every new creation. Every new innovation. Isn’t this the case? XVenture Mind Games virtual world programs were staring me in the face. It just required me to be open, to notice, to be present and put it together.
A few months ago, a journalist asked me where the inspiration for such programs as: XVenture Mind Games; the XVenture Family challenge; the XVenture schools program; the EARL measure came from. On every occasion it’s emerged from a deep curiosity in people. Once you have this genuine curiosity, connections become the norm. This is another reason why that advice provided by my Dad is significant. Since covid, I seem to be connecting with people at a deeper level. Open your heart and mind and be present with people and creative opportunities emerge.
I remember being in Miami a couple of years ago, walking one day along the oceanfront. I noticed the many people taking selfies of themselves. At the time I remember thinking that this growing fascination with ourselves; this self-absorption diminishes our ability to see what’s around us. Some of my favourite moments with family and friends and indeed on tv sets and working in elite sport occurs when I take my focus away from me and my tasks and just take in what’s happening. I see more, I learn more and it leads to new avenues of opportunity for growth and development.
Since meeting Billy Ryan, I have been reflecting on why I admire such people. I now realise I admire two types. Those who are really good at what they do and are humble with it; those who will always be willing to spend some of their time with you without looking for anything in return. Billy Ryan has both. A unique combination. It never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t get this. Do you remember who helped you get to where you are? Do you acknowledge this and give those people time and others who might also need your help? This is a key area of reflection that’s considered in the EARL Measure (our survey instrument).
Covid has brought changes in our life that we could never imagine. We need to help and support each other. It does and will pay dividends. The XVenture business could have easily fallen over but by being in tune with our surroundings and accepting that not everything goes to plan we’ve got through it so far. I appreciate the people who have helped us on this journey and am learning more than ever that by supporting those who support us, we become stronger and will win together. Incidentally, Woolworths has been one of our supporters during this difficult time.
I have no doubt that Billy Ryan will continue to support others, despite the challenging time he has been facing. He understands paying it forward. He is very much aware of what’s around him and has a deep curiosity and empathy for others. He and his art caught my attention and no doubt many others will follow.
As a by-the-by, I spoke to another friend of mine on the same day. A long-time executive in the music industry. I mentioned Billy who I now know had a significant track record on photographing the world’s biggest stars. My friend said “Billy? He’s a great guy!"
As Jeff Bezos said: “Your personal brand is what others say about you when you leave the room.”
We will be hearing a lot more about Billy Ryan. We have plans! Check out his website
It’s amazing what can happen if you give people the time of day. I am an optimist!
About Mike Conway – Founder & CEO, XVenture
Hon. Prof. Mike Conway has built and led Global teams and organisations. He’s a Leadership Expert, Writer, TV Producer and Director, Keynote Speaker and one of Australia’s leaders in individual and team growth and development. His extensive expertise spans across healthcare, business, entertainment, education and elite sport. The outcomes of those who have, and are working with him have made for consistent stories of success.
If you’d like to have a go at the EARL Measure and receive your automated results, head to https://earl.xventure.com.au/
If you’re keen to know more about XVenture Mind Games – the remote virtual reality solution used by businesses, elite sports teams, high schools and universities, please head to www.xvmindgames.com
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