Career moves

Over at the Zumio blog I’ve posted about a recent career shift to start at Inspire Digital. Over the jump is a bit more on how I came to the decision, what it means for Arketype and where I see things heading…

The decision to take on the role came at the end of a fairly intense period of soul searching. Having taken up the challenge of starting Arketype (more under the “Ethical clothing” category), 12 months on I’d lost momentum on the project and with Zumio as busy as it was, launching the Fuzu EP as well as a shift in my personal thoughts about my career direction.

Although I’d (finally) found a designer to help develop the range, my personal motivation for the project had been waning – and considering the $$ involved in getting the range to launch I decided that I simply wasn’t as committed to the project as I needed to be for it to be a success. In Seth Godin’s words, I realised I didn’t have the passion required to make it across The Dip.

One of the key things that I realised is that I wasn’t passionate enough about the core of the business – that is clothing and fashion – to do what was required to develop the business and professional networks I would need to launch the business. This was made clear when trying to develop solid financials for the business plan and how difficult I was finding it to get good data about sales volumes. My lack of industry experience, and connections, became clear.

From the start my interest in the project was focused on developing the business concept and marketing aspects of the business, but ultimately without the core range and solid financial data all of this was secondary. And so I started to question whether Arketype was ultimately the path forward for me…

Things I learnt

I’m actually very happy about the progress I made and I learnt an amazing amount about setting up a business and about ethical clothing in the process. I often talk in my professional life about “failing early and learning often” – Arketype was a tremendous experience at putting that principle into action.

In the interests of “failing informatively” (I think I first heard that term from Clay Shirky), I wanted to list a few things that I learnt along the way:

  • Passion for the core of the business is critical – I thought that with a good concept, and a passion for the ethical and operational aspects of the business, I could build a team to look after the core aspects of the business and build it together. I realised over time that I was often having to manage those aspects of the business that I didn’t have experience (or necessarily interest) in and that was unlikely to change. Next time I embark on a project like this, I’ll be sure that I am passionate about the core.
  • Market information (usually born of industry experience) is absolutely critical, and difficult to find. While I had many ideas for the operational aspects of the business, the lack of key financial data was really the straw that broke the camel’s back in getting the concept off the ground. Next time I’ll be focusing much more closely on the financials early in the process of business development.
  • The idea is solid and the market exists – even though I was unable to get solid sales figures, every bit of my research points to the concept to be a promising one. There are still very few competitors in the space I was targeting and I think there remains a tremendous opportunity there. (And I’m happy to help anyone that may be entering the space with sharing of information, research, designs and marketing/branding materials for anyone who’s willing to pick up the torch!)
  • I am further convinced of the importance and effectiveness of contextual inquiry and similar ethnographic research techniques for testing and evaluating business concepts. The early work that I did with Natalie from Redrollers was absolutely vital (thanks Nat!) and I continue to advocate this approach in my other professional activities.
  • I was humbled by the support I received from a number of people along the way – right from the start from my former colleagues at Digital Eskimo in pursuing the idea, Nat at Redrollers, Bronwyn Darlington and her team at Rise Up Productions, Paula at the Fair Trading company and Timo Rissanen (now teaching at UTS), among many others who helped in their own individual way along the journey. I am endebted to their support.

Where to next?

More than ever I am committed to working in the sustainability field as my career develops from here.

My perspective is that environmental issues are ultimately social issues. My interest and aim is to understand how to shift public discourse and perception towards sustainable (integrating environmental, social and financial) models.

Looking at my professional experience and passionate interests, I want to work in the intersection of the following key areas:

Business and organisation

It’s my understanding that small business accounts for up to 90% of employment in Australia. Big business holds undue influence over policy and public opinion, and expose the overall social and business “ecology” to undue risk of affect by unexpected shocks (just like a strongly diverse ecosystem is more resiliant than a mono-culture). Our conception of, and the way we do, business must change to achieve a sustainable future. Our ideas of organisation are evolving with new technologies, making new models possible.

Network theory

The nascent field of “network science” holds great promise to understand how perceptions change (and be changed) and to evaluate the efficacy of social, environmental and economic models. While I probably don’t have the “maths brain” to do the research myself, I’m excited of the possibility of using learnings in this field in a variety of ways to achieve positive social outcomes.

Design thinking

I’ve seen estimates (though I don’t have the reference at hand) that 80-90% of all environmental impacts of products and systems are introduced at the time of design. Design thinking techniques (user-centered design, agile methodologies etc.) provide tools and methods to improve outcomes through better thinking and evidence based approaches.

Ecological economics

Economic thought is the driving force behind public policy and popular thinking. Our collective conception of “Growth” in particular is insidious in it’s damage to social fabric and our environment. Ecological economics provides an opportunity to both reframe “growth” in a more sustainable model as well as potentially providing realistic alternate models for economic development.

Behavioural change

The disciplines of ethnography, anthropology, psychology and sociology help us to understand the factors that enable long-term behavioural and societal change. They underpin and inform all of the interest areas outlined above.

Technology

Technology is shaping the way we communicate and interact at all levels – from global to local. Mediated communications are more and more prevalent, and technology’s impact on social and political institutions and organisation is profound. New technologies, particularly those inspired by natural and biological processes, will also play a significant role in achieving sustainability. Understanding, engaging and developing such tools will be a crucial part of our evolution to sustainable practice.

Study

I have come to the conclusion that for me to have confidence stepping towards this career direction, I would like to complete a post-graduate degree related to sustainability. I’m hoping that I will be able to begin such study next year while continuing to work with Inspire Digital.

I also hope that my time at Inspire will help develop a number of aspects of my professional capabilities, from management experience to tapping into their experience in evidence-based strategies for influencing behaviour change, further than I would have been capable of doing on my own with Zumio. While the role is not directly focused on environmental sustainability, there are many aspects to the role that I expect will help me if/when opportunities arise.

Combined, I hope this will bring me closer to my goal of working full time in the sustainability field in a few years’ time – but as always time will tell…