This month, Virgin Australia’s in-flight magazine, Voyeur featured a letter to my “start up self”. I’ve pasted Sarah Norris’ article below. It’s based on a number of phone calls and email exchanges between Sarah and myself.
TIM LONGHURST is a trend analyst and strategic consultant for the company he founded, Key Message, helping organisations such as IBM, IKEA and Microsoft adapt to a changing world. Here, the futurist revisits his past, offering some sage advice to his start-up self.
AS TOLD TO SARAH NORRIS
You’ll have absolutely no idea what a futurist is in high school, but it’s about then that you become more socially minded. Yo u help raise money for welfare programs and years later will campaign for issues such as climate change and the Iraq War. The activism of your early twenties will inform a lot of your philosophy and work. Collaborating with others and campaigning with humour on issues you believe in becomes one of your best decisions.
Then you become aware of futurists. An article by author Richard Neville will be mind-stretching, and when educator Jan Lee Martin speaks at your uni, it’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen or heard on campus. You study communications at Charles Sturt University because you think the advertising industry is somewhere you can be a storyteller. But it’s student life that piques your real interest.
You’ll become Student Representative Council president and chair of the student union — all stuff people consider an interference to study. You’ll also run a business selling domain names to large companies. It’s 1998 and people don’t even know what they are, but you do, and it’s a sign you can predict future trends. Although it’s not particularly successful, it teaches you a valuable lesson — even if you see an opportunity, if you can’t communicate it to the market, you won’t get traction. You’ll eventually drop out of uni and at the time beat yourself up about that choice; don’t worry, go with it.
While you’re still at uni, however, you’ll need to complete an internship. Choose to do it with Tony Abbott because it will help you discover you’re not nearly as politically conservative as you thought, but more importantly, that politics isn’t for you. A lot of the people you meet seem to have already made up their minds about just about everything political — something I’m sure is not unique to conservatives — and the lack of creativity, diversity of opinion and open-mindedness will be striking.
You’ll be a little closed-minded, too. When you’re older you realise you should have started speaking at conferences and coaching earlier but you thought you had to wait until you had it all figured out. You didn’t, you don’t, you never will. As soon as you have something that can help others on their journey, share it. Don’t let the idea of charging money for your expertise scare you because you’ll eventually speak at about 40 conferences per year, in front of more than 1000 people at a time.
Finally, don’t be afraid of your rough edges, it’ll give people something to hold onto. The more you include those you admire in your work, the more fun it will become. The day you admit you’re struggling and can’t do it all yourself is the day you unleash the creativity and support of some amazing friends.