Get things done… 3 easy to apply trends we’ve seen in productivity articles

  1. Make a to-do list and whittle it down to a top 3. Instagram’s head of design, Ian Spalter (who stepped down in May 2019) recommends this in the March/April 2019 issue of Fast Company P. 26. Zen Guru par excellence, Leo Babauta calls this MITs or Most Important Tasks and it’s written over and over again. So, when you get to work tomorrow? What’s on your list?
  2. Keep a journal. Keeping a regular journal will help you filter your thoughts, and it doesn’t just have to be work-related. It will help you spot trends, get clear on what you want, make commitments to yourself and keep track on your goals.
  3. Make goals. How you gonna get what you want if you don’t know what it is?! Spend some time getting clear on what you want, then you can make it work!

Online resources we love

Motivation, tech updates and market stats

To understand how creatives turn ideas into products, we love Behance. It’s a great source of design ideas too but we love it most to see how things come together. From the same house, we also recommend 99u. Both really inspiring and often useful.

To see how technology is moving and keep an eye on the future, we recommend Wired for general trends and The Energy & Carbon Blog for more information about the renewables, and low carbon industries.

Facts about the renewable industry: Consultancy firm Ernst & Young do an annual Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI)

For stats about the solar industry, check out these trade associations: Solar Power Europe does an annual Global Market Outlook, and The USA-based Solar Energy Industries Alliance does similar work on states in North America.

Do you need a mentor? Clue: you need more than one

 “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton

Do you need a mentor? Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: yes you do.

Here’s why:

Connecting with people who’ve been there, done that can really save you time and effort. Finding someone with related experience can be helpful in identifying shortcuts to tough issues. They might also spot threats which you might not because they’ve travelled this, or similar paths before.

Moreover, the better connected you are, the more you can refine and improve on your ideas (if you’re willing to listen to criticism and feedback). Many hands make light work and many minds create sparks.

A mentor could also open doors that you cannot but don’t rely on other people’s kindness without paying it back into the world in some way – either to that person or back down the ladder if you’re connected to younger or more junior people who might need it. Again if your network is strong – and no one ever said you only needed one mentor – you should be able to reciprocate on connections.

A mentor could open up new opportunities for you, and help you to break out of a small circle and a small circle mindset. This is especially important when you consider that some companies are cut throat and your colleagues don’t have you best interests at heart. Getting a third party’s advice can help. If they are not as close to the situation as you, they might help you gain perspective.

They might also call you out when you are out of order. Or help you spot mistakes.

They might be a better port of call than your boss. We’ve all worked for people we didn’t respect or like, or who didn’t have our best interests at heart but a good mentor might be more effective at giving good advice than your boss.

So what should you look for?

1. Someone who will root for you and go out of their way to help you succeed

2. Someone who isn’t going to try to compete with you.

3. I would suggest someone relatively impartial to your company’s politics and any pettiness within.

4. Someone you respect (duh) and someone you would like to impress or to put it another way: someone who makes you want to be a better person.

5. Someone who can challenge you and give honest feedback.

6. Someone well-connected.

7. Someone you would have similar skills as but not necessarily someone who’s on the exact same career path. Someone with a different approach than you, however, could also help you to learn new skills and new approaches.

8. Someone who others respect.

9. Someone you could be friends with. If this is a long term partnership, it probably will turn into a friendship.

10. Someone who you don’t feel judged by. You need to be able to say the wrong thing and make mistakes in an environment which feels safe.

How do you find a mentor?

1. Think about skills you might be weaker in, tasks you want to try but might not have tried before or people you’d like in your network – who do you know that might be able to help?

2. Make a list of people you know, acquaintances and people who might be connected to friends and colleagues – Linked In is good for mapping relationships.

3. Look for more than one – not everyone will want to help, or have time. So you might have to put yourself out there a lot and be rejected a lot. So what? It’s just not the right time for that relationship. Try not to take it to heart.

4. But do it from the heart. Speak to, email and phone people who genuinely inspire you and who you genuinely want to learn more about and learn more from.

5. Offer a quid pro quo if you can. Or link it to a cause they’re interested in and that they want to further.

6. Be specific and clear about the help you might need and how much time you need from them. That way if it’s a time issue or a knowledge gap, they might tell you and you might be able to negotiate something initially smaller and easier to commit to.

7. Keep your eyes peeled – who knows where you might meet them?!

8. Have some introductory phrases in mind:

  • “I read about your work on … project and I liked the way you …”
  • “I was talking to … and asked them who was doing great work in this area and they recommended you, I wonder if you could help me …”
  • “Would you be open to a quick chat about becoming a mentor? I would like to learn more about … and I can see this is something you’re really good at?”

9. See if you can attend industry networking events and push yourself to open up conversations.

10. Join related clubs if you can find some. Meet-up and Eventbrite are great for finding free networking events on any topic and interest.

Do you practice what you preach? 10 things I’m committing to doing for the climate

1. Going vegan – many studies show the benefits to health of a vegan diet, not to mention the difference in resources and emissions between plant based and omnivorous diets

2. Asking my company to offset my flights. I fly a lot with work. I’m going to see if my company can offset the carbon emissions in the flights we buy.

3. Cycle to work more often. It’s 16 miles but then again it’s spring so this could be quite pleasant.

4. Not wasting food. It’s the aspirational food like veg that most often goes to waste in our house. Often in favour of something less healthy.

5. Buying less clothes, second hand or much higher quality so that things last. Learning how to use my sewing machine would also be helpful. Making sure that new clothes I buy are more often made from natural fibres.

6. Lobbying my local MP. I want her to know that climate change is an issue that’s important in our borough.

7. Buying fewer packaged cosmetics. I’ve tried and liked Lush’s solid shampoo and conditioner bars and started buying solid soap instead of bottles a few years ago for our kitchen and bathroom.

8. Eating more seasonally and growing my own veg.

9. We don’t use many household detergents but I will review the ones we do buy and try to make some of my own.

10. Taking bottles of water out with me and reusable canvas bags.

Can a climate-related career help you find the world’s best job?

Scroll down for 10 questions to ask yourself as you try to figure out what your passion is, and what you can do next.

I recently came across this blog “Why sustainable investing is the best job ever” and have been doing a lot of thinking anyway about purpose, passion and how doing something you believe in can really drive you towards success and happiness at work and, you know what? I think I found it.

Like the author, I also wanted to be a rock star. I dabbled for a bit with being a journalist (unpaid) and then I fell into a job in the media industry which did pay the bills. I spent more and more time in that job, at different companies, increasing my salary, gaining experience but completely without passion.

I hated it.

So, I decided to go back to university part time and study for a degree in IT. I hated that too and met my husband who was a lot more fun than the studying, so I left the degree course. At the same time, I had relatively recently started a job in a firm that focused on renewable energy and I found that I either wanted to spend time with the man or the job, not the overly complicates maths that made me want to stick things in people’s eyes.

What was it about the role that chimed with me? Here are my own five reasons I love what I do:

  1. I think that for the first time, I was proud about what I did. I could say “I work in renewables”. It was my first brush with good business, and by that, I mean business that does some good. Now, I know the industry is not perfect, there are externalities of producing solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and the supply chain behind that is dirty, toxic and unfair but I really do believe in the importance of having access to power. I have seen the direct impact that this can have on people’s lives – from a photograph at a conference of the then deputy energy minister of South Africa of children studying by firelight, to access to clean cooking stoves and energy efficient appliances in developing nations in South East Asia and Africa. Access to power, lights and ICT is a game-changer for how people live their lives.
  • I can spend time researching the politics, the finance, the technology and I am surrounded by clients who inspired me with their own passion for the subject. This fascinates me and has really shown me how the world works. I feel like a more informed citizen and I think that’s important.
  • The money is good – look there’s nothing wrong with good business, I love entrepreneurs like Julian Richer, the CEO of the UK company, Richer Sounds who recently gave away 60% of his business to his employees, and Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard who built an empire around his own passion and whose mission statement references our planet, its finiteness and which encourages people to reduce their consumption. The issue is when people get too greedy, don’t give back to the community, don’t recognise the value of their staff, who repeatedly encourage over consumption and generally make the world a worse place.
  • I am challenged. There’s a lot I don’t understand and a lot I’ve had to get my head around many times before it sank in (I’m looking at you mezzanine finance!) but that’s a good thing. I need to keep my brain working and I love the challenge of learning about new things.
  • I feel connected to something more important than me. The work I do reminds me of how lucky I am and how many people would do so much better at this life if they had been given my chances so to not put 100% into the things I do seems like a slap in the face to every single privilege I have.

That’s all well and good, but how do you make that apply to you?

Here’s a simple quiz that will help you to explore your own drivers and passions.

  1. What do you think are the most important things humanity needs to solve? Think about what gets you really angry, and what you genuinely feel passionate about.
  2. Where do you lean? Towards technical roles, creative (which is not to say technical roles are not creative!), leadership, caring, networking, sales, on the ground?
  3. What kind of money do you need/want to live on?
  4. Do you see yourself in a public-facing role or something in the background?
  5. Who do you admire in business and why?
  6. What kind of work would you like to do? What kind of tools do you enjoy using?
  7. Honestly, what are your strengths and weaknesses – ask around if you can’t think of anything but be true to yourself and honest
  8. Which companies, charities or public sector organisations do you have near you? Would you need to re-locate to find a role?
  9. What new skills might you need?
  10. Who do you know in the industry right now that you might be able to talk to and get advice from? If no one, how might you find a mentor?

5 simple ways to really WOW at interview

Recently I read Susan Scott’s “Fierce Conversations” and “Fierce Leadership” books – and she doesn’t mean fierce in a harsh way but for “fierce” read “meaningful”. And actually so few of the business conversations we have are really meaningful. Are they? I’m thinking about this at the moment because I’m recruiting. Someone, frankly, who’d be exciting to work with, challenging and who would have a passion for the environment. Not much to ask!

We’re an exciting bunch (but then I would say that!) but we are working hard to:

  • Really take responsibility for our own work and team support
  • Exceed client expectations
  • Innovate

Very few of our peers seem to be so I am struggling to have the “Fierce” conversation Susan said I would if I used the open questions in her book.

To wit:

“How is that project going for you?”
Oh the project is going really well. We expect to make lots of money and everyone will be happy” (I’m paraphrasing)

“Why are you leaving then, why don’t you see it through…?”
“It’s the company…the marketing team…the sales guys…the IT…the feng shui…something canine ate my work”

“Right, what have you done to change the situation, to make things better?”
Huh?”
“What’s your part in the process? How are you working with the business to improve things”
“What, me? But I can’t do anything because they….” 

“Why are you looking at our company”
I’ve done some XYZ, you do XYZ” “That’s it?”
“Yea”

“I’ve got great attention to detail”
Yes, you said that twice on your CV. With a typo.

What would Susan do?!

In the interest of making this blog useful, rather than a rant (!) I’d suggest:

1. Make the interviewer feel good about themselves – they must be at least slightly bought into the stuff their company does, so should you be too.

2. Be genuine. Easy for me to say find a job you love, but really do or at least find some skills your target job will use and be able to get excited about using them. 

3. See if you can find out where the interviewer’s pinch points are – if you’re in the same industry already, demonstrate how you would help the company do better. If you’re not, ask what the company’s big ambitions and goals are for the year then show the interviewer how you’d help them meet them (and look good to their own boss).

4. Be passionate, lively, vary your intonation, avoid trite generalisations “I want to work in management” “I want to grow” “I want to work for a bigger company” and focus on specifics “I want to manage people because I think I can teach people, motivate them and help them be more effective by….” “I want to learn how to do …….. and ….., I think those skills would help me be more effective to you as a business but I have already started looking into that and I am currently reading ….. in preparation” “I want to work for a company that has more professional training since I think that I have reached the limit of what I can do/I want to work for your company because I admire your work, I have seen that you are currently…… and I would be excited to bring my expertise on ….. and contribute to that project next time.

5. Be memorable, be unique. Tell the interviewer about how you, and only you can help them with your own unique and specific skill set.

How do we encourage more women into low carbon transport and energy jobs?

“Listen, love, why don’t you give me your boss’s email and I can send him a message explaining this”

That was a comment made to a contact of mine recently at an exhibition. Never mind that her boss is a woman, nor that she would be more than capable of understanding the technology herself.

Was it intentionally sexist? Probably not. Should the chap in question know better? I think so. Does the renewables industry put people off? Sometimes. I have discussed this question with my network and the comments aren’t new but the reality is there isn’t a gender balance in the renewables industry. Particularly when it comes to technical and engineering roles.

So what can we do?

1.      Start young – if we’re talking about how to recruit more women, then the conversation is happening a little late. There is a role here for schools, parents, communities and siblings before girls get turned off technical career paths by well-meaning but not helpful peers, teachers or relatives. But there’s a role for the low carbon energy and transport industries too.

2.      Show people how exciting our industry is – we’re on the cusp of the biggest transition we’ve seen in power and transport than we’ve seen before. Everything is changing, we’re decarbonising the system but even if you don’t care about climate change (I know, what?!) the technology is cool. Decentralised generation, smarter systems, more data, more services for customers: blockchain, IOT, energy storage, low carbon vehicles, smart meters… the list goes on and on! This is a vibrant, exciting and meaningful industry.

3.      A conversation about women’s skills versus men’s skills misses the point entirely– not all women are good at so called “softer skills” not all men are born technical wizards. It’s about building a plan for the kind of company you need in the future and using diversity of gender, age, race and socioeconomic background to cover the skills gap that you need.

4.      We – the women already in the industry – are not always supportive of others–shocking but true. When was the last time you gave someone a leg-up? Business has become more competitive these days but there is room to be a strong woman in the industry and lift others up (you could lift some men up too). Aaaand, do you know the right person in your business to push this with? If you’re not an HR/hiring manager, then you need to ask them what they’re doing to plan for a diverse future.

5.      Men are an essential part of the conversation – and I’ve been so impressed to see how many take an active role in these panel discussions because they know how important it is to have the best talent in their business and – most importantly – retain and motivate them.

6.      We all need a good mentor – sometimes that’s someone else amazing, sometimes it’s you, I’m afraid.

7.      Sometimes family or life outside work has to take precedence – for men and for women and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. As long as you generally put the best bits of your professional self into your work.

8.      Draw boundaries – sometimes you will have to say “that’s not my job” or “can youmake some tea (for a change)”. Demonstrate that your skills lie elsewhere and aren’t where people are expecting them to lie, purely based on their perceptions of your gender.

9.      The road is long – this isn’t something we can change overnight but this issue is picking up momentum at the moment.

10.  The road is long but it’s full of opportunity – for us as employees, for employers and to decarbonise energy and transport, or at the very least to play with some cool tech.

I want to hear from you! What have your experiences been and what tips would you have for women in your network?