Are you in your element?

I was lucky enough to see Sir Ken Robinson talk recently about his new book, The Element. A previous post covered the talk he did about creativity in children at the TED conference. He's a man with an important message who is also as funny as a stand-up comedian. Do see him if you get the chance.

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Like all great management ideas, The Element is simple and yet very powerful. To be one of the minority of people who fulfill their potential you need to seek work that combines two things:

1. Something you are passionate about and love doing. Not like. Love. Your own "adventure playground", where you do something you enjoy so much it's more like play than real work.

2. Something you have a natural talent for, that you were born to do.

In my personal model, I add a third dimension:

3. Earning enough money to be happy.

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When I look around me I see many examples where people are not in their Element. One friend was for many years a successful and well-paid trader in the City. But he hated his job. He was stressed, un-motivated and unfulfilled. His performance plateaued, and as the recession bit he was laid off, over-taken by younger, hungrier and more ambitious traders.

But how does The Element apply specifically to marketing?

1. Don't understand the consumer. Be the consumer.

I was trained at P&G that you could master any market if you had the data. But over time I'm not so sure. I think the best situation, when you can truly be in your Element, is when you work on a market where you ARE the consumer. This is why Nike only hire active sports people and Harley Davidson hire people who ride motorbikes. When you are the consumer you have a deep, visceral understanding of the market we call "consumer empathy".

2. Bring your whole self to work
Working in a company and on a brand you believe in makes a big difference and helps you be in your Element. When I see people like this they seem to bring their whole self to work, putting passion and enthusiasm into their work. I've seen this zeal in folk I have interviewed from Lush, Gu and Method Home.
In contrast, other people hang up their real selves at the door of the office, along with their coat. They go into professional marketer mode, detached and rational. Often these people don't like their brand, don't use it and maybe don't even respect the people who do. How can they hope to create passionate users, if they don't have this passion themselves?

3. Have a plan-B

If you feel un-fulfilled in your job, and not in your Element, take control of your destiny by creating a "Plan B". Or perhaps it should be "Plan E". Take time to figure out what you really want to do to be in your Element, and start planning it now.
Start right now because corporate life has become a risky business. Gone are the days of a smooth and safe ride up the company ladder, with a nicely managed career path. We now live in an age of mergers, acquisitions, cost-cutting and management re-shuffles.
And this means jobs are much more vulnerable.

I recently posted about Peter de Kruif, an ex-Unilever marketer who had a Plan E. He was passionate about the Bertolli brand he worked on, and about living in Italy. Rather than take a job on the Knorr brand in the UK, he left and started his own Italian food business, Trattoria Guilia. A man in his Element.