Reinvention – a story

As a professional speaker, I have the opportunity to sometimes hear a truly great speaker with a fantastic message. You might know the kind – its when the message and the experience stay with you months after others are forgotten. It is what I aspire to be. But the speaker I have in mind is a man called Damian Mason. I heard him speak at the National Speakers Association annual convention in Washington, DC, last year in July 2015. Now a year and a month later, I am still referring to what he spoke about. As my memories may be a little clouded by time, please don’t hold my account of his story against him, but hear instead the message that I am sharing second hand. Damian started his professional speaking career in a way that very few of us do: he was a professional political impersonator. He could pull off Bill Clinton in such a believable manner, that this country bumpkin was fooled for a good long while until I caught the joke.

As a professional speaker, I have the opportunity to sometimes hear a truly great speaker with a fantastic message. You might know the kind – its when the message and the experience stay with you months after others are forgotten. Its what I aspire to be. But the speaker I have in mind is a man called Damian Mason. I heard him speak at the National Speakers Association annual convention in Washington, DC, last year in July 2015. Now a year and a month later, I am still referring to what he spoke about. As my memories may be a little clouded by time, please don’t hold my account of his story against him, but hear instead the message that I am sharing second hand. Damian started his professional speaking career in a way that very few of us do: he was a professional political impersonator. He could pull off Bill Clinton in such a believable manner, that this country bumpkin was fooled for a good long while until I caught the joke.

“Bill Clinton” spoke from the main stage at the convention, entertained us hugely and gave me a copy of Hilary Clinton’s autobiography – which is even more impressive now with her being the first ever female official candidate for the Presidency of the USA. But I digress. When I discovered that the man playing Clinton was doing a break out session on “Reinvention”, I signed up without hesitation. And I was not disappointed. Damian Mason was the epitome of a professional speaker: engaging, authentic and entertaining. And he gave us huge value without dumping content on us. And he inspired me to look honestly at my career, both as it is now, and as it could be.

Briefly, his story is so: He was making a good enough living from impersonating Bill Clinton, which seems to be big business in the States. He knew that that gig would not last for ever – after a new president came into office people wouldn’t be hiring “Bill Clinton” anymore. So he anticipated the future, and started to define where he could be a few years down the calendar. He explained his process of reinvention, including assessing his strengths and weaknesses, looking at his past experience and work, his qualifications, being honest about his talents and developing the right ones, determining what type of family and work life he wanted. He eventually worked out that he could create a profitable niche working as a business advisor to the farming industry. This might not sound too impressive in South Africa, but for the North American market, he had just defined a profitable and valuable niche. A few points stood out in his process:

He had his wife’s full support. She wanted him to work this out and do his best work and she stopped him from selling himself short when he got frustrated and wanted to quit and get a regular job. In the speaking industry, a partner like that is rare and to be treasured. He stayed busy. In the long months when his process wasn’t working, he worked part time for a friend as a landscaper – not because he needed the money but because he needed to be busy and see something literally develop from his efforts. It was a great mental and emotional tool he found in healthy busy work. He went back to school. In his case, and I will confess some envy, he got to go to Chicago’s Second City and learn to develop his humour in their very highly regarded programs. He could afford to go back to school because in the good years he had saved up money, and in anticipating a reinvention of his career, had put even more money aside to give himself space to work this out.

One of the biggest lessons he learned during this time though, was that although he planned this well and thought that he was being reasonable, he misjudged how long the process would take. He thought that reinvention from political caricaturist to business / agricultural specialist would take in the region of 6 months. It took 5 times longer than that. Two and a half years before he could say that he was rebranded and earning properly in his new field. That was a bit of a shock to me. But happily I am a year down the path and well on my way to the area that I want to be working in.

And what about for you? Are you happy where you are? Is your industry changing or are politics, legislation, technology threatening your livelihood? Then maybe you need to start looking at reinventing yourself and your career.

Reinvention story Futurist Charlotte Kemp

Reinvention – a story

As a professional speaker, I have the opportunity to sometimes hear a truly great speaker with a fantastic message. You might know the kind - its when the message and the experience stay with you months after others are forgotten. It is what I aspire to be. But the...
Premeditatio malorum

A Pre-meditation of Evils

Premeditatio malorum, a premeditation of evils, is the Stoic exercise of imagining what can go wrong. Think of it as the opposite of ‘positive thinking’ - the practice of negative thinking that allows us to imagine the worst, get all the emotion out of they way, and...
History to future futures thinking Charlotte Kemp

From History to the Future

History at school I was talking to a History teacher recently at a regular parent / teacher meeting. At some point I rather gushed that History was my favourite subject in school which prompted the teacher to ask me what I do now for a living. I answered, that I am a...

Don’t Wait Any Longer. Start Learning to Read the Future, Today!

A Pre-meditation of Evils

Premeditatio malorum, a premeditation of evils, is the Stoic exercise of imagining what can go wrong. Think of it as the opposite of ‘positive thinking’ – the practice of negative thinking that allows us to imagine the worst, get all the emotion out of they way, and then begin preparations to either avoid or ameliorate the damage of the worst case scenario.
It was a Thursday morning. I was sitting in an old, well worn leather guest chair in my lawyer’s office. I remember the chair because my hands were slick with sweat and kept slipping off the arm rests as I tried to grip them. My business was in its death throes and I had turned to this man for legal advice. His recommendation: make the decision to close my business down, before somebody made it for me. Then I asked this significant question: What’s the worst case scenario? And he told me. “Well, one of your creditors, probably one of the bigger, more experienced corporate ones, will realise that you can no longer honour your payments, and then will try to recover their losses. If you have their capital equipment, they will repossess them. If you owe more than what they can recover, then they will look to you personally to honour the debt, as you signed personal surety.
“You can expect a visit from a Sheriff of the Court with a court order to take possession of your personal assets so that they can sell them in a public auction to cover the debts. “The sheriff will arrive early in the morning, before you take the children to school. They know that people in your situation normally duck and dive, so they want to get to you before you leave your house for the day. “He will serve you with the papers, and then come in with some police officers. You and the children will probably sit in the lounge while they take an inventory and then they will get you to sign for the assets that they take.” By this stage I was no longer listening – it was difficult to hear over the roar in my ears and the nausea was making it difficult to concentrate. Then he leans back in his chair, waves his hand in the air and says “But then again, it may not be that bad.” I sat up again and paid attention as he outlined a less-than-worst-case scenario. I took action after that meeting, drew up a list of all my assets and all my liabilities, both personal and in the business. I liquidated what I could, retrenched staff, including my parents, made arrangements to pay the smaller accounts. Then I approached some of the bigger ones, armed with total transparency. In the face of a clear statement of accounts and facts, we made certain arrangements. But one day, the Sheriff of the Court did come knocking at my door. It was 11 am, not first thing in the morning. And my children were already at school and did not have to experience this. Immediately I recognised that this situation was not the worst case scenario that I had envisioned before. The Sheriff was a very polite, older man and accompanied by only a uniformed driver. Strike two against the threat of ‘worst case’. He came in, showed me the paperwork and explained it patiently. The Court Order did not in fact say that my assets could be taken. I listened, showed him my accounts and my paperwork and explained what I had done to address my situation. He advised me how to approach the woman responsible for payment arrangements as he had dealt with her often. His advice helped me to secure a simple and affordable repayment plan which immediately resolved the threat and pressure of that debt. Two weeks later, the Sheriff returned. This time he apologised – to me – for having to bother me again. This Court Order did say that, at his discretion, my assets could be seized. He came in for a cup of tea at my old, round kitchen table. We discussed the paperwork and he looked around, casually, from his chair, without taking inventory. And then he uttered magic words. Have you ever heard something said to you that creates two opposing emotions at the same time? He said to me “There is nothing here worth claiming to settle your debts.” My immediate emotions were relief as well as “What’s wrong with my stuff that its not worth enough for you!” But of course I kept that to myself. I was very relieved to keep my old, round kitchen table, second hand piano and ancient TV set. His report to the suppliers, was that I had nothing worth taking. His advice to me, was precious. Again, he advised me how to approach the suppliers and negotiate with them, and again I was able to create a payment plan that relived my immediate situation, even if it has become a long term commitment.

So how did this premeditatio malorum exercise work for me?

Because I had imagined the worst ‘evil’, I had already experienced the unpleasant emotions. My brain had already been flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. I had already played out a dozen scenarios about how best to deal with this situation. That meant that when the Sheriff arrived at my door, I was calm, could assess this as not my nightmare but just an unpleasant situation. I already had my paperwork and figures ready. And I could put my fears aside and be polite to another human being doing his job instead of being reactive and angry and embarrassed. That means that his response to my behaviour was better than anticipated. He coached me to a better outcome than if he had just delivered the papers and encountered the typical response that a person in that extreme situation would face. By imagining the worst case scenario and preparing for it, I created an event better scenario than predicted. This is the value of strategic foresight – not just making a business plan for ideal circumstances but also planning for non-ideal scenarios.

Reinvention story Futurist Charlotte Kemp

Reinvention – a story

As a professional speaker, I have the opportunity to sometimes hear a truly great speaker with a fantastic message. You might know the kind - its when the message and the experience stay with you months after others are forgotten. It is what I aspire to be. But the...
Premeditatio malorum

A Pre-meditation of Evils

Premeditatio malorum, a premeditation of evils, is the Stoic exercise of imagining what can go wrong. Think of it as the opposite of ‘positive thinking’ - the practice of negative thinking that allows us to imagine the worst, get all the emotion out of they way, and...
History to future futures thinking Charlotte Kemp

From History to the Future

History at school I was talking to a History teacher recently at a regular parent / teacher meeting. At some point I rather gushed that History was my favourite subject in school which prompted the teacher to ask me what I do now for a living. I answered, that I am a...

Don’t Wait Any Longer. Start Learning to Read the Future, Today!

From History to the Future

History at school

I was talking to a History teacher recently at a regular parent / teacher meeting. At some point I rather gushed that History was my favourite subject in school which prompted the teacher to ask me what I do now for a living. I answered, that I am a futurist.

She didn’t think it odd that I went from History to the Future, and neither do I. Time, after all, is a continuum and a good understanding of the past allows us a better understanding of the future.

Time is one of those topics that can provide hours of deep, meta-physical, quantum, philosophical fodder late into the night with a glass of wine and the right company, but for our purposes we will keep to a simple, and linear understanding of it – our past leads to our present and that precedes our future.

When we consider how best to prepare for or influence our futures, our first steps are to consider where we are at right now, and where we have come from.

This is particularly important when we deal with groups of people. It is natural for us to approach any situation with our own perspective, but some serious work is required for us to step out of our perspective and consider someone else’s.

Look around you at any meeting and think about how the others in the room are thinking about that exact moment in time. You may be bored, while someone else is engaged and a third person is waiting to push their agenda. You may have hope that this meeting is going to yield a result, while someone else is concerned that the result will not be what they want. Someone else has their mind on matters at home and someone else, with matters further afield.

It is as if you are all looking at different moments in time. Or perhaps that you are looking at the same moment, but through a prism where you see different things reflected or fractured.

If you are looking at this moment in time differently, then how much more so do we approach an apparently ‘ideal’ future when we come with unacknowledged history and unaddressed concerns.

And once we scale that, once we move to a level where we are dealing with organisations and cities and countries, how do we agree on what direction we want our future to go in, when past hurts hold some people back, and fantasies of the future drive others forward.

It is also important to understand which direction in time people in your group focus on. Those who focus on past glories or injustices are going to find it difficult to leave that behind to journey with those who are focussed on future hopes or anxieties.

There are those who say that history should be a compulsory subject in school. I would like to see a compulsory subject based on the future, with a great deal of acknowledgement of our past, so that we can act in our present with responsibility and recognition of each other. The skills we learn from a good study of history, analytical thought, cognitive flexibility, complexity thinking, these are the same skills we need to access and prepare for the future.

Reinvention story Futurist Charlotte Kemp

Reinvention – a story

As a professional speaker, I have the opportunity to sometimes hear a truly great speaker with a fantastic message. You might know the kind - its when the message and the experience stay with you months after others are forgotten. It is what I aspire to be. But the...
Premeditatio malorum

A Pre-meditation of Evils

Premeditatio malorum, a premeditation of evils, is the Stoic exercise of imagining what can go wrong. Think of it as the opposite of ‘positive thinking’ - the practice of negative thinking that allows us to imagine the worst, get all the emotion out of they way, and...
History to future futures thinking Charlotte Kemp

From History to the Future

History at school I was talking to a History teacher recently at a regular parent / teacher meeting. At some point I rather gushed that History was my favourite subject in school which prompted the teacher to ask me what I do now for a living. I answered, that I am a...

Don’t Wait Any Longer. Start Learning to Read the Future, Today!