ICR278: Nicole Yershon, Turning Disruption Into Advantage in Business and Life
Today on the show, I’m joined by Nicole Yershon, who knows a thing or two about disruption.
Nicole is a maverick, inspiration and the original rough diamond. She’s a consultant, speaker, judge, mentor and connector. Nicole works on the front line of innovation – bringing organisations kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. In that sense she properly defines disruption.
Her new book is Rough Diamond: Turning Disruption Into Advantage in Business and Life.
According to Nicole, in life you are most likely to regret that you didn’t do more of what you love.
Her book puts you on notice. Nicole says you have it within your power to do more and be more, and she’s going to give you the tools to start.
It’s all about being the statistical anomaly – the Rough Diamond – who shines bright, even if unpolished, and savors each day for the opportunity it presents to innovate, connect and disrupt the status quo.
Here’s my conversation with Nicole Yershon, author of Rough Diamond, in episode 278 of Informed Choice Radio.
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Martin: Welcome back to Informed Choice Radio. I’m delighted today to welcome Nicole Yershon, who is author of a fantastic new book called Rough Diamond, Turning Disruption into Advantage in Business and Life, so Nicole welcome to the show.
Nicole: Hello, thank you for having me.
Martin: It’s a real pleasure to have you her today. Could you start by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself and about your background, what it is you do?
Nicole: Of course. Okay, so I was born. No …
Martin: That’s a good start.
Nicole: Yeah, background is, well professionally, I’ve been advertising for quite a few decades, pretty much kind of pulled away from there over the last 20 years because it was much more about solving problems and much more about business than marketing, especially when all these technologies started arriving, you know mobile and gaming and social. It was really starting to understand how I could turn all of that disruption and change into an advantage for Ogilvy & Mather, who I was working for, for 17 years.
Martin: And your bio describes you as a consultant, speaker, mentor and connector, so is that how you would describe yourself today, is it all of those roles?
Nicole: Yeah, I think connector or super connector is probably is really the main thing is because I meet many, many people all the time, and then I just have this ability, everyone has a fit and [inaudible 00:01:32] and I have this ability to be able to understand a very, very brief amount of information and then connect dots and it could be, you know like, I could have met someone four years ago and had a rough understanding of what they did, and then someone says, oh I need someone to do X, and then I’ll be able to connect it for some strange reason.
Martin: It’s a useful skill to have, so your mind must be like a, not a little black book, a big black book full of names and contacts and ideas and things and then it’s a case of, as you say, of joining those dots.
Nicole: Yeah, and also just always being on good terms with people, having always met them or spoken to them on the phone and seeing the whites of their eyes and just getting down to the bare bones basics and simple factors to what do they do. Then I’m able to, I think LinkedIn helped massively because before that it was all done, my black book really was done on a spreadsheet. Then there’s lots of other things around now to make it easier to be able to connect those dots.
Martin: Well today we’re going to have a chat about your new book Rough Diamond, and it’s all about this rupture and how you turned that to your advantage in business and life, so where did your interests in disruption originate and tell me what the relevance is of that title Rough Diamond.
Nicole: The relevance is that I setup something at Ogilvy for future talent and we called the programme Rough Diamond and that was when I setup the lab at Ogilvy about 11, 12 years ago. I noticed that they were always employing the same types of people, white middle class, Oxford educated and I just felt that there needed to be diversity, not just in colour, but just in thinking and I was noticing that the people I was thinking were quite special and thinking in a different way, were the 14 year olds who are almost about to be expelled.
I setup a future talent programme with Ideas Foundation and a few other school communication to be able to get those kids into a programme that they would eventually be able to come back to Ogilvy after they were 14 and they’d spend a week there and saw that there was a life that they didn’t even know existed because they thought their future was a checkout type thing. We’d get them back and we’d speed date them and we’d have them come back to Ogilvy to work and find a job for them that wasn’t necessarily a job that HR had always put in the scope. It was something brand new because things were changing so often.
That’s where Rough Diamond came from, from the rough diamonds in the world, and me being one especially and disruption, I guess was because I always had a reputation to solve problems, so therefore, I saw digital as making things bigger, better, stronger, faster, so when I first, again, went into Ogilvy to move them from an analogue world to a digital world, I was looking at how I could make things better and it just seemed that everybody else was frightened of these changes and I embraced them because I could see further ahead, that it was going to be better for everyone.
Martin: And we hear that word disruption a lot these days don’t we? I mean, when I hear the word disruption, I think of the likes of Abby [inaudible 00:04:58] disrupting the hotel industry or Uber disrupting the taxi industry. Is that effectively what disruption means, taking an established industry sector way of doing things and shaking things up with new technology, new approaches.
Nicole: I just see it as change and I see it as a positive thing to disrupt because it is change and change seems to be, for me, when I look back at the difficult times in life, there’s actually been a benefit and you didn’t know it at the time, but if you just ride the wave and you keep a positive mindset and you work with the right people, then it’s, yes it’s disruptive because it’s different, but it always leads to something better.
Martin: You mentioned some challenging times in life, within the book you talk about the story of your divorce from your long time partner and also of the end of your career in advertising, so those were obviously disruptive periods of life. What impacted those particular events, those challenges have on you and how did you overcome them in order to move forwards?
Nicole: They were, you know people talk about a work life balance. It’s just life isn’t it, and I just found that I had some things hit me all at the same time in a very short space of time and actually it was the learning that I got from the divorce and staying true to myself and not going through lawyers and splitting things down the middle and being gracious that held me in good stead for when it happened with Ogilvy and leaving Ogilvy because that in effect is like a divorce as well, when you leave a company after 17 years, after setting something up, which was almost kind of like my baby with the lab.
It gave me good learnings as to what I’d been through with divorce and how I then held myself together during leaving Ogilvy. It makes you stronger, the more gracious you are. I know it’s very difficult, but you have to engage that inner child that you have that could make you go to lawyers or lose the plot, but it’s trying to have a bit of a grounding strength through family and friends that allowed me to stay gracious and just keep moving forward and not looking back.
Martin: If we assume that disruption in life and also in business is ever present and it’s inevitable, it think the speed of disruption seems to be speeding up. You were hearing things like 80% of us might have our jobs replaced by robots in the next 20, 30 years, so let’s imagine disruption is here to stay and probably increase. How do we use that disruption to our advantage? How do we turn it around and make it something positive?
Nicole: I think we don’t use the words in a negative connotation, so we change our mindset to it because then if we look back, there’s that great Steve Jobs talk at Stanford University by connecting the dots when you’re looking backwards. As I said before, there’s a benefit to everything that’s happened with technology. If we’re thinking the robots are coming, I mean there was something that I saw years ago, which was very depressing. It was called humans need not apply, but when I look at the skills that say the rough diamonds were doing 8 years worth of future talent programme with them. They were all coming in with different jobs and they were doing better and the jobs that were already in existence were starting to be done by data and collecting data and they were jobs that no one wanted to do anyway.
I’ve actually seen with my own eyes that the disruption of technology act has made things better for people. Yes, there will be changes in terms of job function, but I think people will start to find other jobs and that’s where education really plays a big part because I don’t think they’re educating for the skills that are happening right now, which is why I setup part of the book, I’ve also setup an online course on intrapreneurship.
Martin: Okay, tell us a bit more about intrapreneurship, what’s that?
Nicole: Everyone knows what an intrapreneur is and that mindset, but I don’t think people have heard of the word intrapreneur, which is exactly what I was for 17 years. An entrepreneurial spirit within a very large organisation. You don’t get tools or taught how to come up with different ways, ingenious ways of dealing with disruption or dealing with things that are different, that’s not been done before. There used to be, when I was growing up, three TV channels and then channel four came along, and if you look at it now, it’s crazy isn’t it, all of the different platforms that you have.
So, who does all of that content now? Who does all of that work now? There’s always gonna be new happening and we need to make sure the people in these large organisations aren’t always doing the same job over and over again and expecting a different result. That they are allowed the ability to be entrepreneurial in spirit and try different things and not always be measured on the same outcomes.
Martin: And if I ask you to get your crystal ball out for a moment and gaze to the future, what logical changes are you seeing across different business sectors prompting this disruption and creating all these opportunities for change?
Nicole: I’m seeing that a lot of organisations are still only measured by mainly one thing, which is revenue. The changes that I can see is that there’s a lot of people now wanting to start to be more socially conscious and I mean, look at the millennials, for instance, they’re not wanting to do a and nine to five and they don’t see that as a life. They don’t want to buy a car. They don’t wanna buy a house. They want life experiences and they want the planet to survive. I think there’s lots of different human effects that happening on companies much more so than the tech changes.
Martin: That’s interesting, ’cause we often tend to focus, don’t we, on technology and what that’s driving, but you think it could be more sort of cultural and what the individuals who will be in businesses, because at the end of the day, businesses are collections of individuals. It’s what they want to see for the future.
Nicole: Yeah, that’s why I think you’ve got such a huge amount of startups, because people are wanting to be in charge of their own destiny. The model that I setup with my company 15 months after I left Ogilvy, is a leverage model. Though we still run the labs, so Lab For Hire is one of my businesses, but we run it in a leverage model because I have such a big black book and I’m able to connect. We staff up, staff down, depending on what it is that we’re doing, so everyone has their own job. They’re just not coming into a workplace doing nine to five, so you’re not paying salaries, many, many salaries, you’re not paying for a roof over their heads that is a fortune with rent. There’s very different working environments now that are happening.
Martin: That sounds to me that the future of work obviously has some implications for things like personal financial planning and stability of income, but assuming you’ve got sufficient projects and sufficient talent to be in demand from employers, that sounds to me like the future now. I know that you and my wife Becky both share a love for the TV show The Good Wife and you talk in the book about the leading character, how Alicia inspires you. So, which of her character’s qualities do you find particularly inspirational? What is it about Alicia?
Nicole: I think she just keeps moving forward. She understands and registers pain. I don’t think she’s robotic in her feelings, but if she understands she can’t do anything about it, so she keeps moving forward graciously and one step after the other effects changes for her in a positive way. She understands that life is full of things that are going to not be easy and she doesn’t shy away from them. She kind of almost deals with them head on. There’s like another problem and then another problem and she doesn’t engage that inner child where she goes mad. She stays very, very controlled and composed and tries to find a way through it, so you know, disruption all over the place and she tries to find a way to turn it into an advantage.
I just found that as a huge strength when I was going through difficult times. To engage upon a character, a TV character that I was, that I felt was how I would want to be even though they were a TV character.
Martin: I think that’s a really good approach. Have you got any other tips for dealing with difficult times and disruption challenges and taking that sort of gracious approach and modelling yourself, your actions on a TV character, I think is a really good approach. What else can we do?
Nicole: I think taking an action. That’s how you move forward. People get paralysed in terms of should I do this, shouldn’t I do this, I haven’t got approval. You should just do it and deal with asking for forgiveness, otherwise nothing moves forward and you stay in the same place and nothing changes. I would, even though there’s that graciousness with Alicia, there’s still that kind of little bit of maverick in terms of you need to keep moving things forward and try something different. My thing is, is not to be paralysed with fear, but I’ve written something in the book called The Fearless Manifesto, and I don’t know why it is that I am like this. Maybe it’s to do with my upbringing or parents or friends, but I just have this ability to just think what’s the worst that’s gonna happen. I’ll just, I’ll do it and just see and that really helps when you’re dealing with change and disruption because it’s not been done before. It doesn’t scare me because what’s the worst that can happen?
Martin: I think that’s a good question we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis. One of my favourite quotes is, “It’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.”, I think sometimes we, I should say we need to just move forward, take that action, and very often people are quite pleased when we’ve taken that action. They don’t mind too much that haven’t gone to them first to get things signed off and get full permission for it.
Now, Nicole, what have been, would you say, the most important lessons you’ve learned through understanding, studying for the book and putting together the book? What surprised you when you were researching for the book and you put it together and discovered this manifesto?
Nicole: It surprised me that I could do it. You know, this time last year. I hadn’t even thought about doing a book. It wasn’t one of these life long passions. It was just another example of moving forward. I met this guy at an event called Summit At Sea and we connected and I’d literally just come out of Ogilvy at that time and he said, “Who are you?”, and I said, “I’m Nicole from Nicole.”, you know there’s a massive feeling of identity crisis and we got chatting, again, if you open yourself up to just chat very openly and be yourself and be authentic. He said, “You got some lovely stories there, 30 years in an industry and 17 years as a maverick and doing innovation within a very large organisation and they say no and you do it anyway and you beg for forgiveness and not for permission, you know you got some beautiful stories.”, and you’re a woman and you’re in tech and so we just carried on moving forward and before I knew it, I’d done a book.
Just by every single week, a different conversation, a different chapter and I got to a point where I thought I can’t do 4,000 words each chapter that I’m not a writer, I’m a speaker and my partner said, “Well why don’t you use this?”, and he suggested an app called Day One, which is a journal, and so because I had my chapters down, I just spoke the book. I spoke the paragraphs and then they were kind of story fied a little bit, so actually when you read the book it feels like I’m speaking to you, because I did. I talked the book.
Martin: That’s really interesting that you approached creating the book in a very similar way to this philosophy about moving forward, taking an action and just sort of getting it done, so yeah, fantastic.
Nicole, I know we’re pressed for time this morning. I really do appreciate you joining us on the podcast. Before you go, could you tell us how we can get a hold of the copy of Rough Diamond and how can we connect with you online?
Nicole: Everything, because there’s only one me, as in my name Nicole Yershon, everything is Nicole Yershon. My Instagram, my Twitter, my LinkedIn, so absolutely always happy to engage with people, and then the book is on Amazon and in book stores as well, so the 7th of November it comes out. So excited because it’s again, I’ve never done a book before, but we’ll just have to see.
Martin: Fantastic, we’ll make sure we put links, of course to you’re very social networks and also the book of course, in the show notes for this episode. Nicole, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for taking the time to come on Informed Choice Radio today.
Nicole: Thank you Martin. It’s been great to be here and thank you to everyone that’s listening.