‘The discovery process is everything. It’s the whole project.’
Andrea Clarke describes the three months she spent writing her book as being in ‘a pure content vortex… I felt like I was on a natural high.’ Discover why, and maybe catch some of her energy and enthusiasm to reignite your own writing mojo, in this fascinating conversation.
As well as talking about the skills that make humans ‘future fit’ for work, we also touch on the power of audio and the need to ‘get over yourself’ if you don’t like the sound of your voice, the importance of having a 3-dimensional network, and why it’s sometimes better NOT to ask for feedback.
Career CEO: https://www.careerceo.com.au/
Andrea on Twitter (protected account): https://twitter.com/andreaclarke22
Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky
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This Book Means Business – the mentorship programme: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/this-book-means-business-mentorship/
The Extraordinary Business Book Club Summer Reading List 2019: https://alisonjones.com/the-extraordinary-business-book-club-summer-reading-list-2019/
Alison Jones: Hello, and welcome to The Extraordinary Business Book Club. This is going to be great. I’m here today with Andrea Clarke, whose career spans being a TV news reporter covering major news events for Al Jazeera English, the Pentagon Channel, the Seven Network, and Reuters, including the US presidential election, Virginia Tech campus shooting, and Hurricane Katrina. She then became a media officer for an international aid organisation, where her role was to support programmes to rebuild Iraq, Afghanistan, and Georgia by gathering stories from the front line. Then in 2009, Andrea was hired to serve as senior communication director for the Save Darfur Coalition, the largest grassroots advocacy movement in the world.
She now heads up Career CEO, equipping professionals with the critical human skills required to thrive in the future of work. She’s a regular commentator for the Sydney Morning Herald and Sky Business News, and her new book, Future Fit: How to Stay Relevant and Competitive in the Future of Work, was published earlier this year by Major Street Publishing.
Welcome to the show, Andrea.
Andrea Clarke: Thank you, Alison. It’s so lovely to be here with you.
Alison Jones: It’s great. Well, I wish you were here with me. You’re actually in Melbourne, aren’t you? I wish I was with you, actually, thinking more clearly. It’s terrific to have you here. I very much enjoyed the book. I loved the way that you… Your lessons of life were forged in some of the most extreme circumstances, weren’t they?
Andrea Clarke: Thank you. Well, it certainly felt like that way at the time, and each of those lessons were, at the time, very painful, very disruptive, but were ultimately the catalyst for me writing this book and talking about why our talent is just as important as technology and the future of work, and how we need to future-proof ourselves and our careers to have that longevity.
Alison Jones: When you were in the crucible, as it were, did you end the day with a bit of reflection thinking, what did I learn today? Or was it just months, years later, that you distilled everything that came out of that?
Andrea Clarke: Obviously in the heat of that moment, I had absolutely no time to reflect on what was happening, because I simply had to mobilise and move forward and walk at speed so I could stay employed. In the case of me being in Washington, DC and losing my job … In that case, I only had 10 days to find a new role. So I was only focused on staying in the US. I certainly wasn’t focused on or reflecting on anything at the time.
I do have to say that writing, the opportunity to sit down for three months and write this book has given me the most extraordinary window to reflect on all of these life lessons, which I’m so grateful for.
Alison Jones: It is interesting, isn’t it? When you actually write about it, you create the narrative around it, then you recognise what you were learning, even though at the time … I know you brought the reputational capital bit in from that. There’s no way you could’ve got the job that quickly, had it not been for that. You say you had to move forward to keep your job; there were times you had to keep reacting just to stay alive. I was actually hyperventilating reading about the helicopter training exercise underwater.
Andrea Clarke: I haven’t told that story to many of my friends, so of course, I have friends reading the book saying, first of all, I had no idea you could write. Secondly, I had no idea … which is interesting, given that my career is being a journalist. I turned around and said to them, what did you think I’ve been doing all this time? It’s so funny, Alison, because as a television news reporter, I think there’s an assumption that you do not write your own scripts, when you do absolutely everything.
So, Yes. It’s been an interesting response I’ve had from friends. That was genuinely a terrifying moment for me, and one that I didn’t really have time to reflect on until months and years later.
Alison Jones: Yes. There’s a strong argument to be made for writing a book as a catharsis as much as anything else, isn’t it, just bringing everything together.
Andrea Clarke: Absolutely.
Alison Jones: That communication piece is interesting, because obviously you live and die by your ability to communicate as a reporter, very much written and verbal. Obviously the book is all written, but obviously communication is one of the skills that you bring out as being essential for us to be future fit. I was fascinated that you brought the voice out so strongly there. Tell us why you think not just the ability to communicate, but the ability to communicate effectively by speaking, or through audio, is so important.
Andrea Clarke: I think voice is the way that … Human beings connect so easily through voice, and to speak with credibility, and to have influence and to have impact, it’s so critical that we understand our pitch, our pace, our tone, and our volume in different contexts, because it’s such a powerful force to influence those around us.
Obviously as a TV news reporter, that was my main instrument to connect with the audience. So I feel very strongly about giving people reason to take it more seriously and to translate those broadcast skills into the board room or into their life in whatever way will help them move their campaign, initiative or job along.
Alison Jones: You talk as well about the audio landscape in technology, the fact that that’s becoming more and more important. I was delighted, of course, to see how you talk about podcasts and so on. How do you think that’s going to shape the future of work?
Andrea Clarke: I think it’s wildly interesting, because as we know and as everyone listening knows, I would imagine that everyone listening has increased their podcast appetite by probably a couple of hours each week compared to what they were even doing this time last year. I think that audio in the future of work is going to be a critical way for all of us to connect, because we probably already do spend hours commuting each week, and I’m constantly talking to people who say, all I do is listen to podcasts on the way to work. So I feel like in terms of microlearning, I feel like this is going to be a critical way for all of us to upskill and pick up new skills on the way, on the go, on the tram, on the train, because there’s microwindows that we have where we can take in short, sharp pieces of information that really help us through the day on whatever subject it is that we want to learn about.
Alison Jones: Yes. The podcast has … The affordances that grew up around the podcast are really interesting, because you can listen to it while you’re commuting or driving or running. It doesn’t demand your eyes and your hands. But also it’s got that intimacy, hasn’t it, and that potency. Just as you say, we’re wired to respond to people’s voices. You also make the interesting point that the voice can carry emotion so powerfully, that we can detect emotion in voice almost better than anything else.
Andrea Clarke: Oh, absolutely. I think we’re all hypersensitive to that, especially in a phase where our lives are being ruled by technology. So where there’s an opportunity for a window of human connection, we take it and we love it, and I know that we all have voices that we respond better to than others. I think it’s going to be interesting to see what podcasts we all gravitate to over the next couple of years, what voices do we really feel are giving us that emotion, that impact, that sense of connection over others?
Alison Jones: I did laugh as well when you said about … if you don’t like the sound of your own voice, I would … I think you used the phrase ‘I would strongly recommend you get over it,’ because it is so important. You can’t afford not to use your voice.
Andrea Clarke: Yes, exactly. It’s so interesting as a TV reporter. When I first heard my voice back in the sound booth, I was horrified, and my news director said, you’ve just got to get over it because people hear you differently than the way that you hear yourself. So you just can’t waste any, burn any time criticising yourself. You’ve just got to get past it.
Alison Jones: Absolutely. If you’re thinking about doing a podcast but you don’t like the sound of your own voice, frankly, get over yourself. It links to what you talk about-
Andrea Clarke: That’s right.
Alison Jones: I hope people got that. Oh, actually, before we leave podcasts, I was also really fascinated to see you use an example … I think it was from PwC, of companies using the podcast internally as well to build up belonging and relationships and connection. Just tell us a little bit more about that. I thought it was a fascinating use of podcasting, which we normally think of as a self-learning, entrepreneurial thing. But how are corporates starting to use it?
Andrea Clarke: This is so interesting. It would’ve been at least three years ago when PwC asked me to be part of an internal campaign, an internal initiative that they were running to help their staff adapt to remote working. So they were gathering a series of interviews with people talking about trust and how to build trust remotely in this particular instance, and I thought that was … At the time, it felt like PwC was well ahead of the tipping point around educating their staff about agile, and I felt like, what an incredible way to go about doing it, because as we’ve just discussed, podcasting is such an easy access platform for everyone, and one that has such a high engagement level when you do have that impactful content.
Alison Jones: Did that work for them?
Andrea Clarke: I believe so. Agile as we know, agile at scale is transforming businesses around the world across every sector. I know that like many organisations in Australia, PwC moved into a whole new huge work space, and only had work space for some 60% of their workforce, and as far as I hear, so far, so good. It’s a thriving consultation business here.
Alison Jones: Yes, absolutely. Really interesting, I find that fascinating. Just to extend the idea of communication, as we talk about podcast, talk about voice, you’re somebody who’s very at home in front of the camera, who thinks very quickly. When you were talking about going to Virginia Tech, it was the brutal quickness with which you have to get on the ground, get the story, report. How does that shift when you’re writing a book? Were you very conscious of the difference of scale? What did you discover about yourself, I guess, as you were doing those two different modes?
Andrea Clarke: It is really interesting, because I’ve had to adjust significantly out of a TV career into the corporate world, where it’s not about transactions. It’s not about fast transitions with relationships. It’s the long game. It’s all about relationships, and that takes time and it takes real investment. So I’ve had to adjust my whole, entire communication approach from one industry into another. That has taken me years, candidly.
So to sit down and write is really a reflection of where I’m at in my career now, because when I was on the ground reporting on major breaking stories, it was fast and furious and brutal and ruthless, and my interactions were … I would try to make them or try to have them be as sincere as possible. But in most cases, time did not allow you to build a relationship with anyone in the moment. You just had to get in and get what you needed and then leave.
That was interesting because I think that was highly indicative of where I was at in my life up until I was about 35. But when I hit my mid 30s, I recognised that my values were really clashing, my personal values were really clashing with what I was being asked to do in the professional world. So being able to sit down and write, to me, reflects where I’m truly at in my career and in my life now, and in my beliefs and values. I want more time … I want to invest more time in the work that I do. I want it to be quality over quantity, and what an extraordinary opportunity, to sit down and invest three serious months in reflection and my hope in having a voice around the future of work.
So, really interesting. Two very different mediums, and demanding in very different ways. I have to say, I love the camera, but I love to write. I really rediscovered an absolute passion for writing, going through the process of writing this book.
Alison Jones: That’s so interesting, and it makes me think as well as you say that that you’ve looked at that very much from your perspective, as the creator, as the thinker, as the person doing the communicating. But the relationship with the consumer of what you’re putting out is completely different as well, isn’t it? When we watch news, as you say, it’s very transactional. It’s in the moment, it’s gone, we want speed, and when we’re reading a book, the contract is very, very different.
Andrea Clarke: It is. It’s so interesting to me to hear from people who say, I read it, I’m going to re-read it again. The fact that I’ve produced something that people can go back and look at for a second time is a whole new concept to me. This has not been the pace through my whole career. I love that, I love that I’ve produced something that for some people can be a helpful guide to developing their own capability, and having a career that’s perhaps more rewarding.
Alison Jones: Yes. That’s lovely. When you come to talk about the writing itself, obviously you began as a journalist, so you had kind of an unfair advantage there. But if there’s anybody listening who didn’t have that advantage, what would be your top tip for somebody who’s maybe writing a book, finding it hard? Everything you’re saying is resonating with them, but how would you help them through those hard yards?
Andrea Clarke: I think it’s so interesting, just how I’ve never had a happier three months in my life, Alison, than I had writing this book. People are saying, oh, I’m writing a book and it’s torture, and I’d come out with, it was the most phenomenal three months of my entire life. I sat down, I figured out I was going to do 10 chapters, 5,000 words a chapter. That’s one chapter a week, and I sat down and like clockwork, I wrote.
So people who are writing a book don’t like hearing me talk about it, because I did … I just thrived. I’ve just simply never been happier in my entire life. So having an opportunity to write another one-
Alison Jones: I think you’re going to have to.
Andrea Clarke: I think I might. But it’s just such a wonderful experience once you understand clearly what … If you want to have a voice, you’ve just got to be so clear about … what do you want it to look like, what do you want it to sound like? I think once you’ve figured out the premise of the book and divided it up into chapters, and even look at each chapter … I divided each chapter into three different paths. Narrative, research, and tactics. For me, that provided a very structured way forward to write, so I knew I had to write 1,200 words on my story, and then 1,500 on research, and the rest on tactics.
So I think having a clear plan is so important, but allowing yourself the freedom to move around in the plan.
Alison Jones: That sounds amazing, just three months, focused on the book. It sounds too good to be true. I’m jealous right now, because how? How did you do that?
Andrea Clarke: I was so fortunate with the timing. I planned to start writing on the 5th of December, and I had literally three months where the whole of Australian corporate … All of corporate Australia was on a holiday, summer holidays for three months. So everyone was at their beach house except for me. I literally had 10 straight weeks writing one chapter a week, 5,000 words a week. I had 12 weeks to myself, which was pure heaven. I had giant Post-it notes up on my wall, across my dining room, with each chapter. Each week was an opportunity for me to reflect deeply on a story that I wanted to start off the chapter with and then go from there.
But it was this brilliant, inspiring, highly motivating … I actually felt like I was in a creative trance. I couldn’t talk about anything else to anyone I ran into, so I have to apologise to people a few months down the track. It was like I was in a pure content vortex, and one that made me just literally … I felt like I was on a natural high for three straight months. It was just this beautiful, wonderful, magical feeling of producing. I love producing content, but I had no idea that I was going to enjoy the process so much.
Alison Jones: That’s hilarious.
Andrea Clarke: Yes, it’s fantastic.
Alison Jones: I can just imagine people throwing things at whatever device that they’re listening to this on. ‘It’s not like that for me!’
Andrea Clarke: Yes, I guess … I don’t know. I guess I’m so fortunate that I was so clear on the idea in this particular case. But also, I had the discipline. I’ve been disciplined to write every day of my life since I was 21. I’ve been … I’ve met deadlines every single day for 20 years. When you’ve got that kind of conditioning and having a structure to write to, then within that, I really allowed myself to be as creative as I could be. It’s just such a wonderful, wonderful three months.
Alison Jones: Did you not find it very different, though, because I’ve written a lot as an author to commission, and it’s easy if you can write, it’s really straightforward. Somebody tells you what they need, how long it’s got to be, when they need it, and boom. But when you’re writing for yourself, it’s completely different. I found that massively harder.
Andrea Clarke: Do you know, I loved it. I have to tell you, I had … I knew that I wanted to write 50,000 words, I knew that I wanted to write 10 chapters. Once I had that locked down, it was all about, okay. Certainly, I had the stories to get there. It was just organising the stories and organising the content, and finding interviews that would complement those particular stories. When people say to me that they’re tortured when they’re writing, I just don’t get it. I just can’t relate. I think maybe it’s the wrong project for you, because I think that you … I really believe that the process is just as important as the product, and for me, there’s no way I could torture myself, because I just think that whole discovery process is everything. It is the whole project. So I feel very fortunate that that’s how it played out for me.
Alison Jones: Coming back to attitude, actually, maybe that’s part of the secret as well. You went into that just embracing the opportunity, giving yourself over to it completely, which not everybody has the luxury of doing for three months, I realise. But actually, even just a weekend of immersing yourself, it can really change things. You were just going in with curiosity, to discover, to reflect. Yes, that’s a great way to come at it, isn’t it?
Andrea Clarke: Absolutely. Certainly a mindset, and I was really curious about how each chapter would play out, and what story would be best suited to that for the audience. So, absolutely. I was just … I allowed my mind to go down the rabbit hole, no matter where it went. I was prepared to follow it and figure out how I could use that and that memory and that story and that research to pull all of that together and produce something that was worth publishing.
And also not necessarily asking. Don’t ask too many people for advice, because everyone loves having an opinion. Everyone just loves having an opinion on what you’re doing, and often it’s not helpful. So I just say, talk to people who are outside and I talk about this in the book, have a 3D network. Your network has got to be three dimensional. The people who have impacted me the most in some cases in my life, in terms of major transition, have been people on the absolute outer edge of my network. I say first dimension is family and colleagues, second dimension is work, and third dimension are people who are really diverse, people who you would never normally cross paths with. For example, the pilot of an A380 or an engineer or an elite athlete. Seek out the opinions of people who do something completely different to what you do, and you’ll be really surprised at the response you get. I think that always takes your thinking forward.
Alison Jones: That’s fantastic advice. Interestingly, I don’t know if you’ve read Range by David Epstein…
Andrea Clarke: No, but now I am.
Alison Jones: Yes, it’s absolutely brilliant. He cites this fabulous finding that there’s a crowd problem solving site that researchers could put their problems on. Harvard Business School did some research on this, and they discovered that the further somebody was from the field, the more likely they were to solve the problem. I think it’s fabulous.
Andrea Clarke: That’s so true. When I first decided to move my life to Washington, DC, of course my parents didn’t want me to because my parents wanted me to stay safe and get a job and buy a house and my colleagues didn’t want me to move because they didn’t want to be faced with having to level up in any way across their career. So it was that third dimension in my life … When I was a reporter, I used to go out, and when I would talk to people for interviews for the network, while I was there, I also used to ask them questions about me. That’s where I got some of the best advice of my whole career.
Alison Jones: Absolutely love that. What cracking advice. Actually, for the first dimension and second dimension, I often think that when you ask them for advice, the value isn’t so much in the answers you get as forcing yourself to articulate the question. So you could just do that bit as the question. ‘It’s fine. I got what I need now, thanks.’ Then walk away.
Andrea Clarke: Exactly, exactly. That’s always so important. What is the question that we’re actually asking here? Yes.
Alison Jones: Yes, absolutely. Love that. We’ve just talked about Range, which is one that I’ve read very recently. Sorry, I’m stepping in and doing my own thing now.
Andrea Clarke: I love it.
Alison Jones: It is really good. I always ask people to recommend a book that they have read. So it doesn’t have to be a business book, but a book that you think is really valuable for business people to read.
Andrea Clarke: My favourite all time book for this year is Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman, and that is the subtitle, there, is an Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. That is a book that’s had quite a powerful influence on me. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s in business, regardless of what sector or at what level you’re at.
Alison Jones: You know, somebody else mentioned that to me the other day. Just tell me a little bit more. What is it that he does that’s so good?
Andrea Clarke: Tom Friedman is, apart from being a brilliant New York Times opinion writer, must have a phenomenal research team, because he talks about the intersection of climate change, globalisation, and digitalization, and provides these really astonishing case studies about how we’ve dealt with the impact of technology so far, essentially what he says is in line with a lot of economic historians. That is, it’s not the technology that drives social change. It’s all of the decisions that we make around how the technology lands.
So, for example, if you were working in a bank in the early 2000s and you saw ATMs coming your way, the question you should’ve asked yourself is, how can I learn everything about this machine, because as it turned out, the number of bank tellers increased by 0.2% year on year for the first 10 years of the year 2000. So he gives these extraordinary case studies inside a look at why we shouldn’t be too concerned about the technology, and why we have reason to be excited and optimistic about the changes coming down the pipeline.
Alison Jones: Oh, that does sound good. I can see absolutely the synergy there with your own book, and that sense of, actually, the future is bright. I should actually mention the core skills, sorry. I should have done that right at the beginning. But sorry, well done for getting this far, listeners. They are – I did jot them down – reputational capital, communication, adaptability, creativity, networking, and leadership. I’m taking words out of your mouth here, but I think the case you’re building is that if you invest your time in developing those, you don’t need to be scared of the robots, because these are the things that are human skills that will never go away.
Andrea Clarke: Absolutely. If we want to outrun the algorithm, we need to take our talent as seriously as we do the technology. I make a case for the responsibility for finding, securing, delivering work is shifting to the individual in ways that we have simply not seen before. So we have to be … Human skills will be the competitive advantage, and the biggest threat to business is not AI. It’s the availability of paid skills. That’s a fact that was released in a recent PwC survey.
Andrea Clarke: So CEOs are not concerned about AI. They’re concerned about finding the right people to help their business accelerate the marketplace.
Alison Jones: Yes. I guess you’d wrap all those skills up in the attitude as well, wouldn’t you? That’s the thing that makes the difference.
Andrea Clarke: It’s everything, and we see it all the time. If you’re that person in a business where transformation is underway and you push back or your attitude signals that you don’t want to take on the change, then you’re already out. You’ve already lost.
Alison Jones: That was absolutely fantastic, Andrea. Just so much there. We could’ve talked all day, that’s brilliant. If people want to find out more about you, more about the work that you do, more about the book, where should they go?
Andrea Clarke: My business is called Career CEO. That’s careerceo.com.au, and the book is on that website. So, Yes, Future Fit: How to Stay Relevant and Competitive in the Future of Work.
Alison Jones: Fantastic. Thank you so much. I will put those links, or that link, up on the show notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com. If you are driving, you can’t write this all down. But thank you so much for your time today. It’s been absolutely fascinating.
Andrea Clarke: Thank you, Alison. Thanks.