Creative Leadership – Lessons from Theatre Directors

Creative Leadership – Lessons from Theatre Directors

This is the first of two blogs to accompany the latest 4D podcast on creative leadership which you can listen to here.


The pace of change today is as slow as it will ever be. The world of work is changing rapidly; creativity, collaboration and communication are becoming ever more important qualities that we look for in our teams. This may mean leading and working together in different ways. How might leaders respond and what models are there for us to draw upon from other fields?


The business world can learn a great deal about how to lead creative teams from the work of theatre directors. Over the last 18 months I have held interviews with theatre directors Sarah Esdaile, Natasha Rickman, Liz Stevenson, Sue Dunderdaleand Giles Havergal – all superb theatre directors at different stages in their careers.


From these conversations and building on my own knowledge and experience of both worlds, there are 8 Principles that hold true for leading teams of actors and also have great relevance in other fields. The first four are here and the second four will follow in a blog later this month Enjoy!



1. Leading, Not Controlling


Sarah Esdaile: “The misconception is that you are a puppeteer. That you are a controlling choreographer, and everyone sits and nods and writes down what you say and does it! Actually, the political complexity of leading and inspiring and collaborating is not what people think it is – they think it’s about ruling with an iron fist and asserting and controlling and it’s far more nuanced than that. It’s about empowering people to do their best work, making people want to do their best work and making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”


The best directors create an environment where each member of their team is working hard and able to express themselves, experiment and takes risks. This enables the director, rather than simply imposing their will, to edit from the work created in the room with the actors.


That requires a deep level of confidence as a leader – to ask a team to trust you to lead them even though you can’t be sure exactly where you’ll end up, or the route you’ll take!


Similarly in business, as Daniel Pink argues, the key drivers of motivation are Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose. If we micro-manage people, preventing them from owning the ways they will achieve their objectives, we stifle their ambition and energy. Simply telling them what to do or how WE would do it teaches them little about how they might approach a similar problem in future. It also stifles purpose – reducing what might have been a successful team endeavour into what could look like simply a way to make the boss look great.


However actors, like employees in other fields, often seek specific instructions from the leader on how to approach a challenge or solve a problem (in acting perhaps, how to say the line or where to move). If they are given the answer they are ‘safe’ – they have done the ‘right thing, and they don’t have to go through the challenge of exploration and experiment. Unfortunately, this approach rarely delivers anything alive and interesting, instead, we get ‘result acting’ – often tired and cliched.


In business too, the employee who is given all the answers is not helped to develop, and the leader is swamped with a constant need to provide answers and affirmation. To counteract this ‘result acting’ it is vital that the director does not direct on the basis of results. Instead, we keep encouraging actors to play, to push, to experiment and to continue to commit to the rehearsal process.


For the business leader looking to foster more creativity in their business there are a number of parallels to be drawn:


  • How can we foster an atmosphere of creativity where employees won’t simply reach for the simplest solution or the way things have always been done?
  • How might we reward individuals who are trying new approaches, who are looking to tackle problems in new ways?
  • How might we use technology to encourage greater collaboration?
  • How will the culture of the organisation deal empower those questioning orthodoxy?
  • How will we encourage play, curiosity and humour?


The challenges of the future demand more creativity and collaboration – this is at the heart of how the theatre works.



Giles Havergal: “Although one is totally in charge, I feel much more that I’m working with people rather than that they’re working for me and that is actually how I feel about running a theatre or running a business.  I think you get a better response.”

2. Motivating with Vision


Natasha Rickman: It’s about having a clear process the actors can then prepare for and know what’s going to happen


There is an idea that directing is about moving actors around the stage and telling them how to say the lines – this could not (now) be further from the truth.


Acting is a joyous but also scary thing to do and this can lead actors of all ages and experience levels to seek to fix a performance and to get it ‘right’. However, this approach to acting rarely delivers anything truly alive and interesting – it too often leads to cliché and, in the worst cases, over-acting, where the actor strives for an emotional pitch, but with little grounding in truth. In business that might mean the same old solutions to problems – turning out an unimaginative marketing campaign, sales incentives or partner kick-offs – because everyone is too busy, lethargic, or simply uninspired, to try anything new.


To counteract this ‘result acting’ it is vital that the director does not direct on the basis of results. Rather they keep encouraging actors to play and to explore, keeping the performance alive by continuing to commit to the rehearsal process. And it is vital through all of this work that the director assumes ‘best endeavours’ – the premise that everyone is doing their best to improve and achieve excellence.



For the business leader, there are a number of lessons to be learned. Most obviously, how can we foster an atmosphere of creativity and freedom where employees won’t simply reach for the simplest solution or the way things have always been done? How can we set a clear process that will get us to the goals we seek; so that individuals have a degree of autonomy over their performance and can focus on what is in their control.


Sue Dunderdale: They have to have confidence in you. You have to be both an equal and the leader or focal point. We are doing equally important tasks just different, but if you don’t fulfill your task of having a structure to work from, having a focus in the room of creating an atmosphere that releases them and relaxes them they’re not going to get anywhere.


3. Creating Trust


Sarah Esdaile: I think a lot of directing is about trust. It’s about showing, not telling. I’m deliberately emotionally open which makes people feel safe and that’s partly my personality and that’s partly practical. I think that makes people trust me and I have an emotional vulnerability, as well as toughness. What I aspire to is being able to say, “Oh god don’t do that you look like a ****” and that’s absolutely brilliant for both of us.


The director creates a place of trust where actors can be freed from self-limiting beliefs and self-consciousness to play, stretch themselves and learn from failure.


The rehearsal process demands that actors take risks – sometimes emotionally, but most often trying ideas where they make look or feel daft. They have to play with what is possible to get beyond obvious and cliché. The director rewards this commitment to play and risk to encourage yet more fearlessness from that actor and their colleagues – they reinforce the behaviour with praise and by building on the actors’ ideas.


The director has to foster a team dynamic quickly. Unlike in business where the leader is often working with a team for years, in the theatre, the director brings together a group of actors, often with vastly different life and acting experiences, and has to rapidly form them into a functioning team.


This can’t be achieved with a few trust games or an away day building rafts (although that might be fun!) Instead, the director has to quickly help the team to collectively agree on goals. In the theatre, this means most obviously having the production ready for ‘opening night’ but can incorporate much more than that. The measures of success may be far wider than full houses – perhaps what we learn as a group about acting and ourselves, what new understanding we achieve about the play or our world.


In the same way, in business, there’s a revenue, market share or profit number to be hit, but we can also create richer and deeper goals to increase the sense of team purpose and achievement. The work of Simon Sinek here is especially instructive.


We might create a Team Charter or a Team Alliance to align on what behaviours and attitudes will get us to our stated goals.


In the theatre, once we have a clear sense of the team’s goals and purpose the director can focus the team on building towards those goals. They will take care to ensure the room is a ‘safe’ environment where people are free from humiliation, encouraged to try new things and to take ownership of their own performance. There is little more damaging to fostering a strong sense of trust than fear. A culture of fear can result in team members vying for position, when their ego becomes more important than the collective endeavour, whilst others may simply disconnect from the process and stop contributing.


However, a safe environment should not mean no disagreements – indeed, healthy conflict is vital to driving the team on to create their best work. Once we are all clear on the goal and have a sense of trust robust discussion can be channelled in service of getting the best result for the team.


As a leader what space do you give to new ideas? How do you celebrate when people try new things (even if they aren’t always successful)? How might we reward individuals who are trying new approaches, who are looking to tackle problems in new ways? Can your team have challenging discussions without damaging their relationships?


Liz Stevenson: Admitting errors reassures actors. It also creates an environment where people can fail and I think it shows an element of confidence in your leadership, that you can criticise yourself; that you can say I don’t know, but it’s ok and we don’t need to panic – we will find a solution.


4. Intentional Energy

Sarah Esdaile: I think part of the leadership is for you not to be the hero, for them not to know all the work that you’re doing. It’s like being a duck swimming along not knowing all the shit you’re dealing with. It’s not my job to overload them with all the crap that I’m dealing with – it’s my job to liberate them.


The good director, like the good leader in sporting, military or business fields, needs emotional control and patience. These are vital in the projection of authority. The director’s energy is the most crucial in the room, she understands that her energy provides an example to the team and so cultivates the ability to excite with enthusiasm and engender calm in a crisis.


A positive, engaged and calm presence is vital to settle the team and help them to understand that you are in control and able to cope with any of the challenges thrown at you. The actor can then relax and concentrate on their performance. It is a simple and effective way of communicating to the cast what energy is expected of them and of the atmosphere that one wishes to work in. It is the classic show, not tell.

In business too, uncontrolled swings in mood and energy can have an unsettling effect. When times are tough the team will look to the leader to assess the situation and react calmly and confidently. We cannot think clearly when in a state of very high emotion and a team cannot function effectively if they worry their leader will panic.


By cultivating a sense of emotional control and patience the leader can engender confidence in their team and help ensure they are in the right state of mind to give their best creative work.


Whilst some people are more naturally ‘calm’ than others, a heightened awareness of our physical and emotional impact is crucial for the leader and is at the centre of the work we do at 4D. Whether it is your breath, voice, posture or gestures you have far more power to control the energy you project into the world than you may believe.


Liz Stevenson: It is important because your energy, your mood filters through to everybody in the room so if you’re really stressed and unhappy and frustrated they will pick up on that and you can’t always help the way you feel. You’re a human being, but you should make a conscious effort to stay calm. If you blow up and say what you’re thinking sometimes it can have a really damaging effect that means they won’t trust you so I think you’ve got a responsibility to stay calm.

The team at 4D have over 50 years of theatre experience, coupled with strong business backgrounds; we have a passion and expertise for Psychology and a practice grounded in Integral Theory.

Through our work on Communication, Wellbeing and Team Performance we bring simple and clear tools combining our experience to businesses across the world. If you’d like to explore how the 4D tools can help bring these principles to life for your team, please contact Matt Beresford on

Planting Intentional Seeds

Planting Intentional Seeds

Looking ahead and embracing the seasons…

Autumn is the time to plant bulbs in the knowledge that in the Spring those actions will be rewarded with wonderful colour and new life. And we also ‘take stock’, we create the conditions for how our gardens can thrive next year and we take time to rest.

This October, join 4D’s Matt as he looks forward to Autumn and opportunities for new growth…

On the 30th September 1859, Abraham Lincoln recounted this story:
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words:





“And this, too, shall pass away”


How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

It has been a very tough year for all of us. An extraordinary year in many ways. And whilst you MAY have used this time to be creative, learn five languages and become a sourdough-baking-genius, the chances are that you may have had quite enough of home-schooling, one-way systems and mask-wearing and have been looking forward to the steady return of normality.

So, if you are living in a country that is experiencing ongoing, or the recent re-imposition, of restrictions to our lives this can be a disheartening experience. It is easy to slip into melancholy, perhaps even despair, that hope, happiness, frivolity, joy – some of the emotions that really make life worth living – will ever come again. The challenges may not be so much the specific constraints on our life (my time of going out with ‘the lads’ until 2am are long gone) but that when we thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel it now seems much further away.

And this is also literally true as we enter Autumn across the Northern hemisphere – the days are getting shorter, the temperatures cooler and (certainly in the UK!) the promise of grey and rainy days to come. Autumn is a time that can be disheartening for all sorts of reasons, the darker evenings and mornings encouraging us to hunker down for the months of dark and gloom ahead of us.




At the centre of the 4D2C model is the Intentional Dimension. That dimension that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom – the ability we have to act with an awareness of the likely impact of our actions on our future selves and those with whom we interact. This is our blessing as well as our curse – being the only species on the planet with a heightened consciousness about ourselves, our actions and our future.


As Dean Buonomano tells us on the first page of his book, Your Brain Is a Time Machine: The Neuroscience and Physics of Time.

“The human brain is a time machine that allows us to mentally travel backward and forward, to plan for the future and agonizingly regret that past like no other animal”

And when the future is highly unpredictable it can be extremely disorientating. Our life normally consists of a degree of predictability, of exciting plans and hopes for the future so when we are robbed of this it can affect us profoundly. Buonomano goes on:

“And it’s the ability to see the long-term future that I think is distinctly human. It’s impossible to overestimate how important that is, how much of your life is future-oriented….And one of the most transformative inventions humans have ever engaged in was agriculture. The notion of planting a seed and coming back a year later is something we take for granted now, but it’s hard to think of anything more important than that ability.”

Farming provides rich metaphors for many aspects of our life, from the building of healthy habits to the ability of leaders to patiently enable autonomy and time to grow.

Indeed, many of us have found joy connecting with simple things during this period – whether that’s baking, cooking or, if you’re lucky enough to have one, time in the garden.

Autumn is the time to plant bulbs in the knowledge that in the Spring those actions will be rewarded with wonderful colour and new life. And we also ‘take stock’, we create the conditions for how our gardens can thrive next year and we take time to rest.

As a keen gardener myself I follow the methods of British expert Charles Dowding. Dowding’s philosophy rejects the use of fertilisers and chemicals to feed plants. Instead he focuses on feeding the soil to create the conditions in which plants can flourish. In the autumn we spread a layer of compost on the beds and allow the worms to do their thing, drawing it into the soil and breaking it down. According to Dowding by not digging over the soil we preserve its structure enabling it to nurture our plants better. And it’s a lot less hard work!

One of the other things we also know about Autumn is that Spring will come again… That, despite the cold, the darkness and the drizzle, there will be daffodils once more, sunshine, lush grass, and new growth.

And it’s not just about looking to the future and ‘getting through’ the next few months. Some of the cultures that face the harshest winters have adapted their mindset to embrace the opportunity that winter brings. Health Psychologist Kari Liebowitz spent the Winter in Tromso, Norway in 2014/5 and found that she could predict the ongoing wellbeing of residents during the winter based on the way they responded to statements such as…

  •  There are many things to enjoy about the winter
  •  I love the cosiness of the winter months
  •  Winter brings many wonderful seasonal changes

Our mindset makes an enormous difference to how we see the world and respond to the challenges that new seasons, political decisions and tough environmental challenges present us with. By being more conscious of our mindset we can also be more conscious of the behaviours and actions that will bring us solace. That doesn’t mean we have to learn Russian or write a novel, but that we take greater control of our attitude and focus on the small actions that can bring us growth and comfort.

What can we nurture now in ourselves, and those we love, to carry us through these next few months? This year more than ever might be ideal for fully embracing the Danish quality of ‘hygge’ as we spend even more time than normal at home.

One of the challenges of this period is the lack of control we feel over our own life and the future. If, as Buonomo argues, we are ‘prediction machines’, then the inability to predict the future, let alone a future of happiness and joy can be very damaging to us.

Francesca Gino and Michael Norton in their 2013 research, Why Rituals Work, explored how human beings respond to rituals. According to Gino and Norton:

“Humans feel uncertain and anxious in a host of situations….Creating personal rituals can help people take control of otherwise out-of-control seeming situations.”

Whilst you may not quite want to go as far as creating full blown rituals, concentrating on small things that you can predict and control can increase our sense of agency and leave us feeling less buffeted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that are affecting us all.

When other people and the environment are impacting on us like never before, how might we employ our physical, intellectual and emotional choices to maintain control over our lives?

Whilst the future remains so unpredictable it can be hugely valuable to concentrate on the now. To bring the torch beam in from a hundred metres away to what is right in front of our feet so we can navigate one step at a time.

What Intentional activities and behaviours can you commit to through this time? Consider all three dimensions. For example:


  • Physically – your diet, exercise, rest and time outdoors to stock up on Vitamin D
  • Emotional – who are you spending time with, how are you finding joy? Can a discipline like conscious breathing, meditation or mindfulness help to keep you on an even keel?
  •  Intellectual – how are you spending your precious attention? How is your work/life balance? Notice how what you consume impacts your mood – especially in the news and social media.

As well as helping to bring you through challenging times these ‘seeds’ that you plant now may help you to flourish more in the Spring.

As we at 4D have said throughout this pandemic it is also worth remembering not to be too hard on yourself or expect too much. This is an unprecedented period, the most extraordinary of our lifetimes, and, taking care of yourself and your relationships really is enough.

Spring will arrive, joy will return, Covid will no longer be front page news.

We’ll all have been changed by this period, for better and for worse… but this too shall pass.


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Video Conferencing: You’ve got the tech. Now what…

Video Conferencing: You’ve got the tech. Now what…

The impact of the Coronavirus will be felt by all of us. Most importantly those people whose health will be affected. As an asthmatic, I watch the news with the same concern as many of you. Let us hope that the actions taken by governments and each one of us will save lives and get us back to normal soon.

There seems no doubt that the current situation will also accelerate the adoption of business tools for remote collaboration and communication. Indeed, we have seen our friends at Cisco offer free Webex licenses to help people stay connected during this challenging time.

This technology was already growing rapidly as a result of increased cost pressures, environmental concerns and the continuing improvement in what video conferencing and unified comms are capable of.

But are we making the most of the investment we have made?

For five years I worked with the irrepressible Mark Grady at Google, a superb team at Tech Data, and some terrific resellers to help build a B2B channel for Google’s video conferencing platform Hangouts Meet. We were also lucky enough to spend time collaborating on G Suite, which transformed the way our team worked internally, with partners and customers.


It’s clear that every major technology company has recognised this space as a huge opportunity – the large platform players like Cisco, Microsoft and Google have been jockeying for position for some time with Amazon’s Chime and Facebook’s Portal, Whatsapp Video Calling and Messenger gaining traction too. And that’s before we get to the other players like Zoom, Go To Meeting and the list goes on…

The immediate challenges business is facing – trying to keep employees productive, maintaining relationships with customers and partners, whilst also protecting the health of valued colleagues – is likely to see the requirement for remote working and Video Conferencing jump up the priority list for IT Directors and other Lines of Business leads.

My Linked In timeline is certainly busy with thought leaders and technology companies offering their perspectives on how businesses can meet the challenge.

What few people are talking about however is that, when it comes to successful virtual collaboration, it’s not enough to install and understand how to use the technology – we also need to get far better at understanding how to ‘be’ on a video conference call to make it successful.

What effect do we want to have? How do we want to make people feel? How can we maximise our personal impact to connect with people over video? How can we run a successful and productive virtual team meeting where people leave the call more motivated than when they joined it?

Like everyone else who has spent any time working in large corporations I have had my fair share of soul-destroying calls – the ones with no energy, no clarity of purpose and the ones where it feels most people are answering their emails…

At 4D we have been working with leading players in the technology sector for many years delivering a wide range of coaching and training courses centred on communication between human beings. We have seen the demand for how to maximise impact and improve the effectiveness in the virtual space grow enormously in the last few years.

We are continually asked:

  • How do we ensure that our attendees are engaged?
  • How do we keep the meeting focused?
  • How do we ensure that everyone understands the meeting’s purpose?
  • How do we use the visual and audio technology to best effect?

We have developed a series of online programmes focused on exactly these problems. These provide delegates with an opportunity to think about the energy they bring to virtual communication, the atmosphere they are trying to create and how to be more conscious of the way they guide meeting attendees through a call.

Whilst the courses are very experiential, we’d love to share some of our top tips with you here:

1. Cameras On! – so much of our impact is in our facial expressions and our gestures. If you remove this you are reducing your impact by a huge amount (perhaps more than 50%). If your company, or that call, doesn’t have ‘camera on culture’ you can be the person that makes an even stronger impact!

2. Framing – once your camera is on, be aware of the framing. How much of you is visible? What height is the camera set at? Would a separate webcam be helpful? How is the lighting? Is there a pile of washing behind you…?!

3. Navigation – are you helping to guide people through the call, being clear on what they can expect to get from it? Are you providing an agenda? Are you creating a positive, engaging atmosphere? What expectations of the attendees have you communicated to ensure that they will bring something to the call and not simply be passive observers?

4. Energy – at 4D we are energy obsessed! We talk about it all the time because it’s absolutely crucial in our interactions with other human beings. One of the biggest challenges on VC is the energy gradually dropping out of the call, with a lack of interaction and a feeling that people are becoming disengaged. In a virtual meeting, the energy of the host is crucial – we often need to use more energy than we think if we want to maintain high energy on a call – it can feel strange to push more energy in when the camera is only 50cm away from you, but it can be the difference between a call that keeps people engaged and one that leaves people drifting away. We use a couple of very simple tools to help hosts maintain their energy and the energy of the attendees.



Whatever platform you are using to equip your teams with the right technology to work remotely if you’d also like to ensure that your teams are trained in the best interpersonal tools and techniques to get the most from their fellow human beings, do get in touch with the team at 4D Human Being.

Whether through face to face workshops and training or via virtual coaching and webinars, we help leaders, teams and individuals consciously communicate with impact every day.

The Fresh Start Effect

The Fresh Start Effect

Why new beginnings bring new energy to life



In this article, 4D’s Matt Beresford is exploring the power of Fresh Starts. Why do beginnings have more energy, than ‘middles’ and ‘ends’? And how might we capture some of this fresh start energy, wherever we are in our careers or relationships? Fresh starts and fresh approaches can help us to see our lives in a whole new way. What might you discover, if you start something new, or step in, as if for the first time?


Join Matt as he begins again…

Spring has always had a special place in my heart. For many of us, the longer, warmer days that follow Winter bring a sense of anticipation for the seasons to come and a promise of sunshine, colour and harvest. I am also a keen gardener, so after the enforced rest of Winter, I always find myself keen to get back into the garden, planting and sowing for the year ahead.

Plants aside – my birthday is also on the 20th March, and often coincides with the first day of Spring. So there’s always a lot to celebrate! And this year there’s been an additional fresh start to celebrate as I finally took the leap from a career in the IT industry to a vocation working full time with the team at 4D Human Being. I am hugely excited about the harvest we will reap in the months and years ahead as we grow the business and continue to develop ourselves, our work and the impact we have on the lives of those we work with.

Of course, at forty-four, this is also a step I make with some trepidation!


The Second Mountain


Whilst I have been planning this career move for some time, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to make the ‘leap’ this year. As I may have only 21 further springs in my working life (!), I’d like each of them to be spent in pursuit of something that I deeply care about rather than a career which ‘pays the bills’.

David Brooks’ recent book ‘The Second Mountain’ concerns itself, amongst other things, with exactly this challenge:

Some people get to the top of that first mountain, taste success, and find it … unsatisfying. “Is this all there is?” they wonder…At this point, people realise, Oh, that first mountain wasn’t my mountain after all. There’s another, bigger mountain out there that is actually my mountain. The second mountain is not the opposite of the first mountain. To climb it doesn’t mean rejecting the first mountain. It’s the journey after it. It’s the more generous and satisfying phase of life.”

This is where I had been for some time – enjoying the people aspects of my role in the IT industry more than anything else. Through my time managing Google for Tech Data, I found myself increasingly interested in finding ways to connect it to the people who would be impacted by the technology that I was promoting – the schools and businesses I believed would become better connected, more collaborative and more creative by using Google Chrome.


For Brooks, that’s a crucial way to tell whether you are looking to start climbing your Second Mountain. “Where is your ultimate appeal? To self, or to something outside of self?”

Many of us, of course, also have substantial responsibilities that we cannot simply drop to follow a dream – we have mortgages to pay and families to provide for. I certainly still want nice things, nice wine, holidays, trips to the theatre…

So, the Second Mountain could be a major change, the banker who is now a teacher, for example, but it needn’t be – for many of us it may be a shift in emphasis:

“Still others stay in their same jobs but are transformed. It’s not about self anymore. If they work in a company, they no longer see themselves as managers but as mentors; their energies are devoted to helping others get better. They want their organisations to be thick places, where people find purpose, and not thin places, where people come just to draw a salary. “



Transformation through Work


One of the challenges of making ‘big step changes’, like a change in career, is that it will inevitably change you as well. My new role will require a new routine and will see me primarily working from home and interacting with different people. And that will transform me too – perhaps quite dramatically.

“Never underestimate the power of the environment you work in to gradually transform who you are. When you choose to work at a certain company, you are turning yourself into the sort of person who works in that company. That’s great if the culture of McKinsey or General Mills satisfies your very soul. But if it doesn’t, there will be some little piece of yourself that will go unfed and get hungrier and hungrier.

Martin Luther King, Jr., once advised that your work should have length—something you get better at over a lifetime. It should have breadth—it should touch many other people. And it should have height—it should put you in service to some ideal and satisfy the soul’s yearning for righteousness.



Your obvious is your talent


If you have been feeling this tug towards another path it’s worth asking, ‘What are your unique set of skills?’ For me, it was years of directing and performing in theatre, twenty years of business experience, a lot of energy, a love of learning and wide, eclectic interests. You will have a set of skills that might build into an offering that is perfectly unique to you.

Scott Adams in ‘How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big’ says: “Failure always brings something valuable with it. I don’t let it leave until I extract that value. I have a long history of profiting from failure. My cartooning career, for example, is a direct result of failing to succeed in the corporate environment.” Adams likes to make the point that whilst he wasn’t great at any one particular thing – drawing, comedy, middle management – by combining the three he could create Dilbert, one of the best known and best-loved cartoons of the last twenty years.



What is your portfolio of ‘failure’ from which you have learnt something? What set of skills, experiences and relationships are unique to you and that can help you identify the talents you might bring to your Second Mountain?

At 4D we like to say: “Your obvious is your talent” – a favourite saying of improvisation teacher Keith Johnstone. What seems to you to be the most simple and basic skill may be one that many others have to work very hard to emulate. This might be something as seemingly ‘obvious’ as powerful listening, being organised, or being able to host a dinner for customers. What do others value you for that you barely give a moment’s thought to and that, by doubling down on, might unlock new opportunities for you?


A System of Living


When making a fresh start it is tempting to set oneself lofty goals for what one wishes to achieve – the weight we will lose, the language we’ll learn or the money we’ll earn. The 4D2C model provides a great tool for thinking about communication, whether 1-1 or 1 to many, with a much broader lens than the one we normally bring. It can also be a way of thinking about one’s life and how to ‘be’ and ‘grow’ in all four dimensions. It provides a system of living, rather than a goal with an end destination.


Instead of setting ourselves goals and being in a constant state of what Scott Adams calls “a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst’ we can use the 4D2C ‘system’ to provide a way of committing to a set of behaviours or attitudes that we believe will provide success in a given endeavour.

We cannot control what is out there in the world, however as Adams says:

Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The system-versus-goals model can be applied to most human endeavours. In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system”

The 4D2C model provides a useful way of checking on how I am choosing to grow and behave, within what environment and with what people. It encourages us to ask questions like: is this an environment and culture within which I can learn, grow and create the kind of impact I want to have on the world? And will it allow my 4-dimensional self to develop and find creative expression?


When to Start


If you’re thinking of making a fresh start in your life, in whatever field, Daniel Pink’s recent book, ‘When’ provides some great ideas for starts (as well as middles and ends!)

“The recipe is straightforward. In most endeavours, we should be awake to the power of beginnings and aim to make a strong start. If that fails, we can try to make a fresh start.” Pink also celebrates what he calls Temporal Landmarks for making those starts:

“The first day of the year is what social scientists call a “temporal landmark.” Just as human beings rely on landmarks to navigate space—“To get to my house, turn left at the Shell station”—we also use landmarks to navigate time.

First days of the year, month and week are commonly used for these Fresh Starts. Other landmarks are personal – say for example landmark birthdays and anniversaries. These dates “allowed people to open “new mental accounts” in the same way that a business closes the books at the end of one fiscal year and opens a fresh ledger for the new year.

Spring Beginnings


Whether it’s dedicating your working life to a different vocation, training for an Ironman or learning a new language, as George Eliot said, “It is never too late to be who you were meant to be”. 

So, do join me in embracing a Fresh Start this Spring. Whether big or small, it’s the ideal time to find a landmark and make a change that will move you closer to being who you were meant to be. If that also involves growing your first vegetables, I am happy to provide advice!