Jonathan Hughes on infinite pie thinking with Al Fawcett

Jonathan Hughes on Energy Intensity Passion

Jonathan Hughes on infinite pie thinking with Al Fawcett


Jonathan Hughes on Energy, Intensity, Passion

If you have listened to previous episodes then you will what these conversations are about. They are about exploring and understanding performance improvement and development, and maybe even change some perceptions. I get the chance to speak with remarkable people who share their stories. We discuss their challenges, their experiences, their lessons, their mindset and their perspectives. We talk through what they do to consistently focus on getting better.  This is not really a ‘how to’ guide, but it is a look inside someone’s else’s world, and taking time to see things from their side.  I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach to things, however you can certainly learn from others and their successes, and how it may apply in your life – both personally and professionally. It might be that you hear something new or something that you have heard before, something that you do now, or something you want to learn more about, and along the way maybe you will think about these things a little differently or maybe in a completely new way, and of course then it is about the action you take as a result.
Today I am talking with Jonathan Hughes on energy, intensity, passion. Jonathan is an Entrepreneur, investor, advisor and strategist, as well as Co-Founder and CEO at Pollinate, a FinTech and payments company.
In this conversation you will hear what Jonathan thinks about leadership, about teams, about culture. He shares his views on the need for energy in meetings and the value of a good argument, with emphasis on the word good. Jonathan describes himself as a hill taker when it comes to goal setting. He shares the 3 to 4 core things that are instrumental in him having a great days, about respecting others enough to disagree, and about having the energy, intensity and passion to fight for what you believe in. I am sure that you will pick up on that energy and passion throughout this conversation.
I often talk about the core principles of infinite pie  as ‘do stuff that matters, with people who count, in places that inspire’ and I think that we covered all of them in this conversation. Defining what matters at the moment, what to focus on, what to prioritise, what hill to take. Surrounding yourself with great people, from your direct team, to their teams and  people within the business as a whole, to your clients, and your suppliers – know who counts and why. Think about how they help you to get better and of course how you help them to improve too. And how Jonathan Hughes talks of the energy, intensity and passion to fight for what you believe in is certainly about creating an environment, a culture, a this is the way we do things around here, and if you are in the right place, then you will be inspired by it. So, once again a big thank you to Jonathan for sharing his perspective on this.
Why not check out some more of the great conversations with remarkable people on the infinite pie thinking podcast 

Full Transcript of Jonathan Hughes on Energy, Intensity, Passion


Jonathan Hughes  00:00

A couple years back, I was running a startup within Nat-West, I spent a year and a half, building their new merchant acquiring business. And I remember standing up in front of people, and we’re about to launch a big sort of values exercise. You know, and I stood up as the leader of 150 people, and I thought, I’m not gonna bang on about, you know, about corporate values, I’m gonna talk about, why do I come to work. And I ended up, as with much of what I do, and so a lot of it was just made up on the spot. So I ended up saying, look, you know,  there’s kind of three, maybe four things that get me out of bed, people, innovation, creativity, achievement.


Al   00:49

Hi, I’m Al Fawcett, and this is infinite pie thinking. Now, if you’ve listened to previous episodes, then you’ll know what these conversations are all about. They’re about exploring and understanding performance improvement and development, and maybe even changing some perceptions of them. I get the chance to speak with remarkable people who share their stories. We discuss their challenges, their experiences, their lessons, their mindset, and their perspectives. We talked through what they do to consistently focus on getting better. This is not really a ‘how to’ guide, but it is a look inside someone else’s world. And taking time to see things from their side. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all approach to things. However, you can certainly learn from others and their successes, and how it may apply in your life, both personally and professionally. It might be that you hear something new, or something that you’ve heard before, something that you do now, or something that you want to learn more about. And along the way, maybe you’ll think about these things a little differently, or maybe in a completely new way. And of course, then it’s about the action you take as a result.  So today, I’m talking with Jonathan Hughes. Jonathan is an entrepreneur, investor, advisor and strategist as well as co founder and CEO at pollinate a FinTech and payments company. In this conversation, you’ll hear what Jonathan thinks about leadership, about teams and about culture, he shares his view on the need for energy in meetings, and the value of good argument with emphasis on the word good. Jonathan describes himself as a hill taker when it comes to goal setting. He shares the three to four core things that are instrumental in having a great day, about respecting others enough to disagree with them, and about having the energy intensity and passion to fight for what you believe in. Now, I’m sure that you’ll pick up on that energy and passion throughout this whole conversation. So take a listen. And let me know what you think. Jonathan, welcome to infinite pie thinking, 


Jonathan Hughes  02:45

Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here. 


Al   02:46

No, I’m looking forward to this conversation, because there is a lot of stuff that we want to go through. And obviously, as you know, that the sort of core elements of these conversations are about performance improvement, it’s about leadership, and teamwork, and culture and mindset, all areas that you’ve experienced, and do on a day to day basis. But before we get into what you’re doing now, and the stuff that I suggested in the introduction about you, I want to take you back a little bit and ask where it all started. What got you interested in this? Well, was it? Was it something that you always did you always love tech? Did you always love business? Were you always aspiring to be an entrepreneur? Or was it just a path that sort of unveiled in front of you as you went through? 


Jonathan Hughes  03:28

So my entire career has been a tale of random opportunism. And so I left I left uni back in 1990, which, anyone listening who’s old enough to remember, that was actually one of the great Graduate job recessions, and probably the first time actually, that graduates coming out of uni has found it really hard to get a job. That’s fine for me because I didn’t want to this boring office work stuff. I wanted to be an actor, and I wanted to work in the theatre. And so I spent a few years running theatre companies, I was a roadie. I worked in corporate videos and, and I soon realised, after a few years of doing that, it’s it’s really hard to earn a living. Particularly if you’re not actually very good at it, which I realised I wasn’t.  So there I am in my  mid 20s, I was on holiday in Thailand, and accidentally got a job working for an insurance company. So I went from, you know, in my, in my sort of early 20s, wanting to be an actor wanting to work in the theatre, to at the age of 24 or 25,  being a marine cargo claims adjuster, in working in Bangkok in Thailand. And I very quickly learned, actually, there’s lots of really boring jobs in exciting industries, you know, driving a van around, you know, the M 25 delivering equipment for video shoots you know, waiting until two in the morning packing up taking home again that’s that’s pretty dull.  Clambering on and off ships with holes in their hulls looking, you know rotting self combusting fishmeal. That’s actually really good fun. I loved it, you get to be able to sort of clamber around on the Bangkok dockside and go and look at ships and look at bits of machinery that are rusting and falling apart and figuring out how much that’s worth. And so this this whole idea, I sort of learned quite early on in my life, that, you know, people get obsessed with working in a glamorous industry, or doing something that is, you know, the film world is amazing, but actually, for me, what excites me is what I get to do. So, you know, marine cargo insurance, it could not possibly get duller. I had a fantastic time, six or seven years, just being involved in all kinds of really interesting situations. So there’s that my career has just been about finding interesting things to do, and sort of ignoring the sort of stereotypes of what is cool and interesting. I got into technology initially, I was a consultant at Bain and company for 12 years or so after I moved back to the UK. And because I had insurance background, I was asked to run a big technology programme with Willis, insurance brokers, so I understood insurance, I knew nothing about technology And I still don’t really know much about technology. But what I, what I found out is I’m not scared of it. And if you’re not scared of something, or you’re scared of looking stupid, you can just ask all the questions you need to ask until it sort of makes sense. And then you crack on. So again, I’m an actor, I’m not a technologist. But if I am, I’m very much an accidental technologist. 


Al   07:01

I love that. I love the fact that the boring jobs and exciting industries, but it also flipped around from what you were saying about exciting jobs in boring industries. And that’s really, really fascinating. I I genuinely believe that people want to do meaningful work, they want to find meaning in what they do whatever that might be. So you know, whether you complete spreadsheets for a living, as long as I feel that there’s some purpose to it, that it’s adding value that it’s helping out, and that I can ask those questions. And that’s fantastic. And again, it’s easy to get caught up in the shiny, exciting stuff, or our perception of it. But I was reading something recently, and it was about an owner of a sports franchise, well, he owns a New England Patriots that the big NFL team, and he was brought on set of a movie to watch a movie being made. And he thought I will this is going to be exciting. But obviously he used to the speed of sports, and he’s watching these actors do take after take after take and he went, it’s not really a spectator sport, is it? You know, I mean, because we sort of see the end product and assume that all these things are exciting to make and to be involved in. And that’s not always the case, but it strikes me is that the underlying thing that I picked out of what you’re saying is that you’re just naturally curious, you like to understand how things work and what, what makes it come alive as such. 


Jonathan Hughes  08:20

Yeah, I mean, I have always just like to muck in, you know, I like to get involved, you know, and we, you know, this is why the, over the last year, I have spent more time looking at a screen than I have 20 years or something, you’re not just sitting sitting at a desk looking at a screen, which interestingly, when I was in my 20s, that’s what I thought business was called, was sitting at a desk. You know, that’s not what I do. My, my role has always been what I enjoy doing is always people, you know, so a couple years back, I was running a startup within Nat West and I spent a year and a half building their new merchant acquiring business. And I remember standing up in front of people, and we were about to launch a big sort of values exercise, you know, and I stood up as the leader of 150 people. And I thought, I’m not going to bang on about, you know, corporate values and all that sort of stuff. I’m going to talk about, why do I come to work, and I’m not as much what I do, and sort of a lot of it was just made up on the spot. But I ended up going, look, you know, kind of there’s three, maybe four things again, people innovation, creativity, achievement, and I say sort of three or four because you’re anywhere the middle two or one or two, but, you know, firstly, you know, I just love to be around people doing interesting things, you know, business, it’s a team activity. It’s not really a sort of, you know, a single they’re all single contributors and they tend to be subject matter experts, and I have huge admiration for people who just really really understand one thing deeply. But I, you know, that’s not that’s not me, you know, I just I want to be working with great people who inspire me who are going to have arguments with and fight with and then, you know, kind of say Yes, okay, we’ll all agree let’s do it, you know, I like to do new things, that’s the sort of innovation, creativity, or not learning something new doing something new. So that’s probably why, you know, I wanted to go and clambering and broken down ships, because I hadn’t done that, you know, let’s get to go and find out about something new that I haven’t seen. And, and then it’s the, it’s not many people’s, but I’m not sure I do it again, but I’ve done it. And then but then you’ve also, it’s really important that you also achieving something, because you’ve got, you know, and that’s the, that’s the thing that I think everybody comes to work to feel is that they have made a meaningful contribution to achieving something. And I think that’s, that’s the thing that really drives me on and why I’m always looking for new challenges and to understand new things, is because if you’re if you don’t feel like you’re achieving something, but I think you’ve kind of reached the end of a day or each week or a year, and it’s sort of well, why should I do that? Why did I get out, so that you know that those are the combinations for me is there’s an excitement around being with people, doing things, doing new things, achieving.


Al   11:25

I think that’s fantastic and, and, again, the people side of performance is what I’m all about, and and have very similar mindset to yourself and that sort of stuff, and that sense of achievement. So as a leader of people, how do you create that sense of achievement? Are you a goal setter? Are you are you constantly communicating with everybody about this is what we’re aiming for, this is, this is where we’re going, this is the direction we’re heading, let’s align behind this, and then it is important to you to keep them updated on Hey, look, we might be struggling at the moment, or we might be facing this challenge or whatever, but look how far we’ve come. But also look how far we’ve left to go or how close we are or whatever it might be. So how do you keep those people on that track and exciting are lying to that that sense of time? 


Jonathan Hughes  12:10

So I think a lot of it is about energy and momentum. So, look, on a hill, show me the hill you want me to take. I’ll take it, and this is why, you know, I mentioned the business that we built for NatWest. So I’m an ex strategy consultant, full of PowerPoint, a PowerPoint slide in December one year, to, processing live transactions in December the next year, so sort of one year launched a new business, got it into market, from PowerPoint to live transactions, the kind of pace that a big bank doesn’t ordinarily move at just, which is  probably why, sort of, people like me sort of get parachuted in from time to time, but we had a, you know, we had a goal that we wanted to achieve, which was to take a live transaction in a year, get a business set up, you know, and that, so we kept ourselves really oriented around that. We work very hard as a leadership team of that business to keep the energy really high and the excitement really focused on that, you know, so I remember in October, November that year, a lot of people saying, Well, you know, it’s going to be really tough, you know, if we just had to January, you know, we could fix this, this this and this. And I just remember constantly banging the table and saying, No, we said, we do it in a year, we’re gonna do it in a year. And by the way, I want to finish this year, telling everyone they did it. And so it comes back to you, as you said, communication, you’ve got to have a goal that people can get excited and energetic about. Energy is a is such an important thing for me, because if you’re not enjoying life, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, if you’re not getting energy from it, then most of us have choices. So make a different choice. So you know, it is very much as energy is that momentum. And it’s, it’s being able to tell people they’ve done something they didn’t think they would be able to do.


Al   14:07

That’s really exciting, isn’t it, because you’re right about that energy, because when challenges come, we’ve got a choice, we can either look for the opportunity and how we’re going to overcome it. You know, what we can do and what we can focus on, or we can find all the reasons for it to stop us. And if we’ve got that sort of that energy and that enthusiasm, and somebody helping to keep our thinking in the right direction, because that’s what this is all about infinite pie thinking is about improve your thinking, improve your performance. So if you are thinking in the right direction, yes, that is a challenge. Okay. Now we’re aware of that challenge, what do we do? Do we stop? Is stopping an option? Because you could say it’s one of the options, but what is the impact of us stopping? What is the impact of us pushing the deadline back? Is that how we want to feel at the end of the year? That we had to shift the deadline, you know, that we were perceived as unable to to achieve this and it’s amazing how that type of communication can start to bring people. No, no, no, no, no, no, we’re gonna do this, we’ll find a way.


Jonathan Hughes  15:05

There’s, there’s nothing that depresses me more than a low energy meeting. I’d actually, I had one the other day, and at the end of it, I was just kind of, like, how do we bring ourselves together as a team and excite each other a bit more. And I, I love argument, I love, you know, I’d much rather have a big argument in a meeting than have a kind of low energy meeting where you know, people don’t even have the umph to disagree with each other. Right. Now, you then that is in a really interesting sort of discussion around how do you argue well, and come back together? Because distracting arguments that are destructive and pull apart a team apart, are, you know, that, that’s bad. Arguments can bring a team together, I think much more than group thing and agreeing with each other. Yeah. Because a lot of it’s about feeling respected within your team, and if you don’t feel you can argue and have people listen to you and respect you enough to argue back to you in a good way, then, you know, you’d haven’t got a team, you haven’t got a team that’s really working and pushing each other and pulling each. I think that’s great. So now for me, energy, intensity, the passion to, fight for what you believe in, but then, you know, but then the humility to work with a team and be you know, led by your leader, followership is so important, people bang on about leadership and forget followership. The humility to be a follower, when you need to be. I think that’s, that’s the kind of thing that makes a good team. 


Al   16:42

I think that’s fantastic, because I think we lose that side of things, don’t we? Most books that you see on the bookshelves will be about leadership, not about how to follow as well. And it’s about that ability to, to have open dialogue, to be able to challenge and feel that you’ve got a voice, but also allow those around you to have a voice as well. So it’s that ability to go Okay, whilst they’re speaking, I’m not going to just shout them down, I’m not just going to, let’s listen, and then we’ll dissect and we’ll have that conversation. So I’m going to pick up on that in a second, but it reminds me of a conversation I had with a previous guest, Jason Robinson World Cup winner in 2003, rugby, and he turned around and said that obviously, in the changing room, there was all of these big characters and you know, elite athletes and whatever, but they were allowed to get in each other’s face. But, as long as it was aligned behind the purpose, it wasn’t just I don’t like you, it was, hang on a minute, if we’re trying to do this, you’ve got to help me to be better, and you’re not helping me to be better, or I’m letting you down because I’m not helping you to be better. And it’s that ability to challenge on that sort of scale. So, I’m really fascinated because I have sat in far too many of those low energy meetings, and it’s just let’s just review what we’ve done. What are we going to do next week? Everybody nods and agrees, and then mumbles about it as they walk out the door, and all that sort of thing. So how do you ensure, whether you are hosting the meeting, you’re the chair in that meeting, or you’re just a participant in the meeting, what role do you take in trying to lift that energy?


Jonathan Hughes  18:11

So I’ve been, you know, I’ve been both. You know, I’ve been the CEO sitting around the table with my team, and I’ve been here as part of the team. So as the CEO, I always think your job is to be the biggest ego around a table of big egos. Now, let me, let me unpack that slightly. What you want as a CEO, is a first class team of people who are driven, who are very good at what they do and really want to achieve. That’s what you want. Those people come with egos, of course they do. You know, because you don’t, you don’t get that drive and you don’t get that achievement, and you don’t get to that position, if you don’t have a fairly strong ego, sense of self, you know, want to be the best. And so you want all those big egos around the table, and you want them to be themselves, and you want them to be pushing. But ultimately, you have to bring it all back together. So what you want to, and look, this just my view, as a CEO, what I want to see around my top table, is a lot of big egos who have got really big views, really want to do things, who are out there. But then I’ve got to have the biggest ego, because ultimately, I’ve got to bring that all together, and say, right, I’m, you know, I’m happy to hear from you all, now this is the way we’re going to pull it together as a team. And so the role of the CEO is with the biggest ego is not actually, necessarily, to get their own way, or to have their, you know, to impose what they want on the team. It is to ensure that you can bring a team of high achievers together as a team. So that you know, that’s, that’s my sort of CEO perspective, is I try and bring out, though, allow everyone to speak, to have their piece, to push, and then kind of make sure I can mold it all back into one team all going in one direction. I think, and that’s why I want to unpack that, because people confuse ego and force of will, which you’ve got to have, with thinking your ideas are the best. Yep. So I have a quite considerable force of will at times, but I don’t necessarily think my ideas are the best, I just want the best idea. As a participant, if I think people are being too nice to each other, or actually, even if I don’t, I quite often deliberately disagree with someone as soon as possible in the meeting. It’s a little bit like, you know, when I do panel discussions, you know, it is, I’m make it a rule to always disagree with someone else on the panel. Because how many panel discussions have you seen where everyone just sort of nods and agrees with each other? It’s boring. So if I’m in a meeting, I will always try and disagree with somebody, in a good way. Yeah yeah. But you know, challenge them, get them to explain their thinking more, you know, ask plays Devil’s, Devil’s advocate, ask the question that no one else wants to ask, you know, sort of put forward the view that no one else, even if I don’t actually hold the view, sometimes I’ll put it forward, just because we’ve got a debate. And so I think that’s the that’s the the craft of a fun meeting. And I, you know, and I choose the word very deliberately, because if it’s not fun, why are we doing it? Let’s have a good debate, and then let’s make sure we get to the right answer. No one else has ever got to the right answer without a debate. Not possible.


Al   21:33

Well, that’s what innovation is all about, isn’t it? If we think about how technology performed, it’s where people have tested something, and gone, that hasn’t worked, this has worked, let’s get rid of that. It hasn’t gone, Oh, we all agree that this is the way that these things should work and it’s, otherwise nothing would change, we would just be in a rut and we would continue down a similar path. All these things that are popping up on the edges and whatever is where somebody’s gone, that’s okay, but this is better. This is where it’s going to change and where we can we can take it off in different directions. So there’s so many comments that you made that could almost just go over people’s heads or almost throw away comment, but one of the things that you said is I like to think I’ve got a lot of good ideas, but I want the best ideas, so I might not necessarily have them. So, again, some of this stuff about these meetings, and we’re using meetings, but it can be a one to one conversation, it could be whatever it is, it’s about that situation of if we all come into the meeting with the understanding that we want to walk out with the best ideas, then we’re all open to throw our ideas into the mix. And then like you said, your job is the facilitator of that meeting, the CEO of that meeting, is to have people walking out understanding why we’ve selected the idea that we’ve had. They might walk out with a little bit of bruised ego, they might walk out with their still going, I think my idea was better. But, they at least understand the thought process and the logic behind we’re here, and before we walk out of here, we’re all behind it, right? Because that’s got to be the key. Because if you have people walking out, go now still don’t agree, then we’ve, we start to have a little bit of a problem that needs to be dealt with. 


Jonathan Hughes  23:01

To some extent, yes. Although, I hate compromise, because nobody is incentivized to make a compromise. And in fact, pretty much everybody wants to see a compromise fail because nobody got their own way. Exactly. So I, I don’t mind if at the end of, you know, we’re just trying to decide on a way forward. I don’t mind if people are still saying Well, I don’t agree with it. Right. Because, and actually, I’d rather they were honest. What I do want as a leader is followership. Yeah. So say, I don’t agree, but you’re the boss, I trust you, I’ve had the opportunity to disagree, which I think is important. Yeah. But I’m now prepared to commit to this course of action for us as a team. But I don’t actually mind if people continue to disagree, happy days, I, but I do mind if people don’t commit. Right. Then the, the nice thing about a course of action is there is generally at least one or two people, that’s what they wanted to do. They are now incentivized to make sure that a damn well works. 


Al   24:09

Yeah. So let’s get into the ugly bits of that. You’ve got somebody who’s walked away and says, I don’t agree. But I understand you’ve made that decision, so I’m committed to it. Do you take that at face value and go great, they’ve told me they’re committed? Do you find yourself going, Okay, I’m just going to keep an eye on their level of commitment. I’m going to keep an eye on whether or not there’s an element of disagreement that keeps coming through and at future meetings, how often will you allow them to continue to voice that disagreement before it’s a, hang on a minute, this is starting to impact my perception of your commitment now, because you’re saying you’re committed to it, but you’re constantly showing me obstacles and hurdles. So where’s that line? 


Jonathan Hughes  24:52

It’s a really tough one to navigate. And as you say, that this, this is the sort of, the ugly side of, of running a team at times. I like real honesty. You know, I’d, I much prefer to understand how people are thinking, what their motivation is, what they, what they want to do. But, you know, pretty much everyone I work with has choices, about what they do with their time, where they are, the people they work with, you know, what they want to achieve, all those things that I talked about before. Yeah. And, you know, I think, for me, it’s more a macro question. If you are uncomfortable with us as a team, if you are uncomfortable with the way that we make decisions, if you are uncomfortable with the leadership of, you know, whoever is leading that team, and if you are uncomfortable, showing them followership, you’re in the wrong place. So for me, I refuse to lead an unwilling team, if, if you don’t want to work with my team, doing what we want to do, if you don’t get energy from it, that’s fine. I don’t mind, just don’t be here. Yeah, exactly. So let’s put a to put a positive on the ugly. I’ve fired a whole bunch of people in my time, and I, I never enjoy firing people, or you, there’s got to be something wrong with if you do. But I always enjoy helping them find a better place to be. I think pretty much every time I sort of talk someone about moving on, it’s because they’re not in the right place, they’re not enjoying what they do, they’re not enjoying the team that they’re working with, you know, and then it’s time for you to move on. And it’s time for me to help you find something else. So for me, it’s a macro question. You know, it’s about how a good team works together, and how you find your place in the team, rather than a kind of micro task oriented thing. Because I expect, probably on average, 50% of the team to disagree with 50% of the decisions, but and if that’s the kind of thing that frustrates you as a person, don’t be in my team.


Al   27:11

Yeah. And also, don’t be a leader if you’re not expecting that type of thing. Because if you want to be the type of leader that says I say this, and everybody’s got to agree, then what you’re going to get is a lot of people nodding, whether they actually agree or not, is another matter. But they’ll nod at you to say, Yeah, I know that he wants to hear that I agree with him. And then I’ll go and tell everybody else out here that I’m not. But I like the fact that you escalate that up to that high level view of this isn’t about this one decision, this is about your role within our business. You talked about earlier about having a value conversation to 150 people and it wasn’t about words on a wall, it was about, this is the way we do things around here. Yeah. This is what we’re all about. Do you align to that? Because if it doesn’t, it’s gonna get pretty uncomfortable, pretty quick. And you know, and it’s having that conversation, that honesty and that reality check.


Jonathan Hughes  28:04

And nothing frustrates me, like a value statement that no one disagrees with. And what’s the point? If everyone agrees with your value statement, it’s not, it’s not really a value statement. It’s banalities. By the way, just to finish off with the previous topic. I do love a good told you so. So I love it when, you know, if I’ve made a bad decision, a lover told you so. Yeah, sort of two months on or a week later or whatever. That was a rubbish decision. Yeah. Good. So let’s admit it. Let’s clean it up. Let’s change course. But yeah, that’s the sort of thing that you don’t that you have to have honesty with. And it’s done, you know, the told you so it’s got to be done with a, kind of, with a good heart, a good intent, you know, good motivation. But why the hell not? If you were right, and someone else was wrong, and, you know, and then you pull together to fix it, you know, be honest about it.


Al   28:58

I think that’s important, isn’t it? You know, again, we can go get into the glib statements of we all make mistakes, and it’s what we learn from it and all the rest of it. But yeah, it, it just sounds like that the underlying message that I’m getting from all that is the quality of the communication that we have, that we’re genuinely connected to those people around us. So they’ve got our back, we’ve got theirs. But I’m hesitant to say this in some ways, but it’s that classic sort of family scenario. Sometimes, you know, you can get into real uncomfortable situations with your brother, your sister. And it’s that thing of like, we get into real, real debates and real arguments and real spats. But if anybody else did it, I would be right there defending them to the hilt. And again, it’s almost that type of environment that seems to work. It’s like, we don’t always have to get on. We don’t always have to like each other. But we need to respect each other and actually know that we’re here for each other when it really hits the fan.


Jonathan Hughes  29:51

Yeah, it’s sort of it’s closing ranks against the world and the rest of the world don’t see your arguments and how you sort of, struggled to work together, because what the rest of the world sees is, you know, a fantastic team, you know, and again, with the risk of sort of repeating myself, I think it is in large part, those arguments and those struggles that you pretend to work well together, that turns you into a good team. 


Al   30:18

Yeah, well, it’s stress testing things, isn’t it? It’s literally, it’s like, how far can we push these things to know. And again, if we’re all in our comfort zone, if we’re all in an environment, whether it be the work that we’re doing, or the teams that we’re in, or whatever, if we’re all in an environment where it’s too comfortable, then we’re not pushing ourselves. Now, there is some scientific evidence that says that if we go too far out of our comfort zone, then we become paralysed, we get over tested, and we can’t cope with it. So it’s that sweet spot of keep expanding and pushing people. And this is what performance improvements all about, right? How are we a little bit better than we were before? So how are our meetings? You know, if you look at the quality of the meetings you’re having now in relation to the quality of the meetings you had 12 months ago, 18 months ago, two years ago, 10 years ago, if they’re not better, if you’re not having better people around you having better conversations, then what have you been doing for the last 10 years?


Jonathan Hughes  31:15

Yeah, yeah. And might, might I ask the question that I ask myself the whole time is, am I enjoying myself? You know, is, is this fun? And, you know, I get, I get bored quite easily. As I said, I, you know, like, I’m a hill taker, like the hill. If I don’t have a hill to take, you know, I get very bored. And I get quite frustrated. And I get quite difficult to deal with, I think, as well, I don’t think, I know. I’d say you know, like, everybody’s strengths or their weaknesses. Yeah, yeah. And, you know, that’s, that’s a bit of a truism. But, but I always, sort of, the question that I always ask myself is am I enjoying myself? You’ve got to be pushed, I think a little bit, you know, to enjoy yourself. And it’s, it’s always what I look for, as I look around my team, you know, I want to look in their eyes and I want to see that enjoyment. Right. And I want to see that, sort of, they like the challenge, I don’t want to see panic. But when I do see panic, you know, that’s, that’s the time as a leader that you’ve got to, you’ve got to help, you’ve got to jump in.


Al   32:15

And that’s what I was gonna say, do you step in? Is it literally a, you don’t look like you’re enjoying yourself, what’s going on? You know, those type of questions. So I once said to somebody that I have, I have a number of sort of core measures, if you like, but three of the core ones that I look at on a daily basis, have I learned something today? Have I helped somebody else to learn something today? And was today fun? And if I can say yes, to those three questions, it was a pretty good day. And they turned around to me and said, well, that could be quite simplistic and naive, because every day can’t be fun. How long do you go allowing you to go, today wasn’t as enjoyable as it possibly could be, so that’s okay, but I’ll make sure tomorrow is better? Or, you know, is it a, if you go a week without enjoying yourself? Do you have a have a sort of scale, because every day can’t be idyllic as such.


Jonathan Hughes  33:09

No day is ever idyllic. So there must be must be a masochist within me, because I do enjoy a bit of a adversity. You know, I do, there’s a fun element to pay. Right. Which you know, and I work out, I go to the gym, and I think you have you, if you if you like to exercise and you like to push yourself in exercising, you have to enjoy the pain. Otherwise you don’t, you’re never gonna get fit. And so I think it’s the same in you know, in my work, you know, there’s, there’s good, good pain, and there’s bad pain, but just because it hurts, just because, you know, the moment isn’t fun, doesn’t mean, you know, I don’t have the energy and the momentum. And I don’t have I kind of that overall sense of, I’m doing something that I want to be doing. Right. But the thing for me is, you can enjoy the hard times if you’re with great people. Yeah, yeah yeah. And so that, you know, and I keep sort of looping back and I, so either I’m being internally consistent, or I’m being horribly repetitious. I’ll leave you, the listeners to decide. But it’s, it’s people, innovation, creativity, achievement, but I deliberately put people first because when everything else is falling apart, when everything else is hard, and painful. If you are with your team, and you’re fighting together, and you’re shoulder to shoulder and you’re supporting each other, you’re okay with your you know, you’ll come out of it.


Al   34:56

Yeah, I agree. And it’s interesting from the point of view of, ultimately you take it back to enjoyment, fun. It’s our definition of that. Because, you know, some people enjoyment, it means that, oh, everything’s got to be smooth and tranquil and lovely. And, you know, I don’t have bombshells landing on my desk all the time and urgent requests, and you know, and it’s not hectic, to other people, that’s what they enjoy. That’s what they want. They want the madness of it to have something just so efficiently worked out, where it just becomes a completion of tick box exercise, that would be completely mundane to them and it’s just like, I, I, that would drive me nuts. But it’s that self awareness piece, everybody’s got to be understand themselves first, before they can even try to understand anybody else and recognising that within yourself. So I find that really, really interesting. But you talked about the taking of the hill. So at what point do you start looking at the next hill? So if you’re currently on, let’s put you in your world at the moment, you know, you’ve obviously got challenges and goals within pollinate, that you’re looking to achieve and you’ve got that next objective piece. But do you have a once heard a phrase of dream big, make small goals. So it’s like, ultimately, we want to get to x., but our next objective is y. So do you have a big hill that you want to take with lots of small hills on the way? Or are you a, let’s just focus on the next hill type of guy.


Jonathan Hughes  36:23

So I almost always have a sort of plan ‘A’. Right. In my career. And, you know, it’s kind of as we started the discussion, I almost always get distracted by something fun that comes along. So my plan A to become an actor, I got distracted by, you know, this amazing on jobbing marine cargo insurance in Thailand, which I’m sure was also part of it, you know, a chance to live in Thailand, for most of the 90s, as I did, has got this kind of insight is, also a lot of fun. You know, I, I was a partner of Bain and Company, the consultancy, and building my, my partner career at Bain, and got distracted by the opportunity to go off and help drive the turnaround of Worldpay, that came out of RBS. You know, after I’d done the IPO of that, you know, I thought I might go and found my own business ended up working as a professional investor for a few years. And working with, of course, their capital and focus on that. Finally decided, became an entrepreneur, you know, sort of working with Al and Tim and Fiona, my, my co founders at Pollinate. So, so none of its planned. I always have a big idea. But I you framed the idea as driving a set of behaviours, that keeps me curious. Right. Because if you don’t have a big idea, and you don’t have a big thing to think about, then I think you lose interest. And actually, for me, the process of being interested in what’s happening around me, and finding interesting opportunities is more important than the reason I’m out there. But, but then day to day, yeah, look, I you know, on, give me a hill, I am single minded on taking it. As soon as I get to the top of it, soon as I’ve taken it, I want next. Yeah, right. And actually, I do like to look at it, you know, I love the idea of, of a false summit as well, you know, if you’re a runner, or if you’re, you know, a walker, you’ll, you’ll know, the idea of a false summit, you think you reach the top, and all you’ve done is, you know, kind of there’s a dip, and then there’s another summit that you didn’t see, because you had that. And I find that quite energising so you know, you kind of you think you’ve got there, and then you suddenly see right now you got to keep going. But that’s what, that’s what I mean, you then you dig deep, and you, you enjoy the pain and you crack on. And you push on, absolutely. 


Al   38:59

Okay. But you said that, obviously, at Bain, one of the things that you learnt and developed within your skill set was strategy and becoming a strategist. On that sort of basis then, when you are sitting down with that blank piece of paper, I’ve got this idea. And you sit down with a blank piece of paper, and this is a massive question and we probably won’t have time to go into it in a huge level of detail. But you start with that blank piece of paper and you get you pull up the PowerPoint deck and you go right, here we go. What is the strategic process? Is it as simple as we’re here now, this is where we want to be, let’s set a measurable goal, the, we want to have our first transaction within 12 months, and then I’ll surround myself with the right people to help me fill in the gaps between A and B, is it as simple as that? Or what’s your thought process behind the strategy?


Jonathan Hughes  39:43

So you got to have a vision. And you know, and I distinguish between how I think about sort of my personal career, and how I think about business is that I write. Okay. So, and so that’s probably why you know, a lot of what I’ve been talking about is how I’ve thought about my career and what I’ve done and how I organise myself, you know, when you are running a business and a team and looking to achieve something. You know, I think opportunism is actually quite a dangerous thing. Right. Because strategy in the context of running, running a business, I think is about having a vision, being really clear about what it will take to achieve that. And then fundamentally, strategies choices, strategy is what you don’t do. Because you know, the things you don’t do, define how you get to your goal. Anyone with any imagination, anyone with any sort of ability to look around will be presented the whole time with choices. And I know this in, you know, in our own business, there are so many choices about what we can do, you know, I find incredibly talented team. We’re always coming up with new ideas, we get, we get approached by potential partners, you know, people who’ve seen us in the press, you know, so people come to us with ideas and opportunities a lot. Strategy is the choices we make to not do stuff in order to keep our focus on the big thing we do want to achieve. Yeah. And so I think that’s the, that’s the key thing, actually, running a business, opportunism can be really dangerous. It can also be great. And look, you know, and this is, this is the art of making good decisions. But generally, I favour a single minded focus on doing what you said you were going to do, unless it’s clear that was the wrong decision. In which case, clean it up, move on. Yep.


Al   41:38

That’s really fascinating, isn’t it? Because in some ways, like you said, the difference between you and your desire for new things, interesting things, what’s going on, but that ability to put that hat on as CEO, to turn around and say, right, let’s really dig down. So it sounds like to me at the beginning, you spend a good proportion of time going. So what is it we’re all about? What is it that we’re looking to achieve? So we can be really, really clear on this. So we don’t get distracted by the shiny new things. I’m fascinated by seeing people go from idea to implementation. But I’m also really interested in seeing and hearing how many times I’ve spoken with, whether it be clients or people I’m coaching or people in general, who tell me about an idea. They have what I call their aha moments. Aha, Eureka, I’m gonna do this, I’m going to change the world. And it takes about three minutes to move on to there ah yeah, but moments. Ah yeah, but I haven’t got the money, I haven’t got the time, I don’t know the right people, I’m not educated enough. All the reasons we talked about before, about becoming an obstacle. So it’s really fascinating. And I think that sometimes slowing down at the start to speed up through the process is missed, that ability to be really clear on, this is what we’re all about, we might we might come up with lots of different ways to achieve it. But first and foremost, we need to know what it is that we’re all about and what we’re trying to achieve. Like I said, I find it really interesting that you are able to play that, again, it must be down to self awareness, but that role of me as a as an individual and as a person, I’m fascinated by and I don’t want that mundanetity. But I can tap into the side of me that goes, let’s be really clear on our vision and cut out the noise and the distractions.


Jonathan Hughes  43:20

Yeah. And so one of the most difficult thing about leadership is genuinely understanding that not everybody is like you. Because I think most people don’t actually get, that what motivates them doesn’t motivate other people. Or that other people need different things to them. We cannot, everybody says it because you know, it’s blindingly obvious. But how many people really deeply translate that into behaviours and how they look and think about the people. So I’ll give you an example. I am generally motivated by what I get to do day to day. You know, I talked about that, I learned it very early on in my career, interesting jobs in boring industries, all that. Other people are motivated by being a part of something big, by being a part of, you know, someone who’s, you know, a business that’s trying to change the world is trying to do, and their and their motivation comes from having a role in that, with much less emphasis on what their role is. And there’s a whole spectrum between those extremes. And any given team is going to have that whole spectrum. As the leader, and that’s just one dimension of how people think. But a number of leaders I see who think, well, I’m motivated by a big vision. So I’m just gonna talk about the big vision. They don’t get that actually there’s a bunch of people in their team who, you know, yeah, it’s cool. Like to be involved in that. But actually, what do I get to do? Yeah, equally, I’m a kind of, I like to get stuff done. I like to do things, I have to remind myself that, you know, I’m going to be working with a bunch of people who are much more motivated by other things. That, I think that’s, that’s really hard, because I don’t think we admit enough as leaders, how our lens on the world and how and our lens on leadership is driven by what drives us. And, and you talk about self awareness, you know, self awareness is part of it. But being aware that other people are different, and genuinely translating that into your behaviours. That’s the other thing.  Absolutely, absolutely. And I think on that note, it’s a perfect place to wrap that up. Because that sums up leadership to me in the sense of, know yourself, know your people. And that ability to provide leadership and followership for both sides of that. So, all that’s left for me to say today, and I think there’s going to be things that I’d want to come back to you and tap into in a little bit more detail, because we touched on a number of cool things here. So if they’re ever an opportunity to get you back on, I’d really love to take advantage of that. But in the meantime, all that’s left for me to say is thank you ever so much for today. Thanks so much, been a lot of fun.


Al   46:11

Okay, I often talk about the core principles of infinite pie, as do stuff that matters, with people who count, in places that inspire. And I think that you’ll realise that we cover all of them in this conversation, defining what matters at the moment, what to focus on, what to prioritise, what hill to take. Surrounding yourself with great people, from your direct team, to their teams, and the people within your business as a whole, to your clients and to your suppliers. You’ve got to know who counts and why. Think about how they help you to get better, and of course, how you help them to improve too, and the talk of energy, intensity and passion to fight for what you believe in is certainly about creating an environment, a culture, a, this is the way we do things around here. And if you’re in the right place, then you’re going to be inspired by that. So once again, a big thank you to Jonathan for sharing his perspective on all of this. Now, as always, I also want to say thanks to you for taking the time to listen to these stories from people like Jonathan, if this is your first time, then why not go back and check out some of the other remarkable people who shared their infinite pie thinking. We’ve had elite athletes and World Champions, entrepreneurs, business leaders, psychologists, performance coaches, as well as artists and creatives. And make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss the great conversations we’ve got scheduled in the coming weeks. As a final thank you, it goes out to everyone who shared these stories with others they feel may enjoy and benefit from them, and to everyone is taken an extra few minutes to leave a rating review. I really do appreciate it, and if you’ve got a minute, please do it, because it helps more people to find us and to get something out of these conversations. Of course, if you want to, you can reach out to me via all the socials using infinite pie, or head over to the website, and you can let me know what you think, what you’ve taken from the conversations and of course, what you’re doing as a result. For now, go and do stuff that matters.

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