The Back Story monthly interview features ADAPTOVATE employees from around the world. Each month we ask them 10 questions. Our team is the greatest asset we have, and it’s a privilege to share just a little bit more about who they are.
This month we are joined in conversation by Ben Lyon, a senior consultant with our UK team. In fact, Ben was our very first employee in London.
First up – how long have you worked with us?
I started in June 2021, so just over 6 months now.
Why did you join us? Were you in the industry previously, or looking for a new career direction?
I had been an Agile practitioner in a large corporate setting for a few years and had also started to pursue Agile consultancy work in my own time. I was keen to coach Agile in more industries and organisations, so although I didn’t have a consulting background it felt like I was moving in that direction.
I launched a website in 2019 called ‘Agile Avengers’ with a couple of colleagues and wanted to write useful, accessible Agile content that would benefit individuals and teams who might not necessarily get access to the training and consultancy services that we often get exposure to in large corporates.
Doug Ross (one of the ADAPTOVATE founding partners) and myself connected on LinkedIn at the start of 2020 after Doug came across Agile Avengers and he’d reached out to say he was enjoying our content.
I’ll admit I was pretty pumped that our content had a) made it’s way across the globe and b) was being appreciated by a seasoned Agile and consulting pro! Doug was planning a visit to London in the Spring of 2020 and we’d arranged to meet.
I knew Doug was scoping out a London office and I was keen to hear more about ADAPTOVATE, but the pandemic had other plans… COVID-19 forced the world into lockdown merely weeks before our dinner and so everything went on hold.
Later in 2020 I was approached for an Agile coaching engagement and reached out to Doug to see if ADAPTOVATE wanted to partner up. I got to meet some of the ADAPTOVATE team in Warsaw and was really impressed with how they blended consulting and Agile coaching in the way they worked. In my mind, it was the ideal mix. Fast-forward to Jan 2021.
The world is adjusting the new remote-working norms, organisations are picking back up the transformational work that had been put on hold the year prior, and ADAPTOVATE was ready to launch a London office.
Doug phoned me up one Saturday night (an early Sunday morning for him in Sydney) and asked if I’d apply for the first role in the London office. After getting to know Doug and some of the ADAPTOVATE team over the previous year I felt very confident this was the right move for me. 6 months in and I’m pleased to confirm that joining ADAPTOVATE was absolutely the right decision.
How has your previous experience and career helped define where you are now? Would you have done things differently?
I’ll be honest, I never really planned for a career in consulting. I studied economics, finance & business at university, and was generally drawn to start-ups and perusing entrepreneurial environments where I could solve problems and work on things that really mattered.
After finishing my undergrad I was accepted onto a graduate scheme with a FTSE 100 company, and it just so happened that my first role was working alongside a team from Bain & Co who were piloting Agile at the same time as helping us fix some really big problems. Those guys were incredible to work with and I learnt more in a few months than all the years prior at college and university.
The pace, the structured thinking, the problem-solving mentality, the visibility within a large organisation, the calibre of the team – I loved working in that environment. And so, without any planning on my part, I’d just been introduced to the world of consulting and Agile simultaneously in what can only be described as a baptism of fire.
I followed the Agile part quickly in the years that followed, riding the the transformation wave in that organisation and moving into Scrum Master and Agile Coach roles quickly. This gave me new challenges to solve every day, and I had a lot of responsibility for ensuring these teams became high-performing teams.
One thing that stuck with me is how I always developed the most when I was faced with a new challenge, or got a chance to work in a new environment, and so when consulting became an opportunity it seemed like the perfect environment for me to be in. Would I have done things differently? There’s always two answers to this question for me.
Primarily I’d say no, because every mistake is a learning opportunity that builds our character and makes us better. If we chose to correct all our mistakes then I believe that would remove a richness from life that comes when we overcome hardship. However, if I were to simply give my younger self some advice?
I would say to keep putting yourself out of your comfort zone as often as you can, take big risks and don’t just follow what everyone else is doing because it’s comfortable or ‘the done thing’. Set your own audacious goals and encourage those around you to be the best they can be too.
How do you balance your work life with your ‘real’ life – Do you have a good balance and how important is it to you?
I’m a huge believer that there is no such thing as work/life balance – it’s all just ‘your life’ and we simply make choices as to where we invest our time. It seems odd in my mind to say I have a life at work and I also have a life at home, because I’m the same person living the same life in both contexts.
But I do appreciate this question is mainly about how we balance working time with non-working time… A few years ago I read a great book called ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People’ by Stephen Covey. It was a life-changing read and it really taught me the power of goal setting and prioritisation in everything I do.
Once I wrapped my head around that, I realised that the common work/life balance dilemma usually causes someone trouble when they haven’t decided for themselves what their priorities are. If your sole priority in life is to grow your business or become partner at your firm, then spending every waking moment on work tasks is absolutely fine.
The reality is that most of us have a collection of things which are important to us and make up our priorities, and the tension arises when we haven’t recognised a) what those priorities are and b) whether our current allocation of time and effort satisfies those priorities. When we lack this clarity we are often pushed and pulled by the priorities of others.
Appreciate I’ve gone down a Tony Robbins rabbit-hole here, so I’ll bring it back. For me, the balance is when you bring your whole, authentic self to work, and when you can truly recognise your own goals in life and know you are investing your time accordingly.
With so many of our team remote working, we always like to ask how do you have your home office/desk set up? Organised or chaos? Any top tips?
I have a standing desk that faces out on the English countryside! Ok it’s probably not as picturesque as you’re imagining but I do have a good view and I like having as much natural light as possible, and the ability to standup for meetings is really nice.
Posture and physiology is super important when working remote. I have one large curved monitor on an arm, then my laptop sits on a mount just next to it so I have both at eye-level. I’ve been through a few iterations but I think I’ve got things pretty sweet now.
I invested in the Apple trackpad and keyboard which makes me feel very cool. I try and keep my desk as clear as possible, but I usually end up collecting random bits around me over the week. My personal top tip is to mix things up from time to time. I’ll often head to a local cafe and work from a new space if I feel I’m getting cabin fever in my home office.
Do you play music during your Agile workshops with clients? What do you recommend on your latest playlist?
I actually co-facilitated a workshop at a recent team offsite and put on an 80’s disco playlist from Spotify. It went down a treat (I think). I would want to keep things fairly up-beat and energetic, so I’d be leaning towards pop music generally (but absolutely no cheesy hits).
How do you think technology has best helped humanity and do you have any concerns about our future?
I think technology has definitely accelerated our ability to learn new things. I once spilled coffee on my laptop during a university lecture and the keyboard broke, so I went home and was able to find a tutorial on YouTube that enabled me to take my laptop apart and replace the keyboard myself in one evening.
There’s just no way that I would have been able to do that without that fast and free access to information! The same can be said for finding information on just about anything really, but I can delve into rich content on just about any topic imaginable within seconds. I find that incredibly powerful.
My concerns would be around the technology that’s designed to keep us hooked on our devices for pleasure, specifically social media platforms that learn what content gives us the biggest dopamine release and bombards us with more to keep us scrolling. I’m concerned that a lot of mental health issues will be caused and exasperated by this, particularly in children and teens who will grow up being targeted the most by these technologies.
What does success mean to you personally?
Deep question! I think success should be very personal and very subjective. A few years ago I actually spent some time really thinking hard about this and clarifying what it meant for me, and so as morbid as it sounds I wrote out what I wanted people to say about me at my funeral. It’s not easy, but it really gets you thinking with the end in mind.
I ended up with some personal success factors that covered family, friendships, work & business, and personal health and wellbeing. One of the big things I try to do is practice gratitude every day for the opportunities and people in my life I’ve already been blessed with, before looking at what I want to achieve next.
You’ve time travelled back to your 10- year old self – What advice would you give?
Save all your Christmas and birthday money each year, then buy Bitcoin when that’s a thing? Ha! Seriously though, I’d tell myself to be nicer to my brother. We were close in age and I was a bit intolerant of him growing up.
How have you found working through life and work during COVID?
For the most part, I’ve really enjoyed it. I got to spend loads of time at home with my newborn daughter in the first year of lockdown and it was a really special time. Rather than spending hours each day travelling to and from the office, I could be with my family! I definitely miss the social interaction that comes through being in the office together though, but the practical benefits of more remote working are huge. I hope we can keep a fairly even balance moving forward between remote working and office-based working.