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Conscious Business Leadership: Rich Fernandez (Wisdom Labs) – Part 1/2

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(This is one in a series of articles and interviews about conscious business leadership, which is about leaders creating and promoting workplaces of understanding, honesty, and compassion, for the betterment of their employees, their community, their organization and world.)

I had an opportunity to meet with Rich Fernandez, founder of Wisdom Labs (https://wisdomlabs.com/).

Here is Part 1 of 2 of our discussion.


Hi, I’m Marion Neubronner. I’m reporting for Asian Entrepreneur. And today, we have an interview with Rich Fernandez, founder of the Wisdom Labs.

Hi, Rich. Thanks for the interview.

Hi Marion. Great to be here.

Can you tell us what you do at Wisdom Labs?

Sure. We use science and data and technology to promote mindfulness, resilience, and well-being in mid to large-sized organizations.

 Wisdom_Labs_Happy_Logo

Right, how did you have this idea to have something like this?

Well, after a long experience working at Google, eBay, JPMorgan Chase, big companies like these, one of the things I’ve noticed was that what took to succeed in the workplace, was often opposite what took to experience well-being and resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from adversity and to thrive. And so, I wanted to find a solution set that would allow employees and its organizations to really connect success with well-being.

Wow. This is so interesting because, you know, this concept of mindfulness and wisdom, it seems to be too “woo-woo” or soft. But you made it a business.

Oh, absolutely. I’ve said we used science and data and technology to enable mindfulness and resilience because these are evidence-based practices, really connected with two primary aspects of science. One is the neuroscience. The neuroscience of optimal performance and that suggests that the ways we can train our brains, the ways we can train our attention, our focus, our capacity to sustain high performance, are in fact skills, and that those skills are trainable. And there’s a specific set of practices that has sometimes been called mindfulness – we don’t always call it that – we sometimes call it training the brain, or attention training, it’s really pertains to a wide variety of mental training processes that has positive benefits in terms of performance, productivity, and also well-being and happiness, and resilience

The other strand of research that validates this is the epigenetics, which suggests that our immune systems and our ability to experience wellness, healthiness can be affected by practices such as mindfulness and healthy habit formation.

So, what we try to do is to take all of those tools, practices, programs, and offer it to companies in formats that are both live and experiential, as well as digital and scalable.

How does Mindfulness make good business sense? Does it bring a good return of investment if a company does training on mindfulness? What’s your experience?

My experience is it enables a culture of high performance and engagement, which leads to very positive business outcomes. You know, companies where employees have high employee engagement, where they’re connected to their colleagues, to the purpose of the company, they outperform other companies by a significant factor.

And so we know that mindfulness is a skill set of tools, content, techniques, programs that can really help people build the capacity to navigate complexity, to navigate stress, to navigate all the demands of the modern workplace so that they can better connect with others, with the purpose and the nature of the work, and that drives sustainable high performance.

In Singapore, we actually have very poor engagement scores. Many people are disengaged at work. If you were to advise a manager here, one thing they can do differently with their team, what would you say?

I would advise a mindful approach to connecting colleagues to each other and connecting the team to the mission. And this has to be done directly, I think, from the leader, who has, themselves, have to have a good understanding of what mindfulness is. They need to display what is called Mindful Leadership, the ability to understand, and to even take the perspective of people on their teams to build trust, to develop influence, to help foster creative or innovative thinking in their team, rather than just a compliance mentality, where leaders are expecting team members to comply and they care about nothing else.

The best teams that we see, that I see this from my experience in corporate life, so when I was in eBay, for example, we would run mindfulness workshops and employee engagements scores that we measured of participants in those workshops where there’s highest scores in the company. So it seem like that is a real strong connection between mindfulness, the practice of mindfulness, mindful leadership, mindful listening, and conversation between colleagues, developing mindfulness as a tool to navigate and manage stress and complexity.

Personally, all these aspects of mindfulness seemed, we thought, seemed very beneficial toward employee engagement. It only make sense, right? A team that feels at ease, that trusts each other, that feels safe to experiment with new ways of thinking and to innovate, is a team that also adapts well to change, and creates new services, products as well as the levers well against customers.

So, the key question is how? And as I’ve mentioned earlier, I believe that mindfulness is a set of tools and practices that are within science, neuroscience and epigenetics, that enable the types of mindsets, the types of cultures and teams that can innovate, and at the same time, experience engagement and wellness.

Right. That sounds very interesting. We can’t wait to hear more about the success stories in the next question.


For more information about Rich and Wisdom Labs, please see https://wisdomlabs.com/.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by TheNextWeb.com as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taravelis/

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Callum Connects

Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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