Over the weekend, Think Productive turned 5 years old. Here, founder and chief Productivity Ninja Graham Allcott looks back at the last five years.
5 things at 5…
On the 20th April 2009, Think Productive was officially born. I’d been dipping my toe into productivity for a few months before that, inspired by the likes of David Allen, Merlin Mann and the early days of Lifehacker.com. But on that date, we became registered as a limited company in the UK, we opened a proper bank account and made it all official. I can’t believe that was five years ago already. In one sense, it feels like only yesterday and it feels like we’re just hitting our stride. In another way, it feels like a lifetime of hard graft to get here. Time is, after all, an unmanageable illusion. But you knew that already, didn’t you?
I’m not one for big self-congratulatory indulgences and lists of amazing achievements, but here are 5 things I’m extremely grateful for, from the first five years of Think Productive’s journey:
1. Doing the work
This may seem like an obvious place to start, but the work that we do is something I’m constantly reminded is important and even life-changing. We get lots of emails that tell us as much. It’s because we live in a world of massive disconnects: between the hours we should work and the hours our boss feels we should work, between what’s achievable and what we actually want to achieve, between the working styles of organisation culture and us as individuals, between the tech and its usefulness, between thinking and doing, between work and life. Often these disconnects are silently shattering people, often with them even realising it.
Our work plays an important role here – in helping people to identify what’s broken and offering tools and a way of thinking that helps make it better. I love doing this work. I love the difference it makes to peoples’ lives. And I’m so, so grateful we get to do it. As time has gone on, we’ve earned the right to think bigger in how we do it, too: now we do it with bigger companies, we do it around the world and we do it on a much bigger scale than when it was just little old me with some slides I’d cobbled together, talking to anyone who would listen.
2. People and relationships
Fundamentally, Think Productive is a people business. Yes, there’s knowledge, expertise, branding and lots of other really vital things, but it only works if we foster great relationships with really talented people who share our values. I’ve been so lucky over the years, but from the initial spark of my friend and mentor Martin Farrell believing in the concept, to Lee Cottier’s enthusiastic belief that I could make it bigger than just me, to our now-COO Elena Boga taking a huge pay cut and coming on board in an entry-level admin role because she could see the potential, to Dawn O’Connor’s belief that it could be big internationally, to Icon Books’ belief that my book could hold its own in WH Smiths… open, collaborative and supportive working relationships have been at the heart of every moment where we’ve taken things to the next level. It’s also why I know we’re only just beginning: because we’ve got such a fantastic and capable team of people out running workshops around the world and of course, great people holding it all together behind the scenes at TPHQ.
From a business point of view, we struggled in our first couple of years. It was something to do with the deepest recession since the 1930’s and the fact that people don’t think about buying specialist training for their staff when times are tough (!). But in many ways, it taught us a few things. It taught us that in the short term, survival and working only for the permission to keep doing the work was something worth breaking our guts for. It taught us how to be lean, to boot-strap and keep a focus on efficiency. It taught us how to listen to customers and react to the unexpected (like our biggest client having their budget slashed and 60% of our work going down the pan in a single phone call, as I sat at the airport about to go off and write “How to be a Productivity Ninja”). Recession also means you have to be really good to survive. So I’m grateful for the fact that it forced us to be really good.
4. Getting paid
I don’t want to romanticise the hard times too much. It’s been a long road and lots of people worked for free or did things above and beyond the call of duty because they knew we didn’t have the money to pay, or pay particularly well. I personally didn’t see a penny from the business for nearly three years (in fact, the business swallowed up pretty much everything I had and I had to live pretty damn frugally to keep the show on the road), so I’m particularly grateful that now I can actually get paid. It’s a bit of a myth that entrepreneurs and businesses are driven by money. Very few great businesses truly are: most great businesses are driven by a belief in a need and a belief in something that helps meet it. And getting paid and being profitable, whilst of course important in itself in the longer term, is more important as the vindication that what you believe has some truth in it: people agree with you.
You’re reading this because you’re either connected to Think Productive in some way, or we’ve done work with you, or you’ve read my book, or you follow our stuff online. So most importantly, I want to say thank you for being part of it. I said earlier that this is a “people business”. As we continue to grow and expand around the world, my vision is that this becomes a “community business”: A community of Productivity Ninjas around the world, united by doing the work they’re grateful for doing, in a connected and inspired way, without all the stress and bullshit that can so easily take over. So however involved you’ve been in the first five years of Think Productive, I just want to use this moment to say “thank you”. And however engaged you are with us, please know that it’s our mission to make you more so over the next five years. We’d love to hear from you about how we can do that.