This is the thirty-third in a series of podcasts where Judy interviews people who have a track record of successful collaboration. This series is for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of real-life collaboration, especially collaboration among creative, intelligent, free-thinking individuals who are geographically dispersed. The interviews go well beyond the obvious, as metaphor master Judy Rees explores the hidden thinking that inspires collaboration that works.
Judy: Hello and welcome to the collaboration dynamics podcast. I’m Judy Rees and with me today is Alun Richards. Hello, Alun!
Alun: Hello, Judy.
Judy: Alun is a really important person on the Collaboration Dynamics podcast, because he is the mastermind behind the technical side of the project. And interestingly, that means he is one of my collaborators. We were just saying that actually although we collaborate together on a regular basis and we actually live about 5 or 6 miles apart in London, we probably haven’t met for about 10 years.
Alun: That’s right. It’s quite incredible, isn’t it?
Judy: It is quite scary, but we know each other as online entities. That makes you quite an interesting collaborator for me, particularly now when I’m doing more and more virtual collaboration and training with my clients. Anyway, I usually start these podcasts by asking my interviewee to introduce themselves. So, Alun, say a bit more about what you do and who you collaborate with.
Alun: Okay. Thank you very much. I’m Alun Richards. I provide websites, primarily for small businesses, websites and online strategy services to help small businesses grow their business and to gain greater exposure. I use WordPress to create websites. I use social media strategies to increase the ‘know like and trust’ with people, for people who engage me. My services go all the way from strategy right through to implementation.
Judy: What kind of people do you collaborate with?
Alun: There are many small businesses. Increasingly I’m dealing with a lot of NLP practitioners, a lot of therapists, a lot of trainers. They are kind of one person one-man-band-type people, who want more exposure and need more exposure and they don’t have the resources, and they don’t have the technical capability to do it. So I provide as much help as they need.
Judy: I’m right slap bang in the middle of your client base then.
Alun: Yes, yes, basically.
Judy: Excellent. That’s always encouraging to know. When you are collaborating at your best, you are like what?
Alun: I’ll have to think about this one. I’ve been thinking about this since we agreed to do this interview. My work is virtual. I provide my services at a distance, if you will. I also pretty much work on my own. I don’t have a team. I’m a one-man band. I can provide all of my services myself. I don’t collaborate with anybody in providing my services.
But we spoke a few minutes ago and you very insightfully I thought said, “Well, actually you probably collaborate with your clients.” And I think that’s true. Sometimes I provide a lot of services to my clients, because some clients really don’t want to get involved with technology at all. And they don’t want to get involved with the strategy, or marketing. So I provide a lot of those services.
Other people, Judy, a bit like yourself are more than technically capable to put your blog together and put other things together. And indeed you have done. But you might desire certain services around the outside. I have a continuum of services that I provide to people.
To get back to your question – what is it like for me when I collaborate with people? I don’t know. You’re going to help me out here a bit.
Judy: Do you mind if I help you out by drawing your attention to a metaphor you’ve used twice already in this conversation? Because for me, as a metaphor person, it’s sticking out like a sore thumb. You’ve mentioned that you are a ‘one-man band’ and that your clients tend to be ‘one-man bands.’
Alun: Yes. That’s interesting. Musical one…
Judy: When you are like a one-man band, what kind of a one-man band are you?
Alun: One – playing a lot of instruments I think. There’s a lot of technology involved in my work. And it’s a whole load of stuff. I don’t want to say like a ‘one-man band’ with the drums and the penny-whistle and goodness only knows what else. Not like that, but a little bit like that in that I’m playing a number of roles. I’m playing a number of parts, I guess. Partly simultaneously, partly consecutively. I’m delivering all of that myself. I guess I’m the orchestrator and the conductor, and the performer – all in one. All ego.
Judy: The orchestrator, the conductor and the performer – all in one. Is there anything else about the orchestrator like that?
Alun: I don’t know… They’ve got skills at planning, they can see things through right from the start to the end. They can see what needs to be done, or needs to be played, or what needs to be written down. I suppose a musical score is a bit like a plan. It’s a plan that the orchestra or a band are going to execute. I have that plan, I quickly formulate that plan, from a written score, if you like. Then I ensure the delivery of that score, and the performance of it as well.
It’s interesting. It’s three roles, isn’t it?
Judy: It’s three roles: it’s the orchestrator, it’s the performer and what of conductor you said? The middle one?
Alun: Yes, conductor as well.
I suppose the conductor is managing not only my resources, but those of my client as well, recommending what my client should do to get the best out of me really, and get the best out of their technology.
Judy: What kind of conductor is that conductor?
Alun: Quite a directive one I think! Quite directive, but in a good way. It’s like a project manager conductor. It’s a need for control. It’s a need to be able to control the delivery so that the client gets what they need. That’s controlling my resources, but also if my client is responsible for particular deliverables, it’s making sure for their own sake that they deliver those on time, so the project does do what they want it to do.
Judy: And when you are the performer, what kind of performer is that?
Alun: You know, I said a second ago about multi-instrumentalists, but it’s the performer concentrating on one thing at one time. Let’s refine that. I’m not a big believer in multi-tasking, because I don’t think multi-tasking works well. I think as a performer, I concentrate on one thing that I’m doing, one increment, one bounded area of what I’m doing, and I deliver that, and make sure that works. And then I’m on to the next one. A performer concentrating on one thing at once.
I suppose I’ve had to evolve this way of working, because I’ve had 24 years as a management consultant, well latterly. No, it’s probably about 20 years as management consultant in large organisations, where I was just delivering. But now when I’m working on my own, I’ve been working on my own for about seven or eight years, I find that I have to find the work, find the clients, find the work before I actually deliver the work. It’s a whole load of roles that I wasn’t used to having as an employee.
I think the performer has multiple roles. When I’m delivering, I’m concentrating 100% on delivery. But in other areas, where I’m not delivering, I’m marketing, I’m maintaining prospect relations, etc.
Judy: When you are all of three of those things – the orchestrator, the conductor and the performer – simultaneously and consecutively, is there anything else about that kind of one-man band?
Alun: It requires enabling technology if that’s not taking it too far. Maybe it’s a performer or conductor, an arranger even, who uses technology. To use the metaphor we were using, maybe it’s a performer with synthesisers rather than with an acoustic guitar.
Judy: Synthesisers rather than an acoustic guitar. What kind of synthesises?
Alun: I don’t know – a loud and powerful one that does lots of jobs.
Judy: You are that kind of one-man band and way back when at the beginning of this conversation you mentioned that your clients are one-man bands. I’m tempted to ask what kind of one-man bands they are, but I think that might take us a little bit down a dead end, because I suspect there are as many kinds of one-man bands as there are clients. What’s the relationship between your one-man band and your client one-man band?
Alun: This is going to sound strange, but just as you were saying that, just as you were partway through that question the thing that popped into my head was two jigsaw pieces. I’m probably mixing my metaphors here, but that’s what came to my mind. I’m one jigsaw piece. And the cut-out that I’ve got fits into the need that my clients have got. It’s like a two-piece jigsaw. It’s a really simple child’s jigsaw, with two pieces. They fit together perfectly.
So what my client needs is what I provide, and the opposite of that as well. What they need, I provide. I provide what they need and want. And they dovetail together.
Judy: And those two jigsaw pieces that child’s really simple jigsaw, where they dovetail together, is there anything else about the place where they dovetail together?
Alun: They fit together very easily. It’s not something that’s got to be forced. They just slot in. My ideal client is where it’s a really good fit with what I’m able to deliver. That’s where we get on well. That’s where the projects work really well.
Judy: This might be a slightly off-beam question, but it’s a question that I know arises for quite a lot of people who listen to these podcasts. You mentioned earlier about finding the clients and maintaining the relationships, and all of that. Is there a relationship between that simple child’s jigsaw and finding the clients?
Alun: I suppose it’s similar. I haven’t really thought about it. I hadn’t consciously thought of the jigsaw pieces fitting together until you asked me. Interesting process this … Ask me that question again, would you?
Judy: Is there a relationship between two jigsaw pieces fitting together and finding the clients?
Alun: Yes, I think so, because I suppose consciously or unconsciously I’m looking for clients who need what I’m able to deliver. That would be my best fit. So, where the jigsaw pieces fit together. That’s where they’ll get the best out of what I’m doing. I suppose consciously, yes, I do look for clients like that. I originally mentioned that as delivery, but yes, it must be a metaphor for the kind of prospect searching I do as well, trying to find a good fit.
Judy: Is there anything else about that kind of searching on what you are doing as trying to find a good fit? What kind of searching is it?
Alun: What kind of searching is it? I don’t know really. Iterative. I don’t know how to answer that actually, Judy.
Judy: That’s fine. How do you know when it’s a good fit.
Alun: You can tell. You can tell straight away right from the initial conversation. If somebody says, “I need this, I need this, I need this.” You can tell straight away.
And it’s not just an intellectual thing. Sometimes you just get a feeling that this is not a 100% fit. You sometimes get that. There’s something – I don’t know whether it’s a gut feeling. I think it is. It’s something in the core of your body, something in your stomach, something in your gut. It’s a feeling that there’s something not quite right with going down this path. It’s not just an intellectual thing. It’s not just a cognitive thing. There’s visceral feedback from my body if something is not inherently a good fit. Obviously, I should be able to tell that cognitively, but sometimes this feeling is there as well.
Judy: That feeling – it’s in the core of your body.
Alun: Right in the centre.
Judy: Right in the centre.
Alun: Centreline. I guess it’s just fractionally above my navel, right in the middle of my body, down the centreline, in the middle.
Judy: Does it have a size or a shape?
Alun: Not conscious of it. Fairly small, fairly focused. You just know when it’s there and when it’s not.
Judy: Is there anything else about it that lets you know when it’s there?
Alun: It kind of draws attention to itself. It’s almost like an alarm, or a flashing alarm. I’m again mixing my metaphors liberally here. It’s that kind of thing. It is a feeling, but there’s something that alerts you. Maybe it’s says, “Stay away from this one” or “Be cautious with this”.
Judy: There’s that flashing alarm – “Stay away from this one”. And it’s a feeling, and it’s fairly focused and fairly small. And it’s there, at the centre.
Alun: Yeah. I’ve noticed this previously more generally with experiences when I was working in corporations, when I had projects that I just felt were not right. I’ve had it with people that I felt were not right. It is something you can’t just put your finger on, but it’s there. It’s a kind of a signal.
Looking back, it’s not just my current projects. It’s a general thing I think, a general kind of warning, a general caution, if you like.
Judy: So it is a general thing, not just current projects. If I were to ask a question like, is there a relationship between that flashing alarm and a one-man band, that wouldn’t necessarily be a relevant question?
Alun: No. Because it’s down to the individual and the individual project. For example, years ago, where it’s almost like a sinking feeling as well, in your gut – when I’ve realised that the person who would be working with me on a particular project was this person, and I thought, “Oh, God, no!” Rationally, cognitively I said, “That’s just silly, he’s well-respected.” But it never really did work out quite well in the end. It wasn’t a complete disaster, but it didn’t work out as well as it should have done. And I think that signal was there then. That’s a good 15-20 years that that’s been there.
Judy: You’ve got that feeling, that flashing alarm that lets you know all of that, and it’s like a sinking feeling, that has been with you for 15-20 years. And of course now there’s this fit between the two jigsaw pieces, that’s like a child’s jigsaw, where they dovetail and fit together very easily. And you are like a one-man band that’s a performer, conductor and an arranger, with synthesisers rather than an acoustic guitar. And you are working with one-man bands. When all of that, that’s more or less how you are when you are collaborating at your best?
Alun: Yes. Without the picking projects and people who don’t have that sinking feeling naturally. Picking one-man bands and having them have the ability to play together, I suppose with me – they play to their strengths, I play to my strengths, and we deliver a project that they actually want, on time and to budget. It’s something about conducting their resources, conducting my resources together to deliver that, to make sure they work – oh, God, I really didn’t want to say this but – in harmony. That wasn’t pre-planned. But yeah, it’s working with them to make it all work in harmony.
Judy: I’ve taken to asking people towards the end of these interviews – how much of that did you know before we started this conversation?
Alun: No, absolutely none. None of it, Judy. The sinking feeling – that must be common with a lot of people, and getting a visceral gut reaction. Everybody will be aware of that. I was certainly aware of that before. But this thing about two child’s jigsaw pieces that go together – that was new. The idea of working together with other one-man bands and being a one-man band myself playing three roles – that was not in my cognitive awareness at all.
Those must be unconscious metaphors. They must have actually been there, because you very interestingly pointed out that I used the same phrase about myself and my clients. It wasn’t something that was produced by the direction of your questions. It must have been something that was inherent there for me to use those almost unbidden initially. Very-very interesting!
Judy: You get a completely different quality of metaphor when it’s a spontaneous one and when you ask for the metaphor. Who knows what we’ll have next.
Alun: I was hoping I was going to do your questions justice, because having had experience of listening to a number of your interviews, I was thinking what would my metaphor be? I haven’t got any bloody metaphors! I do hope when Judy asks me something it’s all going to make sense, but I can’t honestly think without using any metaphors. They are just unconscious, aren’t they?
Judy: And what difference does knowing it makes?
Alun: I shall have to have a sit down and think what that allows me to do, having that metaphor. What different approaches does it allow me to take? What other insights does it allow me to have? Because I think that would be really interesting.
Judy: If I was coaching you, I’d recommend that you went away and drew what you know now.
Alun: Oh, cool. Yes, that’s a good idea.
Judy: Because it does something different, the information, when you draw it than when you just think about it.
Alun: Yes, absolutely. It gets out of your head and allows you to dissociate. I’m a big fan of Rich Pictures. You’ve probably come across Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology. I’m a big fan of that. Obviously, that’s not what it’s normally used for. But that I think would give insights and maybe conflicts, as well as strategies that are likely to work well.
Judy: I’d love to hear more about it, depending what happens next.
Alun: Interesting. You really got me thinking, Judy. This is really interesting. Really interesting!
Judy: You are starting to realise why these interviews are so fun to do.
Judy: We are coming to the end of our time. As I always say at the end of these interviews. If people want to get in touch with you, who would you like to hear from and how can they find you?
Alun: I’m happy to hear from anybody, to be honest, Judy. The people who can probably benefit the most are people who’ve got a small business, who want to grow their business and gain greater exposure. They might therapists, they might be NLP people, they might be people on the self-development track. But they have got a small business and they want to develop it. They can e-mail me – firstname.lastname@example.org – that’s my e-mail. There’s a contact form on alunloves.it/contact, and they can just put their name and e-mail address, and say, “I’d like to contact you”. And I’ll get back in touch with them.
I’m also available on Facebook if people want to find me there. You’ll probably find me on Twitter as well.
Judy: Brilliant! I’m sure some people will be in touch. And I want to hear what happens next. Thank you very indeed for playing.
Alun: Thank you, Judy. This was really interesting. Thank you very much indeed.