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Being brave

By Tom Kenward

Bravery comes in many shapes and sizes. In actions and deeds great and small. At the recent Brave Conference, hosted by the Marketing Society, we were lucky enough to listen to a variety of thoroughly entertaining speakers talk about what bravery meant to them.

How do you define bravery? Is it the man standing in front of the tank or the young girl sleeping with the light off for the first time? Most of the speakers at the Brave Conference started by giving the dictionary definition of bravery; the quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength in the face of danger, fear or difficulty.

It was very interesting to see a common theme start to appear through the talks – that there is a very big difference between having mental strength and showing mental strength. The acts that we would define as brave, on both a professional and personal level, are undertaken by people who often suffer from the same anxieties that we all do. Is this the right thing to be doing? What will people think? What are the consequences?

In any big decision that we make, there are numerous known factors that we can prepare for or mitigate against but there are also those bigger external environmental influences over which we have absolutely no control and yet they will play a massive role in the outcome of our actions.

When big wave surfer Garrett McNamara who holds the record for the biggest wave ever surfed was asked whether he was reckless rather than brave, he replied that being reckless was “doing something without worrying about the risks or consequences”. The planning and preparation that goes in to any of his big wave outings is meticulous. They obviously cannot control the weather or water conditions but they can plan whether a location is safe and what the entry/exit points are going to be, plus there are support crews in the air, water and on the beach and spotters to do everything they can to maximise their chances of a successful and safe ride.

The same thing is true of any difficult business decision you have to make. If you are aware of all the factors that will impact the outcome of your actions and you have planned for all eventualities, the greater the chance of success.

And what about when it all goes wrong? Garrett was telling the story of a recent injury where his shoulder socket basically exploded on impact with water (which turns to concrete at a certain speed/volume). He said that on that day, he just didn’t feel right. His gut was telling him something was wrong and that possibly resulted in him being less committed than he would normally be. The moral of the story there is that you should always trust your instincts. Years of evolution have developed these for a reason – to tell us whether something feels right or wrong. And if it is the latter, you should listen!

Syl Saller, Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer for Diagio was interviewed about what being brave meant in her professional experience, revealing a couple of really interesting insights:

  • Don’t be afraid of the word no. Two simple letters that had been the inspiration of another speaker Raha Mohaharrak, who was the first Saudi woman to climb the big 7 peaks and had been motivated by an email from her dad who had said “no”, she couldn’t do it.
  • Being brave isn’t about the big acts. It is the everyday small acts of bravery by their marketing teams across the world who push the boundaries of conventional marketing to drive massive growth in the business that impresses her.
  • Great ideas come from every area of the business. It doesn’t matter whether you a marketing assistant starting out on your career, or a senior VP, your input is equally valued. You should have the bravery to put ideas forward or stand up and make your voice heard.

From my personal experience, it was this last point which resonated with me most. In the earlier stages of my career, I had gone with the flow of a project being driven by client pressure when what we were doing didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel I had the experience at the time to be able to stand up and say ‘stop’. In those cases, not progressing is the right thing to do. As you can expect, the project was a failure for the client and I just wish I had had the courage to say something.

We then had a talk from Hassan Akkad that put workplace thoughts and worries starkly into perspective. He talked about his experience of leaving Syria where he worked as a qualified English teacher because he feared for his life. Having been captured by security forces for peacefully protesting, he had his arms, legs and ribs broken while being tortured in captivity. After being captured a second time and put in solitary confinement accused of supporting western forces because he spoke English so well, he was released and fled to Europe, eventually ending up in the UK. He documented his whole journey and his footage was used in the recent Exodus series on BBC2. His story was absolutely mesmerizing. Not a single person in a packed auditorium was on their phone and you could have heard a pin drop. He said he was driven by his survival instincts rather than bravery, but I would say that he certainly demonstrated bravery.

But for now, work makes the world go round, so it is back to the grind, feeling inspired and more confident to be able to make brave decisions going forward. Thank you to The Marketing Society for a great day.

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