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Specialism, association and finding work-life balance

06 Aug 2019

We need to talk about David.

Not Cameron. Or Miliband (to be non-partisan), or the ridiculous man off Baywatch idolised by Germans. And definitely, absolutely, not the one who worships space lizards (each to their own) or Beckham, who’s probably rebranded himself to something more contemporary anyway. Like Hashtag.

No it’s David Spathaky I’ve been thinking about, obviously.

For the tiny minority who can’t place this particular David, Mr Spathaky holds the Guiness World record for simultaneous plate-spinning. 108 to be exact. And if that wasn’t enough, he set the record in Bangkok (slightly more exotic than Blackpool Pleasure Beach) WHILE LIVE ON TELEVISION. And he previously held and broke his own record four times before this tremendous, pioneering moment of 1996 that one could argue even surpassed Robson and Jerome charting at number one that year.

Now I’m not knocking a man, or his plates, for being really, really good at keeping many things on poles all at the same time. But metaphorically speaking (definitely not a simile), is being able to keep all of that up in the air healthy?

A couple of years ago I would have aspired to spinning at least 109 plates, in Barbados, live-streamed across multiple digital channels to the melodic chorus of Robson, Jerome, a choir and the entire cast of London’s Burning. Plus fire engines. Loads of fire engines. And maybe an ambulance. WITH MANY SIRENS.

I prided myself on the ability to multitask. My favourite question at job interviews was always the ever-present probe about balancing several high priority projects under pressure. In answering I thought my increasing arsenal of examples was a badge of honour to, well, spin all at once.

As I climbed the career ladder I assumed success was based mainly upon a deigned capability to spin additional plates. Possibly due to a media relations background, I’m sure I’m not alone in enjoying the ability to efficiently handle several hot potatoes during an issue or crisis. Professionally, being useful under pressure is life-affirming. And a bit of an adrenalin-hike.

But that’s different to when the plates are spinning all of the time, 9-5 and beyond (you don’t know half of it Dolly). There has to be, at some point, an epiphany and mine came in 2017. I’d relished the chance to finally have the chance to head several different communication functions at the same time, and in all honesty was thrilled to have quite a big team.

But I hadn’t quite made the transition from operational and tactical management to just focusing on strategy. To leaving things alone. To not tinkering in day-to-day operations. “Can I just?”….leeeeeave it, “but..” leave it!

I was running about between all the plates I was accountable for without the (now rather obvious) thought occurring to me that even though I was ultimately responsible and this was my team, it would be much better to let some of my rather talented colleagues spin away with fabulous, consistent precision. And I could watch from a distance, with oversight, ready to clock any teetering and step in when required. In between chilling out with Robson, Jerome, and the official bloke from Guiness.

That would have been so much easier. But until recently, to me that last phrase almost seemed like sacrilege – the equivalent of suggesting your car is fine to a mechanic before much sucking-of-teeth.

It’s work! It should be really busy and really hard all of the time, right? If you don’t roll into bed shattered every night after proving yourself by doing eight million things all at the same time super-fast and loaded with caffeine then you are absolutely, definitely, not working hard enough…you big sissy.

That might be the David view of the world, my old view, but even in blogging this several words come to mind – largely involving planets, on and what.

That’s also why I decided to start my own media relations consultancy. 2019 was the right time. I had learned much, failed lots, and knew what plates to spin and which to happily hand to others.

Knowledge, delegation, trust and judging the right level of support equate to the most skilful and occasionally the hardest aspects of management. They are also the most important things to get right, and the most dangerous things to overlook.

And then things become more manageable, more rewarding, more autonomous and, dare I say it, a bit more fun. For everyone.

I didn’t get it right in 2017. I was trying to be David in Bangkok in front of the cameras when in reality I was knocking into poles on the Pleasure Beach while my colleagues, and possibly the bloke off Baywatch idolised by Germans, drew a picture for posterity on an Etch-a-Sketch.

So do I think David’s efforts were all a bit, well, pointless? Well no, he’s obviously marvellous at spinning plates on poles, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Perhaps next time we need to talk about Himanshu…who managed to spin a single plate for 1 hour, 10 minutes and 39 seconds in Bangalore in 2016. He’s a world record-holder too, but with zero breakages.