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Adele Barlow - Content Producer

Using business and books to do things differently

I never knew what I wanted to ‘be’ when I grew up but I knew that I wanted to write, travel, and work with interesting entrepreneurial businesses whose founders I believed in. This has led to a pretty random career (!) which I think makes more sense when explained in reverse... there are four lessons that have stood out.


1. Life is a constant balancing act

This year, I started a marketing role with Virgin Pure (great-tasting water without the environmental guilt). I’ve always loved Virgin’s ethos of doing business for good, and even though it's a huge company it still has the vibe of a family business. 


During evenings and weekends, I write books. These are released under a boutique publishing house that I started because I’m interested in the TOMS shoes models for books. Outbound Books™ produces psychology content for big-city millennials with a significant part of profits going towards Room to Read. Our first book is ‘Leaving Law: How Others Did It & How You Can Too’ which comes out on Amazon next month and was inspired by my previous job.


2. Managing others starts with managing yourself

In 2012, I joined Escape the City as one of their first employees, helping to grow the community in a generalist marketing role. This included running events, where I found myself accidentally becoming a quasi-counsellor for our members. I would repeatedly recommend certain books and became interested in bibliotherapy (using books as a form of therapy). I loved listening to members as well as producing content that could help them – I often wrote about what I learned on the Huffington Post.


Last year, I considered training as a psychologist, but the international student fees were crazy! So I’m doing a summer coaching course with the British Psychological Society instead. 

Coaching comes in handy no matter what. Managing others well starts with managing yourself well, and coaching helps anyone to do this better. The best managers I've had have been excellent coaches. 


We are a generation with so many choices, but this can paralyse people instead of empowering them. Coaching helps you to cut through the noise in your own head, and if friends of mine are confused about big life choices, I recommend that they see one. Loved ones tend to be emotionally biased and it's so helpful to have an objective outsider's point of view. 


3.Team matters more than anything else

I was born in Hong Kong and raised globally, working in New Zealand before I moved to London. During my final year at university a friend and I won seed funding and launched a social enterprise called yMedia.


We helped hundreds of digital media students create websites for charities. Sponsored by Microsoft, IBM, and Saatchi & Saatchi, we won some awards and introduced our successors to one another (they went on to start their own agency called Curative). 


This taught me that people are the journey - team is everything. The most important thing any founder can do is to learn how to spot great people, and lead them further than they would go alone. 


4.People are opportunities

What has always concerned me more than my job title is what I'll get to learn on the job, and who I'll be learning from. Great opportunities come from knowing great people - all the most interesting jobs I've gotten have been from friends of friends.


When Escape was a blog in the basement, I became friends with the founders and stayed in touch as I freelanced on other projects. I helped General Assembly to launch in London and also led the digital arm of Peace One Day, with Blue State Digital, who ran Obama’s digital campaign. On that project, I got to travel to the United Nations Headquarters in New York to meet General Secretary Ban Ki-moon. 


This taught me that the most interesting projects have always come from the most interesting conversations. Whenever I've needed inspiration, I've always come back to what excites me. If I've forgotten what that is, I go back to who excites me or which conversations have left me feeling really energised.


People who use their corporate training to tackle social and environmental issues have always interested me. Room to Read founder John Wood was an escape hero before I’d even heard of Escape the City. He wrote Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, which inspired me back when I was at university.


What's reassuring is learning that at every stage of life, everyone's still figuring stuff out. When I was a kid, I thought teenagers had it all sorted. As a teenager, I thought adults had all the answers. As I approach 30, I realise that no one has everything figured out! In business and in life, to some degree everyone's making it up as they go along. 

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