As the co-founder of both Heights, a holistic brand that aims to enhance cognitive performance, and the Secret Leaders podcast, entrepreneur Dan Murray knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed in business. Here, he chats to us about the world of work ahead of joining us as our MC for the day at Belong.
Describe your job in 10 words or less…
I’m the co-founder of Heights — we’re building a brilliant brand around brain health.
What was your first job? What was one thing you learned from that and took forward with you in your career?
My real job was working in an advertising agency and putting together creative campaigns — essentially selling them in to brands. The most practical insight I got from the person training me was that when people say ‘no’, you need to find a little window of opportunity to ask why, get more feedback and basically turn that ‘no’ into something constructive for the next pitch.
One of our tracks for this event is Inspiration. Where do you look for inspiration in your work, and how do you seek to inspire others with what you do?
This is going to sound really corny, but I often look for inspiration in my business partner (Joel Freeman), because we’re quite different. We both have very good levels of resilience, we’re both serial entrepreneurs and we react to things quite differently. I’m always super impressed at the way he elevates his thinking beyond a crisis or a difficult moment. It really helps when going into battle — so to speak — that you have someone alongside you that you can really trust and understand that they can do it whatever happens.
Fortunately for me, I find inspiration quite close to me, but we’ve been working together for a long time.
At Belong, we’ll also be looking at the theme of Insight. What’s the most surprising skill or aspect you’ve learned about yourself or the way you work?
I’ve actually developed two key insights during my time. Initially, I thought I was an interesting person; I like talking and I feel confident engaging with other people. That can often lead to me liking the sound of my own voice and thinking I’m being quite intelligent when I’m actually not. I learned a few years ago to listen a lot more, and to ask a question and shut up.
That’s been incredibly valuable and an amazing leadership tactic. Having a podcast is an amazing way to learn that for yourself without feedback, because I was able to listen to the way I interviewed guests and be like, “Oh my god, why didn’t I just shut up after that question?”. So that was a good self-critical way to personally develop.
The other thing I’ve learned, which I think is a really important insight on the entrepreneurial journey is that when you think you’re at your lowest and your worst, you’re probably — according to other people’s perception of you — at your most inspiring and your most impressive.
When you’re at your high, when everything’s going really well, when you think that you’re being absolutely brilliant and everyone loves you, you’re probably being pretty insufferable to other people. That’s probably the moment where they least respect you, so it’s having some insight into how you feel and how you’re probably behaving.
We’re also going to explore the subject of Inclusion. How do you build a sense of community within what you do?
From my experience, something that companies get wrong a lot in terms of building a community is that the big ‘boss man’ comes up with an idea of what they want to do and it becomes a sort of spreading-out pyramid downwards of where people should contribute.
In my experience, the only way to build a community is from the bottom-up, so you have to empower people everywhere to make the connections. I think a fallacy is this understanding that you have to get a bunch of people into a room and hope that they connect and it works.
What’s really helpful is to have someone discerning of how you take the pulse of people in a room — so giving people prompts and questions to ask each other. Specifically, creating the space that ‘this is what we’re doing whilst we’re in this room and this is how we’re going to behave and why’, so that when you enter the room, you have some questions and ways that are icebreakers for people to interact with each other. This also helps when you’ve got some introverts and extroverts — you’re always going to have people feeling super uncomfortable in those spaces, so creating that environment where this is a set protocol of how you connect with someone works wonders.
I’ve really struggled to find a way to build community that doesn’t involve the physical presence, because as human beings, we’re literally wired to touch, to be around people. That exponentially adds the value of connection. Without that, I feel like it’s quite difficult. It’s a lot easier in a company because you’re always around each other, but when you start to go into online spaces and you think about Facebook as a community and how it connects people, how connected do you feel to those people you’ve never met? Not really.
What conversations are you most excited to explore at Belong?
I’m super interested in exploring and understanding how people feel more motivated through more sense of connection and belonging. I think that the trend in all organisations at the moment is about remote working and more flexibility — and there’s a counter-argument there that’s super-awkward.
I’ve had a team of over 50 people before, and some were remote and most were in the company — and when there are some remote [workers], you start to feel tangibly that we’re all less connected and that there’s something wrong with the culture.
That may or may not be true, but it’s always in the back of your mind and I think that trend we’re seeing — which honestly I truly believe is going to be the next wave, I believe that in 10 years, most companies will be predominantly remote because that will suit people’s needs better — how do you solve for that and a sense of community and belonging together?