What’s your ‘And’?

Sep 22, 2020 | Networking, Reputation

What’s your ‘And’? Yes, we know you’re an accountant. But what else are you? What else do you do? What else interests or fascinates you?

A new book, written by my friend, John Garrett, explores how sharing your personal passions improves work performance, builds culture, and strengthens relationships with colleagues, clients and bosses. The book includes quotes from many of the accountants John has interviewed on this subject – including me!

When I look back over my career I know that my interest in magic has helped make me more memorable. But I think I made a huge mistake when I was younger.  I’ll get to this in a moment.

John is both a qualified accountant – and a comedian. Even before he left the world of accountancy he had found that the skills from one discipline often enhanced the skills of the other. And, anyway how was he supposed to leave a part of him behind when he went to work?

Over the last five years, John has interviewed hundreds of accountants (and other professionals) from all over the world who have brought their hobbies and outside-of-work interests to the workplace. His experiment to test this theory has now grown into a movement to change workplace cultures for the better. He is on a campaign to shatter the myth of the stereotypical accountant.

Throughout the book, you will get glimpses into the lives of these accountants. Some, like me, share their hobbies and passions. Others encourage their employees to talk about their hobbies and passions. Most importantly, all have made a success, lead the way and share their “And” in their workplaces.

I love the fact that John gets how busy we all are and how little time we have to read another long business book. His message is simple.

You’re so much more than your job title.
You’re a professional and something else.
You may also be an artist.
A cyclist.
A baker.
A volunteer.
A musician.
And the list goes on.

Ignoring your “And” makes you less successful and less professional—and it also makes your organisation less successful.

Computers, automation and AI are changing the way we work and the pace of change has never been faster. But the one thing that will never change, and is possibly now more obvious than ever, is that business involves  human-to-human transactions. And, with increased numbers of us working from home, it seems that many of the most successful firms navigating this new approach to work, are encouraging conversations and interactions that go beyond business.

In this context John quotes something I said when he interviewed me on his podcast a few years ago.

Find something of yourself to share with colleagues, with journalists, with clients—something that helps you stand out from the rest of the crowd as being a bit different. Don’t try and manufacture it. But if you have a particular interest or a hobby, reveal it and share it because A, you’ll find other people who may share the same interest and B, it will help them to remember you compared to all of the other people they know who do the same work as you.

This approach has proven invaluable to me because, over the years, fellow professionals and journalists have remembered me. Just recently, I was at an accounting conference where the deputy managing partner of a firm I left twenty years ago remembered me partly because he recalled me doing magic tricks over dinner and at partner’s meetings.

I was into magic as a hobby many years before I trained to be an accountant. I never hid my passion from colleagues, partners or journalists. But I was generally shy about showing magic tricks to clients.

I think I was concerned that being seen as a part-time magician might adversely impact any professional credibility I had. This may well have stemmed from an interview I had shortly after I qualified.

The managing partner of a top 20 firm had obviously learned that he could put interviewees at ease by asking them something about their hobbies and interests at the start of interviews. He scanned his eye down my two page CV until he reached the relevant section.  “I see you’re interested in ‘Magic’. Tell me about that”.

So I did. I told him I entertained at children’s parties at the weekend and I mentioned I was a proud member of The Magic Circle.

“The Magic Circle” he repeated and then added “I think that says a lot about you.”

That stuck with me for years.

I don’t remember the rest of the interview but I know I didn’t get a job offer.  For years I was convinced this was because my interviewer felt that magicians were tricksters, dishonest and untrustworthy. Looking back it’s just as feasible that he admired my commitment to a hobby and my interest in earning extra money, rather than simply socialising and going to football matches as did most of my contemporaries.

Of course, I never knew for certain why I didn’t get the job. There could have been many reasons – including my poor academic record and the fact that I had taken two attempts to pass both sets of professional exams (PE1 and PE2 in those days).

Unfortunately that experience and my interpretation of the partner’s observation meant that for many years I was very cautious as to who I shared my passion with.

Looking back I realise how crazy this was. Of course there are some people who don’t like magic, but in general, the vast majority of people I have met over the years seem to like and enjoy it.  I have numerous memories of where my ‘magic’ helped build or cement relationships. And, even to this day, I find people I haven’t seen for years will ask if I’m still doing magic – and then relating a specific positive memory they have of a magic trick they once saw me perform.

Let’s be honest, they are remembering me positively, at least in part, because they didn’t come across many other accountants who are also (Magic Circle) magicians.

In recent years I have stopped any pretence at hiding my interest in magic. I celebrate it publicly. Many of my introductions as a speaker include reference to my career in the profession and then the line: “He’s also Treasurer of The Magic Circle – often said to be the most interesting thing about him!”  And I invariably include the odd magic trick in my talks and presentations.

Back to John’s book: “What’s your And?” and its subtitle: Unlock the Person Within the Professional.  I’m very happy to recommend this to you, whilst also recognising that it isn’t for everyone.

If you’re too timid to make a change or don’t have the courage to believe that your vulnerabilities are actually your strengths, then this book isn’t for you. If you feel that all activities in an office should have client and admin time codes, then this book isn’t for you. And if you believe that your identity solely stems from your works an accountant, then this book definitely isn’t for you.

But this book is for you if you are open to helping colleagues, clients and bosses get to know you properly and to encouraging them to let you get to know them better too. You might also enjoy John’s podcast ‘What’s your and?

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