Coming back to this series after a particularly difficulty patch of physical and mental health.
In particular I want to talk about how hard it is to establish any kind of rapport with the infrastructure of the innovation community when so much of you is wired so differently. It is the same old problem of the spiky skillset. It is impossible to get your needs taken seriously when you demonstrate the qualities at which you excel. And impossible to get your skills taken seriously when you demonstrate how much help you need with things most people find as easy as breathing.
No two areas demonstrate this better than communications and strategy/operations.
Communication is something I love. Communicating ideas, that is – changing people’s lives by introducing them to possibilities within the world and abilities within themselves they had never dreamed of. Whether it is mentoring, collaborating, or addressing an audience of hundreds or thousands, this is what I live for. And yet seeing a message appear on Facebook or a DM appear on twitter can send me into such a spiral of fear that I cannot do anything meaningful for days at a time.
It gets to the stage where I have a company-related email address that’s there on my business cards I haven’t opened in two years because I am so afraid of what I will find. For me, one to one interactions about something other than creativity, or similar subjects, represents one thing only – the possibility of any meaningful life being over in an instant. Every message from an individual triggers the memories of the bullies who ruined my teenage years, the supervisors who wrecked my postgraduate life, the bosses who thwarted every meaningful attempt to establish a career. Which is why CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is so dangerous – it works by reminding people that in the past actions like “opening an email” haven’t turned out so bad. For me, it has. Again and again and again. And so I fail, over and over again, at the basic communication necessary to establish a company. I fail to follow leads, I fail to address issues, I fail to chase past clients for testimonials, and every such failure makes the next communication harder because my expectation of censure increases alongside all other anxieties.
Of course, what I need is an operations manager. Someone to manage my diary (my executive function is worse than my communications), someone to screen my emails, forwarding me the ones that are safe, earning the substantial salary I’d want to pay them handling the ones that aren’t. Funders simply don’t understand those needs. Nor do the organisations set up to support us. They all want to tell you to bootstrap that bit and offer advice that works for the mentally well and the neurotypical only.
Direct communication is part of the wider issue of operations. I cannot manage a diary, I cannot manage to remember the thing I needed to do in the moment between hearing I needed to do it and writing it down so I don’t forget it. And if I do have a list, an irresistible inertia weighs – almost physically – my hands and stops me acting on it.
And yet ideas and strategies flow like the wine at Belshazzar’s feast. But people do not understand and I am almost convinced it’s wilful. “Let’s do business differently, so people with spiky skillsets can fulfil their potential,” I say. “Yes,” they applaud, adding with no irony at all, “Come to a networking event and tell us more.”
Is there an answer? Well, as always, I guess it’s up to me to go it alone. Working two or three times harder than the well is par for every area of our life – why should this be any different. Until I grow, I will always be at the helm of a business with a dodgy reputation for communications and admin, yet with that dodgy reputation it’s so hard to grow to the stage where I can hire someone to do those feats of magic.
Nothing to do but keep plugging away. And keep raising awareness for any of the neurotypical and the mentally well out there – the way you run things is killing innovation, and it will continue to do so until you listen to us.