Shaun Edmeston sits on the board of FutureProof and has over 19 years of experience working with some of South Africa’s largest JSE listed companies, with an impressive track record of financial turnaround at companies under his leadership.
He sat down for an exclusive Q&A to chat about his twin passions for entrepreneurship and education and the necessity for creative thinking in a corporate world starved of original thought.
1. How did you become involved with Futureproof SA?
My journey with FutureProof has been an interesting one and started in a completely different environment. Through my role at one of the large SA corporates, I was asked to get involved with Lisa Illingworth, CEO of Futureproof and her team nearly 18 months ago. I attended a session at a school in Diepsloot and I was sold from the minute I saw the eyes of those kids light up when Lisa started talking about being an owner of a business.
A hop, skip and a jump later Futureproof was a real thing and Lisa and her team were forging ahead in changing people’s lives. With my passion for education and entrepreneurship, I was honoured to be asked to sit on their advisory board and assist in driving this incredible programme.
2. How do you keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive?
The spirit of entrepreneurship is something that only burns if you keep it alight. I often take time to listen to speakers and great minds on the way to work or sitting in traffic and recently I hear an absolute pearl:
‘You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great,’ says Zig Zigler.
You don’t have to have a business to behave like an entrepreneur, you have to want to make a difference in what you do. I wake up every morning wanting to make a difference. To the people I work with, to my businesses, to the people I meet in the talks I do and to my family, making a difference is what drives me.
This forces me to stretch myself daily to do more and push my own boundaries in the spaces I get involved in and what I hope to achieve.
The one habit I have is to find time in my day just to think. A time to clear my head and just let my thoughts flow. To quote the most recent Karate Kid movie, you cannot put anything new into a cup that is already full. Finding time to create space in my head gives me the capacity to open my mind to new trains of thought.
3. Do you like the idea of balancing corporate with passions?
I do like it, if you can do it. You have to know where your bread is buttered so don’t compromise yourself. Having a small business, whether it’s selling t-shirts or offering talks, can only benefit you.
By stretching yourself you can achieve more and most importantly you can learn something new. Knowledge benefits you no matter what. I have been able to take learnings from one and apply it to the other, almost everyday.
4. Why are you so passionate about education?
In a country like ours, education is the only way to move forward. Where most children are under stimulated growing up or don’t receive adequate education, the likelihood of those children being able to move themselves out of poverty is restricted.
A lot of what my talk, ‘the protractor of life’ speaks to, is the need for self enhancement through education and being able to break the socially imposed shackles of potential.
Education is sometimes narrowed in its definition to schooling and university, there are so many other places to learn and if you are open to learning, you can never be bored, and you will always grow.
A lot of people allow themselves to be constrained by what they believe they need to be successful. Formal education is not always the silver bullet but learning certainly is.
5. How do you cultivate and nurture a spirit of entrepreneurial-like thinking?
It is (first of all) about space. People can never be creative if the environment does not allow it.
Simple example, we ask a kid in school to write an 800 – 1000 word comprehension focusing on a predetermined topic, using a whole host of other constraints. How are we allowing them to be creative?
Innovation and entrepreneurship doesn’t happen in a space that boxes peoples thinking. Let people work and think the way they need to, to do what is required.
I like to create areas for shared thinking. Collaboration is the greatest driver of creativity because you never know what thought can trigger a great idea, so get everyone involved.
Finally immersion, if you can immerse yourself and your team in what it is you do, to a level where everyone gets to experience what you do, the chances of great ideas coming out are increased drastically.
6. What’s the biggest lesson that you have learned in business?
Failure. Nothing equips you better than failing, and the best lessons come from starting again. There is not a single great business person, employed or not, that has not failed in their career and had to get back up.
In contrast, fear of failing has been the single biggest killer of great potential or great ideas. Have a swing, you never know what may come out on the other side.
7. Is entrepreneurship all about starting a business?
For me, entrepreneurship is a state of mind. It is a way of thinking and getting things done. Being committed to a business that you work in, where you apply yourself in a way that drives change, progress and innovation are the exact skills that you need as an entrepreneur.
People in corporates who move the needle the most are the ones who have these same skills. Don’t stop thinking like an entrepreneur just because you work for someone, the minute you do that you become part of the mass of mediocrity and once you slip down that slope, there are so many people at the bottom who will pull you down.
8. Where do you draw inspiration from?
People who perform at the pinnacle of their careers should always be an inspiration. But people who stand for something, people who have overcome great challenges are equally inspirational.
The important thing is to find inspiration in as many places as you can. You can read one line of a book and find what you looking for. One word from a colleague may spur you on. Family may be that driver.
For me, I look for inspiration anywhere I can find it. in the strength of my father who raised two boys on his own for many years after my mom died. The tenacity of my wife as she changes a market dominated by big agencies. The fearlessness of my son as he jumps off a step onto the grass.
The inspiration we need is all around us and it is up to you to pick it up. The biggest reason for not excelling is not aiming to high and missing, it is aiming to low and hitting.