Not Making a Decision, is Making a Decision.

Not Making a Decision, is Making a Decision.

The legacy we pass on to future generations will inevitably involve challenges, but must not be founded in hopelessness. The least we can do is track a road forward, most of all when the decisions of leaders seem to signal a dead end. 

Interviewing former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other prominent leaders as MC for the Professional Convention Managers Association (PCMA) in San Francisco this month, we discussed how to move forward when the stakes are high and the path is unclear. Ultimately, she said, “you have to keep your wits about you, you have to trust your instincts and your gut, and those around you. You have to make the decisions, because not making a decision is making a decision.”

As the youth of today see the news of devastating bush fires in Australia, read the twitter trail of a global leader spreading divisive ideology across the world, experience underemployment even in the most developed countries, we can understand why statistics show an estimated 10–20% of adolescents globally experience mental health conditions (World Health Organisation, 2019). Add to this, almost half of all millennials think it’s more likely than not there will be a third world war in their lifetime, a new Red Cross surveyfinds. Are we going to let history write the future?

As a leader of today, Rice is clearly focused on empowering the leaders of tomorrow. She emphasises the need for those in charge to demonstrate trust in their people by delegating and investing in training. ‘We must allow them to colour outside the lines’ she says. 

Can we imagine a democracy wherein the government actively comes to the youth for ideas, for better questions, even for solutions? I have been fortunate to have seen the success of initiatives such as the G20 Youth Summit in action. I believe there is so much to be gained in bringing different voices together to explore collaborative policy design and development. So long as we are clear on who our decisions are serving…

How does our democracy serve us?

“We are only as strong as our weakest link” says Rice. And I wonder, what if our weakest link is in fact, a democratically elected leader? Democracy operates at its best when functioning as a platform for ideas, dialogue and debate. Democracy is founded not on consensus, but contention. As famously penned by Evelyn Beatrice Hall (and often mis-attributed to Voltaire!), ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ (1906).

When uncertainty is not met with curiosity but fear, democracy dies just a little. When injustice is met with depression and apathy rather than anger and outcry, democracy dies a little more. When our very existence is threatened by convenience and we continue on in indifference, then ‘democracy grief’ is real. The question is not how democracy is serving us, but how we are serving our democracy. “You can get through difficult times, but it doesn’t happen magically,” Rice says. She claims she doesn’t look to Washington or state government to take responsibility, but asks herself daily: “What am I doing to take responsibility?”

Like the air we breathe.

For those of us living in western countries, it is too easy to take liberal democracy for granted. Just as we are accustomed to each intake of clean air, each glass of pure drinking water, each child off to school and each purchase of the morning paper, the convenient assumption that we are free to express ourselves and steer our own course is pervasive. But is it true?

Democracy brings us convenience. But it’s a convenience built on consumption. And while we are consumed with consuming, we can’t step back with the objectivity, awareness and space to change our behaviour- our addiction to this convenient life.

What the young leaders of today are calling for is a new kind of democracy. One far more agile, active and connected at grass roots level. One typified by leadership that exhibits empathy and compassion, and is prepared to pioneer new policies and new ways of evaluating democratic health, like the government Jacinda Ardern is leading in New Zealand. One that is less lumbering, less strung out on political puppetry, one that doesn’t rely on never-ending growth to achieve the votes that will drive it forward. But globally, where is the alternative to growth? What is the political paradigm that will support this democracy of the future?

‘Democracy is like a muscle’ writes Carol Rose in the Boston Globe this month. ‘The more we exercise it, the stronger it gets.’ (Carol Rose, Boston Globe, 2019). As we move into 2020 and our own inconvenient truth becomes harder to ignore, I wonder, when was the last time many of us felt the energy of youth to fight against what has gone before? Where is the will to dismiss the diary appointments for today and instead dial up the challenge to the status quo – even when this status quo is paying down the credit card? Where does the will for activism come from?

Rice’s experience has given her perspective on the difficulties the nation faces today. In our interview she says, “I know it is a tough time, but we have been through tougher.” To be open when the inclination is to shut off, to take a risk when a calculated decision is impossible and to hope against despair – that is the legacy we need to leave the future generations. 

Linguistically, democracy contains the idea of demonstration. So if nothing else, let us shake off the shackles of convenience and demonstrate our hope for the future.

Trust in difference (not indifference)

Trust in difference (not indifference)

Malcolm Gladwell has always been someone who not only pushes boundaries through stories but pushes the boundaries of stories. Earlier, this year I was privileged to have the opportunity to interview Malcolm at the Energy Disruptors 2019 Conference in Calgary. We delved into a wide-ranging discussion of his new book “Talking to Strangers” where he illuminates the many ways in which we misunderstand, mistrust and miscommunicate with each other. Our conversation made me wonder, if our natural instincts mean we’re wired in ways that limit and hinder our ability to foster connections with strangers, then how do we tell a different story? How do we navigate trust in an age where our value will rely on diversity and collaboration?

“We evolved as human beings in very, very close-knit family and intimate circles, and now we’re in a position where we have to deal overwhelmingly with people outside those intimate circles. And the skills we were perfecting for 100,000 years that worked on the intimate group, really don’t work that well on strangers.”

Malcolm Gladwell, #EDU2019

How to tell a different story?

Interestingly, given all the banter we hear about how hard it is to get cut-through in this ‘noisy’ world, Malcolm argues that if we have an authentic story to tell, then there has never been a better time to tell our story. He asserts that the trick lies not in speaking, but in listening. In any given social media minute, 41.6 million messages will be sent over Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, 347,222 people are scrolling Instagram, 87,500 people posting to Twitter and 4.5 million videos on YouTube are being watched.

Who are these people and why would they stop their ergonomically scrolling thumbs to listen to you?

As he unpacks his reply, the beautiful mind of Malcolm Gladwell meanders between trust, inequality, social context and cultural subtext. I ask, “Do we have a trust crisis?” To which Malcolm emphatically replies ‘no’. He points out that 15 years ago, the concept of hitting a button on a cellular device, waiting for a random car to show up, hopping into the said random car, to be driven by a complete stranger, while relying on a phone to map the correct route and then hopping out with no exchange of money or credit card swiping… was simply incomprehensible. Trust, these days it seems, is crowd-sourced. It’s not lost but it has morphed. 

Malcolm argues, “On a macro level we are so insanely more trusting than we ever were”. We simply don’t have the time to walk around wondering if we should trust the bank (even post-Royal Commission), if we should trust the childcare helper looking after the kids (pending another Royal Commission), if we should trust the café owner making our food (or perhaps, more accurately, whether they’re paying their staff…) or even the Uber driver in charge of our safety. ‘Evolution selected us to trust people implicitly, unless we are given overwhelming evidence to the contrary’, says Malcolm.

Talking to Strangers” explores whether the innate trust humans have developed over eons, continues to serve us in this hyper-connected, borderless age. Historically, we are used to interacting primarily with people who were ‘like us’. We assume that a smile is acceptance, a handshake is a deal and any number of other broad-sweeping generalisations can be made simply because… well we just assume it to be so. This isn’t necessarily an issue until trust blends with comfort, melds with compliance and tiptoes into unconscious bias. 

At that point, we become incapable of telling a new story.

If trust enables us to form groups, communicate and collaborate more effectively, does trust also facilitate us excluding or dismissing alternative people and viewpoints? In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, short termism and fake news, can we trust what is presented to us by known (aka “trusted”) entities? Research shows that echo chambers function not by closing off external voices, but by openly distrusting and discrediting them, because ‘trust is an essential ingredient in belief-formation’ (Syed, 2019:186). In “Talking to Strangers”, Malcolm terms this phenomenon “default to truth”.

Malcolm Gladwell at the Energy Disruptors 2019 Conference

This short-cut route to belief-formation means that, often without the time, resources or motivation to make anything other than an assumption, we consume narratives without a lens of critical thinking. How does this affect collaboration with diverse minds? Growth into new markets? Innovative products to new customers? Malcolm suggests that we ‘read people from across cultures, the same way we read simplistic TV’. Unless we have some imperative to know what another person thinks, we only ask questions relevant to our answers. And we only hear answers relevant to our questions. In terms of today’s need to disrupt by design, ‘like-mindedness’ is of course catastrophic. 

As an example, Malcolm discusses tech innovation and the incredibly slow adoption of milestone inventions such as the telephone. The telephone took a generation to catch on because its inventors did not comprehend the social context of the innovation. Malcolm asserts, ‘Social context wins over technically useful innovation, every time’. He runs through the three typical cycles of product innovation by companies:

No alt text provided for this image

The 1st story we tell the market is invariably a reactive power play

“Look! We have invented a shiny new thing.”

The 2nd story is often a misguided marketing play

“Look at the shiny new thing we have invented for you.”

The 3rd cycle is where finally, the symbolic meets the functional and society evolves around a new story

“Here’s a couple of new things our thing can do, how much it shines is up to you.”

If trust is built on our own limited reference points (biologically embedded by clan-living over a few hundred thousand years) the question for leaders, thinkers, collaborators and decision-makers is really, can we trust ourselves? 

In order to change the story, we need to listen.

The telling of the story is in the listening. Malcolm exemplifies this with his work on the influential podcast ‘Revisionist History’. Billed as ‘a journey through the overlooked and misunderstood’ the resource is an encapsulation of how we can cut through the noise. When I ask how we get outside the box to debunk traditional thinking and create a new story, Malcolm replies, “if you are willing to do your homework, you will automatically be in a position to tell a story that the rest of the media is not telling.”

No alt text provided for this image

Today, with the proliferation of new technology applications driven by a homogeneous few, short-term efficiencies and pressure to deliver will propagate decision-making built on hidden risks. The lack of cognitive diversity will mean that reference points are cloned and outcomes fail to account for longer term and broad ranging impact and capability. As we bring our inspiring chat to a close, Malcolm asks “If technology is an engine of inequality, how can we hack the system?”

With hindsight (and a couple of months to ponder this question) I’d posit that by listening beyond our own need to be heard, we begin to hear the social context our words will fall into. By collaborating beyond the solution we think is needed, we will shift the zeitgeist of what’s permissible. And by being more generous with trust and the stories we choose to share, we begin to square the ledger on the trust account.

We choose to trust in difference, because indifference will get us nowhere.

The power of unlikely collaborations

The power of unlikely collaborations

As I look back on 2019, one of the absolute highlights was collaborating with the masterfully creative Adam Ferrier and CJ Holden to produce s p a c e – a gathering of unlike minds. The three-day event was an Australian first, built on a framework of peer-to-peer learning, with no speakers and no spectators. The event attracted a community of disruptive leaders -affectionately named our inaugural s p a c e cadets – to Byron Bay to disconnect, collaborate, and create in one of the most inspiring locations on earth.

s p a c e was built on a few big ideas:

We need to have more un-likeminded conversations.

In an age of intensifying digital echo chambers, breaking from routine thinking and giving ourselves over to unconventional collaborative experiences is paramount to creativity, critical thinking and empathy. s p a c e is designed to deliberately interrupt our norms, give us pause to reveal assumptions and seek out new thinking. Curiosity and play supersede self-consciousness. With no fear and no formal agenda, we are able to step up and own the collective experience. We give each other permission to be ourselves, rather than our job titles.

No passengers allowed.

There are intentionally no official speakers or themes at s p a c e, the content is designed and led by our attendees. In this way, a spirit of generosity runs through s p a c e, with each attendee contributing something of their choosing to the fully immersive and participatory program. This manifests in the form of talks, workshops, skills sessions or whatever can be creatively concocted! In fact, our participants’ creative interpretation of the brief (on top of the wide array of interests and passions of the content itself) was one of the standouts of s p a c e.

You do you. But make sure you ‘do’!

We know life-long learning is critical and cross-pollination of ideas extremely valuable, yet in an age where people fly for hours to attend a conference in person, practically every conference, festival or event retains a one-size-fits all, cookie-cutter approach. We want to shake up leadership in Australia by challenging the way we convene our leaders. The s p a c e format is a facilitated smorgasbord, allowing everyone to navigate the three-day experience in choose-your-own-adventure style. From sunrise Friday until well past sunset on Saturday, participants had the opportunity to attend as many different sessions as they liked, each led by peers. Often there were as many as ten different sessions running at once!

We designed the event specifically to ensure our s p a c e cadets were compelled not only to do as they pleased, but more importantly, to ‘do’. s p a c e has a real focus on turning conversation into action with ‘do-tanks’ providing the opportunity for attendees to pitch ideas and build a team of helpers to pursue their aspiration. This year, s p a c e do-tanks spurred 10 post-s p a c e projects covering everything from education to indigenous leadership development and urban evolution.

s p a c e creators Adam Ferrier, CJ Holden and Holly Ransom

Our overarching goal was to play a part in building a more ambitious Australia through shared ideas and collaboration. What stands in the way of such collaboration? Australia does seem to habour a few parochial handicaps. We think it’s time we kicked tall poppy syndrome to the kerb and supercharged our country’s ambition. It’s time we united the people who believe in constructively trying to solve problems versus destructively denigrating the attempts of others on social media.

We believe, as Einstein put it, that the definition of insanity is thinking we can keep doing things the same way and get a different result. We hoped to create the conditions for new conversations and collaborations to flourish- the space to be challenged, to explore, to think deeply and to, after three short days, find yourself with scores of new friends, colleagues and potential partners-in-impact.  And we were truly humbled by the reaction of the community who participated in round one… the letters, emails and calls we received in the weeks following s p a c e conveying the positive impact and emboldened focus of participants was awe-inspiring. This groundswell has energised us to take s p a c e into new territory in 2020- creating more immersive experiences, working on diversifying our community even further and taking do-tanks to another level.

We dare you.

Apply for your place here: https://spaceseries.com/experience

Conversations Intelligent Leaders need to be having.

Conversations Intelligent Leaders need to be having.

with Jeffrey Bleich

Tech-optimist? Tech-pessimist? Tech-pragmatist? …Where do you sit?

Every day, we read about mind-bending new technologies or innovative workplace practices on one hand, and stories of mismatched skills being taught to young people or significant workforce retrenchments on the other. So how do we separate the theatre from the threats and chart a path forward? What are the major considerations we need to be turning our attention to when it comes to the ‘nature’ of technology?

This was exactly the focus of my conversation when I interviewed former US Ambassador to Australia (and namesake of the Jeff Bleich Centre for Digital Technologies, Security and Governance) Jeffrey Bleich. Throughout our conversation, I was struck by his pragmatism, his awareness of the complex implications of technology and his willingness to act. This, I believe, is the substance we need from our leaders – courageous individuals who are prepared to take it in, take it on, and take the best of humanity with them.

How do we think, truly broadly about the digital ecosystem?… We haven’t really thought about the fact that digital technology is changing the way people live, breathe, work, eat and think about their lives …Thinking of it as an ecosystem that is particularly challenging to democracies.

Here are four of the big ideas from our conversation:

Conversation #1: AI has arrived. Ethical guidelines have not.

Scientists and AI experts agree that we are in a race against time: we need to establish ethical guidelines to catch up to technology’s irreversible integration into our lives. In January 2019, Gartner reported that AI adoption tripled in the last year alone, with an estimated 37% of firms now implementing AI in some form. In a recent Deloitte survey, 76% of executives said they expected AI to “substantially transform” their companies within three years. Since 2017, more than two dozen national governments have released AI strategies or plans to develop ethics standards, policies, and regulations.

The problem? No two strategies are alike. While some Principles may correspond, the context of issues such as ethics, privacy and bias all shift dramatically between countries and cultures. Major technology companies are ahead in the global race to develop ethical guidelines and AI governance teams. We see new partnerships between Facebook and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) forming The Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence, with an initial investment of $7.5 million. Amazon and the National Science Foundation recently earmarked $10 million for AI fairness research. Unless governments can get ahead of rapid change, the rule-breakers will become the rule-makers.

In theory, global bodies such as the OECD have gathered support for overarching Principles on AI. However, in practice, governments, corporations, academic and science communities pursue AI strategies that do not relate to each other. So how can we possibly figure out how they relate to us?

Jeffrey Bleich stressed the need for systems-thinking – to understand that nothing happens in isolation from this point on. Just as international laws around space or the oceans exist, global AI ethical standards are surely achievable?

Conversation #2: We need to see technology through a systems-thinking lens

Every single choice you make, every thought you have, every aspect of how you move through the world is being gathered in these devices and it’s being constantly updated in ways that can’t really be controlled by our current cyber security technologies… The fact that we’re not thinking in those terms, should concern all of us.

The next generation will need to see their world as a whole system – a seamless interface, perhaps. This is true of digital technology’s impact in our governance systems, our workplaces, our homes, our own brains. We are hyper-connected and every day, less able to switch off. AI is becoming so integrated in our world that we lose sight of where it starts and stops. How many hours in your day are completely free from technological interruption or influence? Even when you sleep, it’s likely your behaviour is being tracked simply because you didn’t update your phone settings. When you wake, do you take a moment to think ‘how do I feel?’ Or do you reach for a device to find out? As we move through our days, are our choices arising internally from a desire or an idea? Or are we behaving according to predictive (and prescriptive) behaviour models?

And what exactly is an AI? There is no precise and accepted definition of AI. Is it machine learning? If so, how developed? In movies we know AI to be non-biological consciousness. Usually portrayed as a single connected entity. But as we move incrementally along the journey we struggle as citizens to understand what is going on behind the laboratory doors of big tech companies. Let alone how our governments are regulating to protect us. If AI poses a threat, it moves behind a cover of normalised convenience.

Conversation #3: We need to adjust our governance. In our homes, workplaces and democracies.

When we think about governance, we think about what the government does… but governance is the set of norms that we all live by… some of it is training ourselves to be more aware of threats and to adjust our own behaviour.

Whether we think about privacy, security or surveillance, we need to understand that the changes technology brings run deep, and currently, largely run free. As we’re already seeing, digital technology has the potential to fundamentally shift our trust in each other, which gets to the core of relationships and the bedrock of our communities. This new domain requires a rethink of governance and of leadership throughout our communities.

In our conversation, Jeff discusses the urgency with which leaders need to be having more mature conversations. We need to be across AI, automation, mobility, blockchain and education. Leaders need to get out ahead of issues, developing policy for 3-5 years’ time, rather than arguing about 5G or autonomous vehicles like we still have a choice.

Leadership is needed to ensure we don’t let digital divide. The poorest communities stand to be most at risk from job loss, information exclusion and limited connectivity. In parallel, autocratic countries are finding technology a useful means to exert more control over citizens. Will we have a cold war in cyber? Is technology borderless? Or will it create new borders?

Conversation #4: Human agency is being impacted

I think humanity is going to be very different at the end of this century than it is right now. It’s a hard thing to contemplate but we will. We will be augmented by tools that we’ve developed… technologies that we’re already using, we are changing the way our brains are wired, the way we think about the world.

For most of us, in all our humanness at this time in history, AI represents a mechanism by which our behaviours are grouped, sorted, targeted and modulated by data intelligence. Technology was born to enhance our lives and advance our impact, but conversely, as its influence on us grows, we find ourselves ring fenced and judged by its learned assumptions. Who is dictating behaviour now?

Algorithms tend to move us iteratively toward our own extremes. Here’s an example Jeff gave in the interview: When we decide to watch a youtube video, the experience becomes mediated by the algorithm, showing us options of further videos to watch. When we click on something, the technology pigeon-holes us and begins to show us slightly more extreme versions of what it thinks we may like. If you click on a dog, your next set of options will be different sets of dogs. If you click on a small dog, pretty soon you’ll be looking at those handbag-sized pooches. In this way, the human brain is guided further down a path or our own bias. The internet (un)naturally tends towards extremes, with a capacity to fool humanity into the worst of itself.


Finally, here’s some food for thought from the inspiring Jeff Bleich that I’d love to challenge you to discuss with a friend or colleague: “At what point do we lose our wonderful, messy humanity, our story-telling, our mistakes, our illogical tears and become rational, predictable, superficial versions of ourselves?”

Be a leader: an AFLW Inspire story

Be a leader: an AFLW Inspire story

By Andrea MacNamara, Jan 23, 2019 | #AFLW

Available at: https://womens.afl/discover/inspire/be-a-leader

Holly Ransom was a very active outdoors kind of kid, which is hardly surprising for someone who grew up in Perth. She went surfing whenever she could and played lots of sport. When she was eight, she wrote in her school scrapbook that she wanted to be a Brownlow Medallist. So it came as a shock a couple of years later to be told that girls weren’t allowed to play football any more – as far as she was concerned, she was a ten-year-old Auskicker looking for the next level.

‘I remember bursting into tears – I was devastated,’ Holly says. ‘It struck me as so weird that I wasn’t allowed to do something that my brothers could do.’

That was Holly’s first real experience of inequality, and it happened to be in relation to gender. In her adult working life, she has made it her business to be influential in ensuring that equality is on the agenda of decision makers, world-wide. In sport, for example, at 27 she was the youngest board member ever appointed by an AFL club (Port Adelaide) and she was on the advisory board for the launch of the AFL Women’s League.

Holly recalls a defining moment at school, something that really got her thinking about how our ideas of gender equality are formed. Her Year 5 teacher loved giving the students logic problems. They would finish the day with brain benders, like this:

A father and son are driving home from school, and just as they’re turning into a road near home, they’re hit by a reckless driver. The car spins. The boy is thrown out of the car, and his dad is trapped inside. Fortunately, a bystander sees it happen, calls an ambulance, and the kid is rushed to hospital. When they arrive, the surgeon swings open the doors, and declares, ‘That’s my son.’ How is that possible?

‘There were thirty-four of us in the class, with 15 minutes on the clock,’ Holly says. ‘Our best guess was that the boy must have had two dads. Not one of us thought that the surgeon was the boy’s mum. That’s such an interesting thing to look back on, that shift in thinking between ages 8 and 10, from believing I could be a Brownlow Medallist, to unconsciously self-selecting out mine and my gender’s ability to be in that sort of role.’

Holly had leadership roles on the sporting field at school, and naturally gravitated towards positions of responsibility, yet it took her a while to recognise her own potential to really make a difference. ‘I found I could rally the troops, and I’ve always been quite mature for my age,’ Holly says

‘The big change was when one of my teachers sent me on a leadership program that really challenged my idea of what a leader could look like. I thought you had to be older to have a real impact, yet there I was with these unbelievable 14 and 15 year olds for a week, and they were volunteer firefighters and running amazing aid projects; they were making a real difference in their communities and schools. I was the runt of that pack – not in a competitive sense, purely because I genuinely had no idea that this sort of thing was possible at our age.

‘At 15, the trajectory of my life was changed. I thought, I’m going to get out there and have a crack at some of the things I’ve been thinking about. I discovered that you can be a leader at any age, if you choose to take that word and own it.’ .

“At 15, the trajectory of my life was changed … I discovered that you can be a leader at any age, if you choose to take that word and own it.”

After school, Holly ended up with a Law degree and BA (Economics) with a minor in political science. ‘I always describe my life as having a really strong sense of direction but loose hold of the reins,’ she says. She couldn’t ever have predicted the roles and opportunities that have come her way.

Underlying those opportunities is the fact that Holly has known what she’s passionate about for a very long time. She is driven to:

  • improve the lives of those less fortunate in our community, and generally raise the standard of living in our society
  • provide a voice for people who are voiceless in our current systems
  • engage other people in their ability to be agents of change.


But it’s all very well to have big aspirations. It’s much harder to actually make things happen. ‘I worked out early on that what you’re capable of doing as one person won’t even scratch the surface of what you can achieve if you mobilise a group of people. Very quickly, my focus became wanting to unlock other people’s capacity to believe in themselves as part of the change and the solution.’

“I worked out early on that what you’re capable of doing as one person won’t even scratch the surface of what you can achieve if you can mobilise a group of people.”

Holly’s impressive achievements, including her current role as CEO of her own company, Emergent, can be found here. Hers is an inspiring story of finding mentors and taking chances and learning from corporate stints at NAB and Rio Tinto, then choosing her own path. Her keynote speaking portfolio has taken her to six continents. She’s had many pinch-yourself moments with world leaders: she’s delivered a Peace Charter to the Dalai Lama, has chatted with Barack Obama about her work chairing the G20 Youth Summit, and hangs out with Richard Branson.

And yet behind the highlights reel, by 2013 Holly Ransom was struggling. She couldn’t sit still – she had to be constantly doing things, stuck on the hamster wheel. There were warning signs – little things, cracks appearing – but she was too busy bouncing off walls to notice them. Luckily, friends and a good GP told her she needed to take better care of herself, that she needed help. She was diagnosed with depression.

Like many people, at first Holly wondered why she couldn’t just push through. Then she approached the diagnosis with her typical tenacity. ‘I knew I wanted to come out the other side stronger than I’d ever been. I wanted to use the diagnosis as an opportunity to reset. I sought advice from people who had my best interests at heart and made significant changes to the way I lived and worked. I exercised more control over who I was surrounded by – who I was listening to and being influenced by. ‘That journey from depression is the hardest thing I’ve done and what I’m proudest of. I was terrified of talking out loud about it, because of the stigma attached to mental illness, but it was the story behind my first Ironman in December 2015, and I wanted to let people to know they’re not alone.’

“It can hurt you and upset you to hear people saying you can’t do something, but you have to believe in yourself.”

Ironman is a gruelling triathlon: a 3.8-kilometre swim in open water, a 180-kilomtre cycle and a 42-kilometre marathon. To build endurance fitness, you need to train around 20 hours a week. Holly wanted to set herself a big physical and mental challenge, to show herself that anything is possible. As ‘a prolific goal setter’, she was looking for something that would really test her, and with Ironman, she found a bottomless learning pit. ‘Every time I train, I learn something new about myself. So it has massive flow-on effects for the way I work. It energises me, and I’ve learnt to put training into my week as a priority.’

Holly doesn’t spend time reflecting on her past achievements – there’s far too much forward thinking to be done. And with a second Ironman under her belt, she knows anything is possible.