Natalie Turner on Life, Leadership, Vision and Innovation
"Their gift, if you like, is their essence; they give the world that sense of optimism, hope, joy, and the possibility that things can be different and better."
Natalie Turner is the author of Yes; You Can Innovate, Inventor of The 6 'I's® of Innovation and Founder of Women Who Lead. Natalie joined Victor Perton in The Optimism Cafe at The Centre for Optimism.
Victor Perton: "Natalie, what makes you optimistic, nature or nurture?
Natalie Turner: "Wow. Well, it's a good mixture of both.
"I was born to very optimistic people. My parents are in their late 80s now, and they're still riding high on the waves of optimism in their life and have always been very much focused on the possibility of good things happening, even when bad things are happening.
"It's that ability to be able to reframe and look at life through that lens of anticipation and hope that things will be better. So there's definitely a degree of nurture there, and being around parents and in a family like that certainly shaped my value system and my perception of life. There is a degree of what we're born with, too. It's genetics, too. I've inherited some things from my parents there.
"I'm a seven on the Enneagram, one of the most ancient typologies for looking at personality and, psychological development, spiritual development. On the Enneagram, the sevens are called the creative visionaries. Their gift, if you like, is their essence; they give the world that sense of optimism, hope, joy, and the possibility that things can be different and better."
Victor Perton: What is it that makes you feel optimistic? What are the habits, the experiences, the joys which foster and strengthen your optimism?
Natalie Turner: "Vision is the most significant thing: Having that sense of purpose and Vision about where you want life to be, that state of anticipation about what you want to create in life, and being quite content with where you are.
"This is sometimes a challenge for optimists because we tend to live very much in the future about the future that can be created.
"It's been a journey of being really content yet full of a sense of more, of moreness, of what could be created, what could be invented, what could be brought into the world.
"I have a number of practices that help me, and I probably wouldn't see them as techniques, but now I have studied a lot in psychology as well.
"Things like reframing: so when life isn't going to plan, it's that ability to look at something and reframe it very, very fast in sometimes a nanosecond to say, "Okay, well, what good is in here? What can I take out of this situation? What is the positive aspect of what I'm going through?"
"That's a huge thing: The ability to be able to look at life in that positive way.
"Journaling is an excellent practice. I'm a big writer, and I've been journaling since I was 9, and I'm 55 now. It's another practice I adopted from my mother, who is a big journaler.
"I have many, many, many journals. Last night I was going through my old journals, because I've moved to Portugal, big crates of boxes and getting out all these journals and going through them and that's quite exciting, seeing your life in word. The mental aspect, the practice of journaling, and how we see the world is the biggest thing that enables us to have that Vision to go forward.
Victor Perton: We often say optimism is a state of mind, not the state of the world.
"It was almost eerie when you talked about contentment. Today, I visited my mother's grave and took some fresh flowers. She always spoke about contentment as much more important than the pursuit of happiness, and as a yogi, she believed if you're optimistic, you are more likely to experience joy.
Natalie Turner: "Yes. It's at that moment. It's in that moment.
"Sometimes we have to be aware, as optimists, as you are experiencing something, and it's a wonderful experience, but your mind is already moving on to the next thing. It's like the anticipation of the next moment.
"Sometimes I rein myself back and say, "I am here. I'm here right now, and I'm never ever going to be here again in this moment."
"Then, feeling the energy of life is a wonderful thing. Then, obviously, you can start planning new things or whatever's coming ahead of you, but that's lovely. That's a lovely thing to share. Thank you, Victor.
Victor Perton: "You are a leader of leaders; you foster leadership. Who have been the positive leaders, the bosses, the colleagues, family and friends who've inspired you?
Natalie Turner: Well, first of all, my parents have been my biggest inspirations and continue to be.
"If I think of the workplace, I have been out of the corporate world since 2006, when I set up my own company in London. Before that, I had a couple of very good leaders in my early days of work who helped shape my early career.
"I worked for a boutique consultancy practice after I graduated from the London School of Economics with a master's degree. I had a fabulous boss who was such a curious, optimistic person. We were doing fascinating research together. It was just him and I, so I was hired as his research analyst to look at how markets for education and technology were shaping educational markets.
"I think what he did, which opened up me at that relatively younger age, was just the reading. He always encouraged me to read different books, philosophy, ideas, business, and psychology, and we would debate and talk and have that space for real reflection amidst the business context. And so he had a huge influence on shaping me professionally and personally.
"I had another boss back in British telecom days, and that was quite interesting because I was hired to be a data analyst, which was different from my skill set. So I had this boss, who was much younger than me, but he said to me, "Natalie, you're in the wrong role. I think we will shape your role to become a strategic analyst."
"That suited my skillset and perception because I was a forward thinker, and I always liked seeing what was changing in the world and how we could adapt to that change and create new services and products. So his ability to see my potential at that younger age and call that forth and say, "Let's shape a role for you," was very significant. There are many others that I could mention, but they were two that just came to my mind.
Victor Perton: "Let me take you to your Women Who Lead project, and I just find the entire idea so evocative. Please tell us more about "Women Who Lead" and what you hope to achieve.
Natalie Turner: "Women Who Lead: Basically, I developed this with a good friend of mine, Vena Ramphal, in London many years ago because we were both talking about the lack of leadership development for executive women that really had integrated wellness and a holistic view of the person.
"It wasn't just about training or learning new stuff, but going deeper into the self to understand one's strengths, one's challenges around being a leader, and doing that in an environment which would make you feel relaxed, really in tune with nature, in tune with yourself, and that was where the idea came from to combine the wellness aspect with leadership development and create retreats in beautiful places.
"I have run these Women Who Lead retreats in Bali, Singapore, and Malaysia for many years. I ran one recently in Portugal. The whole purpose is to take women on a journey to help them understand themselves through the Enneagram, which we use as a coaching tool.
"Then, we also look at Vision. Where are you going? What is the next big thing being called in you right now? Is it in corporate leadership? It could be the next significant role, or if it's entrepreneurial, it's the business idea someone has. Then, using the Six 'I's of innovation, which is the methodology I've invented for innovating to help people to get clear on that, their purpose around it, the opportunities that they have, the ideas that they have, how they're going to test them, how they're going to get investment for them, et cetera.
"Then, they leave the end of the weekend with really a stronger sense of themselves and some shifts in their own personality, but also a clear plan, what they want to do, where they want to grow as a person. That's the sort of retreat side. Then, I also have a coaching business around that too, which is more one-on-one or masterminds where we do small groups of women together."
Victor Perton: "Now, you talked about innovation, and one of the things we promote at the Centre for Optimism is that notion that if you want to recruit for innovation, you need to have optimists.
"In the recent British coronation, Penny Mordaunt carried the sword for the king. Last year Penny said, "The fault line in politics at the moment is not between left and right, but between optimists and pessimists. We need optimists for the next tough shift."
"When you think about the women you are coaching and your innovation, how does optimism and generating infectious optimism fit in?
Natalie Turner: "Optimism is tremendously important in innovation because, obviously, with innovating, we're trying to bring into the world things that don't exist or don't exist in a form for which they could be. It may not be a radical innovation, it might be more of an incremental thing, but it's still something new.
"You need to have a lot of optimism because you've got to have a strong sense of belief to be able to carry that through.
"If we break down the innovation journey into different areas, I call the identifiers, those that can see, those that are good at standing on the mountain and looking ahead or looking into the horizon or looking down through the binoculars or the lighthouse, that sort of analogy of being able to see, to see the possibility of what could be that isn't here yet and to call that forth in terms of leadership, gives people a tremendous sense of hope that things could be different.
"Because everything that we have, we've invented, even the soft things like culture, which are not so soft, it's all invention, it's all creation, it's all something that people have come up with and then created and formed systems around. And so, why not be able to do it again?
"Why not be able to reinvent and look at things in a fresh light?
As innovators, we need huge doses of optimism, not just for identifying opportunities but for managing those ideas through implementation, partner building, collaboration, and ensuring that we're building something sustainable.
So, you have to have that ability to be able to see, to see in your mind's eye, not necessarily the answers, but to see where it could be and what the outcome, the result might be or look like from a more positive perspective. And so, it's a very, very fundamental aspect if we look at innovation as a totality.
Victor Perton: "Recalls the story of Dyson, the vacuum cleaner guy; he says he had 5,000 models before he achieved commercial success, 15 years of persistence and a failure, and always another crack at it is the essence.
The last question I'd like to throw at you comes from a speech by one of my favourite thinkers, Singapore's Senior Minister Tharman. Tharman said, "Creating basics for optimism has to be our central task everywhere in the world and through global collaboration. We must create basics for optimism to see ourselves through this long storm and to emerge intact, emerge a better place, and it can be done."
He's almost channelling you. How are we going to meet that challenge of his?
Natalie Turner: "Well, I'm sure there are pockets worldwide, right?
"Obviously, if you look at the news, you can spiral down into pessimism and despair, but the news gives us one perspective of the world, which is just a wholly curated perspective. There are other sources of information that we can get our thoughts from. We are facing some challenging times as humans, not just as humans, but as all species on earth and our earth itself.
"We have to be realistic about these things that are going on, but it's not a fatalism that will take us down into pessimism and despair and feel that we can't do anything. Because if we have that feeling, we won't be able to do anything because we will be immobilised from the word go.
"I think it is really looking at the reality of life and some of the very, very difficult things that we're facing and then being able to get that new Vision and to be able to rally people behind the reinvention of what we have and to gain power behind that. That needs to be in all walks of life, from politics and economics, education and technology, and the whole piece. But I think there are pockets of it happening; it's just to get that collective momentum, which is always a challenge, and I think if we're looking at some news sources, you may feel that it isn't happening at all.
"And so, we need to look at and share those positive stories to inspire people."
Victor Perton: "You do that, don't you, with your Women Who Lead and the stories you share in the retreat. You don't just preach it; you live it. Look, that's fantastic. Is there a question I haven't asked you or a last message you'd like to share in the Optimism Cafe?"
Natalie Turner: "Well, one of the things I have done is I've written a book called "Yes, You Can Innovate". I would love to say to everybody listening to this that the word innovation can sometimes be just this big amorphous sort of sense of things. But I think when we bring it down into our own lives and what we are doing, and it's, even more, these days, it's that sense of what is our own purpose or our own contribution, where are our skills, where are your skills, what mindsets do you have, where can you play the best game in this game of life in a sense, where can you give the most and be of service the most, and are you doing that, and if not why not, and really to understand that everybody can contribute and everybody has a role to play, and yes, you can innovate, which is very much the title of my book."