Key learnings from DWEN 2014

After my last post on this years DWEN conference in Austin, I wanted to dig a little deeper and share some of the insights that really resonated with me.

I hadn’t previously met Jane Wurwand, founder of well known skin care brand Dermalogica and I loved hearing her stories.  Not of only how her business started, but how it has grown into an enormous enterprise supplying over 100,000 beauty therapists in more than 80 countries. Jane is a fantastic storyteller and has a huge passion for what she does as the leader of her ‘tribe’. She is adamant that “leaders cannot abdicate responsibility for culture,” and this was a message that really rang true.

I could write for pages on what I took away from Brene Brown’s workshop, but I’ll stick to a few highlights. If any of these hit home for you, watch Brene’s TED talk here to start diving deeper into her work. I was lucky enough to also hear Brene speak in Sydney last year, and on both occasions the message that “you must actively choose courage over comfort as the two are mutually exclusive,” was a key take away for me.

She is completely upfront about the fact that: “if you choose courageous leadership you will be uncomfortable and you will be hurt,” but one of the critical lessons you have to learn is: “letting in all the noise stops you from being brave — decide whose opinions matter to you, listen to those and ignore the rest.” In these days where so much of our lives are lived online, there are more opportunities than ever for others to share their thoughts around what we are doing and the choices we make. It is very easy to listen to those voices (despite the fact that many of them are complete strangers who we’ve never met and are never likely to meet) and let them make us question our behaviour. I found the idea of taking away that power a really good way of dealing with the hurt and second guessing that can otherwise result.

One more take away from Brene that I absolutely love is this: “get better at asking for what you need, not resenting not getting what you didn’t have the courage to ask for.” Speaks for itself really!

We were fortunate to have Susan and Michael join us to talk about the work that the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation is doing (you can read more about the foundation here). Susan spoke  passionately and articulately about the impact that their work is having. She also challenged us all with a statement I completely agree with: “Leading by example is the best way to illustrate to your children and your peers why giving back is important.” 

Michael let Susan do the majority of the talking, but the contributions that he made absolutely hit home. In addition to the comment I’ve referenced previously: “failures are where you learn and make adjustments, if all you do is succeed you don’t really learn anything,”  he also pointed out that “companies themselves can do a lot of good, it is not just up to foundations or philanthropists.”

These messages around giving back are closely aligned to my personal beliefs, and I was looking forward to attending The Legacy For Good session (not least because Sascha’s video about GirlUp was being shown) to hear from entrepreneurs running business with a focus on social good.

Amy George from Blue Avocado, the company minimising the use of disposable bags, made the point that “your product still needs to be commercially viable to succeed even if it is delivering environmental benefits,” and also reminded us that “for social entrepreneurs, good is a journey and it’s important to focus on the good you do along the way.” This reinforced similar messages from Susan Dell, who also talked about avoiding being discouraged by the magnitude of the task ahead by being mindful of the successes along the way.

Sarah Collins from Wonderbag, the amazing slow cooker that is changing the lives of women in Africa, spoke about why women need to be a key focus in delivering change: “Keeping economic benefits in local communities requires the involvement of women.” It’s a message that was reinforced by Kathy Calvin of the UN Foundation in the same session.

There were many other take aways from an action packed couple of days in Austin, but these are the ones that are still playing on high rotation in my thoughts a week later.

To get a view of some of the other attendee’s take aways, search DWEN online or on Twitter for a wide array of blog posts and writings.


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