21 October 2014, 23h45 – Barcelona (Spain) – almost 1 year ago

As I checked into my 4-star hotel, I stumbled upon the client: training manager of my next Fortune 500 company. The next two days I was going to give an innovation workshop for his 5-star team. I still had to finish my slide-deck for day one, but my overload on tools & supplies made a good first impression (as we only knew each other from the two short prep meetings via Skype and the “in cc. email conversation”  with his secretary).

The Snap

To be honest, I was not in the mood for the compulsory smalltalk. I was tired of the flight and my girlfriend was still in silence-mode for leaving her alone with the moving boxes. The fact I was abroad, again, on the first day we moved in together didn’t make the situation any better.
I don’t remember how the conversation with mr. X exactly went, but after a minute it became clear: The 2-day training was NOT planned for the next day, but for the day after. *snap*
Trying to mask I was not aware of that, I switched to auto-conversation mode (already thinking of the consequences for my perfectly aligned return-flight and an important meeting in-line). As you can guess: exactly planned the day after that.
I quickly said goodbye, and rushed to my room to check my busy calendar.

Our office manager fixed another flight back, I didn’t die from it. The next client-meeting got postponed, again nobody died. On top of that I received 24h “extra” free hours in sunny Barcelona. For the first time in weeks a resting point in my busy calendar. For the first time in months a day nobody expected something from me. I decided to use this extra day to rethink my now. #hellyeah

The Discovery

Working for four years as innovation consultant at Board of innovation, I had an awesome job. Doing great innovation projects for large companies, having my weeks filled with hackathons/innovation bootcamps/co-creation sessions, traveling the world; as an innovation consultant I was living the life!
That day in Barcelona I admit to myself that dream was not my dream anymore. This is why:

1. I became more teacher than inventor

In my heart I’m still a designer. I love to find crazy solutions for problems & challenges. I love to test out new stuff and see how people react to it. I love to think out of the box. But that was not my main focus anymore. At that time I gave tons of (pre-defined) workshops, facilitated large innovation processes and mentored new people in the team. Ok it was something new but I didn’t get the same energy out of it as working on a though challenge. I was talking more about creativity than being creative myself. I became the teacher instead of the inventor.
I had to fix this.

2. My colleagues became my bosses.

In 2011, I joined Board of Innovation as their first “employee”. Well I was not on the payroll but as a young freelancer with almost no client contacts we decided to have a 100% committed strategic partnership. I never called them bosses, they were my colleagues. I chose my own working hours and deadlines. I always had work.
We were a startup!  Although it was clear Phil & Nick owned the business, some clients called us the “three musketeers”. We made company decision together. I really felt equal among the team.
But over those last months that totally changed. With +4 new hires our team doubled in size. As a logic result my colleagues became full-time managers and my new colleagues were real employees. I was something in between. I wasn’t co-building the company anymore, as I did before. My motivation had changed.
We needed to find a new partnership model.

3. I didn’t learn new things

I’m an ENTP. I love to learn new stuff. Thinking about new things makes me more happy than repeatedly executing them. Becoming the teacher, I was not learning new stuff. I was teaching others what I knew. As startup we experimented with different workshops, formats, ideas, … trying to find true market-fit. Becoming a real company, it was time to repeatedly sell the knowledge we acquired over the years. Less experimenting, more executing. Less my cup of tea.

4. I managed more projects than I could handle.

As said, we were hiring like hell. Due to the fact my colleague became father around that time, my other colleague was becoming manager and the newbies couldn’t handle a project on their own yet; I received two new projects for *free*. Eager for those really creative projects I was looking for, I said “Yes” (on top of my 3 full-time innovation bootcamps running at that time). Combined with the mentoring, test-days and moving to a new office I was totally overworked. Some startup people call it growing pains. Well the pain was not for the company, but for me and for the clients. For the first time in my life, my job felt as a real “job”, and I was not pleased with my project results.
I had to find work-life balance again.

5. I just slept fine

If you thought all above would affect my sleep, it wasn’t. People that know me well know I can sleep anywhere, anytime. My data tells me it takes me on average 3min. to fall asleep (note: make post about my power-napping habits and sleep-tracking 😉 ). The only thing that keeps me from falling asleep is excitement. Mostly about new projects, new possibilities, new possible ventures. I didn’t have this “problem” for months. I missed that feeling.
I really needed to find new exiting projects.

The Fix

What followed were five restless months trying to figure out my next move. It felt as a relationship going into a next phase.

> I got a raise.

> We had several meeting to find another partnership model.

> We didn’t find something that worked for both of us.

> I did a job interview for a cool position in a big corporate, and got accepted.

> I quit.

> They convinced me to stay with yet another partnership-model.

> I choose to stay.

After one month evaluation, we still decided to end the relationship. It felt as the right decision. It was time for a new adventure. So many options. Finally start my own business? Maybe do a kickstarter project? Keep doing consultancy on my own? Taking a sabbatical?
I decided to take 6 months “innovation holiday”: Six months to explore all my future possibilities and prepare for the next move. As with developing a business concept, you have to test/validate/learn/iterate to find a proper fit.
I knew just by doing and experimenting I would learn a lot more compared with going into zen mode & brainstorming.
I had no plan, I just went with the flow.

Read part II:
“18 things I did during my Innovation Holiday.”