We asked Ann Marie Phelan, Enteprise & Innovation Manager at IADT to share with us some insights on her experiences and how she draws inspiration from the environment around her, role models she had during her careers, the best advice she received, and what she sees as the biggest challenge facing leaders today.
Voltedge: What is your current role and how long you have held this position?
Ann Marie: I am currently working as the Enterprise & Innovation Manager at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology (IADT). My role involves working with high tech start-up companies which have the potential to scale internationally. To that end, we deliver an enterprise development programme (the New Frontiers Programme) at the Media Cube – IADT’s on-campus start-up incubation centre. This programme is run in partnership with Hothouse, at TUD Grangegorman. The brief also involves working with more established companies that are looking to introduce innovation into their businesses by undertaking research & development in an area where they may not possess the knowledge in-house. I have been working at IADT for the past two and half years and I am thoroughly enjoying the fast-paced environment.
Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?
Ann Marie: My inspiration comes from the entrepreneurs / company founders that I meet on a daily basis. These people are an eclectic mix of creatives, inventors, business thinkers and rule breakers. I feel very privileged to be able to share in the personal journeys that these people undertake. Observing their tenacity first hand and seeing how they deal with challenges gives me the opportunity to learn different approaches to problem solving and to apply it to my own work. It is often the case that our companies are profiled when they win awards or secure funding but for me knowing the real story behind the headlines and understanding their personal sacrifices makes their success all the sweeter.
Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?
Ann Marie: To answer that question I would have to reference my mother who has always been a very strong role model for me throughout my life. She has been and continues to be a significant touchstone in terms of guidance on a whole range of matters. There have been many people throughout my career who have influenced the way I operate. At the risk of causing offence to anyone I will answer this question by summarising how these key role models have reaffirmed for me the importance of integrity, the need to listen to “the voices less heard” and the importance of saying “thank you” to those you work with.
Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?
Ann Marie: Don’t be afraid to ask “what does that mean”? Certainly this advice had particularly relevance for me during my time as a barrister. It is critically important to ask what you do not know. We can all fall into the trap of not wanting to be perceived as lacking knowledge on a topic or not being up-to speed with the latest technology. The simple fact of the matter is that we live in a very fast-paced global economy and there are always people who will know more than you do about a particular matter. However, I have found more often than not that people are only too delighted to share their knowledge.
Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
Ann Marie: A feeling of being isolated is something I think is felt both equally for small company founders or leaders of large corporations. Leaders / founders often encounter what I term the “yes minister” effect where employees are not comfortable to give honest feedback, particularly if it goes against the founders/ leaders expressed position. Creating an environment that supports employees to express their own views in a constructive format is to my mind the Holy Grail in terms of capitalising on the untapped potential within an organisation. I’m not sure I have all the answers in terms of achieving this environment but certainly asking people’s views and including “the voices less heard” goes a long way to creating this space.
Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?
Ann Marie: The Latin quote from Horace “Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero,” literally meaning “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one”.
I’m a great believer in the notion of seizing the day. I apply this thinking daily in my work, particularly when I am advising entrepreneurs to properly value their own time, which is an expensive commodity. I am constantly reminding the companies I work with to be mindful of this fact. I make the point that if a potential client doesn’t want your product or service, bring on the “No” and then follow it up with “why”. Delaying that journey of discovery is a costly exercise. So “Carpe Diem” and get on with it. If in the unfortunate event that this business isn’t working then change direction or discontinue it. This will enable you to move one step closer to the next great opportunity!