• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on John Whalley

Here at Spotlight, we had the chance to chat with John Whalley, Strategic Director at Use.Space, Independent Branding Consultant and Co-founder of ONEOFTHE8. He spoke to us about the power of creativity and his drive and determination.

Background - into you and your business

I’m a creative director and brand communication specialist with a track record of helping build, grow and amplify brands across multiple sectors, including sport, retail, fashion, travel, philanthropy, education, mental health and energy.

Building start-up brands, re-energising existing brands, helping grow ambitious brands, I’ve worked on projects reaching across the UK, Europe, Asia and the USA.

Since starting out as a graphic design apprentice, I’ve been in the creative industry for all my professional life, working my way up to becoming Executive Creative Director of an agency based in three cities - Manchester, London and Mumbai - before joining Use.Space in 2020 to work alongside the founder in building this exciting new project.

I also work with a number of brands as an independent consultant and have co-founded ONEOFTHE8, a story sharing platform giving voice to real-world people sharing inspirational real-life stories.

The big idea

Use.Space is a unique co-working space founded by a creative entrepreneur I have known and worked with for many years. David Walter has an adventurous and altruistic approach to business and as well as a coworking community of over 100 people, Use.Space operates an incubator program designed to help and support start-ups and SMEs.

The opportunity to be part of this project was too much to resist and working with early-stage businesses is always exciting and rewarding.

Having this role also allows me to work with a select number of clients as an independent consultant, working with brands to tell their stories, develop campaigns and shape strategic communication.

Overcoming Challenges

The more experience you gain the easier it becomes to settle into a pattern where you’re able to function without having to face too many difficult challenges. Each time I’ve reached this point in my career I’ve chosen to move into new areas of the industry, to learn new skills, and add new experiences. I’ve always believed that it’s only by constantly challenging ourselves that we really grow and develop.

Public speaking was always something that filled me with dread, so I decided it was time to face that particular challenge. Starting by accepting invitations to feature on industry panels, I moved on (with sweaty palms I admit) to speaking to small industry groups and workshops, then progressed from there. When I eventually found myself behind a microphone at the BBC I felt a massive sense of achievement.

In 2019 I took another step in this process. After giving a number of guest lectures at Manchester Metropolitan University, I accepted an invitation to become an Associate Lecturer at the MMU Business School. This experience presented me with a completely new set of challenges, ones that I’m proud to say I took on and really enjoyed.

Challenging ourselves can be scary, but it’s always worthwhile.

What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?

I am a great believer and advocate of Diversity of Thought. The sharing of knowledge, ideas and experiences from a wide range of individuals and business sectors is what so often brings about fresh thinking, positive change and true innovation.

Being part of a co-working environment - especially one with such an extensive network of specialist people - provides fantastic and often unexpected opportunities for collaboration, co-creation and knowledge sharing.

Drive and determination

Creativity is something that stretches far beyond the world of design and designers. Creativity is extremely powerful and can be used to solve all kinds of problems, on every level, from brand communication to climate change, from launching a product to tackling food waste.

Opportunities to work with people, brands, businesses and organisations that have purpose, vision and a desire to do good and give something back at their core, provide all the drive that I ever need to help them succeed.

The biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way

Perfection does not exist and the persistent search for it can prove a significant barrier to progress. The 80/20 rule is something I’ve learned over time and something that I highly recommend. If you can be 80% happy with the work you’ve produced, consider this a success and move forward with confidence.

Three tips you would give to those starting their careers

Whenever I talk to students about getting into the creative industry I always try to help them see how keeping an open mind can lead to unexpected opportunities.

Higher education does have a habit of sticking labels on its graduates – often understandably – however, those labels should never be allowed to become a barrier for moving into other areas.

The hard part is getting into the industry, but once graduates have they should take a 360° view of things and be prepared to try everything.

My three tips are:

  1. Keep an open mind, don’t let your ‘title’ be a barrier.

  2. Be curious and ask questions, it’s how we make discoveries.

  3. Express yourself, with personal projects and pro-bono work.

Advice to people who are wanting to start a business

Join an Incubator Program, like the one we have at Use.Space. The right incubator program can provide start-up founders with immediate access to mentors, specialists, resources, business networks, investment advice and ultimately even partnerships and funding.

Advice for people aiming for leadership positions

I have no doubt that the best leaders are those who provide their teams with a platform for doing their best work. This involves showing people trust, giving them the confidence to make decisions, and allowing them a level of ownership in a project.

Leadership is not about looking down at people, it’s about helping people to look up.

Advice to someone managing a team

Build a team that has people in it who are better than you - then give them a platform to excel.

The best and worst part of your job

Without question, the best part of my job is learning from others and then being able to apply those learnings to the benefit of a new project or collaboration.

No one ever enjoys those ‘can you do it any cheaper?’ or ‘can you do it by this afternoon?’ conversations. This is the dialogue that sets any project off on the wrong foot, usually with people who don’t have a bigger picture perspective on the value of what can actually be achieved.

Thankfully, experience does bring about the ability to recognise and avoid those projects that are only about ‘cheaper, faster’.

To what do you attribute your success?

I attribute my success to a willingness to listen and learn, an insatiable appetite for knowledge, a love of meeting and speaking to people, a very supportive family, and a work ethic I inherited from my dad. I also enjoy what I do, and that helps.

The Future

As we emerge from the pandemic, the future for co-working spaces looks very good, as people recalibrate their approaches to work and many now seek a hybrid solution that sits between working from home and spending time with the team at the office.

I believe that the creative industry, in general, is entering a period where new technologies, combined with new ways of working, are creating an incredibly exciting future. Those holding on to the ‘old traditional ways’ will either evolve or dissolve, and a new, more collaborative, co-creative and innovative industry will forge ahead and achieve great things.

Something to remember

We should all remember that there are a lot of good things happening in the world. With the amount of media that we all now consume, it’s very easy to believe that the only news is bad news.

Yes, there is so much that we need to sort out and fix, but there are also a lot of positives that we can all be inspired by.

One of the reasons we launched ONEOFTHE8 was to give voice to even a small percentage of the many people in the world who have positive and inspirational stories to tell. They are out there folks, trust me, take a listen.

If you’ve found John’s story interesting make sure to connect with him on LinkedIn and also follow him on Instagram. To keep up to date with Use.Space and ONEOFTHE8 Instagram today. For more blogs like this, head over to our blog.

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