Being Human - Chris Ashley

Who are you?
I’m Chris Ashley, Head of Strategy & Engagement at Human.

How long have you been here at Human?
I’ve been at Human for just over a year. I joined in April 2017.

How did you end up here?
Throughout my career I’ve always worked in consultancy. I setup my own consultancy business when I was 23 and worked with five very close clients from a range of sectors on top level commercial strategy, marketing, business development, talent acquisition, future mapping. I've worked for other consultancies since then; meaning I’ve always had opportunities at work to support businesses strategically.

Just before I moved to Human I was contracting with a startup called Virtue. I supported them for three months as a stategist and that was basically a SAAS product being launched, and we wanted to build a robust commercial value stack that couldn't be easily emulated. That was my first real exposure of crafting strategy for a tech-first business. I came at it from the angle of strategy and people first, with the technology facilitating that. I always put the user's first. The craft of technology always needs to be in service to a user's needs and environment in order to truly amplify experiences, services, or create game-changing business models.

What’s the best and worst part of your job?
The best part is the clients. Working closely with passionate, intelligent people to support them through some quite complex challenges, hopefully unlocking the enormous opportunities that reside within each challenge. If you can work through those major business challenges with the right people, there’s always huge opportunity for growth or differentiation on the other side.

The worst bit...probably the admin? We’re always trying to share and document our understanding with clients and the internal team, so that means there’s always a need for a lot of documentation. Admin overload can be mind numbingly boring - so it’s fortunate that at Human we’re constantly trying to streamline business processes and automate as much admin as possible so we can focus on higher value tasks.

How do you think other people would describe you?
A deep thinker, and a leader. I like to think I lead by example, so I think people see that I’m trying to passionately embrace our purpose in every project or client we engage with. I like to discuss profit and purpose openly, and their relationships with each other. This might be an annoyance at times as it requires some deeper reflection on decisions we make as a business; I think people know its coming from a place of deep empathy for our clients and for Human's place in the world.

What’s your advice to people looking to work in strategy?
Be intensely curious about the world around you, always ask questions, consume as much knowledge as you can - and try to seek true understanding of how things work. Read Porter. Delve into Rumelt. Read Buffet. Absorb Kaku. Everyone knows a lot of stuff now, because we live within a tsunami of content online. We're bombarded minute by minute with interesting headlines, summaries, statistics. Everyone wants topline information and that immediacy of knowledge at their fingertips. But how many people truly understand the subject matter that they're consuming on a deeper level? I think to be a successful strategist you need to strive to truly and deeply understand how and why things work around you - Economics, Psychology, Sociology, Culture, Technology, and so on - and to attempt to understand with real substance as opposed to passing knowledge. Then you can start to recognise patterns, connections, opportunities, threats, and moments where true distinctive value can be crafted in business. That only comes through really hard work.

When not in work, what can you be found doing?
I’m always trying to consume more and more knowledge, especially reading fiction or non fiction. I’m a massive book nerd, I’ve always got two books on the go at any one time; one fiction and one non-fiction! If Waterstones or John Rylands would let me, I'd pitch up a sleeping bag and live there.

I’m also a big fan of psychological thrillers; I’m obsessed with the human mind and I love seeing that played out on the screen by really great writers and actors.

Aside from that, spending precious time with friends and family.

What would be your specialist subject in a quiz?
Game of Thrones? Is that a subject on Mastermind?! It feels a bit below Mastermind level. Perhaps hard sci-fi instead; Sci-fi that is underpinned by real-world scientific thought. Or forensic psychology.

What’s something people may not know about you?
When I was really young I thought I was going to be a singer. I’ve got quite a good singing voice and so a few people with close ties into the music industry wanted to encourage me towards becoming a singer. I did a few performances and people wanted me to expand that commercially, but I didn’t want to pursue it as I found my deeper passions led me elsewhere.

What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
Don’t be scared of trying new things, allow yourself to be vulnerable. True vulnerability and psychological safety can eradicate ridiculous moments of friction in a room that are happening for no good reason. It allows you to be more free and fulfilled because you’re not scared of the possibilities in front of you.

What do you hope is in the future for you, for Human, and for the world?
The last decade has been rewarding for me. I’d love to continue successfully supporting more interesting businesses on their transformation journies. I’d love to do something that has a big, positive impact on people's lives on a broader scale too.

Human's impact will be to increase the amount of time that individuals in every business can spend on higher impact activities. That is truly liberating. If that was played out on a macro scale, I think the benefits for humanity will be immense.

As for the world, it’s in an interesting place right now, right? Despite all the statistics coming from the likes of Pinker saying the world is improving on almost every metric, it sometimes doesn’t feel like that! I feel like the media has a big part to play with the negative sentiment and chambers of thoughts we seem to trap ourselves in at their behest. Technology is moving so quickly that politicians can’t keep up. I think if politicians admitted that and urgently, actively and intensely sought support, we’d all be better off in creating a new breed of capitalism, democracy, and politics in general; with technology amplifying people's lives, not weaponised as a tool to sow discontent.

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