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The strength of vulnerability​

*I wrote this post for Havas People when I was Head Writer there. Hopefully, you'll find it useful too.

Watching the Baftas on TV the other night one thing really struck a chord. It was when Ellar Coltrane, the remarkably mature teenage star of Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ talked about what he’d learnt during the 12 years it took to make it.

Coltrane said that making the film was an exercise in open, honest collaboration. And the key thing he’d learnt was that the best way to make a real connection with the film’s costars and therefore the audience was to show vulnerability.

Obviously, my first reaction to this was, like, whatever. How come Tom Cruise still looks 25?

But then for some reason, those words came back to haunt me. And I started thinking about them in the most unlikely context of all. Havas People.

We all know that collaboration is essential for our success. But no one ever talks about vulnerability. Could this be vital too?

I can hear your bullsh**t detector going off. What? Is he seriously going to tell us that being vulnerable is good for business? Vulnerability is about showing weakness and that’s the last thing we need. If our competitors sense we’re weak they’ll steal our clients and then where will we be? On a personal level, my job is to deliver great client service. They would not appreciate me rocking up to meetings and being all ‘vulnerable’.

Cool your boots my cynical friends. I’m not suggesting we turn our offices into Woodstock here and take all our clothes off, dance round the printer, and confess our innermost fears. (For anyone under 30, Woodstock was a thing in the 60s. Google it.)

What I am suggesting is that a willingness to be vulnerable is critical to success.


Because vulnerability helps innovation.

It goes like this. You have an idea which you think might be good. But you’re not 100% sure. You um and ah about it, maybe share it with a friend, ponder it for few days. Then – if you’re willing to feel vulnerable – you put your idea out there. You tell your manager or whoever. And they say ‘brilliant’, ‘good but needs work’, or ‘bin it’. Whatever the result, you’ve given your idea a chance. And that’s all that matters.

However, if you’re not willing to take the risk – to be vulnerable – you never tell anyone what you’re thinking. Instead, you justify why this wouldn’t be the right thing to do. I’m an accountant. I do spreadsheets not ideas. We’re all way too busy today. I’ll tell someone tomorrow. This idea’s totally obvious. Everyone will laugh at me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying sharing ideas is easy. I’ve been a creative copywriter for 12 years. It’s my job to come up with and sell concepts. And I STILL feel nervous before I present ideas.

I’m even anxious about writing this blog cos’ it’s not what I usually do. Seriously, right now, I’m thinking what if people think I’m a rubbish writer? What if this is all totally obvious? What if it’s a just not what people want to hear? But I’ve committed to it, so I’ll take the risk. What’s the worst that can happen?

The weird thing about making yourself vulnerable is that while you feel anxious inside, other people will probably respect and admire you for it.

So if you have an idea, step out into the arena and take a risk. It could do wonders for the business and your career.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the power of vulnerability, the best source is Brené Brown.