Hi, my name is Aidan McCullen, and I am a disruptive innovation consultant at Katawave, a business imagination studio based in Dublin. My career in digital technology only began about nine years ago. Before then I was a professional Rugby player, playing for teams across Europe and England, as well as for the Irish national team. I studied French and German in Trinity College Dublin, and briefly in Cologne University, and then did my masters in UCD Smurfit Business School. Currently I am a part-time lecturer in Trinity College on Emerging Trends, which covers everything from Artificial Intelligence to Blockchain.
When I retired from Rugby in 2008, I wanted to enter a burgeoning field. At the time this was digital marketing. I consumed everything I could about digital technology and marketing, and in two years I went from being an intern on minimum wage to Marketing Director of a new company that I set up. We were at the forefront of digital media advertising and innovation, and recognized globally. I took this company as far as it could go until my own growth path stagnated.
In January of 2016, I was hired by RTÉ as Head of Innovation. While there, I met an interesting company called Katawave, a business imagination studio. They were the first consultancy that I had met that had a framework with several solid sciences to back up their executive workshop findings. While meeting with the CEO and Chairman of Katawave for an RTÉ related discussion, the conversation changed to their frameworks, as well as their mind-set of embracing change and harnessing disruption. This went from being a conversation to an interview, and the rest is history.
Away from work I am more focused on my family, learning, and working with The Innovation Show, a weekly interview show that I developed and host, on which I meet amazing people from all over the world. The Innovation Show started as a platform to share the mind-sets of change makers and industry disruptors. I had proposed it as a suggested show in RTÉ, but we had no host. As a result of my experience in rugby commentary, I became the host, and have grown it to be a global show with audiences coming from San Francisco, New York, Sydney, Cape Town and London.
The show came about by doing what innovation is all about: just doing it and doing it with passion. When you want to do something, you find a way. There is no excuse not to do something these days, all the information exists somewhere. People often ask me how do you have the time for it. That is the wrong question; the question should be what do you give up to make the time? The answer comes down to just doing it and making some sacrifices. I have the time because I read, I research, and I get up early. I do not waste time with TV or other distractions. It is just like with rugby – to become a pro rugby player you make time, you train hard, you eat well, you sleep well, you train when others go on summers away, and you make it happen.
The Innovation Show is always about the guest, and I invite guests who have a powerful message to share. I do not see it as a typical show, because I am not just a host asking questions. I am an extremely interested person, who asks interesting people about their world and their work. For example, I only invite authors on when I have personally read their books, as opposed to having a team of researchers do the work. As a result, I learn so much more. I can ask better questions to learn more about the subject, the company, or the mind-set of the interviewee.
A common theme from guests of the show is that the way we are educated today is counter to what we need to be tomorrow. The very skills and belief we have in ourselves, the ones that we have had since childhood – pre-education, pre-prejudice – are the ones needed to progress in the future.
I often ask many of my guests about what type of courses that college goers should take, skills that children should learn, and opportunities that jobseekers should look at. It always comes down to creativity. The show is designed for job seekers and college-goers alike. Many guests will speak about finding creative solutions to their problems. I also write about this every week on my blog, The Thursday Thought, which is informed by the great guests I have on the show.
Our motto is “stay hungry, stay foolish.” Taken from Steve Jobs, this quote sums up the mind-set for the show. Hunger is how you get things done. Foolishness is more about taking chances, and about using childhood skills like imagination and fearlessness. The show’s future exemplifies this as well. I see it as a Global Show with a conference series. I have also been asked several times about franchising it, which I am currently looking into.
The strategy behind the show and my job at as a disruptive innovator often overlap. Active listening is key. Research is key. Learning beyond what is “normal” is key. Limiting poor information is absolutely key. What you feed your mind and focus on is what you become. Innovation is not about technology or invention, it is a mind-set. It is a set of behaviours and habits. It is about mental models, not business models. It is about thinking different and breaking the mental prejudices we are conditioned to embody.
My experiences in rugby, digital marketing, lecturing, keynote speaking, and the Innovation Show have broadened my skillsets across technical expertise, as well as “soft skills,” such as emotional intelligence and empathy. People who have a diverse set of skills such as this are what we in Katawave call the “O-shaped Worker.” The O-shaped worker has one central discipline and a broad set of passions, and then encircles him or herself with skills like empathy, emotional intelligence, and leadership. I work on being an O-shaped person everyday. This type of person understands that there is always room to improve – whether it is in their main discipline, or in those soft skills.
Everyday I try something new. If you do not, you stagnate. If you stagnate, you will never learn to grow. Having new experiences, whether it is by yourself or with family and friends, will strengthen every part of your life.