Balancing the Grind with James Stewart, Founder of Royal Cannibals

James Stewart is the Founder of Royal Cannibals, a consultancy he founded in 2015 on a mission to help clients drive the three bottom lines of economic prosperity, environmental protection and social equity.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I started as an energy resources engineer, which explains my ‘every problem has a creative solution’ approach.

Having worked in the North Sea, Mediterranean and West Africa I returned to the UK to change careers, interning at an advertising agency. Since then, I’ve worked in marketing, branding, technology for over 15 years in Australia, the UK and Europe. 

The past 15 years can be broken into two halves; the first – advertising, branding and design with brands such as MINI, Land Rover, and Tesco’s in the UK.

The second half of my career started when I migrated to Australia and migrated to marketing, supporting businesses through their launch or high growth phases. Brands such as PayPal eBay Inc, Aussie Home Loans (prior to the Commonwealth Bank acquisition), UBank and A.I. start-up Quantcast.

I’ve been mentoring founders for nearly a decade, exchanging ideas over a coffee. It was important that there was no financial exchange so we could explore options without bias.

Feedback was that the coffee sessions worked really well, but more substantial advice and direction was wanted, so 5 years ago the consultancy Royal Cannibals was created. 

Royal Cannibals focus is on helping businesses build their three bottom lines: economic prosperity, environmental protection and social equity.

The public is clearly frustrated by the traditional business approach to profit making and short-term gain, though right now ‘exit Covid-19’ survival strategies are dominating the business conversations I’m having.

In addition, there’s some very early stealth planning for a multi-vendor marketplace start-up which I’m excited about creating. 

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world

E. B. White 

The plan is to wake up and get a run, swim or cycle in before starting the day. The reality often starts a little less active, but just as enjoyable with our 2 and a half year old jumping into bed for snuggles. Tea in bed together, followed by dropping off at childcare.

I try to avoid checking emails for as long as possible, I’ve found they can easily distract and upset the day’s action and priority list.

A review of the week, action and priorities for the day follows. All done with pen and paper. I’ve tried all the productivity apps available, but realised comprehension, recall and creativity improves if I write it all down.

I keep 10-11am free every day for the team. An open session where we can review, discuss or workshop any issue and means nothing is waiting for more than 24hrs. 

The rest of the day can either be very structured with client meetings, Zoom workshops or very unstructured which I embrace wholeheartedly with interesting startup founders coffee chats and long walks with our Border Collie Banjo.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

It’s common for me to have teams on different continents and time zones. We ensure that all team members can work remotely and flexible working is encouraged, yet most recently remote working wasn’t the best option.

This might go against current thinking, but we were building a team, increasing the resources of the business and growing capability, and so the energy and exchange of ideas with us all together drove greater creativity and rapid problem solving.

Working together in a room can deliver those one-minute meeting conversations that are so important for knowledge exchange. 

When Covid-19 hit and remote working was the only option we quickly adapted, leveraging team tool we already used like Slack and project management platform

Ensuring the vision behind our ideas and the purpose guiding our products continue while we work remotely, we have all-team video sessions each morning and a daily team member wellbeing check-in.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

 I feel ‘balance’ can be misleading, signifying an exact 50/50 work-life split. 

The four pillars to my life; Family, Friends, Fitness and Work are all important, but I realise that they can’t all be equally important all of the time.  You can have them all, just not at the same time. 

Understanding the natural ebb and flow of business (seasonality, times of increased competition, next stage of scaling, IPO etc.), and the flow of life (important family milestones, start of school term, triathlon race season, etc.) enables an agile and every changing conscious prioritisation of some, and deprioritising of others. 

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

My first mobile, a Nokia 1610 (1996!) was a simple one-colour display mobile, showing two lines of text and an alarm clock.

Since then the amount of Apps and platforms screaming for our attention has grown exponentially. These businesses have vast teams of engineers and behaviorists focused on getting us hooked on their addictive Apps.  

I thought multi-tasking was a superpower, but reducing the amount of noise (by turning off notifications, alerts, etc.), scheduling when I check emails, reducing task switching and having a focus on single-tasking resulted in my output, volume and quality of thinking increasing. 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

 I used to be a devourer of information, newsletters and podcasts. Yet in my quest to reduce multi-tasking (multi-distracting), and reasons to procrastinate, I’ve unsubscribed to as many as possible.

When I’m seeking inspiration and motivation I can’t help but delve into Tyler Brule’s M24 Radio podcast library, and particularly their show The Entrepreneurs.  The quality of journalism and production is outstanding. 

There are books I return to time and time again. Peter Thiel’s Zero to One, Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma and Adam Grant’s Originals are all books I’ve re-read throughout my career.

There might be newer books on business and leadership theory, but they’re well respected classics for a reason and every time I read them I get a new perspective or idea. 

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

 To help me on my quest for focus, Spotify is my constant companion. Its ability to have a playlist for anything has been a godsend. Need to focus: ‘Focus’ playlist. Deadlines looming: ‘Workout’, daughter: ‘Fairy Songs’. 

As an engineer, data junkie and triathlete I’m a daily user of Strava. The app has improved in leaps and bounds since its ‘socialising fitness‘ start, and its ability to process vast amounts of fitness data (my uploads including six or more datasets; GPS tracking, speed, power, cadence, heart rate, training stress, weather conditions etc.) and present in a clear visual way is excellent. It’s a great lesson in good design for customer centricity and data story-telling.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

Famous business leaders and celebrities have well documented insights into their lives.

I’m interested in their partners. Jacinda Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayford, Barack Obama’s wife Michelle Obama, Mark Zuckerberg’s wife Priscilla Chan. All manage to be successful in their own right, supportive, yet endure being in the shadows of a much more prominent partner. 

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

“Don’t let Instagram fool you” 

Social media has allowed us to connect with other like minded people like no other decade has before. Yet in the world of memes and motivational quotes we can’t help but feel everyone else is winning, succeeding and being the perfect parent, except us. 

The reality is that Instagram is not real life and never will be. Work, life and family success takes hard work, disappointments, small wins and a few failures thrown in for good measure.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.