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Balancing the Grind with Scott Ko, Acting CEO at Leadership Victoria

Scott Ko is the Acting CEO at Leadership Victoria, and founder of ColourSpace Gallery, a social enterprise that helps emerging artists get a foot in the door.

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

I started my career as a consultant in the tech sector, working for Accenture, after which I moved into management consulting for the public sector, driven by a desire to do work that also had a broader community benefit.

Along the way, I dabbled in startups, launching my first tech startup called MealDish (now defunct) that provided intelligent meal planning for families, as well as launching a free financial literacy app called UnderstandingSuper that helped students understand how Australia’s superannuation and retirement industry worked.

Around 2016, after about 8 years in management consulting, I wanted to challenge myself again, which led to the founding of ColourSpace, a social enterprise that transforms buildings and hospitals into galleries, with art sourced from local emerging artists. After growing this steadily for a few years until in 2020, the Covid pandemic caught up with everyone, and heavily disrupted our business.

I took this opportunity to reflect on all of my learnings and experiences so that I could think about how else I could help people. I realised that a constant that underpins everything I do is a deep passion for helping people think differently, whether that was through technology, psychology, art, or leadership.

In 2021, I joined Leadership Victoria, a social enterprise in the leadership development space that helps cultivate purposeful leadership for an inclusive, equitable, and sustainable society. This is an organisation that aligns with just about everything that I care passionately about, and also a place where I could leverage all of my consulting, startup, and social enterprise experience.

Today, I am the full-time Acting CEO of Leadership Victoria. In-between, I continue to run ColourSpace with a small but steady team.

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

These days, I find myself waking up around 6am. I usually start with a short run in the morning around 6:30 and then a light breakfast.

I have two offices, depending on where I feel like working or if there are people I need to meet. My work day typically starts anywhere between 8 to 9am. I usually sketch out a plan for the day, setting aside time for deep work in-between my meetings. My Leadership Victoria day finishes around 6 to 7pm, after which I go home and have some dinner.

If there’s anything of high priority for me to do on ColourSpace, I’ll then put in another hour or two for that or any of my other projects. If not, I’ll either do some reading, go for a walk, or speak with a friend. I usually go to bed around 11pm or midnight.  

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

Yes it does, in every definition of the word. I’m fortunate that the type of work I do means I can work from just about anywhere, whether that’s at home or in various offices. Personally, I prefer working from the office because I don’t enjoy working from home.

I’m a big believer in the importance of building relationships and a workplace culture with people face to face. I believe that this is important for mental health, innovation, and even social cohesion. Believe it or not, I say that as someone who’s innately introverted and who enjoys spending time alone. I simply believe that there are different types of connections that people can only make when face to face.

That said, flexible work does mean it’s easier for me to juggle my different hats, and means I can control how much work I give to any one project at any one time.  

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

Rather than work-life balance, I prefer to think of it as simply ‘life balance’. What am I doing in my life that I find nourishing and interesting? I’m fortunate that much of the work I do, I find highly interesting and rewarding.

I understand why I’m doing it, why I’m drawn to it, and what I can give to it. As a result, I haven’t really ‘worked’ in a long time. However, I also recognise that this can be a trap, in that my life ends up being unbalanced because all I’m doing is ‘work’.

Thus at the start of the year, I look across all the domains of my life, from social life to health and fitness, and consider what I need to do in those areas to feel equally nourished by them.

However, I think it’s just as important not to just have a list of goals and objectives, or ‘things to do’. Instead, what I think is important is to consider how it would feel once an area of my life is ‘in balance’ and to set that as the goal. For example, in my domain of Health and Fitness, the end result I’m striving for is simply: “I am happy with my body and my headspace.”

I actually apply the same principle to the people I work with: I recognise that everyone has different modes of working. Some people prefer earlier mornings, some people prefer long days. I much prefer listening to what people tell me they want to do, and creating the space that allows for that to happen. I believe this is a lot more organic, and it lets people self identify what works for them.

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

One thing I’ve started is my morning runs. Now, I hate running. But I’m at the stage of life where if I don’t keep my body moving, I physically feel myself stiffening up. Thus the first thing I do when I get up is to go for a run.

However, something I’ve found has been quite beneficial is to actually leave my headphones at home, turning it into a form of ‘active meditation’. The amount of insights, ideas, or mental breakthroughs that I’ve come up with as a result of these runs is quite incredible, so I do keep my phone with me so I can take voice memos along the way.

In terms of something I’ve stopped, it’s alcohol. Whenever I drink, it always leaves me feeling a little fuzzy afterwards. In contrast, when I go long periods without drinking, it helps keep my head clear and more focused.

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

In terms of a favourite book, I have to give a shout out to The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama.

I appreciate that might not be a typical ‘leadership’ or ‘startup’ type of book, but if you’re the type of person who is curious about how different societies form, why different communities around the world set up different types of government, and therefore why people in those communities think differently, then this is a book you’ll appreciate.

It teaches something I refer to as ‘systemic empathy’ which is the practice of empathising with entire communities of people.

In terms of a favourite podcast, check out Humans of Purpose, It’s Australian-based, and is a great exploration of what drives different people. I’ve been fortunate enough to appear as a guest on this podcast too.

And finally, in terms of a newsletter, I’m actually personally not subscribed to any. My reason is because it can be easy to ‘over-consume’ information. So instead, I produce a fortnightly newsletter called the Ko Lab which has become my creative outlet. Just as the best way to learn is sometimes to teach, this newsletter has allowed me to consolidate and refine my ideas and experiences, and share them back with the world. 

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

In terms of a gadget, it would be my Surface Pro. With this and a hot spot, my office is anywhere I want to be. On a train, in a cafe, or in a park.

In terms of an app, it would be Roam Research, which is like my second brain. If Evernote was for librarians, Roam is for gardeners, which better suits the way I like to think.

And finally, in terms of a product, the Curiosity Journal is something that’s had a big impact on my life. Whereas a gratitude journal teaches the practice of being grateful, the Curiosity Journal constantly reminds me to cultivate my curiosity.

In it, I capture questions large and small, from big blue sky questions that inspire creativity, through to hyper focused questions that help me better understand root problems. Full disclosure, this is a product that I created.

However, before its existence, I had already been documenting and journalling the questions I would ask to tackle the challenges I had been experiencing in my life and career. I launched the Curiosity Journal not just because it’s something I use regularly, but because I’ve seen how useful it’s been for others. 

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

The person that comes to mind is actually the Dalai Lama. I’d love to know how he approaches ‘life balance’, and what that looks like for him.

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

I’m a big believer in the concept of ‘personal nourishment’. Rather than thinking about balance, I think it’s more important to understand what it is that you find ‘nourishing’ in what you do.

What activities truly recharge you or give you energy? Listen to that, and don’t do something just because someone else has told you to. Find what works for you and listen to your intuition! Naturally, if you’re not sure what that means, then I would strongly encourage you to go out to try something new so you can begin your own journey of discovery.

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.