Courageous mistakes, measured risk, and disruptive strategies – our leaders share what fearless means to them

Courageous mistakes, measured risk, and disruptive strategies – our leaders share what fearless means to them

For some, the word ‘fearless’ encapsulates bravery; bold and intrepid pioneers. When we asked children what it meant in our recent Fearless Stories competition, we received stories about parachutists, soldiers, and birds taking their first flight.

But we can also look at the word ‘fearless’ another way, which is the removal of fear. At the Martin James Network, our mission is to challenge and change societal behaviours in order that every individual can live a life with less fear, and empower them to fearlessly pursue their dreams.

We asked three of our leaders from our TalkOut, OKRA, and caseflowhr, to outline what what ‘Fearless Futures’ means to them. From courageous mistakes, measured risk, and disruptive strategies, our leaders are redesigning the way in which we make positive social and economic change.

Tim Luft is a Director of TalkOut. Tim leads the TalkOut VR studios, transforming mundane training sessions into exciting sensory experiences. They help the most complex scenarios become easy to understand, and the most dangerous environments become safe. We asked Tim what fearless futures mean to him:

Fearless Futures is an ecosystem which creates the environment to allow people to work in a truly unique way, specifically to engage in critical thinking, challenge the root causes of inequalities and to champion transformative change. It is trusting people to ask the questions that need to be asked and if a clear answer is not received, putting forward new disruptive strategies which solve the problem.’

The Martin James Network has seven overarching values which apply to every Group within the Network:

These values promote a unique working style where we encourage colleagues to respond to change with creative solutions, whilst continuing to challenge our personal biases. Our core vision of creating fearless futures, involves consciously listening to others in a mission to improve communities and promote equality using disruptive technology. Tim’s response really highlights our Creativity and Curiosity values whilst emphasising our approach to Fearless Futures.

Greg and Jill Hartigan have many years of HR & Legal experience between them. Last year they fearlessly started-up their new company caseflowhr, a digital ER specialist. Their product uses ground-breaking technology to aid HR professionals’ decision making and monitoring cases. When asked about fearless futures, they submitted this poem:

Fear transforms into courage
Rewards are for the trying
Bravery is for rising after the falling
Boldness is worn by the timid
The inner impostor is slain
Scars become medals
Bitter tears savour sweet and
From setbacks flow the springs of life
Greg and Jill Hartigan

Greg and Jill’s creative interpretation of Fearless Futures ties into another of our values: Courage. It reiterates that although we all face fear, it is the action of transforming fears into action that shows bravery. And although sometimes we may fail, the attempt of trying shows courage over anything else.

The final thoughts on fearlessness in this blog come from OKRA’s Rasim Shah, who leads the implementation of AI in life sciences. OKRA delivers predictions, suggestions and explanations to empower life sciences executives and operational teams to drive the right drug to the right patient with humanised and understandable AI outputs. 

As Winston Churchill brilliantly said “never let a good crisis go to waste.” For me this represents embracing the uncertainties we currently face (for me there are many), facing the future with optimism (this is a daily challenge), adapting fast and daring to allow controlled mistakes to happen along the way (this causes major anxiety). Fearless Futures for me is about having the courage to reimagine both business and yourself, and empowering others around you to build their future irrespective of the differences and by challenging the current norms.’

Rasim mentions ‘embracing uncertainties, adapting fast, and daring to allow controlled mistakes to happen’. At Martin James Network we encourage our people to be mould breakers and change makers, but doing so can often causes anxieties. One of our values is being Candid and we welcome candid conversations around the challenges that individuals feel in the workplace. We work hard to support our colleagues on their entrepreneurial journey by assigning internal mental health ambassadors to support and listen along the way.

Our Network works fearlessly in its approach to deliver ground breaking experiences. We are proud that this is felt right across our teams, who want to ensure that the communities around us can live without limitation or prejudice, thus creating a fearless future for all.

Feeling stressed? You’re not alone…

Feeling stressed? You’re not alone…

By Mark Shrimpton, People Director, Martin James Network

As April 2021, is stress awareness month, I’ve been considering how I’ve responded to stress over the last 12 months. And I would like to take this opportunity to share some of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on myself.

Millions of people around the UK have experienced high levels of stress this year. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of adults have felt so much stress at some point during the pandemic that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

Research shows that stress damages both our physical health (it can potentially lead to heart disease, problems with our immune system, insomnia and digestive problems) and our mental health including anxiety and depression. This can lead on to suicidal thoughts and it’s been shown that suicide is the biggest killer of people under the age of 35. This is more deadly than cancer and car accidents. Men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.

The Stress Management Society recently collaborated with Huawei to conduct a survey on stress. They found that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020. This research made me consider how I have felt since the restrictions began. Although I’m in a high pressure role, in the past I’ve been able to cope with stresses and concerns by having clear boundaries between work and personal time, this enables me to switch off both physically and mentally. I talk to colleagues about work when I am in the office, building face to face relationships. And when I am at home, I am able to relax with my family and children, Jake and Olivia. Even in times of what others would see as high pressure, I’ve previously been able to keep a clear relaxed mind and focus on the key points needed to invariably resolve an issue.

However, since the pandemic and restrictions started, I have felt and reacted differently to issues. With isolation, at times, my mood dipped significantly and negatively. Leaving me with the feeling that I’m unable to cope with all of the different issues that COVID has brought, whether that has been work-related, or working and home schooling the children, or just on a personal level.

At times, I’ve felt like I’ve been failing and not having an impact and simple issues such as misreading an email have escalated quickly in my mind. Without being able to discuss things face to face and resolve misunderstandings quickly in the office, these issues have played on my mind. On occasion this has led to insomnia, waking at 3am in the morning worrying about some minor work issue and all the possible resolutions, before falling asleep at 5am. When I wake up, the resolutions are fully forgotten! All of these thoughts tend to occur when I’ve not had contact with people 1:1 for a few days or my contact has been through large Team meetings.

These “swings” in mood become more pronounced the longer the lockdown has gone on, especially since January 2021, when the days have seemed so long. When I consider that I or none of my family have been furloughed, made redundant or contracted COVID, I understand that I’ve been in a privileged position through the pandemic and, at times I’ve questioned myself as to why I should be suffering stress and pressure compared to those who have had a much more difficult experience.

When I haven’t been in a low mood and look back though, the irony is it that all of the pressure and stress I have felt, is down to my own expectations on myself. Expectations that I could do better and that there must be something else I can do. Yes, it’s been an extremely busy time and with challenges that HR or People Teams have never faced before, but all of the pressure and stress I have felt has been through my own expectations and not from others.

As an introverted People Director, I’ve felt unable to talk to others about how I’m feeling directly and, at times, I’ve exacerbated my stress by keeping it internally to myself. This is despite knowing of all the support structures in place, whether that’s via our team of mental health champions, external and independent counsellors, mental health resources available via our TalkOut app or the support of the leadership team within Martin James Network.

So how have I reacted to these stresses?

The first point is that I’ve been able to identify when I’ve been feeling low (some times quicker than other times) and recognise that I need to do something about it. Sometimes, that has been a simple resolution such as picking up the phone (and not Teams) to have a conversation with someone and clarifying points rather than emailing back and forth. I can’t tell you how many times I built something up in my mind over the last 12 months based on a misread email and then resolved it in a 10 second conversation later in the week.

Other times it’s been about asking for feedback, and asking my team “How am I doing?” “What can I be doing differently?” “How are you feeling?” To sense-check if the issues in my mind are as large as I think they are. It’s been about ensuring that I have a break from work, ensuring that I take annual leave, even if it has meant “holidaying” in the lounge for a few days, rather than working in the kitchen. I’ve heard people say that it’s a waste of leave, to save it for when you can go somewhere, but the difference even 24 hours has made or a long weekend off has made to my own mental health has been enormous.

In addition, I’ve forced myself to take walks at least at the start and end of each day and to get fresh air rather than remaining in my house all day. When I can, I’ve taken walking meetings and walking lunches to help too. Equally, I’ve also taken opportunities to go into the office when possible (in a socially distanced way), to meet and talk to people and clarify some points that, working from home, would feel like they could take weeks to fix.

It’s these techniques that have helped, but I still need to identify when I’m feeling stressed and what I can do to help myself further. Individually we need to understand what is causing us personal stress, and learn what steps we can take to reduce it for ourselves and those around us.

There are many steps that could be taken, however they may include:

Knowledge – what is causing you stress; anticipate stressful periods and plan for them; develop strategies to help you cope with stress.

Feelings – don’t suppress your feelings, acknowledge them to yourself and share with others; learn to be flexible and adaptable.

Behaviour – Use your free time productively; avoid blaming others for your situation; provide positive feedback to others; learn to say no or set boundaries; acknowledge problems as they appear.

Support – Ask for direct help and be receptive when it is offered; tell those that support you how much you appreciate them.

Thoughts – Challenge your “musts” and “shoulds”; don’t jump to conclusions; remember the positives rather than the negatives.

Lifestyle – Keep healthy and eat and drink healthily; practice some form of exercise; plan your use of free time and seek variety and change of paces.

Personal development – Practice mindfulness; establish a personal sense of direction; maintain a sense of proportion.

Not all of these steps will work for everyone, but being aware of them and practicing only a few can make a difference. This year’s theme of Stress Awareness Month of “Regaining Connectivity, Certainty and Control’ ties into this.

Within the Martin James Network, we have a team of Mental Health Champions supported by the TalkOut Group who act as confidants and signposts to those who want to talk to someone independent. We hope that this blog promotes a better understanding of the needs and feelings of others, and helps you to seek support if you need it.



If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one and would like expert advice please check out the following mental health charity helplines


Feeling the fear but doing it anyway

Feeling the fear but doing it anyway

Richard Dooner, CEO of Antser.

I liken Martin James Network’s vision of ‘Fearless Futures’ to my two all-time favourite quotes. Quotes that both inspire me and also sum up my journey leading Antser with a future-facing approach.

“We choose to go to the moon this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard…” – John F. Kennedy

I see this as extraordinary leadership because he pushed the boundaries and dared to do something that others hadn’t done before. Essentially, deliberately choosing to do something incredibly difficult, but incredibly brave and fearless at the same time.

He dared to look down the barrel of opportunity which equally could have been the barrel of failure. Instead of seeing the prospect of failure and fearing to do something, Kennedy proactively engaged his bravery and ultimately led his people and nation to achieve one of humankind’s most amazing achievements.

“If you can’t fly, then run, and if you can’t run, then walk, and if you can’t walk, crawl… but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” – Martin Luther King

This quote inspires me because to be fearless like JFK is simply not enough. To dream and to dare is one thing, but you have to turn that ambition into hard, relentless work. When the days are hard, you keep going, and on the days that are harder still, you push deeper. Persevering, doing whatever you need to do to keep moving forward and succeed.    

When the opportunity came to build and lead Antser I wanted to. Not because it would be easy but because it would be hard. It’s been one of the scariest and most challenging things that I have ever done.  

With the constant weight of fear and anxiety, questioning, are we making the right decisions? Are we going in the right direction? What do we do next?  

But each day I enjoy facing that fear, because knowing how many lives Antser could change, inspires me to keep going. And in doing so, every day, every week, every month, every meeting and every decision is another step forward to a future where Antser becomes the leading, most trusted partner in its sector.  

Thus further linking back to the Martin Luther King quote, in that some days I feel like we are flying, other days we are slowly trudging along. But in pursuit of our goal, we move forward, even if we are crawling.  

So for me, ‘Fearless Futures’ means a belief in opportunity, creating something better that hasn’t been done or achieved before. It might be hard, and others might shy away from it, but underpinned by hard work at Martin James Network we can turn these dreams into reality. 

The Martin James Foundation; fearless champions for reforming alternative care

The Martin James Foundation; fearless champions for reforming alternative care

By Justin Rogers, CEO of Martin James Foundation

I have been reflecting on some of the experiences I have had, witnessing the lived realities of children who are growing up in institutions.

Many of you know about the research I have been undertaking in childcare institutions in South East Asia. Some of the homes I have visited have 500 children residing, where they often grow up in isolation from both their families and communities.

It is estimated that 80% of the children in these orphanages have family members. Their placement may be driven by poverty and the parents’ desire for their children to be educated, giving them better life chances. The staff often seem kind enough to the children and they are doing their best, but they are caring for large numbers of children, and often the staff to children ratios are too low.

One state orphanage I visited had two members of staff on twelve-hour shifts, caring for thirty infants under the age of 12 months. Some of the babies were clamouring for attention whilst others looked distant, resigned to the reality that attention will not be forthcoming.

Whenever I am confronted with these types of experiences, I always end up questioning: is this good enough for these children? I then employ the test I used to assess and support foster carers in the UK: would I leave a member of my family here? And would I feel safe in the knowledge that they were being cared for?

Unfortunately, most of the large-scale residential homes I have witnessed would not pass that test. The experience of witnessing these harsh realities has provided the motivation for me to commit fearlessly to promoting the reform of alternative care for children. Because these children that through no fault of their own, find themselves in these situations, need fearless champions.

I find myself ‘feeling the fear’ when I am chairing meetings with Government ministers or presenting talks to networks of NGOs. But as the saying goes, I feel that fear and do it anyway because children in those institutions don’t have the power or opportunities to make change.

Being part of the Martin James Network has afforded me the opportunity to work with colleagues that are doing this for some of the world’s most vulnerable children on a daily basis. Recently, the MJF team were on a call with UNICEF and the Government, developing a foster care handbook in Madagascar. On the same day, our colleagues from Key Assets Canada were training practitioners in Colombia on the value of family-based care.

If you reflect on what goes on in our teams and across our network, it’s clear that we are a group of people committed to making a positive social impact. We are fearless!