Posted on 04 January 2018 by Kerry-Anne Mathieson

As a marketing executive, I’ve really needed to think on my feet in many circumstances, fail fast and move forward.  I must constantly evolve, build on my character and grit and not get hung up on criticism even if it’s harsh.

I’ve pinpointed 6 things that I found really helped me grow in my career and rise in the reputation rankings.

1 – Adaptability

No one ever steps in the same river twice:  It’s not the same river and you are not the same person – Heraclitus

The University of Kent says that new graduates will increasingly be recruited for their adaptability and that 91% of HR directors think that by 2018, people will be recruited on their ability to deal with change and uncertainty  – The Flux Report by Right Management.

An important part of marketing is to have fluid-thinking, be adaptable, flexible and to know when to let go.  It’s easy to hold onto an idea that you love and resent and blame others for not loving your idea.  The most direct route to success is to let go of failure and learn from criticism and experiences, digress and focus in a new direction.

It also means that you shouldn’t give up on your great idea, it just may be that it is not good timing.  I have learned that there are times when you must sit back and put your work aside and change direction.  I have many great ideas that surfaced at the wrong time, I haven’t forgotten about them though, I’ve continued with my research, some for almost 3 years already.  But I do know that when the time is right, they will be ready to present.

There is this saying that does the rounds in our company, and it often follows a difficult time “Fail Fast”.  It’s about learning from our mistakes as soon as possible.  For me, it is the essence of adaptability.  The ability to think on our feet and keep moving forward through difficulties.  Learn from mistakes, document them and try to prevent them from happening again.

2 – The Willingness to Listen

The willingness to listen to those around you is vital, it allows you to get the temperature of the room in a strategy meeting or disruptive creative session.  The ability and willingness to actively listen, makes you an approachable leader and it also means you are likely to get a better view of your consumer market when selling your product.  Countless errors will be made if you try to define your market without actively listening to your market.

At a recent dinner with a Television Director, we were discussing a project he had recently run for a perfume company.  In his presentation, he proposed the scene of a black woman riding on a horse through the desert, the idea was brilliant because it breaks all boundaries in terms of race vs affluence.  Previously, you may have found few black women taking up horse riding as a sport, but this director did his research and asked black women, what they thought about black women riding horses, and it was a resounding “Wow”, “That would be so cool”! “Awesome, breaks the social boundaries and stereotypes”.

The perfume company rejected his idea, why? The head of the team said, “Black women don’t ride horses”.  You see, they had an idea of who they ‘wanted’ their market to be as opposed to who their market really is.  A willingness to let down your guard and actively listen, let go of what you think you know and don’t prepare a response while listening is very important.

3 – Get Rid of Perfectionism

The commercial nonetheless was beautiful minus the horse, but the perfume company? Still at loggerheads within their marketing teams because the local team is closed to who their market really is.

The result, the international office loves the commercial (I watched it and it really is top quality) and the local team hates it.  It doesn’t air because they don’t have the confidence to air it despite having pre-bought air-time.   Another lesson here is my “finished, not perfect” mantra.  I say that to myself whenever I feel I’m being over critical of my work.  Perfectionism is a major shaming issue that will cripple any creative.  Brene´ Brown has the same to say about perfectionism: 

“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.  Perfectionism is defeating and self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect.  Perfection is an unattainable goal.”

Getting rid of perfectionism is about letting go of those things that cause you to feel vulnerable, it’s saying “Ok, this is a great presentation, and yes there are some things I could change to improve it but they aren’t really that big”.  It’s about letting go of those perfectionism demons, and putting yourself out there and allowing yourself to be authentically vulnerable.

By letting go of perfectionism, you can be open to criticism, and most importantly, to constructive criticism.  It allows you to listen to what the person is saying about your work or product and realise that this criticism is not about you and its certainly not yours to take on as personal carry-on baggage.

4 –  Work Through Your Shame Issues

An integral part of being a masterful and successful person is not just about your bank balance or how well your company is doing, those are often by-products of masterful and whole-hearted people.  Working through shame issues and vulnerabilities is one of the most important parts of reaching your potential as a person. One of my shame issues has always been public speaking, I love it, but also feel internally that I fumble my words and that I’m not getting my message across.

I remember as a child, speaking at an eisteddfod.  It was an unprepared speech, we were given a subject to talk about 5 minutes before we were due to go on stage.  I loved the topic and had lots to say, but while on stage, even while speaking, was thinking to myself “you’re fumbling, you’re not saying what you’re meant to” “you’re messing up”.  My dad recorded the speech and all I wanted to do was to watch the video to see where I messed up.  I watched, and I didn’t.  There wasn’t even one point where I missed my mark or skipped a beat and received a mark of 88% for my speaking.

A similar thing happened more recently as an adult when I was invited to talk on a radio show about the Enneagram of personalities.  I can’t tell you how many times I tried to pass the speaking spot onto a more qualified colleague who I felt was a much better speaker.  The production manager was quite firm that she wanted it to be me who spoke.   During the interview, I was answering questions about different Enneagram types, and for what felt like a full minute, the presenter lost eye contact with me while she was setting up her next playlist of songs to play during a break.  I felt like my world was falling apart, everyone back at the office was listening and I was losing track.  I felt that because I had lost her focus, that I’d lost mine, and that I was talking in circles and leaving huge gaps of time that cars could fit through.  Thankfully a colleague recorded the interview and put it up on our communication channel at work, so I could download it and listen to it.  I listened 3 times before I got to the point where I thought I’d found where I “messed up”.  The point was that there was no mess up, despite me feeling like my world was collapsing under my feet at the point.

The ability to articulate yourself as a marketer is exceptionally vital.  Identifying my shame issue around not knowing something or looking like a failure has been my biggest lesson in this context.  Working through these issues means I’m now able to have that ‘elevator pitch’ about what I do.  Had I not worked through my shame issues, I would never have the confidence to sell ideas.  My job requires me to get people to see things the way I see them, on-board them with my strategy and get them excited about executing it.  I notice, the more I work through my shame issue, the less my ideas get shot-down and this is because I’m able to get people on my side and see things through my visionary lens.

The Enneagram is a particularly good way of learning what your shame areas are, it highlights them with a magnifying glass, and you’re able to really understand how you operate as a person at a core level.

5 – Know When You Have a Great Idea

I knew I had a great idea when I did my first business proposal for my company as the new marketing exec.  It was the sort of idea that I lost sleep on because it was that exciting for me.   It was completely out of the ballpark for this company and a new set of territories.  As an inexperienced marketer, I did the proposal, and although they acknowledged my idea, they didn’t seem sold on the matter.  I parked it nonetheless.  For 2 years, I continued to do my research on this while watching other companies do what I knew we could do better.

We had an analytics specialist who caught wind of the idea and came in to see our exco board.  I knew why he was so excited about it, because he too, knew that this was a brilliant idea and could mean immense profit for the company.  I was also persistent in every marketing and strategy meeting and brought it up at every opportunity that when resources became available that this is the avenue we should take.  Slowly, I started to notice a little more openness to the idea and there was a glimmer of hope that it would one day come to light.

That day came, and it’s been the most exciting business venture to date.  I am forever grateful that I did not give up on my idea and that I continued to do research monitor the market.  By the time it came to do a full business proposal, I was ready and we are currently midway through development of this project!

6 – Don’t Get Caught Up in Always Needing to Be First

Sometimes you have a great idea and you see others going to market first, learn from their mistakes and their successes.  Just because your idea wasn’t unique doesn’t mean that you can’t market it and still provide a great service, build a great app or company.  Competition builds better performance, complacency often means a lack of growth.

I recently did a market study on a new product that will be launched soon, and the consumer demographic I identified: “The millennial that wears a specific brand* of shoes and drinks a specific brand of coffee*”.  I was so proud of myself for this unique angle, and the relationship it had with the market and product was brilliant.  It allowed for an immediate understanding of the demographic.

The problem?  I wasn’t unique, I wasn’t first, and I only found this out a week after I presented my report.  I was so disappointed because I thought my idea was brilliant, and obviously, it was brilliant because a huge case study was done for a workshop to be presented later this month by a massive research company that is charging a fortune for delegates to listen to speakers present on how to sell to millennials.

The lesson for me in this, is that although I wasn’t technically first to make this connection, the connection was reaffirmed and therefore further validates my market research and I am even more confident that our product will fit the market like a well-worn shoe when it launches.

The number one thing that has helped me learn how to get the best out of myself and maximize my potential is having done the Five Lens personality assessment with Ennea International.   It’s a psychometric assessment that measures five key areas of your personality and way of being.  The enneagram section within the assessment is the game changer and you get eerily accurate results provided you answered the questionnaire honestly.  I highly recommend it for anyone looking to self-develop and have a deeper understanding of themselves and others.

Kerry-Anne Mathieson


A Cape Town based Marketing Exec for Ennea International, a company focused on people development – She has a passion for analytics and AdWords and says the most exciting part of marketing is the constant need to evolve.  Her daily mantra is “Finished, not perfect”.