Parenting tips from the professionals: Paul Lindley
We were delighted to have the opportunity to interview Paul Lindley, the Founder of Ella’s Kitchen, whose mission is to improve children’s lives through developing healthy relationships with food him. We asked him about how he made the journey as a successful entrepreneur and about his recent book ‘Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler’
You've had quite a career, from TV executive at Nickelodeon to launching Ella’s Kitchen. How did your career path evolve?
I started at Nickelodeon as a KPMG chartered accountant, then over the course of 9 years became the financial controller, general manager and finally Managing Director. The skills I learnt through the company helped me set up my business later.
Nickelodeon is all about kids so they create programmes that are designed to appeal to the children and not the parents. I developed an interest in wellbeing during this time and an idea grew of building a brand that was ‘kids first’ i.e. that engages all of their senses and is concerned about their wellbeing. Over those years I went to loads of research groups and saw all sorts of insights into how boys and girls differ in their development and how they relate to a brand. During that time I also became aware that each generation of children is less healthy than the one before.
How did you come up with the concept for Ella’s Kitchen?
A third of our kids are now overweight and over 20% are obese. 20% start reception class overweight and around 90% of those kids will remain overweight most of their lives. Watching TV, adverts and not exercising was being blamed for this. At the same time in 1999 I had my first baby Ella and went through all the stresses of weaning. At some stage they stop eating anything new and you don’t understand why. I tried to use games, mess, fun to get her to put the spoon in - as we do! I thought I could create a brand of food that addresses the real issues that children experience with food and which helps improve children’s relationship with food. Building a brand that is about healthy but fun food - that’s how the overlap came really. Food was a completely new industry to me and I had to learn from scratch.
How do your kids feel about your business now?
They are teenagers now; my daughter Ella is 18! By focusing on something I was passionate about and which was purposeful, I tried to show them that a job or career doesn’t have to be simply about working. It can be about making a difference and doing something that you are driven by, rather than just a job that pays the rent. Although it was highly risky, you can still be true to your vision and values. Hopefully I have shown them that they should live their passion.
How have you balanced the demands of your fast-growing business with family time and time for yourself?
We always think that we balance it wrongly and we feel guilty that we are not putting enough time to ourselves or our family. There is no right answer! You have to juggle, be highly efficient and stay focused on what counts. I went through all that time thinking what most makes me happy is my family. However, there are times when I missed things like the Nativity play and other obvious occasions. But the ability to be able to work from home and to be able to work flexible hours help compensate. I certainly got it wrong at the beginning. But you learn what needs your attention and what doesn’t. It’s why building a team at work is important, along with sharing responsibilities. We all think we get it wrong and that’s natural. Our careers are really important to us; we are not just defined by being parents but nor are we defined by just being a banker or an accountant. We just have to find that balance and what’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another. I think the best way of getting that balance is by being open with your manager, with your partner and your team. I think it is a work life blend rather than a balance. If we are lucky enough to do a job we have chosen rather than one that chose us, then we have that blend.
It’s been a long time since we were young children …. how do you start to think like a toddler again and get in their mindset?
My book is about a mindset. It’s about thinking like a toddler, not acting like a toddler. Being childlike not childish. Childlike means self-confidence, free thinking, imagination - all those things that everyone of us has but which we typically leave behind in our childhood. Those qualities get squeezed out of us by society and pressures. My book is saying we have to grow up and use our experience but not at the expense of what I call ‘growing down’. We should all spend a few minutes every day ‘growing down’. In other words, to think in the mindset of the toddler we once were, to be less cynical and more open, to consider other possible outcomes, to live in the moment more, to accept failure more as part of a journey rather than a destination. It’s allowing yourself to look through the eyes you once did and training your mind to look at things differently, for just a few minutes a day.
This will train your mind to bring that practice into the workplace and in every aspect of your life. It’s similar to taking a different journey to work: you’ll notice more things as you follow an unfamiliar route but when you go back to your normal route you will also notice things you never saw on your familiar route because your mind used to just switch off.
As adults, we conform and play it safe but toddlers don’t know what that means! Everything is brand new and they approach everything with no preconception of where it will lead them. This allows them to live in the moment more - but we don’t do that as adults at all, either at work or home.
What makes a toddler happy? Love, kindness, encouragement, empathy, learning. Big organisations tend to reward people on materialistic things like bonuses and I think business would perform better if they remembered that we crave recognition, learning and the connectedness that we once had.
98% of 3-5 year olds can think divergently day-to-day – this is a measure of creativity. Only 2% of those over 25 can think divergently. The world has lost 96% of its creativity as people grow up. This is partly for physiological reasons - people become self-aware as they grow up. Partly, the education system and work encourage people to be less creative. This can lead to the massive levels of depression and pressure that are seen in corporate environments and this then impacts our personal lives, along with balancing all the big stressful things like work, life and money. If we can increase the creativity even by a small percent of 2%, we could double the amount of creativity in our society! Companies would find double the amount of solutions which in turn would increase productivity. If we all start thinking like a child we would massively increase our creativity.
Much is said/written about modern approaches to parenting and helping children prepare for our highly competitive society. Should we be letting children make more of their own mistakes?
Yes, children use mistakes and failure to readapt and yet we are encouraged to never make mistakes and not stretch ourselves. This is where entrepreneurs are quite interesting as they evaluate risk but they are generally higher risk takers than non-entrepreneurs. It is not random risk! It is evaluated risk that helps discover innovation. We should encourage children to make mistakes, learn from them and then move on. Too often as parents we are encouraged by society to step in, not let them make mistakes and get it right first time. In my book, I talk through successful innovations that happened as a result of mistakes. For example, Dyson filed 1600 patent applications for bagless vacuum cleaner models before he produced one that worked. JK Rowling wrote to endless publishers before Harry Potter was published. Failure helps you to adapt. Children are very good at adapting and they need to know that making mistakes is not bad.
Looking back on your career, what achievement brings you the greatest satisfaction?
Business is all about people, not money. It is about understanding how people are motivated and why people want to work for you or invest in you. As an employer, once you understand that, you can motivate people through the function of their job they are fulfilling i.e. the reason ‘why’ they are doing it and how this relates to the mission of the company. This humanises business more. We need to treat employees with empathy and respect to get the most out of them - they are not just here to make the shareholder more money, they are here to fulfill something that makes them feel good. People want to leave a legacy in this world. If you can tap into that, you can be more successful and you can get your team thinking about things outside of work. We are one of the best small companies to work for in the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies list. I am most proud of the fact that Ella’s Kitchen is recognised as a leader in terms of business being a force for good in society.
What unfulfilled ambition drives you onwards?
The next generation will look at things with a different mindset and be more open to new ideas than the previous generation. But I’d love my book to get through to those people that staying in the office is not the most important thing in their life! It’s your child at home that is the most important thing and you are at work – in part - to make their life better. Businesses that have a mission that is beyond making money – it goes back to the reason for setting up in business in the first place. This is what drives me forward.
‘Little Wins: the huge power of thinking like a toddler’ is published by Penguin.
Released On 7th Oct 2017