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Twenty/Twenty: a shared experience

Paul Spirou and Russell Hales of Ape Creative, both received the same email from the DBA inviting future mentees to enrol in the 2016 Twenty/Twenty mentoring programme. It came at a time when they were talking about how they could push Ape forward as a business after nearly nine years.


Here they talk about why they both decided to participate in the programme at the same time, and the significant and profound results this shared experience has delivered.

Russell Hales, Creative Director, Ape:

mentoringTaking part concurrently

After briefly discussing the pros and cons, Paul and I came to the conclusion that us both taking part concurrently in Twenty/Twenty might be an interesting exercise and hopefully a beneficial one. Having a mentor each at the same time gave us a lot of points of views and avenues to explore, it had the potential to be disruptive, but more often than not it provided interesting points of cross reference, deeper insights and validation.

We wanted to scrutinise ourselves individually and as a business, improve our leadership skills and build a better studio. Our mentors came from very different backgrounds and experience, but ideally matched to Paul and my differing roles. They both were very generous with their time and keen to share their knowledge. Over the course of the year, as the conversations became more involved it was really evident just how invested they’d become in their mentoring role and their desire to see Ape make real progress.

Visible shift in energy and intent

The impact on the business has been profound and significant. We’ve recruited proactively so we had the skills already in place for our projected growth. Operationally we gave everything an overhaul, in particular we introduced some new time management software that completely changed how we quoted and planned projects, which in turn means our reporting is now vastly improved. We also introduced better staff reviewing practices and incentives. Our business planning now has a sharper long and short term focus, that is reviewed more regularly and as a result I believe there is a very visible shift both internally and externally in terms of energy and intent that Ape now projects.

Growing confidence and resolve

The process helped shine a light on our individual roles and helped us refocus, I like to think I’ve improved my approach and with that comes more confidence and resolve. Part of the process has meant that I’m consciously looking at how and where I invest my efforts best during the day.

Powerful and rewarding

The prospect of Twenty/Twenty felt a little daunting, but the reality was a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience. You can’t overstate how powerful it can be to have the support and encouragement of a mentor, whatever stage of your career. The lasting impression was just how much invaluable information was shared by my mentor, so willingly and just how much of that we have instilled into our day to day.

Paul Spirou, MD, Ape Creative:

MentoringWe’ve been members of the DBA since the early days of Ape, largely driven by the training and workshops so from that perspective, I’d been aware of the Twenty/Twenty programme since its inception. But putting myself out there for external scrutiny was another thing entirely and a very challenging step.

Taking the plunge

It was the second year I’d thought about it seriously when we decided to take the plunge and complete the application. By now the business was about nine years old and I had the confidence to know what I was good at and where some of the gaps lay, and crucially, was ok about exploring that.

Different mentoring needs 

Ape’s Creative Director and myself as MD, are equal partners in the business. We share similar ambitions but different skill sets so our responsibilities have always been naturally defined but we lead the business together, albeit in different areas. Nonetheless we still had some nervousness about allowing third parties into our partnership, not knowing what they would say, how we’d feel and react and what that could lead to.

We did know though that we had different mentoring needs we wanted to explore and that if we kept our regular and honest dialogue going, we had the potential to really learn and grow. Essentially, if one of us was going to do it, we both had to.

A ‘spot on’ matching process

I had a little anxiety at the beginning in as much as Russell’s mentor was relatively quickly identified and mine took a while. I needn’t have worried, the matching process was spot on. I can happily say that whatever the process, both of our mentors were very well suited to us individually and as a business. I felt that my application had been read carefully and understood and matched me with a mentor whose rich and deep experience included much of what I hadn’t experienced and more. His interest in me and our business and his questioning was revealing, insightful and sometimes uncomfortable. His advice and support was at times practical, other times thought provoking and occasionally guided me to the retrospectively bleedin’ obvious! It was always delivered with skill, kindness and purpose. And I only really scratched the surface in 12 months.

mentoringA profound impact

The impact on our business has been marked and profound. Firstly, we have both grown in confidence: we put ourselves out there for scrutiny and found it as validating as it was insightful. We got practical advice that led to us evaluating and bedding in new processes and systems. We planned for and committed to growth, hiring people before we truly needed them. We started reporting on and analysing the business in a way we had never done before. We began to focus our attention and prioritise our management efforts; and we put plans and targets in place that we’d previously never committed to. In short, we’ve become much better managers and directors of our business.

Reaping the benefits

If anything surprised me about the Twenty/Twenty scheme, it’s just how much I got out of it, in such little time, armed with little more than a few questions and an open mind. Its value since the scheme ended is hard to quantify but we know it’s been significant. Long term, it could be transformational, but that’s up to us.

DBA Twenty/Twenty Mentoring

DBA Twenty/Twenty pairs rising industry leaders with established design pioneers for a 12-month one-to-one mentoring relationship. Applications for the 2019 programme are open until Friday 23 November 2018 so why not think about what you need right now, or what you can give. Find out more and apply.

Apply today

About: Ape Creative

Ape creates brilliant and beautiful design, branding, strategy and packaging for food and retail. We deliver meaningful brands, insightful communication and delightful results time and again. 

Image credit: Jungwoo Hong | Unsplash

Image credit: Sawyer Bengtson | Unsplash


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