An Interview With Patrick Harris

1 January 2012

What’s the first step in encouraging innovation?

Opening your mind. There is nothing I treasure more in the world than an open mind. So much of what we do, see, buy and experience is about being told what to do or think. Yet the beautiful stuff comes from considering other opportunities.

How did working in the corporate sector start?

In 1990, I was a waterskier. I was spending my last competitive summer in the UK for a change from the US. I met a beautiful creature and fell in love. I cancelled my return flights and began to sell my skis (livelihood) to afford to take her out on dates. We married 6 months later and I started a (real) job on my return from a honeymoon (just celebrated our 20th year). The role was for a consortium called Microtel that had just won a digital mobile ‘phone licence. That company was to eventually become Orange, a great success story for UK and beyond. I worked for about 6 years in the Network Rollout programme – building out the network and for about six years in Corporate Strategy. My last role was as Director of Creaticity (yes that is spelled correctly). The then CEO Hans Snook let myself and some others loose in a space called The Imaginarium. It was corporate strategy, but with a twist and it suited Orange - a wide-awake, customer centric company at the time.

Can you remember your first speaking engagement?

I remember doing a speech in University about construction dewatering methods. I called it ‘Pumps Suck’. I also recall doing a ‘demonstration’ speech in a classroom. I drew reeds on the chalkboard, knelt behind the desk and ‘called’ an imaginary duck with a duck call. At the end, where I was indicating with my eyes that the duck was flying low and slow – an outdoorsman in the back mimicked a gunshot sound – BOOM. I called that speech a success. Scarily in the UK, my first gig was as a groom. Still can’t watch the video to this day. But in a commercial sense, I honed my skills (if I have any) while at Orange at various events such as international brand forums. I also began to speak externally quite a bit, while at Orange. The first one? Not sure I can say. I do recall an early one though that finished with ‘The future’s bright, the future’s Orange’ and I had to rummage around in my jacket pocket for my prop a little too long for the gag to work – a pair of sunglasses.

And your last event?

It was in Paris, helping a team of folks come together.

Which event has been your favourite and why?

I enjoyed one in Budapest because it was a cool location and I ran across – of all things – a statue of Shakespeare while strolling along the waterfront. But also the screen was about the size of the screen you see on Sky TV and I paced back and forth in front of it. I felt like a weatherman the whole time I talked. I liked ones in Paris and in Amsterdam (Noordwijk, actually) because the crowds were very eager to engage and to build on my thoughts. I’ve done more than a handful where I encourage the participants to work with material I’ve said. These are always fun and engaging. Finally, I once gave one titled ‘wiggle and squirm’ and the opening slide was the torso of a bloke in boxer shorts. Everyone in the audience ‘wiggled and squirmed’. It was priceless.

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