Being approachable and unlocking the power within
Staying relevant in this ever-changing world we live in can be tough. But the power to innovate lies firmly within us, shares Randhula de Silva, Co- Founder CEO of GoodLife Accelerator (GLX) and Director, former CEO of Hatch Works.
Through Hatch, de Silva created a hub of nurturing and advancement for entrepreneurs, and through GLX, de Silva fosters innovation in ethical and sustainable businesses in agri & food, travel and wellness. These are just a few of the initiatives de Silva works on. Through the many hats she wears, de Silva constantly has her finger on the pulse of Sri Lankan innovation landscape.
What was the best piece of career advice that you received?
“Sometimes you just need to let it go,” this was something I was told last year when I sat with Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson for a mentoring session. You can’t have everything go your way and in your control. By trying to keep a perfect picture at all times you lose the ability for your team to move into a role where they can take ownership and grow into the responsibility of driving things.
Sometimes, and especially when you’re a woman, your hustle is so hard and you’re so hard on yourself to so intensely move the needle, but sometimes what works is just letting go.
Name three books have been game-changing for you-Why?
Recently, the book New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms was very inspiring. It explains how there are structures around new power and how things are done differently by new generations. I read it during the lockdown, and it was game-changing because most of the things I was practising in my career and life were explained beautifully and woven into one fabric.
Another one that I read over 10 years ago is The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. As cliché as it sounds it’s a special book because reading it as a 20 year old, it opened doors into a new universe of consciousness for me on a personal and spiritual level. It’s a book I still go back to when I want to feel connected.
And then there’s Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, it’s difficult to explain but this book is utmost special and home in itself to me. It’s at the very core of a lot of things I believe in. How one’s journey of seeking for truth lies outside of all organised things and religions and is found within one’s own self. It’s peaceful, sharp, intelligent, and is very close to my heart.
What would you say to your 22-year old self?
Eat less chocolate and do more graffiti.
What steps do you personally take to make each day successful?
I start with a specific routine that I rarely miss regardless of where I am. I want my first sight to be a view I like. I'm the only one who opens the front windows in my house for this reason. When I open the windows, I see a yellow flower tree that has been there from the day I was born, and that’s very fulfilling. It’s truly the smallest things in life that makes the biggest impact on you.
I then practice five minutes of gratitude. It’s something I started earlier this year because it has been a tough year with a lot of uncertainty. It’s not been easy to keep everything intact and be responsible for other people’s wellbeing and mental health.
I’ve also started transcendental meditation in the mornings and set aside an hour to be with the people and things I love including my cats, before I tune into my devices and go through my list to complete for the day.
How do you stay grounded mentally during times of struggle?
It’s easier said than done. I think I've beaten the shit out of this year regardless of how bad it was, but it wasn't easy. It takes self-confidence, belief and faith in your vision and a lot of patience and empathy, especially when you have a heap of people working with you. You need to be a little selfless and get your eyes off short term objectives and be there for the team whose behind all the works to ensure their wellbeing first at times of struggle. It takes an extra lot out of you.
When I'm personally struggling, I try to learn something new to distract myself and breakaway from that loop of negativity. It can be anything from a simple fix to something more complicated. It gives you a different perspective and dynamic in your head. I also have my cats and a couple of people close to my heart who are extremely good listeners. Talk to someone who knows you for your real self and not the self you are to the world.
Finally, I also try to be there for some else. When you're there for someone else it helps you understand your problems aren't the only ones in the world. You’re able to zoom out and see yourself as a small part of something much more bigger. The bigger picture always helps to see the journey a lot clearer even when times are hazy.
How do you prioritise at work and manage your time?
Because I have such multiple roles, I order my day in chunks. I don't take on any meetings or answer calls until 11 am. That time is for all my creative and conceptual work, and only after that do I take on meetings. It helps me knuckle down on details and specifics before my mind gets crowded.
I look at my calendar a day ahead and see what my tomorrow looks like. I chunk my time according to the initiative I’m working on and I leave a couple of hours open every day for my team to come and talk to me about anything. That way, no matter how demanding my schedule gets, my team knows they can reach me and when.
I have my notifications turned off the phone on mute, I look at my phone frequently, but only when I know I can and I know I have to. This helps me to focus, and stay away from being driven by each and every trigger coming from a device.
How do you deal with rejection?
Most times I take it well because some things you're just better without. Even if you think it's such a big mess, that natural course often end up being the best thing to happen to you. I approach it through a different lens. I find out why. If it’s fair, and if it doesn’t make a big difference I let it go and if it’s a big loss I try to find the learning in it and find solutions.
Some things I really fight for, but I choose my battles always. There are very many ways to go to war. You can fight fiercely and hardcore or you can be soft and subtle about it and try to make it work in a different way.
What is the most important value you need to take to work with you?
Be kind, see possibility in everything and be collaborative, but don't be naive. I don't let my kindness or optimism to be made a weakness. I’m very quick to see it when people are misusing these, and, well, that when they get the finger from me.
What inspires you most about the new generation of business-people?
The drive and need they have to make things better and make change happen. That's really the best thing about the new generation. Not just millennials, but also Gen Z. There’s also the fact that they don’t look for approval or do things the same way. They do look for approval and so much noise on social media, but otherwise, they make their own paths.
What worries you most about the new generation of business-people?
Not to generalise, but at surface level, it’s the way that things are taken very much at face value. What they see is what it is, and the complexities in cultures, dynamics and society are not shown into it. This worries me because we are where we are because of aeons of evolution. That is our story, and ignoring that is stupid and naive.
They’re extremely talented, sharp and intelligent, and they often go with what the best sales pitch is without taking time to look beneath the surface. There should be space for complexity and I don’t see that capacity yet. They’ll be better at this when they’re 30 perhaps. Fingers crossed, anyway.
What is your current passion project?
GoodLife X a journey I started in 2018 and still at the core of my heart! The very core of GLX is to basically help Sri Lanka and Asia take abundance of its unique resources to the world in sustainable and innovative ways and start creating value. We have so much wisdom and goodness to offer in our ancestral habits for years without knowing what the new world can use it and value it for.
GLX’s idea is to offer the magic of Sri Lanka to the world and cater to the needs of the emerging conscious consumers of the world.
What does it take for us to be able to compete internationally?
We need to get out of the island mentality. We need to stop playing in silos and fighting with each other. It is stupid to think your neighbour is your enemy or your competition is in the same industry. Sri Lanka is so small and our industries need to work together.
An important value to take to work is to be collaborative and transparent. We need to get out of that mentality of everybody's against each other and learnt to work together.
Tell us in 3 steps how you handled Covid-19 at work?
First, talking to my people. Checking where they're at, how they’re taking it and how they feel about it. Some have less resilient ways of coping with things than others and you can't expect the wheels to keep turning at the same pace as before Covid-19.
Reassessing approaches and objectives. With Hatch, for example, physical spaces are our bread and butter and all our programs like the boot camp and accelerators were all taking place in a real space. We had to quickly assess and go fully virtual and we were fluid enough to make that change. You need to be ready to unlearn and let go of mental expectations and rigidity towards your objectives.
Lastly, not being so hard on myself. This is something I'm still working on. Team mentality, meeting objectives, perfect outcomes-sometimes 100% of all these things is not possible. Predominantly, women beat ourselves up so much trying to make everything work. There is no cookie-cutter solution. You need to be open and accepting, and stop beating yourself up too hard to achieve excellence at all times.
You helm a very dynamic startup that pushes a variety of boundaries on a daily basis- how do you keep it all going?
You have to get the right team. It’s important to know who’s right for each role and open opportunities and empower them to be creative and run with it. I’m not a gatekeeper.
At Hatch, our information streams are extremely open and fast. Everyone works on Slack in a very collaborative way and has access to what’s going on. It’s not like a corporation where everyone has their corporate function or role, and it’s important that everyone knows that. It’s one common vision and common goal where everyone’s working for one thing and if someone is overloaded, the rest of the team knows it’s time to step in.
It’s also just being super open, chilled and super respectful and knowing what’s important to you and your founders.
How do you keep your team inspired enough to stay innovative?
I share whatever new thing I come across with them. We have a channel called random where we share all interesting things.
We also do things together beyond work. Jeevan is a huge fan of our gaming night every Thursday at Hatch and that’s a lot of fun to have on a weekly basis, it helps us bond stronger and better as a team.
I stay approachable and have zero tolerance to people who give excuses to not get things done. I celebrate those who find solutions without me. If my team can function without me on a daily basis that is my biggest success and victory.
Where does the power to innovate lie? With whom? How can we unlock our hidden potential?
The power to innovate lies within you, within each and every one of us. Innovation is basically human creativity, and we’re such powerful, beautiful, creative individuals, all of us. Creativity is about solving problems. Whether it’s cooking something differently or writing a code, all of these are innovative creations. Something that comes from within you trying to change the game or the status quo.
Reinventing something takes what you have within you. Anything you dare to do differently helps unlock it. The moment you stop daring and stop being open to working with others is where you stop the ability to unlock that innovative potential.
What is the most fundamental thing to remember for an entrepreneur trying to grow their business?
There is no end line. Growth is not linear and it's stupid to think that it is. It's a multifaceted complicated matrix. You have to really be smart to unlearn, let go and take a leap of faith to jump into new peripheries.
You can't do anything alone, you have to work with their people and you have to be collaborative. Be open to sharing your thoughts and information and cooperate with others who are on the same mission. You can't own a space as you used to 40 years ago. You'll only survive and thrive if you’re a collaborative person.