Alumni perspective on success
Ian Myatt, Director of Educational Enterprise, University of Birmingham
Formerly Head of Knowledge and Learning for BBC Online, highlights of Ian’s career include establishing the network of local BBC News websites, the introduction of regional programming to digital satellite, the live streaming of BBC Local Radio, the realisation of the BBC iPlayer catch up television and radio service, and the transformation of the Factual and Learning Portfolio of websites into a consistent product set incorporating BBC Bitesize and BBC iWonder.
After 15 years at the BBC he left to take up a new role as Director of Educational Enterprise at the University of Birmingham where he is leading the development of a range of pioneering distance learning initiatives.
What degree did you do and why?
I did the Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Birmingham, which was sold to me as the undergraduate version of the MBA. I loved economics at school and loved the science of business, but wanted to do something that felt more applied and practical. I looked around the UK at various different universities and offerings, but felt this gave me really good insight into a range of different subjects from accounting to marketing and psychology. It really did provide a great oversight of business management and I still find myself drawing on some of the insight in everyday life.
How is it different to what you expected?
I’m not sure what I expected. The thing that strikes me is that it flew by. At the age of 18 you think of a 3-year timescale as a lifetime, but actually it flies by when you’re actually doing it.
If you had your student days again, would you do anything differently in preparation for your career?
I had a great time and in many ways there is nothing fundamental that I would change, but I have learnt a lot about different learning styles and my own preferences and I think on reflection I’m probably someone who likes to absorb information and process it gradually. I really like finding case studies and practical examples that bring theory to life.
When I came to university I probably spent a little bit too much time trying to frantically write down every word. So in hindsight the thing I’ve learnt and something that could have prepped me a bit more would have been to identify a style of learning that would have been helpful to me.
I may be a little biased, but I do think I personally would have really benefitted from the new modes of study that are coming in now. Knowing that content and material is there and available for people to go back to and review at any time would have given me the ability to digest things at my own pace and probably would have saved me from having to spend all the time scribbling notes, allowing me to fully immerse myself within the lectures themselves.
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What are your thoughts on the new types of postgraduate courses coming through?
I’m really excited by them. I think they are enabling the university to deliver content, material and learnings directly into people’s living rooms or studies or wherever they choose to learn. I’m really excited that this is helping us break down those geographical barriers, which restrict the ability to study at this university for many.
The university has pioneered in the field education for well over 100 years and it’s helped revolutionise countless industries from all of the teaching and learning it’s done. Yet the method in which we teach has largely remained the same, and the method in which people have consumed that information has largely remained the same. Digital media and internet technologies can hopefully give us the opportunity to enhance the traditional approach and lead the way in new methods of learning.
How do you think your education influenced your career path?
I think if you had asked me that question in the early stages of my career, I would have probably given you a slightly different answer. When I started at the BBC it was all very hands on as it was early days for the internet. I had to learn a lot of practical skills on the job and perhaps if I had taken a more vocational route I would have learnt some of those as part of my more formal education. It was that learning by doing that paved the way for the person that I am and the career I have now.
As I grew through the ranks of the BBC the theory and the framework from my formal education became more and more pertinent. As I took on line-management and budget responsibility, I would think back to my degree and the foundations that I learnt. Having that feel for how different functions work together and interoperate is definitely something that has helped me in my career. Whether it is the core marketing principles behind a good product or understanding employment law, the exposure to a range of disciplines on my degree certainly helped when heading up a department and facing those issues on a day-to-day basis.
What elements of your professional success are you most proud of?
It’s a difficult one that one. There is one thing that strikes me that I’m really proud of and that’s building brilliant teams and watching them go from strength to strength. That for me is the thing that I’m really proud of. It’s when you bring the right mix of people together to create something. It takes time and commitment in making sure that they’ve got the right support. You need to give them the right steer and nudge them in the right places, but once they are on the right path it can be incredibly rewarding to step back and watch them succeed.
Do you think that is a skill that you have learnt or that it is more innate for you?
I think it is a mixture of both. As a leader you can learn about what makes a good team, you can learn about the different dynamics and the different roles people play; there are countless theories out there about it. But you also need a degree of empathy; you need to actually have that sense of compassion to understand what makes them tick and what motivates them. So I think you can learn the theory but the practice if more innate.
What attributes do you think are key to becoming successful professionally?
In my experience to date, I think it is a combination of ownership and perseverance. For any team to achieve success you need a clear sense of direction, but that has to come with passion, persistence, and real ownership of the goals that they’re seeking to achieve. That often means persevering through thick and thin. In my experience there are many highs and many lows in trying to bring something from an initial idea or concept through to a tangible living breathing thing. It can be a complete rollercoaster of emotions and you have got to be pretty thick-skinned in order to do that. Just keep at it and don’t let go.
There is another thing around creative tension. It’s a tricky one, but it is something that has been of benefit in the teams I have worked with and created in the past. Ensuring there is a degree of creative tension within the team can feel a little bit painful because people are often pulling at different project elements with slightly different intensions in mind, but ultimately the challenge you get results in better decisions and a better outcome.
What would be your top tip for professional success?
That would be to always recruit someone who is better than you and give credit where credit is due.
We’d like to thank Ian for his time in answering our questions. What are your thoughts? Do you agree that ownership and perseverance are key to the recipe for professional success? Share your opinion by commenting below.
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