From the Founders – Sept19

As the co-founder of Harness Projects and with nearly 2 years under our belt, the time feels right to share more about my own story, why I started Harness Projects with co-founder Chris, and why I feel so passionately about what we are committed to achieving in education.

The squiggly line of life

I think most of us can relate to the paradox of life right? – on the one hand it follows that non negotiable linear path from birth to – well whatever comes next, and on the other it can feel more like a kite in a windstorm – wildly mapping out the full range of our human experience – the highs, the lows, the setbacks and breakthroughs. That image of a wildly fluctuating life line overlaid on the linear one, serves me better as each day passes. It acts as a reminder that whether life is feeling awesome or hard to handle, I need to acknowledge it and remember that nothing stays the same. In life, the forecast is usually for a change in conditions ahead, so I have learnt through experience to expect both eventualities and to be as fully present to both as possible. I think it’s what’s often referred to as resilience and it isn’t something you can ask for, it’s something you earn.


We are who we are…well mostly!

Meanwhile, I’m on a fast moving freeway toward a town called 50, and while I act and feel like a cheeky, irreverent kid a lot of the time (and hope I always will) there is definitely value in having some miles on the old speedometer. I feel a lot closer to understanding the core of who I am and I’m better at identifying what it is I have no control over, sticking to ‘my’ lane not somebody else’s – and accepting that there are of course plenty of crossroads and roundabouts ahead. I have also come to appreciate the unique and complex combination of DNA, family of origin and any other array of past experiences I choose to remember or put in the vault, that is me. I’m more aware now that the times in my life when I have brought my whole complicated self to a situation or opportunity; confident but a little scared, open but a little wary, trusting but a little guarded, I have been rewarded in more ways than I could have imagined. The closer I get to understanding who I am, the more I also recognise there will always be parts of me and my life that are in constant flux. Because every day feels like a series of choices that need to be made, opportunities to learn from..or not, and experiences that I need to choose how to perceive or process. And it can be bloody exhausting at times, right? I’m not afraid to admit that there have been times I wished I was a stubborn old Greek man sitting in a small cafe on an Isle, day after day pontificating all I ‘know’ to anyone that will listen. It sounds simple and ideal, but in reality I suspect would be far from it. So, I feel mostly lucky to be open to growing and capable of genuine excitement at what’s possible. I lament the fact that for many of us the journey from childhood to adulthood wreaks complete havoc with our natural state of curiosity and wonder, making it harder and harder for us to connect with it in this high pressure world.

As 1/10th fantasy Greek pontificate and 9/10th’s real world creative = aged 48, I share this because well, everyone’s story is important and should be shared, right? My journey has led me to some pretty amazing experiences and every single experience has led me to this point. Maybe my journey can help others and just as importantly – vice versa.


The importance of embarking on new journeys

I was 20 when I completed my degree in Interior Design at the Queensland University of Technology. While I did feel a sense of accomplishment, the Peggy Lee inside of me thought,……’Is that all there is?’ (Look it up) Have I just graduated in to a predefined career trajectory? Something didn’t feel right …. for a few reasons, but thats for a different blog… So I combined my first move out of home with my first move interstate and relocated to Melbourne where I completed my postgraduate studies in retail Interior Design. A whole new world opened up to me – it was Melbourne in the 90’s and everything in Design was being challenged. Check out some of Melbourne’s buildings and interiors from that time – there were some inspiring creations and I felt like I was part of it. I met and worked with some amazing people who I still consider close friends and who taught me so much. Of course I didn’t fully realise it at the time, but those people were inspiring visionaries who showed me the importance of believing in my own design talent and focusing on what’s possible not just what is. My time at RMIT also introduced me to the other side of learning – and I began to tutor and lecture, which I grew to love and felt kept me on my toes. Over the next 10 years, my career turned in to a combination of lecturing at universities all over Australia and practicing as an Interior Designer for some top architectural firms in Australia and even London where I even worked as a senior Interior Designer on the new Wembley stadium. Eventually, my love of education led me to a more permanent role at Billy Blue College of Design back in Australia where I set up and grew nationally the first distinct degree programs in both Commercial and Residential Design as well as Branded Environment Design.


I didn’t see that coming

What was next for my career I could never have envisioned. I was asked to bring my education and industry design backgrounds to the design of innovative new campus environments in Australia originally and then internationally in Thailand, India and South America. Awards were won, yada yada, but what was most rewarding was how these past experiences in education and industry had come together in a perfect storm – one that led me on another new path – further research into the future of education, what was both needed and possible and where there were new opportunities to innovate and disrupt the traditional education space.


The journey to Harness Projects.

When Chris and I embarked on this journey together (having both worked together in education innovation for a many years ), what the research continually revealed is just how inadequate the traditional education system is in preparing people for the future of work. We were looking at global reports that clearly identified what the top skills required for the future were, and yet we were just as clearly seeing how traditional education was failing to deliver the more humans skills that now sit at the top of the list of what employers look for. We could also see how unsustainable it was long term for people to invest huge $$ amounts for an education that would not directly lead to employment in their field. We also discovered that due to the pace of change occurring in the workplace, the fastest growing education sector today is professionals looking to learn emerging skills to advance their existing job or to completely change careers. The more we looked the more it felt like another perfect storm was brewing that could deliver a new exciting offering.

From our own education background, and all of our research and insights, Chris and I identified clearly what that new learning offering would need to provide to meet the needs of both individuals and industry in the future. 1. It would need to follow a project based learning framework – a framework that uses a problem solving, design thinking approach to support the development of both technical and human skills. 2. It would need to be more impactful, flexible and personalised to fit in with peoples’ already busy working lives. And 3. it would need to have 2 customers – companies and students, in order to drive a stronger connection between learning and employment.


The journey continues

So, here we are nearly 2 years on, and Harness Projects has become a fast growing and unique project based learning company helping people in places as far as New York learn future of work skills (currently UX and Digital Marketing) and getting amazing portfolio experiences addressing real business challenges for our company partners. Our unique model and partnerships also allow us to bring down the cost of learning to well below others. For us, the icing on the cake is that, where possible, we are partnering with social enterprises and impact initiatives inside larger organisations to deliver education that is also helping to drive positive change in the world. We are also blessed to have some amazing individuals supporting us on our journey, providing guidance, support and most importantly believing in us and our commitment to create better education for the future.

As Harness Project founders, Chris and I also feel the importance of continuing to hone and develop our own skills and so consult to organisations in business transformation. We will share more in time, but most recently, we collaborated with a national education provider to create a customer experience strategy across both their physical and digital touchpoints. This is now being brought to life in their campus and online student and staff environments


My story, your story

My story, your story – it’s both common and unique, and we can only understand it better the further along the story we are. Some of it we could have guessed, some if it comes as a total surprise and there are lots of ‘interesting’ developments along the way. While I could have imagined a future in education somehow, I would have never imagined Harness Projects even 3 or 4 years ago. What I have learnt in my career and what I hope resonates is that the more we can bring our whole selves, be open to learning and to new opportunities and commit to following our own storyline, the more we will attract the experiences that make for one hell of an amazing story – one that we all deserve.