Since the beginning of October, I have been part of an innovative programme called Zinc.  The Zinc Programme brings together fifty bright minds for six months to find their co-founders and build new commercial businesses from scratch.  Each programme has a single mission, to solve a social problem which affects at least 100m people; our first mission is to transform the mental and emotional health of women and girls.  The current high-profile crisis in mental and emotional health is due to not enough good solutions to help people improve their own health or to enable professionals to support individuals needing specialist support.

This is clearly a huge agenda.

The first three months of the programme is ‘match’, followed by a three-month ‘hatch’ phase.  Match is all about finding the right co-founder(s) and the right ideas. We are now exactly halfway through the match phase and so it feels like an opportune moment to introduce my new co-founder and a little about what we’re working on.

Meet team “Freddie”.

[Vix:] Madeleine is a feisty, brilliant American with a wicked laugh.  She’s fiercely intelligent with a voracious appetite for knowledge (and lunch, I’ve discovered).  She ‘grew up’ in the finance sector and has a ridiculously impressive CV that includes Penn, LSE, and a record of impact in business, both as a Director at a digital media & education company, and in tandem as a social entrepreneur.  Phew!  I have completely met my match when it comes to organising stuff…our company is going to be the tidiest and smoothest-running office in London (perhaps globally!).  We have a lot in common in our outlook, ambition and ways of working whilst both bringing so much else to the table; our whole is definitely going to be more than the sum of our parts.  Madeleine has been thinking a lot about reducing stress and helping people get into flow by transforming organisations and we connected over a shared belief in life coaching.

[Madeleine:] Vix is the Trojan horse of our pair. She presents as a thoughtful, inquisitive, inclusive partner – experienced in life coaching, and training to be a yoga teacher – until you realise that she spent the first 10 years of her working life in the RAF as an intelligence officer, culminating in a position delivering the mission-critical insights to the top military officer running the joint U.S./U.K. operations in the Middle East, and now advises the Ministry of Defence (and others) on women’s participation. I like to joke that when we introduce our company to potential partners, they’ll look at my CV think “yup, she’s legitimate”, but when they meet Vix they’ll realise she’s the one they really need to pay attention to. Vix came to this program with an understanding of the benefits of coaching, and a desire to maximise individual potential, and our shared histories and overlapping values give us a strong foundation from which to explore.

We’ve both gone through periods of extreme work stress, dealing with questions of self-worth and self-confidence, and a process of intensive introspection and reflection, leading to a much more nuanced understanding of ourselves, our energy, our values, and how we maintain our lives in flow. And now we want to help other people do this: applying a systematic approach to help more people discover the root causes of distress, the behaviours that prevent it, and the methods they can use to make change.

We’ve spent the last two weeks digging into this, trying to find and hone our insights, and starting to articulate a shared mission and vision for our new company, which is currently nicknamed “Freddie” (this is Madeleine’s responsibility, and there is no particular reason why, but it’s sticking!). We would like to share our journey with you over the coming weeks, months (and hopefully) years, so if you want to come with us – getting our insights, hearing about how the products are developing, and helping us shape those ideas…

Please head over HERE and sign up to hear from us on a reasonably-regular basis: insights, progress, and the occasional chance to contribute or share your story with us.

As a teaser, 3 things we learned last week:

1. The research insight

Q: What is stress? What causes it?

A: Stress, broadly defined, is a physical response to a situation in which perceived demands exceed resources, defined by Lazarus and Folkman in their seminal paper in 1984. The critical element here is “perceived” – your interpretation of pressures (neutral, threat, or positive), and your interpretation of your resources, are what matter. It’s also important to recognise that demands can be both internal and external, and much of the pressure we feel may indeed be ones we put on ourselves.

See our summary of academic models, and how we’ve applied this to a customer persona here

2. The human factor

Sharing and being vulnerable are hugely powerful ways to build a connection.  We have laughed and cried together this week about some deeply personal things; Zinc itself is an intense emotional rollercoaster and having someone else along for the ride is like sharing the load.

3. The provocative article

Burnout at work isn’t just about exhaustion, it’s about loneliness. This HBR article by Emma Seppala has been shared with me by two separate contacts, and worth noting. Social support mediates Lazarus` transactional model of stress and coping. But how do our organisations support social bonding? Is the “Uber model” helping or hurting, based on factors that drive burnout?

Till next time

Vix & Madeleine