Last Friday evening I got the chance to see The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. My friends know me as being particularly obsessed with the gloriousness that is Redmayne but I point to this movie not for his talent alone.

You see, I’ve been thinking a lot about character, relationships and giving recently. What I liked about this film is that it portrays the love, support, care and commitment Jane Wilde gave to her partner as he battled motor neuron disease. The story is as much about compassion and sacrifice as it is the career trajectory of a physics genius. In a way, the hero’s journey refreshingly revolves around Wilde as the carer, not Hawking.

This brings me to character. We very rarely highlight certain attributes of the people behind the scenes – especially in the entrepreneurial or business press. I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and early on, she discusses personality traits that were celebrated prior to the explosion of ‘the salesman’ type. Attributes that were revered pre-1920s were described by words like: “citizenship, duty, honour, morals, manners and integrity”. After this time, etiquette guides focused more on being: “attractive, fascinating, dominant and energetic”.

The book has made me more conscious of what qualities I naturally value in people. It’s given me confidence to see through the ‘jazz hands’ exterior into someone’s core character set. I’m especially inspired by those who do good deeds but don’t share them. In the days of social media, we often broadcast actions for vapid reasons like attention. It’s what we do when no one is watching that counts.

“You can easily judge the character of a person by how they treat those who can do nothing for them.”

—Malcolm S. Forbes

I’m also intrigued about the future of work, with the advent of distributed teams and technology as more and more of communication is going to be based online. Therefore, it’s not those who are the loudest or most self promotional in the workplace arena – verbal orators battling it out – but rather, the writers, the listeners, those with great awareness and perception. These people might not have been heard much in the past but they can be now when our days are spent on tools such as Slack.

The environment is changing from being optimized for extroverts to one where introverts can thrive too. How we hire and vet candidates will evolve as a result. We’re moving into the reputation and trust economy, led by the influx of review-filled marketplaces, where character is center stage.

I’m excited about where things are heading. :)

Image credit: The Theory of Everything

4 thoughts on “Celebrating character and what we do when no one is watching

  1. Beautiful post Kate, and yes – I’m sending this note to you rather than tweet it to all the world and sundry.

    I’ve been doing a lot of thinking along the same lines. Last weeks news of the Rosetta and Philae successes were really a moment to stop and celebrate humanity for a change rather than always reporting on its failings.It might not be the next Uber, but it is all the things that give me faith in our un-sung heroes.

    I hope life has been good to you since the lovely post you did on Pointpal in the early days.

    We are just about to embark on a product that others report back to be a game-changer for retail. Its one of those simple ideas you wonder why no-ones done before, so hopefully those with small voices but expansive minds can make a difference without shouting it from the roof-tops, or getting caught up in the Silicon Valley ‘way’ of doing things.

    I’m going to get my hands on Susan Cain’s book now :-)

    best, Andrew Andrew Lowe | MD e: | o: +61 2 8007 3997 | m: +61 402 337 997 | w:

  2. Hi Kate!

    Your words on being inspired by “those who do good deeds but don’t share them” reminded me of something I heard from Contently cofounder Shane Snow recently.

    When talking about how his team thought about hiring, he said they made two qualities their top priority: the first, being able to “own it” & figure stuff out quickly; the second, being “a giver.” These are the types of people who put others’ needs ahead of their own ego or agenda at work; the people who stay late to help a teammate rather than leave because they have somewhere to be.

    Love this quality as something that’s important for hiring – thought you’d enjoy that as someone who has built amazing teams!

  3. If you are interested in character you should definitely read Romulus My Father by Raimond Gaita about which one reviewer wrote: “It is only once in a blue moon that Australian writing gets a work of such moral gravity and human charm, and the charm is all the more remarkable since moral gravity in the face of human desolation is pretty much the subject of Romulus” and another reviewer wrote, “one of the most acute and telling philosophical books of recent years …. Gaita’s father emerges as a kind of Wittgenstein paragon, a sage who knew everything worth knowing about honesty, friendship and decency … his “compassionate fatalism” as Gaita calls it, silently showed others how to live.”

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