The Handbook sits down with Steven Bartlett – the poster child of modern, relatable success and the brains behind incredible new journal, The Diary.
With his chart-smashing, satisfying, revealing The Diary Of A CEO podcast (if you haven’t listened to the Matt Hancock episode, drop your tools and plug in immediately), not to mention his hallowed place in one of the Dragons Den chairs, Bartlett proves that you can be real and ridiculously impressive all at the same time. And now he continues to innovate with the first ever interactive career journal.
This man of two halves is as nice as he is brilliant. The story behind inspirational people’s careers and businesses are of particular interest to us at The Handbook, and we were lucky enough to catch up with Steven to get his exclusive insights into The Diary, and how this product has the scope to change all of our lives. Buckle up, you’re in for an inspirational ride…
First of all, congratulations on The Diary, what an incredible product and concept to bring to market. Can you tell us a bit more about The Diary, where the idea came from, and how you hope it will impact others’ lives?
It’s no secret that keeping a diary changed my life and the science has proven time and time again just how powerful journalling can be for your development. The podcast literally started with me, my microphone and my diary. So I always knew I wanted to create something within this space, but that it was never going to be one in the traditional sense. I was determined to revolutionise diaries as we know them and build something new. And that’s exactly what we’ve done with The Diary – two years ago I pulled together a team and we started working on creating the first diary that coaches you back.
We are fascinated by the handwritten element of The Diary; We know you’ve kept a diary for many years, and that you credit this practice for much of your success – tell us why it’s so important for you – and us! – to still put pen to paper and shut our laptops from time to time.
I’d honestly say, keeping a diary is the single thing that’s helped me to progress in all key areas of my life. But diaries have always been a one-way medium… you write in your diary, reflect and then you close it. So my thinking was always, what if your diary could understand what you were thinking and then reply with tailored coaching and advice? What if your diary could coach you back? And from this first principle, we’ve gone on to work with some of the world’s leading experts in health, relationships, finance and work, to provide each user of The Diary with a tailored coaching experience and a progressive web interface to provide detailed insights, data and analysis on their trends and behaviours.
We love the interplay between reflection and progress that is essential to The Diary. How has this two-stage process impacted your professional success?
I’m a strong believer that there’s no self-development without self-awareness. You can read as many books as you like, but if you can’t read yourself – you’ll never learn a thing. What’s more, you’ll never act on what you’ve learned until you unlearn your own limiting beliefs. And this is why keeping a Diary is so critical – it opens space for reflection and deepened understanding of both what’s going well, and where there’s room for growth. The Diary offers an entirely new level and scope for progress and self-development by introducing world-leading expert advice based on your reflections within it. It’s never been done before and we’re really excited to hear all the feedback on this. So far, it’s been astounding.
Be consistent - your success compounds like interest. Persistency will get you there, but consistency keeps you there
Consistency is obviously a key ingredient harnessing the power of diary writing, how else has being consistent led you to achieving your goals, and do you have advice on sticking to positive habits, when you tend to usually fall off the wagon.
Honestly, success in anything in life comes down to 5% brains, 95% consistency. Whether that’s reaping the benefits of keeping a diary, achieving a goal, or forming a positive habit. For most people, the question isn’t can they do something – it’s do they have the resilience to be consistent in the pursuit of it?
It is obvious, having listened to many episodes of your podcast now, that inhabiting the right mindset is key to making progress at work – and in life. What’s your philosophy for this?
My team and I swear by the philosophy of marginal gains… the 1% mentality. I see it as something which if done consistently will always give you an edge. Consistent small incremental adjustments will have a huge impact on the success of a business or team. If you don’t care about tiny details you’ll produce bad work because good work is the culmination of hundreds of tiny details. And that’s a mindset. The most successful people I know all sweat the small stuff. Keeping a Diary is a really powerful tool for reflecting and analysing which areas in your life there’s room for growth and that discretionary extra effort which – if done consistently – will get you that much closer to achieving your goals.
Another regular theme in your conversations – and embodied in The Diary – is innovation. What’s your advice on becoming more innovative, and why is innovation so important, whatever you do?
Innovation is everything. And I’d say the opposite of innovation is convention – which is the tempting thing to do when you’re faced with any challenge from building a business to creating and launching a product like The Diary. Regardless of the scale of the endeavour, accepting the conventional ways of doing things is easy… at first. But for long term success, I can’t stress enough the importance of reasoning from first principles: the pursuit of finding the fundamental truth in any situation in order to use that truth to create a new solution.
In creating The Diary myself and my team applied this way of thinking – asking ourselves what could we do that would revolutionise the traditional diary into something new, abundant with value, growth-centric and enjoyable to use? And from there The Diary came to life.
On the same theme, has there been a time when fear stopped you pushing for something you believed in, and how did you overcome those feelings?
I think that we all feel this same feeling deep within us any time we’re in a position that feels outside our comfort zone. Sometimes that feels like nerves in your chest; for example when I’m about to go on stage and I know there are ten thousand people behind the curtain. Of course I have that sensation. But I don’t interpret it as being fear or as a signal to escape or avoid the scenario. My interpretation – which has grown over time – is that it’s normal and this is how I’m supposed to feel. It’s important to remember that interpretation is influenced by beliefs; which are made from the stories we tell ourselves, based on the evidence we have from our experiences.
Needless to say, I genuinely believe we should all live our lives just outside of our comfort zone. Daniel Pink, the motivation expert, came on my podcast a few weeks ago and explained how clear it is in psychology that if you live too within your comfort zone then it’s like playing a video game on the same level over and over again. You lose motivation.
Then if you go too far outside of your comfort zone, you become almost paralysed by fear, you feel intimidated, and you procrastinate. But when people are just outside their zone of comfort, when they’re being pushed – again much like in game psychology – they are motivated, they’re challenged, they’re engaged, they’re happy. It’s my belief that we all belong in that intimidating place. That this is where all the good things happen.
Who is your most unlikely mentor? And what does that person bring to your life and work?
Probably a little controversial at the moment, but Elon has always been up there for me. Not only is he meticulous in his approach, but he sweats the small stuff. He cares about all of the tiny details. But equally his desire to innovate concepts at their core is partly what inspired us to revolutionise diaries as we know them.
What three pieces of advice would you give someone thinking of setting up their own business?
- Don’t underestimate the power of marginal gains – the compound interest of one hundred small wins… incremental 1% advantages will take you further than you can possibly imagine.
- Be consistent – your success compounds like interest. Persistency will get you there, but consistency keeps you there.
- Be guided by your values, not by passing trends. The cultural landscape is constantly evolving, driven by new platforms, algorithm shifts, and trends. Don’t let fads guide your decision-making. Stick to your values and be guided by data.