Meet the Mentor: Owen Pringle

The Senior Digital Strategist enlightens us to what his job entails, why he chose to be a mentor and why the word “digital” is now, essentially, redundant.

Want to get professional advice and support from those who have been there and done it? Connect Mentors is here to help match you up with a mentor in your field. But who are they? We’ve been catching up with a few of them to learn more about what mentoring means to them, their particular career path and the challenges they encountered. This week, we hear from Owen Pringle, Senior Digital Strategist and founder of consultancies The Arc Group and Therein.

What is a Senior Digital Strategist for those unfamiliar?

Digital is one of those words that’s become so pervasive as to have lost its original meaning. Digital is everywhere and has touched everything so it has in effect disappeared. In my case, the “Digital” prefix becomes nothing more than a description of what I’ve done in the past. Looking forward, I’m simply someone who works at senior management levels, to help organisations make sense of how to develop strategies in a constantly changing business environment.

Describe a typical day in your role…

No two days are the same, but averaged over a week, about 10% of my time is spent keeping up-to-date up on the ways technology is impacting businesses and their customers, and what this means for the future of work. This might be achieved through articles, reports, conferences, roundtables etc. I spend up to 50% of my time on client work, divided between meetings, workshops and problem solving, usually in relation to the difference between where an organisation is today and how it wishes to operate in the near future. The remaining 40% of the time is divided between general admin and business development.

How has the digital field changed since you started out, broadly speaking?

As I alluded to in my first answer, the digital field has become so vast and diffuse that the term has become somewhat redundant. Although it happens less and less, we still sometimes hear references to the ‘digital industry’, but it doesn’t really exist. However, perhaps the biggest change has been the realisation that technology has much further-reaching implications than simple transactional relationships between vendor and customer. Health, education, the rule of law, the environment, politics, our very future as a race — the list goes on — digital has left a size-12 footprint in all of these areas and that is more widely understood now than at any point since I started out.

How did you get into your chosen career — was your path straightforward?

Through curiosity and not at all. I was a journalist and set up a series of online magazines in the 90s with a few colleagues. The advertising didn’t come, but clients wanting our content creation expertise did. Jobs like those I’ve held didn’t exist when I was still in education. The same is true now of many who will reach working age over the next 10 years. This poses the very real question of what we should be teaching today that will continue to be relevant as the world changes; vocationally, technologically, societally. The education system is not placing enough emphasis on creativity, critical thinking and adaptability, which are given the derogatory title of ‘soft skills’.

You were previously with Amnesty International, what was it like working for such a well-known organisation?

An amazing experience. Perhaps inevitably, Amnesty taught me how much more was happening in international affairs that I didn’t know about. The dedication of staff and, particularly, volunteers in shining a light on these issues was unparalleled. At my first staff meeting, the head of the organisation explained that our job was to change the world. The gravitas of this idea stayed with me, throughout.

Any other memorable roles that stand out in particular?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing organisations in my time, from ITN to Sky to Southbank Centre. Despite already being a news junkie when I arrived, my time at ITN made me painfully aware of how news is crafted and how important it is to get as many perspectives on each story as possible, not least from sources that are ideologically opposed to your own world-view. At Sky, I worked with some of the most astute and business-savvy individuals I’ve ever known in corporate life. Southbank Centre, for me, underscored the importance of culture as a means of providing context to the world we live in today and what may happen next.

Who were your biggest inspirations growing up, career-wise?

I admired the early Silicon Valley pioneers, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Andy Grove. They, in turn, held the likes of organisations like Xerox PARC and individuals like Douglas Engelbart in high esteem, so I did, by default. Although it’s hugely unfashionable to say so now, I was also fascinated by media magnates like Murdoch and Maxwell in their heyday.

What made you decide to become a mentor?

I’ve mentored via a variety of organisations for about 15 years, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now, in my ‘twilight years’, I see mentoring as a two-way street, allowing me to learn from my mentees in such areas as the changing world of work and the blending of personal and professional lives.

Why do you think mentoring is so important in today’s society?

Aside from the obvious transfer of one’s expertise to those who are at an early or transitional stage in their career, there’s untold value in the dissection, distillation and dissemination of ideas across social boundaries. That two-way street, I mentioned, earlier. Sadly, it rarely happens without an artificial intervention of some kind, hence the importance of mentoring.

Did you have a mentor or a mentor-figure yourself?

Unofficially, there are a number of esteemed individuals I use as sounding boards. They probably don’t see themselves as mentors because there isn’t that formality in our relationship, but they perform the same function.

What are the main qualities you would like in a potential “mentee”?

Knowing what it is they want to get out of the relationship with a mentor, and having a sense of when they believe that objective has been reached. To be clear, this might include figuring out what it is they’d like to do next — that’s a specific objective.

Feeling inspired? Get matched up with mentors like Owen by visiting connectmentors.london

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