AuthorAdam Stewart

What My Placement Year Taught Me

Last Friday I finished my placement year with 3M, working as a Marketing Assistant in the Separation and Purification Sciences Division, basically we filter stuff – it’s cooler than it sounds, especially when you realise some of your customers are whisky distillers and your favourite breweries 😊

It’s been a very fast year, but certainly one of the most interesting and educating I’ve ever had. With that in mind, I’ve tried to decide on 3 things I’ve learnt this year. It’s not easy to just select 3 and the following aren’t necessarily the 3 biggest lessons learnt, but certainly 3 that will help me in the future.

1 – Work with good people

All employees praise 3M’s culture – they do a good job of hiring ‘good people’. I can’t think of a single argument I witnessed over the year, I can’t think of any people I met that I actively disliked. Everyone in the company has time for you, are good to work with and easy to get on with.

All this creates a culture like no other and it is one of the big pluses for 3M. A year in an environment like this has really highlighted the importance of working with good people. Whenever something wasn’t working, you felt a bit stressed or down, or you had a tight deadline that relied on others, the people around you would help you in any way they could.

It’s a reminder that recruitment processes need to evaluate the person for who they are and not just their skills – hire the wrong people, no matter how qualified they are, and it could threaten the sense of community within teams. A bigger issue than you might realise.

2 – Be busy

This is a lesson I’ve always known and may have already written about, but this year has emphasised it even more.

The more I take on, the more productive I become.

I was by far at my laziest when I had little to do. I’d think I was busy and hesitate if more work was passed to me, although I’d still take it, but a day or so later I’d find I’d finished most things with ease. The extra workload boosted my productivity and helped me to work smarter, reducing the need to increase my hours.

3 – I love numbers

When it comes to ‘Marketing’ as a role, there’s a big variety. Just within 3M placements, your type of work as a Marketing Assistant varied depending on your division. For some, it was more of the stereotypical marketing; communications, promotions, events. Lots more creative and design work. For others, it was more product management; pricing, sales analysis, market research.

Many of the other placement students spoke about how they preferred the creative work and disliked excel. This year taught me that I’m the complete opposite. I’ll happily design and structure the creative work, but don’t get me to be the person creating, amending and implementing it. I’d much rather number crunch, research or communicate strategies due to product changes.

I will also add, I don’t believe this doesn’t mean I’m not ‘creative’, I found I was constantly improving processes in a creative way. I have ended the year able to say that some of the prettiest things I’ve made are some lovely excel files. Files that needed a lot of creativity to get to the end solution in few steps.

It’s an indication for the roles I’ll want to look for in the future.


Overall, it’s been an incredible year – if you’re looking to do a placement year, 3M is the hidden gem (you may be reading this having no idea who they are). Look them up and apply, trust me.

Increase The Capacity

Sometimes, to improve or fix something, you need to isolate the issue and work hard at it – rest isn’t always the answer.

I’ve had a bit of an elbow injury recently from badminton. I went to the physio to get some advice on how to help it recover. I was expecting the usual; “rest it for 2 weeks, only doing these light exercises, then slowly build up the exercise”. Instead, I got almost the opposite. He observed that I needed to put a lot of stress on my elbow for any pain to occur, therefore, light exercises would be no help. Instead, he said “we need to increase the capacity the tendons can take, and to do that we must isolate the muscles around it and work them hard!”

This got me thinking, are small steps always that beneficial? Take presenting for example, should you build up slowly, by adding more and more people, or should you isolate the various parts of it and push them hard?! For example, you could isolate body language and more and more often think about how to move and present yourself when talking to others. Isolate the speaking part and learn more and more scripts, learn more jokes and practice explaining things clearly. Add the parts together and you’re a better presenter.

I guess it is similar to practising aspects for a sport – taking 100 free kicks in a row for example. If you are bad at penalties, the solution isn’t to ‘rest’ and not take any for a while. Break down what’s going wrong, can you see which way the keeper is going, are you striking the ball cleanly etc. Go hard on the components and the bigger picture will come together.

So when you’re next facing a challenge, don’t back down. Break it down and go hard on each part to increase your capacity.

P.S. please don’t take my advice for any physical injuries and consult your own physio 🙂

Fiction v Non-fiction

I recently finished the book, ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. I’ll be blunt, I wouldn’t recommend it. Perhaps to a child, but it didn’t do it for me, despite being highly rated.

It seems like a sensible question to ask why I’d read it in the first place. Well, recently I’ve been looking for more fiction books to read. Non-fiction books are great; autobiographies, stories of how companies started etc, all full of great advice, stories and lessons to learn. Sometimes they are also some of the most gripping books I’ve read. However, I think they sometimes lack the human touch or the personal side. Perhaps due to the real topic in question not wanting to be exposed too much, whereas, with a made up topic, you can reveal all.

So, for now, I’m switching to a few more fiction books, to see if they too can teach lessons – I have no doubt they can. Also, you would imagine that on average they are more gripping (leaving out The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). I am also certain that many fiction books contain lots of true examples. My current book is All Quiet on the Western Front. Unless the war suddenly starts to be fought with laser guns, I’m expecting to get a real feeling for what life was like in the war and that could be invaluable.

So a little ask to anyone reading this. Have you read a fiction book that taught you a lot? Please let me know!!

Election Day’s Gone: Can I Return to Social Media?!

Yesterday was election day here in the UK, it has ended in a hung parliament. Whether that’s good news is up to you, so please keep it to yourself too.

I can’t quite believe this… but I’m about to quote Frankie Boyle (humble brag – I was in the audience for episode one of his new show, New World Order, this quote came from that show).

The media is a huge obstacle to meaningful democracy.”

Ok, I’ll be changing his meaning a bit. His argument was that mainstream media’s coverage is either biased or only scratches the surface – that’s a different debate.

Why do I think the media is an obstacle? I begin to wish we didn’t have a vote (thus democracy) purely because social media becomes a no-go zone, unless you want to be bombarded with fake news, one-sided arguments, abuse for you views, “you’re wrong, I’m right” status’, videos exposing all the bad of the opposition, and memes that turn the ruling of our country into a joke…. all of which does make the whole experience one big joke.

It’s very easy to shout from the rooftops on Facebook and preach about how you know what’s best for everyone, without much backlash, if you just delete any comments that disagree with you. The ease of stamping your authority and showing the world that you’re doing ‘the right thing’ leads people to do it hour by hour. But, in an election, there are many sides. There ISN’T a best party, there is not one correct manifesto, not everything the opposition does is evil and people forget that others will disagree and that they are allowed to disagree.

I strongly encourage political debate and conversation, but in a forum that allows for an even discussion, on a level that’s educated and not riddled with fake headlines and detrimental quotes that really don’t matter.

I’m not surprised Labour had a strong backing from the younger generation as the social media feeds for this generation were full of pro labour and anti-conservative posts – which side is better I will not say, what I will say is that it isn’t correct that at least some of the younger generation voted Labour, purely because “they look like the good guys according to Facebook”, and without any consideration they go and vote. Yes, fantastic that they voted, but please allow for an even education of the situation.

Rant over. It is great to see more engagement with politics, however, for now with a hung parliament, I think I’ll stay away from social media feeds for just a little longer…

Titles Mean Nothing

Last week I was asked to present at PlaceNet17, a conference for University careers teams, about my experiences on placement. I spoke about my time with 3M so far and reflected back on my applications. I ended with some advice, one part being “titles mean nothing.” This particular piece of advice was very relevant for me and my application, yet it was a statement that made many in the audience pause and think (or at least that’s how it looked).

What was I on about?

I had no intention of going into a marketing role for my placement. I didn’t want to work on adverts and communications all the time. Yet here I am, 9 months into a marketing placement. So what happened? I realised ‘marketing’ can mean something very different in different places. In some companies, it means working on promotion and communications, at others it meant product management, customer interaction and even a bit of operations. I found such varied job descriptions when applying that I ended up ignoring job titles and only read descriptions and spoke to previous interns. Getting drawn into the ‘ideal title’ is dangerous because it doesn’t determine if you’ll actually like the day to day work, it doesn’t mean you’ll get the responsibilities you want and it might not align with your skills.

The same goes for the company you choose.

I’d never heard of 3M until, by chance, I attended a mock interview with them and found out what they did. If I’d only looked at the companies I recognised I would have missed out. There are many fantastic companies and programs available that probably don’t get the credit they deserve. The reverse is also true, just because your favourite company offers a program, it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. You don’t want to be 6 months in and hate the work, no amount of love for the company name will save you from a role that just isn’t right.

I’d say this is probably accurate for a lot of other scenarios – take the time to realise what you want and what will fit. But perhaps I can write about that in the future with a few more years of application experience to find out 🙂

It’s a Matter of Routine

How many times do you hear people say “I just can’t get in the routine!”?

They could be talking about going to bed early, going to the gym, eating healthy, you name it. We all desire the perfect routine that we believe will help us reach our goals, and we aren’t wrong to think it. Every Friday I post a blog, or at least I did for a year and a half. Suddenly I miss one week, then two, then three. The routine was broken, I’m probably the only one that cared, but to me, it hurt. Why should I care so much about missing a couple of blogs? Because it represented the power of routine to do something that I believed to be useful, without any immediate rewards. Your routines will mean the same to you, and you too probably get annoyed when you opt for the easy option.

Don’t beat yourself up

 I believe it is easiest to get back into a routine by pretending the pause didn’t happen, don’t think about it, don’t punish yourself for it. Instead, remember all the times you made it, remember the times your routine felt easy and go back to that time. Continue where you left off and don’t look back.

The Religion of Data – Homo Deus

What happens when computers know us better than we know ourselves? What happens when they predict how we will act and respond accordingly, when they can answer all questions and can respond to any change faster than we can comprehend it?

To some degree it’s already happening – large amounts of the stock exchange are automated due to the speed advantage and people are consulting IBM’s Watson for health information. However, very soon all aspects of our life will be influenced or controlled in some way by computers. This is the message put across by Yuval Noah Harari in his latest book, Homo Deus. It is the follow-up from the highly regarded Sapiens. In the book, Yuval explores the future of humankind in a world that is increasingly being taken over by computers.

From page one this book is gripping as it explains ideas and concepts that, by nature, are incomprehensible to us. The book also doesn’t shy away from challenging itself – throwing in the classic argument of consciousness and emotion, robots always lose in films because of love, right? But what if our emotions are just algorithms, then one day our personal computer will know our next emotion before we even feel it, they’ll be able to choose a wife or husband better than we can, they’ll know how we’ll feel if we don’t wake up in time for the gym and can change things according to ensure we follow our true intentions. This makes you sound very predictable, doesn’t it? What about our free will, you might ask. We have the control to change our mind if we really want to – if you think this, please read the book. The argument against this was very interesting in my opinion (no spoilers from me).

The Contradiction

There is a rather obvious contradiction or conflict in this book – it starts by talking about the human desire to eternal life and that such things may be possible in the near future. We only need to extend our lives by 20 years, to then find a way to extend it 50 years, to then find a way to extend it 100 years and so on. That will create a world full of people, literally. If the population increases then we will clearly reach capacity, yet the book goes on to say “individuals will become4242 just a collection of ‘biochemical subsystems’ monitored by global networks”. The book offers no suggestion for how the overarching computer systems might respond to an ever growing population and whether their algorithms will deem ‘population control’ necessary for efficient operation. Sounding a bit like the robot uprising now isn’t it…

In short, this is a book that will make you think, and quite honestly I will say this is a must read! It is easy to look back in history to see how nieve and clueless humankind was to the changing world and today is no different, things will change in ways we can’t yet imagine, so why not start understanding the possibilities.

Quantity Makes Quality

“So, how common are badminton schools in Malaysia?”

I was referring to education institutions that are in place to educate up and coming badminton stars, whilst they would get an education, continuous badminton training ready to be the nation’s next best is by far the priority.

I posed this question whilst visiting the University of Malaya, a University well-known in Malaysia for its sport science program. The recipient of my question was their deputy director and member of Malaysia’s Olympic Committee.

“What do you mean badminton schools?” She replied.

I explained how I had always imaged kids being sent to sporting schools from a young age so that badminton would be a priority for them.

“We don’t have any here in Malaysia, perhaps in other Asian countries, but here everyone plays and trains at their local clubs and if they’re good enough they’ll move to the National training center.”

Another person in the room spoke up to explain how they got into badminton and that many start out socially and if they’re good enough they seek coaching, but really there is very little in terms of a National structure for grassroots development – essentially because everyone is already playing!

This shocked me as Malaysia is seen as one of the powerhouses for the sport, year on year they produce world class athletes and yet many countries with strong set-ups will suffer each year, perhaps getting one or two stars rather than a big squad.

After spending two weeks playing in Malaysia (it was actually my second visit to the country in 6 months) and speaking to many former state representatives that were on the edge of elite and national training I believe the way they get their quality is purely from a very, very high quantity of players and facilities. The campus we stayed on had a badminton hall, the adjacent campus also had one, behind the campus was a 10 court badminton hall, jump in the car for 10 minutes and you’re at a 22 court hall, head in the other direction and you’ll probably find the same. The number of badminton courts per square mile must be a ridiculous ratio, and what’s more is that the courts are always booked!

The same is true for clubs and teams, our campus had a team, the adjacent campus (which is for the parent University of where we were staying) had a team, we played against numerous local clubs and at a local academy. Every time the teams were made of very high standard players that were just playing socially. The volume is atonishing.

It makes sense that if so many people are playing so often then by probability you will get lots of stars – it’s the constant and ease of exposure to high-level badminton that increases all their levels rather than the need for a clear national structure.

What’s the point I’m getting at? Sometimes you just need a high quantity to achieve the quality you are after, repeating things over and over for practice is perhaps the best comparison for day to day life. It doesn’t have to be fancy to work!

Is Conversation The Best Way to Learn?

Think about some of the most important life lessons you know, think about how you overcame difficult situations, and about how you made a big decision. Chances are the platform for providing the information from these came from a conversation. You’re parents sharing their advice, your friend supporting you, and a mentor laying out your options.

It strikes me how much I gain from talking to others, how much my perspective can change, how much clearer a complex problem can become, or how much my feelings and thoughts can alter. Some people just come across as someone full of stories and knowledge and you know you could listen to them for hours on end, yet we don’t pursue it.

Ask people how they learn and they may say; by doing, by reading, by watching, by lectures (if at university). I’m not sure how many people will say they learn the most by talking to as many people are possible, yet it’s likely to be a key factor.

Conversation is interesting

A reason I think we learn so much is that we are more engaged in a conversation. Lectures, books, videos etc can be boring, let’s face it! We can lose focus, even when it is interesting simply because we aren’t engaging. By talking we are more aware and more likely to take board what is being said.

Conversation is faster

You can have answers and ideas in a heartbeat, sometimes you don’t even need to ask the right question, the other person just understands and can guide you. It can be hard to know what you need to know, right? So let someone else put the pieces together.

Conversation can be challenged

You can respond, push back, or go into more detail. Don’t understand, then you get clarification. Don’t agree, you challenge the opinion and either realise you had the wrong perspective or you help the other person reach a new viewpoint.


It’s a method of learning that we rarely actively pursue, yet it can be one of the best!

The Spaghetti Challenge

Today I had the pleasure of assisting at a STEM event, this time helping run the workshop – as the group was coordinated around an engineering theme, we decided to put them through their paces with the spaghetti challenge.


With 3 groups of 20 children, I think the main thing I learnt from running the workshops is that even with only two items – spaghetti and marshmallows – kids manage to create a huge mess!

That aside, this is actually a fantastic exercise to observe. Take one group, split into 5 teams and each team will follow different tactics; build fast, plan a lot, work individually and so on. The variety is huge, yet when you repeat with group 2, the patterns repeat! Again, one group will build fast, another will plan for half the time and another won’t talk to one another.

I’m not sure I can say that just one tactic was proven to be the best as each winning team behaved differently. However, as an outsider is extremely interesting to watch to see the teamwork behaviours, to see how they react when the tower falls and to see how keen they are to win or if they just want to eat the marshmallows.

As an overall study, it has been used time and time again to good effect. I will let this video explain that side of it 🙂


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