Author: Adam Stewart

Details Matter

This week I was able to check off a bucket list item – have a coffee master class.

Thanks to Taylor St. Baristas I was able to spend a day learning about coffee – from sourcing, to roasting, to brewing. The level of detail covered was incredible and this was in the short version of weeks and months’ worth of training!

It really isn’t truly appreciated how much of a science and an art coffee as a topic is. What stood out for me the most was the attention to detail given at every single stage of the process – in specialty coffee at least.

How is a barista tested?

They’re given a bag of beans, access to a machine they’ve never used, potentially a water supply they’ve never used and a set amount of time to pull the perfect espresso shot. Sounds easy, right?

Grind the coffee, tamp, place into the espresso machine and press the button. If it’s not quite perfect then that’s just the tester being picky? Well I thought similarly, until I tasted an almost perfect shot compared to perfection, the difference was clear.

This test is extremely impressive due to the level of detail that it requires. If the shot isn’t quite right then perhaps the grind size needs altering, but that will then impact on extraction percentage and time needed to extract, but that can influence the end weight… the implications of the smallest of changes are endless – change one thing and something else needs to change. It is the ability to consider all these small details and work them out under pressure that qualifies a high level barista and it is that ability that stands out as a lesson that can be learnt and applied in different environments.

A barista will care about the parts per million (ppm) of the water coming into their machine and will apply filters to make it suits their requirements. The process of heating the water isn’t simple either, with potentially three stages of heating in just one machine; what temperature to bring each level to is an ongoing investigation.

No detail is too small to be important, if it is a variable they can in some way control, they will!

You might be reading this thinking “I don’t even like coffee”. Even if you don’t, appreciate the scrutiny of the process and think about how you can apply that level of detail to your work – things might not seem important on the surface, but even the smallest of changes can impact the bigger picture.

P.S. I tried my hand at latte art… I’m pretty proud for my first attempt 🙂


Talent vs Skill

“No, no, I think you’re born with talents and you acquire skills” were the words of one of my colleagues only a few days ago. Words that got me thinking about what talents and skills actually are and how people acquire them.

Are you born talented? Or do you have to work to develop it? What about skills; surely some people are naturally gifted to have a certain skill set, but can’t everyone eventually learn a skill?

It reminded me of a saying – Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard.

So let’s dissect the two areas and see what we have…


‘Natural aptitude or skill.’

If someone is born with a natural ability for something they are said to have a talent for it. Whether it’s genetics that makes someone more suited for something or it some mystical ability that a person happens to have from birth, it seems that talent can’t be taught, it is natural.

By this definition, aren’t we constantly using the word in false context? “Roger Federer is very talented” – well firstly, at what? You can’t really answer ‘tennis’, he wasn’t born a Wimbledon champion, it took years of work for him to develop the ability to be a champion. So what was the talent he was born with? Mentality, perhaps good genetics to train his body hard, good eyesight, or will we just have to classify it as an unknown set of abilities that work for tennis and he is able to excel faster than others because of this head start, whatever it may be.


‘The ability to do something well’.

You can definitely learn a skill, playing the piano, for example, is a skill that is learnt. It may take longer for some people than others but everyone can make some progress in learning a new skill. It is the development of an ability.

Roger Federer has hundreds of skills that accumulate to make him a world class tennis player; his serve, his ability to read the game, perhaps even his work ethic is a skill. Are they all built up over time or was he born able to do such things?


I view skills and talents are very mutual things, you can’t have one without the other.

I do believe in natural ability – a talent – and therefore do think that some people are born with a head start, not everyone can run like Usain Bolt! However, I believe talent can be extended upon through the accumulation of skills as if they’re building blocks. Have enough blocks in place and you have extended, or create a new, talent.



Perhaps if this depiction is accurate, hard work really can beat talent, if talent doesn’t work hard.

Getting Ahead With Geoff Thomas

Getting Ahead With Geoff Thomas…

Serial Entrepreneur, currently co-founder and finance director of UpriseVSI, Geoff Thomas is this week’s guest. In the full version of this week’s episode, we cover a bit of everything; his career, time at university and how they’ve changed, what he looks for when hiring, and how similar sport and business actually are.

Malaysia in 10

I recently travelled to Malaysia as part of my University’s overseas exchange, however I also travelled to begin to build a partnership for sports and societies – yes, that’s right, I went to play badminton!

Here are the 10 things that stood out for me from my 10 days there.

1 – The people are incredible

I was shocked by how friendly, approachable and generally nice the people were. Everyone wanted to know who we were, how we were doing, and what Malaysian food we’d tried!

This made the experience 1000 time better, it was only a short time but they made a real impact and I miss them already.

2 – Malaysian haze isn’t fog!

As soon as we arrived we heard people complaining about ‘the haze’. A few hours after arrival we saw a post on the Facebook account for the university saying all outdoor activities were suspended due to the haze – shame since we wanted to swim!

I remember thinking, what is it with everyone complaining about a bit of fog? It won’t harm anyone… well, it’s not quite fog. Without going into the details, it’s actually the result of mass wood burning in various areas around Malaysia and Indonesia! Click here if you want to know the details.

3 – Badminton halls are everywhere

Within an hour we’d found our first hall – courts marked out in the university’s function room. That evening we played in a hall that was a 5 minute walk from where we stayed, to me it was perfect, to the locals it was the bad hall in the area – “you know there’s a 20 court hall just down the road?!”.

4 – Walking doesn’t exist

It’s fair to say people were shocked when we told them we walked to badminton one evening and that we’d be happy to walk back.

In Malaysia everyone drives! Cars are expensive, and the traffic is bad, but’s it’s what they do!

5 – The place feels very local, until you get inside

I was shocked by how local and un-commercial I first found Kuala Lumpur, yes of course there were many tall buildings, but also many local shops and restaurants. I soon realised all the brand chains were in the many, many shopping centres.

Huge buildings on every street corner, housing brands from all over the world. I saw 3 Nando’s in one day!

6 – Never judge a place by its appearance

The best places we ate were the most obscure; a restaurant attached to a car garage, another place that didn’t even have a sign, but that didn’t matter when you were with locals who knew where to go and what to get!

7 – It’s extremely diverse

Malaysians, Chinese-Malaysians and Indian-Malaysians; these are the three main ethnic groups in Malaysia. However we came across people from all areas; it really has attracted crowds from all over the globe.

8 – Durian is NOT the king of fruits

No matter how many times you’re told to try Durian – the king of fruits – don’t! Not a single person on our trip liked it.

9 – It’s cheap, until you want to drink

If you want a cheap holiday, head to Malaysia, just don’t drink. Food is cheap and amazing but your alcohol is heavily taxed. Although my friend from Norway insisted she still found it to be cheap!

10 – The food is incredible

It is food heaven, half the time I didn’t know what I was eating or what to call it, but it was amazing. As a side note, they have a lot of varieties of ‘chicken and rice’, but the speciality is ‘chicken rice’, it sounds and looks the same but it is its own dish!

Getting Ahead With Dan Knowles

Getting Ahead With Dan Knowles…

Founder of Mega Social. In the full version of this weeks episode, we discuss Mega Social and the nature of social media in business. I also find out more about Dan’s experience leaving a 9-5 job to start his own company, and he shares his advice for anyone wishing to do the same!

What can we learn from Elon Musk?

In short, a lot!

I have finished reading ‘Elon Musk – Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future’. It was actually the first autobiography I have ever read, so I was sceptical as to whether or not I’d enjoy it. However, I have definitely found a new passion, the book offered insights that will only be shown through such books.

So what did I learn from the book?

1 – It’s not all sunshine and rainbows!

Elon Musk’s life has been tough! You see the fame he has being associated with PayPal, Tesla etc. But did you realise he’s been ousted as CEO from a number of his own successful startups, and has had many legal battles to claim ownership of being a co-founder for many of his most successful ventures, including PayPal?

I spent a large amount of the book in shock, learning about what actually happened at these companies, how he actually reached his heights and what it has cost him. The tough times are never re-told once success has arrived. This presents an extremely dangerous image that he was always bound for success and his talent saw him sail to the top; that wasn’t the case for him and it won’t be the case for you!

2 – When you really know what you’re talking about, you’ll be respected.

Elon is known for his extreme requests, his tight deadlines and orders to cut costs. Many times his requests seemed impossible, but when people refused to do it, he would complete the action himself. This was extremely powerful, especially at SpaceX where his team literally had to invent new processes to reach expectations.

Elon was only able to set these expectations and pull them off himself if needed because he knew what he was talking about. He wasn’t a genius from birth, he just had a huge thirst for knowledge and a very impressive memory. SpaceX engineers recalled being quizzed by Elon; initially not because he was checking they knew their stuff, but because he wanted to know! Over time he became one of the most (if not the most) knowledgeable SpaceX and Tesla engineer, so when he set a target, he knew it could be reached.

This gave him the respect of many that worked for him as he couldn’t be seen as a clueless boss, instead perhaps he could be seen as an ingenious leader.

3 – Sometimes you’ve got to dream like a kid

Eliminate a country’s need for fossil fuels, and extend the existence of humanity. These are some of the dreams of Elon. Sound crazy don’t they, but he’s taking big steps towards achieving them.

Nothing is too big or scary to him and that is one of the most impressive qualities about him. He knows that he wants to change the world and he will do everything he can to make sure it happens.

Getting Ahead With Richard Milnes

Getting Ahead With Richard Milnes…

Tech startup founder and project leader. This week I talk to Richard about his transition from a single man startup in his University room to an ever growing team where his tech skills are becoming redundant. Richard talks about his transition into a management role and how he has adapted his way or working and learning. In the full-length version, we go into details about the startup environment, tech startups and founders, and how best to get ahead.

A Message to Recruiters

Dear recruiter,

If you aren’t headhunting University students, you’re missing out!

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a university student and would love for some of the big name companies to headhunt me, or because I’ve been listening to the autobiography of Elon Musk and heard about his recruiting tactics, that I felt an urge to write about this.

When sourcing the best, young engineers for SpaceX, Elon Musk contacts teaching assistants or college administrators to ask for the details of engineers with good results and a passion for building things outside of their academic work. On several occasions, he offered jobs within weeks of first hearing a student’s name.

Why? Because university students are unique…

1 – They can be moulded

A student with little experience is not yet ‘set in their ways’, they can’t use the phrase “oh, we’ve always done it like that”, because they have never done it.

This was appealing for Musk in a unique aerospace company that was breaking all the rules. A new recruit wasn’t aware of the rules and so had no concerns breaking them. He could influence their style of work to suit him – this was more valuable than years under their belt in his opinion.

2 – They aren’t tied down

No house, family, only some (student) debt, and freedom to move. It’s a lot easier to hire and move new graduates than it is to ask a recruit from another company to move homes with their family to join your company.

3 – They have lots of energy (most of the time)

The right students will work tirelessly. Maybe longer hours, maybe multiple jobs. They want to prove themselves and will do everything they can to prove it.

This might pose the issues that it can be harder to keep young recruits entertained, but if your company is good enough and the role is flexible, that problem will solve itself.

4 – You might not get a second chance

You can build loyalty by showing faith and providing an opportunity. Whether you want to hire to retire or just utilise young recruits for their creativity whilst they’re fresh, if you miss your chance to get yourself known, it may not come back around.


Of course, in many cases, there is no substitute for experience, but if you’re looking for people to work hard and bring in new ideas, you’ll find those people in University. But don’t always expect them to come to you, you need to go to them.

Getting Ahead With Alex Somervell

Getting Ahead With Alex Somervell…

Co-founder of One Third Stories and language whizz. In the full version of this week’s episode, we discuss the success of One Third Stories’ successful Kickstarter campaign and how they’re progressing. I also find out more about Alex’s passion for language and how it has helped him both personally and professionally. This week certainly is a good one!