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.

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 🙂

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!

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 🙂


What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Today I helped with a school visit. Primary school children coming to 3M to learn about our technologies, try some challenges, and learn about careers. The latter is where I came in; sat down ready to talk about school, education, and how it all leads into careers.

I started with the usual; “how’s your day so far?”, “what are your favourite subjects?” etc. These were soon followed with the classic “what do you want to be when you grow up?”.

I was shocked by how quickly this question stood out as something ridiculous. What was I expecting them to say? Of course, they had answers, but they didn’t have a set plan or know what the job even involved sometimes. It’s a question we always ask children, sometimes far too seriously. Here’s the good and bad side of that question.

Bad – They felt ashamed when they couldn’t answer

Their heads dropped and volume lowered as they timidly said they didn’t know. They said it as if it was an incorrect answer, as if they would get in trouble. They believed they should know and be able to tell me exactly what they wanted to do in 20 years time. It’s obvious how ridiculous this is, yet for some reason they felt that way.

Those that knew spoke proudly about it.

Good – They still dare to dream

“Either a doctor or an 800m Olympian”, “a DJ”, “a robot builder”, “a world famous engineer”.

These were some of the answers that greeted me. I was shocked by the number of kids that wanted to be the best in their future career and actually thought they would be – and why not think that!

Ask them in another 10 years time and the answer might be a similar field but with less ambition or purpose, and that annoys me.

They don’t fear big ambition or dreams, they know they have a big future ahead of them and they are willing to say it! If only more of us could continue with that trait.


Perhaps it is good to ask the question, to people of all ages. But support uncertainty and encourage ambition. Nothing is certain, nothing is unachievable. The more we can encourage children to dare to dream, the more that actually will when they do eventually grow up.

I Don’t Care What You Think About President Trump

Today Trump became president. Whether I like him or not is not my topic for this blog, I have my view and I will share them if asked, but I don’t want to express them for no reason, politics causes lots of debate and we’d be a lot better off if we actually listened – that is in part what I want to share with you.

It has been a frustration to see the constant back and forth in the election process, with lots of aggressive views (mainly on social media), in fact this applies to many other ‘hot topics’. The frustration is that people refuse to believe their opinion is wrong and that the opposing people are stupid. Always keep in mind, people always think they’re doing good. Rarely to people act to extreme lengths with the motive to promote what they think is wrong. Both sides think they’re right.

So ultimately I want to use this blog to get you to watch this video and to pause the next time you see an opinion you disagree with. They think they’re right and so do you, so how can you actually work around that to make progress rather than forcefully tell someone they’re wrong even if they actually are.

Make It Happen Week

This Monday – November 14th – is the start of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2016, this year branded as Make It Happen Week in Lancaster.

After seeing myself in a promo video for this year (I had completely forgotten that I’d filmed this!) I felt I had to make a case to urge anyone in Lancaster with an interest in enterprise to get as involved as possible! I’ve been involved as a newbie to enterprise and once again as an event organiser and promoter, both times it has created some of the best experiences. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a room of ambitious, smart people bouncing ideas and thoughts off each other, with the adrenaline rush of reaching the end line for that event.

Whether you just want a taste of enterprise or you’re looking for a business partner, this week offers it all – lots of credit needs to go to the Enterprise Centre for once again putting on a great schedule of events. See them here.

I’ll end with the 2016 promo video…. a real flash back to Startup Weekend 2015 – do not miss 2016!

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 🙂


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!

© 2018 Adam Ian Stewart

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑