Laila Pawlak

Laila Pawlak

At the recent Happy Camp we were lucky enough to meet Laila Pawlak.

As soon as this lady wandered into the campsite wearing killer heels we knew we had to talk with her further.

Laila very rarely does interviews, which makes this opportunity super special.

Laila runs the award winning company DARE2, a strategic experience design agency and think tank for developing transformational customer experiences. Laila has conducted extensive research in unfolding what creates great experiences, what drives an entrepreneurial mindset, and how experiences can transform people and have Positive Impact on us as individuals. Laila is also the co-founder of DARE2mansion – a 1300m2 Professional Playground in Copenhagen that serves as an incubator, co-working, and event space where entrepreneurs, businesses, and academia come together to create unique experiences and new businesses. Laila holds a degree in innovation and entrepreneurship and a graduate diploma in business administration as well as in organisation and management. She is among other things a Certified Experience Economy Expert, coach, LEGO Serious Play facilitator and Singularity University Alumni.

She has been recognised as one of the most talented business executives in Denmark by the leading national business magazine and was nominated for Female Entrepreneur of the year in 2010 and again this year (vote for her here www.ivaekst.dk). Furthermore, she was awarded the prestigious Experience Management Achievement Award along with her partner Kris in 2012. They were the first to win this award outside of the States.

Here we hear Lailas' story:

LP: I started my career in the corporate world.
At a young age, about 23ish, I had a great job with a broad reach doing recruitment and training of management trainees. I moved up the ladder quickly and had some pretty cool roles including the branding of a city and a science park. After my corporate years I soon decided that I wanted to start my own business. At that point, I was working 2 days a week doing strategy for the Copenhagen Planetarium and spent the other 3 days focusing on my own company. The Copenhagen Planetarium was actually our first office address!

EXPERIENCE IS THE KEY

For a long time I had been wondering - ‘how can we use and design experiences to transform peoples’ behaviour?’ For example, how can we design experiences that will make people more interested in science? How can we use great experiences to drive sales?

I think when I was first telling people these ideas they thought, “What on earth is this girl all about?” But then I started a Masters thesis and I met Kris. We instantly clicked. Where I was outgoing, he was quiet and thoughtful. We were both super interested in the question – how do we use experiences as a tool for guiding transformations? It was our burning question. It was THE question.

LS: Experience is a word that we use a lot here. We talked about Pine & Gilmore and the Experience Economy with a client recently.

LP: Joe Pine – Yes that’s it. That book made it all a reality for us. We read it and it were like, “This is what we’ve been saying!” Joe Pine became like Brad Pitt in terms of celebrity status for us. He actually came to Denmark for an event and although I wasn’t supposed to go, Kris insisted that I come along. We got our copy of “The Experience Economy” signed by him and we’re hanging around outside when he walked out. He came over and asked us for a light and then walked off again. We could not believe it! He had spoken to “us” and we said absolutely nothing back.

The three of us who were standing there then suddenly came back to reality and couldn’t believe our stupidity. How did we not say anything to him! We just let him walk away!

Kris and I broke into a run until we caught up with him. At that point, we had the guts to ask him to join us for a cup of coffee. He luckily accepted and that cup of coffee turned into dinner. While we were eating, Joe’s phone kept ringing and ringing. It turns out he was supposed to at the Copenhagen jazz house that night as the guest of honour! He showed up for the event… one and a half hours late.

We’ve been friends with Joe ever since that night. He is now on our board and when Kris and I got married, he was at our wedding.

LS: I love that! Love that! How something so small can lead to a significant impact on your life and your work. Now THAT is an experience.

LP: Yes, I later went to become a certified ‘Experience Economy Expert’ and it was at that certification that I initially voiced any inklings about starting DARE2mansion. I thought, ‘I need a place to bring this together.’ And here we are.

LS:
And so now, what is DARE2?

LP: DARE2 is a six year old consultancy.
We have DARE2develop – big research angle, which Kris does. DARE2academy, which focuses on the training and transformation of individuals. This can be anything from a keynote to a workshop that lasts from 45 minutes to days.
Then there is DARE2network, which is 100 people who have all been nominated to be a part of a group. Candidates are selected on a diversity-basis. We include people from all industries with many different outlooks of like. This allows us to learn from each other’s best principles. Once a month we meet and work on non-profit projects. We also give an  annual award to a project where they win the brainpower of the network. These projects have included a shelter for the homeless and  a food bank.  We also run the STARTUP BUZZ. It’s a non profit project where we take twelve entrepreneurs on a five day road trip throughout Denmark. For them, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime and many learn as much about their business in one week as they would in two to three years. It’s really incredible to see their transformations. During the week, they meet with people such as the Google CEO in Denmark and a bunch of other really cool companies. Finally there is DARE2mansion which is our 1300m2 Professional Playground – a co-working space, incubator and event space (www.DARE2mansion.com).

LS: Do you sleep???

LP: Very well. I am very active – when I am on, I am very on!
At 10.30pm I am in bed, I like to be home and relax with my family. I do not have a super crazy social life. I travel a lot and I want to have time with my daughter Izabella every other week when she stays with me. We have ‘mother-Izabella’ time. She is a mini me in some respects. She has enormous drive! Enormous drive while being brilliantly weird! She hates pink and dresses. She loves Parkour and is currently learning to code apps.
I really admire her. At her age I tried to fit in. I was not as confident. I really made an effort not to be different, which was very hard for me.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I developed a better level of confidence.

LS: How did that confidence develop?

LP:
I think we develop in steps. I remember being a foreign exchange student in high school. I was living with a family in the States and my French teacher at the time invited me to talk to her ladies circle group.
I remember her writing that I was really good at talking in front of a group. I never realized that and I think as a leader it’s so important to give people a chance for them to realise who they are. We need chances to realise our full potential. When those opportunities are created, they can be very powerful.  
The second step was my next job. It went really well. I realized then that I was really good at bringing energy into a room. I was good at helping others to navigate through organisations. It was in my late 20s, I realised that I do not only have to navigate on others’ behalf. That is when I started my own company.

So, you see, DARE2 is a very personal name. Very personal.

In fact, the whole entrepreneurship thing is very personal. It’s vulnerable. YOU are the company. It’s an extension of yourself and with DARE2 I was daring to do what I truly believed in.

EVERYTHING FOR ME IS ABOUT POSITIVE IMPACT. EVERYTHING.

One of the things I commit to doing every year is working with a supercoach in Sweden. We do a values walk. You know where you prioritise what is important. From these session, a consistent pattern has developed where I show that I would sacrifice a lot to have positive impact on the world.

Nothing beats the emails you receive from people who have changed something in their lives or their companies as a result of hearing you speak or facilitate. You cannot put a value on that. I live on that!

You see, that’s my thing. I need to know that I am making an impact. What I’m doing has to be meaningful and have purpose. It is why I run DARE2mansion. Like a box of matches, it needs someone to ignite it! I like to do stuff. I like to ignite things and make them happen.

LS: What brings out your dark side?

LS: Victimisation. I would fight not to be a victim. There is always something you can do. I cannot stand injustice, or greed meaning something that or someone who makes no contribution.
I also can’t stand when people make no effort. You have to make an effort.

A good example for what I mean is a relationship. I believe you have to step up! We dress up when we go out – do you dress up when you go in? There is a Danish word for this, ‘umage.” It means ‘you have to make an effort’. Very often good enough it not good enough.

I like to ignite.

LS: Leadership books – what ones stick in your mind?

Anything by Pine & Gilmore obviously.
Abundance by Peter Diamandis and ‘The Singularity is Near’ by Raymond Kurzweil – if you ever get through it!
The Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur is also a book most people would benefit from. I am lucky in that Kris reads a lot - a LOT! I am really good at starting books, but he actually reads them through and then we talk about it. He is excellent at remembering and sharing his knowledge. I am good at taking the different theories and models and combining them. I create connections.

LS: Who was the best leader or the best person you ever worked with?

LP: Best leader? Or person? Because they are different.
Best leader, in retrospect, was the person I thought was really tough on me. She worked me hard. I was 27 and I became a manager of 40 people. She must have seen something in me because she really gave me a chance. I was not at a managerial level but she bumped me up. I performed well even though it was a challenging time. I delivered.
That job, that role, and that opportunity challenged my perspective.

Without a doubt, that was the job where I learned the most. It required me to keep raising the bar.

Now the best person I have ever worked with is, undoubtedly, Kris.
Our values are totally in sync although our ways are so different. He listens. His thing is qualitative research. He will always keep investigating, believing that the answer is in the question.
He is very critical. I come up with the crazy stuff and he makes it happen.
He has taught me to be a better person, mentor and consultant.
I make him do more. That is my energy.
We get A LOT of stuff done. We both have high standards and want to deliver.

For example, not that long ago we didn’t have any people. We had no staff. But now we have this 1,300 square metres building and we have created an apprenticeship system. We have three interns and we have Analisa – who runs my life. We are pushing them all the time. We want them to be saying, “this is where I learned the most”. We want them to continue to raise the bar.

LS: In doing your keynotes or pitches, is there a particular pair of shoes, or stationery that you would wear for luck or as an anchor?

LP: I have a couple of different outfits. I never go to work without makeup and high heels. EVER.
It’s not possible. It’s my identity! I also always wear colour. Actually,
Kris and I are almost always overdressed. We go to an annual event in the States with Joe Pine and it is always commented on’ You Europeans, you are so well dressed” Every year.

Kris is always in a 3-piece suit. It’s a thing!

LS: Would you employ you?

LP: That’s tough. I do not want people to tell me what to do. I need to be able to make my own decisions. I do not mind being told if it is the right thing, but it has to be the right thing for me too, I have to own it.
If I were to work with someone in a really, really high position I would need to believe in that person and their ability to create a huge impact. In that case, I would make a really good second in command.

LS: What is the key difference, would you say, about being an employee versus owning a business.

LP: Whether it’s a job or a life... When you own something it becomes your life. You have everything on the line. All bones are invested in DARE2 & DARE2mansion.
If you have a job loss, obviously this would be sad. If the business goes down, you go down. You are always super invested.

LS: What is taking up most of your thinking space right now?

LP: I am super excited about our Thinkubator. This is a tremendous offer to entrepreneurs. It’s a corporate crowd-funded incubator, which helps corporations innovate, students develop and entrepreneurs grow in a new to the world setup.

Many people who have ‘an idea’ often do not follow through on it because they worry about money and how to survive. So, we are targeting entrepreneurs at an early stage when they have new energy and we give them a grant without taking equity.

The corporate world is lacking in creativity. The corporate immune system is eating up innovation power. With the Thinkubator, we want to help corporates innovate. It is a 1-year program and we take people who are in the early stage of entrepreneurship and pay them to use their brain power on corporations two days a month. It is an awesome model. We’re going public with it shortly and it can be found on www.thinkubator.dk

It is incredible and the time spent talking to Laila is – without question – impactful. Laila demonstrates a sharp mind, congruence, passion and an unyielding energy that you cannot help but be attracted to.

I am genuinely honoured to have had the opportunity to speak with her as it has ignited a further passion in me in the transformational experiences we can create. Equally, what really resonated in our conversation was the “making an effort” line. I have taken that and held it close to me. I believe in this very strongly but again Laila just stepped it up a level.

Check out DARE2mansion and thinkubator – It would be rude not to!

 

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DARE2 is a six year old consultancy.

We have DARE2develop – big research angle, which Kris does.

DARE2academy, which focuses on the training and transformation of individuals.

Image 1
Image 2

"I also always wear colour. Actually, Kris and I are almost always overdressed."

Image - Laila

I am super excited about our Thinkubator. This is a tremendous offer to entrepreneurs.

Image - thinkucabator

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