What Can Adland Learn from the British Army? An Interview with John Allison

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Military training is designed to reduce fear, stress and fatigue, and to help prepare for every eventuality. Still, when we think of military training, we often think of it as a distant, unwarranted skill set seemingly unrelated to our day-to-day lives. John Allison, outdoor fitness specialist and wellbeing manager for Momentum Worldwide, disagrees. During Advertising Week Europe, Allison will lead the session, “Mental Strength Through Military Training,” to show attendees what the ad industry can learn from the British Army.

We spoke with John Allison to learn more about what his session will teach, how he came to find the ties between military training and the ad industry, and what exercises we can begin implementing into our daily routines before attending his session at AWEurope.

AWEurope: I’m sure you get a lot of confused looks when you tell folks you plan to teach them how to apply military training to their work lives. How do you first approach explaining your initiative?

JA: Having worked in the advertising world for several years now, I’ve identified strong parallels with military life. The sleep deprivation when you’re preparing a pitch for a client and the teamwork required to pull it off is akin to being on an operational deployment.

AWEurope: What can the ad industry learn from the British Army?

JA: We would never deploy someone into a high threat/ high pressure environment without giving them the right training, and I think the ad industry needs to give its people more resources to cope with the rigors of agency life.

AWEurope: It would be easy for someone to assume the methodical and strategic thinking in the military would be the enemy of creativity. Can you explain how that isn’t necessarily the case?

JA: You have to remember we’re rarely engaged in conventional war fighting these days, and there is no longer a clear frontline. Having worked in the Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (CIED) arena for a number of years, I can say that we’ve had to do battle with some incredibly creative and agile minds which often called for blue sky thinking. Military training gives you the confidence and tools to plan for and deal with the unexpected.

AWEurope: How did you first come across this idea that military training could be applied to combat stress and fatigue in the workplace? How did your program first come to be?

JA: I remember walking into an office one day and being shocked to find several people absolutely dead on their feet – mentally and physically drained. They’d been preparing a client pitch and working incredibly long hours. In the military, you’re often in a similar situation on operations, but we’re obligated to attend mandatory physical training sessions to enable us to cope mentally. In addition, we’re given stress inoculation training prior to development. That’s incremental exposure to a range of stressors we could encounter during the mission. Adland has much to learn from this approach.

AWEurope: Can you provide a real world example of your training at work?

JA: I created a natural obstacle course in the heavily wooded grounds of Hunton Park hotel in Hertfordshire. You have to run, jump, crawl and get tired, wet and muddy in the process. In order to deal with some of the natural obstacles; large fallen trees for example, you need to work as a team and communicate efficiently. It also forces you to identify strengths and weaknesses within a group and look at ways in which you can make best use of your people.

AWEurope: There seems to be a lot of focus on fear and fatigue and how that causes stress in the workplace – what are some of the more shocking correlations between military training and working in the ad industry that people may not expect?

JA: At the end of the day I think it’s important to reflect on the fact that military training is designed to keep you alive and to minimise risk in a high threat environment. Adland is far removed from the world of bombs and bullets, but if we fail to look after our people from a mental and physical standpoint, it can lead to premature death. The RAF No 1 Parachute School has a motto; ‘Knowledge dispels fear,’ and I think that can be applied to any job. If you can recognise and deal with stress, it reduces the fear factor and enables you to stay in control.

AWEurope: What are some aspects of your training that people can continue practice in their own lives outside of your program? Are there any simple exercises AWE attendees will be able to take away with them?

JA: I talk a lot about recognising the signs of stress and having a toolkit you can use to reduce the effects. Breathing exercises are key and can be used anywhere and anytime to bring you back into the zone. I’ll also talk about the types of activities and physical training which can specifically help you to beat stress.

AWEurope: How can developing confidence and leadership skills through military training make you a better employee and colleague in the civilian world?

JA: If you’re a confident person, it usually implies that you feel in control of your life. It also suggests that you’re less likely to think negatively. A feeling of lack of control can lead to stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety stifle creativity, something the ad world can ill afford. Negative thinking leads to negative actions and behaviour which can have a huge impact on team morale and effectiveness. Confidence and strong leadership equates to clear direction and the maintenance of morale, particularly when the going gets tough.

AWEurope: What can attendees from AWEurope expect to take away after attending the “Mental Strength Through Military Training” session?

JA: Attendees will be equipped with enough knowledge to start building their own stress reduction toolbox. They will become more familiar with the signs and symptoms of stress and how to take action. Team leaders and managers will be able to reflect on how they currently look after the mental and physical health of their people and perhaps how they can implement new initiatives in the workplace.

“Mental Strength Through Military Training” with John Allison will take over the Shutterstock stage Monday, 20 March at 12:30 PM. Learn more about the session here.

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