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Guest Blog: I don’t want an optimist or a pessimist: I need activists.

20 Dec 2023 - 3 minutes to read

Guest Blog: I don’t want an optimist or a pessimist: I need activists.


Martyn Baker, Managing Partner at Gardn is a long standing friend of Tramshed Tech and has coached many of our Startup Academy cohort through the art of storytelling in brand building. 

Today, he's talking us through his hunt for activists...

I think my sweet spot with companies wanting to grow more quickly is around that £2-£10m turnover mark. That’s a broad stroke I know. But I find they’re trying to figure out structure. Worried about upward operating costs. Communication is fragmented. What are you really trying to sell? They want quicker growth. Sometimes they just want growth.


It’s scrappy and messy and it’s fun.


It’s great fun. You get to wear lots of hats and you’re helping to shape people’s roles. BUT it genuinely is the attitude of the teams you work with that decide the level of impact you actually have.


Pessimists Optimists and Activists.


I think these three words are self explanatory. I took it from Arancha Gonzalez Laya who referenced it on the Leading podcast a few weeks back:


“don’t be an optimist, don’t be a pessimist; be an activist”.


Laya is operating on another level to most of us; but it resonated.


Why you want activists.


Here are two major pros of having activist in your growing business. They can make or break things for you.


1. Ground-level view with birds-eye mentality


A value-add for all new clients I work with is the fresh, birds-eye view I bring to them. I get to see the interrelation between commercial, product/services, operations, sales and marketing with fresh eyes. Ignorance is a real advantage here. I get to ask why things are done and not just how.


Ignorance is less useful when you next need to look at the detail to fix something.


The activist truly wants to see your scaling business succeed. This doesn’t always mean they’re going to work until 4am like you. But it does mean they’re looking to improve your organisation and not just their day-to-day role. They are often much

better placed than you to understand how operational choices will impact the teams adjacent to their own.


You know you’re speaking to an activist when they tell you how your ideas will impact other people and your business; not just themselves.


2. Challenges fixed and not simply raised.


Spotting a problem that needs fixing is only half the equation. And sometimes the problem is simply a result of your size or stage of your growth. Sometimes you just need people to crack on.


When there are positive changes to be made, the activist can be spotted when they try to improve on your idea/suggestion.


But be careful not to mistake them for pessimists. And ask them ‘what would you do’. A simple (obvious?) way to find your activists and drive change.


Advocating the Activist.


When something isn’t going to plan within an organisation, it’s easy for internal teams to dismiss the activist as a pessimist.


Once I spot the activists, my role is to be their advocate within the business. Not only does this uncover the real problems and their solutions, but it dramatically scales the impact I can have.


Here’s what I try to do with Activists:


Embrace pockets of failure.


Where possible, let these activists test their ideas and make it ok to fail.


This is the hardest bit. Activists can cause you headaches and they intrinsically mean you lose some direct control. But getting something wrong is often the first step in finding the right solution.




Activists can turn into pessimists when you don’t listen or don’t appear to be listening. Equally, find those undercover activists by listening to the detail in people’s concerns.


YOU Stepping Back.


It didn’t surprise me that founders of start-ups with small teams found it hard to hand over the keys to the business. But I constantly see the same thing happen at businesses turning over £5m+ with a 40+ team. YOU stepping back is the hardest bit for many founders with a growing business. Often, they haven’t spotted the increased knowledge gap between them and their ever-growing team.


So find your activist and embrace their activism.


Martyn Baker

Commercial Director at Codiance and EcoBunker. Managing Partner at Gardn.