Impact Innovators in the Zinc Ecosystem: Christina Patterson, Zinc Executive Coach
Christina Patterson is a writer, broadcaster, non-executive director and coach. A former columnist at The Independent and Director of the Poetry Society, she now regularly contributes to The Sunday Times, Sky News and BBC Radio 2 and has published two books.
Christina is part of Zinc’s coaching network, supporting founders navigating their entrepreneurial path through Zinc’s Venture Builder and beyond.
What attracted you to becoming a coach?
I have had a portfolio career and coaching was a natural progression for me. Journalism is all about asking questions, listening and getting to the truth. And this is what coaching is all about. I have personally benefited from some very effective coaching over the years and met some excellent coaches along the way. What I like about coaching, when it’s at its most powerful, is that it’s very action focussed, and it really works. As a writer who spends a lot of time working alone, I also love the sparky, human interaction that a coaching relationship brings. And I love the sense of interacting with people and seeing them make the changes that they want to make.
How do you define your role as a coach?
I see my role as a coach as a thinking partner, someone to help you think through the issues you’re mulling over to gain clarity that enables you to take action in the direction you want to take it. I believe coaching can help cut to the heart of a challenge and help people think through the issues that are relevant to their lives at that time. I see it as absolutely an equal partnership and I’m never giving advice. In the context of Zinc in particular, founders really need to gain a lot of clarity because, although it’s a very exciting adventure and you do get a lot of support, fundamentally it’s about understanding what you want to create together with your co-founder. This journey takes a lot of motivation, entrepreneurship is a hard path. It’s very satisfying in lots of ways, but you absolutely need to have a strong sense of what it is you want to achieve.
What excited you about joining the Zinc community?
I have been very engaged with politics, society and current affairs for many years. As a journalist, I’m fascinated by what makes a good society. And politics has not been a very cheering spectacle for some years for so many of us in this country. It’s quite easy to lose faith in how you make effective change in the light of that. What I love about Zinc is that it is about tackling the big issues, but in bite sized chunks across each cohort.
What are some of the common themes you help founders to work on?
Whether it’s with Zinc founders, or more broadly, the starting point is always that something needs to change. Generally, people seek coaching because they have reached a point when there is something in their life, or career, or work that they are not happy about. Maybe they have already tried to tackle it on their own, but haven’t made the progress they had hoped for. Change can be really hard. At Zinc that is usually because everything is new and different. People turn up on day one with a broad sense of passion, very impressive CVs and the hope they can turn that into a successful, high-impact business. There is a lot of excitement and sometimes a lot of anxiety because it’s actually a very short period of time to explore ideas and partners and get something going in a meaningful way.
What does “success” look like when working with a coaching client?
I think success is when there is a fruitful rapport and when, as a coach, when you feel that the client is fully engaged and actively wanting to dive into the process, to put in the work and make changes. Because coaching is hard work. It’s not turning up and having a professional sort out your life. Whilst that would be lovely, that’s not how to make meaningful and lasting change happen. It’s great to visibly witness change in people, when their physiognomy changes, their voice changes.
What are you currently really excited about?
On a personal level, I’m excited to get on with my next book. I’ve done preliminary work, but I’m dying to finally sink my teeth into a new intellectual project. On a bigger picture level, I’m excited about a change in government, which of course can’t be absolutely guaranteed but it is looking pretty likely. The situation that a Labour government is likely to inherit is very depressing, but I do think there are some good people in Labour who have brought some fresh thinking. I’m excited about the degree of hope that will come with a new government, because those of us with more centre left or progressive politics have not had much to feel cheerful about for quite a long time. I’m also excited that individuals, and organisations like Zinc are leading the way in tackling some of the big societal challenges we face, not sitting around waiting for other people to do it.
Do you have a personal sense of mission and impact?
Fundamentally as a writer, my purpose is about beauty and truth, inspired by the Keats line “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”. I believe art is about trying to tell the truth about the world. Obviously, that is subjective, but there is a collective sense in which art isn’t just subjective. Even the Barbie film is a brilliant work of art! I think many people feel when art does what it is supposed to, it resonates hard, it hits you right in the solar plexus.
Who inspires you on your journey?
I’ve had the privilege to interview hundreds of people I found incredibly inspiring. Artists, Nobel Laureates and poets. Seamus Heaney, is a wonderful poet and person. Kazuo Ishiguro. Margaret Heffernan, who is a former documentary maker who became a very successful businesswoman. A teacher called Andrea Safirakou, an art teacher who teaches in a very deprived school in Wembley. Rachel Clarke, a documentary maker who became a doctor, she’s a wonderful writer. There are just so many inspirational people out there. I think a key thing that connects them is their passion and commitment. I think it’s quite hard to make any significant change in the world if you don’t really care about it. All these people care a lot about what they do, and they all work extremely hard.
What advice would you give to someone considering joining the next Zinc mission?
Go for it. Because even if you don’t end up founding a successful business, it will be a fantastic learning, thinking and personal development opportunity. The other thing I would say is that it’s an adventure. Adventures are exciting, but can also be exhausting and unsettling at times. Uncertainty is a very hard thing for humans to deal with, and the entrepreneurial path will certainly expose you to uncertainty at every step of the way, so you will need to develop the ability to cope with uncertainty. But that is a kind of fundamental prerequisite of a successful life anyway, so you might as well learn it now, having an impact while you do it!
Finally, what advice would you give other mission-driven coaches considering joining the Zinc coaching network?
Do it. It’s great fun. It can be very rewarding. And it’s great to feel that you are part of something that has such a strong ethos about what it is it’s trying to do, and how it’s trying to do it. I’ve really loved it. I’ve loved meeting new people. I loved doing the coaching. I’ve loved meeting other coaches. I’ve loved meeting founders and fellows. I would strongly recommend it.
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Impact Report 2023
We started Zinc with the hypothesis that missions are an effective way to attract highly ambitious, talented and experienced groups of innovators, who might not recognise themselves as “classic entrepreneurs” but are ready and able to start a new commercial and successful venture to tackle some of our most pressing societal issues.
The world has overcome the sorts of challenges we face today when it has adopted a mission-based approach to the biggest problems and brought together world-class talent to invent and innovate, e.g: NASA and landing a man on the moon, the LSE blueprinting the British welfare state, or the Gates Foundation aiming to eradicate diseases.
On this basis and assumption, we designed Zinc as a new mission-based Venture Builder — a place where global talent, ‘impact makers’, can join to experiment and develop new solutions to our most pressing societal issues.
To Eliminate Environmental Threats to Our Health
Environmental health threats pose a grave danger to human health and well-being, causing suffering to individuals and communities worldwide. These threats, which include chemical pollution, climate change, and biological hazards, cause acute and chronic diseases and exacerbate existing health conditions.
To protect those we care about, we must tackle the causes of environmental degradation, shield people from the consequences of environmental harm, and, where protection fails, we must mitigate the health impacts they suffer.
This demands action to improve all aspects of our environment: soil, food, air, water, and the built environment. It requires us to focus on every aspect of human health to reduce suffering.
Entrepreneurship and technology are powerful means to tackle these challenges. That’s why we are backing 70 founders to build innovative companies addressing this mission.