97. Roshni Pandey: Embracing freedom and openness for creativity and risk-taking

Roshni Pandey, who is Indian by ethnicity, Fijian by birth, Australian by citizenship, & Singaporean by residence, explains how her experience of freedom, imagination and creativity as a youngster influences her work today as a creative strategy consultant, angel investor and social entrepreneur.  She reflects on how self-imposed limitations can get in the way of new idea generation, and how a desire for planning hindered her own ability to follow her passions.

Roshni is Founder & Managing Partner Lexicon; Co-Founder BlueBox and Founder of TRIBE. She specializes in creative problem solving and strategy delivery and firmly believes in the balance between art and science, and intuition and data. With an innate ability to align consumer, market and business needs with creative solutions, Roshni uses her experience to take a project from articulation of business challenge, to design, assessment, planning & embedding solutions in order to drive sustainable business value.

She has worked for agencies and multinational corporations across various regions and industries, and she has held various senior management corporate roles largely centred on delivering ‘new’ value.  This passion to create value has seen her invest in start-ups and operate social businesses of her own. Amongst Roshni’s accolades she was recognised at the 2015 World Brand Congress’ as “Asia’s Most Influential CMO”; gained SME of the Year Award in 2015 for one start-up; and Best Leader Award (2013) IHG AMEA for leadership & talent development.

To find out more about Roshni Pandey via Linkedin

Roshni Pandey Key Quotes

  • I was born in Fiji in a city called Lautoka. You were bare feet 90% of the time.
  • I think living on an island, you just feel the warmth, whether it’s from the sun, or from the people.
  • Growing up I thought I could be whatever I wanted to be, because there was nothing that you weren’t allowed to do if you were interested in doing it.
  • In Fiji life is basic, but it’s never boring because you invent your own fun.
  • A lot of great ideas are often preceded by a silly idea.
  • I don’t think good ideas just happen. I think they’re built.
  • I got a tattoo when I left my job, and it says, ‘if you desire something just ask the universe’.
  • The comfort zone that we think we have is created only in our minds, because we’ve imagined the other parallel world to be so difficult or so scary.
  • If I spend enough time exploring something, it will become comfortable and not scary anymore.
  • Often our subconscious mind is our biggest saboteur.
  • If you are not aware and in tune with your intuition or your gut feel, you often miss a lot of wonderful things.

This series is kindly supported by Squadcast –the remote recording platform which empowers podcasters by capturing high-quality audio and video conversations.

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Sue: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Sue Stockdale, host of the Access to Inspiration Podcast, where you can be inspired by people who may be unlike you. Today in episode 97. My guest is Roshni Pandey, who describes herself as Indian by ethnicity, Fiji by birth, Australian by citizenship, and Singaporean by residence. In my conversation with Roshni, I wanted to find out if being an islander has influenced the career direction that she has taken, that is very much related to creativity and innovation. You can find a transcription for this podcast if you want to read along while you listen, and for all our other episodes on our website at accesstoinspiration.org. Welcome to the podcast, Roshni. It’s great to speak to you today.

Roshni: Thank you for having me, Sue. It’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to it.

Sue: Now, when you sent me your little biography, one of the things that really caught my attention was partly how you described yourself because you said Indian by ethnicity, Fijian by birth, Australian by citizenship, and Singaporean by residence. And I thought, wow, there’s a really interesting story to dig into. Out of all of these places that you’ve lived, and several of them of course have been islands, do you see yourself as an islander?

Roshni: I do. I think if you asked me. I do. I don’t know whether I would’ve said that 10 years ago, 20 years ago, but as I think about myself now and a lot of the traits I have, especially as I do a bit more work to understand myself, which I probably didn’t before, definitely I think the answer is definitely I see myself as an islander.

Sue:  To give the listeners some context, Roshni tell us about being brought up in Fiji. What was life like when you were a youngster?

Roshni: so [00:02:00] I was born in Fiji in a city called Lautoka. It’s a tiny little town, I guess. I think my early memories of living on an island is not really associated with what an island is. When I think about my early childhood, to me it was normal, right? And that’s what everybody does. So I don’t think I made a distinction that I lived in a different place. I think that realization of I lived on an island, only came when I left the island, and so how big the rest of the world was. But yeah, I think as I was growing up, going to the beach, having the ocean as your front yard and your playground was very normal. Everybody had that surely? when I look at what my memories were, would be any different to how anybody else would describe their childhood. It was all natural. I think nature played a huge part in it. It was sea and grass and sand, and you were bare feet 90% of the time, and things were always super natural and very easy and very flowey. There wasn’t a huge amount of sense of demarcation of things. I think living on an island, you just feel the warmth, whether it’s from the sun or from the people. I think that’s probably a huge part of what I remember as my childhood.

Sue: Now listener, Roshni and I can see one another, and of course you can’t, but what I can see when Roshni speaking is a huge smile. So I could feel that warmth coming from your Roshni and just what you’re saying there. So I’m painting this picture of you. There barefoot running around on the beach, playing with your friends. So how did you move then from Fiji to Australia?

Roshni: So I think my parents always had plans to move to Australia as we were growing up. I think they had ambitions of us going to university in a different country. I think the education system in Fiji, perhaps at that time, wasn’t really as evolved and developed as it is now. So I think my parents always thought that they would send us abroad and being Indian parents, they were gonna come with us to look after us. Right? So, [00:04:00] so they always had this plan that we would move, I think when my sister and I were going to be in high school or getting close to going to uni. But unfortunately there was a coup that happened in Fiji in 1987, so that expedited our departure from Fiji to Australia. So I think we always had plans, but we moved earlier because of the, the coup that happened.

Sue: So then landing in Australia, that must have been quite different to your life on the beach and your bare feet.

Roshni: Some parts were similar. You still had the warmth and you still had the laid back nature of Aussies. I could still go to the local shops bare feet as most Aussies do. I think that comes as a shock to a lot of my Singaporean friends who are actually from anywhere else. But yeah, I think the whole laid back nature of people, the warmth of people was very similar. There were parts that were quite similar. My parents ended up living in Queensland, and I think it was by choice. The weather and things were a lot more similar to Fiji, but I think it was different in the sense that it obviously was a lot more developed. And a lot more modern. It had a lot more conveniences. It had a lot more services than I think we had back home in Fiji. But I think also Fiji has a lot that Australia doesn’t have.

I think the whole easygoing nature of stuff, the whole communal living that you have in Fiji, living in Fiji, you are part of a tribe. It’s like living in paradise with a huge extended family. You know everybody, everybody’s related or knows you somehow a part of a community. In that sense, I think there is a bit of communal sense in in Australia as well to other parts and definitely to Singapore. But it’s slightly less, things are a bit more demarcated in Australia, so you can’t just kind of roll up to your neighbour’s house in a village and just walk in and be fed and to be taken care of. It was slightly different, I think, even though my sister and I spoke English and we did our [00:06:00]schooling, that was a bit of a challenge in the beginning because obviously we had accents and it was hard to understand some of the slangs or the colloquial expressions. In a large sense, I don’t think it was very different. Or maybe as a child you’re so adaptable that you take it in your stride. I think we were excited by the fact that we suddenly had so many things to do and so many things to be part of, like a part of a netball association and be part of this volleyball team and be in the choir and do all these things. Some of these areas just probably wasn’t available in Fiji. So I think the things were there, but in Australia it was just dialed up a lot more.

Sue: Mm-hmm. Roshni, what were your ambitions then in those sort of late teenage years? Did you know what you wanted to do with your life?

Roshni: I’m shaking my head, but I don’t think viewers can see that. No, I don’t think I had, I don’t think we delved into it as much back then as kids are forced to do today. You were good at certain things and you did those things, or you were interested in certain things, and then you were allowed to explore those things. Even if you weren’t very good at it, you still got a chance to do it. I think now when I look at my kids and they can enter extracurricular activity provided they have a certain level of prowess on it already, because it’s auditions and it’s selections. We didn’t have any of that, so it was really free and easy growing up. I thought I could be whatever I wanted to be, really, because there was nothing that you weren’t allowed to do if you were interested in doing it.

Sue: So from there, how did you get to Singapore? What took you there?

Roshni: Love.

Sue: That’s often an answer for people in terms of what makes them move.

Roshni: So I met my hubby in university. I met him I think a month into starting my very first year at university. So I just turned 18. Got into university and ran straight into this guy [00:08:00] coming out of lecture theater. He’s from Singapore, and so we became friends, started dating, finished our degrees, started our post-grad, got married during the post-grad, so got married while we were still studying. I was 21 when I got married and then moved to Singapore with him. And again, when I look back, and this is all in reflection, right when I look back, you know, moving from Fiji to Australia, it was like moving from a small world into a bigger world. And I think although Australia’s a huge country and Singapore is little, moving from Australia to Singapore I really felt like I was moving into an even bigger world. It was the world opening up for me and we wanted to move and live and work in Singapore for a bit because I had studied international business and diplomacy. So I thought I wanted to at least experience international business. Australia was very domestic at that time, and so I thought the opportunities would also be a lot more international and different if I worked in Singapore, so majorly for love, but I think also partly for the work experience that I thought I would get was what led me to hop over to yet another island, but a much bigger one.

Sue: Yes, there’s a lot more people, or at least there are a lot more people crammed into a lot smaller space. The sense I get from what you’re saying, Roshni, is that you’re very outward looking, looking for what’s out there in the bigger world and physically moving to discover that. So did you then manage in your career to experience international business?

Roshni: Yeah, I think you’re quite right. I think moving from Australia to Singapore again opened up the world one more time in terms of having access to the rest of the world from Singapore. It was just so convenient and easy to move from Singapore as a base, and I landed a first job after a long time because I came to Singapore during the Asian financial crisis, so that was a [00:10:00] good time to move. And it took me a while to find a job, but when I did, it really helped me to explore Southeast Asian markets and I was doing research in my first job, so I was learning about these markets. I was learning about the consumers in these markets, and I think that’s why it was so interesting, because it stayed true to this. DNA of exploring and figuring out. And another thing like I think in Fiji life is basic, but it’s never boring because you invent your own fun. You have no choice. You find your own fun, make your own games. We made games from tied up plastic that was rolled into a ball and made up games using stuff we had. So I think you invent your own path and you invent your own things. And that combination of wanting to learn and invent, I think is probably one common thing that stayed across all the jobs that I’ve done.

Sue: And for the listener, what is it that you spend your time doing these days?

Roshni: A lot of things. So I’m a firm believer that you can have your cake and eat it too. I love being involved in quite a lot of different things, but I don’t think I see them as distinctively different. They are often linked together somehow into an ecosystem, and I think maybe it’s being part of a tribe and how things are always linked and interconnected to each other. I run my own consulting business, so I do a lot of creative consulting with clients. A lot of my clients are in the hospitality space because I used to work for Intercontinental Hotel Group, so I have a lot of experience with the subject and content in that space. But also for FMCG and a few other clients, I do a bit of angel investment.

So I am involved in early stage startups, whether it’s time spent with coaching and mentoring them, or cash investments to help some of these really novel ideas grow. And again, it’s super creative and innovative space to be in. And I run my own social enterprise as well [00:12:00] because I think maybe it’s got to do with how I define success. Success is not just of self, but of community or the ecosystem. So I do a lot of work with my social enterprise called Tribe, funnily enough. And we do a lot of work with kids in Fiji, in Philippines and in India at the moment. So that’s what I keep myself busy with. It’s creative spaces. Its startups and its social enterprise work.

Sue: It seems that imagination might be an important part of creativity. What would you say to that?

Roshni: I couldn’t agree more. I think, you know, when you sit with your cousins or your friends at night in Fiji and stare at the stars, it does something to you when you sit there and stare at the ocean and you look at how far it can reach. I’m sure somewhere deep down without realizing it, it does something to your imagination equally, Australia’s very vast. And so when you sit there and kind of imagine what the rest of the world or what the rest of Australia even would be like, I think a large part of it is to do with imagination and visualisation of what you think reality might look like. And you are intrigued and then you set off to either explore it or create it. Right, so I, I couldn’t agree more.

Sue: So with your clients, with the startups, perhaps with the social enterprise, I’m wondering how you inspire and encourage other people to use their imagination and think about what’s possible?

Roshni: One of the things I realised is that because imagination and creativity is probably a lot more in my subconscious, I thought it was just a thing that you had. In my early stages of consulting. I think it’s what gave me the most reason to feel the imposter syndrome because I thought surely everybody else. Can see this is so logical and I think quickly I realized that everybody’s DNA is different. I see certain things that others may not, and equally others see things that I may not. And [00:14:00] so whenever I do a creative session, I run a lot of innovation workshops and I do a lot of creative sessions, even strategy sessions. I feel I should be creative before it gets into a validation stage, we often start with identifying what is our dna? So we have a lot of different activities or exercises to kind of go, who are we? What’s our dna? If you were to identify as, I don’t know, what color or animal, what would it be? And I think it really helps everybody understand where everyone else is coming from first before we go into any session, obviously then along the way, there’s a whole host of other tricks and activities that you adopt to ensure that the creative space is not shut down very quickly.

I think the second thing is that often when people don’t understand something or they don’t get it, they even move off topic or shut it down or defend their point of view. So I think starting from contextualising where people are coming from and saying who’s more creative and who’s going to be kind of the more rigour or stress tester of the group is step one. But I think step two is allowing for that creative energy to run unbridled versus having any kind of validation happening. In the early stages of the session. So we often need to build on stuff rather than challenge it or shut it down. We need to greenhouse things and we need to use, and instead of, but, because we’re building rather than defending.

I think the third thing I will say is that you’ve gotta give yourself permission to fail and be really ridiculous before something cathartic is going to happen. Because a lot of the great ideas often were seated as a silly idea, and then it was built by someone else and someone else and someone else until it got to a stage of hmm. Actually, this is not a bad idea. So I don’t think good ideas just happen. I think they’re built, and so our whole process is about that build [00:16:00] process rather than just sparking something. And that’s the end of it.

Sue: Freedom to me seems to be, again, another important factor here, and I’m just relating that with this picture that you’ve painted to us so eloquently about life in Fiji as a child and wide open space and possibility and imagination and being part of something bigger than just yourself and your family being part of a tribe. That openness to me comes across here in what you’re talking about, the practical activity of creativity.

Roshni: It really does, right? Because I think if you don’t give yourself freedom to explore and equally freedom to fail, then you’re not about to chance upon anything great. If you don’t get out of your comfort zone and make things uncomfortable, you are never gonna find something spectacular. Right? You’re never gonna find that gem that requires digging and mining. And a lot of hard work. I don’t think things just happen. You are really lucky if it does and good for you, but I think a lot of the things can be built, which is why I go back to, I do think you can bake your cake and eat it, because if you build it in a particular way, then you are curating something for an intention and then it happens.

So yeah, absolutely. I think freedom is a huge part of it. Interestingly, as much as I craved freedom, it was something I had to learn as well. I think growing. And being in a, I wouldn’t say traditional, but being in an Asian household, being influenced a lot by the Indian culture and my parents. You do have a path. And so you’re working towards, after high school, you’re gonna go to uni and after uni you’re gonna get a job. And after that you’re gonna do something that’s gonna earn you money and you’re gonna be successful. Right. And I think it’s, again, how do you define success that gives you the freedom to explore other things? It took a lot of redefinition. I had to really learn to let go some stuff, as contradictory as it sounds to my DNA and the place I grew up in, some of my environmental stuff really made me into a planner. [00:18:00] And I often wonder if I’m naturally very creative and open, and over time was nurtured into this that I had to let go.

So to remind myself I got a tattoo when I left my job, the last job that I actually held for someone else, and it says, if you desire something, just ask the universe. And if you manifest it, it will happen. And you may have a plan. It may not go according to plan. But if you ask the universe, maybe the universe has got another plan of how you’re gonna get that. So trust and letting go became a huge part of the journey since then. But I think with freedom, there is a bit of letting go. But then I had to learn. It wasn’t so easy.

Sue: Well, that was gonna be my next question to you. How have you role modeled this for yourself? Looking back at your life and your career now, what do you think have been some of the biggest opportunities that you’ve had to step out your comfort zone or learn to fail? And learn from it.

Roshni: So up until my very last corporate job, everything was very strategically planned and curated. It was a lot more about, this is the degree I have, these are the jobs that I’m going to have. I need to accomplish this in order to then get the next job or a promotion. And it was very planned. And because it was often achieved, it validated my planning. And my need for planning. And I think in my last job, I went through a restructuring process and my role was made redundant. That was not in the plan. So you can see how it threw my plan out of sorts. And I was like, okay, what am I gonna do next? And so as per plan and as per my comfort zone, I started going for other job interviews and looking for jobs because, thats what I was supposed to do, get another corporate job, but there was something inside me Sue that just kept saying, I can’t come back here. Every day. I would go through the rounds of interviews. I [00:20:00] remember sitting in a lobby of a massive building after having gone for my final interview. So I made it to the final rounds and I sat in the lobby and I just looked around and I was like, can I come here every day? Can I come here day in day? I can do this with all my heart. And the security guy had seen me come in on a couple of occasions and I had said to him, because I chat with everybody, I hear for an interview. And I was sitting there and he was looking like, why is she still sitting here? She waiting. Maybe she’s waiting for somebody. And I’ll share a very funny story. Maybe I’ll regret this, but I burst out into tears. In the lobby of this huge building with all these corporate people dressed to the nines, super successful  and I just bursted into tears.

So I was like, I can’t come back here every day. And the security guy got concerned, walked over and he’s like, you didn’t get the job. And I’m like, I did. I got the job, but I don’t want it. And what do I do now? And it’s like, okay, she needs to exit the building. She’s obviously lost it. She’s crying because she got a job. But I think that in itself made me really think about why was I not happy if I got what I wanted as per plan and I didn’t take the job, but I didn’t have a job, so I started doing pro bono work to keep myself busy and did some work for a couple of friends who were running their own consultancy and were kind enough to occupy my time so I wouldn’t go crazy, and I just thought, you know what? I can do this. I can jump out on my own and build something and thanks to these friends who gave me that lifeline or, or maybe thought they were helping me keep myself busy in that period of time, so I could think inadvertently ended up helping me realise that something that I thought was really scary. I couldn’t step out of my own. I couldn’t go and do bus dev. A lot of [00:22:00] the stuff that I told myself I couldn’t do because I had imaginations of it being very different when I stepped into that world without any expectations. That I had to succeed and experienced it. It wasn’t as scary. And so I think that was definitely a realisation that often times the comfort zone that we think we have is created in our minds because we’ve imagined the other parallel world to be so difficult or so scary. But is it really because once you’re in that zone, it becomes comfortable? Right. I’ve taken philosophy to say if I spend enough time exploring something, it will become comfortable and not scary anymore.

Sue: So really a powerful message you’ve shared with us here Roshni about how do we get out our own way. How do we be aware of either the expectations we’ve set upon ourselves or society or our family have set upon us? How do we become aware of those things and then have the conscious choice to take a different path?

Roshni: Absolutely. I mean, I think it’s something that I share in my coaching with some of the folks that I’m mentoring at the moment, but I often say this to my kids as well, is that oftentimes our subconscious mind is our biggest saboteurs. We don’t even know what we are saying No to. Because our subconscious mind has decided it for us, and it hasn’t even allowed us to consciously think that we’re saying no to something. So if you are not aware and in tune with senses tingling at the back of your neck, or your intuition or your gut feel, or anything that kind of intrigues you or piques you’re interest a little bit, you often miss a lot of wonderful things, and I’ve had to learn that and I had to learn it by being forced into a situation. If everything had gone according to plan forever, would I be here? I don’t think so. Right. So maybe it’s good that things don’t go to plan sometimes.

Sue: They’re the greatest learning opportunities. If you were offering some piece of advice to our listener in [00:24:00] terms of how they could be all they could be, how do they fulfil their potential, what do you think is the one aspect from your experience that you think’s most important for them to pay attention to?

Roshni: Hmm. That’s really interesting. Maybe I’ll share something I’ve been. I was lucky enough with companies that I’ve worked for, but particularly with Intercontinental Hotel Group that I worked with last, who had a lot of learning opportunities. They did a lot of coaching, training and things like that, and one of the biggest topics of learning often was authenticity. You know, how do you become an authentic leader? How do you stay authentic and to your purpose? There were lots of things that we explored in that area. And even though I was recognizing the need to be authentic, I feel that I often equated authenticity to rigidity. I thought you had to be the same every single time to be authentic or display the same behaviour. Maybe I reframed authenticity in two very visual or externally observable traits, and so I thought you had to be consistent. I think one of the things I would wanna leave with listeners is I don’t feel that authenticity means that you have to be the same every single time. I think if you are consistent with your purpose, the process to the purpose may change because along with authenticity, we also have to be agile in today’s world. So I would urge everybody to really explore. what authenticity means to them? Is it authenticity of a process or a purpose? I’ve decided that it’s authenticity of purpose and then I can go about it many different ways, and it’s still understandable, at least to me.

Sue: What would you define as your purpose?

Roshni: My purpose? This is a tricky one, Sue. I think now for me, my purpose. [00:26:00] is to make sure that I leave a legacy for the kids, and by that I mean my kids, but also the next generation. I think it’s really important and my purpose is to be that shoulder that somebody can stand on. To achieve bigger things, more things. So for me, if I can act as a shoulder for somebody else to stand on so that we can, as a community or a tribe achieve bigger things, then I would feel like I’ve done a bit of work towards my purpose. I’ve been writing a lot more recently. I think there’s something that I used to love to do, but just. A touch with, and one of the pieces that I’m writing at the moment is a bit reflective, but I wanna share one tiny paragraph from it and it goes something like this. Each time a wave crashes to the shore, it’s never the same, but it’s still a wave. It’s still made of the same thing, and it still serves a similar purpose. And I think authenticity looks something like this.

Sue: Wonderful. And if people want to find out more about you Roshni, how might they do that?

Roshni: They can look me up on LinkedIn. I think that’s probably the easiest way to get in touch. I’m not super active on it. I’m not there every day, but I definitely check it weekly.

Sue: Fantastic. Well, we’ll put a link to that in the show notes so people can follow up with you there. Again, thank you for your conversation today. It’s been great to talk to you.

Roshni: Thanks for having me, Sue. It was so much fun talking to you.

Sue: I hope you enjoyed hearing from Roshni today. And we’d love your help to tell others about this podcast. So take a moment to share this episode with one other person that you think would enjoy it. And to make sure you don’t miss any of our future episodes, follow us and subscribe to this podcast. And then you can go on over to our website and sign up for our newsletter, and that will keep you connected. Next week I will be talking Berit Lewis, who will explain how we can navigate life after 50 so [00:28:00] that we grow older instead of merely getting older. I hope you can join me then.


Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra (he/him)
Producer: Sue Stockdale (she/her)