Gavin Heaton

Masters of Arts (Theatre Studies)
Alumni

Postgraduate Degree: Masters of Arts (Theatre Studies)

Current Position: Founder, Marketing-led Innovation and Digital Strategy at Disruptor’s Handbook

1. What attracted you to studying Arts & Social Sciences at UNSW?

The school of theatre had a great reputation – fantastic lecturers, practical connection to NIDA and a close working relationship with many theatre companies working doing amazing work.

2. Did you always have a clear idea of what you wanted to do after completing your degree?

No – it took a long time to find the kind of work that connected all my interests and passions. But it was also a time of great change – the industries and opportunities that I had been studying for began to evaporate, and new careers began to emerge.

3. How did your time at UNSW help shape who you are today?

The critical thinking and research disciplines that I developed while studying have been fundamental. And being able to combine this with a creative mindset has opened doors throughout my career. Whether it was working with IBM where I started their Knowledge Factory (elearning) division in Asia Pacific or working in a digital creative agency developing marketing solutions for global clients, walking the fine line between business and creativity has been good for me – but is also what I look for in new hires too. We seem to have too few of these kinds of candidates to choose from.

4. How did studying Arts & Social Sciences at UNSW help you develop transferable skills?

I didn’t realise this at the time, but the open tutorial and seminar structure was a great training ground. Studying Theatre meant there was a melting pot of people with competing views, opinions and ideologies. This meant that we had to all learn how to deeply dive into problems, analyse the information in front of us and then develop strong and persuasive arguments – often on-the-fly. But there’s something fundamental about language, theatre and communication that I learned that is only now being understood as skills for the 21st Century.

While, these days I rarely look at semiotic analysis or post-structuralism in depth, but understanding the foundations of language continues to be useful in a world where “you are what you tweet”. For example, we know that powerful ideas are constructed through language. And we know that persuasive and emotional language drives transmission of that message through networks. Ten to fifteen years ago digital and social media where still seen as a fad. These days they have been transformed into the bedrock of our digital ways of living and being. I have ridden these waves of change personally and professionally – and the writing, creative and critical thinking, analysis, communication and strategy skills I developed at uni was the secret sauce in my success.

5. How did studying Arts & Social Sciences at UNSW help form your view on the world and the contemporary issues we face today?

I was lucky to have lecturers and supervisors who had deep conviction and global visions. Jim Davidson and Margaret Williams challenged us to look beyond our shores but to also understand way that ideas, themes and movements shape our views and actions. There was this great tension between understanding the past and shaping the future – and we were encouraged to learn to work in that space.

I feel that this is the work that I do. Whether it is innovating around social impact – tackling social disadvantage, mental health, disability or family and domestic violence – or disruptive trends, technology and business model innovation, I am constantly working in and around that tension. Between the past and the future. It is hard but necessary work to help bridge the two.

6. How did UNSW Arts & Social Sciences help prepare you for the workforce throughout your degree?

See above.

7. How did you get your foot in the door as a graduate, following the completion of your degree?

We all like to think that our expertise and ability will be obvious to others. But this blinds us to the realization that opportunity needs to be grasped. Earlier in my career I didn’t always recognize when a job or project opportunity was being presented to me. I attended a presentation at IBM to hear about a new business unit and it sounded exciting and interesting, but I was quite happy in my job. It wasn’t until a colleague literally suggested I “throw my hat in the ring” that I did so. Not only did I get the job, my manager explained that she was wondering why I hadn’t come to her straight away – they had always had me in mind.

They had just never told me. They were waiting for me to show up. The best way to get your foot in the door is to show up.

8. What advice would you give to someone considering studying Arts at UNSW?

Take advantage of the brains trust that is on offer. Speak with and get to know your lecturers and tutors. Network with your peers and use the time you have to experiment. Never again will you have so much to gain with so little risk.

9. What is your most memorable experience from your time at UNSW?

We had a seminar with the musical director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He told wonderful stories of ad hoc royal command performances, being ushered into the private theatres of the Queen, working with the greatest actors of their time, and how – at the end of the day – people are people, no matter how famous or powerful they may be.

10. Why do you Love What You Do?

I get to work on projects where all the skills of theatre can be recombined to create impact. There’s writing and planning, performance and coaching, team building and empowerment – and at the end of the day – there’s the live and unpredictable audiences that we need to co-create with. It’s not the temporal moment of transformation of theatre – though there is some of that – the work I do creates lasting change. And that’s something worth working towards.