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The SMART Interview #20 Arianna Huffington

  • TN-Arianna-Huffington
  • 19 Jan 2015

Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington helped rewrite the media landscape – but her crazy work schedule made her seriously ill. How did she bounce back?

At Heathrow Express we like to celebrate doing things that bit smarter. Each month we seek out someone who really exemplifies this approach to work and life and we ask them some questions. This month: Arianna Huffington.

As someone who created a multimillion pound business from scratch, do you think people are born entrepreneurial or is it something they can learn?

The Huffington Post was definitely a collaboration with my co-founder, Kenny Lerer, and with the many, many people who have been on our team as we’ve grown. And yes, I do think some people are born with a passion for building and creating things, but it’s also true that a great deal of entrepreneurship is learned. You must learn to experiment, to take risks, and to be a part of something larger than yourself. And, most of all, you have to learn to fail.

Thinking smarter, being creative; it’s something many people struggle with – is there a secret? Any tips you can share?

The only secret – which I hope is becoming less and less of a secret – is that we need to redefine success. I firmly believe we’re all creative. The question is how we can tap into our own creativity, wisdom and intuition. Our current notion of success, in which we drive ourselves into the ground, if not the grave – in which working to the point of exhaustion and burnout is considered a badge of honour – is not working for anyone. To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a ‘third metric’ of success that goes beyond money and power to include well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. That’s the secret to creativity – creating a life in which you’re able to hear it, access it, and use it.

Has the Internet killed traditional print media or will titles like the New York Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian survive?

I believe that the obituaries for newspapers and printed media are premature. Many newspapers are successfully adapting to the new news environment. And it’s my feeling that until those of us who came of age before the Internet all die off, there will be a market for print versions of newspapers. There was a big debate over the last few years about whether the newspapers will survive, and whether the future is going to be only online. And I think we are realising now, increasingly, that purely online news operations like The Huffington Post are more and more adopting the most traditional, basic tenets of journalism: fairness, accuracy, storytelling, deep investigations. And mainstream traditional operations like the New York Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian are adopting more and more of the digital tools that can bring in the community to make it part of the creation of journalism, through reports from the ground, through video, through Twitter feeds, through all the new media available to us.

Arianna Huffington in the newsroom
Image: Arianna Huffington in the newsroom

It feels like the business model for web-publishing is still evolving. Are sponsored features (aka native advertising) the future or a threat to editorial impartiality?

Yes, the model is absolutely still evolving, and will continue to evolve. But I also don’t believe there’s only one model. And sponsored features and native advertising are just one part of this evolution – certainly not a threat. I’m very interested in the ways news organisations and websites are seeking new, creative and sustainable ways to do their work. I see the willingness to try out new business models as yet another indicator that we’re living in a golden age of journalism for news consumers. There's no shortage of great journalism being done, and there's no shortage of people hungering for it. And there are many different business models being tried to connect the former with the latter. Our business model is free and advertising-supported, but with multiple advertising models, including native advertising and sponsorships, as with Johnson & Johnson and Global Motherhood, and Goldman Sachs and What Is Working.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your business life - and what did you learn from it? 

My biggest mistake was beginning my career by subscribing to a very flawed and dangerous definition of success. When I was first starting out, I wish I had known that there would be no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and my ability to do good work. I wish I could go back and tell myself, “Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard, but also unplugging, recharging and renewing yourself.” That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion.  

Your new book, Thrive, is about getting the work/life balance right. What made you write it?

Thrive came about because I was living according to that flawed definition of success. On the morning of April 6, 2007, I was lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood. On my way down, my head had hit the corner of my desk, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone. I had collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep. In the wake of my collapse, I found myself going from doctor to doctor, from brain MRI to CAT scan to echocardiogram, to find out if there was any underlying medical problem beyond exhaustion. There wasn’t, but doctors’ waiting rooms, it turns out, were good places for me to ask myself a lot of questions about the kind of life I was living. So I made a lot of changes in my life, and in the next few years, I noticed that more and more people were coming to this same crossroads. And so the book was an attempt to crystallise this moment and to help push this change forward.

Any tips for maintaining a healthy work/life balance that you can share with us? 

Introduce five minutes of meditation into your day. Eventually, you can build up to fifteen or twenty minutes a day (or more), but even just a few minutes will open the door to creating a new habit – and all the many proven benefits it brings.

What do you like to do when you're not working?

Visit my daughters, read, meditate, and sleep! I also love to walk. I live in Manhattan and I walk all the time, both to get from place to place and to catch up with friends instead of having breakfast or lunch meetings.

Arianna Huffington
Image: Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post

Do you travel much? Is there a particular part of the world you love to visit?

I love to travel, and I’ve been so grateful to go all around the world launching the Huffington Post, speaking about Thrive and seeing that more and more people, of all ages and from all walks of life, are coming to realise that there’s more to life than climbing the ladder, that we are more than our resumes, and that we don’t have to buy into the collective delusion that burnout is the necessary price we must pay for success.

I particularly love India, where I first went when I was 17 to study comparative religion at Visva-Bharati University, near Calcutta. It was a very happy time and India has been my favourite country ever since. And I’m thrilled that very soon I’m going back for the launch of Huffington Post India.

What do you always take with you when you travel and why?

For the plane: comfy sweatpants, my Bose headphones, an iPod with my favourite guided meditations and a good eye mask. 

Thrive by Arianna Huffington is published in paperback by WH Allen, priced £8.99 

Read more #SMART stuff

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