Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Bri Hammond
James Tutton has the kind of humble confidence that is often listed as a staple trait when describing a natural-born entrepreneur. And he is just that. At the age of 22, he combined outdoor film, food and wine to pioneer Moonlight Cinema, later selling it for a cool $8.3 million.
But behind his early success and his outward charm, there is a curious glint in his eye that could only be a remnant of his Philosophy major. With two beautiful young children, his thirst for knowledge and meaning has only strengthened. ‘That is why you are here,’ he tells his bright daughter Harper, turning the parental paradigm on its head. ‘You are here for me to learn from you.’
Today, James heads up boutique property developers Neometro, and is co-founder with entrepreneur Jane Martino of the not-for-profit website and meditation app Smiling Mind. James is also a founding board member of both the micro-donation platform Shout for Good and the Australian arm of B-Corporation. When asked how he fits it all in, he admits that while the work is effectively mixed together, there is the occasional scheduling clash as demand for each comes in waves. ‘Every day is a new thing for Smiling Mind, but Neometro is a growing business and it is repetitious in its nature.’
But philosophy, cinema, real estate and meditation seem like worlds apart. For James, having diversity in your career and jumping in with naivety can strengthen your business, life, and learning.
It’s about tuning in to what you want in life. ‘At a very young age, I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to live a life where I didn’t have the flexibility to sit in a park at three in the afternoon and ask questions.’
From what it means to be a sincerely present parent, to his thoughts on education, mindfulness, and setting personal goals that can't be measured, James teaches us what it means to foster an inquisitive mind and spend time the way you want.
PART I: DAILY ROUTINE
I don’t use an alarm, I just find that at five or six I sit up and think yep, it's morning time. I get up, go to the kitchen, make coffee, get out my daughter's breakfast things and bring my wife Imogen some tea, open the blinds, she either grumbles or smiles depending on the day.
After coffee, I try to meditate for twenty minutes, either using no guided meditation or sometimes Smiling Mind. I’m quite a visual mediator, so I quite like the younger age group ones because they are more visual.
I go for a run, which is a weekday thing. Not a huge run, just two laps of the vineyards, which is about four kilometres. My preference is to swim but in a practical sense that doesn't fit in, so I just go for a run generally with the dogs.
I come back inside and generally by that time the kids are up so I have a chat. I'll have three plunger coffees in the morning but they are not that strong. I just find they can very easily creep up on you and suddenly you are having five espresso coffees a day. It messes with my sleep and I sweat too much – it's all just not very positive! [Laughs]
For breakfast I have oats with freshly squeezed orange juice, a banana and yogurt. I don’t vary from that at all.
In the morning I spend five minutes just quickly checking emails on my phone between my run, meditation, breakfast. I’m very much a phone email person.
I try to spend some general time with the kids and Imogen before getting ready. I take forever to do that – I’m like an old woman! I work out what I’m wearing for the day and lay that out on the bed before I have a shower. My dress sense varies from a pair of boardshorts and a t-shirt, which I might wear to go to government departments, banks and law firms and investment bankers, to sometimes wearing a suit just because.
After the kids jump on the bus I like to jot down what I have to get done. Historically I used to have a to-do list on my phone, but I have shifted to paper for a whole bunch of reasons.
I'm trying to be less reliant on technology and carry a bit more in my brain. I started using Palm Pilots in the 90s, and I’ve got to say my ability to retain information has diminished. Yes, like everyone I’m ageing, but at the same time that dependency can be quite negative. Committing something to memory and having faith you will remember it is quite a good thing.
I generally leave the house at 8 or 8:30. Sometimes I leave later, so I’ll do some work at home before I leave. The first hour of my day is phone calls, so I generally have scheduled conference calls or just one on one calls while I’m driving to work.
Once I arrive in Melbourne I tend to have meetings with an all manner of people – I'm someone who is always willing to speculate over coffee, so to speak.
Every success I’ve had in terms of career, business and social enterprise, and socially too, has been from having a very open door and trying to have an open heart as well.
It does mean you potentially have a lot of your day that is invested in things that looked at from one angle, you could think were a waste of time. But if you look at them from the other angle you can see, okay, so I’ve been doing this for 20-years and it is where the bulk of the good things that are happening in my world have come from. It’s kind of like panning for gold.
For the last little while, I taken a lunchbox and had lunch in the Botanical gardens or on a park bench somewhere. It’s usually chickpeas, cottage cheese and chilli, or plain rice cooked in chicken broth again with cottage cheese and chilli. I don’t eat red meat and I don’t like highly processed food so I’ve been cooking mostly grains and salads.
The afternoon tends to be a hybrid between meetings, phone calls and reading. Ideally, I’ll try and find some time to do those things that require you to sit down and write them. I do a good amount of things that are written but a lot of it is actually reading a financial report, a draft submission Smiling Mind is going to send to a foundation, or a legal agreement.
Neometro might have an unsold apartment so I’ll sit down there and do stuff which is really nice because there is no interruption and it's very peaceful.
When I leave Melbourne can be quite random. Quite often I’ll have a board meeting for something which will mean I don’t leave till 8.30p.m. On Thursday nights I generally stay in town.
It will be unusual for me to go to an event on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night and part of that is I’m a very hands on father. I’ve had periods of my life when I haven’t been and I’m not really interested in going back to that.
On the drive home I tend to do phone calls, but might also listen to Radio National. For a while there I was listening to a podcast called Buddhists geeks.
I generally have about an hour and a half with the kids – my son is usually playing guitar or downloading music and then Imogen and I generally read.
PART II: WEEKEND ROUTINE
A typical Saturday or Sunday would be wake up, make Imogen a tea, make some coffee, go back into bed and then normally read.
The kids don’t do team sport, it’s just not their bag, so sometimes I’ll take our son to a skate ramp and then we just kind of hang out as a family. Imogen is a competitive horse rider, so quite often she will get away for the weekend or drive somewhere and compete all day and come home at night, so it is quite often just me and the kids.
There is no real structure to it. I tend to exercise but it is not in a framework. I might go to the local swimming pool, take the kids shopping, run errands. There’s a good amount of reading too and friends usually coming over.
I go to Byron Bay a lot – every month or five weeks. Sometimes as a family, sometimes solo, but quite often with just one kid which is a fantastic thing for our individual relationship together to have a weekend one-on-one.
PART III: BEHIND THE SCENES
On the connection between diversity, naivety and creativity …
For me, diversity in career is crucial to creativity in your career.
Same can be said not having experience of something. I think through coming into a space not accepting the rules and norms of that space, and frankly coming with a lot of naivety, enables you to see things that people who are very entrenched in an industry may not see.
Not every naive idea is going to be a good idea, but a certain portion of them will be.
On saying no when something doesn’t feel right …
In terms of career, life and business, I only want to work with people I am engaged with and get a positive energy from. If the energy is not right, then I just don’t want to play ball.
If your are not emotionally engaged then you can find yourself doing things that might make sense on paper, but inherently you don’t want to do.
On not forcing the creation of habits …
I asked what I want to do in 2015 and very much came to the view that I wanted to focus on personal inquiry and development. There are some things that are quite tangible in terms of physical health and wellbeing – diet, sleep, exercise. But I think if you are truly engaged with these things, you don't need to form them as habits, you just do them.
If you try to form them as habits, it’s not quite in you. It sounds mildly hippy and Buddhist, but forcing habits comes down to an attachment to being something that you are not.
On balancing a career with fatherhood …
It's a challenging thing to be highly engaged with one’s career and then also be highly engaged and mindful with family.
That is an issue of not only time, but presence.
I need to be really cautious that I don’t drop in to a world where I’m go-go-go from a career perspective.
I think is very hard – and it applies to men and women – to have that kind of mindful family existence if you are go-go-go. People will dress it up as “I’m providing for my family”, but more often than not I think people tend to be providing for their own ego.
We have stepped away from the community and habit of family, that has caused pain to the individual and towards society
On mental health and the education system…
I find it alarming how many people – particularly men – I’ll have a conversation with about Smiling Mind and they will group it as this “other”. There seems to be no language to help them break down the different issues that sit within wellbeing and spiritual health – at an early age education has smashed it out of them.
Schools become this place for compliance, which leads to children not working out their own solutions. Intelligence is swapped over for memory. It makes for great work-a-bees, but it doesn't make for a particularly nourished society.
I think it makes for a society which is overly materialistic and probably overly scientific.
People really focus on those things they can measure, but some of the most important things in life can't be measured.
On weaknesses …
I’m crap at being told what to do. Even if what someone has told me is probably on reflection the sensible thing to do, if I’m told to do it I will generally not do it. That is not a positive thing – I’m being too informed by how something is delivered as opposed to actually thinking about the integrity of what is being proposed.
I think a challenge I have is that I come in waves of energy, which can be hard for people to work with.
I will be dogged, passionate, obsessive and pushing-pushing-pushing and then I’ll disappear and focus on something else. It has the ability to drive people around the twist a bit.
On building a connected, small tribe …
Not being a religious person tends to mean one does not have a community of people on a similar path. But this year, I’ve gone out and built my own little group who I’m touching base with once a month, sitting down and having a meal with these half a dozen people.
They are a really diverse tribe and not necessarily people I’ve known for a very long time.
I'm someone who can meet someone and form a lasting bond quite quickly – I know when I'm engaged with someone.
On a new found love of cooking …
A dear friend described my recent passion for cooking as being like someone who joined Facebook in 2013. The entire urban progressive world is already obsessed with food and cooking and then I’ve turned up and gone, "Hey this is really good, no one told me this!" [Laughs] I’m more than happy for people to take the piss out of me, I’m enjoying it immensely.
I also think mindfulness definitely applies to diet and in terms of an awareness of what I am taking in.
When you are cooking, you inevitably become more aware of what other people are putting into the food you eat as well.
On the connection between art and business …
People see art and creativity as sitting over here, and business sitting over there, when in fact you will find most success entrepreneurs are highly creative people.
"I’m not really interested in doing business with people I'm not engaged with. I'm not interested in money for money’s sake, so there a whole lot of things I don't do. Time is precious, and so if I don't want to do it, I don't." – James Tutton
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