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A Day in the Life: Spacetime's Alex Bartley Catt

Alex Bartley Catt is the founder of artificial intelligence company, Spacetime. He has also previously founded multiple businesses, The Lucid Collective, a New Zealand made fashion label, What’s Good Blog, an online publishing platform for running events, Tips, a digital marketing company that focuses on websites, social media marketing and campaigns – and later, Olly, a part-time cafe, part time art studio placed in Mount Eden, set up alongside Chlöe Swarbrick and Bryan Anderson. Here's how he gets through the day, how he organises his time and how he handles the madness of business.

What time do you wake up?

7-7:30am. Seemingly always just before the alarm sounds. 

What kind of work do you do?

I help kiwi organisations understand and apply artificial intelligence.

What’s the ideal way to start your day?

No emails to check and no need for coffee, but it never works out that way. The thing I look forward to most is sitting down to journal and prioritise the day. It puts things into perspective and makes me precise in my actions. 

What’s your media consumption or interaction like – which podcasts, radio, videos, books, magazines, and new sites do you read or listen to?

Good podcasts include 99% Invisible and Stuff You Should Know. RNZ is great listening but my import car stereo is restricted to Mai FM and Newstalk ZB. I try to read one fiction and one non-fiction at a time. Google News is a favourite as its topics and publications are personalised.

What do you think is unique about the way you approach your work?

While design thinking is becoming more popular and widely applied, this is where we add a lot of value to our work at Spacetime. It’s a constant question of how are we delivering value to the end user, the organisation we work with, while leveraging the best technology for the job? Working in any design practice, whether it be software, architecture, or anything else, there is a significant and important focus on the end-user. It can be humbling yet ultimately insightful getting to know the people you are solving a problem for. I think this is why a lot of of clients choose us and continue to work with us when exploring how they can leverage emerging technology.

What responsibility do you have in a typical day? What takes up most of your time?

At Spacetime there are two key activities we perform. First is helping organisations understand how they can benefit from AI. Second is designing and building AI applications. My day often consists of both. Getting involved in new conversations with different organisations. Then there’s the delivery of software solutions which involves managing the team and getting stuck into research and design. 

Where do your best ideas come from?

I’d say the best ideas are those that come out of solid research and insight. Considering the work we do is collaborative, these can come from anyone involved in a project who has good understanding of the problem. Sometimes it’s the Spacetime team, other times it’s our customer, or even their customers who uncover a new insight or bring in a new perspective. I see my role as less about coming up with ideas, more facilitating others to have those lightbulb moments. The benefit of working this way is that we are not trying to be experts at everything. We are specialised in facilitating the design process and understanding the role of technology. Our customers are experts in their organisations and industry, so we work hard in enabling them to come up with the best ideas.

What does resilience look like to you?

It looks like confidence, positivity, and openness. When you’re feeling resilient, life is good, work gets done, and conversations go smoothly. When resilience is low, the smallest issue can feel a bit paralysing. For me, maintaining resilience is knowing what you’re doing and why, building healthy habits, and having a good support network of friends and family.

What has been the most transformational business practice you’ve implemented at your work?

Recently we took on two graduates from AUT as paid interns. These guys have added tremendous value to the work we’re doing. No matter the generation, there is something to learn from everyone, young and old.

What social or environmental issues inform the work you do, as well as what you’re aiming to do with your company’s overall vision?

We’re constantly considering the way people interact with computers and the digital world. Recently we’ve seen an uptake in the amount of time people spend interacting with their phones, computers, and technology in general. This raises a question: is technology good or bad for society? In just about every case, the answer is both. We’re trying to create new experiences with technology recognising the double-edged sword it can be. This means designing solutions that above all else enable people to do things better and faster. We want to create objectively improved experiences.

What’s the most enjoyable part of your day?

Sometimes things just click. Gaining new insight into the problem. Developing new ideas on how we can solve it. These moments are hugely satisfying as creativity and careful consideration come together as a sort of indicator that we’re on the right track and working well together. 

What about the least enjoyable?

The reality is, some days you don’t succeed. And it’s rough. If I’m honest, failure is the least enjoyable part of life and career. But failure is inescapable. No one plays a perfect game in life or business. What I’m saying is, the least enjoyable moments are often a necessary ingredient in eventually moving forward. With a little bit of resilience and optimism, every failure has its silver lining and opportunity to learn. 

What’s your best productivity hack?

Digital lists, notes, calendar, and prioritisation. Every day I start by checking to-do lists and prioritising tasks. This allows me to plan my day, week, and month effectively and set time to the most important tasks. A breakthrough for me was scheduling everything I do in the calendar. From meetings, deliverables, dinners, personal and work tasks. While that may sound like exhausting admin, it’s nice to have my time planned clearly with an overview of what I did in the past and what I’ve got ahead of me. Let’s not forget doing a couple hours work in the evening never hurts.

What’s your interaction with friends and family throughout the day? Can you be both a successful businessperson and a good mother/partner/friend?

Yes, you can, and I really aim to do so. I believe this is one of the keys to living a fulfilling life. A lot of people say it’s work/life balance. I consider it work/life integration. I spent a lot of time looking at my life and the people around me trying to find harmony with my work and personal goals. It’s a constant effort but it gives you stability and direction when you have shared interest, purpose, and goals with the people in your life. 

What do you do once you get home? Can you switch off?

If I can, I leave the office at 5pm on the dot. Go straight home, get comfortable and take 30 minutes to wind-down, sometimes exercise. It’s this time alone, actively not working, that gives me some balance. A chance to switch off, gain perspective and focus on myself and the people around me.

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