• “A Berlin State of Mind”: my picks of the city

    Last week I spent two and a bit days in Berlin, my first trip to the city. Although my visit was primarily for pleasure, I soon realised this is a great city for working, and I’ve already added it to my list of favourite places to go to get fired up, the kind of place I might go to write my next book.

    In my short time in the city I found some great cafes and restaurants, most of which I stumbled upon (which is always the best way to discover a new city). So whether you’re going to the city for work or for pleasure, here are my Berlin picks:


    1. The Barn [Auguststraße 58, 10119 Berlin]: a tiny shop serving great coffee. That’s all you need to know.
    2. Ben Rahim [Hackesche Höfe, Sophien Strasse 7, Berlin]: I stumbled upon Ben’s shop at 5pm. Seeing a sign on the door that said they shut at five, I guessed I was too late for a coffee. But I was wrong. Ben couldn’t have been more welcoming, he’s only been open one month and with an attitude like that, he’ll go far. Check out his story here.


    Hackescher Hof [Rosenthaler Str. 40/41, 10178 Berlin]: a simple, diner-style, all-day restaurant. Bacon and eggs, orange juice, a pot of tea with great service. A good place for a working breakfast or just to sit and read the papers.


    1. Barcomi’s [Sophie-Gips-Höfe, Sophienstraße 21, Berlin]: as well as hosting a deli and coffee counter, this hidden-away cafe serves bagels and salads. There’s some seating in the courtyard outside.
    2. Antipodes [Fehrbelliner Straße 5, 10119 Berlin]: a pavement A-board advertising Antipodes caught our eye so we followed a side street and discovered an awesome cafe run by a New Zealand couple. Great music, a stack of magazines, decent salads and a great long black. We felt at home instantly, I would go at least once a week if I could.


    1. Simon [Auguststraße 53, 10119 Berlin-Mitte]: It was a Monday evening when we stumbled upon this quiet neighbourhood restaurant. Initially we struggled with the German menu but then I recognised an Argentinian entrecote that went very nicely with a couple of glasses of red. Result.
    2. Strandbad Mitte [Kleine Hamburger Str. 16, 10117 Berlin]: I love this place. It’s everything a restaurant should be. Located down a short dead-end street I stumbled upon it one afternoon when it seemed to entice me over. I chatted with a waiter about gluten-free options on the menu; when I returned a few hours later the chef had prepared a three course gluten-free menu, just for me, just like that. Excellent food, great wines, decent prices, friendly service and a great vibe. I wish it was closer to home. I’ll be back.

    Magazines & books

    1. Do you read me? [Augustraße 28, 10117 Berlin]: this is a great magazine shop, I went twice in two days.
    2. Gestalten Space [Sophienstraße 21, 10178 Berlin]: a bookshop/ gift shop from the publishing company of the same name. If I didn’t have an Easyjet one-bag rule, I may have carried home a stack of their lovely books. Luckily you can buy them online.
    A beer in a deckchair

    Cafes beside Spree River in MonbijouPark [Mitte Berlin]: Having walked around town for a few hours, I wanted to sit in the sun. In this park there’s a bunch of cafes with deck chairs outside on the grass. Grab a chair, order a drink and watch the world go by.


  • Curiosity & Opportunity: Dan Rubin

    Episode three of our series Curiosity & Opportunity - co-created with Michal Dzierza - features photographer, designer & creative director Dan Rubin. Dan explains how curiosity and passion is at the heart of everything he touches, why he says yes to most opportunities and how curiosity led him to embrace Twitter and Instagram.

    When was my Big Break? There isn’t a big break, just a lot of little tiny ones,” he says.

    (this episode was filmed with an iPhone 6).


  • Let’s hear it for the barista entrepreneurs

    For me, the act of entrepreneurship is about making a business idea happen, having the guts to take a risk and try something.

    But when we hear about 'entrepreneurship' it tends to be stories about household-names or perhaps the tech scene. I think there’s a better example of entrepreneurship at a much smaller scale: look at the wave of independent coffee shops springing up in towns and cities around the world. Let’s champion the barista entrepreneur!

    The barista-entrepreneur is no different from any other person choosing to make their business idea a reality. They need to do their research, learn their craft, secure funding, find premises, create and test their product and then launch it. In small coffee shops the man or woman serving your flat white is often the proprietor, having to juggle everything from serving the coffee to mastering social media. Typically operating in competitive markets, they will stand or fall on the quality of their product. Some will close down, others will scale to other sites.

    This week I met Ben Rahim at his coffee shop in Berlin. Tunisian born Ben told me it was his dream to open his own business. Having spent four years exploring coffee working as a barista in Brisbane and Berlin, one month ago, he opened his own shop Ben Rahim. He’s made his dream a reality, he’s taking a risk. Good luck to him!

    You can find his coffee shop in a courtyard of Hackesche Höfe in the eastern city centre of Berlin.

    I recommend the espresso...

  • "What do you stand for?" Twelve entrepreneurs/ executives tell me what they stand for.

    As a gig-going teenager in the late 1980s, I didn’t just go to gigs because I liked the music, I was there because I liked what the bands stood for. Back then it felt like Billy Bragg wanted to change the world, and I did too.

    And that’s no different from consumer relationships with brands. The customers camping outside an Apple store the night before a product launch are interested in more than just the iPhone 6: they are fans with a passion for everything the brand stands for. Consumers often make buying choices based on a brand’s values and culture, whether riding a Harley-Davidson or flying Virgin Atlantic. Now businesses of all sizes are realising they can compete on what they stand for as well as their products.

    I’ve been evangelising this to my own clients: that they compete on their point of view rather than on their products and services. Today many businesses operate in abundant marketplaces where they face competition from similarly-positioned businesses offering similar-sounding products and services. How do you stand out from the crowd? By standing for something.

    And if your business doesn’t stand for anything, if you don’t have a point of view, then I think you are missing a trick.

    But you don’t need to be a big brand to stand for something, it’s an opportunity for executives, solo workers, freelancers, even job hunters. Want to make your startup idea famous? Want a journalist to write about your business? Want people to read your blog post or follow you on Twitter? Want to make an impression at a job interview? Then stand for something.

    I’m interested in what makes people tick so I asked a dozen contacts - from the chairman of a global ad agency to the founder of a one-person business - “What do you - or does your business - stand for?” (click on the presentation below to see their responses).


  • Bored of your job? Rather than quit, try redesigning your job.

    One of the benefits of working for yourself is that you are in control of your own destiny: you can create your own job (and change it when you feel like it).  But designing your own job is not only an option for the self-employed; if you work for an organisation with the right culture you too can rip up the job spec to create a role that reflects your talents and desires.


    Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, wrote recently about how he had worked at IDEO all this life, never needing to quit his job because he could redesign it:


    “Over the last two-and-a-half decades, I’ve gone through multiple job titles and even more roles. Even since taking on the mantle of CEO some 15 years ago now, I’ve done my best to redesign the job every few years so that I continue to grow my impact and learn.”


    Tim’s story echoes my own experience. Before I started working for myself, I was lucky to spend seven years at a media group that was small and flexible enough to allow me to design my own job. I treated the official job spec as just a starting point, a canvas on which to paint new layers. Having been hired as a studio co-ordinator, I soon crossed borders to other departments, becoming a producer in live events, then a radio production manager, before slaloming through other mashed-up roles that saw me simultaneously head up one division as MD, project manage joint ventures, edit the company external newsletter and organise the annual awayday. At my own instigation, I changed my job title every twelve months.


    So redesigning your job may sound like an attractive idea, but how the heck do you actually do it? Here are some tips:


    1. The onus is on you. Your boss won’t come and ask if you want to change your role. It’s up to you to take the bull by the horns and lobby for change.
    2. Before seeking to redesign your job, make sure you have done enough of what you were hired for in the first place.  Prove yourself in the role you were hired for before arguing to shake things up.
    3. Follow your curiosity and cross borders. Be curious, go and ask questions, get to know what other people do. Get to know what goes on in other departments, build relationships with people at other sites and in other teams. This will help you give a sense of where you might be able to add value outside of your current role.
    4. Embark on an internal PR campaign. You’ll need to make sure people around you know that you have ambitions beyond your current job spec. When I started out at the media group, I got good at managing a broadcast facilities company, so I was seen as the 'Facilities guy'. I had to work hard to remind people around me, including my boss, that I had other skills. I had to move away from the label that people had attached to me. Make sure people in the organisation have a sense of what you stand for, of your purpose, the values and skills you’ll bring to your work, whatever you touch.
    5. Be vocal and visible outside your core area. At company-wide meetings ensure you’re making contributions and getting heard on other areas outside your current role. Demonstrate your other talents by blogging, by tweeting, by showing evidence of side projects or hobby businesses.
    6. Put your hand up. The boss is looking for volunteers to come in at the weekend to staff a welcome desk at an event? The company is looking for someone to guest edit the newsletter? Put your hand up and volunteer.
    7. Be enterprising. If you’ve got ideas for how your division could grow, take the initiative and make recommendations to your boss. If you suggest there’s a new product that can be launched, put yourself in the frame to lead it or work on it. Create your own opportunities.


    This should help you redesign your job inside an organisation. Of course it relies upon the culture of the organisation being progressive enough to allow employees to change direction and carve out new roles. But give it a go, you have nothing to lose. And if your boss says no, then maybe you are working in the wrong place.

    If you want to find out more I’m holding a ‘Pop-up Revolution Workshop’ in central London on Friday May 1st where, together with Mark Shayler, I’ll be inspiring you to get fired up about your work life. Email me for details.

    You can also read my book ‘Mash-up!: How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier.’

  • Finding Onlyness... in Paris

    It’s the first week in March, the sun is out and Parisiens are taking up position outside Les Deux Magots café. A cluster of small dogs huddle around the feet of an elegant lady in sunglasses as church bells from Saint-Germain des Prés mingle with the rumble of car tyres over cobbles.

    Les Deux Magots has a tradition of great ideas and creativity, being a magnet for such creative luminaries as Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. So whilst this early Spring sunshine is a tame imitator of the Californian heat, these charismatic streets a world away from Silicon Valley, it is fitting that it is here in the 6th arrondissement, that US management thinker and innovator Nilofer Merchant has made her home (well, for a year or so).

    Nilofer has personally launched more than 100 products and worked for major companies like Apple. More recently she's become well known for her 2013 TED talk ‘Got a meeting? Take a Walk which has been viewed over 1.7 million times. So it’s no surprise that when she arrives to meet me at the café, she doesn’t sit down - we’re off on a walk towards the Seine. And although we’ve only just met, a walk n'talk seems a natural way to get to know someone.

    In her TED talk Nilofer argues that fresh air drives fresh thinking, and prompts a different way of looking at the world. Instead of going to coffee meetings or fluorescent-lit conference room meetings, I ask people to go on a walking meeting, to the tune of 20 to 30 miles a week. It's changed my life,” she says.

    As we walk, we share our career stories and I hear about her experiences moving from the US to France. When we reach the Eiffel Tower we take a side street away from the Seine heading past The American Library where Nilofer says she often goes to read The New York Times.

    Our brains are full of ideas and our feet tired, so we rest on a bench outside Malabar. Over a glass of wine Nilofer tells me more about her other great belief, that of ‘Onlyness’ - the unique qualities that each of us can bring to a situation (watch the short video below).

    “Each of us is standing in a spot that no one else occupies. That unique point of view is born of our accumulated experience, perspective, and vision. Some of those experiences are not as ‘perfect’ as we might want, but even those experiences are a source for what you create.”

    A couple of hours later I’m back on the Eurostar to London, reflecting that days like these - traveling to another city to meet an interesting person - are part of my ‘Onlyness’, bringing my curiosity to explore and capture new ideas.


  • Should CEOs tweet? 5 tips for rookie executive tweeters.

    Last week The Financial Times asked the question, “Should CEOs tweet?” They reported that of the world's 224 biggest listed companies, only 32 have a CEO on Twitter and only 20 of those accounts are active.

    In my mind, the question “Should CEOs Tweet?” is a bit like asking whether a CEO should use email or be on the telephone. Can you afford to ignore it?

    Here’s the thing: in a world of similar looking businesses providing similar products and services, it’s your opinion and your ideas that will make you stand out from the crowd. Twitter gives you the CEO - and your business - a microphone, to tell your side of the story, to share your opinion and expertise with the outside world, to communicate with the audiences that matter to you.

    So if you choose not to be on Twitter, I think you’re missing out.

    But just because it’s easy to send a tweet, don’t be fooled that it’s easy to use Twitter as a business tool. Just because you can share a message with the world in a few seconds from the back of a cab, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think before you tweet (after all, you don’t want to end up like Rupert Murdoch).

    Here are my five suggestions to improve your game on Twitter:

    1. Remember that Twitter is a two-way street. It’s not a one-way channel to broadcast press releases - you need to engage with your audience. Invite debate, ask for feedback, perhaps even schedule a regular Q&A.

    2. Live within the constraints of the platform. Learn to master brevity, get your message across in a single tweet rather a message that runs to multiple tweets. Similarly, if you only use Twitter to link to other communications - blog posts and news releases - and don’t use your 140 characters to actually say anything, you’re missing the point.

    3. Know your audiences. Your audience might include customers, employees, press and investors. When you hit send, remember everyone will see it. So your tweets need to be relevant and gettable to everyone who follows you.

    4. Let your personality in. Bland tweets full of corporate-speak aren’t going to build an audience. Be human: sprinkle the ‘real you’ throughout your tweets so your audience gets a sense of who you really are.

    5. Don’t be a fence sitter: express an opinion. Twitter can be a great platform for thought leadership, so share your opinion. Tell us what you think and what’s getting you fired up, good and bad.

    Ian Sanders helps organisations better nail & communicate what they do, including how they use Twitter. You can follow Ian on Twitter @iansanders

  • Curiosity & Opportunity: Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh

    I love using video to tell stories.

    Last year I started a side project with Michal Dzierza which we’ve called ‘Curiosity & Opportunity’. In this video series we talk to founders, entrepreneurs and creatives about the balance between curiosity and opportunity in their work lives.

    Here is the second in the series. I talk to Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, the inventor of Sugru (Irish for 'play'), a self-curing substance similar to silicone, which has thousands of uses (and users). Here she tells us the story behind Sugru and how curiosity plays a key role in her business life.


  • Davos 2015

    Last week I was in Davos, Switzerland at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum. I was working with the WEF Digital Media Team, creating content for their blog, Agenda.

    Agenda is read by nearly one million people around the world each month and has been established as a platform where contributors can share their opinion and ideas on a range of global issues from entrepreneurship to the fight against global poverty. Contributors include heads of states, CEOs, the heads of International Organisations alongside young leaders, entrepreneurs and scientists.

    You can read more about my experiences in Davos in this post 'Behind the scenes at the Alpine Content Factory.' Part of my role there was to rapidly turn some key sessions into posts - here are links to some of those pieces:


    1. 15 things you need to know about Davos 2015
    2. 18 quotes on the global economy from Davos 2015
    3. 19 quotes on gender parity from Davos 2015
    4. 24 quotes on climate change from Davos 2015
    5. 17 quotes on the future of technology from Davos 2015
    6. 10 quotes on the European economy
  • What I shipped in 2014 #YearInReview

    Inspired by Todd Sattersten’s #YearInReview, a few years ago I started the annual ritual of posting ‘what I’ve shipped’. This is more than a brag-blog, it’s an exercise in standing back and looking at the work I’ve produced, the content I created, the projects I made happen.

    Looking back on my year also helps me reflect on the different ingredients in my work life and what the dominant themes have been.

    There’s been two sides of Ian Sanders in 2014:  1) STORYTELLER, helping clients capture and tell their stories, also writing articles for publications; 2) CREATIVE CONSULTANT, advising clients, bringing clarity to propositions, adding value from my outsider point-of-view.

    This year I’ve continued to be prolific in creating content for clients and for publications. In January I set myself a goal of creating 100 pieces of written content this year; I’m up to 97 so I’m nearly there.

    So here’s what I shipped:

    1. Telling stories for publications: This year I’ve continued to write for The Financial Times and British Airways Business Life magazine, and  I’ve also added some new outlets: Ireland’s Sunday Independent and Cool Hunting. I’ve also contributed interviews for Monocle’s ‘The Entrepreneurs’ show (here’s a link to my online portfolio).

    2. Helping clients capture their ideas, culture, stories: I’ve worked with a range of clients from an innovation agency to an energy trading business, capturing their thinking in articles, op-eds and other content. I’ve also been working with a law firm helping them explore and tell their story.

    3. Helping clients grow: I’ve advised clients from a young digital agency to a content business on growth and development opportunities. I’ve also helped my energy trading client transform their marketing communications.

    4. Workshops & talks: In February I co-hosted an evening of talks in my local community, in March I spoke to an audience of Dentsu Aegis execs, in July I hosted a meet-up on my local beach and earlier this month I hosted a Street Wisdom event .

    5. Side Projects: I co-created and edited Trawler, a publication that will launch next year via a crowdfunding platform (it’s *nearly* shipped!) and I also co-created a video series Curiosity & Opportunity.

    6. (Plus the usual content on Medium, Instagram and Twitter).

    This marks my fifteen year anniversary of being self-employed. It’s been quite an adventure; when I started out in 2000, I could never have anticipated the shape and direction it's taken. When I look back on the last fifteen years the biggest change - and opportunity - has been in the role ‘Digital’ plays: in my own daily working practices; in how I develop and maintain relationships; and also in developing a new area of expertise, where I advise clients around digital communications.

    Thanks to everybody I've met and worked with this year. Thanks for reading my blog. Here’s to the next adventure!

  • The retailer as editor: #1 Ideas On Paper

    With the growing pressure from competitors online, some independent retailers are surviving by focusing on a distinctive ‘bricks & mortar’ experience, striving to offer something you just can’t get online.

    At the heart of this approach is the retailer as editor; where in contrast to a cookie-cutter approach of the big stores, small independent retailers can offer a carefully curated selection of products.

    That’s Alex Smith’s story. Having spent a career working for big retailers like Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, last year Alex founded Ideas On Paper, a small shop in Nottingham’s emerging creative quarter. Its products are linked by the theme of paper: magazines, journals, books and stationery.

    It’s a small shop so Alex has to think carefully about what to stock, about what products to include in his edit, what to exclude (for example, Monocle magazine and School Of Life stationery are in, poorly produced magazines are out).  In that sense, I think of Alex as an editor.

    I went to see him this week to discover the story behind Ideas On Paper.

     [Thanks go to Sarah King for the introduction to Alex. Thanks Sarah!]

  • ‘Permission to stop, think and dawdle.’ An outdoor experiment in problem solving.

    When we’re looking for answers in our working lives, we might pick up a book, go online or ask a friend. We probably don’t tend to look in the street for answers.

    That however, is what Street Wisdom’s designed for, a three hour walking-workshop to find inspiration in the everyday environment around us. Having been on a couple of Street Wisdoms facilitated by its founders Chris and David, I decided to organise my own, inviting Lucy Taylor to join me as co-host.

    So this is how I came to spend last Friday afternoon standing outside Leigh-on-Sea library, giving instructions to a group of people to walk around the town looking for patterns, seeing what they were drawn to, slowing right down.

    I’d chosen the library since traditionally it’s a place people go to find answers. Instead our group headed outside, searching local alleyways, dead ends and shopping streets for their inspiration. They each went off with a question to ask, such as, what direction to take their business in 2015; how to find new clients; how to incorporate the local community into what they do.

    Having experienced Street Wisdom events in Soho and in Shoreditch, this experience in Leigh-on-sea felt different. Here, in a coastal town where the river Thames meets the sea, the attendees were much more familiar with the local streets than they would be in a big city.

    Admittedly a cold Friday afternoon in December wasn’t the perfect weather for walking around slowly, so two hours after we started, against the backdrop of a stunning estuary sunset, we gathered in the warmth of the Peter Boat pub in Leigh-on-Sea’s Old Town. Over mulled wine and coffee the attendees shared their feedback. They told us that even though they knew Leigh well, today they had managed to walk in unfamiliar streets, they saw noticeboards, shops and businesses they had never previously. ‘It’s there but we don’t see it,’ said one.

    One of the group had been brave enough to ask strangers for help with his question, and got great insight from talking to a homeless man. Several fed back that they had found value not so much in finding answers, but through the exploration, in the process of Street Wisdom itself that unlocked something new.

    Friday’s Street Wisdom gave people the opportunity to try something new, to be curious, to slow down in a town they thought they knew so well. As one person told me, ‘it gave me permission to stop, think and dawdle.’

    I think of Street Wisdom as a live experiment, a process to reset your mind and rethink your approach to everything from creativity to problem solving. As Matt told me, as someone who walks around town at high speed, focused on where he’s headed, just the act of walking slowly was a new way of looking at the world.

  • Going deep or staying wide.

    ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’

    Ten words that are asked of children around the world by teachers, parents, aunts, uncles and strangers at bus stops.

    We tend to expect single rather than plural answers to that question. But the reality is many of us have chosen - or ended up, either intentionally or by accident - to carve out roles where we bring breadth of experiences rather than specialist, singular depth.

    That’s my story. But I’d be lying if I said I did it consciously. I started my full-time career with a job in television production. When the TV series I was working on ended, I jumped sideways to an event promotion company, working on a music festival. When that was over I went to a small media company where in seven years I worked across every discipline in the building: radio production, live events, outside broadcasts, marketing projects.

    All I was doing was following my curiosity and the opportunities that appeared before me.

    But it shaped my career. By the end of my twenties I’d got a reputation as a generalist rather than a specialist. I was a do-er, making creative ideas happen no-matter-what, a safe pair of hands. The people I worked alongside were specialists: radio producers, broadcast engineers, video editors. They had deep career-long skills. They did one thing well.

    My one thing? I was good at projects. Whatever the discipline, I took the same approach. Every project is the same: it has a start, a middle and an end. It has a client and a brief. A budget, a deadline. I was the bloke who made all these projects happen.

    Today whilst I have deep experience as a writer, that’s combined with breadth across different disciplines (even as a writer, I work for publications and also for corporate clients). I like to cross borders, helping to solve problems by bringing experiences from one discipline to another.

    IDEO’s Tim Brown talks about this in ‘The Career Choice Nobody Tells You About.’ “Rather than diving deep into the single discipline of industrial design, I accidentally discovered the joys of working across disciplines,” he says. Like mine, Tim’s career trajectory was an accident but he urges that choosing to go wide versus deep should be made consciously, not accidentally.

    As a father that’s what I’m going to urge my kids: not only to build work lives on who they are and what they stand for; but also to consider that choice - breadth or depth? (I’m not arguing one is more important than the other; of course we need both).

    But in a world of increasing uncertainty where roles we did ten years ago just won’t exist any more, there’s some benefit in being a border-crosser, able to switch between disciplines, able to add new strings to your bow, able to re-invent.

    Choosing breadth means I never get bored of my work, it also means I never know what’s coming next.

    *If you’re interested in exploring this further, I wrote about this in my book Mash-up!: How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier

  • Introducing 'Curiosity & Opportunity'

    Some people's careers and businesses are driven by a curiosity to try out new things. Others follow the opportunities that are presented to them.  My own life in self-employment has been crafted out of a combination of the two.  My gig at the Financial Times was borne out of my curiosity; my two year assignment working with Benetton came about from spotting a commercial opportunity, which I then turned into a big project.

    I'm fascinated by the stories behind people’s work lives and that balance between curiosity and opportunity. I also love to use video to tell such stories.

    Throw those two things together and you get my latest side project - ‘Curiosity & Opportunity’, a collaboration with Michal Dzierza.

    In this series we’ll talk to a bunch of interesting people from creators to entrepreneurs and ask them what has guided them: curiosity or opportunity? In our first episode, we hear from designer/firestarter  James Victore about how he’s never followed the dollar and what curiosity means to him.


  • A quick guide to better writing for CEOs (and anyone else)

    In last week’s Financial Times, Michael Skapinker bemoans the fact that standards have fallen in business communications (‘Corporate writing stinks and the CEO is to blame’). Skapinker worries that today too many people — from legal to comms — get involved in crafting corporate statements, resulting in a car-crash of style and a loss of clarity:

    “It is time for chief executives to write for themselves, or hire one decent writer, and tell it straight. It might not hurt as much as they think.”

    He’s right. But poor writing is not confined to corporate announcements.

    Today every business leader has the opportunity to share their opinion and expertise online. That’s the good news. But knowing where the ‘publish’ button is doesn't automatically make you a good writer. The challenge is not only in having something valuable to say, but to make sure it’s said clearly and simply.

    So here’s a quick guide to help improve a blog post or think piece:

    1. Keep it short. Brevity rules, so be ruthless in your edit. Short pieces have more impact.
    2. Edit by reading out loud. If you’re struggling with the editing process, reading aloud is a sure fire way of making every word count.
    3. Have an opinion. No-one’s interested in a fence-sitter, let’s hear what you think. Champion an idea, bust a myth, show your passion.
    4. Put ‘you’ in it. Don’t let bland corporate-speak creep in, write in your own voice.
    5. You only need one extra pair of eyes. Don’t write or edit by committee.Sending your draft to six colleagues will get you six different views. Instead just get one person to look over it before going live.
    6. Focus on your audience. Don’t include industry jargon and confusing acronyms if your audience won’t understand them. Make it gettable.
    7. One subject per post. Thought pieces should be single-minded — on one theme or one opinion.
    8. Done is better than perfect. If you‘re responding to something that’s time critical, make sure your post is good enough and then get it out there. If you wait a week to make it perfect, you’ll have missed the boat.
    9. If in doubt, hire a writer. A writer such as myself can help business leaders shape, capture and express their ideas, transforming abstract thinking into something concrete. (Click here to find out more and get in touch).
  • You don’t need to go far to find inspiration: lessons from a lunch break

    When I’m helping client businesses transform how they communicate it’s useful to look at other, unrelated, real-life businesses and brands for inspiration. For instance, I recently pointed a client to, to demonstrate the effectiveness of clear and simple language on a website.

    You don’t need to go far to find inspiration. Start by noticing what you like or don’t like about everyday experiences. Here are three examples - of likes and a dislike - that came from a single lunch break in Shoreditch last week:

    1) Clear and simple (Dishoom restaurant). I kicked off my lunch break at Dishoom and asked for the gluten-free menu. Restaurants have different approaches to displaying what’s gluten-free. For me, Dishoom’s approach wins. They’ve produced a copy of the menu where the GF dishes are annotated with a green highlighter. They didn’t over-complicate it - it’s clear and simple, easy to use. 

    2) Applying the ‘who? & what?’ rule (Rough Trade). How can you filter complex information into easily readable content? After lunch at Dishoom I popped into Rough Trade East. In their monthly guide ‘Albums of the month’ they introduce customers to new music via simple three paragraph approach: i) Who - who is the band and where are they from?; ii) What - what is the album like?; iii) With - which mix of artists does it sound like? It’s a great structure to tell a story.

    3) Build your website around your customer (Celia lager). After Rough Trade I picked up a bottle of gluten-free lager in a health food store on Commercial Street. It was a brand I hadn’t heard of, so I checked them out online. When I landed on the site I was met with a barrier - a pop-up asking me for my data to be kept in touch with events and offers. We’re used to seeing pop-ups like this but they’re usually easy to shut down. Not this one, there’s no ‘No thanks’ option; so the only way you can close it is by clicking on ‘Already subscribed’. In my mind their desire to capture visitor data - before you can even enter the site - shows they’ve put the business before the customer needs. They forgot to stand in the customer shoes when building the site.

    So if you're looking for inspiration, if you're looking for dos and dont's, try crossing borders: if your client is in tech, look for ideas in retail; if your client is an online consumer brand, try your local independent coffee shop. You never know what you might find.

  • Noticing the signs

    Ever had one of those days when every billboard or shop sign seems to be telling you something? To quit your job or to take a leap of courage?

    I had one of those days yesterday. But only because I made a decision to tune into my surroundings - I was on my second Street Wisdom, a walking-workshop that uses the urban environment around us to help guide decisions (you can read my blog post of my first experience here).

    Street Wisdom is a three hour event: in the first hour participants get tuned in to notice our surroundings; in the second hour we go off by ourselves to walk around and ask a question of the street (a career or business dilemma we may be struggling with); the third hour we come back and share our experiences with the group.

    One of the benefits of Street Wisdom is that you can utilise ‘in-between time’, perhaps using a walk in between the office and the park to solve a problem or come up with an idea. You don’t need a large amount of time. Of course most of us are too focused on listening to music, looking down at our ‘phones or just rushing from A-to-B to pay attention to what’s around us; Street Wisdom encourages us to slow down and look around.

    The objective is to get inspiration from everything around us - it’s not just about looking at signs - it might be finding a park bench, looking at an unfamiliar view. taking a random left turn or talking to a stranger that yields the results.

    That said, I was fascinated by how many of us found  clarity just by looking at physical signs, from shop facades to ads on the sides of buses. One member of my group identified the focus for her new business by looking at a shop front; another found that a shop sign - ‘Start’ - gave her encouragement to move forward with her business idea. I had a similar experience when I stumbled into a coffee-shop called ‘Paper & Cup’, I liked how the shop combined two of my passions (coffee and books); it encouraged me to continue blending different disciplines in my work life, a theme that was echoed by a van that said ‘Odds & Ends’. Then walking down a road towards Redchurch Street I saw a series of signs that spoke to me about the need for collaboration: a sign for a community centre, a van saying ‘Alliance’.

    And then as my hour was up, I saw this notice on a Redchurch Street lamp post. ‘Please check signs,’ it said.

    So perhaps all our answers are out there, we just need to look around us.

    1. Ian talks to James Victore about 'Take This Job & Love It'


    The ‘self-help’ industry is the usual source of inspiration for any burned-out executive looking to reclaim control of their career or take the leap into entrepreneurship and start their own business. But a self-proclaimed American ‘firestarter’ is looking to shake up the world of self-help with his own brand of professional inspiration. Having earned an international reputation as a graphic designer and artist, with his work in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn based James Victore helps people in all walks of life get inspired, get creative and fall back in love with their day job. James is the antithesis of the traditional, self-indulgent, self-help genre. Having run a one day workshop-cum-career-revolution about ‘work, life and bucking the status quo’ in New York, earlier this month James brought ‘Take this job and love it’ to London for the first time. You can read my review of the event here; above you can hear a five minute radio interview I did with James.

    You can follow James on Twitter: @jamesvictore.

  • The story behind the story

    In Saturday’s FT Weekend Magazine I told the story of Matt Stillman, a New Yorker who sits at a table in Union Square and offers advice to strangers (First Person, 13/14 September 2014).

    Matt’s is a great story (there’s more about it on his website).

    But there’s a story behind that story; a multi-layered  tale that lies behind that single photograph and those 750 words. A tale of serendipity and grabbing chances.

    It all started a few years back when Matt Stillman followed me on Twitter; I think he’d read one of my books. Then one day last February I was standing on the platform at York railway station, when I tweeted:


    Matt tweeted back, if you have a spare moment in NYC I would love to say hello. I had a busy schedule and wasn’t sure I could squeeze him in, but I decided to follow my curiosity and we agreed to meet up. Over coffee at Stumptown I discovered Matt’s interesting story, that every Friday he sits at a folding table in Union Square with a sign that says ‘Creative approaches to what you've been thinking about’, offering help to strangers (here’s a little video I shot with Matt on the street outside Stumptown).


    So meeting Matt was a ‘stumble upon’, it wasn’t the result of some great journalistic strategy for finding interesting people, it came from a random tweet. Eighteen months later I pitched Matt’s story to my editor at the Financial Times. She liked it and asked me to write it up for ‘First Person’.

    This isn’t some remarkable revelation, this is how life happens. My life is full of such stories: how I met my wife online on the final day of an internet dating trial; how just happening to see the musician Dave Stewart on a street in Soho led to a book deal (you can read about that here);  how not getting served in a bar in Barcelona led me to talk to a woman who gave me the idea for another article.

    As a storyteller I revel in these stumbled-upon experiences, because that’s where the real nuggets lie.

  • 'Take this job and love it': career lessons from a firestarter.

    Last Friday morning I walked through a nondescript door at the eastern end of Oxford Street and into a space that had seen better days: a stained carpet, peeling paintwork and broken ceiling tiles. But actually, the quality of this pop-up event space didn’t matter, because Friday morning was definitely ‘about the coffee, not the cup’.

    I was here for the London debut of James Victore’s revolution-slash-workshop ‘Take This Job & Love It’.

    I first met James in 2012 at The Do Lectures, when we shared a car ride from Wales to Heathrow. James is well known as a graphic designer and artist, whose work has been exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Now, a self-proclaimed ‘firestarter’, he speaks on stages around the world,  promising audiences to light a fire - ‘not only in your heart, but also under your ass’.

    So James was not in London to talk about his art; he was here to help rethink our relationship with that four letter word: w o r k. Of course I’ve dabbled in this area myself, my books ‘Leap!’, ‘Juggle!’ and ‘Mash-Up!’ are all about looking at our work lives differently. Today there are even more books and courses promising to reinvent our work lives. So what makes James’ perspective different? He’s not a career coach, he’s not an executive who’s taken the leap to become a freelance consultant; he’s an artist. In that sense, I see James as an outsider.

    I love outsiders (after all I’m an outsider too; that’s what I do as a consultant and writer). James brings lessons from his Williamsburg design studio to help people get back on track with their career, and not just creatives. In last Friday’s workshop James told stories, got us doing tasks, and even had us dancing and singing. James told the story of how people had ‘should-ed’ on him when he was growing up - ‘you should do this’, ‘you should do that’ - he explained how he had ignored them, and that it was good for you to do the same. Because only you know what’s right for you.

    One tenet of his work that resonated with me was the need to bring ‘you’ into your work, advising that the best starting point for a project is to ask ‘what’s interesting for me?’; to bring your passions into your work.

    He asked us to challenge the status quo via a slide that proclaimed ‘Life is a cliche’. How the perceived order of things is that familiar, linear path: go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house, get kids, buy a bigger house, retire… and then ‘really live’.

    Why? Why wait until you retire to do the things that really stimulate you, why wait to be the real you? Why not put you in your work earlier?

    James suggested that to do a 9-5 job and to tow the line is actually the easiest thing in the world, but to have the balls to put yourself into your work, to know who you really are is much harder.

    Having put a rocket under my own career fourteen years ago to carve out a work life based on being Me, I know he’s right.

    [picture credit: James/ Laura Victore]