• Trawler - a community-generated, crowdfunded side project.

    Like most good ideas, Trawler was born in a coffee shop.

    In 2013 I co-founded a local meet-up group with Michael Mentessi (we met because he’d read my book ‘Zoom!’).  This community of Leigh-on-Sea based freelancers, solo workers, creatives and  small business founders has developed a number of side projects under The Made In Leigh brand: in 2013 we organised a series of talks - The Made In Leigh Conversations - and now, we’ve produced a publication, Trawler.

    Trawler isn’t a local newspaper, this is a publication for curious people everywhere, telling stories of passion, hard work, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. It just happens that we’re anchored by the Thames estuary here in Leigh-on-Sea, England. The 24 pages have been written by and about local people, it’s very much a community-generated project. And in order to crank the handle on the printing press, we’re turning to crowdfunding.

    Today we launch Trawler via a campaign on Crowdfunder, £2 buys you a copy of the paper. This side project has been a labour of love; everyone - from designers to writers and photographers - has given their time for free, giving up evenings and weekends to make this idea happen. It’s been quite a journey, so it’s great to turn that idea we had in a coffee shop into reality.

    If you’re curious about what’s in our launch edition, please follow the link to Crowdfunder and support us:

    Thank you

  • The Do Lectures: getting fired up

    Three years ago I made the three hundred mile journey west to The Do Lectures. Twenty speakers and just eighty attendees sharing ideas in a big tent in the Welsh countryside.

    It’s not your average business conference. There are no name badges, the dress code is wellies rather than suits, everybody stays in tents spending the evenings around a fire. Oh, and there’s no wifi.

    And these are the reasons I liked it so much. The speakers don’t disappear on their flight home as soon as they come off stage, attendees don’t spend lunchtimes huddled over their iPhones checking Twitter, there are no VIP parties. Everyone is here together to inspire each other to DO, to get fired up, to get inspired, to make changes in their business or work life (what’s it all about? Read my post ‘Why The Do Lectures Exist’)

    In 18 days I’m back at The Do Lectures. But this time, it’s different. I’ll be on stage as a speaker.

    I’m currently putting some ideas together for my talk. Their brief:

    “Be human. Be vulnerable. Don’t do the talk that you normally do.”

    This is going to be a big one for me, putting my head above the parapet, telling my real story of how I got to here. Telling a story I haven’t told before.

    Videos of the talks will go online later in the year, but in the meantime tickets for June are available here:

    I recommend it.

  • #twittervino

    Do you like wine? Do you want to know about how to use Twitter for your career or business? Do you live near Leigh-on-Sea?

    Then you’ll want to come to #twittervino

    On the evening of Thursday 2nd July I'm hosting #twittervino at Leigh-on-sea’s wine shop & tasting room Vino Vero. We’re inviting sixteen people to join us for an enjoyable evening to help you get the most out of Twitter; and you get to taste some fabulous wines as selected by our hosts. Tickets are £20, book now on the Vino Vero website


    The low-down:


    1. What: an informal workshop presented by Ian Sanders to help you get more of out of Twitter for your career or business, with practical advice and tips on how to get noticed and build relationships. Plus wine!
    2. Who by: @iansanders is a creative consultant, business storyteller and author who’s been on Twitter since 2008 and has used it to secure book deals, win clients, meet interesting people and get invited to interesting places.
    3. Why come: Five reasons: i) because many people underestimate Twitter; ii) they don’t use it in the best way to help their businesses and careers; iii) they don’t know what to say and how to say it in 140 characters; iv) you’ll get to sample some great new wines; v) it will be fun!
    4. Who for: any freelancers, solo workers, makers, creatives, entrepreneurs, small business owners, job seekers, workers who want to get more out of Twitter.
    5. The wine: you get to try five fabulous wines selected by Vino Vero. Owners Sam and Charlie will guide you through them with a bit of fun and informal information.
  • Put some white space in your work life. Finding a fourth space to think.

    Last week I met a business acquaintance for coffee.

    His working life is typical: split between a central London office (a first space), working at home (a second space) and working/ having meetings in the same bunch of coffee shops (a third space). Like many of us, he has a demanding role which relies upon his ability to think creatively, to come up with ideas, to solve problems. And he confessed, like many of us, he also struggles to find the ‘me’ time to do the serious thinking. Whilst it’s great to get out of the office, he finds coffee shops too buzzy and home working too distracting for the ideas to flow.

    I said to him he needs to find ‘a fourth space’. A space where he can think more clearly.

    And at that, he pricked up his ears.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love working out of coffee shops (I’m writing this in one right now) however they’ve become the de-facto office for so many of us, we need to find another space, one that allows us to think.

    In my fifteen years working for myself, I couldn’t have achieved the same results without going to a fourth space, whether spending the afternoon at Tate Modern or taking a train journey somewhere new. Last year, when my work life felt stale, and I needed to reframe it, I went to Amsterdam to get back on track (watch the short video below).

    It’s not however always the fancy destination that’s important, as long as you know it will fuel you creatively. Or even if you don’t know, just try it and see what happens.

    I wonder if our lives have become so jam-packed — a seamless segue from home-to-office-via-coffee-shop — that we’ve left no space to do the Big Thinking, whether ideas for our organisation or just giving our own work lives a check-up. Imagine how much more fulfilled we might be, how productive and creative we could become if only we gave ourselves permission to get some distance from our day-to-day routine, to find new spaces to work from.

    Here are four ways to put some white space into your working life:

    1. Shift your relationship with the office: we all know being productive is not about the number of hours you spend at your desk, it’s about knowing where you work best and going there more often.
    2. Identify your own fourth space: consider the places where you could get some of your best work done. Where will fire you up — is it an art gallery, a train journey, a walk in the country?
    3. Make going there a regular fixture: if you work for yourself, regularly schedule fourth space time; if you work for an organisation, demonstrate to your boss the kind of value a fourth space would bring. And then get a commitment to let you go there.
    4. Set yourself some goals for when you’re there: when you go to your fourth space, set some goals about what you need to achieve while you’re there. Give it some structure.

    Put some white space in your work life.*

    *Try it. Let me know how you got on, where got you fired up, how did it work? You can keep me posted on Twitter @iansanders

  • “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.