Blog

Category
  • Making Crazy Happen: The Stress Report

    It was a crisp Tuesday morning at the end of February. I was sitting around the table in David Hieatt’s farmhouse in west Wales. The fire was burning, candles were lit and coffee was poured.

    David announced his lofty vision to those of us around the table: for The Do Lectures to create a series of printed reports, each on a single-theme, in 134 pages. Reports can be boring, David’s idea was to make these ones engaging and accessible via stories, data visualisation, research and experiments. This first report would be on the subject of stress.

    David told us we had three months to get it done. So we started there and then, mapping out a plan with a pack of Artefact cards. After lunch we relocated to the chicken shed and mapped out ideas on the whiteboard.

    It wasn’t until the long train ride home that it hit me. A very small team, with only one full-timer. A 134 page publication in three months? I’ll be honest, it seemed over ambitious.

    Friends of mine who worked in publishing said it sounded crazy. “That’s impossible,” one told me.

    And it was crazy. But David is good at getting the right people together to ‘make crazy happen’. After all, he’s spent eight years building a not-for-profit global event/ community The Do Lectures alongside starting a made-in-Wales jeans brand, Hiut Denim.

    David is a visionary, but he also knows when he needs to be brutal. As publisher and editor, he was brutal about what we had space for, and what we didn’t. He appreciates the beauty of the edit. For example, there were some brilliant pieces I’d commissioned that were left on the cutting room floor, but it was David’s job to wield the knife (so yes, The Stress Report was stressful at times….).

    The Stress Report is out now (buy it here). Inside is the tale of the London commuter who takes the boat to work to cut down on stress. The story of the creator of Moshi Monsters who’s building a movement around calm. An essay by Tim Leberecht, artwork by Anthony Burrill, words of wisdom from Derek Sivers, experiments from our very own guinea pig Mark Shayler, tips, resources, insights and much more.

    I’m proud to be part of it. Credit to David, Kacie, Joby and Mark for making it happen.


    Here’s to the next crazy project.

  • ‘The Entrepreneurs Live’ at Monocle’s Midori House.

    Last night Monocle threw open the doors of Midori House for ‘The Entrepreneurs Live’: a live broadcast of Monocle 24’s weekly business show. In a change to the show’s usual format, Monocle’s Daniel Giacopelli and Andrew Tuck moderated a panel discussion.

    I always enjoy listening to ‘The Entrepreneurs’. In the early days of the show I was a regular contributor interviewing everyone from big names like Guy Kawasaki to business founders under the radar. Last night I took my seat in the audience, sipping chilled white wine and enjoying the breeze blowing in from the the terrace.

    On stage with Daniel and Andrew were four entrepreneurs: Julie Deane (CEO and founder, The Cambridge Satchel Company), David Abrahamovitch (CEO and co-founder, Grind & Co), Pip Jamieson (Founder, The Dots) and Geoff Mulgan (CEO, Nesta).

    What stood out for me? It was good to hear founders being honest about the importance of luck in their business journey. David told the story of how there was a Starbucks next door to Grind’s Old Street roundabout shop. One day the Starbucks closed for a month’s refurbishment. Grind doubled its customers. Even when Starbucks reopened, Grind retained those ex Starbucks customers. David admits he couldn’t have put that on a business plan.

    Another discussion was around values. As more and more business become purpose-led, it’s useful to have a set of values that employees can buy into. Pip explained their values at The Dots help with hiring. “We stick to our values like glue,” she said. Andrew Tuck told us that when he was hiring the Monocle team ten years ago they would take on candidates based on whether they could sit next to them on a long haul flight. That sounds a good test.

    Below are some quotes I scribbled down in my notepad.

     

    Geoff Mulgan

    “The first idea isn’t always the best idea.”

    “Make your idea really clear. Express the essence of what it’s all about.”

    “It’s not always about originality and creative genius. It’s having the hunger to pull together ideas from other people.”

    “Most business plans don’t survive their first contact with reality.”

     

    Julie Deane

    “An initial investment of £600 took me to a £13m turnover.”

    “I opened a factory, brought machines in from other countries and started apprenticeships. You see products that are ‘designed in Britain’, but made elsewhere - that’s really dishonest.”

    “There is no cookie-cutter approach to being an entrepreneur. Everyone is different. I disagree with two thirds of what this panel said. Forget the ‘entrepreneur’ tag, just start your own business.”

    “Sometimes you don’t want to go home with an app, you want to go home with an amazing bag.”

    “You can’t stop and look over your shoulder. You’ve just got to get on with it. People will always want bags.”


    You can listen to the show here.

  • A walk to wake you up, find your fuel and sort out your future

    Sometimes we get so engrossed in our jobs and work lives, we lose sight of what we stand for and where we are headed. Other times we end up in roles that are at odds with who we really are. We know there must be something better out there, but we don’t know what directions to take.

    That’s why I started my Fuel Safaris. To uncover your ‘fuel’: to figure out the essence of your professional offering, to know what really makes you tick. You’ll go away with clarity about where you’re headed, whether that’s reframing your existing role or identifying a new path.

    My Fuel Safari is a one-to-one, half-day walking-workshop around an urban jungle: London’s side streets and hidden alleyways. Colville Place is one such street. Just thirty seconds from the traffic fumes of Tottenham Court Road, this is a pretty pedestrianised street lined with Georgian town houses. At one end it opens up to reveal a tiny park, Crabtree Fields. On my latest Fuel Safari my client Alina and I sat here on a bench in the Friday afternoon sunshine, reflecting on the question I’d just posed.

    The safari takes us down my favourite streets*, places that I first discovered in London’s A-Z as a “runner”, when I worked for a TV company in the early nineties and ferried video tapes to edit houses in Fitzrovia and Soho. Now I’m using those same streets to take executives, entrepreneurs and freelancers on a journey, making sure they’re headed in the right direction.

    I love side streets as they allow the space - and peace - for my client and I to talk properly, with stops at benches in parks and gardens. I have a set of questions to pose, otherwise there is no agenda. Often I give my client the choice of where to head next. “Straight on or right?” I asked Alina. “Let’s go down Adam & Eve Court,” she replied spying an alleyway heading down towards Soho.

    There are stops for coffee and note taking. That Friday Alina and I even took a deviation towards Heal’s furniture store and Soho’s Gosh! Comics for some inspiration.

    On our walk, I try to pose questions that haven’t been asked before. I learned about Alina’s backstory, her ambitions, what gets her fired up. Sometimes a street sign will echo or amplify a part of our conversation. We were talking about Alina’s global outlook; how she’s lived and worked in different countries. By chance, the words inscribed on a glass door behind her said ‘Global Citizen’. Later that afternoon a stationery store proclaimed ‘Make your mark!’ on the window at the same time as we were talking about her desire to make a dent in the world.

    Sometimes the smallest things can reveal something we might not otherwise have found. The elastic band holding the cards with my questions snapped. “That’s because I don’t want to be restricted,” Alina replied without missing a beat. “I don’t want to be boxed in!”

    What’s the outcome? My Fuel Safari provides you with the insight and tools to reach your ‘what next?’ After our session I create a personal compass for you, a mind map that captures your story, your purpose, your needs and your strengths.

    Out here on safari, away from your desk and digital distractions, we look at your life from a different perspective, uncovering insights that might otherwise have remained hidden. Exploring paths you might not have walked down before.

    If you’re lost and have no idea where your career and life are going, and would like to discover your true purpose and what feeds your soul - a Fuel Safari is for you. Now I’ve been on a Fuel Safari with Ian, I much better understand who I am as a person, what’s driving me, and where I want to go next.  Alina Truhina

    The Fuel Safari costs £500 for a four hour session, 1pm-5pm in central London. That includes an initial phone call or Skype; plus a follow-up ‘personal compass’ mind map. Ian Sanders is a creative consultant and storyteller (more about Ian here). Do you have any questions about Fuel Safari? Email hello@iansanders.com

     

    *Where did we go?

    That Friday afternoon we started at Seven Dials in Covent Garden, then headed via Phoenix Garden (another hidden gem) and Soho Square towards Fitzrovia. Up through Rathbone Street and Charlotte Mews to Charlotte Street and then on to Fitzroy Square where we found a bench to talk. Then we walked south to Crabtree Fields and Colville Place for another sit-down, before heading west through the alleyway by the Charlotte Street Hotel to Newman Passage and onto Eastcastle Street. Down to Soho for a stroll through Berwick Street market, then west down Old Compton Street and back to where we started.

     

  • If we’re going to have longer work lives, let’s make room for experiments

    This weekend a band called Brigade is reuniting in London. They’re playing a gig at The Academy in Islington, ten years to the day their debut album was released. Their journey started back in 2003 at The Bull & Gate pub in north London. I was there. As a founding partner in Open Top Music, Brigade was our first project, an experiment in managing and developing new talent. Open Top Music was a great adventure, an opportunity to work with old friends and contacts in the music industry. Like the best adventures we didn’t have a map, instead we made it up as we went along. We aimed high and had fun; even attending the international music fair ‘Midem’ in Cannes in 2004. The venture didn’t last too long, but it was a fun experiment. We were trying something new.

    I believe taking risks and experimenting with our work life can benefit us in many ways. In last weekend’s FT Magazine, Simon Kuper (‘How to live to 100 and be happy’) painted a picture of a future where we’ll work into our mid seventies, with multiple ‘acts’ in our career instead of just pursuing a single-track. Perhaps experiments could take place in the ‘intervals’ between each act? On my recent Fuel Safaris I have been advising executives and entrepreneurs to inject some experimentation into their work lives, whether it’s scratching an entrepreneurial itch or adding a new string to their bow.

    The last sixteen years of my career - my third act- has been a real adventure and involved lots of experimentation. Here are some of the benefits I’ve noticed along the way:

     

    1. Make ideas happen. A couple of years ago, I co-founded and edited a crowdfunded, community generated, publication Trawler. It was a test. Could we produce a newspaper, could we raise enough money to make it happen? Although it was a not-for-profit side project, it was satisfying reaching the finish line, knowing that we made our idea happen. The important thing about an experiment is that you don’t leave it as an idea on the shelf, you do something.
    2. Get experience in other worlds. One experiment saw me launch a little business called Ignission, that (amongst other things) created websites for parliamentarians. This was in 2001 when not many members of parliament were online. I remember going to meet a peer in the Members’ Bar at the House of Lords to talk about his website. It was a step into a completely different world. An experiment can take you out of your bubble into other worlds.
    3. Learning by analogy. On the face of it, advising start up businesses on storytelling may feel a long way from the smoky bars and pubs where I helped launch a rock band in 2003. But both activities are ‘startups’, and I was able to take lessons from a band to a brand.
    4. Be entrepreneurial. In 2005 I had a meeting with a senior executive at Benetton who wanted an introduction to an ad agency to get an ad placed in the London Evening Standard. None of my contacts could move fast enough (he wanted an ad designed and placed that week), so I stepped in, creating an agency of my own - OHM London - and sorting everything out in 48 hours. What I thought was a one-off experiment turned into a relationship with the fashion brand that lasted eighteen months. An experiment can be a low-risk way of testing a business model, generating new revenues.
    5. Have fun. Let’s face it: many people’s work lives are not fun. Going off piste to test an idea, start a side project, or try something with friends should be fun. Looking back at my Open Top Music adventure, it wasn’t about the money (there wasn’t much of that), but it was certainly fun.


    In a world where we are living and working longer, where the notion of retirement will seem as old-fashioned as a life without smartphones, let’s have more adventures.

    In the old days, it seemed career success was about reaching a destination, getting that brass name plate on the door, having a grand job title. In the future of work, I think the emphasis should be on enjoying the journey, not reaching the destination.


    So let’s experiment along the way...

  • Getting everyone in the same room (or on the same farm)

    The photograph above was the scene earlier this month: a Stress Report team meeting, outside in the sunshine. The Stress Report is the first in a new series of print publications from The Do Lectures. It’s a complex, ambitious project with team members based all over the country.

    Project HQ is 300 miles east from my front door. It’s on David Hieatt’s farm on the Welsh coast. And David’s farm is one hour from the nearest train station. Unsurprisingly it’s not easy to get everyone together for one full-team meeting, let alone a weekly one.

    But sometimes you’ve got to jump on the train/ in the car and just get together. Slack, Skype, phone, email, whatever are all well and good but as I spent time in David’s chicken shed I was reminded how fast things happen when you’re together:

    1. Clarity. Everyone can see the same thing at the same time. There is no ambiguity. No misreading of emails. No dropped Skype call. No distractions.
    2. Single-minded purposeWe weren’t in Wales for anything else. We were there for one reason: to commit ourselves to one project. That’s powerful.
    3. Consensus. When everyone is together you can talk, disagree/agree, then get buy-in, agree direction, make decisions. There’s no paralysis arising from the need to check things with other people first. Everyone is present, everyone knows what their actions are.

    Getting everyone together in one room fast-tracks progress on a project like a hot knife through butter. So sometimes it’s worth the 600 mile return trip. Especially if the meeting is on a farm.

    Whether you’re a pioneering entrepreneur trying to attract and keep the best people, or an overworked employee just trying to find a better way to get all this crazy workload done, The Stress Report is a modern compass for a new, smarter, more productive way of working. It’s out in June, pre-order your copy here.

  • A journey to west Wales: kicking off Snap Photography Festival

    “Aren’t there any venues like this closer to London?” asked a fellow speaker at the Snap Photography Festival earlier this week.

    He had a point. Fforest Camp on the west of Wales is a five-hour-plus drive from the capital, the last hour by narrow and winding country roads. My iPhone told me the 300 mile journey from Leigh-on-Sea would take five hours, actually it took seven hours.

    But whilst it’s hard to get there, you’re rewarded with a unique experience in a stunning setting. Fforest is designed as a place to enjoy “the simplicity, pleasures and beauty of outdoor living in an outstanding natural environment.” It sits on a 200 acre site by the River Teifi, next to the Teifi marshes nature reserve. So I answered: yes, the UK does have other venues closer to London, but this one is quite special. Perhaps like a lot of things in life, you have to put in the effort, but it’s worth it once you reach the destination.

    The only non-photographer speaker, I’d been invited to give the festival’s two hour opening presentation and workshop on storytelling and finding your fuel. I’ve spoken to different audiences over the years and it was a thrill to be amongst 110 photographers. Since being given my first Kodak Instamatic camera as a child, photography has been a thread throughout my life. It feels like I spent most of the 1980s glued to my Pentax K1000, taking it to live gigs and documenting the world around me. I’m still passionate about photography. Yesterday morning I took half an hour off and walked around Fforest with my Canon digital camera.

    Sharing tents and outdoor cabins with strangers is not for everyone (disclosure: I was staying in an Airbnb in the local village) but something special happens when attendees mix together. Although I stayed off site, I joined in the communal dining, and I loved sitting down at the next available seat and chatting to new people. As I’d told the audience in my presentation, I thrive on curiosity, going to interesting places and meeting interesting people. Here at Snap It felt like the ‘United Nations of Photographers’. I shared meals with a Canadian, Croatian, Hungarian and Italian. I took a tea break with a guy from Poland and a woman from Chicago.

    It was great to discover that people had travelled from all over the world to come to Snap. Suddenly a seven hour drive to get here didn’t feel so bad; especially when the guy from Poland told me his journey had taken three days.


    [photo credit Lee Allen/ Snap]

  • Doing one thing well - New York’s pencil store

    I’m fascinated by owner-run small businesses, especially in retail. I love to see what people’s passions are, what shops are viable, what niche makes commercial sense.

    I like stationery so I’m always drawn - excuse the pun - to stores selling pens and paper. When I was in New York last week, I headed to CW Pencils on the city’s Lower East Side. As the name suggests, this is a pencil shop. It doesn’t sell a range of notepads or pens. It sells pencils. Pencils from as far afield as India, pencils from as near as Jersey City.

    Founder Caroline Weaver - an amateur pencil collector but lifelong pencil lover -  told me whilst she always had a passion for pencils she admitted she wasn’t sure how popular her store would be, would it turn out to just be her sitting in the shop alone?

    But a year after launching, the shop is busy and she even has a team working for her selling online. It’s a great success!

    As I sat drinking coffee down the road in Café Henrie, I took out my new pencil and scribbled down a question, “What is it about CW Pencils that makes it a success?”

    I concluded there are a number of ingredients that make Caroline’s business idea work. First, the business is a mix of online and offline. That’s an obvious point, but with limited opening hours and an off-the-grid location, it’s important to reach a wider audience. Second, the founder is passionate about what she sells. She told me she’d always loved pencils, and what better foundation for a business than that. Third, she’s confident that selling just one thing - pencils - will be enough. Business advisors may have suggested she stocks books or other stationery items to make her shop more commercially viable. But that would have diluted her proposition; instead - by sticking to one thing - Caroline has a niche idea that stands out. She’s doing one thing well.

    As Caroline says on her site,  “as simple as it may be, the pencil is something which despite advances in technology will never become obsolete.”  Here’s to the power of pencils! 

     

     

  • Turning it inside out: extracting the real story

    As a storyteller-for-hire, brands and organisations ask me to capture and craft their story, whether it’s an external marketing piece, or internally helping employees and new hires understand what the organisation is and where it’s headed.

    I sometimes think about this process as ‘turning it inside out’. It’s my job to look under the bonnet, to be curious, to ask questions and to turn the spotlight on those hidden corners that haven’t been exposed before.

    Sometimes in those hidden corners lie difficult parts of the story: perhaps the first iteration of the product fell flat on its face or the co-founders fell out. I have learned that capturing and sharing these imperfections is an essential part of the process. These imperfections are what gives a brand its purpose but also its personality.

    The same applies to individuals. Over the last few weeks I’ve guest lectured at universities, my advice to students is to put themselves at the heart of their career and business plans. “Don’t let anyone knock the You out of You,” I told them. Part of that is being honest about your real story. And just like those brand stories, it is the imperfections that might make their offering more distinctive and allow them to stand out from the crowd.

    Whether you’re a student, an executive, an entrepreneur, a startup or a big business, telling your real story is rarely easy. Sharing everything - including the ups and downs - means you can emotionally engage with your audience.

    I’ve just been through this process myself. Last year I was asked to speak at The Do Lectures. The brief was to tell a story I hadn’t previously told, to tell the truth and to be vulnerable. The talk went online this week (you can watch it below. If you'd rather listen to the audio podcast, here's the version on SoundCloud).

    It’s a very personal - and sometimes raw - story, but it’s a reflection of who I am and what makes me tick. Like the best stories, it’s a reflection of the truth: I turned myself inside out.

     

  • Get clarity, re-ignite your passion and shape your story!

    “I came to Ian frustrated and ready to pack it all in because no-one seemed to get my idea. Ian synthesised a clear message from the jumbled thoughts in my head that will instantly resonate with potential stakeholders. More importantly he did not fail to deliver on his lofty promise to reignite the passion in my own project.”

    Niels Bischoff, founder of Flowcus

     

    You’re an early stage entrepreneur. You’ve been living and breathing your startup idea for a while. But before you take your idea to market, you need a fresh perspective on it. Are you communicating your idea most effectively? Is your story fit for purpose? Do you still get fired up about it?

    My 'Fuel Up' package will get you back on track. It’s a rapid, affordable service to reinvigorate you and your business idea, giving you the tools and confidence to sell your idea. Whether your audience is investors, new recruits, partners or journalists, I’ll bring clarity to your business idea, reconnecting you with your purpose and re-crafting a fit-for-purpose story. And I’ll get you fired up about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

    The package costs just £950 (plus VAT; discounts may be available for non-VAT registered entrepreneurs).  Here’s how it works:

    1. we have an initial meeting (in London or via Skype);
    2. you then complete a questionnaire via email;  
    3. I’ll create two deliverables for you based on the meeting and questionnaire: i) a crib sheet - a why, who, what, how one-pager that will both help you communicate your idea and also be a touchstone for you internally; ii) your simple and gettable startup story in less than 300 words.
    4. we’ll have a second meeting (in London or via Skype) where I present my work to you and you can ask questions.


    Why work with me? I bring my twenty five years’ experience to every project I touch: I have run businesses, advised startups & entrepreneurs, and written about startups for the Financial Times and British Airways Business life magazine. I’m good at bringing clarity to business ideas.

    Want to talk? Get in touch: hello@iansanders.com.

  • Why is storytelling an essential tool within organisations?

    I was recently interviewed about storytelling for Turnstone’s ‘Founder Focus’ series (Turnstone is part of the Steelcase Inc. family of brands). You can read the full interview here, in the meantime, here are some highlights:

    1. Why is storytelling important? How is it different than a mission statement? A mission statement can feel detached from reality – like something a management team devise behind closed doors in a boardroom one Friday and then reveal to the organisation on a Monday morning. Storytelling holds a mirror up across the entire organisation, it’s human, it’s real. Stories can bring an organisation to life.
    2. What are the elements of good corporate storytelling? Let’s be clear. This is not about creating works of fiction. It’s not about the Disneyfication of a business’s purpose—it’s about holding up that mirror. When I work with client businesses I often spot a disconnect between what a business says it is and what it really is. I’ve found that crafting an authentic story can help bridge that gap; and also cut through the crap.
    3. Can it be “too late” to craft the corporate story? It’s never too late. Last year I’ve worked with clients from an early-stage entrepreneur just shaping his idea, through to a 200-year old organisation. Often more established businesses recognise they need to update their story, or craft a new one, to make sure it is ‘fit for purpose’.
    4. Why is storytelling an essential tool within organisations? A client of mine headed up a strong team within an established organisation. But he told me he felt like he was standing on the bridge of a ship not sure where he was headed. I worked with him to extract and capture the story so he could tell the team where they were going.
    5. How does it help employee engagement? A corporate story is like a magnet that pulls people together in one direction. It’s also a lifebelt for times of uncertainty—like when you hit stormy waters. A story rallies people around a common purpose so they feel like they are part of something.
    6. How do you tell a story that is changing, i.e. an industry in transition or startup that is pivoting? You update the story. The origin story (why you started) doesn’t change, but your future story (where you’re headed) might. Organisations change, but often they don’t update their stories. They tell the old story that’s not relevant anymore. There’s a disconnect. Standing back to capture and craft the real story is a great way to bridge that disconnect.
    7. What are the ways to capture a company’s story? Make a commitment to storytelling. You need a storyteller, whether that’s an outsider or an in-house resource. Someone whose job is to be curious, to ask questions, to look under the sofa and behind the curtains and share what they see.
    8. As an advisor to businesses on how to tell their story, your focus is on people, not products. Why? Storytelling is about leveraging emotions. It’s human. I’m not interested in products and services, I’m interested in how your business changes the lives of its customers. The same applies to your audience.
    9. What are your 3 top tips for business leaders on storytelling? First, make sure that the story you are telling your organisation fires YOU up. Because if it doesn’t get your fist-pumped, how on earth do you expect it to inspire others? Second, make your story simple. Don’t reach for the dictionary just because you’re telling a story in a business context. Speak in the same way you’d speak to your friends or family. Third, keep it human. Your story should be about people, not products. If you want to change hearts and minds, make sure your audience can relate with the people in your story.

    Thanks to Kelly Hoey for asking me to be part of this interview series.

    If you want to hire me to help tell your story or you need advice around storytelling in organisations, email hello@iansanders.com and we can set up a call to discuss.

  • The ‘pick n’ mix’ work life: lessons from my portfolio career

    It’s sixteen years ago that I took the leap to work for myself. In the early days I set my stall out as a go-to project manager/consultant, working for my former employer and contacts I'd made in my previous role. The goal back then was twofold: work as many days a month as I could, and at the highest rate I could charge.

    After a couple of years I wanted more variety so I switched to a portfolio with a broader mix of projects and ventures. Alongside the revenue generating work I made space for side projects that I did for love rather than money. I loved the variety of working days that segued from running a marketing project for Benetton to managing a band with a bunch of friends. I’d carved out a ‘very Ian’ work life. It’s a model I’ve continued to this day (“What the hell does Ian Sanders actually do?” 10 Things I Did In 2015.)

    Herminia Ibarra wrote about this new way of working, ‘The Portfolio Career Mystery’ in the FT last month. “Pundits have hailed (portfolio-working) as the future of work, offering flexibility, novelty and autonomy,” she says. Herminia went on to outline the challenges of this new way of working such as dealing with isolation and how to label what you do.

    What have I learned about portfolio careers in the last sixteen years? I've covered some of this in my books: in adapting to a self-employed life (in my book ‘Leap! Ditch your job, start your own business and set yourself free’ ); and in advocating a multi-dimensional worklife (in my book ‘Mash-up! How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier’).

    If you’re thinking of switching to a portfolio career, here are my ten tips:

     

    1. Be resilient. Carving out your own work life is rewarding but it’s also hard, especially when there’s no-one else to help shoulder the knocks. At times it will feel like a rollercoaster ride - with plenty of ups and downs - so hang on in there.
    2. Develop by-products. Offering the market just one skill may become limiting (and you might find it boring). Be multi-dimensional - ask yourself, what else can you offer? From offering training workshops to writing books, develop by-products.
    3. Nurture your network. In 2015, 80% of my work came from referrals and approaches from my network. ‘Biz dev’ often isn’t a sales job, it’s about managing and nurturing relationships.
    4. Leverage social networks. Getting proficient with social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter is essential. I’ve won projects, been offered book deals, got speaking engagements and met key contacts through Twitter.
    5. Don’t just measure success by how much you’re billing. My objective isn’t to earn as much money as I can, it’s to carve out a work life that suits me, to be able to choose how I spend my time and what I want to work on. I’ve found that autonomy, flexibility and having a sense of purpose is more valuable than how much money I’m earning. Look beyond the spreadsheet! 
    6. Ideas-led not skillset-led. When I’m talking to an organisation about working with them, I don’t pitch my skills at them, I present ideas that could make a difference to them/ their business. Don’t sell your skills, sell solutions to client problems.
    7. ‘Work’ is a mindset, not a place you go. In a portfolio career, ‘work’ is not a place you commute to. Discovering where you work best is about finding those places that provide the most creative energy, where you’re in your element. Check out my post ‘Out Of Office: five lessons from fifteen years without a proper office’ for some practical tips on how to choose the right space for the right task.
    8. Develop a unifier. When you have a portfolio career, a job title won’t cut it anymore. Instead, develop a unifier: a phrase that unites everything you do. It might help with the ‘what do you do?’ question.
    9. Get comfortable with uncertainty. This is not the place for the five-year-plan mindset. Instead embrace the ‘unplan’, stay open-minded about what comes next and don't try o guess the future. Be adaptable, go where the water flows.
    10. Frame it around ‘You’. Frame your portfolio career around you: around who you are, what you stand for and what makes you tick. You’re the boss in this new way of working, so make sure the working life you carve out reflects your talents and desires.

     

    Good luck!


    If you need a helping hand shaping your portfolio career, get some help from someone who’s been there ahead of you. Join me on my one-to-one Fuel Safari, where I work with executives, entrepreneurs and consultants to help them find the ‘fuel’ at the heart of their offering.

  • “What the hell does Ian Sanders actually do?” 10 Things I Did In 2015.

    A couple of mornings a week I like to work out of my local coffee shop, Barlow & Fields. They serve a decent long black, the music is good and there’s usually a like-minded bunch of people to chat to. Recently I shared a table with a woman who said she often saw me in there but wondered what the hell did I actually do?

    Well, the last twelve months has been a mix of storytelling and advising. If we want to succeed in this unpredictable world of work, I think we need to be adaptable, multi-dimensional and have a go-getting attitude. I’m glad that 2015 is proof of what I preach: a varied and eclectic bunch of projects. Here are some highlights:

    1. Creating digital content in the Alps.  In January I was at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, embedded with their digital media team. Here I produced real-time content for the WEF’s ‘Agenda’, creating highlight posts from panel discussions on gender equality to keynotes from Senator Kerry and President Hollande.
    2. Re-energising a two hundred year old organisation. I was hired to bring some clarity and ideas to a London law firm. They needed an outsider to help identify what made them unique, and to find the ‘fuel’ at the heart of the organisation. I provided them with the energy to move the business forward.
    3. Inspiring entrepreneurs about the ‘power of story’. I gave presentations from Harrogate To Paris on how businesses can leverage their story to get heard.
    4. Firing-up students about their futures. In February I was guest lecturer at the University of East London’s school of arts and digital industries. My brief? To tell my own story and fire up students about career opportunities in the creative industries.
    5. Telling stories to bring brands to life. Over the last twelve months I’ve used storytelling to bring visibility to businesses and brands. As ever, it’s been a wonderful mix of clients from Buzzacott, the London accountancy firm, to TeuxDeux, the to-do list app.
    6. Walking around London, helping people find their fuel. This year I launched my Fuel Safari, where I help executives, freelancers and entrepreneurs ‘find their fuel’; reconnecting them with their story, purpose and passion to guide them towards their ‘what next?’
    7. Telling my own story. In June I was on stage at the Do Lectures in Wales where I’d been asked to tell a true, previously untold story about ‘how I got to here’.
    8. Seeing my idea land on doormats. Alongside all the paid work, it’s been great to find space for two side projects this year. One of which was as co-founder and editor of Trawler - a crowdsourced, crowdfunded community publication -  it was great to finally see our launch edition land on doormats.
    9. Having conversations with curious entrepreneurs. This year I continued my collaboration with film maker Michal Dzierza on another side project: our interview series ‘Curiosity & Opportunity’. One really interesting conversation was with Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, founder of Sugru.
    10. Helping an author shape her book. At the end of the year I was sat outside the fabulous Les Deux Magots cafe in Paris (pictured above) with Nilofer Merchant, exploring and shaping ideas for her next book on Onlyness (out in 2017).

     

    If you - or your business - need reinvigorating and re-energising in 2016, get in touch hello@iansanders.com and let's start a conversation. In the meantime, I wish you a happy New Year!

     

  • How to fire up your work life in 2016!

    Here are seven themes that have been present in my working life for some time now. Each of the ideas below has made a difference to HOW I work and improved my ‘quality of work life’ so I wanted to share them with you:

    1. Follow YOU. Put your story, purpose and passion at the heart of your business and work life. You can use who you are and what you stand for as a compass; if you get lost, follow You. Here’s why I think authenticity matters.
    2. Know what to do when your fuel runs low. We all have bad days. That’s inevitable. So know how to refuel when you’re running low. Check out this post I wrote for ideas and tips: ‘Five things to do when your fuel tank is low.’
    3. Find a ‘fourth space’ to think. We all need a place to think. Not the office, not the cafe, not home. Somewhere else. Where is your go-to place for the big thinking? Want to know more? ‘Put some white space in your life’.
    4. Be curious. Curiosity is underrated in business. Too many of us get locked into the usual way of doing things. We don’t go out of our bubble to try new things. So step out, be curious. It can give you a fresh perspective on old problems. Grab a coffee with someone you met on Twitter, take out a Stack magazine subscription (they send you a different title every month), walk a new way to the office. If you’re curious, I wrote a little Kindle book on this.
    5. Stand for something. Don’t be a fence-sitter. If you’ve got an opinion about something, express it. Whether it’s battling sexism in your industry or you have a desire to make the world a better place, write a blog post, share your thinking.
    6. Tell stories. You meet someone at a conference. Instead of asking ‘what do you do?’ share some stories. You want your business to stand out in a crowded market? Don't sell your business, tell some stories around how it changes customer lives. You want to bring about change in your organisation? Use the power of story to get your employees on side and to understand where you’re headed. I help businesses - and entrepreneurs - capture and shape their story. If you need help, email hello@iansanders.com .
    7. Get out of the bloody office! The best meetings I’ve had this year? Walking along the streets of cities like Paris, London and Bristol, and sitting in coffee shops. The best events? The Do Lectures in the middle of the Welsh countryside. Why do we think the office is fit for purpose for doing our best work? Get out of the office! That’s why I’ve launched my Fuel Safaris, one day walk-around-the-city workshops where I reconnect people with their story, passion and purpose.

    If you’re stuck at the crossroads and need more fuel for 2016, come on a Fuel Safari. If you book one now for January 2016, I’m offering this one day programme at £500 rather than £1,000. Get in touch by email hello@iansanders.com and I’ll send you back info and availability. 
     

    Here’s to good times in 2016…!

  • Opening eyes to new possibilities. A day on a Fuel Safari...

    The Fuel Safari was everything I hoped it would be, and many things I hadn’t even considered might be possible. Without a shadow of a doubt, that was down to Ian, his approach and his ability to pick out details others overlook. I can see myself undertaking a Fuel Safari each year.

    Simon White, Formation London

     

    It’s ten thirty on a Thursday morning and I’m sitting on the steps of the Seven Dials monument in London’s Covent Garden. Takeaway coffees in hand, I’m here with Simon White. Ahead of us lies six hours of discovery: walking, talking and plotting. Welcome to Fuel Safari, my one-day session to rediscover your fuel.

    Fuel Safari is different from traditional coaching. I guess I’m an ‘AntiCoach’, I bring my passion, curiosity and outsider point-of-view to ask the right questions. The morning is about inputs, walking around Soho and Fitzrovia, asking questions, getting inspiration IN. The afternoon is about outputs, mapping the ‘what next?’, laying down the building blocks, getting inspiration OUT.

    Today’s client is the founder of Formation London. Formation London helps brands, agencies and organisations innovate, adapt and thrive. The company has had a good year, now Simon needs the fuel to lay the foundation stones for 2016.

    Much of my work is around storytelling and today’s Fuel Safari is no different: it’s about identifying and mapping a future story. Also my objective is to make sure that my clients are putting their real selves into their careers, work lives and businesses. That’s what I’m obsessive about: reconnecting people with their stories, purpose and passions. Making sure that the path ahead is aligned with who they are.

    Fuel Safari is a journey, taking executives, entrepreneurs and freelancers from where they are now to where they could be. I like to start the day here at Seven Dials, at this hub in the centre of seven ‘spokes’. Too often we are forced into making simplistic binary - yes-or-no - decisions in life. But life is more complex than that. There are often more than two options. Here at Seven Dials, we look around us and see seven routes going off in different directions. Which path shall we choose?

    We head north, taking the side streets; busy streets are no-go areas on my safaris. We’re away from the hustle and bustle, so we can slow down, follow our curiosity. Pausing to look at a piece of graffiti on Cleveland Street (“All the good things are wild and free”), stopping at a bench on Fitzroy Square. I have a rough plan for where we’re going, weaving through the alleyways and cut-throughs north of Oxford Street. At Margaret Street I give Simon a choice. “Do you want to go left or right?”

    “Straight on!” he replies.

    As we walk I’m asking questions, listening, noticing. Stopping to capture thoughts and ideas on a pack of Artefact cards in my pocket. And when we need our own fuel, we find a pit-stop. Today it’s Kaffeine in Eastcastle Street.

    After a stop on Carnaby Street for lunch, we grab a table at the Hospital Club and fan out this morning’s cards. Simon adds in his own suggestions and we’re away: building and mapping. Mapping the core proposition, ideas for new products, ways that his business can stand apart. Throughout the process I’m searching for alignment: is he bringing Simon - and what he stands for - to every fragment of the business? By 4pm Simon’s fuel tanks are full: he says we’ve opened up opportunities that he just wouldn’t have considered on his own.

    We’ve gone on a literal and metaphorical journey, on the move most of the day. Most of us get too busy to stand back from the day-to-day and ask why we do what we do. I listen, then connect the dots.

    If you’re looking for personality profiling, go and see a coach. But if you’re stuck at a crossroads, looking for way forward and need someone to help navigate your what next, come and see an AntiCoach (email hello@iansanders.com and we can arrange a conversation*).

    I’ll leave you with some more thoughts from Simon.

    Going on a Fuel Safari opened my eyes to possibilities that I had previously overlooked, as well as plenty of ideas and paths that had been hidden in the undergrowth that is modern life. Ian helped to strip away the complexity of things to expose some incredibly interesting thoughts. And he even managed to encapsulate what it is I do in with Formation London a simple, single-minded statement that resonates clearly with others.

    The follow-up exercise in the afternoon of mapping out those thoughts was so useful - a chance to discuss, pick apart and rebuild thinking as part of the open-minded approach Ian has devised. Not only did it demonstrate how I’d got to where I am, but it shone a light on the right places to go next.

    Best of all, I’m left with something I can draw upon for inspiration as I move into the year ahead - and beyond.”

     

    * Fuel Safaris cost £1,000 for the day. If you make a booking by the end of January 2016, pay just £500. Email hello@iansanders.com to start a conversation.

  • If you want to fly, make sure you bring ‘You’ to work!

    Here’s a question: when you arrive at work, do you leave your personality in the umbrella stand at the door or do you bring it in with you?

    There’s a lot of cynicism around the idea of “authenticity” at work. I’ve heard people snigger at the suggestion that we should be ourselves when it comes to how and why we make our living.

    But I’m serious about authenticity. Lots of us put on a mask to go to work. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Imagine how different business life might be if we chose roles — and re-crafted existing ones — that were more “us”. I think we’d be happier and more fulfilled (and as we spend so much time at work, aren’t these things important?).

    Here’s my take on why authenticity matters:

    1. It’s harder to put on a mask for the working day when the borders between work and home have eroded. When do you take the mask off? Before or after your 9pm conference call? Today it makes no sense to separate the Work You from the Real You.
    2. But it’s bigger than that. If we lose sight of who we are, that’s where it all goes wrong. Looking back to my own story and the stresses that led to a burnout 15 years ago, it all went wrong when I stopped doing the work that fired me up. If I’d stuck to being me, I might have avoided the burnout.
    3. If we want to be happier and more productive in our lives, shouldn’t we inhabit organisational cultures that bring out the best versions of ourselves? I’m writing this in a buzzy coffee shop, sitting up at a bar. There’s music playing. For many tasks, this is my ideal workplace. If you put me in a sterile corner office I know I wouldn’t be as productive.
    4. But I’m not saying we should turn workplaces into outposts of Starbucks. I was talking to an American working in London who bemoaned how her British co-workers start their Monday morning asking how the weekend was. She doesn’t want to know the ins and outs of coworkers’ personal lives, she wants to get on with her work. That’s her preference, but knowing a little more about what makes a co-worker tick can only foster better working relationships (but OK: spare me the details on your poorly cat).
    5. Bringing ourselves to our work is not just to what we do, but also how we do it. How we manage relationships, how we conduct meetings, how we make presentations. Who knows: perhaps your distinctive business style will get you noticed?
    6. If we lose sight of our passions, our purpose and our story; if we fake it, put on a mask, and do jobs that aren’t us then what’s the point? I wouldn’t want to hire anyone who didn’t feel fired up about what they’re doing and I wouldn’t want to work for an organisation that didn’t want to let the real me in.
    7. Because here’s the thing: the best experiences I’ve had in my work life, the times when I’ve felt in flow, in my element? No surprise here — they’re the ones where I’ve not been trying to be someone else, it’s where I’ve felt most me.

    The graphic designer Anthony Burrill said recently “My personal values dictate and inform what kind of work I produce.” That’s no surprise for an artist, but why should a banker or a sales director be any different? Why don’t the rest of us bring ourselves to our work?

    This year I’ve started leading Fuel Safaris, a one-day walk-around-London coaching programme where I help executives and entrepreneurs reconnect with their passions and purpose. What I’m discovering on my walks around town is that when we get lost in our careers or working lives, we need to look to ourselves to navigate the way forward. We need to set our compass towards ‘us’.

    There’s a lot of uncertainty ahead in the job market. But one thing is clear — we’re going to have much longer work lives. Full retirement just won’t be an option for most of us. So why defer your Real You work life until you retire? This IS your life. If you’re going to spend your working life leaving your personality at the door, then surely that’s a waste of potential?

    If you want to fly, make sure you bring ‘You’ to work!


    I run one day, one-to-one coaching sessions in London where I help people reconnect with their passions, purpose and story. Fuel Safaris are ideal for anyone stuck at the crossroads and unsure where to go next. Details here or give me a shout hello@iansanders.com.

  • Five things to do when your fuel tank is low

    If, like me, you work for yourself — or even if you don’t — you’ll have days in your working life that are quite frankly, crap. The phone doesn’t ring, no-one gets back to you, that project didn’t happen, oh and it’s a miserable day outside.

    And on days like these, it can be hard to stay positive.

    Whilst there’s no magic wand to finding your mojo, there are some steps you can take to refuel. Start by accepting how you feel, rather than trying to deny it. If you feel really crap, then so what? Be okay with that. Don’t wallow in it, but just recognise that’s how you’re feeling. Once you’ve acknowledged it, you can do something about it. Here are five things to do when the fuel tank is low.

    1. Go do something else. If your working life doesn’t look in great shape, taking time off may not sound like the best advice. Shouldn’t you be hitting the phones trying to find a new gig to replace the one that slipped through your hands? But if your fuel is low, you won’t be in the right mindset to tackle your to-do list. So switch out of work mode. Go do something else for an hour or two. Come back when you feel better. Which brings me on to #2.
    2. Know what fuels you; go and do that. Those experiences when you feel in your element? Baking a cake, writing a blog post, going for a 40km cycle, playing the piano? Just go and do whatever that is, and as soon as you get into your stride, you’ll feel your fuel levels rise.
    3. Have someone to lean on. When everybody else is chest-puffing, tweeting and posting about how damn successful they are, it can be hard to be honest about how you feel. Have someone you can be honest with, who you can lean on and tell it like it is. Call them up, go and chat with them.
    4. Get fired up by someone else’s story. If your own fuel tank is empty, try looking somewhere else for inspiration. Read a book, listen to a podcast, watch a Do Lecture. Get fired up by listening to someone else’s story.
    5. Look after yourself. Remember, if your fuel tank is low, it’s a sign. A sign that you need to look after yourself. Not just your physical health, but your mental health too. Get plenty of sleep, go for a walk. Oh, and switch off that digital device.

    Find out how I can help your organisation find its fuel: iansanders.com/fuel

    I also run one-to-one Fuel Safaris, one-day coaching sessions in London where I help people reconnect with their passions, purpose and story. It’s ideal for anyone stuck at the crossroads and unsure where to go next. Details here.

  • “TeuxDeux Tales”: shining the light on people not products

    When I’m advising businesses on how to tell their story, I always say shine the light on people, not products. Your audience probably won’t care about the functionality of your product, but they might be interested in how it changes the lives of your customers.

    That’s how I approached a project for TeuxDeux . TeuxDeux is the to-do list app started by Tina Roth Eisenberg. What I love about the app is its simplicity. It replicates how I’ve been keeping pen-and-paper to-do lists for years. I rely it on every single day.

    So I was interested in what other users liked about TeuxDeux, and what difference it makes to their lives. The result is a short series of stories called ‘TeuxDeux Tales.’ I’ve really enjoyed capturing and telling these stories of working lives. Here are the links to the three stories:

    1. Toronto based illustrator Lichia Liu 
    2. London web designer Dan Howells
    3. Sugru founder Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh

     

  • Fuel-up for winter! Inspiration for your business & work life

    Hello. Perhaps you’re reading this in a cosy coffee shop, or maybe you're at your desk. Wherever you are, I hope your work life is in good shape. Here’s my roundup of posts and links to get you thinking as we head into 2016:

    Get back on track for 2016. Stuck at a crossroads in your career or work life, unsure where to go next? Join me on a one-to-one Fuel Safari in London; I’ll reconnect you with your passion and purpose. Here’s what Michael Starke said about his experience. “Ian’s Fuel Safaris are perfect beacons for anyone seeking clearer direction on their personal journey.” Fuel Safari launches in 2016 at £1,000; whilst it's still in beta-mode, it's just £500. More details here or email hello@iansanders.com and we can set up a call to chat.

    Don’t let life rush by. Earlier this month I took a Monday off to spend with my family. It reminded me the importance of focusing on the Now. Here’s what I learned by implementing a 'Bonus Sunday'.

    How to stand out from the crowd. I’ve just finished a storytelling project for Buzzacott, the London accountancy firm. If you’re looking to stand out from the crowd in an abundant market, stop selling your services and start telling stories. Here’s why it matters.

    Get fired up. My manifesto ‘Five ways to fire up your business & work-life’ is now available as a limited edition poster print on Etsy. If you’d like a postcard version of the manifesto, send your address to hello@Iansanders.com and I’ll mail you one back free of charge (but when they're gone, they're gone!).

    Why values matter. The cynics might not agree, but I think values matter in business life; they are the ties that bind us together. Here’s my two minute take on why you shouldn’t take your organisation’s values for granted.

    Five lessons from fifteen years without a proper office. Do you spend an increasing amount of time working outside of an office? Here are my tips to get the most out of nomadic working.

    Lessons from the world’s top 50 management thinkers. This week I was at Thinkers50, billed the ‘Oscars of management thinking.’ Here are the lessons I took away.

    On stage 2016. Next April I’m delighted to be speaking at the Snap Photography Festival in Wales about storytelling and finding your fuel. Details of the festival are here. And if you would like to hire me to speak, let’s talk!

    Craig Finn plays ‘Extras’. Music is important to me, it fuels much of my 'head-down' work when I'm writing a story. In September Craig Finn (from Brooklyn band The Hold Steady) played a set at my local record shop. I went along and grabbed this video of him playing Extras. Grab yourself a coffee and check it out.

    My 8 year old's to-do list. "Do stuff. Be nice. Write stories." I found this on the side of my son's bookcase. Not just a to-do list, a mantra for life! 

    Thanks for reading. As ever, get in touch hello@iansanders.com to have a conversation about any of this. And please do share this if you know anyone who might like a slice of this content!

    (This is my Winter 2015 newsletter that was sent out to subscribers today. You can subscribe in the box at the foot of the page)

  • Lessons from the world’s top 50 management thinkers

    A few months ago I was at The Do Lectures, a conference on a farm on the west of Wales, where delegates and speakers sleep under canvas. On Monday I was at Thinkers50, an event held in the palatial surroundings of London’s Drapers’ Hall, a building that was once Thomas Cromwell’s London mansion.

    Talk about worlds apart! At the Do Lectures, the dress code is wellies and hoodies; here at Thinkers50 it was suits in the daytime followed by tuxedos and evening dress for dinner. It’s those kind of juxtapositions I enjoy about my working life; after all it would be tedious if every event looked and felt the same.

    Thinkers50 is billed as the ‘Oscars of management thinking,’ an event that ranks the top management thinkers in the world. The day included panel discussions and lightning round presentations, closing with a gala awards dinner. Here are some lessons from the day:

     

    1. Power belongs to the individual, not the organisation. Nilofer Merchant told us how the individualisation of power creates value for what she’s branded our Onlyness: that each of us is standing in a spot that no one else occupies. To have power in the old days, we had to belong to an organisation. But today, ‘digital’ lets us find other people who care about the same thing as us (look at #BlackLivesMatter).
    2. Value isn’t what I know, it’s how what I know benefits someone else. And similarly, leadership is not what you do, it’s how what you do benefits others. Thanks for the reminder Dave Ulrich.
    3. Not knowing is an opportunity. There’s a lot of bullshit in management; I’ve rarely heard a business leader say “I don’t know.” So it was refreshing to hear Steven D'Souza’s say knowledge can lead to overconfidence, and that not knowing unlocks answers. By having an open mind - or better, a clear beginner’s mind - we can delight in new possibilities.
    4. Being out of your depth can be a good thing. Steven’s ideas were a neat segue into Liz Wiseman. Who wants a job they’re qualified for? asked Liz. The more challenged we are, the more satisfied we are.
    5. Work out now what you want to do in your 60s. Marshall Goldsmith coaches CEOs with what their ‘what next’ - what will they do when they retire? Marshall’s advice was to work out now what you want to be working on when you’re sixty (oh, and playing golf is over-rated).
    6. Each life stage is not about age, it’s about mindset. I smiled at Dan Pink’s revelation that at the age of fifty one - and as a bestselling author - he still has moments when he wonders what’s he doing with his life. Dan asked us what life stage we’re in now and where we’re headed next. I replied that my different life stages have not been governed by age, but by mindset and circumstance. Some of us reinvent ourselves professionally in our sixties; I’ve reinvented myself in my thirties and forties (and will continue to do so).
    7. You can’t separate the dark side from the shiny side of talent. Jennifer Petriglieri said employers need to invite people to bring their whole-selves to their work. In her own case she said she can’t bring her creativity to a role, without also bringing her angst. You can’t separate the two sides.

     

    Of course like all the best conferences, my highlight was sitting in a booth at Hoi Polloi restaurant at midnight, a Havana Club in hand, meeting a bunch of new people and putting the world to rights.

    I look forward to the next Thinkers50: it’s just that next time I’m going to copy Umair Haque and wear my leather jacket...


    Thanks to Nilofer for the invite.

  • Three storytelling tips for business leaders

    I just got asked what is an effective storytelling technique or mindset I would recommend for business leaders. Here’s my answer:

    Three things.

    First, make sure that the story you are telling your organisation fires YOU up. Because if it doesn’t get your fist-pumped, how on earth do you expect it to inspire others?

    Second, make your story simple. Don’t reach for the dictionary just because you’re telling a story in a business context. Speak in the same way you’d speak to your friends or family.

    Third, keep it human. Your story should be about people, not products. If you want to change hearts and minds, make sure your audience can relate with the people in your story.

     

    If you want some more tips, check out my two minute video ‘The importance of storytelling: How to tell a better story’: