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careers
  • 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...

  • 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…!

  • 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 hello@iansanders.com 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.’

  • 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.

     

  • 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!

  • 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