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creativity
  • 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…!

  • 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.

  • 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.

    What fuels me is helping others find their fuel. Whether it’s taking people on my walk n’ talks (check out my Lunch Break walk n’talks) or helping businesses grab hold of their story, purpose and raison d’etre (check out Fuel-up Your Business) I get people, organisations and businesses fired up about their work, helping them develop and grow. 

  • “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

     

  • “Simplicity is powerful. Because you can't hide from it.” The Gospel According To Dave.

    Isn’t it refreshing when someone comes along and tells it like it is? And says, enough of the jargon, enough of the bullshit.

    That’s what I like about Dave Trott. Dave is a former ad agency chairman and executive creative director. Born in east London, he went to art school in New York on a Rockefeller Scholarship. From there he began an illustrious career in advertising, as part of the creative team behind 'Hello Tosh Gotta Toshiba', the Cadbury Flake ads and many, many more.  He’s been training young copywriters and art directors since the 1970’s. Promoting an ethos of ruthless simplicity, Dave’s message is to stop being so damn clever.

    Last week Mark Borkowski hosted a breakfast chat with Dave at The Ivy Club. Sitting there I realised how quotable - and tweetable - Dave is. Rather than flood my Twitter feed with his one-liners, here are some notes I scribbled in my notepad.

    The Gospel According to Dave:

     

    1) On tech

    “Don’t start with technology. Start with the people and work back from there.”

    2) On standing out from the crowd

    “If you’re going to be a pirate, you don’t want a navy full of pirates.”

    “I don’t want to be the wallpaper. I want to be the picture on the wall”.

    3) On creativity

    “Creativity isn’t a discipline, it’s how you do your job.”

    4) On punters

    “Why have we forgotten how the punter’s mind works? Our market is punters. You’ve got to talk to them in the right away.”

    5) On simplicity

    “It’s like Einstein said. If you can’t explain it to an eleven year old, you’re over-complicating it.”

    “Simplicity is powerful. Because you can’t hide from it.”



    Every industry needs a Dave Trott. Whether it's advertising, journalism or recruitment, we can get so wrapped up in jargon and the way things are meant to be, we need a reminder to take it back to basics, to keep it simple. To call time on the bullshit.



    [Thanks to Mark Borkowski for hosting the event]

     

  • How to get unstuck.

    Most of us get stuck. Whether we’re deciding to take a new job, to go freelance or to launch a new product, we get to that stage where it feels like we’re banging our head against the wall: we struggle with the same question and can’t move on.

    In his new book The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life, Bernie Roth provides help to address those questions that continue to bug us, the things that keep us awake at night. Prof Roth - who is a professor of engineering at Stanford University and a director of the d.school  - suggests if you’re stuck with a problem, you’re probably asking the wrong question.

    The way to find out the right question is to ask: “What would it do for me if I solved that problem?” Here’s an example from the book:

    • First Roth takes the question, “How might I find a spouse?”
    • He says if you are stuck on this, ask yourself “What would it do for me if I solved this problem?”
    • The answer to this can be converted to a new question e.g. “How might I find companionship?”
    • This new question unlocks possibilities.
    • If you get stuck with that question, the process can be repeated at a higher level e.g. ask yourself,“What would it for for me if I found companionship?”
    • Again, that delivers a new question, “How might I feel less lonely?” that should unlock fresh ideas.


    Roth argues reframing the question brings fresh solutions: you just have to commit not to hang on to the original question, but to let go of it.

    You can find out more about Roth’s book on his website The Achievement Habit and watch his recent talk at Google’s offices here:

     

  • The SNAP Photography Festival

    Photography has always been one of my passions. In the late 1970s it was a Kodak Instamatic, in the 80s - and pretty much for the next twenty years - a trusty Pentax K1000. Today I have a digital SLR, but like most of us I tend to use my iPhone 6 more - after all, the best camera is the one we have with us.

    Whilst I didn’t pursue photography professionally, I still loving taking pictures (you can follow me on Instagram here). So I’m delighted to be on the speaker-line up at next year’s SNAP Photography Festival where I’ll be talking about storytelling and finding your fuel.

    SNAP is a rather special event that mixes conference, immersive learning, a creative retreat - oh, and glamping - at the lovely Fforest Farm (the old home of the Do Lectures) in Cardigan, Wales from 18th - 22nd April 2016. Imagine The Do Lectures for photographers, and you get an idea of what SNAP is all about.  

    SNAP has been designed to inspire existing professional photographers as well as those interested in turning a hobby into a business. Check out snapphotofestival.com for more details. There are a variety of accommodation ticket packages available alongside some offers: the code EARLYSNAP will give 10% off or you can use the code DEPOSIT to pay 50% now and 50% in November.

    See you there!

     

  • Stick what you stand for up on the wall

    If you know what makes your organisation tick, if you know what you stand for, why don’t you stick it up on the wall so that everyone can see it?

    That’s what TheFamily has done. TheFamily is a Paris-based accelerator housed in a beautiful space in the city. When I arrived there yesterday, it felt more like a hotel lobby - or perhaps an intellectual salon - than a tech co-working space, with plush armchairs, bookshelves and wooden furniture, of course punctuated by the sight of obligatory MacBooks on every lap.

    I was at TheFamily to give a presentation on how startups can leverage their story and purpose to get heard. As I waited for people to take their seats, I took a look at TheFamily’s manifesto that’s on the wall by the front door. This is their story and purpose, for all to see.

    And what better place to put your manifesto than on the wall so everyone can see it?

    As Simon Heath commented on Twitter earlier, “it's the most important thing about values. You have to embody them. Otherwise they're just empty words.” He’s right. If you keep your values hidden, perhaps you can get away with not adhering to them. I think putting your values up on the wall for everyone to see is an exercise in transparency - if you’re not living up to them, then people have the right to call you out.


    So if you know what your organisation stands for, don’t hide it away, stick it up on the wall. Put your values where everybody can see them.


    (If you don’t know what you stand for or you've lost sight of your story, and you need someone to help extract and capture it, that’s what I do -  hello@iansanders.com).

  • 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

  • "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).

     

  • 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.

     

  • ‘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.

  • 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 Basecamp.com, to demonstrate the effectiveness of clear and simple language on a website.

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

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


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


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

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

  • Noticing the signs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    You can follow James on Twitter: @jamesvictore.

  • Change your working scenery

    Twelve months ago I co-founded a meetup group in my local neighbourhood; yesterday, when I stepped into my co-founder’s shoes to facilitate the latest meeting, I decided to shake things up a bit.

    Rather than meet in our regular coffee shop, we headed for the beach where I led an alfresco workshop on the benefits of changing your working scenery.

    Most of us know that if we stay in the same working environment too long, we’ll become stale. Our productivity will suffer and our creativity will plummet. But still, so many organisations continue to build cultures around board rooms and offices. I think we need to challenge the automatic belief that offices are always the best places to work. I explained to the group how in my fourteen years as an independent, I’d never had a single fixed office, preferring to work from a mix of spaces instead. As a collaborator of mine once put it: “You *are* your office”.

    Earlier this week on another hot summer’s day, I was pleased to see some workers had taken their meetings outside; in the glorious surroundings of London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Gardens, a group of executives in summer dresses and rolled up shirtsleeves huddled around a table amongst the plants and flowers. Perhaps we should stop seeing alfresco meetings as a nice treat, and instead see them as a potentially better way of conducting business, where attendees are fired up by their surroundings, rather than sit yawning in an identikit bland meeting room?

    At yesterday’s meetup I explained how Nilofer Merchant had championed the ‘walking meeting’, getting exercise at the same time as a fresh perspective from the constant change in scenery. I introduced the group to Street Wisdom, the brainchild of David Pearl and Chris Baréz-Brown that shows us how we can use our surroundings to help guide decision-making; how the environment around us is full of wisdom that we tend to be too busy to notice. Having experienced my first Street Wisdom earlier in the year (read my post on that here), I tried a couple of exercises with the meetup group.

    Having warmed everyone up with an exercise to get them noticing their surroundings I then got them asking the street (or in yesterday’s case, the beach and promenade) to help them navigate a career or work decision.

    As the twenty members of the group came back from their ten minute walk, it was fascinating to hear how tuning into their surroundings had brought them clarity or a new direction. One guy explained how that seeing channels of water in the mud reminded him how he could pursue multiple options in his career, and how if it failed ‘the tide would come in again’. Another member of the group said how a ‘Keep off this structure’ sign on a jetty had reminded him how much he struggled being told what to do, and how we was more productive without having any rules.

    As the morning progressed, the beach filled with groups of school children on a day out to the beach. Whilst the noisy, excited kids were at first a distraction to our meetup, we soon noticed how the kids were having fun on the sand without a care in the world. This was a reminder to many of us to reframe our working lives, to make sure we make time for childlike curiosity and having fun.

    What we all learned in two hours is that taking meetings outside is more than just having a pretty-picture backdrop to conversations, it’s using our surroundings to inspire us to be more creative than we could possibly be inside meeting rooms and offices. Most of the group (hopefully) came away inspired and invigorated.

    So let’s stop looking at meetings-out-of-the-office as indulgences that are counter to our business culture; and instead recognise the business, human and cultural benefits that come from working and meeting in weird and wonderful spaces.


    [I’ll be hosting a free Street Wisdom in Southend-on-Sea in September; in the meantime if you’re interested in having me host an al fresco workshop to get your business inspired about the benefits of changing your scenery, get in touch hello(at) iansanders(dot) com]. 

  • A business that actually makes stuff: behind the scenes at sugru.

    Over the last twenty years I must have visited a few hundred ‘places of work’: co-working spaces, big corporation HQs, small business offices, artist studios, factories, and other workplaces of all shapes and sizes.

    But inevitably, most of the places I visit don’t actually make anything on site anymore, having outsourced production overseas; and whilst I’ve been impressed by the number of tech and digital businesses I’ve seen - if they make anything at all - they make things at a screen. Nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing to touch and feel.

    So no wonder  I got such a buzz visiting sugru’s HQ last week. Here - in an unassuming building in a mixed street of houses and workshops in south Hackney - they actually make stuff!

    Over 500,000 people in 155 countries use sugru - a brightly-coloured self-setting rubber for fixing, modifying and making ‘stuff’. The invention of Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, sugru was born out of an idea she had whilst a student at The Royal College Of Art.

    I noticed a tangible buzz as Jane showed me around the office/factory. There’s noise. Machinery. Hums and buzzes. There's a loading bay. Boxes being secured with packing tape. A room where they mix the ingredients. A lab staffed by a woman in white coat and goggles, a (miniscule) production line. With its small scale and bright colours, it looked like a toy factory scene, like something made by Playmobil.

    And behind all this buzz and industry is an entrepreneur with her feet firmly on the ground, and a dog under her desk. Jane says that growing up on a farm in rural Ireland helped shape her idea, one that encourages a new generation of consumers to embrace repairing items instead of throwing them away.  She told me: “Like a lot of people from rural areas and farms in particular, I grew up in a family where home-made was the preferred option for a lot of things. One of my Granny’s favourite things to do was to mend our clothes on a Sunday, and I loved watching her work”.

    Why should you be interested in sugru’s story? Because it's doing things differently and they’re a great success. On the bus-ride from sugru back to Soho, I scribbled down five things that make the business distinctive:

     

    1. It’s a unique product. Try and describe sugru and it’s hard to do so; that’s the business’s marketing challenge - and opportunity.  It’s a brand new invention.
    2. Its customers are its sales force. We often hear how a business’s customers can ‘help do the heavy lifting’, by helping selling the product. So how do you sell the benefits of a product that has infinite applications? You get your customers to share examples, via video and photos, of how they’ve used the product.  Thereby inspiring new customers to buy the stuff!
    3. sugru stands for something. I’m a great advocate for businesses competing on their values and thinking as much as their products. sugru is smart because Jane has built a business based on a philosophy that it's better to fix things rather than throw them away. That purpose unites all the customers and makes them proud to use sugru, and to become advocates for the brand. People that use it are passionate about it.
    4. They have their own factory. As I’ve already noted, here is a business in London that makes stuff and sends it to customers around the world. That’s not just a novelty, it has advantages, I love how the factory is next to the office.  They could have split the operation across two sites or even outsourced production. But no, there’s just one door between them. The proximity of the founder of the business to functions like production and research is impressive. That gives them an operational and management advantage, being so close to where it’s made.
    5. They’re good at mixing offline with online. They built the business online, but they’re now reaching out to customers and markets offline. For instance, you can now buy sugru in the UK retailer B&Q, and they're expanding into other retailers worldwide.


    When we hear about start-up success stories, tech and digital businesses tend to dominate the attention, with the emphasis on shiny apps and digital tools. So it’s refreshing to see a business that makes something you can not only touch and feel, but also mould into infinite applications.

  • Finding answers in the street: ‘Street Wisdom’

    I walk around London a lot. Walking - in any city - is my preferred method of transport. I love to discover side streets, to take random left-turns and see where I end up. Often I’ll choose to walk from east to west London, clocking up several miles in between meetings. I like how walking gives me the space to think: it beats a crowded tube carriage.

    Last Friday morning I spent three hours walking around central London, but I wasn’t heading to a meeting, I was trying something new.  I walked down streets I’d hadn’t seen before, I looked up at buildings, noticing what was around me, sometimes walking at a snail’s pace. With fifty other people I was taking part in ‘Street Wisdom’, the brainchild of David Pearl and Chris Baréz-Brown. Street Wisdom is based on the idea that the environment around us is full of wisdom that most of the time we tend to ignore. If only we can tune-in to what’s around us, then we can learn something new or solve a business or work challenge.

    During our morning of walking the streets, David taught us to notice our surroundings. We were tasked with following the story of a street, of finding beauty in a drab street scene, of seeing what happens when we slow right down in the middle of Trafalgar Square. And then, we were set a challenge: we had to pose a business or career challenge to the street and see how it responded. I found myself heading to Soho Square: I went into a church I must have passed over fifty times but never been in; I looked at street signs and notice boards, I kept an open mind and saw how my surroundings gave me signals. Yes, 'the street' gave me a fresh direction on my work challenge; by looking around and being more mindful of my surroundings I was able to see things from a new perspective (and there's a great post by a fellow Street Wisdom participant, Simon Heath, here).

    I guess I’ve always found trips to other cities really valuable in unlocking creativity or giving me the clarity to make decisions. In the past I've been on ‘inspiration jaunts’  to places like Brighton, Paris, Dorset, Amsterdam and Nice to get fired up creatively. What I like about Street Wisdom is that I may not need to get on a ‘plane so often when I’m looking for inspiration -  I may become more self-sufficient in London and my local neighbourhood. As David Pearl told me, “it might help me get away without actually going away”.

    As well as London, Street Wisdom has already rolled out in San Francisco, New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and Sofia: co-founders David and Chris are offering it free of charge to anyone who wants to try it. Here’s a little chat I had with co-founder David Pearl on video:

     

     

  • Towards a more human-centered approach to business: why every organisation needs its yin as well as its yang.

    A while ago I was hired by a new client. The guy that hired me recognised I was different, that I wasn’t a traditional consultant. He liked the fact that I lived in other worlds, that I wore other hats. He’d followed me on Twitter and found me interesting. He admitted he couldn’t precisely describe what I did, but he also recognised that my sense of being a ‘misfit’ added value to what I did for him. No-one else looked at things like I did.  He valued my ideas and the work I delivered.

    Then the guy who’d hired me left the company. His successor had a more traditional approach to doing business. On first meeting her, I suggested we grab a coffee in the foyer; she replied she’d rather the boardroom. She asked about my strategy, about similar projects I was doing for other clients. I explained that my strategy was founded on my curiosity, that the rest of my portfolio was a real mash-up of different projects from different worlds.

    The next morning she sent me an email explaining that the company would not be using my services any more. My initial reaction was disappointment. I liked working with the business and I’d miss it. I guess no-one likes to be dumped. But then I remembered not everyone likes the taste of Marmite. And that’s fine.

    Because there are those who like to do things the usual ways, who fit into neat boxes with labels on them. And then there are the rest of us; who have different approaches, who flip traditional thinking on its head.

    I was reminded of this juxtaposition reading Chris Baréz-Brown’s new book ‘Free!’; Chris talks about the ‘Yin and Yang’ of business. Businesses have always been very yang. This is the ‘machine-like’ approach, sticking to the way things have been done before, very planning-led, relying on empirical evidence and data. That’s not me.

    Chris argues that whilst the yang has served us well, today organisations need more of the yin. We need a more human-centered approach, based more on gut and emotion than spreadsheets and plans. That is me (it’s the kind of approach I’ve advocated in my own books, ‘Mash-Up!’ and ‘Zoom!’).

    From 2012-2014 I was a regular contributor to the Financial Times ‘Business Life’ pages; here in a newspaper that deals with very complex issues, I had the opportunity to tell simple stories from a human-centered point of view. My articles were successful because  - in crude terms - they were stories about people, for people. You didn’t need prior knowledge of startups or innovation to read them. Whether you were the woman sitting with her iPad at a midtown Manhattan Starbucks, or the bloke in a London pub flipping through the paper in the evening, everyone could get what I was talking about. Reflecting on Chris’s book I realised I was the ‘Yin guy’, bringing a human-centered approach to the pink pages of the FT.

    So I think every business needs to embrace the yin - to challenge conventional thinking, to suggest new ways of working and doing. And perhaps those of us who who bring the yin to work do get treated like Marmite, but that’s okay:  the value is in looking at things differently, shaking up the status quo.

  • The importance of 'place' in driving productivity and creativity

    This week I took my 'office' (well, me) to Amsterdam. Here's a little video I shot on why we need to think more carefully about the importance of 'place' in our business and work lives.

  • Balancing the purity of what you want to do, with the need to earn money

    Often in our careers and work lives, we think we have to make black or white, all-or-nothing, choices. We might dream of giving up the drudgery of a boring job to become an artist. But the reality is that success is not about transitioning from one to another, but instead balancing what we do for love with what we do for money. The designer and entrepreneur Paul Smith talked about this last week in a presentation at The Design Museum.

    When Paul started out in a tiny shop in Nottingham, it only opened two days a week. The shop was his dream but he knew it wouldn’t sustain an income five or six days a week. So he freelanced as a photographer and stylist. Paul explained that he spent the majority of the week doing whatever it took to earn money – all to keep the creative purity of his shop afloat.  

    “For the rest of the week I would make all the compromises that I had to, but for the two days a week, I was able to keep it completely pure, he said.

    Paul explained that this balancing act has been a constant through his life. In the Q&A afterwards a woman asked how he approached designing a new collection. Paul returned to his balancing act: how he needed to balance designs that would be commercially successful with the purity of his ideas that may be less commercially popular. Paul told us his jeans collection generated much more revenue than his mainline collection; he relied on the popularity of the jeans business to pay for his office and staff overheads. If he had one without the other it wouldn't work; but if you can get the balance between the two, then it becomes viable.

    Paul’s story interests me because most of us can relate to this tension between 'Love' and 'Money'. It’s true for freelancers as much as it is for small service businesses like creative agencies. Last year some of my best experiences were projects that had low revenue attached; alongside this I admit I had a couple of projects I did for the money. A portfolio of solely passion projects would not be commercially viable; a work life comprised only of commercially lucrative gigs might not satisfy me creatively. But as a mash-up it is viable (this was at the heart of my 2012 book 'Mash-Up!').

    Paul Smith is right. We’ll always have that tension between the purity of our dreams and our ‘bread and butter’ work. Rather than think of it as a battle of either/or, perhaps we should accept we need them both?

  • Where ideas come from

    The need to have good ideas is like oxygen for many of us: we need fresh ideas to do our jobs effectively. In simple terms, I wouldn't have a business without any decent ideas. But most of us aren’t taught how to have good ideas, we just learn as we go; I know what makes me good at generating ideas - usually going to a new or unfamilair place - but I don't know why it works.

    Last week I hung out with Hugh Garry, who’s been teaching a course ‘Where ideas come from’. In this short video ‘Being curious about… where ideas come from’ Hugh shares some key learnings from his course:

    1. the importance of collecting
    2. re-use ideas
    3. allow your mind to wander
    4. the importance of noticing
    5. connecting the dots

    Hugh told me how important place is in unlocking creativity, how going to a new or unfamiliar place can get us generating ideas:

    “It’s good to walk away, to stop thinking about work and just let the surroundings ease the ideas out.”

     

     


     


  • Unleashing our creative confidence

    When I started working in broadcasting, there was a clear delineation between ‘creative’ roles and ‘non-creative’ roles. You were a researcher (creative) or a production manager (non creative). I never liked that; I liked to mix disciplines up. When I transitioned from a role producing a live event (creative) to apply for an internal post of production manager (non creative) my CEO warned me that this was a fork in the road - I had to make a career choice. Did I want to be a creative or a non-creative? He said if I applied for the production manager role, I was choosing a non-creative path.

    That conversation was twenty years ago, but I don’t think much has changed. Today many organisations assume creativity and innovation are the domain of ‘creative types’. That’s always felt very flawed to me. Even when I worked in management roles - managing the creatives - I still felt creative. But, to be honest, I think I lacked ‘creative confidence’.

    So I was really interested to go to London’s Royal Academy last night to see IDEO founder, David Kelley and his brother Tom talk about their new book Creative Confidence. In the book David and Tom argue that each and every one of us is creative.

    I haven’t finished the book yet, but in the meantime here are seven points I scribbled down from their talk - some useful takeaways to help us unleash our creativity:

    1. Know what drives you. Rate out of ten each thing you do every day. Note what drives you up to a ten When David got cancer he started rating what he’d done each day. He noted that driving along in the car singing out loud to music scored high; going to faculty meetings scored low. He stopped going to so many meetings.

    2. Leave planning until later. At the start of a creative project, have a bias towards action, not planning. Tom and David said the tendency at the start of a project is for everyone to get their laptops out to start planning. But don’t. Dive in to make your project happen; you can worry about planning it later.

    3. Choose a creative life. The Kelley brothers talked about what they had learned watching people who described themselves as ‘non creative’ making the transition to become creative. It’s all about making a choice; if you want to have a creative life, you may have to choose it.

    4. Don’t worry about dropping the balls. They talked about a colleague at Stanford who helped people overcome their fear of failure by desensitizing them to the fear of dropping balls during juggling. If you don’t have a fear of dropping them, you become a better juggler.

    5. Your work environment is like your body language. Someone asked how important it was for an organisation looking to embrace creativity to have a radically different sort of office space. The Kelley brothers replied every organisation doesn’t need to have a space like IDEO’s, but your office space should be true to your belief system. It's like your body language.

    6. You still have to work at talent. Creative confidence needs nurturing. A genius still needs to practice their talent six hours a day.

    7. Creative confidence starts with the individual. Someone asked whether creative confidence is an individual issue or an organisational issue. They replied it's an individual issue - that’s where it starts, but the collective result is in cultural change within organisations.