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curiosity
  • Notes from my holiday: three foodie brands serving the good stuff

    I’m just back from a week away in Suffolk. It was great to switch on my ‘out-of-office’ and head up the coast for a change in scenery, fresh air and (mostly) a WiFi free zone.

    One thing I love about Suffolk is its food scene. The county has an abundance of food suppliers, cafes, pubs and restaurants. There are small independent bakeries and vineyards alongside the more established brands such as Adnams, the business which powers the brewery, distillery, wine shops, pubs and hotels.

    My attention is inevitably drawn to the smaller brands: this is where the interesting stuff happens. I love hearing founders’ stories of how they turned their passions into a business.

    Here in Suffolk I found plenty of examples of small foodie brands who don’t simply serve the good stuff, but who are also driven by a strong purpose. And a purpose that feels genuine rather than merely a marketing slogan to stick up on a website.

    From my journey around Suffolk here are three brands that are worth watching:

     

    1. Pump Street Bakery. Famous for its hotel, long established oysterage and even longer-established castle, you won’t find much else here apart from a pub and general store. Now Orford is getting famous for something else. In a 15th century building on the village square lies Pump Street Bakery, started by father and daughter Chris and Joanna Brennan in 2010. When Chris retired from a job at IBM, he taught himself how to bake bread. Today he runs the bakery, whilst his daughter takes care of the shop and café. Not only do they serve up great bread, pastries and coffee - which you can enjoy around a large communal table - they have also built Pump Street upon some decent values. The bakery uses local flour and produce, they started a fund to support local community projects, they even give unsold bread to a family hostel in Ipswich. It’s the kind of place worth taking a detour to - the woman in front of me had come from Norwich just for the cakes. I told the kids we were going to Orford for the castle, but really it was for the coffee.
    2. Darsham Nurseries. On a stretch of the A12 between a petrol station and a railway level crossing is a left turn for Darsham Nurseries. In a ‘blink and you’d miss it’ spot, there’s not only a nursery for plants, but also a café and gift shop, selling everything from cacti to stationery. Whilst the menu has a middle eastern influence they still manage to grow most of the ingredients in their kitchen garden: lettuce, kale, chillies, greens and edible flowers. The project was started by Californian garden designer David Keleel in 2007 when he took over the then near-derelict premises. The café opened in 2014 and is currently run by head chef Lola DeMille. Recently it was honoured in the National Restaurant Awards, at number 80 in the 'Top 100 Restaurants in the UK'. Last week I spotted a beautiful summerhouse in the garden that’s available for private dining. It looks idyllic (picture above).
    3. Two Magpies Bakery. Four days last week we headed to Southwold beach where we soon established a routine. Whilst I set up basecamp on the sand with a picnic blanket and windbreak, my wife would head to the high street to pick up our fuel. Two Magpies Bakery wasn’t the closest coffee shop to the beach, but we knew from previous visits that their coffee was the best in town. It was started in 2012 by husband and wife Jim and Rebecca Bishop. Jim is a former bomb disposal expert who quit the British Army to learn to bake. Passionate about connecting people with great food, the Bishops have a busy cafe at the front of the premises with an artisan bakery at the back. Every day there was a long queue for the coffee, but it was worth the wait.


    It’s great to see indie brands and entrepreneurs thriving away from the big towns and cities, especially in a tougher market where consumers are watching their pennies. After all, these guys are competing on the quality of their produce rather than price. But it’s like my friend David Hieatt says: 'Quality' is a good business model...

  • 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

    Fuel Safaris are available in one hour and three hour formats. Prices start from £250 (plus VAT). More details: iansanders.com/coaching 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.

     

  • 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.

     

  • 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.

  • 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!

     

  • Changing How The Story Ends - the 2015 Do Lectures

    “It’s time to stop tiptoeing around my past. To take back my narrative and insist on a different ending to my story.”

    This is what Monica Lewinsky said in her recent TED talk - I shared these words when I stood on stage at The Do Lectures last Friday.

    When I first attended the Do Lectures in 2012, I was there as a storyteller. Not standing on stage telling stories, but in the audience, writing an article for the Financial Times and reporting for Monocle radio.

    Those who met me at Do in 2012 might have viewed me as a journalist or a writer, but the part those roles played was just the tip of the iceberg, a tiny part of The Ian Sanders story. It was great to be invited back in 2015 as a speaker and given a brief to share a story I had never told before. I decided it was time to change the narrative, to tell the real story about who I am and why I do what I do professionally today. It was time for me to stop tiptoeing around my past and to be honest about the roadblock I encountered fifteen years ago that forced me to change direction in life. And most importantly, I decided it was time to shine a light on the parts of the story I had previously edited out - the depression and other struggles I faced as a young man.

    Speaking at Do was a great experience, but also one of the hardest things I have ever done: not only to nail my story in twenty minutes, but also to stand up and talk openly about facing and overcoming adversity.

    It can be hard to stick your head above the parapet and expose your vulnerability, it’s not a very British thing to do. But it was made easier because of the environment. The Do Lectures is special. And yes, that may sound cheesy, but it is really like no other event I have been to. Held on a farm in the Welsh countryside, sleeping in tents under the stars. 90 minutes from a main railway station, the hard to reach location means the event attracts a different kind of attendee. But still they came, and not only from the UK but also from the Netherlands, the US and South Africa. The people who come want to make a change in their life or do something different.

    Some of my fellow speakers had products and businesses to talk about, others just had a story to share: Matt Lane on starting his online beer club in a shed; Anna Jones on becoming a food writer; CJ Bowry on starting a charity that finds new feet for outgrown kids shoes. And then Ryan Holiday, a former director of marketing at American Apparel surprised us all with his passion for the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Yes, there were plenty of surprises, even for me (including the moment I choked up on stage talking about my eight year old self).

    A few years ago I would have run a mile from speaking on stage. I’d lost my confidence and my voice. But now I’m back, back on stage and feeling back where I belong.


    I’d like to thank: David and Naomi at The Do Lectures for inviting me to speak; the Do attendees who listened to my story in the barn; Nilofer Merchant; Sarah King; Michael Townsend Williams; Mark Shayler; Nancy Duarte; David Sloly; Hannah Allen; and Zoë Sanders who provided me with the fuel and confidence to find and share my story.

    [Thanks to Andy Middleton for the photograph]

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

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

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

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

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

    If you’re curious about what’s in our launch edition, please follow the link to Crowdfunder and support us: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/Trawler


    Thank you

  • The Do Lectures: getting fired up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Videos of the talks will go online later in the year, but in the meantime tickets for June are available here: http://www.thedolectures.com/events/do-wales-2015


    I recommend it.

  • Curiosity & Opportunity: Dan Rubin

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

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

    (this episode was filmed with an iPhone 6).

     

  • Finding Onlyness... in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • 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.

  • Introducing 'Curiosity & Opportunity'

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

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

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

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

     

  • 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.

  • 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:

     

     

  • Injecting curiosity into your career and work life

    Last week I was delighted to give a presentation on curiosity to the nice folk at Dentsu Aegis, as part of their Route 500 career development programme. At the end of my talk I got asked some smart questions, so I’m sharing them - along with my responses - below:

    1. Q. How do you avoid getting digitally distracted when you’re being curious on platforms like Twitter?Checking Twitter is a great route for exploring and learning, but you might want to avoid getting lost down online ‘rabbit holes’. It can be hard to strike the right balance. What I try is to ‘check in’ with myself every few minutes. Check in and ask: is what I’m doing right now valuable? What have I learned in the last ten minutes? If you’ve caught yourself out and find yourself watching some random video after getting distracted from an article you were reading, maybe it’s time to take a break.
    2. Q. Being curious requires you to ‘think like a kid’ and ask questions without fear of failure; but how does that work in a practical sense - what if you're not comfortable being so inquisitive?Sure, we’re not all extrovert enough to go round asking questions of everyone we meet. In my own experience, it’s about switching into the right mindset, where I give myself that ‘licence to be curious’ to start talking to shopkeepers or to strangers in coffee shops. I don’t walk around with that mindset all the time, it’s a behaviour I switch on when I feel like it (check out my post ‘Do talk to a stranger’ if you want to explore this further).
    3. Q. How do you differentiate between people in life who are genuinely curious and those who use the internet to be curious, who are perhaps ‘fraudulently’ curious? I don’t believe one version of curiosity is necessarily better than the other. Both approaches are valid. Sure, nothing beats deep-dive curiosity when you are learning about something new, but sometimes it’s necessary to take digital shortcuts. I gave my own example of going to South By South West. Nothing beats going to SXSW in person, sitting watching a panel, meeting new people face to face. But it’s not always practical to spend the time and money going to a big conference like that; sometimes it’s more convenient to be curious by following a hashtag rather than being there in person. And that’s fine.
    4. Q. Any tips if you’re feeling stale and not getting very curious?When your curiosity muscle seizes up, change your surroundings. I always find journeys very productive for exploring my curiosity and coming up with new ideas. So, if I don’t have any business trips coming up and I’m feeling stale, I go somewhere. I take a journey (see my post on the value of ‘inspiration trips’ if you’re interested in finding out more).
    5.  Q. How can we make an organisation more curious? My advice is to get the people in an organisation hanging out together; getting them communicating and interacting across different disciplines outside of their comfort zone. Socially as well as in the workplace, informally as well as formally. I’ve found it’s that cross-fertilisation of ideas and experiences that nurtures curiosity.
  • Communities don’t happen by themselves

    This morning I was awoken by the sound of fog horns out on the Thames estuary. I love living by the coast. But although I have made Leigh-on-Sea my home - and yes, can often be found working from its coffee shops - I don’t tend to work with any clients locally; my clients, together with the publications I write for, are worldwide.

    But still, I’m passionate about my local town. I think our community of local doers, makers, creatives, artists, traders, small businesses and freelancers is something to be cherished..

    Last year I helped Michael Mentessi launch a local meet-up group. Already that group has started a ‘Made in Leigh’ movement to champion local talent and business; next month (on 5th February), we’re hosting ‘MILC’ - Made in Leigh Conversation - an evening of stories, conversation and inspiration. We have seven speakers covering subjects from ‘Prototyping a happier life’ to ‘Exploring creativity’. I’ll be speaking about the power of curiosity.

    I think we can easily take our local neighbourhoods for granted. We might assume that all the things we love about them - from great cafes to independent shops - will always be there. That there will always be a natural sense of community, without it being nurtured. But let’s not be complacent. Communities need building and nurturing - they don’t make themselves. They need an injection of ideas, organisation and effort. That’s what we’re aiming to do with Made in Leigh. To celebrate the collective independent, creative and entrepreneurial spirit of our town. But we won’t be limiting MILC to the people of Leigh, we’ll also be posting up videos online later in the year.

    And if you live in east London or Essex and want to join us in Leigh-on-Sea on Wednesday 5th February, there are still tickets left via Eventbrite.

  • Bring your personality to work with you

    One of my favourite jackets is a pinstripe.

    But if you know me well you’ll know I’m not a pinstripe kind of guy.

    I like this jacket because of its inside lining - a black and white print of a mixing desk with buttons and faders. I like it because it mixes playful with serious. If it were just a smart pinstripe jacket, I wouldn't have bought it.

    The jacket is by Paul Smith. Last week I went to London’s Design Museum to see the exhibition ‘Hello My Name is Paul Smith’. Paul’s first shop was in Nottingham - it was 12 foot square and was only open two days a week. That was 1970. Today, the Paul Smith brand is world famous.

    But I don’t just admire Paul Smith as an entrepreneur, I love his sense of playfulness evident throughout his designs. Many of us could do with borrowing a splash of Paul’s spirit and inject into our own way of doing business. And I don’t mean by wearing his clothes, I mean by letting our personality into the office and work lives, rather than leaving it by the door.

    One of the shirts on display at The Design Museum is a print of plates of spaghetti. If you were thinking of how to design a shirt you might not start with an idea of plates of spaghetti. But then again, why not?

    As I walked around the exhibition, I scribbled down some techniques from Paul Smith that will generate and inspire ideas:

    1. Be curious and ask ‘why?’ Paul says that if you want to look and see things in a different way you need to follow your curiosity and ask the question ‘why?’. Challenge conventions and norms and try breaking some rules.

    2. Also ....ask ‘why not?’. Inspiration and ideas can come from anywhere. Paul takes an image from one place and puts it in another: on a jacket. Another print on a jacket is a building facade in Cuba.

    3. Explore. Paul takes a camera everywhere to capture what he sees. He loves to visit cities, often touring a city in just 24 hours, grabbing ideas from unfamiliar places. He often finds inspiration for his fashion collection from street markets and shop windows.


    One of my favourite exhibits was a mock up of Paul’s office in Covent Garden (photograph above). It’s the antithesis of what you might expect a CEO or founder office to look like: a messy space full of books, gadgets, bicycles, old cameras, ‘stuff’. Full of technicolour. And amongst all the clutter - one thing was clear: Paul Smith doesn’t leave his personality at the door when he comes to work.

  • 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.”

     

     


     


  • My new short book on curiosity

    I love to capture and share ideas whether it’s writing books, columns, blog posts, newspaper articles, whatever.  

    Whilst I’ve really enjoyed writing 40,000 word books, I’ve been itching to create a short-form book, as an experiment apart from anything else. So a couple of months ago I decided to capture my thoughts on the power of curiosity in work and business. The result is a 3,400 word book.

    I called it ‘On Being Curious’ and it’s now available on Kindle for less than the price of an espresso; and It will only take you thirty minutes to read.

    The book is all about applying curiosity to think - and do things - differently, and in it I outline seven principles to help you embrace curiosity:

    1. Be fluid
    2. Think like a kid
    3. Embrace discovery and exploration
    4. Be an idea collector
    5. Travel without a map
    6. Read, watch and listen wildly
    7. Dabble

    Who's it for? Anyone who wants to think differently about their job, their business or life in general. You may be an executive in an organistion or a startup CEO, a creative worker or a freelancer working at home. All are welcome - so long as you're curious.

    Think of it as your personal handbook to living a more curious life. (For now) it's on Kindle only - you can grab it here on Amazon UK, and here for Amazon US (also available in other territories). And you don't even need a Kindle device - you can read Kindle books in your browser via read.amazon.com


  • The value of an outsider - helping ‘the locals’ see things differently.

    At the weekend I was standing in the graveyard of St Clement’s Church in Leigh-on-Sea, England, listening to a guy tell stories about my home town and the Thames estuary behind him.

    But this wasn’t a local historian or even an expert on Leigh-on-Sea, this was a guy from Pittsburgh, USA, 3,700 miles away. Justin Hopper is a writer and artist who was in Leigh to showcase his ‘Public Record’ art project (as part of the Shorelines literature festival). Justin explained he’d focused on Leigh-on-Sea and the Thames estuary because he had seen parallels between this area and his own home town of Pittsburgh, particularly in the way both towns had experienced change since the advent of the railway.Justin’s guided walk around the cobbled back streets of Old Leigh drove home to me the value an outsider can bring in seeing things differently, in capturing what the locals can often miss.

    Being able to have an outside perspective is critical in many situations. It’s how I work with client organisations. I’m able to spot things that ‘the locals’ — in my clients’ case, people in the organisation itself — can’t see. I capture a client’s ideas and values with the clarity that comes from looking at something for the first time. I’m able to bring value because I’m an outsider.

    An outsider doesn’t only bring a fresh take on things, she also brings curiosity and naivety. She is liberated from the culture, preconceptions, assumptions and — well, baggage — that can come with being an insider.

    I write for the Financial Times. My editor said he hired me because I live in a different world. I’m not just a freelance business writer, I do other ‘stuff’ and my experiences include people and businesses that are interesting to FT readers. If I was embedded as a full-time FT journalist or wrote about business full time, I wouldn’t bring that unique viewpoint to the newspaper’s pages.

    Which brings me back to Leigh-on-Sea. After fifteen years living in London, I moved back here seven years ago. I think this dislocation from the capital — it’s only 50 minutes away — creates a sense of separation that also makes me a better storyteller. London is where my clients are, it’s what stimulates me and I often write about businesses based there. But I don’t live and breathe it seven days a week.

    Now I’ve moved away from London, I have an enhanced sense of curiosity that I can bring to my storytelling. I’m the outsider again.

  • What makes entrepreneur Kathryn Parsons tick

    Earlier this month I joined Kathryn Parsons on a train from Paris to London. Kathryn is co-founder of Decoded and winner of this year’s Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of The Year awards in the New Generation category. Kathryn is a leading member of London's Silicon Roundabout tech community and is championing the cause of women and technology. Passionate about languages, Kathryn has studied French, Italian, Latin, Ancient Greek, Japanese and Mandarin, and is now focused on decoding the language of the web.

    In this short video below - as part of 'My year of living curiously' project - I asked about her working life: we spoke about the importance of starting young; how ‘betterness’ drives her work at Decoded; and how she took a random idea - Ping Pong Fight Club - and rapidly turned it into a successful side project. Watch the video here:

     

  • Sometimes we just need to show up

    Last Thursday morning I was at a table with a bunch of people that included a games designer working in mindfulness, a photographer looking for a career change, a coffee startup entrepreneur, a homeworking web developer, a former special FX director, a copywriter, a leadership development coach who blogs about happiness, a book cover designer, a graphic designer and a creative director/designer/photographer.

    No-one would have choreographed such an eclectic guest-list; it was just the people that showed up for a local meetup group I co-created. As I looked around I wondered what unites everyone. And then I realised. We each shared a desire to ‘show up’. We were all curious, interested, open minded and action-oriented.

    I love that Woody Allen quote, “eighty percent of success is showing up,” because it’s sometimes easy not to bother. We make an excuse, we get apathetic, we leave it to others to do the work. And then we complain we’re not getting the results we want.

    Showing-up represents a commitment to take action: to step up to the plate, to give something a go, to put ideas into action, to follow through. When we’re surrounded by people who show up, a project can get real energy and momentum that becomes infectious.

    I think we often over-complicate why projects don’t work, businesses fail or ideas don’t happen. Sometime we just need to show up more.

  • You need to get out into the real world to watch your business at work

    A guy in shirtsleeves wearing a small backpack has just walked in to the upscale fast food restaurant where I’m eating. He stands by the door looking around him, as if surveying the scene for the first time, watching the customers at the tables on the far wall. He takes his time looking around. Next he turns his attention to the long tables and benches closer to him, watching people eating. Then he goes to stand by the queues for the counters, watching the counter staff taking orders, dealing with customers.

    Amidst the constant flow of customers streaming in for lunch, you might assume he’s just another customer deliberating what to order. But he’s not. I’ve seen ‘Mr Backpack’ before in other branches; he’s part of the management team running this chain of restaurants. He doesn’t announce himself to anyone, and when I look up again he’s gone. He’s left the building.

    And that experience reminds me why this is a well run business. Because someone’s watching over it.

    Mr Backpack didn’t come and ask his staff how they were - it’s 1.30 in their busiest time of the day (and I’m sure he’ll be back for that). He was observing, taking it all in, watching the details.

    So you may not run a chain of restaurants or have a roomful of customers to visit, but it reminded me we need to get better at getting closer to our end users, looking at the business from the customer point of view, out where it happens. Too many of us remain siloed in our offices, pouring over customer archetypes, looking at business plans, that we actually forget to get out into the real world and watch our businesses at work.

  • “Driven by his insatiable nosiness” - getting reacquainted with Andy Kershaw

    When I was eighteen, for a dozen or so Saturday evenings I found myself in control of ‘Revolver’, a two hour radio show on BBC Essex where the choice of music was down to me. Whilst my shows tended to revolve around Billy Bragg and The Smiths, I also featured records by the likes of The Real Sounds, The Bhundu Boys and Pa Jobarteh. There was one reason I was playing music from Africa in the late 1980s and his name was Andy Kershaw. Whilst John Peel might have seemed an obvious role model, Kershaw’s Radio 1 show had opened my ears to a bunch of artistes from all over the globe, whose names were often unpronounceable, but whose music sent a shiver up my spine. This guy’s  influence transformed the musical output of my own show to include folk, skiffle, world, indie, pop, country, punk, new wave, and even tex mex. There were no limits. Just my own curiosity.

    Kershaw went on to present music programmes on BBC TV and  - refusing to be pigeonholed - also filed BBC current affairs reports from places like Rwanda, Burundi and Haiti. The BBC described him as combiningan evangelical enthusiasm for world music with a fascination for reporting from the planet's most unstable places … with both careers the result of his insatiable nosiness”.

    27 years after my Kershaw-influenced radio experience I met up with him last month to ask him about his life fueled by curiosity... and to talk about folk music (the clip below is from a video recorded for Leigh Folk Festival 2013).

    Sometimes when you’re starting out in your career, it can be tough knowing whether you’re heading in the right direction. Kershaw gave me the confidence to do my own thing and not worry about being limited by musical genres. He’s a maverick, a guy who didn’t play by the rules and had the guts to do his own thing, disrupting the schedules of a pop music station with the weird and wonderful sounds of Africa, refusing to be pigeonholed.

    I think every radio station, newspaper, business or organisation needs an ‘Andy Kershaw’...

     

    * video and photo by Mike Bromfield

  • Lessons in living a curious life from Ideas Tapas

    What do you think of when you hear the word ‘curiosity’? I think of my seven year old son at breakfast last week, with his book of facts, wide-eyed, full of wonder about his latest discovery. Many of us lose that childlike sense of exploration and discovery when we start our careers. I’ve focused on carving out a working life driven by being curious, and in doing so have discarded a traditional career ladder in favour of a bunch of interesting stories.

    Curiosity was on the menu in Geneva last week as DJ Forza and I hosted a discussion ‘How to live a curious life’ at Ideas Tapas (here’s my post on what Ideas Tapas is all about). It was great hearing twelve different perspectives around the table from a mix of voices, disciplines and mindsets.

    So I’m on a mission to reposition ‘curiosity’. Some may think it’s only valuable at the edges of our life for learning and discovery. I disagree - it can actually be harnessed as a business tool, a powerful mindset to bring to work and business, where you open the possibilities by asking ‘what if?’. After all, where would start-up ideas be without curiosity?

    At Ideas Tapas we heard some great stories. How one person’s curiosity led him to randomly discover a website where he spotted an ad for the job he’s now doing; a role he would have never set out to seek. Another guest told the group not to cease to be curious - to follow your dream, even when you think you’re too old. His advice was not to shut down potential opportunities because they’re outside your core area, revealing after a life-long career in aviation, he’d reinvented himself as a headhunter. We heard an incredible story from the streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone - how curiosity had led to an entrepreneurial adventure with a truly innovative street-marketing campaign.

    At the end of the evening in Geneva’s Manifesto bar, my collaborator DJ and I passed around a bowl of temporary tattoos made by Tattly for our guests to sample. I told the story of how Tina Roth Eisenberg - aka SwissMiss - started Tattly purely out of curiosity after her daughter came home from a party with a poorly designed tattoo. Tina wondered whether she could improve on it; today it’s a successful business employing a team of people, an idea that started with a ‘what if?’ rather than a business plan.

    Our guests left the tapas table with inspiration to inject more curiosity into their daily lives. Before she left, one guest told us: “inspiration comes not from a Google search but from real people’s life stories, like here at Ideas Tapas.

    Stay curious....


    [if you’d like to sign up to be updated on Ideas Tapas - here’s the link]

  • 14 people, curiosity, and a tapas bar in Geneva - the launch of Ideas Tapas

    Last Wednesday night I was in a bar in Geneva listening to an amazing story from a woman who’d ended up running a business in Sierra Leone, hearing how curiosity had informed much of her strategy. I was in  ‘Manifesto’ on Geneva’s Rue de Stand, where fourteen people had gathered to discuss what it means to live a life driven by curiosity. Welcome to Ideas Tapas, a concept I launched with my friend DJ Forza.

    Ideas Tapas is a ‘pop-up’ ideas club - a Salon/ dinner party mash-up - where two hosts and twelve guests unite over tapas & wine for a lively discussion, hearing and sharing inspiring stories. Having initially developed Ideas Tapas with Zoe Sanders to trial in my hometown, the opportunity for a collaboration with DJ Forza meant we could aim higher, and her current home of Geneva was the perfect place to prototype. DJ and I met around a campfire at The 2012 Do Lectures; we discovered a shared passion for curiosity and kept in touch with a desire to collaborate - Ideas Tapas represented a good opportunity to try something together.

    Often, partnerships and ideas can get paralysed by the need to have a big plan. Fortunately DJ and I share a similar mindset - we didn’t  do stacks of research or planning, we just thought we’d give it a try. Geneva gave us a great mix of guests from a start-up to NGOs with so many different voices, cultures and disciplines around the table.

    The evening started with people getting-to-know each other, aided by ice-breaker “I’m curious about....name tags. DJ and I then gave a talk about the power of curiosity before hearing stories from everyone else. We all agreed how refreshing it was to sit around sharing stories and experiences face to face, as an antidote to an age where we tend to do so much of that online. One of our guests said that against this digital always-connected lifestyle, Ideas Tapas is what slow food is to fast food.  It reminded me the importance of a bar or coffee shop in generating ideas. In the 18th century, people would meet at the coffeehouse to shoot around their ideas; in 2013 we’d chosen a tapas bar, not just for the food and the vibe, but also with tapas as a metaphor for sampling not only plates but also ideas. We’re currently thinking about how we’ll roll this out - certainly there will be events in London and other places later in the year, you can sign-up here to be kept in touch and follow us on Twitter.

    There’ll be another post on what we learned about curiosity from the tales around the table. But this is not just a story about what happened in a bar in Geneva, it’s a reminder that if you have an idea, however fluid that maybe, you don’t have to make it perfect or fully-formed to launch - you just need to do something, to take action. We could have deliberated on paper for months about what Ideas Tapas is and what it might become; much better to test it for real, and then work out the plan as you go...

  • the value of a meeting with no agenda

    Recently I’ve been turning some Twitter connections into real-life meet ups over coffee. In pressured work lives that allow little space for random exploration, it’s great to throw the rules out of the window by following our curiosity to meet someone new without having an agenda. The only due-diligence required is a glance at their Twitter feed.

    Last week I met James Caig. James and I have followed each other on Twitter for a while; I like what he blogs about and whilst we have some common ground professionally, it’s his blog posts on subjects like The Smiths that often pique my interest. James is deputy head of strategy at media agency MEC and a ‘lover of books, vinyl, ideas and thinking too much’. With our conversation encompassing the value of Twitter, serendipity and curiosity, I thought it only right I should whip my Flipcam out and grab this little chat about how curiosity manifests in his working life.

     

  • Inspiration isn’t only for artists: let your employees sit by the sea

    I was chatting to a friend who’s an artist. She hadn’t been productive lately because she wasn’t finding time to let the inspiration in. Not only in seeing views that she might want to paint; but also in nurturing her creativity. And of course, getting inspiration in isn’t only for artists. For any of us who rely on new thinking or creative energy, we need to get inspired, whether we’re an entrepreneur, an exec in an organisation or a freelancer. That’s how we get our ideas.

    Like my friend, we need to create the time to go and get inspired. I did this last Friday, taking two hours off to walk along a sea-wall in a place I’d never been to before, to look at some big skies and bring clarity to some ideas. I also took my camera with me.

    It felt good. And it reminded me of a story about another friend, David. Back in the ‘90s he was working in radio production. Tasked by his boss to devise some programme ideas to pitch Radio 1, David asked whether he could go and sit by the sea to do it - that was where he’d be most productive. His boss laughed at his suggestion.

    Hopefully employers’ attitudes have changed since and bosses today - especially in the creative industries - know that generating ideas won’t happen sitting at our desks.

    So if you claim to be an innovative business, here’s the test - will you let your executives go sit by the sea?

  • Where’s your ‘for the hell of it’ project?

    Your working life or business will inevitably be full of projects that you and your co-workers do for good strategic reasons, i.e. because it makes commercial sense.

    I think we should also make space for projects and activities that are completely unstrategic - the kind of project where someone might ask, “Why are you doing that?” and you might answer, “I’m just doing it for the hell of it”.

    You never know where a ‘for the hell of it’ project might take you. For the unfulfilled worker, it may provide a spark of creative inspiration. If you’re hating your job, it may give you something to fall in love with again. Whilst for the business that’s lost its way, it can be a sandpit to play in with with no-one asking questions about strategy or ROI. A ‘for the hell of it’ project is not the same as any old side project (I’ve blogged about side projects here) - side projects are often strategic, you’re doing them to learn a new skill, to create some revenues.

    My current ‘for the hell of it’ project is a little idea I had in the shower. Being driven by curiosity and stimulated by meeting new people, I decided to create a short ‘quick n’dirty’ series of video interviews. I’ve called it “My Year of Living Curiously’. So far, I’ve grabbed Tim Ferriss, Phill Jupitus, Tina Roth Eisenberg, James Victore, Matthew Stillman.

    There’s no plan to my ‘for the hell of it’ project: no strategy, no need to measure success, no hidden agenda. I’m just doing it because I want to.

    Don’t assume you need to be self-employed or freelance to start a ‘for the hell of it’ project: you could make time in your morning commute, in your lunch hour, or persuade your boss to make space in your working day. And when people ask, "is it in your job description, where is the ROI, where’s your business plan?", you can rejoice in telling them you’re just doing it for the hell of it...

  • Write what you know

    Good coffee plays an important role in my work life: taking time for an espresso is a daily ritual for me and independent coffee shops have become my favourite places to think, work and meet. For me, the independent coffee shop experience is about more than just the coffee, it’s an expression of my values and what I think matters.

    I explore this thinking further in ‘Meet your match’ - my article for the latest issue of Caffeine, the magazine for London coffee lovers. The magazine is available in most London speciality coffee shops, you can read the article here.

  • James Victore: putting ‘you’ into your work

    I’d not heard of James Victore until I saw his name on the bill at last year’s Do Lectures; but arriving there a day late meant I screwed up my chance to see him (you can watch his talk here). We shared a ride back to Heathrow and that piqued my interest enough to check out some of his work, I started following him on Twitter and love his weekly ‘Q&A Tuesday’ videos.

    James is a designer, artist and teacher whose work has appeared in The Museum of Modern Art. But whilst on the face of it James’ world might be art & design; it’s clear this guy’s advice is valuable for all of us. His advice on being courageous and adopting a ‘warrior not worrier’ approach really spoke to me and helped get clarity on a work problem I was facing. When I was in NYC last month I went to visit him in his Williamsburg, Brooklyn studio. In this little video I recorded with him, James talks about the importance of putting ‘you’ into your work; not only for your authenticity but also if you make your work personal, it can talk to a greater audience. I think this is a lesson for most of us, whatever we do in our work.

     

  • Fixing things that don’t work: entrepreneurship, swissmiss style

    Tina Roth Eisenberg is a Brooklyn-based designer/ entrepreneur who’s created - by accident more than design - a mash-up bunch of products and ventures:

    1. Swissmiss - a design blog
    2. CreativeMornings - an inspiring monthly event where creative people meet (now happening in cities around the world)
    3. TeuxDeux - a to-do list app
    4. Tattly - a temporary tattoo company
    5. Studiomates - a coworking space in DUMBO, Brooklyn

    So, what’s her driver? The desire to fix something that didn’t work.

    Whether it’s creating a simple to-do list app or improving on the temporary tattoo her daughter wore home from a party, her products aim to’ fix it’. Sure, many of us *think* about doing something when we spot things like that, but how many of us actually *do* something about it...? So I think Tina’s a great example of a 21st Century entrepreneur who just ‘gets on and does’.

    Here’s a little video chat I had with Tina at Studiomates: 

     

     

     

  • In Union Square with a table and two chairs

    When I tweeted I was on my way to New York last week, a guy who follows me on Twitter got in touch and said he’d like to meet up. His name is Matthew Stillman. I didn’t know him or anything about him. But I’ve seen serendipity in action before, I know the value that random connections can bring, I have faith in people and making good connections. What’s more, I thrive on curiosity - this is ‘my year of living curiously’ - so of course, I had to meet him.

    A former TV producer with The Food Network, Matthew is a veteran of improvisational comedy who’s produced a documentary “The End of Poverty?”. He also has a fascinating story to tell about what he’s been doing in New York’s Union Square for the last few years, with a table, two chairs and a sign ‘Creative Approaches to What You’ve Been Thinking About’.Here’s a chat we had after our coffee:

     

     

  • Phill Jupitus on visual storytelling

    For the latest ‘Year Of Living Curiously’ video I’ve been talking to Phill Jupitus. I first saw Phill perform back in 1985 at Peckham Town Hall as a stand-up poet supporting Billy Bragg; today he’s a writer, musician, actor, broadcaster, comedian and cartoonist. Phill’s drawn pictures from an early age with his cartoons published in The Times, The Guardian, Radio Times and The Beano.

    I’m interested in Phill as he’s at the intersection of two themes I’m curious about: first, that he’s very multidimensional (that’s the reason I featured him in my book ‘Mash-Up! How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier); and second, that he’s always drawn pictures to tell stories - whether single cartoons, doodles or comic strips. I went to meet him at Cafe Valise in Leigh-on-Sea - where there’s an exhibition of his work - to talk about what drawing means to him and why it’s such a valuable storytelling tool.

  • Lessons from Tim Ferriss in the back of a cab

    Curiosity is a big driver for me: I love to explore new ideas, venturing out of my comfort zone to meet new people, hearing and capturing interesting stories. I’m fortunate I have a ‘licence to be curious’ both as an author/ Financial Times writer and in my client work, where I capture and tell business stories in organisations.

    I’m billing 2013 my ‘Year Of Living Curiously’ and am capturing some of the year’s connections and conversations in a (quick n’ dirty) video series. Here’s the first one: author, entrepreneur, startup advisor Tim Ferriss in the back of a London cab last week. Tim is author of The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef; and is featured in a Financial Times article I’m writing about lifehacking/ worklife productivity. In this video Tim talks about how to stay focused on being productive by not being distracted by the shiny tools. He also shares a tip on combating email and tells me how he too has thrived on being curious (you’d expect a guy like Tim to use his time wisely, so I thought it was smart that we used the cab ride back to his hotel to have a chat...).

  • Being a carpenter....

    One benefit of my slalom-career is that I rarely stand still: I’m constantly moving, open to new opportunities and new ways of doing things. On that journey I’ve learnt new skills and found out about new disciplines, whether a discovery for a client assignment or learning how to write a 40,000 word book. Inevitably no how-to guides are available: you have to learn as you go.

    One new skill for 2012 was how to write an 1,100 word piece for the Financial Times. That might not sound new for someone who already writes for a living, but there’s a huge difference between writing a 40,000 word book, a blog post or an 1,100 FT article. In a recent Times interview with Caitlin Moran, the cookery writer and former journalist Nigella Lawson recalled her fondness for the structure of a newspaper column:

    “I like being a carpenter. I remember my Latin teacher, Miss Plumber, at school saying, ‘None of you girls will ever know the satisfaction a carpenter gets from making a table or chair’ - but I think as a journalist, you do. When something has to be 1,100 words, and you must assemble all the sentences in the right order for it to work”.

    I too have come to enjoy that process of assembly: weaving multiple voices into a single meaningful narrative, capturing and communicating a business story in a defined format. Admittedly I don’t always get it right first time - I’m lucky to have the input of my editor and his team to help rebuild it when needed. It might only be a digital file or a salmon pink page of newsprint rather than a handcrafted piece of woodwork, but I still get that sense of satisfaction that comes from making something.