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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

    Simon White, Formation London

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Straight on!” he replies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

    Here’s my take on why authenticity matters:

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

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

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

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

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


    Helping you navigate your 'what next?'. A walk to find your next path in life, career or business.

    Details here or give me a shout hello@iansanders.com 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Lessons from the world’s top 50 management thinkers

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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


    Thanks to Nilofer for the invite.

  • My 'Five ways to fire up your work life' manifesto: now available as a poster

    My 'Five ways to fire up your work life' manifesto: now available as a poster

    Earlier this year I created a manifesto (designed by the talented Lizzie Everard), 'Ian's Five Ways To Fire Up Your Business & Work Life'. I got a few requests asking if the manifesto would be available to buy as a poster.

    Well it is now! Follow the link to Etsy, but hurry, there are only a handful available.

    Any questions, please shout hello@iansanders.com

  • A Manifesto to fire up your business and work life

    My focus this year is helping others - whether startups, established organisations or individuals - find their fuel, uncovering and capturing what makes them tick.

    I’ve just created this manifesto (nicely visualised by Lizzie Everard): Five Ways To Fire Up Your Business & Work Life.


    (If you’d like to buy a poster print of this manifesto, email hello@iansanders.com and I’ll let you know once they are available).

     

  • 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

  • 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.

     

  • The retailer as editor: #1 Ideas On Paper

    With the growing pressure from competitors online, some independent retailers are surviving by focusing on a distinctive ‘bricks & mortar’ experience, striving to offer something you just can’t get online.

    At the heart of this approach is the retailer as editor; where in contrast to a cookie-cutter approach of the big stores, small independent retailers can offer a carefully curated selection of products.

    That’s Alex Smith’s story. Having spent a career working for big retailers like Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, last year Alex founded Ideas On Paper, a small shop in Nottingham’s emerging creative quarter. Its products are linked by the theme of paper: magazines, journals, books and stationery.

    It’s a small shop so Alex has to think carefully about what to stock, about what products to include in his edit, what to exclude (for example, Monocle magazine and School Of Life stationery are in, poorly produced magazines are out).  In that sense, I think of Alex as an editor.

    I went to see him this week to discover the story behind Ideas On Paper.

     [Thanks go to Sarah King for the introduction to Alex. Thanks Sarah!]

  • ‘Permission to stop, think and dawdle.’ An outdoor experiment in problem solving.

    When we’re looking for answers in our working lives, we might pick up a book, go online or ask a friend. We probably don’t tend to look in the street for answers.

    That however, is what Street Wisdom’s designed for, a three hour walking-workshop to find inspiration in the everyday environment around us. Having been on a couple of Street Wisdoms facilitated by its founders Chris and David, I decided to organise my own, inviting Lucy Taylor to join me as co-host.

    So this is how I came to spend last Friday afternoon standing outside Leigh-on-Sea library, giving instructions to a group of people to walk around the town looking for patterns, seeing what they were drawn to, slowing right down.

    I’d chosen the library since traditionally it’s a place people go to find answers. Instead our group headed outside, searching local alleyways, dead ends and shopping streets for their inspiration. They each went off with a question to ask, such as, what direction to take their business in 2015; how to find new clients; how to incorporate the local community into what they do.

    Having experienced Street Wisdom events in Soho and in Shoreditch, this experience in Leigh-on-sea felt different. Here, in a coastal town where the river Thames meets the sea, the attendees were much more familiar with the local streets than they would be in a big city.

    Admittedly a cold Friday afternoon in December wasn’t the perfect weather for walking around slowly, so two hours after we started, against the backdrop of a stunning estuary sunset, we gathered in the warmth of the Peter Boat pub in Leigh-on-Sea’s Old Town. Over mulled wine and coffee the attendees shared their feedback. They told us that even though they knew Leigh well, today they had managed to walk in unfamiliar streets, they saw noticeboards, shops and businesses they had never previously. ‘It’s there but we don’t see it,’ said one.

    One of the group had been brave enough to ask strangers for help with his question, and got great insight from talking to a homeless man. Several fed back that they had found value not so much in finding answers, but through the exploration, in the process of Street Wisdom itself that unlocked something new.

    Friday’s Street Wisdom gave people the opportunity to try something new, to be curious, to slow down in a town they thought they knew so well. As one person told me, ‘it gave me permission to stop, think and dawdle.’

    I think of Street Wisdom as a live experiment, a process to reset your mind and rethink your approach to everything from creativity to problem solving. As Matt told me, as someone who walks around town at high speed, focused on where he’s headed, just the act of walking slowly was a new way of looking at the world.

  • 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.

     

  • 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]. 

  • ‘spaghetti lines’ are okay - why straight lines are overrated in delivering innovation

    It was an apt location for a discussion about innovation: last Tuesday evening I was at Wayra London for the latest in a series of events organised by the innovation consultancy The Foundation. The venue they’d chosen - Wayra - is the business incubator run by Telefonica that provides financial, managerial and technological support to digital startups. But we weren’t there to talk about startup innovation; innovation within larger organisations was on the agenda.

    I touched on this subject last year in an article I wrote in the Financial Times (‘The Product as Market Research’), where I spoke to the director of innovation at Nordstrom, the big US fashion retailer. I heard how Nordstrom is borrowing approaches from the startup community to rapidly prototype new product ideas.

    Of course we know it’s easier for innovation to thrive in smaller companies who are more agile and better at taking risks than large organisations. It’s that much-cited speedboat VS supertanker juxtaposition. Last Tuesday The Foundation assembled a panel at Wayra to discuss the challenge for those ‘supertankers’ [The panel line-up was: Natalie Ceeney, responsible for improving HSBC’s customer service and complaint handling; Dan Salmons managing director of PayPoint Mobile, previously director of global innovation at Barclaycard; and Mark Stansfeld, chairman of Giffgaff, a consumer led mobile operator, previously sales director at O2].          

    The panel agreed it’s hard for big organisations to balance short term health of the business with innovating whatever’s coming next. They recalled their experiences where innovation often gets stifled by boards, by business plans, by road maps that don’t allow for random left turns.

    From the discussion I’ve cherry-picked three factors to consider when encouraging innovation in larger organisations:

    1. Avoid the tyranny of finance. Mark argued that in order to thrive, innovation needs to be liberated from a finance-led culture of forecasts and KPIs. His advice was to grant autonomy to teams tasked with innovating new products and services, to free them from a business-planning culture.

    2. Think about innovation when you’re failing. The best time to look at innovation may not be when a business is succeeding, but when it’s failing. Natalie reminded us that First Direct - which has been a huge success in disrupting consumer banking - was launched by Midland Bank when the bank was failing.

    3. Don't ask the customer what they want. In the Q&A it was asked whether validation by focus groups and customer research is important before taking a new product to market. The consensus said not to rely on customer research. Natalie told the story of AT&T conducting customer research before the introduction of mobile telephony. They asked customers if they were interested in owning a mobile phone. Since the customers didn’t understood the benefits of having one (after all, they’d never seen or heard of one) they said no. Those results meant AT&T didn’t move forward in what proved to be a lucrative sector.

     

    In my own work as a writer/thinker, I’ve encouraged grassroots entrepreneurs to ‘unplan’ their business ideas to make them happen, rather than get paralysed by long-term planning. You might think large organisations aren’t brave enough to embrace such radical thinking. So I was pleasantly surprised by the views of a panel who’ve spent their careers in big business, I was encouraged by their advice to ditch the business plan when it comes to developing new products and services.

    Towards the end of the discussion someone voiced the view, straight lines and order are overrated; i.e. it doesn’t matter if you don’t take a linear path to making innovation happen, it doesn’t matter if you took a circuitous and unconventional route. If you have ‘spaghetti lines’ behind you, that’s okay. All that matters is that you took your innovation to market and that you made it happen.

    Amen to spaghetti lines.

  • Personalised newspapers: taking digital content offline.

    If you still prefer reading newspapers over digital editions or you're the kind of person who prints out online articles to read them off the screen, you may be interested in PaperLater, a new product from Newspaper Club.

    With PaperLater you can save web pages to print, it’s a bit like the ‘read it later’ service Instapaper but delivered to your doormat in a newspaper. I just had my first issue delivered: a mix of ‘long-read’ blog posts and articles I decided I’d rather read off screen.

    I’m finding it interesting how the articles I selected for PaperLater change impact by going off screen. I still would have read them on a digital device, but probably would not have lingered over them for so long, just one of tens of articles I consume on screen every day. But when you get an article printed in a newspaper format, it gives it a higher sense of importance. I’m valuing that content more.

    It's a smart service (one that starts at £4.99 a copy), but of course it does beg the question about copyright and the intellectual property of the original writer/ publisher. All PaperLater needs to make it better is a mechanism where the publisher, writer or content creator can benefit financially from having their work printed out. Perhaps we’ll see the PaperLater team white-label their service to online publishers and sites who will offer these service to readers, and share in the revenue?

    Let's see how this grows...

  • Stepping out of my comfort zone to press pause.

    I’ll admit, it was not a typical Saturday evening. Along with six people I’d only just met, I spent my evening sitting around four lit candles in the otherwise dark surroundings of the ancient St.Peter’s chapel, Bradwell-on-Sea (built 654 AD). On my first yoga and mindfulness retreat, I was attempting to meditate.

    Mindfulness is big business. No longer dismissed as a fad, it’s championed by many entrepreneurs as just as important as going to the gym. Last year tech entrepreneur Loic Le Meur wrote about why he finds it essential to hit the pause button by learning to meditate; he’s not alone, other business leaders admit to practicing mindfulness whilst corporations like Google and General Mills host mindfulness sessions for their staff. Today’s FT reports on a business school professor who’s teaching MBA students meditation.

    Pressing ‘pause’ is something I’ve been trying hard to do for fifteen years. The trouble is, I’m not very good at it. Four years ago I went on a one-day course run by Andy Puddicombe and I subsequently tried his Headspace web app. More recently I’ve been trying BreatheSync, a breathing and relaxation app.

    I decided it was time to try something more intensive, to venture further out of my comfort zone. So I booked on to Yvonne Booth and Mike Elliott’s weekend retreat at the beautifully located Othona community. I’d only tried yoga once before, so in a group of eight attendees - me and seven women, including my wife - I was the newbie. But Yvonne and Mike reassured me, talking about the importance of bringing the ‘beginner’s mind’ to these disciplines, free of assumptions.

    Did I master yoga and meditation? No. But did I find value, did I switch off? Yes.

    For me the value was in the overall experience - the place, the people, the vibe, the sunny weather (and also, the fact I had no signal on my ‘phone). It forced me out of my routine, it forced me to find stillness and disconnection which I doubt I could have found in a community centre or conference room. Here in this beautiful, remote corner of England I was struck by the stillness: birdsong, the occasional hum of a machine harvesting the fields, the distant whirr of a wind turbine (Othona make all their own electricity).

    My highlight was Sunday morning at 06:55: just me, birds, rabbits and this view (above). Later that morning I skipped a yoga session to spend some time by myself, to do some sketching, to walk along the sea wall. That was a rarity.

    Some people have asked me on Twitter whether I would recommend going on a retreat. Yes, I would. But also: do what works for you. Mike Elliott told us that being mindful is about noticing the ‘raw experience of what it feels to be alive’. You can do that on a retreat in the middle of nowhere, but you can also try that in a busy street (as I did last month at Street Wisdom), or on a run, or on a train with an app. It’s a portable skill.

    I’m not about to go out and buy a yoga mat and sign-up to weekly classes, but I am glad I went out of my comfort zone. I’m going to make an effort to get unplugged more often, to switch my ‘phone off, and to find some peace in the everyday. I’ll let you know how I get on...

  • 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:

     

     

  • 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.

  • 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.”

     

     


     


  • 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.

  • 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


  • Five things to remember in making your business idea happen

    This week I was a member of a panel on innovation and entrepreneurship at The Apple Store in London’s Regent Street. Meet The Innovators is a speaker series curated by New York-based startup incubator Women Innovate Mobile (I’m one of their mentors) and the line-up for the evening of discussion included: (left to right above) Kelly Hoey, founder of Women Innovate Mobile; Alex Depledge, Founder of Hassle.com; me; Dr. Sue Black, founder of Savvify; and Courtney Boyd Myers, Founder of audience.io. We talked about how the internet had been a democratising force for ideas - where in 2013 all you need is broadband, a digital device and an idea to launch and test your business. Here are five points that came out of the evening that can help get your idea happening:

    1. The barriers to entry are down. Services like cloud computing are becoming as cheap and ubiquitous as electricity, you don’t need to invest huge sums in infrastructure and servers to start a business. Alex explained how the infrastructural cost for powering her business was so low,  it made starting a tech-based business much more accessible than ever.
    2. You don’t need a digital product to be a digital business. We hear so much about the tech scene as the focus of entrepreneurship, but of course you don’t have to be making an app or a piece of software to exploit digital opportunities. I talked about products like Tattly (an online store for temporary tattoos) and BeerBods (a beer subscription club) as examples of great little niche businesses that use digital platforms to bring their communities together.
    3. Your network of contacts is critical. Alex said her business would not be where it is today without the generosity of an agency that gave her space to work from when she was starting out. The startup scene is full of people who want to help you out, so tapping into that community can be powerful.
    4. What’s your business model? Most of us on the panel agreed we’re tired of seeing great products that have no way of making money. If you’re launching a digital product you may need to educate your customers that if they value it, they need to pay for it. I told the example of the to do list app TeuxDeux (disclosure: I’m a paying user). I use it every day so am happy to spend a few dollars a month to get it. We need to learn to pay for online products we value.
    5. A nomadic worklife can drive productivity. At the event I spoke about how coworking spaces are often essential for solo entrepreneurs and freelancers to incubate ideas and nurture collaboration. But Courtney reminded us you’d struggle to get the important stuff done if you worked out of a coworking space every day. We agreed that a mix of spaces best suits different tasks, rather than working from the same space every day. Most of the spaces where we get our best work done include our living rooms, home offices, co-working spaces, coffee shops, railway carriages, ‘planes and …. sometimes …. even a desk in an office.


    The evening is available as a free video podcast on the iTunes store and more events are planned for 2014; watch the hashtag #meettheinnovators for more.

  • 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.

  • Selling an idea, not a product, may be your most effective marketing strategy

    recently blogged about the opportunity for businesses to compete on their thinking - to focus marketing efforts on sharing a big idea and what you stand for, rather than just sell your product features. One business that does this well is Hiut Denim, the Welsh jeans start-up launched by Do Lectures founder David Hieatt (you can hear an interview I did with David in April 2012 here).

    If you want evidence of a business with the guts to put their thinking ahead of selling their product, look no further than Hiut Denim’s Year Book. This isn't a conventional brochure or catalogue. Indeed you’ll need to delve deep to find details of their jeans on sale; instead the 140 page book is full of essays, quotes, photographs and inspiration from people like David Allen and Craig Mod (I’ve also written a contribution myself, 'Ploughing my own furrow').

    Hiut Denim does this well because the brand knows its customers: they all buy into the brand’s values of independence, creativity, hard work and doing it differently. Your own business may not have the appetite to produce a 140 page book; but it’s a good reminder that what you stand for is as powerful in marketing as how good your product is - if you can wrap that up in a book, a website or even a one-page manifesto, it may prove to be your most valuable marketing tool.

  • 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.

  • 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...

  • 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?

  • Your story is your lifebelt

    I know an organisation that grew rapidly from having a single entrepreneurial founder with a handful of staff and a single product, to a multiple management team, tens of people and a portfolio of products and services. When it was small, everyone had a clear idea of what the business stood for: telling the story was simply a case of retelling what they’d heard at the job interview and company meetings. Everyone understood the business: staff knew why they were passionate about working there, clients saw the story as a point of difference. The story worked. But then something changed. Staff numbers grew, new managers were hired, new departments started up. But the management team forgot to change the story. Executives would go out and pitch the business but tell the ‘old’ story. It didn’t fit. The organisation lost its magic touch because the story was neglected.

    So shaping and telling your business story is more than just marketing. It’s a touchstone for what the business stands for, it’s a tool to get your team motivated and understand where you’re headed.

    In my business I help clients tell their story - communicating it is often the easier bit; crafting it can be more complicated. But once you nail it, a story can reinvigorate an organisation with focus and clarity, engaging staff and clients alike.

    So don’t dismiss storytelling as a marketing activity; your story can act as your organisation’s lifebelt - when conditions gets rough, grab hold of it to stay afloat...

  • 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...

  • The benefits of giving a space in the office to an outsider

    If you’re a freelance designer or copywriter who usually works solo, you’ll appreciate the value of working out of client offices, co-working spaces or even the local coffee shop. Because whilst tech might allows us to work from anywhere, we still like hanging out with like-minded people.

    Nick Couch is the founder of Open Studio Club who spotted an opportunity here: yes, freelance creative talent often need a home to stimulate productivity; but agencies with spare desk space might also benefit from some fresh blood to reinvigorate the office culture.

    Enter Nick’s idea: Free Desk Here, an initiative to give creatives a free (no-strings) desk space at agencies around the world whilst nurturing cross-pollination of ideas and collaboration. Think of it as airbnb for creative workers.

    As many of us become more nomadic, this opportunity allows us to go to a foreign city for a few weeks and have a base to work from, to share ideas and meet people. I’d love to see it extend outside of creative agencies to other businesses who have downsized and have all that office space available (banks maybe?). Injecting that creative talent could help reshape a business’s culture.

    Here’s a little video with Free Desk Here founder, Nick Couch:

     

  • Getting nostalgic about the old days won’t get you anywhere

    I went to a talk the other day about writing and publishing.

    A writer on the panel was bemoaning how things aren’t how they used to be.

    That publishers aren’t paying hefty advances anymore.

    That there aren’t any decent magazines commissioning anymore.

    That kids don’t read anymore.

    That Twitter has ruined writing because everything has to be communicated in 140 characters.

    ....And he was wrong on a number of levels, but it was his pessimism that concerned me. Right now, lots of people are understandably pessimistic about their working lives - towns have had their high streets disappear, job prospects for school leavers are poor whilst in countries like Spain and Greece, youth unemployment is at catastrophic levels. And these people have every right to be pessimistic.

    But I’m not talking about them. I’m talking here about the creative classes; people who write, design, create and publish for a living. Since the emergence of digital, many of our work lives have changed beyond recognition. It’s tougher to make a living, to stand out from the competition, to monetise our talents. But pessimism will get us nowhere.

    Instead, we can move on and look for a way that *does* work: reinventing how we execute our roles, how we get paid, who our clients and audiences are, how we distribute and monetise our work. Will it be easy? No. Do we have all the answers? No way. Will we earn the money we used to in the ‘old days’? Probably not. But we can give these things a shot.

    Every industry, every role is being disrupted like never before, facing challenges from new technology or budgets being slashed. Whatever the challenges - and yes, there are quite a few - we have an opportunity like never before: we can make music on our laptops, we can set up radio stations in our bedroom, we can publish online in an instant, we can start businesses overnight.

    So we have a choice: get nostalgic about the old days, or try something new.

  • Take your ideas for a walk

    I saw a tweet earlier in the week from The Names Not Numbers ideas festival; it was a quote from the writer Aminatta Forna, "Paul Klee said he took a line for a walk when he drew. I take a thought for a walk." 

    And it reminded me that I actually do take my thoughts for a walk.

    Since I quit the conventional office I’ve worked from a mix of spaces to suit the task in hand, wherever I’m most productive. I’ve learned that the bits in between are just as valuable - either just walking from A to B; or going for a stroll, a cycle, or a run with the intention of connecting the dots on an idea. Living by the coast, the big skies of the Thames Estuary are the perfect backdrop for taking ideas out in the fresh air.

    I might be seeking a solution to a client’s challenge, exploring a new approach or trying to make sense of an early-stage idea; I find that act of walking & thinking is like shuffling a pack of cards.

    And by taking my ideas for a walk, I tend to return with them in much better shape.

  • 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...).

  • Mash-up your work spaces: why I don’t stay in the same place too long

    The start of a new year seems to spark talk from entrepreneurs and executives promising to innovate and disrupt over the coming twelve months; how they’re going to discover breakthrough-ideas that will become game changers for their business or industry. But here’s the problem: many don’t appear to be game changing in their working practices. After all, if you’re still sitting at a desk in your office - unless you’re daydreaming out of the window - you’re unlikely to create breakthrough ideas.

    Just as I advocate ‘Mash-up’ working - a work life of multiple projects, disciplines and talents - I also advocate a plurality of work spaces to deliver that. We’ve all had those moments sitting at a desk, completely stuck: we can’t find inspiration for an idea, we struggle to solve a problem. We know if  we were to walk around the block or take a shower we’d have that breakthrough. So why don’t we just build other spaces into our daily working lives?

    I’ve always taken a ‘pick n’mix’ approach to where I work: choosing a space to match the task, each change in environment kickstarting my productivity and helping connect the dots. Sure, I do have a dedicated workspace but I just know the thinking, writing and ideas won’t flow there. I’m most productive working from coffee shops (here’s a list of favourites), members’ clubs, hotels, art galleries, lobbies of public spaces, my garden summerhouse (you can see some of my favourites 2012 spaces in the montage above). Staying flexible means when I get bored or stale, I move on to a new space. I doubt I could be that productive or creative if I restricted myself to just a desk and a meeting room in an office, like so many still do. The film & TV writer Aaron Sorkin famously takes a lot of daily showers to fuel his productivity; okay, you might not be able to get to a shower that often but try re-mixing your working day, throw in some new spaces whether a park bench or a coffee shop.

    If you trade on agility you should also be agile in your working practices. So try moving your ‘desk’...

  • Using pictures to capture and share ideas

    I was reviewing my pile of Moleskine notepads over Christmas; a stack of black pocket notepads full of scribbles, notes and cuttings - my preferred format for capturing thoughts and ideas. On a typical page you’ll find lots of words, some newspaper cuttings, the occasional doodle, but not many illustrations. In 2013 I’m aiming to change that: by starting to draw again.

    I’m excited by the power of visual communication, how pictures can be more effective than words alone. This was a real theme of last year rearing its head in a number of ways:

    This last week I’ve been reading Mike Rohde’s ‘Sketchnote Handbook’ - it’s a great how-to guide for anyone looking to master sketchnoting - or visual notes - in their working life. Mike shares practical techniques for taking visual notes during meetings and events, but the lessons here can be applied to any sketch, doodle or illustration to capture and share ideas. Like many of us, whilst I was good at drawing as a kid, I’ve forgotten how to draw. So my biggest challenge is not embracing a new mindset; it’s just the ability to draw. Mike reassures the reader that sketchnoting is simply a way to think on paper using images and words, it’s not about being good at art. “Even the roughest drawings can express ideas effectively” he says.

    One of the most valuable parts of Mike’s book is an exercise where you have to draw objects. I tried it quick-fire - without the help of Google Images - and you can see my attempt in the photo above.

    So I’m going to try and fill my Moleskine with more pictures in 2013....

    POSTSCRIPT: to do this post justice I should reference Tom Fishburne. I met Tom at SXSW in 2010: here's a little video I recorded with him in London at the end of 2011 where he explains how visual storytelling can help break through the clutter:

  • What have you shipped?

    When I first met Guy Kawasaki back in 2011 (when I was writing my third book ‘Zoom! The Faster Way To Make Your Business Idea Happen’), he spoke about the importance of shipping. As he explains in this short video, “you’ll know more about your product after the first week shipping than 52 weeks thinking about it (in) focus groups”. Seth Godin echoed this, saying: “Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.” 

    I love this. The act of shipping is where we should all be heading, and it’s not just a lesson for startups with tangible products. What use is a blog post still sitting in draft, a product not launched or an idea never delivered? If you don’t ship your ideas you don’t stand a chance of making an impact, getting noticed or building your reputation. 

    So I liked Todd Sattersten’s #YearInReview list (inspired by Seth) that captures all that Todd shipped in 2012. This exercise is more than just bragging; it’s a benchmark for what we actually commit to executing, versus what we talk about doing. Sure, you might have had a stack of ideas last year but how many did you have the courage to convert, to stick your head above the parapet and deliver? 

    They might not all be physical products in jiffy envelopes (like my my most recent book), but everything I shipped last year is just as important: these are my own products, the stuff I make, what I get paid by. So with thanks to Todd (and Seth) for the idea, here’s my own list of what I shipped in 2012:

    1. an assignment for a marketing agency, helping them tell their story & capture their thinking
    2. 12 articles for the Financial Times
    3. a bunch of audio reports for Monocle magazine
    4. my fourth book 'Mash-Up! How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier'
    5. two assignments helping businesses tell their story online
    6. an assignment helping a tech business position a new product for market
    7. an assignment identifying fresh commercial opportunities for a client’s product
    8. guest columns for Virgin.com, TomPeters.com, Fast Company, The FT and Elite Business magazine
    9. a video for a client, from concept to production 
    10. Skype coaching/mentoring 
    11. 24 blog posts and a bunch of video posts/ interviews

    So whatever you do this year, whatever your dreams, goals or aspirations make sure you focus on shipping it. Press ‘go’...!

  • Let’s start paying for the things we value

    I was meeting an old friend for coffee last summer. I suggested we meet outside his office and stroll over to Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden. He texted back he had a better idea; he’d grab a couple of free coffees from the machine in his office lobby. He added that they’d taste better because they were free. Of course he was wrong - ‘free’ isn’t better; the free coffee from his office machine tasted awful. I didn’t drink it.

    I’ve been connecting the dots this morning on two things that happened yesterday. First, the furore from Instagram users over the company’s new terms and conditions. Second, a question on Twitter asking how to bypass the FT.com paywall to view my article on women in tech. And I thought - perhaps it’s time we got used to paying for services and content we value?

    I like Instagram. I don’t want my images used or exploited without my consent. So I’d be happy to pay a subscription fee to keep it ad-free and my data private. Similarly good content comes at a price: that’s why The FT has a paywall (although you don’t have to pay - you can register to see a limited number of articles each month). It’s just not commercially viable to give away everything for free. If the FT did that, how would I get paid as a contributor?

    I stayed at a new London hotel recently - I was impressed. I like what the brand stand for and admired the quality of their online magazine, so fired off an email to their agency to see if they were interested in me as a London contributor. The agency checked out my portfolio and replied yes they were interested, could I pitch some ideas? Great, I responded, what rates do you pay. “We don’t pay writers” they replied. Does the agency work for the hotel brand for free? Did they go to the web designers and ask them to work for free? Can I go into the hotel and stay for free?

    (In fairness to the hotel, their agency did say they’re developing a system where magazine contributors can earn points against a stay in the hotel). But that’s not viable. Part of my business offering is that clients pay me to write. Apart from a guest post in a prestigious magazine, an advice column or an article promoting my new book, I won’t write for free. ‘Free’ won’t pay for my train ticket, my daily coffees or my broadband subscription.

    So brands and agencies should remember that it’s the content that delivers web traffic: and they must invest in that content, and in that writing. And for consumers and software companies - if you love services like Instagram, maybe it’s time to think about paying for the stuff we value?