Ian's blog

  • Cracking One Big Question: my lunch-break walk n’talks

    I’ve been running my walk n’talk pathfinding ‘Fuel Safaris’ for twelve months. I’ve walked around the streets of London with executives, entrepreneurs and freelancers helping them navigate their ‘what next’ in their business/ career/ work life (check out some of their experiences here).

    Recently I’ve had approaches from people who wanted my help with a work problem, but we didn’t need a half day session to crack it.

    So I’m trying something new: lunch-break walk n’talks. In these one hour sessions I’ll help you fix a work problem or career headache you’re struggling with. You could be a freelancer needing help refocusing your offering, an executive looking for a steer on a career move, or an entrepreneur wanting their eyes opened to new possibilities.

    All that I ask is that we keep it focused and single-minded: you must have a clear question you are wrestling with. Ahead of our session I’ll send you a brief Q&A to answer, then we meet up and I’ll take you on a walk, looking at your question from a new angle. By the time the hour is up, I’ll have given you clarity on where you go next. This is what Nilofer Merchant says about working with me:

    “Those of us working on ‘doing the thing’ can lose sight of why we’re doing the thing, and what is it that matters of the 22 things you’re doing. Everyone needs help to periscope up to the horizon to help see the horizon again, so you can find the fuel to keep going in the right direction. Is it possible to do that alone? Maybe. But I’d rather not risk it. I’d rather get the kind of help that helps hit the goal and do more meaningful work as a result. Ian Sanders certainly can do all of that by insightful questions, and deep listening.” Nilofer Merchant, author & speaker

    For a limited time, I’m offering one-hour lunch-break walk n’talks in London and Leigh-on-Sea at £120 including VAT. Email hello@iansanders.com and we can fix a time.

    If this is the first time you’ve landed on my website, you can find my own story here. A creative consultant and storyteller, I’ve worked for myself for over sixteen years. I’m the author of a series of books on work and business: ‘Leap! Ditch Your Job, Start Your Own Business & Set Yourself Free’ (Capstone/ Wiley), ‘Juggle! Rethink Work, Reclaim Your Life’ (Capstone/ Wiley), ‘Zoom! The Faster Way To Make Your Business Idea Happen’ (Financial Times Prentice Hall) and ‘Mash-Up! How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier’ (Kogan Page).


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


    Good luck!

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

  • How to fire up your work life in 2016!

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

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

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

    Here’s to good times in 2016…!

  • How to get unstuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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


  • Put some white space in your work life. Finding a fourth space to think.

    Last week I met a business acquaintance for coffee.

    His working life is typical: split between a central London office (a first space), working at home (a second space) and working/ having meetings in the same bunch of coffee shops (a third space). Like many of us, he has a demanding role which relies upon his ability to think creatively, to come up with ideas, to solve problems. And he confessed, like many of us, he also struggles to find the ‘me’ time to do the serious thinking. Whilst it’s great to get out of the office, he finds coffee shops too buzzy and home working too distracting for the ideas to flow.

    I said to him he needs to find ‘a fourth space’. A space where he can think more clearly.

    And at that, he pricked up his ears.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love working out of coffee shops (I’m writing this in one right now) however they’ve become the de-facto office for so many of us, we need to find another space, one that allows us to think.

    In my fifteen years working for myself, I couldn’t have achieved the same results without going to a fourth space, whether spending the afternoon at Tate Modern or taking a train journey somewhere new. Last year, when my work life felt stale, and I needed to reframe it, I went to Amsterdam to get back on track (watch the short video below).

    It’s not however always the fancy destination that’s important, as long as you know it will fuel you creatively. Or even if you don’t know, just try it and see what happens.

    I wonder if our lives have become so jam-packed — a seamless segue from home-to-office-via-coffee-shop — that we’ve left no space to do the Big Thinking, whether ideas for our organisation or just giving our own work lives a check-up. Imagine how much more fulfilled we might be, how productive and creative we could become if only we gave ourselves permission to get some distance from our day-to-day routine, to find new spaces to work from.

    Here are four ways to put some white space into your working life:

    1. Shift your relationship with the office: we all know being productive is not about the number of hours you spend at your desk, it’s about knowing where you work best and going there more often.
    2. Identify your own fourth space: consider the places where you could get some of your best work done. Where will fire you up — is it an art gallery, a train journey, a walk in the country?
    3. Make going there a regular fixture: if you work for yourself, regularly schedule fourth space time; if you work for an organisation, demonstrate to your boss the kind of value a fourth space would bring. And then get a commitment to let you go there.
    4. Set yourself some goals for when you’re there: when you go to your fourth space, set some goals about what you need to achieve while you’re there. Give it some structure.

    Put some white space in your work life.*

    *Try it. Let me know how you got on, where got you fired up, how did it work? You can keep me posted on Twitter @iansanders

  • Noticing the signs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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...

  • 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.

  • What did you ship in 2013?

    I don’t have a boss. I don’t have an annual appraisal. As an independent worker, I tend to rely on self-accountability.

    That independent spirit requires me to check-in with myself, to review how I’m doing. Last year, prompted by Todd Sattersten’s #YearInReview list - inspired by Seth Godin - I started an annual blog post listing what I shipped in the previous twelve months.

    The ‘what did you ship?’ metric is important because it focuses on what we put out there, what we had the guts to press ‘launch’ on. As Seth Godin reminds us:

    “It doesn't matter whether it was a hit or not, it just matters that you shipped it. Shipping something that scares you ... is the entire point.”

    So here’s what I shipped this year:

    1. Ideas Tapas: a discussion & tapas club that I launched in Geneva with DJ Forza. Thanks DJ for helping me make it happen.

    2. ‘On Being Curious’: this year I experimented with a short-form, quick-read, quick-release book. I sent out sixty copies of the booklet to clients and contacts; and created an espresso-priced Kindle book.

    3. ‘My year of living curiously’: I created a for-the-hell-of-it DIY video series interviewing Tina Roth Eisenberg, James Victore, Phill Jupitus, Tim Ferriss, Matthew Stillman, Kathryn Parsons, James Caig, Alec Ross in New York, France and London, filmed from the back of a cab to a Eurostar carriage.

    4. Meet The Innovators: I worked with New York based Women Innovate Mobile’s Kelly Hoey to bring the Meet The Innovators lecture series to the Apple Store in London’s Regent Street. I appeared on the panel for a discussion on entrepreneurship, you can watch the video podcast here.

    5. The Leigh-on-Sea meetup. I’d wanted to start a meetup group for local entrepreneurs, creatives and freelancers ever since I moved to Leigh. But I’d never done anything with the idea. Until I met Michael Mentessi. Michael’s a real  do-er, and it was him who made it happen. It’s been a great way of getting people together in the local community.

    6. Telling business stories in the FT. In 2013 I continued telling stories in the Financial Times about trends, businesses and entrepreneurs that spark my interest.

    7. Other places where I’ve told stories this year: British Airways Business Life magazine, Caffeine magazine, Courier newspaper, The Hiut Denim Year Book, Monocle radio’s ‘The Entrepreneurs’.

    8. I shipped a lot of words again this year. In 2013 I posted twenty posts on Medium and racked up 38 blog posts on IanSanders.com .

    9. More video: a video interview with Andy Kershaw, and other videos with Billy Bragg, Hugh Garry and Nick Couch.

    10. And of course, there’s been a full portfolio of client assignments this year, helping entrepreneurs ship their own business ideas: providing advice, creating marketing content and capturing/ telling their stories. I’ve worked for clients in the US, Switzerland and UK this year and traveled to the US and Amsterdam in pursuit of making projects happen.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Doing it your way

    When my school headmaster said I should study company secretaryship at college, I said no thanks, I’ll stick to my dream of working in broadcasting. When my first boss said I had to choose between a creative or management role, I said I’d try both at the same time. When a boss asked to see a three year plan for my new product idea, I said let’s just launch and try it out instead. When I was advised to send off a written proposal to try and get my first book published, I sent a link to a YouTube video instead. And when the moderator told us to go off and brainstorm with a flip chart in the boardroom, I took everyone to the coffee shop instead.

    It’s not that I’m a rule breaker for the sake of it. I just know where I play best, where I’m most productive, most effective. If you’ve developed your own business style - and it works well - stick to it.

    Don’t try and shoehorn into ‘their way’ of working and doing business, do it your way.

  • Just start doing it

    My friend’s been telling me she wants to try her hand at being a portrait photographer.

    She’s creative, I know she already takes good photographs so I said, ‘great, do it’.

    ‘It’s not that simple,’ she said, telling me there’s a book she needs to read first and a course she needs to take.

    I think it is that simple - she has a camera.

    I saw her this week and asked how it was going. She said she needs a telephoto lens and a special flash before she can start.

    Stop obsessing about the tools and the training.

    Writers, write. Makers, make. Coders, code. Photographers, photograph. And yes, doers, do.

    So just start doing it.

  • 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?

  • Write what you know

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

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

  • 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:


  • 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.

  • 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:

  • Top Ten London Coffee Places

    I’m skipping the top-ten-business-trends end-of-the-year post for something essential to my working life: coffee in London. Two years ago I posted Ten London Coffee Shops To Get Your Ideas Flowing; this year I’m posting my updated Top Ten London Coffee Places.I  like to live a nomadic work life, working out of different spaces, punctuating my working day with a few espressos. Whether it’s providing a hit of inspiration or offering a place to meet, work or think, London’s independent coffee scene is important to me. Whilst I have a regular neighbourhood favourite, when I’m in London I like mixing it up. This selection is not necessarily about great spaces with wifi for working; they’re simply places that contribute to my productivity and ideas (oh, and they all serve damn good coffee).

    1. Monmouth, Park Street, SE1: whilst I’m more of a regular at their Monmouth Street shop; I prefer the Borough Market one for hanging-out, either sitting at the communal table, or my favourite space up the steps at the corner window. You’ll always have to queue here, but I like the buzz and productivity of the coffee-production-line. This is great for people-watching and connecting the dots on some ideas. Here my electronic devices stay in my bag - it’s a strictly Moleskine-and-pen kind of place.
    2. Prufrock, Leather Lane, EC1: this street has a couple of decent coffee shops, Prufrock is my favourite. Whilst the coffee is always guaranteed to be good - and they’ll often have a guest bean to sample - it’s the physical space that draws me in. It’s a great big place that always inspires, whether to meet someone or to get some work done.
    3. Allpress, Redchurch Street, E2: I like the mix of this space. On the right it feels industrial with the roasting operation, on the left plenty of seating. I like taking a stool at the high table, reading a newspaper or scribbling some notes.
    4. The Espresso Room, Great Ormond Street, WC1N: I’ve only been to this place once - just last week - and I instantly liked it. It’s tiny with very little space to sit but they have tables outside. You won’t linger here, it’s a pit-stop on a way to a meeting kind of place but great coffee, good service.
    5. Notes, St Martin’s Lane, WC2: I only discovered Notes this year; this one in St Martin’s Lane mixes coffee with music.  It’s busy, buzzy and the surroundings give it a European, almost Parisien feel.
    6. Look Mum No Hands, Old Street, EC1: Of course LMNH is all about cycling, which gives it a soul and raison d’etre beyond doing good coffee. A very friendly space for lunch or coffee, or just to sit up in the window with your MacBook. 
    7. Market Coffee House, Brushfield Street, E1: This is a first-coffee-of-the-day place for me. I like the old-meets-new juxtaposition between the old buildings on Brushfield Street and the Spitalfields development opposite. It’s got a good vibe on a rainy day helped by Radio Four which is often on behind the counter.
    8. Fernandez and Wells, Somerset House, WC2: all F&W are good, but I’m picking the bigger off-Soho shop at Somerset House. This is a great big, grand, white space: I find the clarity of the surroundings give me a clarity in thinking, it’s like a giant blank canvas or opening a notepad for the first time.
    9. Wild & Wood, New Oxford St, W1: (hat tip to John Willshire for this one), in that non-descript area between Holborn and Covent Garden, a cosy space for a winter’s day. Pick one of their little booths and it all feels rather Dickensian.
    10. Flat Cap, Strutton Ground, SW1: the last twelve months has seen more coffee carts out and about, in London’s churchyards and markets. Flat Cap has carts dotted around the city for good coffee-on-the-go. My favourite is the one on Strutton Ground, because it’s in such ordinary surroundings at the end of a market, outside an old pub.