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storytelling
  • More than marketing fluff. Why your business story is a touchstone for the whole organisation.

    A good story well told stays with us. It fires our imagination, gets us emotionally engaged, it makes an impact.

    Stories have the same value in business.

    But if I walk into some offices or boardrooms and talk about ‘storytelling’, I might get some odd looks. There’s a fair bit of cynicism around it.

    The Financial Times’ management columnist Andrew Hill is one commentator who has expressed his concern over storytelling. He wrote,

    “...there is a risk that corporate storytellers start to believe their own stories. To make a business narrative stick, leaders have to repeat it, reinforcing the story for themselves. What starts as a way for chief executives to guide and motivate staff, investors, customers and boards, becomes a plot from which they cannot extricate themselves”.

    I agree it’s a problem if a business’s story gets divorced from reality. If a business leader’s story is bullshit, then it should be treated with the disdain it deserves.

    But when told honestly, a business story becomes so much more than a marketing tool, it’s a cultural touchstone that gets all parts of the organisation aligned.

    So how to steer clear of creating works of fiction? Business storytelling is not about the Disneyfication of a business’s purpose and it’s not about mythmaking. It’s about holding up a mirror. When I work with organisations I often spot a disconnect between what a business says it is, and what it really is. Crafting an authentic story can help bridge that gap. It can help the organisation find its essence: who it is, what it stands for, where it’s come from and where it’s headed.

    Organisations are always changing and growing, but often they don’t update their stories. They tell an outdated story that’s not relevant anymore. Standing back, getting an outside perspective to help capture and craft the real story is a great way to bridge that disconnect. In my experience it’s hard to manufacture a story when you apply an external journalistic rigour to tell it like it is. A business’s story has to be sustainable, it has to be believable. If the story isn’t credible or authentic, then someone will blow the whistle sooner rather than later.

    By telling its true story a business can emphasise its ‘why’, its purpose. A story gives a business the tools to compete in a crowded or abundant market. Brands such as TOMS Shoes, Sugru and Hiut Denim  have achieved commercial success not only because their products are good, but also because they tell a good story: one which aligns with their values and mission. It applies in the same way in B2B, where customers choose companies such as Mailchimp or Basecamp  because they demonstrate their personality via the stories they tell. The stories those businesses tell about themselves - and their customers - helps them stand out. These stories make the customer the hero, shining the light on how their products help small businesses and entrepreneurs grow.

    Getting an honest evaluation from objective outsiders will help craft a story full of fact, not fiction, and will help the business leaders be sensible and honest enough to reframe when they need to.  So let's not dismiss storytelling as just another business fad. A business story told well is a powerful touchstone.

    What’s your business story? If you need help, hire me to tell your business or brand story. Make 2017 the year to tell your story! Get in touch hello@iansanders.com


    Watch my video: Make the customer the hero. How to use storytelling in B2B.

  • Making Crazy Happen: The Stress Report

    It was a crisp Tuesday morning at the end of February. I was sitting around the table in David Hieatt’s farmhouse in west Wales. The fire was burning, candles were lit and coffee was poured.

    David announced his lofty vision to those of us around the table: for The Do Lectures to create a series of printed reports, each on a single-theme, in 134 pages. Reports can be boring, David’s idea was to make these ones engaging and accessible via stories, data visualisation, research and experiments. This first report would be on the subject of stress.

    David told us we had three months to get it done. So we started there and then, mapping out a plan with a pack of Artefact cards. After lunch we relocated to the chicken shed and mapped out ideas on the whiteboard.

    It wasn’t until the long train ride home that it hit me. A very small team, with only one full-timer. A 134 page publication in three months? I’ll be honest, it seemed over ambitious.

    Friends of mine who worked in publishing said it sounded crazy. “That’s impossible,” one told me.

    And it was crazy. But David is good at getting the right people together to ‘make crazy happen’. After all, he’s spent eight years building a not-for-profit global event/ community The Do Lectures alongside starting a made-in-Wales jeans brand, Hiut Denim.

    David is a visionary, but he also knows when he needs to be brutal. As publisher and editor, he was brutal about what we had space for, and what we didn’t. He appreciates the beauty of the edit. For example, there were some brilliant pieces I’d commissioned that were left on the cutting room floor, but it was David’s job to wield the knife (so yes, The Stress Report was stressful at times….).

    The Stress Report is out now (buy it here). Inside is the tale of the London commuter who takes the boat to work to cut down on stress. The story of the creator of Moshi Monsters who’s building a movement around calm. An essay by Tim Leberecht, artwork by Anthony Burrill, words of wisdom from Derek Sivers, experiments from our very own guinea pig Mark Shayler, tips, resources, insights and much more.

    I’m proud to be part of it. Credit to David, Kacie, Joby and Mark for making it happen.


    Here’s to the next crazy project.

  • A journey to west Wales: kicking off Snap Photography Festival

    “Aren’t there any venues like this closer to London?” asked a fellow speaker at the Snap Photography Festival earlier this week.

    He had a point. Fforest Camp on the west of Wales is a five-hour-plus drive from the capital, the last hour by narrow and winding country roads. My iPhone told me the 300 mile journey from Leigh-on-Sea would take five hours, actually it took seven hours.

    But whilst it’s hard to get there, you’re rewarded with a unique experience in a stunning setting. Fforest is designed as a place to enjoy “the simplicity, pleasures and beauty of outdoor living in an outstanding natural environment.” It sits on a 200 acre site by the River Teifi, next to the Teifi marshes nature reserve. So I answered: yes, the UK does have other venues closer to London, but this one is quite special. Perhaps like a lot of things in life, you have to put in the effort, but it’s worth it once you reach the destination.

    The only non-photographer speaker, I’d been invited to give the festival’s two hour opening presentation and workshop on storytelling and finding your fuel. I’ve spoken to different audiences over the years and it was a thrill to be amongst 110 photographers. Since being given my first Kodak Instamatic camera as a child, photography has been a thread throughout my life. It feels like I spent most of the 1980s glued to my Pentax K1000, taking it to live gigs and documenting the world around me. I’m still passionate about photography. Yesterday morning I took half an hour off and walked around Fforest with my Canon digital camera.

    Sharing tents and outdoor cabins with strangers is not for everyone (disclosure: I was staying in an Airbnb in the local village) but something special happens when attendees mix together. Although I stayed off site, I joined in the communal dining, and I loved sitting down at the next available seat and chatting to new people. As I’d told the audience in my presentation, I thrive on curiosity, going to interesting places and meeting interesting people. Here at Snap It felt like the ‘United Nations of Photographers’. I shared meals with a Canadian, Croatian, Hungarian and Italian. I took a tea break with a guy from Poland and a woman from Chicago.

    It was great to discover that people had travelled from all over the world to come to Snap. Suddenly a seven hour drive to get here didn’t feel so bad; especially when the guy from Poland told me his journey had taken three days.


    [photo credit Lee Allen/ Snap]

  • Doing one thing well - New York’s pencil store

    I’m fascinated by owner-run small businesses, especially in retail. I love to see what people’s passions are, what shops are viable, what niche makes commercial sense.

    I like stationery so I’m always drawn - excuse the pun - to stores selling pens and paper. When I was in New York last week, I headed to CW Pencils on the city’s Lower East Side. As the name suggests, this is a pencil shop. It doesn’t sell a range of notepads or pens. It sells pencils. Pencils from as far afield as India, pencils from as near as Jersey City.

    Founder Caroline Weaver - an amateur pencil collector but lifelong pencil lover -  told me whilst she always had a passion for pencils she admitted she wasn’t sure how popular her store would be, would it turn out to just be her sitting in the shop alone?

    But a year after launching, the shop is busy and she even has a team working for her selling online. It’s a great success!

    As I sat drinking coffee down the road in Café Henrie, I took out my new pencil and scribbled down a question, “What is it about CW Pencils that makes it a success?”

    I concluded there are a number of ingredients that make Caroline’s business idea work. First, the business is a mix of online and offline. That’s an obvious point, but with limited opening hours and an off-the-grid location, it’s important to reach a wider audience. Second, the founder is passionate about what she sells. She told me she’d always loved pencils, and what better foundation for a business than that. Third, she’s confident that selling just one thing - pencils - will be enough. Business advisors may have suggested she stocks books or other stationery items to make her shop more commercially viable. But that would have diluted her proposition; instead - by sticking to one thing - Caroline has a niche idea that stands out. She’s doing one thing well.

    As Caroline says on her site,  “as simple as it may be, the pencil is something which despite advances in technology will never become obsolete.”  Here’s to the power of pencils! 

     

     

  • Turning it inside out: extracting the real story

    As a storyteller-for-hire, brands and organisations ask me to capture and craft their story, whether it’s an external marketing piece, or internally helping employees and new hires understand what the organisation is and where it’s headed.

    I sometimes think about this process as ‘turning it inside out’. It’s my job to look under the bonnet, to be curious, to ask questions and to turn the spotlight on those hidden corners that haven’t been exposed before.

    Sometimes in those hidden corners lie difficult parts of the story: perhaps the first iteration of the product fell flat on its face or the co-founders fell out. I have learned that capturing and sharing these imperfections is an essential part of the process. These imperfections are what gives a brand its purpose but also its personality.

    The same applies to individuals. Over the last few weeks I’ve guest lectured at universities, my advice to students is to put themselves at the heart of their career and business plans. “Don’t let anyone knock the You out of You,” I told them. Part of that is being honest about your real story. And just like those brand stories, it is the imperfections that might make their offering more distinctive and allow them to stand out from the crowd.

    Whether you’re a student, an executive, an entrepreneur, a startup or a big business, telling your real story is rarely easy. Sharing everything - including the ups and downs - means you can emotionally engage with your audience.

    I’ve just been through this process myself. Last year I was asked to speak at The Do Lectures. The brief was to tell a story I hadn’t previously told, to tell the truth and to be vulnerable. The talk went online this week (you can watch it below. If you'd rather listen to the audio podcast, here's the version on SoundCloud).

    It’s a very personal - and sometimes raw - story, but it’s a reflection of who I am and what makes me tick. Like the best stories, it’s a reflection of the truth: I turned myself inside out.

     

  • Get clarity, re-ignite your passion and shape your story!

    “I came to Ian frustrated and ready to pack it all in because no-one seemed to get my idea. Ian synthesised a clear message from the jumbled thoughts in my head that will instantly resonate with potential stakeholders. More importantly he did not fail to deliver on his lofty promise to reignite the passion in my own project.”

    Niels Bischoff, founder of Flowcus

     

    You’re an early stage entrepreneur. You’ve been living and breathing your startup idea for a while. But before you take your idea to market, you need a fresh perspective on it. Are you communicating your idea most effectively? Is your story fit for purpose? Do you still get fired up about it?

    My 'Fuel Up' package will get you back on track. It’s a rapid, affordable service to reinvigorate you and your business idea, giving you the tools and confidence to sell your idea. Whether your audience is investors, new recruits, partners or journalists, I’ll bring clarity to your business idea, reconnecting you with your purpose and re-crafting a fit-for-purpose story. And I’ll get you fired up about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

    The package costs just £950 (plus VAT; discounts may be available for non-VAT registered entrepreneurs).  Here’s how it works:

    1. we have an initial meeting (in London or via Skype);
    2. you then complete a questionnaire via email;  
    3. I’ll create two deliverables for you based on the meeting and questionnaire: i) a crib sheet - a why, who, what, how one-pager that will both help you communicate your idea and also be a touchstone for you internally; ii) your simple and gettable startup story in less than 300 words.
    4. we’ll have a second meeting (in London or via Skype) where I present my work to you and you can ask questions.


    Why work with me? I bring my twenty five years’ experience to every project I touch: I have run businesses, advised startups & entrepreneurs, and written about startups for the Financial Times and British Airways Business life magazine. I’m good at bringing clarity to business ideas.

    Want to talk? Get in touch: hello@iansanders.com.

  • Why is storytelling an essential tool within organisations?

    I was recently interviewed about storytelling for Turnstone’s ‘Founder Focus’ series (Turnstone is part of the Steelcase Inc. family of brands). You can read the full interview here, in the meantime, here are some highlights:

    1. Why is storytelling important? How is it different than a mission statement? A mission statement can feel detached from reality – like something a management team devise behind closed doors in a boardroom one Friday and then reveal to the organisation on a Monday morning. Storytelling holds a mirror up across the entire organisation, it’s human, it’s real. Stories can bring an organisation to life.
    2. What are the elements of good corporate storytelling? Let’s be clear. This is not about creating works of fiction. It’s not about the Disneyfication of a business’s purpose—it’s about holding up that mirror. When I work with client businesses I often spot a disconnect between what a business says it is and what it really is. I’ve found that crafting an authentic story can help bridge that gap; and also cut through the crap.
    3. Can it be “too late” to craft the corporate story? It’s never too late. Last year I’ve worked with clients from an early-stage entrepreneur just shaping his idea, through to a 200-year old organisation. Often more established businesses recognise they need to update their story, or craft a new one, to make sure it is ‘fit for purpose’.
    4. Why is storytelling an essential tool within organisations? A client of mine headed up a strong team within an established organisation. But he told me he felt like he was standing on the bridge of a ship not sure where he was headed. I worked with him to extract and capture the story so he could tell the team where they were going.
    5. How does it help employee engagement? A corporate story is like a magnet that pulls people together in one direction. It’s also a lifebelt for times of uncertainty—like when you hit stormy waters. A story rallies people around a common purpose so they feel like they are part of something.
    6. How do you tell a story that is changing, i.e. an industry in transition or startup that is pivoting? You update the story. The origin story (why you started) doesn’t change, but your future story (where you’re headed) might. Organisations change, but often they don’t update their stories. They tell the old story that’s not relevant anymore. There’s a disconnect. Standing back to capture and craft the real story is a great way to bridge that disconnect.
    7. What are the ways to capture a company’s story? Make a commitment to storytelling. You need a storyteller, whether that’s an outsider or an in-house resource. Someone whose job is to be curious, to ask questions, to look under the sofa and behind the curtains and share what they see.
    8. As an advisor to businesses on how to tell their story, your focus is on people, not products. Why? Storytelling is about leveraging emotions. It’s human. I’m not interested in products and services, I’m interested in how your business changes the lives of its customers. The same applies to your audience.
    9. What are your 3 top tips for business leaders on storytelling? First, make sure that the story you are telling your organisation fires YOU up. Because if it doesn’t get your fist-pumped, how on earth do you expect it to inspire others? Second, make your story simple. Don’t reach for the dictionary just because you’re telling a story in a business context. Speak in the same way you’d speak to your friends or family. Third, keep it human. Your story should be about people, not products. If you want to change hearts and minds, make sure your audience can relate with the people in your story.

    Thanks to Kelly Hoey for asking me to be part of this interview series.

    If you want to hire me to help tell your story or you need advice around storytelling in organisations, email hello@iansanders.com and we can set up a call to discuss.

  • “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!

     

  • “TeuxDeux Tales”: shining the light on people not products

    When I’m advising businesses on how to tell their story, I always say shine the light on people, not products. Your audience probably won’t care about the functionality of your product, but they might be interested in how it changes the lives of your customers.

    That’s how I approached a project for TeuxDeux . TeuxDeux is the to-do list app started by Tina Roth Eisenberg. What I love about the app is its simplicity. It replicates how I’ve been keeping pen-and-paper to-do lists for years. I rely it on every single day.

    So I was interested in what other users liked about TeuxDeux, and what difference it makes to their lives. The result is a short series of stories called ‘TeuxDeux Tales.’ I’ve really enjoyed capturing and telling these stories of working lives. Here are the links to the three stories:

    1. Toronto based illustrator Lichia Liu 
    2. London web designer Dan Howells
    3. Sugru founder Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh

     

  • Three storytelling tips for business leaders

    I just got asked what is an effective storytelling technique or mindset I would recommend for business leaders. Here’s my answer:

    Three things.

    First, make sure that the story you are telling your organisation fires YOU up. Because if it doesn’t get your fist-pumped, how on earth do you expect it to inspire others?

    Second, make your story simple. Don’t reach for the dictionary just because you’re telling a story in a business context. Speak in the same way you’d speak to your friends or family.

    Third, keep it human. Your story should be about people, not products. If you want to change hearts and minds, make sure your audience can relate with the people in your story.

     

    If you want some more tips, check out my two minute video ‘The importance of storytelling: How to tell a better story’:

     

     

  • Don’t sell a product, tell a story.

    You’re a digital agency. Or perhaps you’re a law firm. The services you offer are identical to your competitors across the road. You realise that the long list of services stencilled on the wall behind your reception won’t get you noticed. So how do you stand out?

    It’s a familiar problem for any business that operates in an ‘abundant market’ - surrounded by similar-sounding, similar-positioned businesses. Competing on products and services won’t cut it.

    So how do you get noticed? Switch from selling your services to telling stories.

    My experience as a storyteller has shown me that every organisation has a story, it’s just that sometimes they aren’t easy to spot. You need to dig and scrape to find the good stories. You need to ask the right questions. You need to look in unlikely places.

    What makes a good story? The best stories you can tell are about how you helped transform a customer’s business. How that website you designed gave a customer the confidence to win a new project. Shine the light on people, not products. Make it interesting by focusing on the human aspect.

    Recently I've been working with Buzzacott, a 270-person firm of chartered accountants. Moving away from a traditional brochure, Buzzacott created a magazine ‘Beyond the Numbers’, full of stories about their people and their customers. As part of the project I sat down and interviewed their Head of VAT Services. A story about VAT may not sound a very interesting subject, but as we got talking I found out about eventful road trips across the US to meet clients. It felt like something out of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles.’ I’d found a human story!

    So the next time you go to meet a prospective customer, don’t bore them with a long laundry-list of services, tell them a story.

    Stories are unique to you. They’ll get you noticed.

    Working with Ian was wonderfully easy. The Buzzacott brand is a peculiar one and we are very sensitive to tone of voice so it was refreshing to find someone who immediately knew what we were trying to achieve and who told a story that fit in seamlessly with our other communications.”

    Samantha Bisson, Director of Marketing and Communications, Buzzacott


    [email hello@iansanders.com if you’d like me to help your business tell its story]

  • The importance of telling stories in business: my presentation in Harrogate

     

    Last month I was in Harrogate, Yorkshire to speak at the launch of ‘How’s Business’, an initiative from the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership. ‘How’s Business’ is a website where business owners and founders can get advice from fellow business people. The emphasis is not on business theory, but on “real life, straight talking business advice.”

    My presentation was on the importance of storytelling in business. You can watch the video above and see my slides below. There are also a series of bite-sized videos from my talk:

    1. Ian Sanders, People not products (2:22)
    2. Ian Sanders, How to tell a better story (2:31)
    3. Ian Sanders, The three acts of a story (2:46)

     

     

  • Stick what you stand for up on the wall

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

  • Changing How The Story Ends - the 2015 Do Lectures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    [Thanks to Andy Middleton for the photograph]

  • The Do Lectures: getting fired up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


    I recommend it.

  • Curiosity & Opportunity: Dan Rubin

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

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

    (this episode was filmed with an iPhone 6).

     

  • Finding Onlyness... in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • Should CEOs tweet? 5 tips for rookie executive tweeters.

    Last week The Financial Times asked the question, “Should CEOs tweet?” They reported that of the world's 224 biggest listed companies, only 32 have a CEO on Twitter and only 20 of those accounts are active.

    In my mind, the question “Should CEOs Tweet?” is a bit like asking whether a CEO should use email or be on the telephone. Can you afford to ignore it?

    Here’s the thing: in a world of similar looking businesses providing similar products and services, it’s your opinion and your ideas that will make you stand out from the crowd. Twitter gives you the CEO - and your business - a microphone, to tell your side of the story, to share your opinion and expertise with the outside world, to communicate with the audiences that matter to you.

    So if you choose not to be on Twitter, I think you’re missing out.

    But just because it’s easy to send a tweet, don’t be fooled that it’s easy to use Twitter as a business tool. Just because you can share a message with the world in a few seconds from the back of a cab, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think before you tweet (after all, you don’t want to end up like Rupert Murdoch).

    Here are my five suggestions to improve your game on Twitter:

    1. Remember that Twitter is a two-way street. It’s not a one-way channel to broadcast press releases - you need to engage with your audience. Invite debate, ask for feedback, perhaps even schedule a regular Q&A.

    2. Live within the constraints of the platform. Learn to master brevity, get your message across in a single tweet rather a message that runs to multiple tweets. Similarly, if you only use Twitter to link to other communications - blog posts and news releases - and don’t use your 140 characters to actually say anything, you’re missing the point.

    3. Know your audiences. Your audience might include customers, employees, press and investors. When you hit send, remember everyone will see it. So your tweets need to be relevant and gettable to everyone who follows you.

    4. Let your personality in. Bland tweets full of corporate-speak aren’t going to build an audience. Be human: sprinkle the ‘real you’ throughout your tweets so your audience gets a sense of who you really are.

    5. Don’t be a fence sitter: express an opinion. Twitter can be a great platform for thought leadership, so share your opinion. Tell us what you think and what’s getting you fired up, good and bad.


    Ian Sanders helps organisations better nail & communicate what they do, including how they use Twitter. You can follow Ian on Twitter @iansanders

  • Curiosity & Opportunity: Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh

    I love using video to tell stories.

    Last year I started a side project with Michal Dzierza which we’ve called ‘Curiosity & Opportunity’. In this video series we talk to founders, entrepreneurs and creatives about the balance between curiosity and opportunity in their work lives.

    Here is the second in the series. I talk to Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, the inventor of Sugru (Irish for 'play'), a self-curing substance similar to silicone, which has thousands of uses (and users). Here she tells us the story behind Sugru and how curiosity plays a key role in her business life.

     

  • What I shipped in 2014 #YearInReview

    Inspired by Todd Sattersten’s #YearInReview, a few years ago I started the annual ritual of posting ‘what I’ve shipped’. This is more than a brag-blog, it’s an exercise in standing back and looking at the work I’ve produced, the content I created, the projects I made happen.

    Looking back on my year also helps me reflect on the different ingredients in my work life and what the dominant themes have been.

    There’s been two sides of Ian Sanders in 2014:  1) STORYTELLER, helping clients capture and tell their stories, also writing articles for publications; 2) CREATIVE CONSULTANT, advising clients, bringing clarity to propositions, adding value from my outsider point-of-view.

    This year I’ve continued to be prolific in creating content for clients and for publications. In January I set myself a goal of creating 100 pieces of written content this year; I’m up to 97 so I’m nearly there.

    So here’s what I shipped:

    1. Telling stories for publications: This year I’ve continued to write for The Financial Times and British Airways Business Life magazine, and  I’ve also added some new outlets: Ireland’s Sunday Independent and Cool Hunting. I’ve also contributed interviews for Monocle’s ‘The Entrepreneurs’ show (here’s a link to my online portfolio).

    2. Helping clients capture their ideas, culture, stories: I’ve worked with a range of clients from an innovation agency to an energy trading business, capturing their thinking in articles, op-eds and other content. I’ve also been working with a law firm helping them explore and tell their story.

    3. Helping clients grow: I’ve advised clients from a young digital agency to a content business on growth and development opportunities. I’ve also helped my energy trading client transform their marketing communications.

    4. Workshops & talks: In February I co-hosted an evening of talks in my local community, in March I spoke to an audience of Dentsu Aegis execs, in July I hosted a meet-up on my local beach and earlier this month I hosted a Street Wisdom event .

    5. Side Projects: I co-created and edited Trawler, a publication that will launch next year via a crowdfunding platform (it’s *nearly* shipped!) and I also co-created a video series Curiosity & Opportunity.

    6. (Plus the usual content on Medium, Instagram and Twitter).

    This marks my fifteen year anniversary of being self-employed. It’s been quite an adventure; when I started out in 2000, I could never have anticipated the shape and direction it's taken. When I look back on the last fifteen years the biggest change - and opportunity - has been in the role ‘Digital’ plays: in my own daily working practices; in how I develop and maintain relationships; and also in developing a new area of expertise, where I advise clients around digital communications.

    Thanks to everybody I've met and worked with this year. Thanks for reading my blog. Here’s to the next adventure!

  • 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!]

  • Introducing 'Curiosity & Opportunity'

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

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

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

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

     

  • Noticing the signs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The rise of crowdfunding

    In this month’s issue of British Airways ‘Business Life’ magazine I’ve written about crowdfunding. It’s a useful overview for anyone looking to learn more about the different types of crowdfunding and the rewards it offers backers and investors. In the piece I’ve interviewed managing director of Crowdfunder, Phil Geraghty, and profiled three businesses that got off the ground using crowdfunding: Good & Proper Tea, Chineasy and The Bicycle Academy.


    The magazine’s available all month in the BA cabin; you can read it online here.

  • 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:

     

     

  • It’s 2014 but some brands and businesses are still getting it wrong on Twitter.

    Since I signed up to Twitter in 2008, I’ve spent a lot of time on the platform. It’s where I do my research, how I consume most of my news, where I share what I’m thinking, where I make connections with contacts.

    I’m particularly interested in how businesses and brands are using Twitter; as a business storyteller I advise clients on how to tell their story online and Twitter is a part of that picture.

    I’ve seen how businesses use Twitter: how some use the platform well and others use it badly. How some big service companies use it as an effective conduit for customer service, how consumers can use it to talkback (earlier this year I used Twitter to feedback to Essex Police who actually changed a practice as a result of my tweet). So I know what works.

    But I’m still surprised by how many businesses continue to miss a trick by under-utilising the platform. They think it’s enough to grab an account, get some followers, tweet out twice a day, and leave it at that. Below I’ve shared some ‘How to’s based on good and bad practice I’ve seen on Twitter in just the last week (you may think some of this advice is obvious in 2014, but some businesses are still not getting it right).

    How a business can raise its game on Twitter:

    1. Remember that it’s two-way.  Firstly, Twitter isn’t Facebook. People aren’t following your business because they ‘like’ you; it’s because they want to hear from you and engage with you. So make sure you’re equipped to handle two-way traffic.
    2. Twitter hours aren’t office hours. When do you most expect to go to a pizza restaurant? Probably at evenings and weekends. I tried to engage with Pizza Express recently. When are Pizza Express on Twitter? 9am-5pm Monday to Friday. I had to wait til Monday morning for a response. That doesn’t feel very 2014 (but once I found them, they were helpful).
    3. Make time for one-to-one conversations. If your Twitter account is just a stream of broadcast messages and you’re not having any direct conversations, you’re missing a trick. That’s hardly new advice, but still I see brands engaging in one-to-many communication, but missing out the one-to-one.
    4. Live within the constraints. The beauty of the platform is brevity. Nail your message in 140 characters. If you’re tweeting in a series-of-tweets (i.e. ‘this is 1 of a 2 part tweet’) you’re missing the point.
    5. Look through the user lens. One UK business magazine I follow likes to sends six news articles out one after the other. The result is I get a lot of noise in my feed. It says to me they haven’t bothered to stop to think how it looks for the user - it would be better to send them out across the morning, not all in one go.
    6. Be grown-up but have a personality. My award for best-practice on Twitter by a big company goes to my local train operator c2c Rail. They’re grown up, they’re serious, they provide an importance source of information about train times and delays but they also have a personality (and - when appropriate - a sense of humour). They engage in lots of one-to-one conversations, they’re helpful and they have a great tone of voice consistent seven days a week. They get it. 
    7. Be smart, don’t spam. The other day I tweeted that it was a sunny day in London and I’d decided to walk to my meetings. I got a tweet back from an app company telling me they could help me with my meetings. I asked ‘Why?’. I didn’t hear back. So I asked again. The company explained that they helped busy executives with their meetings. Again, I replied ‘how and why?’. I didn’t hear back from them. It wasn’t a very human-centric approach; they’d obviously searched for people tweeting about ‘meetings’ so they could sell me what they do. Two lessons here: 1) it was lazy. I wasn’t tweeting saying I couldn’t deal with my meetings or was stressed, I said I was enjoying walking to them; 2) when I did engage back, they failed to even communicate what they did or how they could help. Fail!


    And if you’re a business in need of help, give me a shout: @iansanders

  • Is it time to put corporate storytelling back on the shelf?

    Andrew Hill wrote a column in the FT earlier this week, ‘Corporate storytellers are best left on the shelf’, suggesting that now might be a good time ‘to put storytime back in the nursery’. So what’s the problem with corporate storytelling? Here is one of Andrew’s concerns:

    “...there is a risk that corporate storytellers start to believe their own stories. To make a business narrative stick, leaders have to repeat it, reinforcing the story for themselves. What starts as a way for chief executives to guide and motivate staff, investors, customers and boards, becomes a plot from which they cannot extricate themselves”.

    I agree that it becomes problematic when a business’s story gets divorced from reality; if a business leader’s story is bullshit, then it should be clearly filed in the category marked ‘Fiction’.

    But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater; a business needs its story. Not only as a marketing tool but also as a cultural touchstone to get an organisation aligned.

    So how to steer clear of creating works of fiction? Capturing and telling a business’s story should cut through the bullshit rather than create a new layer of it. Corporate storytelling is not about the Disneyfication of a business’s purpose, it’s not about mythmaking, it’s actually about holding up a mirror. When I work with client businesses I often spot a disconnect between what a business says it is, and what it really is. I’ve found that crafting an - authentic - story can help bridge that gap; and also cut through the marketing puff. Organisations change, but often they don’t update their stories - they tell the old story that’s not relevant anymore. Standing back, getting an outside perspective to help capture and craft the real story is a great way to bridge that disconnect. In my experience it’s hard to manufacture a story when you apply that external journalistic rigour to tell it like it is. A business’s story has to be sustainable, it has to be believable. If the story is bullshit, then someone will blow the whistle sooner rather than later.

    Of course there is a risk that ‘star’ entrepreneurs and business leaders generate myths which they then stick to no matter what, and it panders to their egos. As Andrew says, “To avoid becoming heroes in myths of their own creation, business leaders need to be honest and transparent – with others, but above all with themselves.”

    By telling its founder story in that honest way, a business becomes more open and more real. By telling its - true - story a business can emphasise its ‘why’, its purpose. A story gives a business the tools to compete in a crowded or abundant market. Businesses likes Zappos, TOMS Shoes, Hiut Denim and Rough Trade have achieved commercial success not only because they have a good product, but also because they have a good story.


    So let's not put storytelling on the shelf, instead let's just make the stories more accurate. If you stick to fact not fiction, if you get the help of outsiders who can make honest evaluations, and the business is sensible and honest enough to reframe when they need to, then a business’s story is still a powerful touchstone.

  • London-Austin for SXSW

    Today, hundreds of my fellow Brits are flying to Austin, Texas for this year's South By South West Interactive. It's a few years since I've been at SXSW; whilst I've heard grumbles that it's now got too big, there's no denying it continues to be a hugely influential festival. Whether you're a freelancer looking for inspiration, an executive looking to network, or an author, brand or product looking for a breakthrough moment, these few days in Austin, Texas remain THE annual place to be.

    This week British Airways launched its first London-Austin route, and published a special 'switched on guide' to both cities.  I've written a short piece about London's Silicon Roundabout and also profiled six tech startups. The magazine is available in the BA cabin - you can also check it out online here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Watch my 'On Being Curious' talk...

    Here’s a video of my ‘On Being Curious’ talk I gave at MILC (‘Made In Leigh Conversations’) last week. If you'd rather read something I've uploaded a written version of the talk on Medium.

  • Are you capturing and sharing your thinking?

     I talk to many businesses who are in search of one thing - visibility. They want to get known for what they do.

    And I tell them the same thing. Stop selling your product, and start selling your thinking.

    Because I’ve yet to meet an entrepreneur, business leader or founder who hasn’t got something interesting to say. The trouble is too many of them keep their opinions to themselves and their close networks. They don’t share it with the outside world. Imagine all that untapped potential they’re sitting on.

    Why should you bother sharing it with the outside world? Demonstrating that you have an opinion, a set of values or a strong purpose behind your business can help you engage with your audience, get you noticed and - ultimately - attract more clients.

    If you want to stand out, you need to stand for something. So try capturing and sharing your business thinking via white papers, manifestos, social media, blog posts, guest columns, videos and wherever your audience will see it.

    [I know it can be hard to capture and articulate an organisation’s thinking from the inside - that’s where I help. I bring clients my unique outsider point-of-view to: i) explore; ii) capture; and iii) communicate that thinking through idea-driven content. See how I can help - get in touch hello (at) iansanders (dot) com].

  • 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.

  • Print ain't dead (yet): three titles building businesses on print

    2014 might not sound like the best time to be launching a niche print magazine but a number of entrepreneurs are experimenting with business models around the launch of print-only publications.

    Melbourne based web designer Kai Brach launched a magazine for the web design community; but rather than do it online, he created a high-quality quarterly magazine that retails at £14 a copy. Offscreen magazine was launched as a side project; last year Kai made the leap to run it full time. Another venture bucking the online trend is a side project from London branding agency Tomorrowland - Courier, a free paper aimed at the startup community. Distributed in cafés and shops in London, founder Soheb Panja believes there is an opportunity to create a new title with a different take on 'business'. 

    As the big media players figure out ways to create viable future-proof business models it’s good to see these ‘new kids on the block’ creating print-based - rather than the more obvious screen-based - newspapers and magazines. There's something special about print. If I'm reading on-screen I tend to slalom from one publication to another; I never read a single publication back to front, digitally. But with a hard-copy publication I'll sit down on the sofa or in a coffee shop and consume it in a linear way. I find I can appreciate it more that way.

    Here are three print-based titles that currently interest me:

    1. Courier: a free London paper ‘for the creative, tech, fashion, media and startup scene’. It’s good to see that Courier aren’t tech-startup-obsessed; the current issue profiles a number of food startups that have adopted the ‘prototype-and-scale’ model.

    2. Offscreen: a global magazine for and about ‘pixel people’ - web and app designers. Whilst I’m not in the target audience, it’s always an interesting read, and a good source for finding out more about tech founders and designers. They have an interesting - and viable - business model: there’s no advertising, but each issue contains a few sponsor messages. It has a very high cover price, but this does not deter people from buying it.

    3. Caffeine: a free magazine about the UK independent coffee scene that launched in 2013. The indie coffee scene has become enough of a movement to merit its own publication, this is a consumer-facing mag but it also features articles on the process of making coffee as well as stories about the founders behind coffee shops.

    So - print ain't dead (yet).

    I look forward to seeing more new print titles in 2014. In the meantime, I’m pleased to have an opinion piece in this month’s Courier. It’s about how I think we need to rethink business and reinterpret the ‘B word’. You can read a PDF of my column here.


  • My new short book on curiosity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • What makes entrepreneur Kathryn Parsons tick

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

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

     

  • Stop over-strategising your story

    I can’t deny it. I’m getting tired of it too - of all this ‘noise’ about brands and businesses needing to embrace storytelling. All those stacks of presentations, thousands of articles and blog posts promising the most effective strategies for telling a brand story. Yes, I get storytelling-fatigue too sometimes (and that’s what I do for a living).

    But you know what?

    I think - like many things in business - we’re overcomplicating it. After all, if you ignore the buzz words and strip it back to basics, a good brand story is like any story: it needs to capture the audience attention, it needs to be memorable, it needs to be re-tellable.

    I was reminded of this when I visited Veuve Clicquot’s Manoir de Verzy near Reims in France a couple of weeks ago (I was there to celebrate this year’s winners of the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award). In this house on a hilltop amongst the vineyards I met some members of the champagne house’s brand team. As I asked questions about Veuve Clicquot, they gave me a history lesson, pointing out the ancient winepress, showing me the vineyard and later giving me a tour of the cellar. Yes, they told stories.

    They didn’t consult their brand rulebook, they didn’t talk in marketing-speak, they didn’t produce a PowerPoint deck, they just gave me a simple history lesson. Of how Madame Clicquot took on her husband's wine business when she was widowed at 27 - an extraordinary act for a young woman at the time - and how she shipped wine to Russia despite the tough backdrop of the Napoleonic war. I instantly learned a lot about Madame Clicquot and her champagne brand.

    Okay, a six month-old startup may lack the rich heritage of a 240 year-old brand, but it reminded me: don’t try to over strategise your story, don’t contrive something that isn’t there - just keep it simple and tell it like it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    * video and photo by Mike Bromfield

  • Lessons in living a curious life from Ideas Tapas

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Stay curious....


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • If what you do professionally can’t be given a single label

     

    A couple of weeks ago I conducted this simple experiment, tweeting, ‘What is Ian Sanders expert at?’

    I got a bunch of different answers, albeit with some common themes: writing, business storytelling, looking at business differently... and yes, espresso. It reminded me what I already knew: that being multi-dimensional means there is no one right answer. Inevitably, people will latch on to the most gettable parts, such as my gig as a Financial Times writer. Whilst the FT gig is just one of many projects, to many people it becomes the shorthand for what I do.

    Of course a single job title just won’t cut it for many of us, that’s why I developed the concept of a unifier - a word or phrase that unites all we do (I explore this in my book ‘Mash-Up! How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier’ - you can download a free chapter on the unifier here). My own ‘business storyteller’ unifier is as close to a label as I may get: it encompasses everything from writing for the FT to helping clients capture and tell their stories. Again, it doesn’t nail *everything* I do, but it’s memorable - when I met Billy Bragg recently he said ‘Ah, you’re the business storyteller’. He might not remember my name but he’ll remember that bit.

    So if what you do professionally can’t be given a single label, don’t fret. Plurality can be good - people will latch on to what they want to; different parts of your portfolio will resonate with different people. And if people get it wrong, at least it’s a conversation-starter. I met a guy recently who asked me what it was like being a financial storyteller. It wasn’t his fault making that assumption but it gave me the opportunity to tell my story. Okay, that story might not fit on a business card or in a LinkedIn category, but it’s hopefully a more interesting answer.

    It’s like what I said to someone over coffee recently, “Sometimes it feels like what I do is fuzzy”.

    “Yes, but at least fuzzy is interesting” he said.

  • Lessons in business from Billy Bragg

    "You've got to think like a small business because that's what you are. People who are buying your records and are coming to your gigs  - that’s a business transaction and they’re paying your wages."

    Billy Bragg, May 2013

  • 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...

  • 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.

     

  • 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.

  • Being a carpenter....

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

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

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

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

  • My Licence To Be Curious: six ideas to give your business life an edge in 2013

    It was called a ‘Uher’ and as a BBC local radio contributor in the late eighties, it was a required tool of the trade. An allegedly portable - yet bulky - reel to reel tape recorder, I lugged it around concert venues interviewing everyone from Billy Bragg (interview here) and Hank Wangford to Flaco Jimenez and Guana Batz for the BBC Essex ‘youth programme’ Revolver. It might have been an unpaid role, but the opportunity to meet musicians I admired was a kid-in-the-sweetshop moment for an eighteen year old music lover. That Uher, my BBC name badge and a typewritten sheet of questions gave me my very own licence to be curious.

    26 years later, in 2012 a renewed licence arrived in in the form of a side project writing for the Financial Times ‘Business Life’ page. With my iPhone and Moleskine notepad proving more portable than the 1980s Uher, the FT gig provided me with a fresh challenge - how to nail storytelling in 1,100 words. Writing for the FT gave me the opportunity to shape stories around people, businesses and trends that have been on my radar for a while: from the emergence of ideas festivals to the benefits of coworking spaces. In the last twelve months this voyage of curiosity has taken me from a wet field in Wales (The Do Lectures) to the Microsoft NERD centre in Cambridge, Massachusetts (The Venture Lab bootcamp).

    From the 12 FT articles I wrote in 2012 I’ve picked out six ideas to give your business life an edge in 2013:

    1. Develop a side project. A side project gives you an opportunity to learn new stuff, experiment and make you a better entrepreneur.
    2. Nomadic working can get results. Productivity is not about sticking to your desk in an office; it’s about recognising that you might be more productive away from your desk, whether working at home, on the road or being location-independent.
    3. Rethink how you prepare presentations. Don’t use your slide deck as your speaker notes. Avoid making slides full of bullet points; start using pictures instead.
    4. Avoid digital sloppiness. Digital tools may make business communication rapid but remember to“Stop, look, edit” before you press publish/send.
    5. Learn to draw again. Try using doodles and visual notes to capture and communicate  ideas. Visual communication is a powerful tool  for getting others to understand complex concepts.
    6. Mash-up your skills. Celebrate your multi-dimensional talents and add new strings to your bow. Try applying your knowledge in one discipline to solve a problem in an entirely unrelated one.


    Finally, thanks to the sixty people I’ve interviewed for the FT in 2012: Michael Acton Smith, John Bardos, Chris Barez Brown, James Barlow, Scott Belsky, Paul Benney, Jim Bland, Edward Boches ,Stephanie Booth, Andrew Branch, Moshe Braun, Sunni Brown, Joel Bukiewicz, Ben Casnocha, Jose Castillo, Ariel Chait, Kelly Dawson, Genevieve DeGuzman, Jennifer Dorian, Nancy Duarte, Anna Felton, Jocelyn Goldfein, Hugh Griffiths, Ann Handley, David Heinemeier Hansson, David Hieatt, Mark Hillary, Kelly Hoey, AnnaLise Hoopes, Dan Jansen, Charles Joynson, Lisa Kay, Jennifer Keller Jackson, Will King, Jamie Klingler, Peter O’Neil, Jesse Noyes, Gerry Newton, Alexandre Papillaud, Sarah Parmenter, Christian Payne, Ella Peinovic, Neil Perkin, Maria Popova, Dan Porter, Garr Reynolds, Kevin Roberts, Mike Rohde, Tina Roth Eisenberg, Laura Sampath, Sharon Tanton, Wendy Tan White, Tam Thao Pham, Steve Tongish, John Vincent, Emilie Wapnick, Phil Waknell, John Willshire, Lea Woodward and Mohan Yogendran. 

    [picture credit:Uher by James Cridland]

  • Are You Telling Your Story?

    Increasingly I find myself in the storytelling business. It’s the unifier that ties in my client work, writing my books and writing for the Financial Times. Rewind a few years, executives and entrepreneurs may have scratched their heads about the relevance of storytelling to their business life - now many recognise that marketing is about competing on their story. A great story can make the difference between visibility and invisibility; it can make a business gettable and memorable.

    For example, Ruark Audio is a British business making digital radios and music systems; they started out making hifi loudspeakers founded by a father (a cabinet maker) and his son (an engineer). Sure, they can compete on their award winning design but it’s their simple story of a father and son collaboration that makes Ruark different from competitors. Gettable? Yep. Memorable? Hopefully.

    Of course your story is not just valuable externally; it also helps people inside an organisation understand the vision and culture, so they ‘get’ what the company stands for.

    Yesterday I met with Bobette Buster, a storytelling expert who works with the major film studios in Hollywood and lectures on how to tell great stories well. Bobette’s experience is that many people over-complicate a story and therefore lose any emotional engagement. All this was brought home to me when I read my two young sons last night’s bedtime story. They’re a demanding audience (and I’m a choosy reader) so one author we constantly reach for is Oliver Jeffers, whose simple imaginative books delight both Dad and sons. Last night’s read - ‘The Way Back Home’ - has all the ingredients of a simple gettable story.

    I’m not going to make some clumsy analogy taking businesses lessons from a kid’s book, instead I’ll leave you with some advice from Bobette. When shaping your business story, ask yourself: “Will the audience have an emotional attachment to that story that will move them to take an action?”

    [The End]