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work lives
  • 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 walk to wake you up, find your fuel and sort out your future

    Sometimes we get so engrossed in our jobs and work lives, we lose sight of what we stand for and where we are headed. Other times we end up in roles that are at odds with who we really are. We know there must be something better out there, but we don’t know what directions to take.

    That’s why I started my Fuel Safaris. To uncover your ‘fuel’: to figure out the essence of your professional offering, to know what really makes you tick. You’ll go away with clarity about where you’re headed, whether that’s reframing your existing role or identifying a new path.

    My Fuel Safari is a one-to-one, half-day walking-workshop around an urban jungle: London’s side streets and hidden alleyways. Colville Place is one such street. Just thirty seconds from the traffic fumes of Tottenham Court Road, this is a pretty pedestrianised street lined with Georgian town houses. At one end it opens up to reveal a tiny park, Crabtree Fields. On my latest Fuel Safari my client Alina and I sat here on a bench in the Friday afternoon sunshine, reflecting on the question I’d just posed.

    The safari takes us down my favourite streets*, places that I first discovered in London’s A-Z as a “runner”, when I worked for a TV company in the early nineties and ferried video tapes to edit houses in Fitzrovia and Soho. Now I’m using those same streets to take executives, entrepreneurs and freelancers on a journey, making sure they’re headed in the right direction.

    I love side streets as they allow the space - and peace - for my client and I to talk properly, with stops at benches in parks and gardens. I have a set of questions to pose, otherwise there is no agenda. Often I give my client the choice of where to head next. “Straight on or right?” I asked Alina. “Let’s go down Adam & Eve Court,” she replied spying an alleyway heading down towards Soho.

    There are stops for coffee and note taking. That Friday Alina and I even took a deviation towards Heal’s furniture store and Soho’s Gosh! Comics for some inspiration.

    On our walk, I try to pose questions that haven’t been asked before. I learned about Alina’s backstory, her ambitions, what gets her fired up. Sometimes a street sign will echo or amplify a part of our conversation. We were talking about Alina’s global outlook; how she’s lived and worked in different countries. By chance, the words inscribed on a glass door behind her said ‘Global Citizen’. Later that afternoon a stationery store proclaimed ‘Make your mark!’ on the window at the same time as we were talking about her desire to make a dent in the world.

    Sometimes the smallest things can reveal something we might not otherwise have found. The elastic band holding the cards with my questions snapped. “That’s because I don’t want to be restricted,” Alina replied without missing a beat. “I don’t want to be boxed in!”

    What’s the outcome? My Fuel Safari provides you with the insight and tools to reach your ‘what next?’ After our session I create a personal compass for you, a mind map that captures your story, your purpose, your needs and your strengths.

    Out here on safari, away from your desk and digital distractions, we look at your life from a different perspective, uncovering insights that might otherwise have remained hidden. Exploring paths you might not have walked down before.

    If you’re lost and have no idea where your career and life are going, and would like to discover your true purpose and what feeds your soul - a Fuel Safari is for you. Now I’ve been on a Fuel Safari with Ian, I much better understand who I am as a person, what’s driving me, and where I want to go next.  Alina Truhina

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

     

    *Where did we go?

    That Friday afternoon we started at Seven Dials in Covent Garden, then headed via Phoenix Garden (another hidden gem) and Soho Square towards Fitzrovia. Up through Rathbone Street and Charlotte Mews to Charlotte Street and then on to Fitzroy Square where we found a bench to talk. Then we walked south to Crabtree Fields and Colville Place for another sit-down, before heading west through the alleyway by the Charlotte Street Hotel to Newman Passage and onto Eastcastle Street. Down to Soho for a stroll through Berwick Street market, then west down Old Compton Street and back to where we started.

     

  • “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!

     

  • How to fire up your work life in 2016!

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

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

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

    Here’s to good times in 2016…!

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

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

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

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

    Here’s my take on why authenticity matters:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

  • Five things to do when your fuel tank is low

    If, like me, you work for yourself — or even if you don’t — you’ll have days in your working life that are quite frankly, crap. The phone doesn’t ring, no-one gets back to you, that project didn’t happen, oh and it’s a miserable day outside.

    And on days like these, it can be hard to stay positive.

    Whilst there’s no magic wand to finding your mojo, there are some steps you can take to refuel. Start by accepting how you feel, rather than trying to deny it. If you feel really crap, then so what? Be okay with that. Don’t wallow in it, but just recognise that’s how you’re feeling. Once you’ve acknowledged it, you can do something about it. Here are five things to do when the fuel tank is low.

    1. Go do something else. If your working life doesn’t look in great shape, taking time off may not sound like the best advice. Shouldn’t you be hitting the phones trying to find a new gig to replace the one that slipped through your hands? But if your fuel is low, you won’t be in the right mindset to tackle your to-do list. So switch out of work mode. Go do something else for an hour or two. Come back when you feel better. Which brings me on to #2.
    2. Know what fuels you; go and do that. Those experiences when you feel in your element? Baking a cake, writing a blog post, going for a 40km cycle, playing the piano? Just go and do whatever that is, and as soon as you get into your stride, you’ll feel your fuel levels rise.
    3. Have someone to lean on. When everybody else is chest-puffing, tweeting and posting about how damn successful they are, it can be hard to be honest about how you feel. Have someone you can be honest with, who you can lean on and tell it like it is. Call them up, go and chat with them.
    4. Get fired up by someone else’s story. If your own fuel tank is empty, try looking somewhere else for inspiration. Read a book, listen to a podcast, watch a Do Lecture. Get fired up by listening to someone else’s story.
    5. Look after yourself. Remember, if your fuel tank is low, it’s a sign. A sign that you need to look after yourself. Not just your physical health, but your mental health too. Get plenty of sleep, go for a walk. Oh, and switch off that digital device.

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • How to get unstuck.

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

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

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

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


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

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

     

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

    Last week I met a business acquaintance for coffee.

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

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

    And at that, he pricked up his ears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Put some white space in your work life.*

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

  • “A Berlin State of Mind”: my picks of the city

    Last week I spent two and a bit days in Berlin, my first trip to the city. Although my visit was primarily for pleasure, I soon realised this is a great city for working, and I’ve already added it to my list of favourite places to go to get fired up, the kind of place I might go to write my next book.

    In my short time in the city I found some great cafes and restaurants, most of which I stumbled upon (which is always the best way to discover a new city). So whether you’re going to the city for work or for pleasure, here are my Berlin picks:

    Coffee

    1. The Barn [Auguststraße 58, 10119 Berlin]: a tiny shop serving great coffee. That’s all you need to know.
    2. Ben Rahim [Hackesche Höfe, Sophien Strasse 7, Berlin]: I stumbled upon Ben’s shop at 5pm. Seeing a sign on the door that said they shut at five, I guessed I was too late for a coffee. But I was wrong. Ben couldn’t have been more welcoming, he’s only been open one month and with an attitude like that, he’ll go far. Check out his story here.

    Breakfast

    Hackescher Hof [Rosenthaler Str. 40/41, 10178 Berlin]: a simple, diner-style, all-day restaurant. Bacon and eggs, orange juice, a pot of tea with great service. A good place for a working breakfast or just to sit and read the papers.

    Lunch

    1. Barcomi’s [Sophie-Gips-Höfe, Sophienstraße 21, Berlin]: as well as hosting a deli and coffee counter, this hidden-away cafe serves bagels and salads. There’s some seating in the courtyard outside.
    2. Antipodes [Fehrbelliner Straße 5, 10119 Berlin]: a pavement A-board advertising Antipodes caught our eye so we followed a side street and discovered an awesome cafe run by a New Zealand couple. Great music, a stack of magazines, decent salads and a great long black. We felt at home instantly, I would go at least once a week if I could.

    Dinner

    1. Simon [Auguststraße 53, 10119 Berlin-Mitte]: It was a Monday evening when we stumbled upon this quiet neighbourhood restaurant. Initially we struggled with the German menu but then I recognised an Argentinian entrecote that went very nicely with a couple of glasses of red. Result.
    2. Strandbad Mitte [Kleine Hamburger Str. 16, 10117 Berlin]: I love this place. It’s everything a restaurant should be. Located down a short dead-end street I stumbled upon it one afternoon when it seemed to entice me over. I chatted with a waiter about gluten-free options on the menu; when I returned a few hours later the chef had prepared a three course gluten-free menu, just for me, just like that. Excellent food, great wines, decent prices, friendly service and a great vibe. I wish it was closer to home. I’ll be back.

    Magazines & books

    1. Do you read me? [Augustraße 28, 10117 Berlin]: this is a great magazine shop, I went twice in two days.
    2. Gestalten Space [Sophienstraße 21, 10178 Berlin]: a bookshop/ gift shop from the publishing company of the same name. If I didn’t have an Easyjet one-bag rule, I may have carried home a stack of their lovely books. Luckily you can buy them online.
    A beer in a deckchair

    Cafes beside Spree River in MonbijouPark [Mitte Berlin]: Having walked around town for a few hours, I wanted to sit in the sun. In this park there’s a bunch of cafes with deck chairs outside on the grass. Grab a chair, order a drink and watch the world go by.


    Enjoy!

  • 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).

     

  • Let’s hear it for the barista entrepreneurs

    For me, the act of entrepreneurship is about making a business idea happen, having the guts to take a risk and try something.

    But when we hear about 'entrepreneurship' it tends to be stories about household-names or perhaps the tech scene. I think there’s a better example of entrepreneurship at a much smaller scale: look at the wave of independent coffee shops springing up in towns and cities around the world. Let’s champion the barista entrepreneur!

    The barista-entrepreneur is no different from any other person choosing to make their business idea a reality. They need to do their research, learn their craft, secure funding, find premises, create and test their product and then launch it. In small coffee shops the man or woman serving your flat white is often the proprietor, having to juggle everything from serving the coffee to mastering social media. Typically operating in competitive markets, they will stand or fall on the quality of their product. Some will close down, others will scale to other sites.

    This week I met Ben Rahim at his coffee shop in Berlin. Tunisian born Ben told me it was his dream to open his own business. Having spent four years exploring coffee working as a barista in Brisbane and Berlin, one month ago, he opened his own shop Ben Rahim. He’s made his dream a reality, he’s taking a risk. Good luck to him!

    You can find his coffee shop in a courtyard of Hackesche Höfe in the eastern city centre of Berlin.

    I recommend the espresso...

  • "What do you stand for?" Twelve entrepreneurs/ executives tell me what they stand for.

    As a gig-going teenager in the late 1980s, I didn’t just go to gigs because I liked the music, I was there because I liked what the bands stood for. Back then it felt like Billy Bragg wanted to change the world, and I did too.

    And that’s no different from consumer relationships with brands. The customers camping outside an Apple store the night before a product launch are interested in more than just the iPhone 6: they are fans with a passion for everything the brand stands for. Consumers often make buying choices based on a brand’s values and culture, whether riding a Harley-Davidson or flying Virgin Atlantic. Now businesses of all sizes are realising they can compete on what they stand for as well as their products.

    I’ve been evangelising this to my own clients: that they compete on their point of view rather than on their products and services. Today many businesses operate in abundant marketplaces where they face competition from similarly-positioned businesses offering similar-sounding products and services. How do you stand out from the crowd? By standing for something.

    And if your business doesn’t stand for anything, if you don’t have a point of view, then I think you are missing a trick.

    But you don’t need to be a big brand to stand for something, it’s an opportunity for executives, solo workers, freelancers, even job hunters. Want to make your startup idea famous? Want a journalist to write about your business? Want people to read your blog post or follow you on Twitter? Want to make an impression at a job interview? Then stand for something.

    I’m interested in what makes people tick so I asked a dozen contacts - from the chairman of a global ad agency to the founder of a one-person business - “What do you - or does your business - stand for?” (click on the presentation below to see their responses).

     

  • Bored of your job? Rather than quit, try redesigning your job.

    One of the benefits of working for yourself is that you are in control of your own destiny: you can create your own job (and change it when you feel like it).  But designing your own job is not only an option for the self-employed; if you work for an organisation with the right culture you too can rip up the job spec to create a role that reflects your talents and desires.

     

    Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, wrote recently about how he had worked at IDEO all this life, never needing to quit his job because he could redesign it:

     

    “Over the last two-and-a-half decades, I’ve gone through multiple job titles and even more roles. Even since taking on the mantle of CEO some 15 years ago now, I’ve done my best to redesign the job every few years so that I continue to grow my impact and learn.”

     

    Tim’s story echoes my own experience. Before I started working for myself, I was lucky to spend seven years at a media group that was small and flexible enough to allow me to design my own job. I treated the official job spec as just a starting point, a canvas on which to paint new layers. Having been hired as a studio co-ordinator, I soon crossed borders to other departments, becoming a producer in live events, then a radio production manager, before slaloming through other mashed-up roles that saw me simultaneously head up one division as MD, project manage joint ventures, edit the company external newsletter and organise the annual awayday. At my own instigation, I changed my job title every twelve months.

     

    So redesigning your job may sound like an attractive idea, but how the heck do you actually do it? Here are some tips:

     

    1. The onus is on you. Your boss won’t come and ask if you want to change your role. It’s up to you to take the bull by the horns and lobby for change.
    2. Before seeking to redesign your job, make sure you have done enough of what you were hired for in the first place.  Prove yourself in the role you were hired for before arguing to shake things up.
    3. Follow your curiosity and cross borders. Be curious, go and ask questions, get to know what other people do. Get to know what goes on in other departments, build relationships with people at other sites and in other teams. This will help you give a sense of where you might be able to add value outside of your current role.
    4. Embark on an internal PR campaign. You’ll need to make sure people around you know that you have ambitions beyond your current job spec. When I started out at the media group, I got good at managing a broadcast facilities company, so I was seen as the 'Facilities guy'. I had to work hard to remind people around me, including my boss, that I had other skills. I had to move away from the label that people had attached to me. Make sure people in the organisation have a sense of what you stand for, of your purpose, the values and skills you’ll bring to your work, whatever you touch.
    5. Be vocal and visible outside your core area. At company-wide meetings ensure you’re making contributions and getting heard on other areas outside your current role. Demonstrate your other talents by blogging, by tweeting, by showing evidence of side projects or hobby businesses.
    6. Put your hand up. The boss is looking for volunteers to come in at the weekend to staff a welcome desk at an event? The company is looking for someone to guest edit the newsletter? Put your hand up and volunteer.
    7. Be enterprising. If you’ve got ideas for how your division could grow, take the initiative and make recommendations to your boss. If you suggest there’s a new product that can be launched, put yourself in the frame to lead it or work on it. Create your own opportunities.

     

    This should help you redesign your job inside an organisation. Of course it relies upon the culture of the organisation being progressive enough to allow employees to change direction and carve out new roles. But give it a go, you have nothing to lose. And if your boss says no, then maybe you are working in the wrong place.



    If you want to find out more I’m holding a ‘Pop-up Revolution Workshop’ in central London on Friday May 1st where, together with Mark Shayler, I’ll be inspiring you to get fired up about your work life. Email me hello@iansanders.com for details.


    You can also read my book ‘Mash-up!: How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier.’

  • 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!]

  • Going deep or staying wide.

    ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’

    Ten words that are asked of children around the world by teachers, parents, aunts, uncles and strangers at bus stops.

    We tend to expect single rather than plural answers to that question. But the reality is many of us have chosen - or ended up, either intentionally or by accident - to carve out roles where we bring breadth of experiences rather than specialist, singular depth.

    That’s my story. But I’d be lying if I said I did it consciously. I started my full-time career with a job in television production. When the TV series I was working on ended, I jumped sideways to an event promotion company, working on a music festival. When that was over I went to a small media company where in seven years I worked across every discipline in the building: radio production, live events, outside broadcasts, marketing projects.

    All I was doing was following my curiosity and the opportunities that appeared before me.

    But it shaped my career. By the end of my twenties I’d got a reputation as a generalist rather than a specialist. I was a do-er, making creative ideas happen no-matter-what, a safe pair of hands. The people I worked alongside were specialists: radio producers, broadcast engineers, video editors. They had deep career-long skills. They did one thing well.

    My one thing? I was good at projects. Whatever the discipline, I took the same approach. Every project is the same: it has a start, a middle and an end. It has a client and a brief. A budget, a deadline. I was the bloke who made all these projects happen.

    Today whilst I have deep experience as a writer, that’s combined with breadth across different disciplines (even as a writer, I work for publications and also for corporate clients). I like to cross borders, helping to solve problems by bringing experiences from one discipline to another.

    IDEO’s Tim Brown talks about this in ‘The Career Choice Nobody Tells You About.’ “Rather than diving deep into the single discipline of industrial design, I accidentally discovered the joys of working across disciplines,” he says. Like mine, Tim’s career trajectory was an accident but he urges that choosing to go wide versus deep should be made consciously, not accidentally.

    As a father that’s what I’m going to urge my kids: not only to build work lives on who they are and what they stand for; but also to consider that choice - breadth or depth? (I’m not arguing one is more important than the other; of course we need both).

    But in a world of increasing uncertainty where roles we did ten years ago just won’t exist any more, there’s some benefit in being a border-crosser, able to switch between disciplines, able to add new strings to your bow, able to re-invent.

    Choosing breadth means I never get bored of my work, it also means I never know what’s coming next.



    *If you’re interested in exploring this further, I wrote about this in my book Mash-up!: How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier

  • 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.

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

      0:00

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

    You can follow James on Twitter: @jamesvictore.

  • ‘Hacking better transatlantic work relationships’ at SXSW 2015.

    After four years away, I’ve decided to return to Austin, Texas next year for South By South West Interactive. I’ve put together a panel idea on a favourite subject of mine: cultural differences in doing business between UK/Ireland and the USA. Because we all use the same words, there’s often the assumption we speak the same language. But it’s not that simple in business; whether it’s pitching, hiring, selling or networking, there’s many cultural nuances that if overlooked could jeopardise relationships. Having covered this subject for the Financial Times, British Airways Business Life magazine and The Sunday Independent (Ireland), I’m assembling a panel from both sides of the Atlantic featuring:

    1. Feargall Kenny, an Irish recruiter in NYC, founder of New York Digital Irish.

    2. Grainne Barron, an Irish entrepreneur in San Francisco, founder of Viddyad.

    3. Katherine King, a New Yorker who heads up Invisible Culture, a cross-cultural consulting firm.

    The idea is now up on SXSW’s ‘PanelPicker’ site - along with 2,999 other ideas - until September 6th. We could do with some votes so if you think it’s a good idea please ‘like’ and share our page.

    Thanks!

  • Change your working scenery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • Finding answers in the street: ‘Street Wisdom’

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • ‘The Future is Freelance’: the realities of the F word

    The entrepreneur and Financial Times columnist Luke Johnson wrote in yesterday’s FT that ‘The future is freelance - and that is healthy’ (you may need to register to view the article). He said the growth of self-employed and freelance workers will have important implications for our politics, culture and economy:


    “Their growing numbers stimulate free enterprise, innovation and wealth creation, and create a more adaptable country, better equipped to deal with the challenges of the modern global economy.”

     

    As a long-time freelancer - I took the leap in 2000 - I share Luke’s enthusiasm for this trend. But there are a lot of myths around freelance work. So in response to Luke’s piece, here is my take on the freelance economy:


    1. Freelancing is more than just an economic model, it’s a completely different way of life. The act of going freelance not only means we have to replace the pay cheque with finding clients and invoicing them. Going freelance is a conscious decision to choose a different path, a desire to be more independent, to be more authentic, to ditch the rules. It re-negotiates our relationship with that four letter word: ‘work’.
    2. Being freelance isn’t only about self-sufficiency, becoming an all-rounder. It requires a whole new mindset. Success isn’t about how good you are at completing your tax return or how adept you are at creating PowerPoint slides, it’s about your attitude - having an enterprising mindset to turn your talent, contacts and ideas into invoiceable work. It’s also about staying agile, being able to react rapidly to opportunities rather than stick to a three year plan. In that sense being freelance doesn’t carry all the usual entrepreneurial baggage.
    3. We’re not all capitalist by default. Luke argues that ‘every self­ employed citizen becomes a capitalist by default – which means a more economically literate population’. I’m all for economic literacy, but again it neglects the reason why many people choose the freelance life. It’s not about following the moral code of The Apprentice contestants, it’s a reaction against the mediocrity of corporate life. So we’re not trying to build versions of the businesses we just exited, and we’re not all motivated by wealth-generation. We may be more excited by the flexibility our new work life offers in going for a lunchtime cycle, than by sweating to earn the most money we can.
    4. Freelance interests still need protecting. Luke says that the self-employed are the opposite of public sector workers who are frequently union members. True, but as the number of freelance workers grows, so too have communities where freelancers can hang out and get support. Look at the emergence of The Freelancers Union in the US, founded to protect worker’s rights. You won’t be seeing any unionised strikes, but you might see more groups form around freelance interests.
    5. You’re not a failure if you don’t scale to become a start-up. Being freelance is not necessarily a step towards full entrepreneurship. Luke notes that whilst most freelancers never end up hiring staff, many entrepreneurs - including Bill Gates and Steve Jobs - started out as freelancers. True. But let’s be clear: it’s viable carving out a work life as a freelancer. You don’t have to scale to become a start-up entrepreneur. Freelance career trajectories are not always linear; in my fourteen years I have gone horizontal rather than vertical, crossing borders from one world to another, adding new strings to my bow, rather than build my expertise in one single, narrow area.


    I read Luke’s column yesterday morning, when I was using my local library as a workspace. As I cycled home at lunchtime to continue my working day, I happened to pass my father on the street. “Skiving?!” he joked, as he saw me. And that’s probably one of the biggest changes between traditional work practices (where my father spent his career) and being a freelancer in 2014: work is a mindset, not a place you go.


    If you're looking for a guidebook to going freelance, check out my book 'LEAP! Ditch Your Job, Start Your Own Business & Set Yourself Free'.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 'Instructions for anyone with a burning desire'

    This might be the shortest, simplest life advice ever:

    If you have a burning desire to do something, for f**k’s sake, do it.

    Many of us don’t have a burning desire and that’s fine. It might be something you need to work at. But if you are lucky enough to possess that burning desire, that niggling won’t-go-away calling, that constant dream pulling at you, then please try it, start it, do it.

    A desire burns for a reason. It’s calling you to do something about it. And it probably won’t go away until you get started.

    I was talking to a friend at a drinks party. Like many of us, she’s found herself doing a job that isn’t really her.

    So, what do you really want to do?” I asked her.

    I ask this question a lot. Lots of time I hear back, “I don’t know”. Other times you see the person’s eyes light up, their voice get excited and it couldn’t be clearer.

    That’s what I saw this time. My friend said her real dream was to become an art teacher. But she acknowledged there are a few obstacles in the way, and understandably, the obstacles had deterred her.

    But hang on,” I cut across, “this desire to teach art, is it a burning desire?”.

    I could see it in her eyes. An unequivocal yes. It was what she wanted. Now that was established, we talked about how she might be able to knock down those obstacles. We came up with some ideas to start exploring this dream.

    The route to your burning desire may not be straightforward or easy. It will probably be daunting. But your passion will provide you with the fuel to get started.

    Of course, having a burning desire doesn’t automatically provide a magic wand. Having the dream doesn’t mean you wake up the next morning and start living it. You still have to work at it. JK Rowling was rejected twelve times before she got lucky. My editor at the FT turned me down the first time I suggested I write for the paper. And the same happened the first time I approached the publisher who would end up publishing my first book. I got rejected. But yes, I had a burning desire. To write a book, to get published. And so I persevered.

    There is no magic formula — but if there was — it might look something like this:

    Burning Desire + Perseverance + Hard Graft = Your best chance of pulling it off.

  • What did you ship in 2013?

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

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

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

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

    So here’s what I shipped this year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Unleashing our creative confidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • What makes entrepreneur Kathryn Parsons tick

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

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

     

  • Sometimes we just need to show up

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

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

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

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

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

  • Doing it your way

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

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

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

  • “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]

  • Life’s too short for crap coffee

    It was February 2013 and in just 24 hours I’d learned a handful of important lessons.

    I’d got into partnership with someone who proved to be less than reliable, I’d had enough of chasing him and of hearing his false promises. I decided to walk away. It was more important to erase the toxicity than stay for the money. It felt good.

    The same week on a trip to New York, I’d opted for a cheap tourist hotel to keep costs down. The trouble was, it wasn’t me, it was a miserable place and I had a sense of foreboding each time I walked through the doors. I quit, moving to a hotel which was more my style. The cloud lifted and I felt reinvigorated, happier and instantly more productive. Everything fell into place after that.

    Strolling down to the hotel lobby for a coffee, I counted twenty people in line at Stumptown coffee. It was quite a wait, but my patience was rewarded with my best espresso in the city.

    And then I remembered: “Life is too short for crap coffee”. Whether it’s removing toxicity from your life, refusing to tolerate a mediocre experience, or making sure you live your life true to who you are, I was reminded what is really important in life. To stay true, to not compromise, to never settle for mediocrity. To be the real you, to put ‘you’ at the heart of all you do.


    And also, never, ever, to drink crap coffee.

  • 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.

  • Just start doing it

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

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

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

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

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

    Stop obsessing about the tools and the training.

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


    So just start doing it.

  • Letting your gut do the due diligence

    I was sitting with friends in a bar recently comparing wounds on professional partnerships gone bad. How we’ve had to exit relationships or fold projects because the other party failed to deliver. I told them about my own experience - a partnership where my collaborator failed to show up and our project had to be abandoned. This cost me money (always painful) but also time (much more painful). Over our second glass of wine, we chatted about whether we could have anticipated these collaborations going wrong. The question was raised: had we done our due diligence?

    Traditional ‘due diligence’ - poring over spreadsheets conducting a financial health check - might spot a failing company or a flawed business model but it won’t necessarily reveal your risk of simply ‘being shafted’. Most of us employ our own version of being diligent, whether it’s deciding to work for a client or wondering if the agency building our website is reliable. For me, due diligence is less about detective work and more about trusting my gut; along with some common-sense steps like meeting them face to face, hearing their story over a coffee, seeing their work and watching how they express themselves online. In my own case of my vanishing collaborator there were no signs that he would run away and fail to return calls or emails. He’d passed the ‘gut’ test, but him being based in a different continent meant we fast-tracked to collaborating without spending time in the bar or coffee shop.

    All the due diligence in the world won’t spot whether someone is just a great performer and a poor executor: sometimes you have to learn the hard way. But remember that Skypes, emails and ‘phone calls won’t show you the complete picture - so before you rush into a professional partnership get to know them first over an espresso, a glass of wine or dinner. Inevitably these moments will be the most revealing in what a person is really like.

  • the value of a meeting with no agenda

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

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