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.
Photography has always been one of my passions. In the late 1970s it was a Kodak Instamatic, in the 80s - and pretty much for the next twenty years - a trusty Pentax K1000. Today I have a digital SLR, but like most of us I tend to use my iPhone 6 more - after all, the best camera is the one we have with us.
Whilst I didn’t pursue photography professionally, I still loving taking pictures (you can follow me on Instagram here). So I’m delighted to be on the speaker-line up at next year’s SNAP Photography Festival where I’ll be talking about storytelling and finding your fuel.
SNAP is a rather special event that mixes conference, immersive learning, a creative retreat - oh, and glamping - at the lovely Fforest Farm (the old home of the Do Lectures) in Cardigan, Wales from 18th - 22nd April 2016. Imagine The Do Lectures for photographers, and you get an idea of what SNAP is all about.
SNAP has been designed to inspire existing professional photographers as well as those interested in turning a hobby into a business. Check out snapphotofestival.com for more details. There are a variety of accommodation ticket packages available alongside some offers: the code EARLYSNAP will give 10% off or you can use the code DEPOSIT to pay 50% now and 50% in November.
Right now, this very second, in garages, coffee shops, barns and garden sheds around the world— and yes, maybe even in offices too — people are beavering away making their business ideas happen.
And in this uber-long-tail of startups, the challenge remains the same for every early stage entrepreneur with an awesome product or service that’s going to change the world: how the heck do you get heard?
There is no magic wand to getting your startup noticed, but instead of competing on your product benefits, try shining the light on your story (how you had your business idea, how you made it happen) and your purpose (your Why).
I've just published a manual that will help you leverage the power of your story: “Don’t tell me how awesome your product is, tell me about YOU!” (you can read it here).
If you want to have a conversation about how I can help your business capture its story, or you’d like me to give a presentation in your organisation, contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
If you know what makes your organisation tick, if you know what you stand for, why don’t you stick it up on the wall so that everyone can see it?
That’s what TheFamily has done. TheFamily is a Paris-based accelerator housed in a beautiful space in the city. When I arrived there yesterday, it felt more like a hotel lobby - or perhaps an intellectual salon - than a tech co-working space, with plush armchairs, bookshelves and wooden furniture, of course punctuated by the sight of obligatory MacBooks on every lap.
And what better place to put your manifesto than on the wall so everyone can see it?
As Simon Heath commented on Twitter earlier, “it's the most important thing about values. You have to embody them. Otherwise they're just empty words.” He’s right. If you keep your values hidden, perhaps you can get away with not adhering to them. I think putting your values up on the wall for everyone to see is an exercise in transparency - if you’re not living up to them, then people have the right to call you out.
So if you know what your organisation stands for, don’t hide it away, stick it up on the wall. Put your values where everybody can see them.
(If you don’t know what you stand for or you've lost sight of your story, and you need someone to help extract and capture it, that’s what I do - email@example.com).
Those who met me at Do in 2012 might have viewed me as a journalist or a writer, but the part those roles played was just the tip of the iceberg, a tiny part of The Ian Sanders story. It was great to be invited back in 2015 as a speaker and given a brief to share a story I had never told before. I decided it was time to change the narrative, to tell the real story about who I am and why I do what I do professionally today. It was time for me to stop tiptoeing around my past and to be honest about the roadblock I encountered fifteen years ago that forced me to change direction in life. And most importantly, I decided it was time to shine a light on the parts of the story I had previously edited out - the depression and other struggles I faced as a young man.
Speaking at Do was a great experience, but also one of the hardest things I have ever done: not only to nail my story in twenty minutes, but also to stand up and talk openly about facing and overcoming adversity.
It can be hard to stick your head above the parapet and expose your vulnerability, it’s not a very British thing to do. But it was made easier because of the environment. The Do Lectures is special. And yes, that may sound cheesy, but it is really like no other event I have been to. Held on a farm in the Welsh countryside, sleeping in tents under the stars. 90 minutes from a main railway station, the hard to reach location means the event attracts a different kind of attendee. But still they came, and not only from the UK but also from the Netherlands, the US and South Africa. The people who come want to make a change in their life or do something different.
Some of my fellow speakers had products and businesses to talk about, others just had a story to share: Matt Lane on starting his online beer club in a shed; Anna Jones on becoming a food writer; CJ Bowry on starting a charity that finds new feet for outgrown kids shoes. And then Ryan Holiday, a former director of marketing at American Apparel surprised us all with his passion for the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Yes, there were plenty of surprises, even for me (including the moment I choked up on stage talking about my eight year old self).
A few years ago I would have run a mile from speaking on stage. I’d lost my confidence and my voice. But now I’m back, back on stage and feeling back where I belong.
I’d like to thank: David and Naomi at The Do Lectures for inviting me to speak; the Do attendees who listened to my story in the barn; Nilofer Merchant; Sarah King; Michael Townsend Williams; Mark Shayler; Nancy Duarte; David Sloly; Hannah Allen; and Zoë Sanders who provided me with the fuel and confidence to find and share my story.
Like most good ideas, Trawler was born in a coffee shop.
In 2013 I co-founded a local meet-up group with Michael Mentessi (we met because he’d read my book ‘Zoom!’). This community of Leigh-on-Sea based freelancers, solo workers, creatives and small business founders has developed a number of side projects under The Made In Leigh brand: in 2013 we organised a series of talks - The Made In Leigh Conversations - and now, we’ve produced a publication, Trawler.
Trawler isn’t a local newspaper, this is a publication for curious people everywhere, telling stories of passion, hard work, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. It just happens that we’re anchored by the Thames estuary here in Leigh-on-Sea, England. The 24 pages have been written by and about local people, it’s very much a community-generated project. And in order to crank the handle on the printing press, we’re turning to crowdfunding.
Today we launch Trawler via a campaign on Crowdfunder, £2 buys you a copy of the paper. This side project has been a labour of love; everyone - from designers to writers and photographers - has given their time for free, giving up evenings and weekends to make this idea happen. It’s been quite a journey, so it’s great to turn that idea we had in a coffee shop into reality.
Three years ago I made the three hundred mile journey west to The Do Lectures. Twenty speakers and just eighty attendees sharing ideas in a big tent in the Welsh countryside.
It’s not your average business conference. There are no name badges, the dress code is wellies rather than suits, everybody stays in tents spending the evenings around a fire. Oh, and there’s no wifi.
And these are the reasons I liked it so much. The speakers don’t disappear on their flight home as soon as they come off stage, attendees don’t spend lunchtimes huddled over their iPhones checking Twitter, there are no VIP parties. Everyone is here together to inspire each other to DO, to get fired up, to get inspired, to make changes in their business or work life (what’s it all about? Read my post ‘Why The Do Lectures Exist’)
In 18 days I’m back at The Do Lectures. But this time, it’s different. I’ll be on stage as a speaker.
I’m currently putting some ideas together for my talk. Their brief:
“Be human. Be vulnerable. Don’t do the talk that you normally do.”
This is going to be a big one for me, putting my head above the parapet, telling my real story of how I got to here. Telling a story I haven’t told before.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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
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:
The Barn [Auguststraße 58, 10119 Berlin]: a tiny shop serving great coffee. That’s all you need to know.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Do you read me? [Augustraße 28, 10117 Berlin]: this is a great magazine shop, I went twice in two days.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
It’s the first week in March, the sun is out and Parisiens are taking up position outside Les Deux Magots café. A cluster of small dogs huddle around the feet of an elegant lady in sunglasses as church bells from Saint-Germain des Prés mingle with the rumble of car tyres over cobbles.
Les Deux Magots has a tradition of great ideas and creativity, being a magnet for such creative luminaries as Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. So whilst this early Spring sunshine is a tame imitator of the Californian heat, these charismatic streets a world away from Silicon Valley, it is fitting that it is here in the 6th arrondissement, that US management thinker and innovator Nilofer Merchant has made her home (well, for a year or so).
Nilofer has personally launched more than 100 products and worked for major companies like Apple. More recently she's become well known for her 2013 TED talk ‘Got a meeting? Take a Walk which has been viewed over 1.7 million times. So it’s no surprise that when she arrives to meet me at the café, she doesn’t sit down - we’re off on a walk towards the Seine. And although we’ve only just met, a walk n'talk seems a natural way to get to know someone.
In her TED talk Nilofer argues that fresh air drives fresh thinking, and prompts a different way of looking at the world. “Instead of going to coffee meetings or fluorescent-lit conference room meetings, I ask people to go on a walking meeting, to the tune of 20 to 30 miles a week. It's changed my life,” she says.
As we walk, we share our career stories and I hear about her experiences moving from the US to France. When we reach the Eiffel Tower we take a side street away from the Seine heading past The American Library where Nilofer says she often goes to read The New York Times.
Our brains are full of ideas and our feet tired, so we rest on a bench outside Malabar. Over a glass of wine Nilofer tells me more about her other great belief, that of ‘Onlyness’ - the unique qualities that each of us can bring to a situation (watch the short video below).
“Each of us is standing in a spot that no one else occupies. That unique point of view is born of our accumulated experience, perspective, and vision. Some of those experiences are not as ‘perfect’ as we might want, but even those experiences are a source for what you create.”
Last week The Financial Times asked the question, “Should CEOs tweet?” They reported that of the world's 224 biggest listed companies, only 32 have a CEO on Twitter and only 20 of those accounts are active.
In my mind, the question “Should CEOs Tweet?” is a bit like asking whether a CEO should use email or be on the telephone. Can you afford to ignore it?
Here’s the thing: in a world of similar looking businesses providing similar products and services, it’s your opinion and your ideas that will make you stand out from the crowd. Twitter gives you the CEO - and your business - a microphone, to tell your side of the story, to share your opinion and expertise with the outside world, to communicate with the audiences that matter to you.
So if you choose not to be on Twitter, I think you’re missing out.
But just because it’s easy to send a tweet, don’t be fooled that it’s easy to use Twitter as a business tool. Just because you can share a message with the world in a few seconds from the back of a cab, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think before you tweet (after all, you don’t want to end up like Rupert Murdoch).
Here are my five suggestions to improve your game on Twitter:
Remember that Twitter is a two-way street. It’s not a one-way channel to broadcast press releases - you need to engage with your audience. Invite debate, ask for feedback, perhaps even schedule a regular Q&A.
Live within the constraints of the platform. Learn to master brevity, get your message across in a single tweet rather a message that runs to multiple tweets. Similarly, if you only use Twitter to link to other communications - blog posts and news releases - and don’t use your 140 characters to actually say anything, you’re missing the point.
Know your audiences.Your audience might include customers, employees, press and investors. When you hit send, remember everyone will see it. So your tweets need to be relevant and gettable to everyone who follows you.
Let your personality in.Bland tweets full of corporate-speak aren’t going to build an audience. Be human: sprinkle the ‘real you’ throughout your tweets so your audience gets a sense of who you really are.
Don’t be a fence sitter: express an opinion. Twitter can be a great platform for thought leadership, so share your opinion. Tell us what you think and what’s getting you fired up, good and bad.
Ian Sanders helps organisations better nail & communicate what they do, including how they use Twitter. You can follow Ian on Twitter @iansanders
Last year I started a side project with Michal Dzierza which we’ve called ‘Curiosity & Opportunity’. In this video series we talk to founders, entrepreneurs and creatives about the balance between curiosity and opportunity in their work lives.
Here is the second in the series. I talk to Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, the inventor of Sugru (Irish for 'play'), a self-curing substance similar to silicone, which has thousands of uses (and users). Here she tells us the story behind Sugru and how curiosity plays a key role in her business life.
Last week I was in Davos, Switzerland at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum. I was working with the WEF Digital Media Team, creating content for their blog, Agenda.
Agenda is read by nearly one million people around the world each month and has been established as a platform where contributors can share their opinion and ideas on a range of global issues from entrepreneurship to the fight against global poverty. Contributors include heads of states, CEOs, the heads of International Organisations alongside young leaders, entrepreneurs and scientists.
"Only a reckless fool would rebel against his government on the second day of a general election. I should know, I did. And Ian Sanders helped me achieve this notoriety. An opening paragraph in his book hit me like a slap around the face. So thanks Ian. You helped me rediscover the inner rebel and life is good."