Friday, 28 December 2007

Lessons from Lego

Monocle magazine is always worth a read, and online there is a series of video podcasts available featuring interviews with business leaders and cultural commentators.
One of the series features Monocle Editor In Chief Tyler Brûlé in conversation with the CEO of Lego, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp. It's a fascinating insight into how a brand with such heritage as Lego has met the challenges of competition and globalisation. I have always been interested in how brands survive by staying innovative and successful. They survive - of course - by changing, and reinventing their offering.
Lego is a fascinating case study. It is re-engineering itself from toy manufacturer to an ideas-led business. The company is going 'open source'; and will be less about production and more about intellectual property, about development of characters, concepts and partnerships with other IPs. Lego is unashamedly niche, not looking for mass-market share but to appeal to a specific market demographic. Its operating principles are founded on originality and on being authentic. Whether big brand or one person business, there are lessons for us all here.
Check out the video here

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Write A List!

For as long as I can remember i have been a passionate list maker.

To do lists.
Bullet point lists of business tasks and goals.
Lists of personal stuff.
Lists of themes for my new book.

I sometimes wonder how people in business survive without lists. Whilst inevitably I remember all the important things I need to do, and have a clear vision of my priorities, The List is so valuable for all that stuff I might otherwise forget and for coming up with all those good ideas.

As a list-lover I have enjoyed Sasha Cagen's To Do List blog, and now there's a book of the same name, with contributions of random lists of everything from work goals to attributes for an ideal partner. Cagen also conducted some research on people who make lists which is included in an Appendix. It reveals 89% of people who make lists prefer pen and paper then electronic lists and 86% say lists make them more productive. And an overwhelming 96% of respondents said life is better with to-do lists.

Anyway, gotta dash, I have to go and write a list...

Thursday, 20 December 2007


In business I have taken inspiration in a number of different ways and places. In all the obvious ways: from mentors, clients and through challenges. But also through journeys and holidays. And in cafes and bars; over an espresso or a glass of wine.

Our gift to clients this Christmas is some Inspiration Wine.

Sip and be inspired…

Happy Christmas

Bad Service And Six Year Contracts

I overheard an Account Manager from a supplier visiting a client who had a problem with his product.

His predecessor had mis-sold the product, but the new Account Manager wasn't prepared to take the responsibility. The guy who sold the piece of kit had left the company and now the client were tied into a contract.

And not just any contract. A six year contract. Six years??!! I don't know what form my business will be in one year, let alone six years. How can this arcane approach survive in a competitive market?

And to make matters worse, the Account Manager explained - if you have a problem with the contract, you'll have to talk to the Contracts Department.

In my book an Account Manager manages an account with a client. Full-stop. And doesn't divert questions and complaints to other parts of his organisation.

Let’s hope the company will be extinct in six years… in the meantime, I'd rip up that contract.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Another Meeting About A Meeting

I was talking to some guys at a party. Each of them worked for big global organisations. I asked about the trend for doing your own thing; flexible working, working at home, life in the scrambled up world of work. They replied that success in their business was about visibility. Their weeks are full of internal meetings and if you aren't present, then you are out of the loop. That is how business is done.

Do they make all the decisions at these meetings? No. The business hierarchy and organisation is so deep that decision making is not rapid and effective. No-one's immediate boss can make decisions, the culture is risk-averse and executives spend their days crafting proposals and cases for change, for new products, or lobbying for decisions. PowerPoint documents are the currency of communication which are presented and then passed up the chain of management, to head office in the States, several positions removed from the executive who initiated it.

What makes the best case for change? What will get a decision made?
The most robust argument? The most attractive financial forecast?
Nope, the size of the PowerPoint.

If you want to make sure you get your ideas approved, execs are told, "Make sure it's a thick deck". A thick, bulging presentation.

And that - thank goodness - is miles away from the scrambled up world of work where you can make decisions in an instant, just like that, with no meetings, no referrals up and no thick presentations.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Picturing The Goal

A writer friend gave me a Paul Smith notebook for Christmas last year. In it I started to scribble thoughts and goals as one tends to do at the end of one year/ start of the next. I'd revisited the idea of writing a book and one of the notes I scribbled in the first days of 2007 was that in twelve months time I'd have a book published. This week that goal comes to fruition as my book is published on 21st December, 351 days after scribbled that goal.

It's taken a lot of luck and hard graft (and more than a year in gestation) to get a book written and published. Sometimes a clear goal or vision can help empower results. I had a clear vision (and self belief) that the book would happen.

Twelve months ago I visualised seeing the book in Borders, now it's a reality *.

You can achieve a lot in 351 days....

* Well nearly in Borders, it's on Amazon now. Borders in January...

Go with your gut

People ask me what it was that was the tipping point for me going it alone in business. Was it a great business idea, a carefully mapped out business plan or a management-school checklist of criteria?

Where, in fact it was something much more critical than that. It was a gut feeling. It was instinctive.

Gut feeling is a much under-rated business tool, so make sure you act on instinct.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Leap! In Sixty Seconds

There are 6 short videos that have been produced around the release of "Leap!", each about 60 seconds long.

Check them out at these links:

Ideas Into Invoices

Focus On One Thing At A Time

Being Your Own Boss

Find Your Signature Project

Idea Generation

Don't Get Stuck In A Rut

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

The gospel according to ….Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip

When you're out there working for yourself or running your own business, there is no dress rehearsal – You are doing it and You have a limited opportunity to get it right, to succeed. That’s a pretty good motivation, knowing that no-one else is going to make a difference in your business success: it’s you or nothing. You have to pull it off, or else…

I was reminded of this when watching the excellent drama “
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip” *. The new junior writers just weren’t coming up with good enough material to get a sketch on air. The senior writer knew why they weren’t succeeding; because they knew it wasn’t just down to them, and they lacked self-belief that their writing would make it to air:

“There’s no pressure. They don’t have to do anything. They know that. They’re trying but they know they are not getting anything on the air. Lesson One: they’ve got to live or die on Friday night. They’ve got to feel like success in a 3 minute sketch is the same thing as love and they’ve got to fear failure…”.

Substitute your latest project/ assignment/ product for ‘Sketch’; substitute your window of opportunity for 'Friday Night'; and the same applies.

'Cos we all need pressure...

* and that's the first time I have ever quoted a TV drama for inspiration...

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Love Change

I’m working with a new client managing a re-brand of their business. Not just a fresh brand identity but also a new name. BIG CHANGE. Lots of changes to manage both internally and externally, getting staff on board with the rationale and communicating to the marketplace.
Like any big changes, there’s a lot of upheaval but huge benefits for reinvigoration and what this will do for the business.

But you need to have the courage in the first place to take the risk.

In the scrambled up world, changing your branding, your message, your clients, suppliers, business models and teams can be equally challenging and liberating. So change something today.

Micro Trends

More and more of us work from home. Because we can, because it’s easy and because we don’t have to spend ages on a commute. Whilst 3.4 million Americans have a journey of ninety minutes or more to work - more than that - 4.2million permanently work from home. How do I know this bit of trivia? The fascinating “Micro Trends: The Small Forces Behind Today’s Big Changes” * by Mark J.Penn. Penn identifies more than 70 trends in religion, leisure, politics, and business that are changing our lives, from work-at-homers to office-romancers (and it’s not all about Americans).

Working at home has been an important part of my business. I have spent many years working at home. Until now. Until I had a toddler who worked out how to walk upstairs to the loft and open the door. Now, home is no longer a good place to work. So I had to move out. A socio-economic phenomenon not (yet) captured by Mark J.Penn: “Home Workers Who Have To Move Out To A Proper Office Because Their Kids Make Too Much Noise” could make a good chapter.

* Micro Trends” must have some of the most impressive endorsements I have seen on the front of a book. One from Bill Clinton. One from Bill Gates. Not bad…

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

25 Days To Go

Leap! has just gone to press.
It will be published on 21st December, available in stores from January. There’s been much reading and approving of proofs and a few of those inevitable last minute tweaks. Videos have been filmed which will be up on Youtube, Amazon and i-tunes shortly.
There's a website for the book at

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Reinvent Yourself

Mike Southon is a serial entrepreneur, author and columnist. His ‘Beermat Entrepreneur’ series of books have been required reading for wantrepreneurs and start-ups. I first met Mike as his spoof 70s glam rock alter ego Mike Fabgere. But his talents don’t stop there. He’s also been a chemical engineer and a computer salesman and now writes ‘My Business’, a column for the FT. So if ever there was a polymath, Mike is one.

His latest column, ‘You Can Change Who You Are’, is music to my ears as I have always been a fan of reinvention, reinvigorating to stay fresh and successful. In the scrambled up world, there are few rules as to what you can and can’t do; but you need change and reinvention to survive. And that’s in contrast to convention where you are just One Thing, or do just One Thing. That’s fine if your speciality is always in demand, but it’s much more enterprising to change your offering and positioning as the market changes. Not only does it keep your business proposition fresh, it keeps you fresh, stimulated and reinvigorated.

So don’t be shy of changing hats as you develop your business. Whether one-person entrepreneur or bigger venture, in a fast-changing marketplace if you can’t reinvent yourself, the chances are you won’t survive.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

The Importance Of a Friday

Research just published by the Centre For Economic Performance at the London School of Economics shows Britons put in the most work hours on Tuesdays, and the least on Fridays. The report’s authors suggest employers reorganise working practices, concentrating employee’s hours in the middle of the week.

No great surprises there. Most of us get into our stride on Tuesdays and by the time the end of the week comes, are getting the Friday Feeling.

But business should be cautious about drawing a correlation between hours put in and productivity. In the scrambled up world, productivity and results are rarely amount of hours spent at your desk or in the office. They are about more crucial indicators: did you have that big idea? Did you do that deal? Did you hit your forecast? Was that new product a success? Were you passionate and positive about your job?

And that’s when you can have great results just from one hour at work, with the right attitude, rather than a gratuitously long day when you struggle to be productive. Maybe the aforementioned “Friday Feeling” has more positive value than first thought. What better day do have the best idea and do the best deals when you are relaxed, positive and feeling good about the day?

Here’s to Friday.

(only 5 days to go)

Thursday, 30 August 2007


I’m just back from a trip to Amsterdam. You see many of these devices in doorsteps in the city, going up or down steps to apartments and offices. At first I couldn’t work out what they were for. Water drainage? To ease delivery trolleys up and down steps?

And then I realised.

Of course.

In the city of the bicycle, this is a simple but effective innovation to help residents and workers get their bicycles down the steps in and out of their apartments and offices.
A great – simple – idea. Not over-engineered, no bells and whistles just a really good innovation.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Changing working practices

You know business is changing when Ernst & Young, one of the world’s biggest accountants announces that they are seeking to radically change working practices. Today’s City AM reports that Chairman Mark Otty is instigating new measures to attract and retain talent. This includes the idea of allowing staff to choose how much holiday they take each year and also allowing regular home working. City AM quotes managing partner Mike Cullen: “We want to break the ‘attendance culture’ in the workplace”.

A sign that this really is a Scrambled Up World Of Work…

Monday, 6 August 2007

Loving the details...

Another stay at The Hoxton Hotel.

You have to respect their approach to the details..

being innocent

When you spend a Saturday at a festival set up by a consumer drinks brand, along with thousands of (paying) others; you know that brand is doing something right. The Innocent Village Fete (formerly known as ‘Fruitstock’) is an annual day out at London’s Regents Park.

Innocent have succeeded and creating and marketing an experience that consumers want to buy into – the event is the total sum of all their brand values. The event is a real mish-mash of elements – not unlike the mish-mash of ingredients that goes into their smoothies. A few music stages, loads of food stalls, a fairground for the kids, a reading area sponsored by Penguin, even a dog show.

Innocent have pulled off a great success story – a city-centre mini festival where the brand experience is what it’s all about. How a smoothie company from Shepherds Bush decided to stage an event like this – and to deliver it – is testament to their pioneering spirit and their market positioning of just ‘being different’.

And you don’t even have to like smoothies to enjoy it.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Creating something from nothing...

I have always been stimulated by creating SOMETHING from NOTHING; taking an idea to fruition. It’s what we aim to do with all our projects at OHM.

On a personal level that sense of satisfaction has been heightened by having just – literally – put the finishing touches to the manuscript for my latest book “Leap!”.

And here - above - is where it all started. The Printers Inc Cafe in Palo Alto, California, March 2004. I started writing what was then billed as "The Self Sufficient Entrepreneur". Then I got busy and it lay dormant. Until October 2006 when I revisited the idea and decided to start afresh. In February 2007 a publishing deal was offered to me. Today is the deadline for submission.

181,280 characters; 40,378 words; 235 revisions; 265 pages.

And now it’s done.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Ten Years On

So today is the last day of Tony Blair's premiership.
The question is, who has aged more in the last ten years, me or him?!

Monday, 25 June 2007

Al fresco

Al fresco working, a stone table desk in Puglia, Italy.

Friday, 15 June 2007

I am on holiday....

....which is always a good place for ideas.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

small success stories

From yesterday’s FT a couple of nuggets on small business

Small best for flexible hours” is the unsurprising conclusion of a report from the Chartered Institute Of Personnel & Development. The study reports that the “tight labour market has created intense competition for talented and motivated people and this has been helped by the informal and flexible nature of flexible working arrangements. Employees who feel able to balance their lives and outside work are much more likely to go that extra mile as their part of the bargain”.

With fewer rules, smaller business can of course afford to be more flexible. And you don’t need HR departments or HR policy to enable such flexibility: it’s just about common sense pragmatism of small business owners.


Elsewhere, the paper reports on the UK Fashion Export Awards where small brands such as Pistol Panties won accolades for their commitment to international trade. Pistol Panties is a lingerie and swimwear brand; founder Deborah Fleming started the company three years ago cutting designs at her kitchen table. She took her designs to Selfridges who took the lot and sold out in a week. The brand is now sold internationally and won an award for deploying its limited financial resources to clever marketing.

Which reminds us that you don’t need big budgets to have marketing success; just a good brand and damn good ideas.
Talking of big budgets, there has been a lot of controversy over the newly unveiled logo for the 2012 London Olympics. I'm not a fan but perhaps in 5 years time it will look fantastic: maybe it is an idea ahead of its time?
The FT reported that London's Mayor Ken Livingstone said the public would come to accept it. "It is a logo. It is not the meaning of life or a secret code that will identify the bloodline of Mary Magda-lene. It is a logo that will grow on you," he said.

Which is all well and good.
“Yeah, but it did cost £400,000” reminded my wife.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

A few small ideas make a big difference

I am staying at London's The Hoxton Hotel. Now here is a hotel that is prepared to be refreshingly different, with a stack of good ideas:
  • normal price 'phone calls, no rip-off rates
  • free wi-fi, computer terminals
  • you can rent rooms during the day as "private offices" for £19 - somewhere to chill out or work between meetings
  • snacks and provisions at the hotel reception are at shop prices
  • you get a free breakfast bag hung on your door in the morning - if you want a decent breakfast then you can upgrade to the restaurant

Nothing amazing but some good sensible ideas that give the Hoxton its edge and make it stand out from most hotels. And that make it a good place to stay....

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

good, simple, ideas

Some ideas take stacks of resource.
Big budgets.
Huge teams of experts.
Brainstorms, Blue Sky days.
Focus groups. Market testing.
Others are frankly, bloody simple but none the less effective.
At ohm we’ve always been fans of the ‘bloody simple’ school of ideas.

Our “Say Ciao” concept for Benetton is a good example of that.
Benetton London were looking for an initiative to reinforce the brand’s Italian credentials.

The idea: “Say Ciao” a strapline that sat across point of sale, advertising, window displays, on staff badges.

No big pitch. No big report full of analysis and focus group feedback.
Just one simple – yet really good – idea.


Monday, 4 June 2007

Keeping it small...

ohm is such an evolving and malleable entity, few things are a certainty. But here’s two things I know:
1) We’re small
2) We’re virtual

Sure, we are small. A micro business with a core team of 3 plus several handfuls of designers, web developers, video producers, photographers and illustrators for project delivery. And we are virtual. We don’t inhabit a single space: ohm is not a bricks and mortar business; we work from serviced offices, coffee shops, studios and home offices all over the place. We have a single hang out at The Hospital where we get together every week.
I’m a firm believer that ‘small is beautiful’ when it comes to creativity of ideas and results: small units are great at devising effective and successful ideas. Get too big and you lose focus. And a fact that big business recognises: many big corporations have leftfield satellite operations which act like start-ups in order to have the enterprise and innovative to stay progressive.

Even Disney, the world’s largest purveyor of entertainment has divisions like this. The current issue of Fast Company tells the story of one such division in Disney’s TV businesses. Disney’s Digital Media Team focuses on “speed, collaboration and gumption”. “I see us a Silicon Valley start up within a big company” says Albert Cheng, Exec VP of Digital Media at Disney ABC Television Group. This division has a mission to “break some rules” and take risks in order to succeed.

And the 150-person department is certainly virtual; spread across different operations in three cities, in five buildings alone in LA. And this attitude helps the business stay progressive and fresh.

150 people is not small in our terms, but in the context of Disney’s 133,000 headcount, yes 150 is small. Richard Branson also advocates the merit of small business units, in his autobiography he talks about his desire to break up group companies when their headcount exceeds 50 as beyond that organisations get unwieldy.

Whether 150, 50 or 3 - at ohm our ability to devise and deliver successful ideas is about keeping it small. Big ideas from a small team.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Reading Material

Just back from a (very wet) weekend in Norfolk. The intention was to soak up some inspiration; instead we just got soaked.
But did get stuck in to the very good "Life's A Pitch" by Stephen Bayley and Roger Mavity. It's worth a read.
check out the book's website at

Friday, 25 May 2007


My new book Leap! Ditch Your Job, Start Your Own Business And Set Yourself Free is published later this year. The book is a punchy and idiosyncratic take on the new world of work. This is for wantrepreneurs, graduates, freelancers, start-up enterprises and anyone thinking of quitting the 9-5 for the new world of work. Recent years have seen the biggest increase in those going self-employed, with over 3.5m workers “doing it by themselves”. There are also a growing number of students wanting to run their own business, and a whole generation of people in their later life who have decided to set up on their own rather than opt for full retirement. People who have worked for big organisations all their working life and are now quitting to either set up as consultants or launch their own start-ups.

Whether you’re 18 or 68, and thinking of going it alone, it’s hard to know where to start; with so much uncertainty you can feel vulnerable and isolated. So start with a Leap!

There are plenty of courses, events and books on setting up your own business but nothing that really tells it likes it is: the ATTITUDE you need to get started, the ENTERPRISE you need to demonstrate to be successful, and how to maximise the WORK/ LIFE balance to get the best EXPERIENCE.

That is the essence of Leap!

The book will be published by Wiley in December.


Welcome to the Scrambled Up World Of Work.

Times are changing…fast. Traditional working practices and the concept of a conventional job are increasingly becoming things of the past as we struggle to make sense of a new marketplace where the only limit to success is your own imagination. This is a world of no rules and no walls. Traditional trading barriers are down; the concept of bricks & mortar companies where employees go to work 9-5 is crumbling. The challenges – and the opportunities – for the entrepreneur-within are huge. For micro-businesses, home-workers, freelancers, it’s all for the taking.

Being self employed is not just about having good ideas; it’s about being enterprising, innovative and actually - making it up as you go along. The thought of running your own business can be both scary and exhilarating. If you’re stuck in a rut and bored working in a dead-end job, it’s easy to think that working for yourself is the answer to your prayers. But it’s not that simple.

Working for yourself can be a liberating experience, reinvigorating your life with a new energy. But it can be lonely at times. What are the pitfalls? What are the upsides? And, what about the really important stuff - who’s going to make the tea?

My new book “Leap!” is a stimulus for taking the plunge to work for yourself, giving inspiration, ideas and anecdotes on how to succeed in the scrambled up world of the New Entrepreneur.

see a video trailer at