Friday, 31 December 2010

Ten London Coffee Shops To Get Your Ideas Flowing

So I decided to skip the ‘10 Things that will change your life in 2011’ or my ‘10 Social Media Trends That Will Make You Instantly Attractive’ posts for something different at the end of 2010: my passion for coffee.

Coffee has become such an important part of my work life - it's a daily ritual. Having a somewhat nomadic work life and a bunch of demanding projects I rely upon a change of scenery to come up with ideas or solve business challenges. So the daily espresso and where I consume it has become just as important in my work life as the co-worker or office space might be to you. My Twitter followers will know I’m often tweeting about my latest coffee and one of them - @Stefidi - asked me to blog about my top London coffee shops. Coffee shops have always played an important role in the tradition of ideas generation; here’s my Top Ten of London coffee places that get ideas flowing and get my day kick-started:

#1Market Coffee House, E1: What I like about this place is that it’s 'old school'. Avoid peak times and you can find a quiet spot to sit and read the paper (at busy times, you'll be asked to put your laptop away). They usually have Radio Four on, and even if you can’t hear it properly above the din of the coffeeshop, it sets a nice vibe, an old-fashioned contrast to the suits and the glossy office blocks of the City across the street.

#2 Nude Espresso, E1: I discovered Nude Espresso when an ex-client who was working at Habitat took me there a few years ago. It tends to be frequented by creatives and local agency types but has a nice vibe. It’s a good meeting and thinking place. I like their tiered tipping system.

#3 The Luxe, E1: The Luxe often becomes my East London workspace. The coffee is good, the staff friendly and I feel I could stay all day. If you’re looking for a quiet space to get your head down then this place is not for you; but if you’re after a stimulating environment, some people watching and a comfy sofa then this is your place. On most mornings you can work to an 80s, 90s soundtrack (they like their music loud here) and you can often spot locals like Gilbert and George here.
#4 Monmouth Coffee Company, WC2: If I had to rank these venues in order of quality and service, Monmouth would win (hey, I even wrote a post about it for The coffee, the price, the service is all good. This tends to be a pit-stop for me rather than somewhere I hang out and I drink espresso as it was intended - quickly. You can sit on the bench outside and people watch. The coffee here even attracts visitors staying at The Covent Garden Hotel across the street; I once spotted Jack Black in the queue behind me. When I take guests or friends here for the first time what they like most is the simple but effective ordering system. Once you request your coffee, the cashier shouts up to the barista on the mezzanine behind you, ‘single espresso'. the barista shouts back ‘single espresso’ to confirm they heard. How’s that for a damn simple system?

#5 Monmouth Coffee Company, SE1: Here at their Borough Market shop I tend to linger longer, they have a communal table, a small bar to sit up at and a tiny mezzanine which is great for people watching. I spent a great Saturday here once editing my second book. This is the view from that spot onto the market.

#6 Flat White, W1: In the bustle of Soho Berwick St this is a noisy, buzzy coffee shop. You’ll need to speak up to hear your conversation, but it will kick start your day.
#7 Fernandez & Wells, W1: In Soho's St.Anne’s Court - the cut through between Dean Street and Wardour St - sits this branch of Fernandez And Wells. It’s small but quiet and good as a quick meeting stop.

#8 Bar Italia, W1: This list would feel incomplete without Bar Italia. To be honest, I don’t rate the coffee much but it remains a Soho establishment and it's always a good pit-stop. Noisy for meetings as you’ll have to raise your voice above the noise of Europop or Sky News on the big screen TV.

#9 Rough Trade East, E1: If you like your vinyl or browsing CDs it doesn’t get much better than Rough Trade’s shop at the Truman Brewery. And there’s a little coffee shop by the entrance for people watching, writing in the moleskine after being inspired by all that music.

#10 Albion Cafe at The Boundary Hotel, E2. This tends to be a morning spring or summer hang out for me, sitting outside and having a few coffees or a late brunch. Down a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it alleyway from Shoreditch High St, this is a great little street. In summer swap your espresso for a mojito on London’s best rooftop terrace bar at the hotel.

Notes: i) I haven’t included any chain coffee shops because I try and avoid them; ii) I haven’t included member’s clubs as that’s elitist; iii) all photos by Ian Sanders.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

My Year of Exploration

So how did you score on meeting new people in 2010?

Lots of people and organisations don’t seem to extend their networks. They hang out, work and collaborate with the *same* people, year in, year out. The long-term staffers, clients and suppliers don’t change. It’s all very predictable and safe. Yawn!

Being self-employed I’ve always been stimulated by my ability to renew and refresh who I work with, who I hang out with. I can change that whenever I fancy.

Hey, but nothing wrong with the long-term contacts. I have friendships and business relationships that have endured over fifteen years and that I value highly. But the relationships that promise to shake-up my business and fuel inspiration are those new people I meet. People in unrelated fields, doing totally different things challenge and inspire me in equal measures.

Those connections are often more about personal development than business development. I’m not selling them anything, but inevitably they evolve to a relationship of reciprocity where we help each other, work with each other. Or maybe not, we just have a damn good lunch.

So back in January I set a goal of meeting at least one new person a week this year. Looking back , I did at least that: not quick handshakes at a conference, I mean quality exchanges over a coffee. Some of those connections have come from existing contacts who are good at ‘I don’t know if there’s anything in it, but you must meet Sam’ type of introductions. Others are more random or have come via Twitter. This year Twitter has brought me a new client, a book deal, some great stories for my blog and just some good espresso time.

Has it been good for my business? Yep. Has it been good for my soul? You bet.

What was your ROI on all those connections” a friend asked me. “I don’t know” is my honest answer. But what I do know is that renewal feeds my ideas and I intend to keep up the pace of making the effort to meet a bunch of totally new people in 2011.

Because who knows where it will take you? So get out there and go explore…

* above is me and a bunch of new people at SXSW 2010. Picture credit: Marc Salsberry

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

How To Co-Write A Business Book Part 1

So, David Sloly and I are working on our Secret Book Project, that will be published next October. We’ve both written books before but – apart from a short ebook we created earlier this year – this is the first time we’ve co-written something. With the bar set high (by us, the marketplace and our publisher) the pressure is on. With our busy work lives and us living in different parts of the UK,  we knew we needed to invest in some time together to start the writing process (Skype, email and telephone calls was not going to cut it).We agreed on a trip away, as a journey is essential to productive ideas generation. So last week we took the Eurostar to Paris for 4 days of thinking. Talking, walking the streets, riffing back and forth, stopping for a coffee to capture our thoughts in a moleskine, then repeating the process. The outcome was not about word count, it was about ideas.

Back at the apartment I chatted with David about how the experience was going. So here’s part one of How To Co-Write A Business Book: 

Friday, 10 December 2010

A Safe Pair Of Hands

I'm delighted to be featured in FT columnist Mike Southon's new book, This is How Yoodoo it - an archive of the best of his columns with advice on getting started, sales, team building, mentoring, dealing with the recession and social entrepreneurship. He tells my story as a sole trader in a chapter 'A Safe Pair Of Hands' that you can read here. All proceeds from the book go to The Prince's Trust.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Why You Need A Journey If You Want To Come Up With Good Ideas

As an ideas junkie, I’m passionate about exploring what makes good ideas. For me, journeys are always productive in generating ideas: a train ride, a cycle or a flight always prompts some valuable scribbles in the obligatory moleskine. It’s why I’ve taken mini ‘inspiration jaunts’ (see my book ‘Juggle! Rethink Work...’ for more on this) throughout my career and why I’m taking a train to Paris next month to start my third book.

Last week I met up with Martijn Sjoorda for what is becoming our bi-annual lunch. Martijn is Research Director at Fresh Orange in the Netherlands and is an expert in organisational development. Martijn takes the ‘ideas + journeys’ formula beyond the individual; his company takes teams on train journeys across Europe to help unlock innovation and explore leadership potential. After lunch we had a stroll and I asked Martijn to explain the science behind taking journeys; why changing our environment is so productive.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Mark Hillary on juggling

As a keen juggler I’m always keen to meet others who’ve carved out multi-dimensional work lives. Last week I met up with Mark Hillary. Mark is a writer, blogger, lecturer and consultant who writes on technology, outsourcing and politics. He also shares my passion for music.

Mark is making a change to his life to prove that you can be a location-independent juggler: he’s moving to São Paulo next month. But it will be business as usual, he’ll continue juggling his portfolio from there. Below is a brief chat with Mark that we recorded over coffee in Fernandez and Wells last week.

Mark explains that his biggest challenge in juggling is in maintaining relationships; whilst it’s easy to maintain them virtually through social media, it can be tough finding the time to meet up with people face to face.

How to build a business on sweat equity

I like to bust myths in business; one is which you *must* have funding to make your business idea happen. Here's a post I've just written for 'How To Build A Business On Sweat Equity':

Legend has it that the TV show 'Dragon's Den' is an accurate reflection of what business and enterprise is all about. A bunch of people parade their business ideas in front of the Dragons to raise funding and thereby lose control of their business.

Is that what business is really all about for most of us? Because for starters, it's a myth that you must have money to start a business. You don't. You just need a damn good idea - and a few other things, like paying customers - but not necessarily stacks of cash.

Okay, if you have a bunch of expert web developers to hire, prototypes to manufacture and warehouse space to lease then you may well need start-up funding. But for the rest of us - especially for the ‘I have an idea’ generation - you might find smarter ways to take your business to market without first raising money.

So lock away the company cheque book and embrace the spirit of ‘bootstrapping’. Bootstrapping is about building a business with little or no money. Many businesses, even Silicon Valley technology giants, started life this way in garages rather than plush office suites. You can start your business in the shed or spare room and then scale up once you have the revenues to support expansion. From the guy selling organic sausages to the woman making lingerie, the home-made model is how many successful entrepreneurs started out.

So here are six tips to launch a business without funding:

1.    DITCH THE OFFICE. Starting from co-working spaces, coffee shops, spare rooms and garages means you not only save on office costs but also those associated overheads from electricity to furniture. So ask yourself, do you *really* need an office?
2.    HAVE A LEAN TEAM. If you don't need hordes of people on the payroll, utilise freelancers, friends, and favours to keep those costs down.
3.    USE FREE TOOLS. Take advantage of free web-based tools like Google Docs to run your office systems without investing in pricey software licences.
4.    MULTI-TASK. You’ll need to be multi-dimensional. Whether it's writing copy for a brochure, learning how to code a website or making deliveries to customers, there's stacks of things you can do yourself. You’ll just have to work harder.
5.    EMBRACE NO-FRILLS. Do you need to attend that expensive conference, can you book cheap train tickets in advance to visit that customer, and do you really need that fancy letterhead? Be ruthless!
6.    ACT SMART. Do deals with suppliers, designers and manufacturers to have them share the risk with you. Cut great deals on the basis that you’ll reward their loyalty and service once you have customers in through the door.

If you create a business that doesn't require start-up costs, not only will your business be leaner but the skills you'll learn in financial prudence will stay with you as you scale up the operation.

But remember, no-one said starting a business was going to be easy: this is about investing huge amounts of 'sweat equity' to pull it off.

So building a business without funding will inevitably require more work; but on the upside, if you haven’t had to dilute your shareholding to secure investment, you’ll retain the freedom to be in control of your idea. And if your business is going to be a mega success, retaining control might be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Make A Job, Don't Take A Job: The Essence Of Enterprise

The world of work and business has changed radically. I’m writing this in a bar in Spitalfields East London which I have commandeered as my office for the morning. There’s loud music playing and I’m taking advantage of the wifi, running my business sprawled on a sofa. To those not familiar with this style of working, I may look like I’m at play. But I’m working; and this is how thousands of people work today. We have created our own micro businesses, monetising our talents, working for ourselves, running businesses our way.

This is Global Entrepreneurship Week, and when I think of business and enterprise, I don’t think about the office blocks of the City a stroll away from here, I don’t think about business tycoons on their private jets, I think about people like me, and you. Through the window I can see the red awnings of lines of market stalls at Old Spitalfields Market - to me, this is the perfect example of business at its most basic. A bunch of stall-holders have paid £10 for a table for the day. Some are selling handmade bags; others prints and photographs. Someone else is selling second hand books, another clothes and jewellery. They may not think of themselves as entrepreneurs but they are: they are selling their wares in the market. Some may fail, others will succeed.

What unites the coffee-shop entrepreneurs and the market traders is that we have all made jobs for ourselves: there is not a job description or appraisal form in sight. The theme of Global Entrepreneurship Week is ‘Make A Job, Don't Take A Job’ and that’s music to my ears. It’s what I’ve always done in my career, whether I’ve been self employed or not. Carving out a role that reflects my talents and desires, breaking the boundaries of a fixed job spec. I’ve always encouraged working for yourself; my first book is a guidebook for people taking the leap. You don’t need a bunch of qualifications or a business education to work for yourself, but you do need the right mindset;and it’s not for everyone. Working for yourself and setting up your own business is tough: there’s no switching off, it takes stacks of perseverance, commitment, energy and passion. So ‘Make A Job, Don't Take A Job’ is a good mantra for entrepreneurship so long as we recognise that not everyone has the self-belief and motivation to make their business idea happen. To help people believe in their ability we need to bust a few myths about business, taking it out of the boardroom, doing away with the jargon. And that market stall is a damn good place to start.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Step Away From The Desk: How To Get Those Big Ideas

There was a piece in the FT on Monday entitled ‘How To Be An Iconoclast’ that featured Gregory Berns, professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University and author of ‘Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How To Think Differently’. Berns says that if you are in the same environment with the same people every day, you’re unlikely to have radical ideas: “the easiest way to create new ideas and remix old ones is to put yourself in situations you’ve never been in before”.

I’ve banged on about this in many previous posts but it still amazes me when I see companies - big and small - task their people to come up with great ideas, and expect that to happen at their desks or in the office. It ‘aint gonna happen.

That’s why I use train rides and coffee shops to do my ‘big thinking’. It’s why I’m going to Paris next month to start writing my third book.

So if your business or organisation is looking to produce new thinking, send your people out to a coffee shop, for a walk in the park, a train ride to see a client. If you liberate people from the corporate baggage of flip charts, brainstorm sessions and agendas, you might find that’s when the ideas will flow.

Try it.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Lessons From A One Man Factory

I'm always keen on exploring non obvious places for stories that can inspire us in business. Before I met the musician Dave Stewart I did not see him as an obvious business role model but it’s clear his success as an entrepreneur provides lots of lessons in business. Dave describes his business as his very own ‘ideas factory’, and recently I spent an hour in the studio of another creative who turns raw materials into ideas: potter, Richard Baxter. Richard's an original sole trader; he’s never been on a payroll, instead monetising his talents to create pieces of pottery for nearly thirty years: “I’m going from a real raw material dug out of the ground ... through to totally finished material. I’m a one man industry”.

Here are five lessons from Richard's story for sole traders and micro entrepreneurs:

  1. MOTIVATION. Richard told me he’s motivated by passion not money, and that has driven his success.
  2. PUT THE HOURS IN. Malcolm Gladwell famously said you need to invest 10,000 hours to be good at something. Richard reckons he’s produced 90,000 thousand pieces of pottery over his career, which reminds us you can’t be an overnight expert.
  3. MONETISE YOUR TALENTS. Richard’s story is a reminder of the real basics of what enterprise is all about. He takes raw materials (in this case clay) and turns them into functional pots and pieces of art that he makes a living from. And it doesn’t get much more basic than that.
  4. PLOUGH A NICHE. In order to get a reputation and stand out from the crowd, you need to plough a niche. As the first in his field to go online with a website, Richard has really benefited from the web, using it as a shop window to win high-profile commissions from clients like BBC TV and Stella McCartney.
  5. BE MULTI-DIMENSIONAL. Richard’s talents do not stop by the pottery wheel. He’s also an accomplished musician, playing in two bands The Famous Potatoes and Arcadian Driftwood. He gigs, teaches and also helps organise a local art festival. His work life is a reflection of his multi-dimensional talents and passions.
Here’s a brief video excerpt of me talking with Richard:

Thursday, 21 October 2010

A Lesson In Embracing Change

We often hear people don’t have a natural ability to deal with change, and that’s cited as an obstacle to implementing organisational change.
But I know someone who’s recently embraced radical organisational change with no fear or complaint.
He went from being a part-time member of a 15-person team to being in a team of 30 within an organisation of several hundred.
His hours have been extended significantly; he now has to leave the house much earlier and gets home much later.
He’s mixing with a totally new bunch of people, and has a lot of names to remember.
He’s now using technology every day, whereas before he didn’t have that much experience.
He has a new culture to embrace with its rules, quirks and requirements.
Apart from the fact that he’s knackered every day, he’s never complained once about this big change in his life. In fact, he loves it!
Have you guessed who it is? 
It’s my five year old son. He’s embraced the shift to full time education with no fear or grumbles. 
If only executives and workers could get in touch with their five year old selves, change might be a hell of a lot easier.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Changing speed and shifting gears in portfolio working

In ‘Juggle!’ I talk about the need to be adept at shifting gears in multi-dimensional work lives. That seems more common than ever. Martha Lane Fox wrote in the FT Diary at the weekend: “The portfolio life is generally fantastic but occasionally I find the range of meetings surreal. One day this week started in the Cabinet Office in my role as Digital Champion, talking about my review of government websites, and then moved quickly into the world of karaoke and Lucky Voice, the karaoke company I cofounded and now chair.”

That mirrors my own experience; days that range from a meeting in a coffee shop off Southend High St to the rather different surroundings of the Groucho Club; from a chat with a small business on a trading estate in Essex to a conference call with the States.

Simon Kuper wrote a piece recently in the Weekend FT magazine ‘Stuck in the rush hour of life’ (sign-in may be required) that introduces the notion of ‘changing speed’ alongside gear shifting. Simon talks about working couples replacing the sole male breadwinner in a new extended career trend that matches the modern life-course: “In the new career, these dual earners will work for 45 years, during which time they will periodically change speeds. They can start in the fast lane, working full-time until they have kids. Then many men as well as women will want a spell in the slow lane, even if it means a pay cut”.

That concept of ‘changing speeds’ also resonates with my portfolio life. A typical week sees a couple of days of meetings in London, perhaps a day in another city, with a couple of days working from my home office/ a neighbourhood café sandwiched in between. On those more flexible days I can change speed to collect my two year old from pre-school, then shift – seamlessly – back to work. I call it ‘work/life integration’. The downside is the inevitable never-switching-off, forever checking the iPhone. The upside, the autonomy/the flexibility.

Whatever you label it, it’s clear that as more of us move to work/life integration, the distinction between the ‘professional’ and ‘personal’ sides of our lives are blurring (hat tip to Shane Mac who tweeted about the blurring of professional vs personal).

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Soaking Up A Do Lecture To Get Things Done

Our in-boxes and twitter stream get bombarded with links to the latest must-watch video with promises to inspire or change your life. Inevitably - as The New York Times reported this week - we abandon said video after 60 seconds because we don't have the time or it's just not interesting enough. So it's hard to know what merits watching. Like everything else, I guess you just have to trust your instinct.

Last week, a meeting cancellation liberated my day. So when I saw that the Do Lectures had launched videos from their 2010 series of talks, I decided to pick one and invest the time - with no distractions - to watch. So I put the player on full screen, sat back, and with my Moleskine at my side soaked up my own experience of a Do Lecture.

And boy, was it a good investment; ironically all about managing time to get things done. I'd heard a lot about David Allen's book 'Getting Things Done' but hadn't got around to reading it; so it was great to hear David's story. This isn’t a philosophy about outsourcing your life or techniques in speed-reading. There's no gimmicks in sight. It's more powerful than that. It's about having the self awareness to have a strong sense of purpose, and be incredibly focused on what you do and why you do it. Since David and the DoLectures guys were good enough to share this with the world, let me share my personal takeaways:

  1. GTD is not just about creating any space or time in your schedule; you need to create 'psychic space' where you're in the right mindset.
  2. the importance of CONTROL: capture stuff that is not on cruise control , clarify what you need to do with it and write it down. David says 'your mind is for having ideas not holding them'.
  3. the importance of PERSPECTIVE: know why you're here, know what your vision and goals look like and what you need to do to get there. 'If you know where you're going and what you're doing, efficiency and style are your only improvement opportunities'.
  4. 'nail now' - get under control where you are now. Decide desired outcomes and actions required to get there.

'GTD is not about getting things done. It's about creating the space to follow the voice that's always been there'.

So watch the video below (or follow this link) and start getting things done. It's worth it.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Stop Chasing Numbers: Part 2

As a follow up to my post earlier in the week about connections on LinkedIn, yesterday The Financial Times published a letter from me on the subject. Check out the letter on here (sign-in may be required) or click on the image above to enlarge.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A Long Shot, Well Aimed

People ask me how I came to hang out with Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi and Saatchi on a rooftop in Paris, and how did I meet Dave Stewart? And the answer is, I asked. Getting face time with high profile and busy people is a long shot, but in these cases it was a long shot well aimed (admittedly, it also took much patience and perseverance). Often it’s worth taking a risk and reaching out to someone you want to meet whether it’s an author you really like or the boss of a company you’d love to work for.

Last week I was sitting with my friend Adrian in a bar in East London talking about his upcoming art exhibition. He was thinking how could he get his art show noticed, who should he invite to the private view? A couple of minutes later, two smartly dressed gentlemen walked into the bar; none other than Gilbert & George, big names in the art world. “You should invite those guys” I told him. Fifteen minutes later, a handwritten invitation was sitting on their doormat around the corner. 

In the end Gilbert and George couldn’t make it to Adrian’s Private View but it was worth taking that chance. 

So whether it’s grabbing a dream job, meeting your idol, or trying to get your next client, set your sights high and go for that long shot.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Stop Chasing Numbers!

In the social media space, it’s inevitable there’s an obsession with chasing numbers. ‘Help me get to 10,000 followers’ people tweet (no thanks). Then there’s the Twitter accounts that generate unwelcome noise via too many tweets. And then I tune-out (or click ‘unfollow’).

Of course, success is about quality not quantity. I’d rather have one valuable stand-out tweet a week from a brand or person I follow rather than a stream of mediocrity. And whilst I’d agree you need a critical mass of followers to make the platform work, you don’t need to compete with Stephen Fry for numbers of fans.

The same applies to LinkedIn. In last week’s Financial Times (20 Questions, FT October 1st), the platform’s co-founder Reid Hoffmann recommended that a well-networked professional ‘should have between 1,000 and 3,000 connections’ on LinkedIn. I don’t think s/he with the biggest network wins; again, it’s the quality of your connections or followers that counts.

In the past week I’ve received two or three LinkedIn requests from people I’ve never heard of, let alone had a business relationship with. I declined their invitations - I’d rather have 250 genuine connections, building a network based on quality, not quantity.

Whilst a ton of connections might give you something to brag about, it’s not going to be the basis for doing great business.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Digital Exploration In My Local Park

As an ideas junkie I'm used to traveling some distance for my stimulation fix. For the past two years that's seen an annual pilgrimage to South By South West Interactive in Austin Texas which, for that one week in March, is *the* place on Planet Earth for soaking up cutting edge ideas on technology and business. So this week it was great to travel just minutes from my own house to my neighbourhood park for the launch of The Digital Exploration Centre.

When I was growing up Chalkwell Park was somewhere you'd go on the weekend to kick around a football. But when I moved back to the town four years ago, something was happening. An arts organisation called Metal were moving into the park's dilapidated Chalkwell Hall, keen to have a presence in the Thames Gateway regeneration area. Their arrival acted as a cultural catalyst, creating the energy for some world-class events happening right here on my doorstep. On Saturday, Metal hosted their third Village Green, a free annual arts and music festival that featured four stages of music plus workshops and art installations, attended by 26,000 people: think of it as a compact version of The Latitude Festival

And then on Wednesday I was back at the park for the launch of the Digital Exploration Centre, 'a network of innovators using digital technology, formed to be a catalyst for cross-disciplinary work, the sharing of ideas and a public programme of exhibitions, events and debate'. The evening featured a keynote from Gerfried Stocker, artistic director of Ars Electronica - below is a 90 second clip on the theme of ‘digital exploration’.

So okay, Southend-on-Sea is not quite Texas but it's great to have this kind of cultural and intellectual stimulation on your doorstep.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Great Ideas, Slow Hunches And Coffee

If you share my fascination with how great ideas are generated, invest 18 minutes of your time in watching Steven Johnson’s TED Talk ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’.

Johnson talks about ‘the slow hunch’, busting the myth that all ideas occur in eureka-like flashes. The slow hunch is where ideas may linger for years fading into view slowly, rather than emerging in a single flash of inspiration. If you allow hunches to connect with other hunches, they can be really powerful.

Johnson argues we should be focusing on connecting ideas rather than protecting them. We tend to be nervous about sharing ideas because we don’t want to lose control, or have someone else steal it. I’m not sure I agree about slow hunches; I have ideas that have lingered around for years, and I figure the reason I haven’t made them happen is that they just aren’t strong enough. Otherwise they would’ve happened – right? Isn’t success sometimes about executing your idea ahead of the competition?

Johnson frames his presentation in the historical context of the 1650s when Britain saw the emergence of the coffee shop. Before then the prevalent drink was alcohol that would be consumed from breakfast right throughout the day. As coffee shops opened people started drinking tea and coffee, a stimulant rather than a depressant, and with that came great clarity of ideas. The coffee shop created the perfect incubator for connecting, exchanging and sharing those hunches. It’s a tradition I am proud to uphold 350 years on where the coffee shop/ my coffee ritual is part of my own ideas generation.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

You might do R&D, but are you making time for E&D (Exploration and Discovery)?

We’re familiar with the notion of R&D departments in organisations, where products are innovated and developed. It’s a critical investment that gives businesses their edge. But how about an investment in personal discovery? Increasingly we’re locked down in demanding roles and projects, with no time to just stand back and reflect, free of an agenda. Some organisations have introduced initiatives to liberate staff from this kind of working culture. Google allows staff to spend 20% of time on their own projects as a way of developing talent. A small business I’m working with goes one stage further and encourages staff to develop their own ideas extra curricularly with hobby businesses. Another business I know is visionary in advocating that team member sit back and reflect from time to time, rather than be confined to head-down mode all day.

As well as nurturing talent, taking time to explore and discover can be the source of great ideas, adding value to projects and clients in ways that might otherwise have been missed. It’s in those moments of research or reflection that I get my own inspiration flashes. This month I’m aiming to create more E&D time, whether on train rides, in coffee shop thinking, even spending 15 minutes each morning reading the ‘papers. Whilst the tendency is to say ‘I’m too busy to read the newspapers’, these moments have actually been really valuable in spotting ideas and I’ve identified some tangible client opportunities in this way.
So invest in E&D time in your organisation: it could give your business that competitive edge or be the catalyst for a game-changing idea. Don’t say you’re too busy.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Are You Delivering On Your Promise?

'Business With Personality' proclaims the masthead of 'City AM' the daily paper serving London's financial community. 'Fresh Business Thinking' shouts the website for the conference of the same name.
Nice promises - I like both of them.
The problem. Well, ‘City AM’ is hardly ‘Fast Company; apart from a couple of lifestyle pages it doesn't have much personality to me. And sure, 'Fresh Business Thinking' had some decent speakers but there was nothing 'fresh' or different about the conference, it was like any other I’d been to.
There’s often a disconnect between a brand’s promise and what it delivers. Business owners get excited by the *idea* of a great market position or the allure of a new look and feel, but they don’t have the right mindset and offering to deliver.
I see it my local high street. Each month seems to bring a new estate agent office promising a new, different offering. They may have a fresh looking office and logo, but if it’s the same offering once you walk in the door, what’s the point?
So if you’re going to promise your business is a game-changer, different or radical, you’d better make sure it is.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Has your marketing passed its ‘best by’ date?

So the world has changed over the last 12 months and so has your business right? Your products and services have changed, along with your team and your clients. And if you’re a one person business, your role and offering has inevitably evolved too. So if that’s the case why hasn’t your marketing kept pace? Why haven’t you updated your website or ads to reflect the changes? Why haven’t you changed your presentation, your ‘this is what I do’ script? Why haven’t you changed your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter bio?

We’re often guilty of not paying attention to our own marketing communications - when our business changes it’s rarely a priority to reflect those changes across our own marketing touch points. But it should be.

I see a lot of businesses where there is a disconnect between what they do and what they say they do; between who they are and what they say they are. The market position is often a long way away from their real offering. Of course, it’s not always easy standing back from the business or organisation to answer the question ‘what do we stand for’? It can be quite a process to bridge that disconnect. That’s what my own business does: we go into organisations and help come up with the answer. Often it involves conversations with a range of stake holders from staff to clients, asking everyone from the front desk up, what does this business stand for? Once you’ve worked that out and can encapsulate that DNA in a market offering, then you can refresh your marketing in a new a strategy.

If hiring experts like The Ian Sanders Company is out of your reach, try initiatives of your own. If you’re a small business owner, ask your team and clients what they think the brand stands for. Be prepared to listen. And if you’re a one person business, take a morning or an afternoon away from your desk and laptop. Pause, stand back from the day-to-day, and think how you’ve changed. And then look at your touch points and tweak your web copy, your profile and messaging.

Because if you continue selling the old message, you really are missing a trick.