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.