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 cafĂ© 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 FT.com 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.