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.