Monday, 22 October 2012

Creating a compass for your business life

Some businesses are value-led: they have a strong sense of purpose, they have a mission or an ethos, they only work with certain types of clients. It can be easier making decisions in a value-led business - if the organisation gets lost or struggles with how to make a decision, they can check against their values. Those values become part of the operating manual for the business.

When I was on my trip to Barcelona at the beginning of October I found a delightful neighbourhood coffee shop - Cafe Cosmo, on Carrer d'Enric Granados. I felt instantly at home there and as I sat with my espresso I got out my notepad and without thinking, started a list. I headed it ‘My Charter’ and there and then, with no editing, quickly cranked out a list of twenty do’s and don’ts. I hadn’t planned doing it, but the vibe in Cafe Cosmo that morning gave me a sudden focus and clarity to articulate what matters most in my business life.

Until last Thursday that list was just between me and the pages of my Moleskine. But then I happened to have a coffee with David Hieatt, (ex-founder of howies clothing, founder of The Do Lectures, the entrepreneur behind Hiut Denim). We were talking about the values behind David’s restaurant venture The 25 Mile. And as we talked about the values at the heart of his business life, I remembered something that used to be on the walls of the howies shops he’d founded. It was a big list in the changing rooms of twenty seven lessons he’d learned, there for everyone to see.

As I remembered David’s list I realised something - my Barcelona list captured my values: this is my own compass to guide me when I get lost. For when I don’t know whether to take that meeting, to work with that client, how to take that decision: I can look at my charter. David’s story encouraged me to go further and post my list up on my own ‘shop wall’ - here it is below.

(thanks for helping to connect the dots David...)

Monday, 8 October 2012

A time to recharge, reframe and rethink

This was my view out of the window last Monday morning as I flew over the Pyrenees towards Barcelona. The guy sitting next to me asked if my trip was ‘business or pleasure’ and I struggled to give him a straight answer.

For anyone following me over the next few days, it may have looked like Ian was on holiday: sitting in cafes in the morning, a trip to the beach in the afternoon, meeting friends for dinner in the evening. But if they’d looked closer they would have noticed my trusty moleskine notepad by my side forever scribbling thoughts, answering questions. I was on my annual trip to recharge, reframe and rethink my business life (yes and I'd brought my beach towel).

We all get busy. Stuck in the same ways of doing things. Never stopping to press pause or stand back to look at things from a different angle. If you work in an organisation you might go on a company or team 'awayday', where you sit in a windowless hotel function room with a flip chart resetting goals and rethinking the business. If you’re like me and you work for yourself, you probably don’t have awaydays. Which is good news as you won’t have to sit in dull brainstorming sessions all day. But you could still benefit from posing those questions about the business, rethinking what you do and how you do it. So every year I try and take a trip away somewhere, accompanied by that beach towel and a list of questions to consider, ideas to generate and a strategy to map.

If you don’t have the time or budget to go away for a couple of days, try an afternoon trip out of town. For me a change of scenery and a journey someplace never fails to get me productive, scribbling ideas and solving problems that I would struggle to back home. I used to call these trips ‘inspiration jaunts’, prompted by how historically many artists embarked on trips to inspire their creativity.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you aren’t going to solve those business problems or generate ideas in the same environment. Inspiration out requires inspiration in; so go somewhere and get inspired....

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Join the mash-up revolution

The saying goes ‘write about what you know’ and I certainly know my subject when it comes to living the multi-dimensional work life. From my Saturday job as a teenager right through to today I’ve always enjoyed juggling more than one role; sometimes by default rather than design. In my last proper job at the back end of the ‘90s I ran so many disparate projects and businesses I invented my own job title ‘Special Projects Director’ to attempt to cover that breadth. Now, we’re more than a job title. Many of us have mash-up work lives, blending the day job with a side project, taking on more than one role at an organisation or just choosing to carve out a plural life that reflects our talents and desires.

I have packaged up all my experience and know-how into a brand new book ‘Mash-Up! How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier’ - out today (out in US next month). In writing the book with my co-author David Sloly I’ve spoken to a bunch of interesting people: IDEO’s Tom Hulme who told me not only did the organisation encourage employees to be plural, but they relied on it; Phill Jupitus who told us about the unifier that sits at the heart of all he does; and Kevin Roberts, the multidimensional CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi.‘Mash-up!’ is your guidebook to a successful multiple work life. It shows you how to start going plural with a side project, through to reinventing yourself to add new strings to your bow and most importantly finding your ‘unifier’ - the theme or idea that unites all you do.

Not much is certain in this unpredictable world of work and business; but one thing is clear - those who can offer more than one skill, those who can pivot or reinvent themselves to reflect a changing business landscape, those who are adept at being multidimensional will prove to be more of an asset.

Want to know more?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A 70s rock legend, an art gallery and how to make your ideas happen

Throughout my working life I’ve learnt a lot about what it takes to come up with ideas - whether for a book, a business, another project, or a marketing solution for a client - and I know what it takes to execute.

A couple of months back I met up with Marianne Cantwell, founder of Free Range Humans who shot a little video of me for her online course. This two minute extract below captures how I come up with creative ideas, what I learnt from music legend Wilko Johnson, my tips on idea execution and what on earth I’m doing working out of an art gallery!

Ian Sanders interview from Marianne Cantwell on Vimeo.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

From idea to reality: the story of a t-shirt start-up powered by ‘Zoom!’

One of the benefits of having a book published is the emails and tweets you get: people asking advice about their business idea and readers telling you how the book has inspired them to make their idea real. Hearing how my latest book ‘Zoom! The Faster Way To Make Your Business Idea Happen’ has inspired businesses to happen is the best feedback me and my co-author David can get. The latest example - a little t-shirt startup in Milwaukee, US: Enough Said Company, that launched last month. Co-founder interior designer Aga Artka already had the idea - it was reading ‘Zoom!’ that helped make it happen. 

Here’s a quick Q&A on her entrepreneurial journey:

What role did Zoom play in your business idea coming to life?
I first read "Juggle! Rethink Work, Reclaim Your Life". I found it very energizing and reassuring in my "solo-prenuer" career choice. Then, I picked up "Zoom". It motivated me to act. On something. Anything. I always have a million and a half ideas in my head, pertaining to my interior design business, my husband's web development business and countless new ventures. Enough Said Company was just shaping up at that time, and I believe reading "Zoom" at the beginning of 2012, motivated me to push it and make the t-shirt idea a reality.

Where did the idea come from?
My friend and I decided to print two t-shirts that said "Interior Designers Have More Fun" and wear them to NeoCon, The International Contract Furniture Show in Chicago last June. What started as a fun thing, turned into a business idea. Attendees of the show liked our shirts so much that we couldn’t walk a 100 feet without being asked where we got them from.

How long did it take to go from idea to reality?
The idea was born in June 2011; our website went live in June 2012. We now have 5 t-shirts designs available, and ship throughout the US. International sales will be coming soon.

How easy did you find the journey to make it happen?
If you let "Zoom!" guide you through the process, it's really easy. First, you need an idea. Then, you need to get super excited about it. If you are not passionate about it, no-one else will be. I find trial and error method the most effective. Prepare yourself to fail a few times, and be open to the ever-evolving process of business growth. Nothing is final, nothing is forever. Plan as much as you need to, but don't overplan. Best innovators build a bridge from here to there, and walk on it at the same time. This approach takes more risk than building a bridge ahead of time, and then securely strolling across it. What's the fun in that?!

Where there any tools in Zoom that you used to make the business happen? If so, which ones?
Definitely, the idea shaping exercise in Chapter 6 (Free download of chapter HERE). I think I have read and answered these questions a hundred times by now. Every answer was slightly different but it helped me realize the best one. I loved the concept of boxing the idea to make sure we have everything we need to bring it to market.

Loads of people having ideas for businesses; few do anything about them. What was it about your attitude that made it a reality?
I'm a big idea person. Often times I get caught up in the grand scheme of things. But I'm also a doer. I can't stand still for too long. Having been self-employed for almost 4 years, I also learned to take advantage of opportunities as they come along. I am responsible for my own future, which means I have no-one else to blame for inaction, innovation's worst enemy.

Congratulations Aga and Teresa! You can check out their business here

Monday, 18 June 2012

Are you living in the ‘now’?

I was thinking yesterday about how the obsession with planning our careers and small businesses means we’re always focused on the future. We’re so obsessed chasing that much-sought after *WHEN* - we’ll get that new project/ that promotion/ new client/ whatever - we don’t live in the now and we don’t appreciate what we’ve got currently got. 

Here’s my two minute video take on it:

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Making sure your side projects fit your unifier

I’ve blogged about the importance of side projects before. You might have identified a project you’d like to work on but it doesn't fit in your 9-5. Or perhaps you’re just not getting fulfilment in the day job, and you need to explore your curiosity on the side. So you develop a side project or two.

I have a number of active side projects right now; so active that they’re blended in to the 9-5, rather than be strictly after hours. But they’re still ‘on the side’. My key criterion for adding a side project is whether it fits my unifier. What’s a unifier? It’s the theme that unites all you do. When you do more than one thing in your professional life, it’s important to have a unifier so you can easily communicate all you do simply (there’ll be more on discovering your unifier in my new book ‘Mash Up!’). The unifier makes your plurality instantly gettable.

So my own unifier is that I communicate ideas in business. Okay, it might be pretty broad but it encompasses everything from client work to side projects such as being a contributor to Monocle radio’s ‘The Entrepreneurs’. Not only is the unifier handy to pull out when you meet someone at the pub who asks what you do, it’s also a good check for taking on new projects. Before you take a new project on, ask does it fit your unifier. If it doesn’t, you might want to question how it adds value.

Here’s an example of a side project that perfectly fits my unifier: I wrote an article for the Financial Times last week about the rise of ideas festivals and how they’re becoming an alternative to traditional conferences for professional development. Having attended TEDx, SXSW and The Do Lectures I had some great first-hand experience to bring to the piece. And all importantly, the piece was about communicating ideas. You can read it on here (log in may be required).

So have a think what your unifier is and use it to help you make choices about what you do, where you go and what your side projects are.

Friday, 11 May 2012

‘Steal Like An Artist’: a bunch of ideas, well communicated

I’m in the ideas-communication business and one thing I learnt early on is a great idea is not good enough; it’s how good you are at communicating it that counts.  Austin Kleon’s new book ‘Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told Me About the Creative Life’ reminded me of this. Like many non-fiction books I buy, I knew what was in Austin’s book before I opened it. I’d watched a video of him speak, I follow him on Twitter and I’d seen and shared the blog post that gave birth to the book so I was familiar with the content. So why did I like it  if I already knew what was in it?

Because Austin is a good communicator. The hard copy version  has a great aesthetic quality - for a start it’s small and square (I once asked my publisher once whether I could have a square book - they said ‘no’!). The layout, the quotes and Austin’s illustrations make it a bunch of ideas well communicated.

When I’m writing my own books, I often visualise the reader as a version of me so I was interested to learn that Austin’s book is autobiographical in that he’s also talking to a previous, younger version of himself. Here are three lessons from the book that got me scribbling:

  1. You are the consumer. Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use - do the work you want to see done
  2. It’s the side projects that really take off. The stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. that’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens. Bounce between them. when you’re sick of one, switch to another.
  3. Don’t worry about unity from piece to piece - what unifies all your work is the fact that you made it. One day, you’ll look back and it will all make sense.

This isn’t just another book about creativity; there’s lessons here to apply to a bunch of different businesses and work lives. And there’ll be more about Austin in my own new book ‘Mash-up!’ as he features with a Q&A on his multi-dimensional life.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

What I learned from a knifemaker, a writer and a venture capitalist. 3 Lessons From The Do Lectures

I spent last Friday and Saturday in a big tent in the middle of the Welsh countryside. I was at fforest farm for the spring Do Lectures, an event  ‘that started out in a quiet corner of West Wales that inspires you to go and do amazing things’. There was some great content from thirty speakers, from a range of disciplines including not just entrepreneurs but also a fell walker and a baker. Here are three lessons that stood out in my - obligatory - moleskine notebook:
  1. “If the work is great then people will come” Joel Bukiewicz, Knifemaker Cut Brooklyn. We hear many stories of people who quit their jobs to become writers; less of writers who quit to do something else. Joel falls in the latter. Frustrated with writing, he took a break and landed on making knives as his new business. What struck me about Joel was the simplicity of his business model: he goes to work, makes knives, puts them in the shop to sell. What he doesn’t sell, he puts online to sell. His shop is open twice a week and he doesn’t take advance orders. I love that confidence and simplicity. There is a great little film about him here.
  2. Does this work have a 1% chance of leaving a footprint?” Robin Sloan, writer & media inventorWe hear that if you want to make a difference with your work you must ‘make a dent in the universe’. Robin argued that dents get smoothed out over time - “time is the ultimate body shop” he said - and instead you should think about what fingerprints you’re leaving for the future. That focuses the mind on producing work that might leave a legacy.
  3. “To have a life of doing, you need to not do” William Rosenzweig, Partner, Physic VenturesSince William is a partner at a venture capital firm I was expecting a talk about entrepreneurship. Instead he introduced us to the Taoist concept of Wu Wei - the notion of ‘doing not doing’. William talked about the importance of getting unplugged and being still. It’s a personal action for me because I need to get better at switching off. He also reminded us the importance of listening in a storytelling-driven culture where everybody wants to tell, not listen.

Follow @dolectures for videos of 2012’s talks

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A Q&A with me on IdeaMensch

IdeaMensch, the online community for people with ideas, has just published a Q&A interview with me. You can check it out here.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

“What do I do? I just do ME!” Baratunde Thurston on mashing-up digital, storytelling and comedy

As our work lives go plural, with our work and passions blending together, we can’t be defined by a job title anymore. Whether we work for ourselves or for an organisation, many of us have carved out roles that reflect our broader talents, adding new strings to our bow and new side projects as we spot opportunities or choose to scratch a new itch.  This is a subject I explore in my new book ‘Mash-up!: How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You the Edge, Earn More Money and be Happier’.

Carving out a mashed-up life is not only about reflecting multi-dimensional talents and desires. It’s also about staying agile, embracing uncertainty and adapting to a rapidly changing - and chaotic - world of work and business. This agile tribe is what Fast Company magazine has billed ‘Generation Flux’: Generation Flux thrive on speed, change, experimentation, curiosity and intuition. It’s the story of my own business life where I mash-up different roles and projects, reinventing myself, adding new strings to my bow to create a more fulfilling, enterprising and authentic career. Fast Company profiled Baratunde Thurston, Director of Digital at the US satirical publication The Onion, a Harvard philosophy major turned consultant turned standup comedian and author of a new book How to Be Black. I first saw Baratunde at SXSW in 2009; this week I finally met up with him in London - in this video clip below he tells me how he’s succeeded in carving out a role that embraces digital, storytelling and comedy. How does Baratunde answer the much asked ‘What do you do?’ question? “I just do ME...!”

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Why Sometimes It’s Okay to Not Know Where You’ re Going

Having left the venue of Saturday’s TEDxObserver conference, my wife and I climbed on a pair of Boris bikes and set off through the streets of Clerkenwell. “Where are we headed?” my wife asked me. “I have no idea, let’s take some side streets and see where we end up.”

It’s important to explore your curiosity and go on a journey without a destination in mind. That’s why we attended TEDx: to consume multiple voices, stories and ideas. Who knew what the next twenty minutes would bring, what action it might spark?

The 2012 TEDxObserver conference featured a neuroscientist, a community worker, food activist, musicians, a surgeon, a dancing psychologist and an anthropologist. My highlights included Pauline Pearce whose YouTube-captured rant amidst the 2011 riots became an inspiration. Having last seen the South African musician Hugh Masekela at an Anti Apartheid rally in Clapham Common in the ‘80s, it was great to hear him speak again. Then there was Miguel Torres, head of the Spanish winery who’d decided to take action on global warming after watching ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. A great example of the power of entrepreneurs in taking action to make real change. And finally Plan B, the musician and film director who spoke passionately about social injustice and the need to help urban kids discover their passion to get them re-engaged.

So what was the ‘ROI’ on all that?  It’s enough that I broadened my horizons.  It opened my eyes to themes outside my usual world. It moved me,  it got me thinking, it satisfied my curiosity.

Curiosity is an underestimated business tool. In a world of uncertainty where we’re faced with more challenging problems than ever before, you ‘aint going to find the answer in the usual places. You’ll find inspiration  in new places; you’ll need to learn from other industries and analogous businesses. You’ll need curiosity to challenge assumptions.

So on the face of it, Saturday was a great day. But somewhere deeper in our minds the value is being absorbed, mulled over, stored away to inspire us in the future in ways we can’t immediately know.

Whether it’s a bike ride with no destination, a conference with no identifiable return, listening to some new music or hanging out with a bunch of people you’d never usually mix with - try going somewhere you wouldn’t usually go; who knows in what ways it will inspire you.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The rapid mindset

I always liked to get things done fast. Whether it was assembling an air-fix model or building a den in my childhood bedroom, I just got on and did it quick.

And I’ve applied that thinking to my business life.

By being fast I don’t mean delivering insubstantial work or being sloppy because you’re not paying attention; and I don’t mean taking action without thinking first. I mean delivering better results by making a project happen faster. I get frustrated when good ideas get slowed down by procrastination or unnecessary delay. What is a good idea now may cease to be a good idea if it’s delivered in two weeks time. Of course the value is not in the idea, it’s in the execution - and that’s where speed can make all the difference. Because not doing it quick enough may mean you miss the boat.

In a world where serendipity and chance tend to be more valuable for business success than a strategic plan, you’ll need a rapid mindset.  In the last six months I’ve identified business opportunities for contacts and clients by blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments on Twitter: because I was bored on a train or was 5 minutes early to that meeting I happened to spot something. I didn’t just look and think ‘I will deal with this later’. I dived in, took action … in a flash. Alerted a client, hit ‘reply’, made a call, whatever.

Remember there is no shortage of people spotting opportunities but less who have the right attitude to react fast.  That rapidity has become my signature business style; it’s not unusual for me to spot an opportunity on a Tuesday evening and deliver it Thursday morning. It’s another reason why we wrote our book ‘Zoom! The Faster Way To Make Your Business Idea Happen’ in three months (well we could have hardly written a book about speed, slowly).

So speed is now my differentiator.  Why should you care? Because if you want to grab that opportunity, win that client, secure that job, land your dream gig, get your product out first, launch that blog, tick off your to-do list or generally beat the competition, you might need a rapid mindset too.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Collaborating To Transform An Idea Into A Book

At the back end of 2009, I set one of my goals to collaborate more - one area where I hadn’t anticipated collaboration though, was writing. Having already written a couple of books I was confident in my writing style and didn’t feel I needed anyone else. But then I started a collaboration with David Sloly, when our ideas collided to create Unplan Your Business in 2010. That led to our first co-written book ‘Zoom!’ in 2011; and yesterday we just submitted our manuscript for a new book ‘Mash-Up!’ that is out later in the year.

One of the benefits of collaborating on a book is that you can blend your respective ideas together to create a more powerful and valuable end product, incorporating thinking and themes that you just wouldn’t have included without the other’s input. But to be honest, the key benefit for me is simpler than all that: it’s more fun writing with someone else. After all writing is a solitary experience so it’s great to have someone to share the journey with. Collaborating has also forced me to be more structured in how I write. Although I am naturally ‘anti-process’, working with someone else has required a system - however agile - that is critical where we have just three months to transform an idea into a manuscript.

Below is a little film shot in my kitchen where David and I reflect on what it’s like writing together: on the three-stage writing process we have pioneered; on dealing with pressure; and how we turn a bunch of thoughts and words into - hopefully - an awesome book.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

12 Things I’ve Learnt in 12 Freelance Years

Consultant. Expert. Entrepreneur. Strategist. Author. Writer. I’ve been called many things in my self-employed career but at the end of the day, like everyone else who doesn’t take a pay cheque - essentially I’m a freelancer. That’s important to remember. I go from project to project, creating opportunities, getting paid for results. After twelve years working for myself, I’ve put this PDF together: 12 Things I’ve Learnt in 12 Freelance Years’