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 FT.com 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