Sunday, 11 October 2015

You believe in your startup idea, right? Then prepare to pitch!

Got a business idea that you want to exist outside of your own head? Then you need to prepare to pitch. Pitch for financial support. Pitch to get the right team on board. Pitch to win clients. There we are I've said it four times - 'pitch'. Are you left with a feeling of dread? Maybe that’s because you've missed the more important ‘P’ word in this opening - 'prepare'. Not just write out what you want to say but really prepare to deliver it with passion!

I recently spent an evening watching 3 minute start-up pitches. It inspired me to write this list of pitching tips. I don’t need me to tell you that the substance of your pitch is absolutely critical. Don’t be vague about your own numbers when asking someone to part with their cash. But there are plenty of startup mentors to advise you on what evidence to take to the table. Instead let’s look at the mechanics of how you will deliver your pitch. Like a good barrister, you need both the style and substance to win the day.   

Decide what you want at the end of this pitch
You should know the minimum you want to walk away from this pitch with. This is the light at the end of the tunnel to keep you motivated even through your pre-pitch nerves and technology mishaps. Be specific and realistic about the amount of money or type of skills and support you’re looking for. And make sure you tell your audience in your pitch. If you want them to get on board with the next chapter of your story then they need to know where they could fit in.
Think about the structure of your pitch
You don’t need to be an expert in narrative theory to recognise a common structure in many films, plays and books. Writers do this to make it easier for their audience to understand and connect with the story they are telling them. Pitch writers can do the same. Watch Nancy Duarte’s excellent TED talk on The Secret Structure of Great Talks. In short, you should strike the right balance of explaining what life is like now and what is could be if your idea came to life. Spend too much time setting the scene and you'll leave us wondering "where is this going?"
One great idea at a time
By all means dream big but today's pitch isn’t the place to present the whole big picture of what your empire could look like when you’re Richard Branson’s age. Keep your pitch focused on making a compelling case for investing in the one great idea you have now. You risk watering that idea down considerable if you throw in all the other avenues you’re thinking about branching out into. But do prepare to answer follow up questions from your audience about where you see your company in 5 years.
Either make space for video and audio content or just don't use it!
Videos can be really powerful. You might want to demonstrate your prototype in action. Or get existing customers to validate there is a market for your product or service. If you go to the trouble of preparing a video, please don't talk over it! It’s amazing how many pitchers nervously do this. If you think this could be you, consider showing your video at the beginning of the pitch to succinctly set the scene and relax into standing in front of your audience.
Do you really need prompts to deliver a 3 minute pitch on an idea you’re passionate about?
Back in the 2000s I got pipped to the post for a job. The recruiter told me, "You were neck and neck with another candidate. We only decided to give it to them because they used PowerPoint". I thanked them for their feedback whilst silently screaming in my head "WHO NEEDS SLIDES FOR A 3 MINUTE PRESENTATION?!?". Others may disagree but I still think slides should be proportionate to the length of the pitch. A static slide with your logo, strapline, picture of your product, contact details will help people remember your identity. But if you’ve only got 3-5 minutes think carefully about whether multiple slides will make your key messages more persuasive or will distract from the words coming out of your mouth?
Make slides an asset not a distraction or irritation
In longer pitches make your slides an asset to your audience. Avoid ladening them with text and multiple bullet points. One takeaway point per slide maximum. Don’t let them become crutches. When you're nervous you're likely to keep turning towards your slides whilst delivering your pitch. If you do this, at least some of your audience won't be able to hear you. Trust me this is unbelievably irritating. I also don't remember Steve Jobs interrupting the flow of his annual product launches to say "uh, can I have the next slide please?". Invest £30 in a wireless clicker and learn to deliver your pitch looking forward with a minimal glance and point towards your slides. When it comes to the content take a look at this template pitch deck created by Chance Barnett, Founder of Crowdfunder.
Record yourself. Watch yourself. Cringe. Do it again.
Few of us like watching or hearing ourselves on camera but it's a necessary evil. You can capitalise on your fear of the camera to partially recreate what it'll be like stood in front of your audience. Once you've got over the cringeworthiness, watch out for clarity and content. Are you speaking too quickly? Did your voice tail off at the end of each sentence so your point was lost? Have you missed any key points? Does the pitch flow like a recognisable and engaging story?
Ditch the cast of hundreds to pitch
Every member of the pitching group should contribute something valuable. If you need one person to deliver the pitch and one person to stand there for morale support then you've got one too many people on stage. Do tell your audience who your team are but, in my opinion, you don’t need everyone stood there if they’ve nothing to say or do. It doesn't say "we're a lean efficient business where everyone plays an important role". It suggests a lack of confidence.
Expect the technology to fail
The wifi will be slower than your gran. The projector bulb will probably blow up. Even if it doesn't the damn thing is unlikely to recognise your laptop. If you expect all this and have a plan b you'll be fine. Avoid wasting time panicking and apologising for the technology, and instead show you’re agile enough to overcome a minor set back. On a related note, live demos are risky if your product is still in its infancy and you’re not confident at pitching. Consider a short, professionally edited video instead.
Screw modesty - you believe in this idea, right?
If there was a vaccine out there to combat British modesty I’d make it available on the NHS. Then we could all apologetically queue up at the doctor’s clinic for it. You can avoid being obnoxiously arrogant without defaulting to being painfully modest. Use natural words, tone and body language to show you're passionate and confident about your idea and have the energy and commitment to progress it further. Look your audience in the eye rather than staring down at notes. Take your hands out of pockets. Most of all, smile and be you. Even if Mr or Ms Ego in the audience tries to burst your bubble with a curve ball question, don't get deflated, defensive or dismissive. Thank them for the question and present your counter evidence calmly.

Mind your language
Talk like a human first and foremost. The word ‘leverage’ and similar corporate nonsense makes my blood run cold. In fact it makes me think you’re probably faking it a little too much. Humour and controversy might make your pitch memorable for all the wrong reasons. On the plus side I vividly remember the pitcher used “data rape” to describe the problem his business idea would solve. On the down side I remember him because I thought it was abhorrent.  And, I know this sounds odd but, have you chosen a tongue twister for a name? Under pressure I’ve seen people unable to pronounce their own company or product name clearly. You either need to find ways to relax and slow down, or it might be time to rethink your brand!

Move on. Nothing to see here!
You WILL screw some pitches up. It's the law of averages. Spend 5 minutes reflecting on what went well and what you need to improve for your next pitch. Use these notes and the questions below to prepare for the next pitch but don’t let the memory of a past disaster ruin future pitches.

Ask your audience (or at least a few friends)
What was my pitch asking for?
What was the key message you took away from my pitch?
What was the problem I'm aim to solve?
How would you describe my pitch style?
Imagine you have £10,000, would you invest in my pitch?

Read this excellent article for revenue advice

Good luck pitchers!
Read more at Laura's blog: Step33

Friday, 25 September 2015

Publish once, broadcast widely - what does it mean?

A few years back I was speaking about using social media in a crisis at a CIPR conference. During the course of that talk I coined one of my favourite mantras: "publish once broadcast widely"  (I have quite a few). Interestingly I've heard this coming back at me a number of times since, which in many ways is quite gratifying. The difficult bit is some people have misinterpreted it.

So to clarify, in a crisis you have one landing page or site on which you publish all relevant and important updates. Then you use all channels available to you to link back to the landing page. You then set about actively discouraging anyone who takes the information and re-interprets it. You persuade them to link back to the original text on your landing page.

Common sense really but you'd be surprised!

Friday, 14 August 2015

Digital Exeter, meetups, places and things to do!

Exeter is on fire at the moment, so many digital events so little time! 
Tech Nation report highlighting the growth of digital sector in Exeter
The arrival of Hub@TechExeter  and the second Generator co-working space on the Quay,Exeter Science Park open for business, those Cosmic people offering digital leadership courses. I can hardly keep up! 
Slight problem is knowing when everything is on and where to find out! Yes you can follow Twitter and Facebook feeds and email lists, use meetup app,  but not definitive!

I've made a list of the initiatives I know of here:

Hang out and work
Innovation Centre & Cafe - Exeter University
Exeter Science Park
Generator - Co working space Exeter
Exeter Library Meeting Rooms for hire
Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre
RAMM Museum, Art gallery & Cafe Exeter
Devon Work Hubs - work hubs dotted around Devon
Tech Exeter, community, conference and co-working space (formerly Exeter Web)

Maker Space: 

FabLab Devon - Exeter Central Library
Raspberry Pi Jam

Go to events:

Exeter Castle Demos pitch your business
Exeter Startup Weekends - Start a business in 54 hours Twitter: @innovexeter
Digital Exeter - talks and networking Twitter: @DigitalExeter
TechExeter - community and conference
EXIST - Science and Tech talks and networking Twitter: @ExIST_Exeter 
ODI Devon - open data - talks and networking Twitter: @ODIDevon
GeekCampX - sporadic geek fun and games Twitter: @GeekCampX

Many of these are also on  Download the app if you have a smartphone

Please comment on this blog with any I've missed and I'll update and add to the post. Hopefully it'll become a useful source of reference.

Happy Geeking!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Exeter Startup Weekend - What I Learned

As a result of the excitement of my Streetsmart Beautiful map team coming second in Exeter's first startup weekend. I've reflected on the event.
The Beautiful Map Team

First off I have to say the organisation and facilitation of the weekend was super good! The innovation centre aids this by it's modern feel. it encourages collaboration by being bright, open and airy. There was plenty of everything you needed to keep[ you going for 54 hours. The food from Pickle Shack was exceptional

I learned so many things but I will begin with my personal thoughts. I went to the event  with a blue sky idea about mapping locations. Which I named Streetsmart for the event. I had great reservations about pitching. Although I've presented many times and spoken at conferences. I realised putting your own idea out there is very different. The pitch process is quite an experience. Everything hangs on the 60 second initial pitch that gets your idea in the running. Fortunately enough people voted for my initial pitch. So we formed a self selecting team to have a go at tackling the problem. Winning or losing depends upon the five minute pitch. 
Final 5 Minute Pitch
This lets the judges decide whether your team has met the scoring criteria. The key to both pitches is following startup weekend pitching structure (more later). in fact once you've learned this structure it's the key to organising your weekend. I was delighted that we achieved second place. I learned for myself that my ideas are as valid as anyones.  And my beloved small project way of working where people cluster around a subject really works! That was such a personal validation for me!

Team Check In 

Once you're selected as a project to work on then you form teams. This was awesome in that the teams were self selecting. I was exceptionally lucky to have a team of committed players. Who all contributed their skills and ideas. There's something special that happens when people like a project and they gel it's very exciting.  There were moments of stress but also great humour and humility too. The whole team were lovely people and I hope they got as much from the experience as I did. it may not seem much but 54 hours of focus on one thing is exhausting. I was very grateful for Monday off! (that's tip no.1)

So my event learning in no particular order:
  • It is possible to pitch a completely blue sky idea
  • But research on competition and refining your MVP will help
  • The initial pitch really matters it gets you in the running
  • Your initial pitch is also your lobby for team members so make it appealing
  • Small committed teams are ideal
  • Know the times of everything and put them in your plan
  • Schedule team check ins so that you don't have to disturb everyone
  • Coders need a quiet corner away from the hubub
  • Plan to fit the final pitch structure: MVP, validation, execution, business model (include marketing)
  • Decide your MVP minimum viable product early on day 1
  • Go out and validate your idea (you could do this before the event)
  • Come back and refine it, often redefines your MVP
  • Learn the judging criteria and work according to this throughout
  • You can do the whole thing in a weekend but do most of your work on day 1
  • Pitch practice takes up a bit of day 2 so get your structure right early on
  • Take regular breaks and have fun
  • Network and make the most of the skills in the room
I'm sure the rest of the team can add many more things to this list. I can't say enough how much I enjoyed this weekend. Flexing my brain with really nice, smart people in a fab venue what could be better. I would strongly reccomend this weekend to anyone thinking of starting something up. The next one is on November 20th. See you there! 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Community! Don't talk to me about community!

I don’t like the word community?  
Community is an overused under thought term. It means so many different things to so many people. yet people consistently use it in a narrow definition in relation to building a cluster to do something. Far better to think of networks of self identified individuals, or organisations clustered around an issue. Generally speaking they're there because of passion, vested interest or dissent. For example people who live in a village might consider their community as location based. Whereas Harley Davidson owners identify their community as worldwide. usually they have time on their hands. Organisations get on board because they have a vested interest.

If not community, how do things get done? 
I believe people cluster around issues, form projects and help tackle them. This could be in a place, or virtual. People with relevant skills or passions will come on board, but only as and when required. They dip in and out when they feel they can best contribute. They don't want to be part of any structure or organisation. When their part is over or the project delivered they will move on in favour of other things.

This is not a cynical view. I think it's a model way of working, crowdsourcing solutions to issues. It holds people's attention better than asking them to lock into any forum or club or community! It allows them to stay while they have the energy and walk when they've had enough. It is the best possible use of individual and organisational time. And it taps into Clay Shirky's notion of cognitive surplus.

What's the problem with community building?
Part of me dies when people say they are going to build a 'community' to do something. Experience has taught me that no one can purposely build a community.  So many times I've seen the 'build it and they will come mentality' often but not exclusively in the public sector, It doesn't work! People will only cluster when they have interest, passion for or feel strongly about something. Even then it takes considerable effort and time to get things done.

Can you encourage clusters to form?
Yes! The positive news is I believe you can encourage people to cluster around a topic. And there are conditions which can help this happen.

For face to face clusters these are my experiences (in no specific order):

  • venue must have a nice working environment with all the kit readily available
  • less faffing the better
  • venue should be consistent, as should time and hosts
  • welcoming supportive hosts/facilitators are a must
  • venue should be well managed
  • ground rules set from the start
  • plan meet ups but be adaptable
  • everyone should be supportive
  • encourage ideas 
  • social links beyond the cluster help
  • focus on doing things split up the tasks to willing people
  • each cluster member should have the opportunity to pitch their thoughts or ideas, one each time perhaps. this mitigates against soapboxing
  • members are equal even if they represent an organisation
  • people should be open and honest about who they represent
  • organisations should not dominate
  • no pressure to attend, as and when, participation levels vary
  • time out space should be available 
  • protect personal data unless otherwise agreed
  • use social media to keep people up to date, but not exclusively
  • ask for meet up feedback at the end of each session use this data to decide whether to continue
  • have a clear start and finish, either a date or a landmark
Don't come to me and talk about a community, come and talk about ideas and challenges and projects to address them! I'm expecting challenge on this so discuss...

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Do I have to put up with this nonsense? A blog about interrupting

I started off being polite then when no one listened I lost it! 

Ever imagined or dreamed that you are doing something really amazing. You see yourself achieving something winning a prize or completing a goal that you set yourself. Getting recognition, wealth and gratitude for it? That is good but... 

In reality you are total idiot a buffoon. As you step up to the stage you trip, just as you are about to deliver that crushing performance, you lose your notes, or your words. Or are you caught in a state of ‘continuous partial attention’? constantly running to do the next thing or answer the next digital ping? Time to stop!

Time to practice Interruption. The art of stopping in your tracks and recognizing when you are heading for a catastrophic moment. Change direction, do it differently. Go a different way, read different stuff, say different things.

How can you do this? how can you positively interrupt yourself, change a scenario?

Begin by going home a different way tonight, have another alternative conversation to the one you were going to have. Make it about the thing that you want talk about. Find the people who will listen to you. If they won’t then INTERRUPT THEM! Haven’t got an invite to their meeting? Then just turn up, set up your presentation, tell the media. They will INTERRUPT you but other people will start to listen to you. Society will judge you but that's good. Ask yourself some questions at the critical moment. Just that moment that you were going to do the exact same thing that you always do. That moment that you normally give in to convention, STOP.

On your way home? Stop at a different cafĂ©, read a  different newspaper or book. Make sure you consciously do different things every day. Listen to someone else’s news. Or watch a random TED talk. Not one about stuff you know about. Go see a band or play you’ve never heard of. Write a different soap opera, invent your own plot and ending. Learn a new skill or piece of music, or a poem or a song.

It’s about being present, in the moment. There’s a lot of chatter about mindfulness at the moment but that’s a bit polite and nice. No! Interruption is where it’s at!  I’m not talking about rude interruption like Kanye West on Taylor Swift. Instead, take note of Martin Luther King, or Ghandi no one could ignore them could they? King had no platform, Ghandi had no platform. They interrupted the status quo by creating their own. 

Remember punk? When they couldn't get heard they didn't carry on courting the same old dinosaur record companies they made their own! Music for example Young Fathers, the maker revolution, crowd funding, Bitcoin. They are all examples of interrupted ideas that challenge the obvious, the mainstream. They will be the new economy that takes over when the old one is asleep. Kodak caught napping by digital cameras. Record companies rendered obsolete by streaming music. What next? what will you contribute?

The key is to DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT – INTERRUPT YOURSELF –do these things and You will find that you start to think differently. 

Then you will find the power to INTERRUPT their story if you aren't happy with it. When you get to the door of people who don’t want to listen to you, don’t fight them. DON’T GO IN. In the film Jaws the shark ate people because they went on a long flight to the beach where the sharks were. 

Hacktivism activism, action is the key to change. You can change everything. Yes it's scary, setting out in a new direction, saying a big no to the norm. But it will change your life! Taking that first powerful step is awesome. I remember marching against the war in Iraq looking around me at all those people and feeling at the same time proud and scared. Exhilarating feelings. 

Interrupting, avoiding habitual patterns, might well be the key to avoiding technology that targets you for advertising. After all you'd want to hear new music for the first time that is like nothing you ever heard before. Not just music based on recommendation from Amazon or some other monolith. 

Basically go to a different space, or place to work. Or open an alternative set of doors, behind which you will find a set of people who are ready and willing to listen to you. In the book 'Roots for Radicals', Edward Chambers describes how Saul Alinsky  founded the Industrial Arts Foundation. And then reformed the Bronx. They did it by talking to people for 30 minutes. Then only worked with people who would listen to them.

Ask yourself the question, “why do I need anyone’s permission to do this?”. I ran a session at a conference last year on ‘permission’. The need for people, grown adults to have permission to act on their ideas amazed me. Their fear of acting without permission staggered me. The reaction of ‘leaders’ to requests from their people to do something differently left me stunned. It was so negative!

Start today interrupt yourself, you don't need permission. Break those old long running habits now. No longer stand on the edge of the crowd looking in. Form your own crowd, your circle that want things that you want. If that circle outgrows its usefulness start another one. Vote with your feet, don't stay and be bored by people who aren't worth listening to.

There is something very scary about doing new and different things. But when you find the power to do them they become very exhilarating. Be your own leader not a follower. Find that power and you will never let it go.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Digital Exeter made me think! Laura Rose Guest Blog

Digital Exeter Makes you think!
Last Thursday week  the brilliant Laura Rose and I went along to the fledgling Digital Exeter meeting. The meeting was well attended and all the speakers were fun and thought provoking. Laura views such events as a sand pit for learning and applying tactics and she has kindly shared her thoughts below.
My focus is always on the development and social science aspects of meet ups and what will happen next – there’s a separate blog coming on that one.

Laura Rose - What I learnt at Digital Exeter
From the RAMM museum presentation I learnt that you've got to really segment your audiences and have clear objectives about what you want to achieve with them from the very start. It was unclear whether encouraging footfall to see the physical museum collection or getting people to engage with the museum about their archive collection were RAMM's primary objectives. You could see the danger of trying to target too many audiences with the same homepage and structure.
From copy dojo
 I'd learnt about clever things you can do when copywriting to engage your audience from using calls to active language. But I questioned the notion of 'social proof' and the evidence behind it. I think there is a real difference between a company saying "I have millions of users" and somebody who I socially identify with, like a friend, recommending a company or brand as an intermediary or brand advocate.
From Jasper at Borders
 I learnt about the changing world of in digital app development and just how many are dead to users after the initial download. We discussed the difference between generating content for an app, or any other digital platform, and using apps and digital platforms for distributing messages about that content, and the clash of that this can create between editorial and advertising teams within companies that have an app of their own.
What I will do
I'll consider tailored landing pages on WordPress websites to target a specific audience and repurposed content on the website for that audience and focus on their user needs.           
I will also think carefully about the role that apps and other digital platforms play within whole digital strategy to keep users re-engaging with our app or organisation.

I'll also be keeping an eye out for developments in push notifications to see whether we can make them smarter to target our audiences at the times they want information from us not when we want to give it out! 

Thanks Laura! 
Next time I'll be talking about forming communities, what the recipe is and why you can't force form one. Cheers,Joe 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Making an impact - Back to the future of work

So back to the subject 'future of work'. 
Why you might well ask am I so obsessed with this topic?

After all for some the future of work is already happening. Coworking, sharing apps, digital tech and home businesses are all right now.
Innovation Centre Cafe Exeter University

Well in a nutshell I want people to benefit from my experience and that of my father and peers. Lets start with Dad, I loved my dad but like many kids I knew I didn't see him much during the week. He drove lorries, he did it well, but the hours were long and arduous. Basically 6 o'clock start every morning and never home before 6 in the evening or later if the traffic was bad. Dad provided well for the family and the net result was that I grew up able and landed a job to help out with the family income at 16. The trouble was that I worked a similar pattern, shifts for a print shop. Got paid exceptionally well and was in a hamster wheel type honey trap that I couldn't get off. Strangely subsequent redundancy gave me the oxygen I needed and resulted in my gaining an MA. Following that I got a job in comms for the Govt. Sadly this isn't satisfying me either! the problem is that 9-5 5 days a week is a treadmill! Not one that I'm prepared to accept any longer, and not one I want for anyone else either. That's why I halved my working week.
Why is it a treadmill?
Treadmill, the word itself describes it all to well. How many of us go to an office or factory, head down, same routine every day? Don't get me wrong this possibly works for some people. If you're one of them fine carry on. But for me the monotony of routine work, routine location and same old faces is a killer. In fact I can't really sit still for more than 5 minutes!

What is the solution?
The antidote for me is variety.
The good news is digital technology has enabled this. Anywhere with a decent internet connection (or indeed a phone connection) is fair game as a workspace. I'm writing this right now from my favourite 'Boston Tea Party' cafe in Exeter. Accompanied by fab coffee and a bap! Awesome!

The advent of coworking hubs such as the Generator in Exeter have facilitated a boom in happy accidents. People coming together by chance to produce amazing things.
This connectivity and co creation is a by product of escaping the 9-5.  But also it's a bonus for home workers. As I've learned homeworking isn't all it's cut out to be. I find if I start at 9 I'm climbing the walls through lack of human contact by 2pm. This has truly confirmed for me that coworking hubs are the future. Especially if they have good coffee and state of the art wireless, both de rigeur in a digital society.
Coworking, alongside the new penchant among hipsters to desire experience over material things is well documented. Douglas McWilliams book 'The Flat White Economy', a must read for anyone as fascinated by this topic as I am. It confirms what I already predicted using nothing but guesses and instinct. The Flat White Economy.  Highly skilled young tech people, living out of tiny rooms. Driven by desire for experiences not possessions. Many of whom are well trained digitally savvy immigrants (in my opinion a huge positive).  Is driving London's and therefore Britain's economic recovery. Hurrah, but not just London.

What can people do about it?
Hey yep, I've got a plan people! Right here in Exeter. I intend to bring an 'Impact Hub' to the city. Yes big and brave, it may have to start small but I've signed up here! Create an Impact Hub in your City.

You can join me! 
In a few weeks I'm going to blog from Impact Hubs in London and Berlin. You'll be able to see what they are and how they offer so much more than just a coworking space. Don't get me wrong I'm not knocking or disparaging existing coworking efforts. The are fab. Nope, I  just want to go further. An all singing, all dancing space for the community. Where artists, entrepreneurs, musos, architects, students and just about anyone can come. Pitch their ideas, run an event, launch a product, cowork, rent offices, make art, make music. And hopefully all of the above.
Wouldn't it be amazing to have such a space? Together we could fill it with events, all designed to support and nurture creators and entrepreneurs. All designed to facilitate future working in a way that is. Spontaneous, not time bound, not anchored to one place, not associated with the same old faces. Just really inspirational. Somewhere that makes you want to go running off to work in the morning with real joy!

Come to the revolution!
You've heard the expression come the revolution? Well now is your chance to come to the revolution! Sign up for the Impact Hub journey. Set your location as Exeter and I'll find you. We'll work together to change the future of Exeter and possibly the world! Well our world that is. At least if nothing else you'll escape the hamster wheel of 9-5. Are you with me? Join now here.

Also read this Blog! Thanks Chris Lorimer for some great insight!.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Bring out your flaneurs

Yes it's true, the Flaneur is back! 

Well, theoretically at least they've never been away. That aside let's go back a couple of hundred years and explore the notion of flanerie. According to Wikipedia the original translation from the French is stroller or lounger. But drawing on the work of  the great critic Walter Benjamin it becomes much much more. The urban explorer, adventurer and documenter of the city.

Hiding in plain sight
So What?
In the past few weeks of part time working I've discovered many friends who are in one way or another flaneurs. What I've learned is that they, far from lounging and sauntering have a huge amount to offer the city. Because they document and photograph things that the average person just doesn't see. They are also passionate about living histories of streets and locations and people. This is amusingly echoed by the creation of an Exeter monopoly game. I can reassure my flanerie that their discoveries in this city will almost certainly not appear on the famous game board. They are far too interesting and unusual.

Why not you say?
The reason for this is it requires time and local inquisitive enquiry to discover the hidden stories of a city. No amount of scant location picking for a game can possibly uncover the treasures they reveal. As ever the sadness is the people rushing by in their relentless hamster wheel existence do not value the city. They certainly  would not appreciate the importance of flaneurs.
Ah the things you see!

What can we do about this?
I believe the key thing is to provide outlets to enable the products of flanerie to come to the attention of people who want to see and know. Yes that's right the inquisitive ones. The Phoenix in Exeter is sadly lacking as an arts centre (insufficient art taking place in my opinion). But does occasionally have local photographic exhibitions. Trouble is they tend to be by people who are 'just' photographers. Not that I'm dismissing the wonderful photographers of the South West, far from it. But they are not flaneurs, they do not all document the minutiae and miscellany that make a place special and significant.

Who are they?
If you want an example, local author, song writer and flaneur extraordinaire,  Steve Harris's Facebook images and blog articles are a great place to look.

Make me happy!
I't would delight me if you can identify others and share them with me here.
A recent financial times article cites Exeter as a draw for entrepreneurs looking for work-life balance. It is a brilliant city, but to my mind they don't know the half of it! Do you?

Monday, 9 March 2015

The long slow death of high street England and how culture could win itback

With time on my hands due to my shorter working week I'm struck by how the High Street varies at different times of the week. And indeed the day. there are times when it has a completely new complexity.

In his recent TED talk Dave Troy maps journeys in big cities and shows how the phenomenon I've observed plays out. Basically people and ideas don't mix much. I've observed similar and I believe the result will be the death of high street shopping. In many ways this could be a good thing and I'll explain why and what glimpses of this I'm already beginning to see.

People are habitual
It's bizarre for me who has only ever seen the high street buzzing at the weekend to see the street so empty. Weekends its swarming with 'carousel consumers', desperate to spend their hard earned cash. Knowing that they'll be back on the hamster wheel on Monday. Not just that but during the week it takes on a much darker and foreboding complexion. With those who are not otherwise occupied looking for an 'angle'. You see the same characters cropping up in a limited number of locations centering around their needs. In the same way shoppers, cafe dwellers and other city users seem to follow habitual patterns. There are a few places where society interacts at all levels, e.g public libraries. At the weekend in this location there is a good social mix there, but in the week this is not so. Without the policing apparent in other places ( see The secret life of the library security guard) this feels distinctly edgy.

So how can this disjointed situation change?
Basically we need to rewire the way people interact and their reasons for doing so. Then we need to give them time and space by encouraging shorter working week (via a vis 21 hour week).

 In his brilliant book "can scorpions smoke" Steve Chapman talks about the self consciousness of people who call themselves artists. And how this manifests itself in very young children. They gradually lose the will or ability to admit to being an artist in public. My question is:  If we organise opportunity for people to interact around art and cultural events will this nervousness change? Can we change it?

I don't think so because people who aren't interested enough or who are too self conscious will avoid it.

But, if we take the events to them, guerrilla art, art jams, ninja art, geek ups then people can and do join in. Offer the average Joe a crayon and a blank canvas and you will tempt them! But the key is you have to go to where people already are. So in a semi engineered way can we subtly change society. Not just with art and culture but through bringing together a gentle more casual clash of civilizations (more on this later).

What are the chances?
I have begun to see this already happening. Retailers and cafes where I live are starting to offer a slightly different experience. Not only can you see the art in the cafe where you can also buy it (step 1). But you can see the artists making art in the cafe where you can buy and crucially commission it! Yes art to order my friends! And you can watch it being made, beautiful.
Also you can have a go, can you cook Italian? Well not very well perhaps so why not instead of just eating it, learn to cook it too! Like wine? Learn about it by joining a bunch of strangers for a meal and taste lots of wine, in a wine shop!

Isn't it amazing when you discover an illustration of exactly what you're talking about! In Exeter yesterday I discovered the Glorious Art House Cafe. Not only does this quirky cafe have a gallery, but it also facilitates community events. I discovered Paul from (@pocodrom) just about to entertain lots of little children and their parents in the gallery. A great little cultural event aiming at bringing people together. I'm aiming to interview Paul about the cultural economy and what it's like to do this job in a future blog. The point is that many have created cafes where the children can play, but it's too exclusive. Here is an example of business diversification that can work. Not to mention lovely coffee and cakes.


Amazing rote this Wednesday opened the Guardian app Sunday and spotted this article about Hipsters by Ed Cumming. Spot on article, written around a new book and very London centric, but resonates with me as a cycling evangelist for new ways of working. Who wouldn't choose experiences over accumulating things? Is this the way forward for the planet I wonder? And can it happen here in Exeter. Well as I've described above it's started. It just takes a fe more rave souls to join the party.

The changes detailed above are already happening but I'd love to hear about more. And I'd love to hear what you think is possible!  As I've said in previous blogs were on the brink of a work and making revolution. But how we get the world of 'carousel consumers' to engage with the new entrepreneurs. And how we break down our city silos by taking culture to the people that will be the challenge.

Now hear this!
As if by magic this fantastic TED talk illustrates exactly what I'm talking about!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Punk's Alive - Generation Z, your time awaits!

I believe the punk ethos prevalent in the 70s is alive and kicking in 2015.

The 70s punk spirit has spilled over into  entrepreneurship characterised by current business startups. Energised by the go get em, multi million pound results of the efforts of Jobs, Zuckeberg and co everyone is at it now, or so it seems. 

How does the new wave of entrepreneurial effort compare to the diy punk efforts of the 70s and how does it differ?

The thing that differentiated the punk mentality from the prior decades was it's 'you can do it' DiY approach. This didn't just apply to the three chord guitar riffs. It was all about a lifestyle choice, taking control. As the eloquent Inspiral Carpets front man Clint Boon expressed it in a recent BBC6 interview. "[it was about] carving out your own destiny, doing things your way. Not always following things the establishment tells you to do". Whilst this applied mainly to having a good time playing and pogoing to raucous music for most people, others made a career out of it. 

Examples of entrepreneurial spirit emerged in the independent record labels that grew and flourished. For example Indie labels like Rough Trade Records took on the giants in the 70s. Also, fashion was heavily influenced by punk at the time. Then mass marketed by those clever enough to see the opportunities. Writers, journalists, film and documentary makers had a field day. 

So what in the hell has this got to do with the startup culture that is currently taking the business world by storm? 

Many people who were around at the end of the punk era have been influential in shaping the desires and markets of post punk consumers. This has led to innovations in many walks of life. The way we consume music, books, the rise of the internet. As well as shopping, film, photography and many other areas of our lives. The spawn of the post punk mentality have shaped these developments. Not as is often assumed millennials. The odd thing is that some of the ways in which companies still do business carries offshoots from the old world before punk. The old school manners, morals and ethics of business have evolved. But not completely disappeared and the legality certainly hasn't declined.

I believe these old school practices are about to undergo a culture shock. The rise of the millennials will bring a new generation of traders who have completely shed the post punk morality. I have heard it said many times by people I've spoken to from this generation that if they can't do things one way then they will find another. Don't expect them to play by your rules. Don't even expect them to hold the door open for you as you leave. They are creating a 'no rules' business culture focused on the individual and profit. Manifestations of this are clear in those pre-millenials  [born just before 80s - 2000]  Zuckerberg, Parker, Dorsey etc. Not a day goes by without we discover they've violated some right or other. They don't seem to acknowledge they've done anything wrong. 

SO how should we, the 'punk era' businesses prepare to deal with this generation? Entrepreneurs who see these emerging behaviours as the norm?

James Burke author of Connections, legend in science communication says. [digital] “fragmentation will move people further and further away from what used to be a  common culture. [in the short term] into which everybody subscribed”. he goes on to say, “we've had a limited way of expressing ourselves in society”. “Explosion in fragmentation, in the sense of [online] tools. Becoming rapidly more available for individuals to indulge themselves”.  “People realising, because of new technology, that It doesn't matter anymore that people don't subscribe to the 5 rules that society requires of them. Be brilliant, go to a good school, go to a good university, get a well paid job etc.” With new technology you can express yourself as well as anybody else”. In a sense you no longer feel that those old fashioned virtues have a value anymore”. “Common cultural infrastructure held us together and kept us safe”

So it seems that people are deciding to ignore existing processes. If they don't like them they adapt their skills and go around them.  For example cutting a record having been in the recording studio for several months is a long distant memory. The advent of home studio’s and digital editing tools has revolutionised this. Combined with self-publishing and marketing the old way is seriously under pressure.

Maker spaces, such as Exeter Library’s FabLab: Or Digital work hubs like becoming the norm. I expect that home working combined with access to these will become the work pattern of the future. In many rural communities home working is revitalising the communities and their economies. A recent Guardian article features a blistering range of new ideas from the ‘startup’ do it yourself culture.  And its not just work practices that are changing, the traditional funding economy is imploding too. Present and future businesses will turn not to the banks and pound sterling. But’ to crowdfunding and bitcoin. People voting with their purses will enable these new ‘cosmopolitans’ to develop their businesses without encountering the; 'dinosaur says no' culture. 
The revolution is about to hit us! look out for generation Z!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Will work really be the same in the future?

Lately I've been pondering the future of work . I've asked myself four questions; Where will I work? How will I work? How long will I work each day? Will I have just one job?

Where will I work? I've read many things this year about creativity and location. Among the best was a blog  that suggested coffee shops were the best locations. The article makes a good case and is interesting. I also enjoyed the article in Wired talking about Liam Casey setting up business in China. At no point was it suggested that expensive offices and the overheads they carry were the way forward. Cue the growth of co working spaces like the Generator in Exeter or Thinqtank in Plymouth. Like Google's hub in London you can hire workspace and meeting space. It's a great place to meet people and a godsend for those who would normally work from home. Home working can be soul destroying hubs can provide the answer to break the monotony.
How will I work? It's no surprise that with the growth of collaborative spaces has come the growth of collaborative tools. There are many variants, my fave being Google docs. That allow collaboration across project members and outside the project too. It's a brilliant experience to sit and co create a document and watch as colleagues contribute from wherever they are. The time saved and the pain of email chains and tracked changes received is brilliant. I cannot for the life of me understand why these tools are not the norm. Others are taking advantage of crowd sourcing their designs. They have benefited from critique and positive additions, for example the Tesla electric car.

Of course once your product is ready you can share it with the manufacturer even if they are on the other side of the planet. I use Google hangouts to great effect. I've hosted meetings with colleagues from around the UK and find it easy and convenient. It reduces my travel time and cost too!
How long will I work each day? I think the days of Monday to Friday eight hours a day are on their way out. I've met so many people who are now prepared to adjust their lifestyle to work less hours.  This is really encouraging. flexible working taken to extreme can be really productive, we are not designed to sit in an office eight hours or more. Working when we are happiest and most productive judged by results not 'presenteeism' must be the future. Serious writers like Anna Coote of the New Economics Foundation have described how this can work. She suggests a 21 hour working week  . The benefits in terms of sustainability and personal well being would be immense.

Will I have just one job? Good question, again I think the notion of working for just one employer on just one task is fast disappearing. Portfolio working is on the increase and can be immensely rewarding. There's no secure jobs anymore and no loyalty. Moving from project to project developing and demonstrating your skills will help to keep you working and current. Stagnating in a so called career can actually damage your prospects. Many in the human resources world advocate never spending more than 3 years in a post. The added benefit is networking with a myriad of potential collaborators who you can call on in the future should you need to.

I’m writing a whole other piece on the ‘maker revolution’ embracing new ways of producing things that don't need armies of people. A recent Guardian article features a blistering range of new ideas from the ‘startup’ do it yourself culture.

When I floated similar ideas to a major employer for a management discussion they'd freaked out. What they don't realise is that just like the dated products they produce new businesses will supersede them.  Their hierarchical organisational structure will be out of date too. Like Kodak and film, old businesses will lose their place.  Lost in the deluge of clever collaborations and startups that no longer play by their rules. Already many organisations are beginning to change working practices to accommodate millenials Not to mention generation Z.

Wake up to the work revolution, change now. Less hours, greater flexibility, less formality, creative working location and environment.  For me it can't come soon enough.

Since writing this the Financial Times has cited Exeter as a top location for work life balance in an article. They mention many of the same thing as I have in this blog. I'm flattered.