How can I help?

I learned a long time ago that what makes me happiest at work is helping others. Hence a stint for about seven years working nationally in staff development with a focus on using technology to get stuff done. Most of my profile straplines end with “How can I help?”. I really mean it. If you’ve got a burning question about how I’ve done something then please don’t be a stranger. In the past 6 months I’ve had email exchanges and Skype calls with people in the USA and across Europe. you can tweet me, email me or leave a comment on the blog.

PS I get lots out of these exchanges too. I get to hear  about common problems, frustrations or even better solutions that I have used myself. 

Say hello to Doris and BMAG Guide to the Art Collection

I’m super excited that after lots of graft from the team we’ve just released two very special products:

Doris the Pliosaurus After 150 million years Doris, based on a model of our Pliosaurus, has come to life again as a retail product!  Doris is currently the star of our exhibition  Pliosaurus! until Jan 2018 and marks our first foray into making our own models. Darren Roberts worked directly with the manufacturer in China via Alibaba which in itself marks a shift in how retail is evolving – working direct instead of through a wholesaler or brand.

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery: Guide to the Art Collection. Julia Carver worked incredibly hard to meet my objective [book that will retail for less than £10 and appeal to 10,000 or more people a year] and tight deadline of producing in conjunction with Bristol Books, the museums first ever guide to some highlights of our 1300 paintings. The public are constantly asking for books about the collection so I’m proud I’ve been part of making the project happen. Its not easy finding “firsts” in a near 200 year old service! Books that are self published have a fantastic margin and we’re hoping this book really lights up the till. ISBN: 9781909446120 A special thanks to the generous financial and moral support from Simon Baker, David Speller, and the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery.

Museums Journal: Charity commission issues cyber security warning

From a telephone interview I did about a week ago, following the NHS IT problems, for Museums Journal:

“Cyber security is something we think about frequently, but in the last few weeks it’s risen to the top of everyone’s agenda,” he said. We would be crippled if our collections database was unavailable to us for more than a couple of days.” Keeping secure backups in several different UK locations is a crucial part of the service’s security approach, Mensah added. And because hackers often take advantage of human error, other key measures include making sure strong, frequently changed passwords are used, and limiting access to key systems.

Link to the full article. I was trying to make it clear that weak passwords and our human nature to do the easiest thing is often the biggest challenge.

Reading list 2017

I read 16 books last year and hope to read 20 this year. My kid is two and I hope my reading rubs off on her. I now sit and read my book as she drinks her night milk. I used to love reading as a kid – a place to get lost.

Below are the books i’ve read throughout the year. You can see my previous reading lists starting with the most recent reading list 2016.

  1. The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla finished 16th January. Hardback. ISBN 9781783522941. A series of essays about living in a white world.
  2. Turn the Ship Around! by David Marquet finished 27th January. Paperback  ISBN 9780241250945. A book about how a Navy submarine captain turned a poor performing team of 134 sailors into one of the best in the fleet through a leader-leader approach.
  3. The Toyota Way by Jefferey K. Liker finished 23rd March. Hardback. ISBN 9780071392310. A tale of how Toyota has developed their staff and resources to be efficient and customer focused. I really enjoyed the section on “pull” ordering and making a business plan fit on one A3 sheet of paper. Having heard about it for years i’m glad i read it but it took ages as it weighs a lot!
  4. Maverick! : The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace by Ricardo Semler, finished 16 April. Paperback. 9780712678865. A business book about Richardo took over his fathers business and set about putting staff first. Very good.
  5. Reengineering Retail: The Future of Selling in a Post-Digital World by Doug Stephens, finished 11 May. Hardback. ISBN 9781927958810. A book that focuses on what the future of retail could be if only people got out of their own way. Doug shares some great examples of how experiences are the key to shopping and that most wholesalers will fall by the wayside in the long run. Worth a read if you have any interest in how you may be shopping in 10-20 years.
  6. Ultimate Weapon by Chris Ryan, finished 25 May. Paperback. ISBN 9780099492146. A fictional story about two SAS soldiers trying to save a daughter and on-off girlfriend.
  7. Built for Speed by John McGuinness, finished 13 June. Hardback. ISBN 9781785034800. One of the most successful British motorcyclists and 23 Isle of Man TT winner. I’ve always enjoyed watching him race so its good to hear about this life to date.
  8. Walkaway by Cory Doctorow finished 26 June. Hardback. ISBN 9780765392763. A story about a group who walkaway from the normal way of life off the grid from default. Drones, 3D printing, love, anguish and walking away.
  9. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead finished 19 August. Paperback. ISBN 9780708898406. A nerve wrecking story about a slave called Cora. Gripping to the last page.
  10. What they don’t teach you in Harvard Business School by Mark H. McCormack finished 25th October. ISBN 9781781253397. A personal diary from Mark on some of the ways you can run a business based on your ability to read people, situations and self reflection. Still doesn’t make me want to play golf though hehe.

Shopify feature request for two-step

Two-step authentication is one of the tools we should all use to help prevent our accounts being compromised. Shopify now has this feature but its implementation could do with a further feature. At present as the master admin I cannot enforce two-step authentication for staff who have admin rights. I have to rely that individual staff will choose to set this up and/or stand over their shoulder which isn’t going to win hearts and minds!

I would like to request that the master admin account has a way to invoke all admin accounts to be forced to have two-step switched on/set-up to ensure the security of our admin area.

Over to you shopify.

Remember remember the 5th of December 2016

5th December stung me. I had one important job to do and I made a mistake. I didn’t check the whole piece of work. It was nearly 5pm and my mind wandered to the talk I had to deliver the following day. Instead of my normal line by line checking I pressed “send and upload” and thought nothing of it. Except that work had an error.

In less than 24hrs that error was spotted and I had some explaining to do…or lack thereof. I needed to mark this event on the blog as a reminder to my dear self. By all means blog about successes but remember not to fly too close to the sun.

Using a ChangeLog

A good practice I have done since my early days at University is to keep a record of notable changes I make to a project or “thing”. In computing this is super common as changes you make, often to code, don’t work the first few times, so you want to record what you changed to un-break it. The recording is a simple text file which is universally called a “ChangeLog“.

For example during October I changed our online shop shipping costs from being £3.50 to FREE. I have no hope of remembering I did this in a few months time so I make a note of it in my ChangeLog – I write these into evernote but you can use whatever you like. I write each change as follows:

  • YYYY-MM-DD
  • Text documenting the change
  • Name of person making the change if using a shared ChangeLog

In addition to the ChangeLog being useful for my own projects I find it very helpful for my regular 1:1s with my boss/teams, workshops and even when preparing for job interviews.

Shopify Retail Tour 2016 Bristol

Busy crowd at Shopify Tour in Bristol

Hosted at Arnolfino on Tuesday 27th September 2016

Myself and Darren popped along to the Shopify Retail Tour to see one of the experts, meet other retail nerds and hear what is new. The whole setup was very slick and I loved the fittings they’d designed for the tour.

At Bristol Culture we currently run four Shopify point of sale (POS) instances across retail (£300K+) , fundraising and Archives.

We had booked a one-on-one session with one of the Shopify support team. We wanted to pick their brains about better ways to run our small empire online and mention a few issues we have with POS.

One of the reasons I chose Shopify originally was due to the added features that third party apps can offer. Our host was fantastic at reviewing our current online shop which has a tiny conversion rate of 0.4% and making having done a test purchase suggested ways to improve:

  • Try out multiple shop inventory apps such as Tradegeeko (for our small £££ expansion) or Stitch labs
  • Quick books for more useful management of our business position
  • Using their newly acquired KIT for third party marketing
  • Free app SEO doctor to see where our online shop could be improved
  • ALT Text app (free)
  • Make it clear that we offer in-museum pick-up of orders
  • Read and action : 50 ways to make your first sales
  • regularly review our abandoned checkout analytics
  • Try Facebook sales Channel (found via report area)
  • Find a better header image
  • Blog regularly to help SEO – ask suppliers too!
  • Photography- keep consistent background
  • Organise products a in range or collection instead of long product pages

The helpful Mailchimp team also showed us 2-3 automation features we’ll be testing very soon to kick start our mailing list efforts.

I was super happy that David Seal from the POS team was at the event and I had the chance to explain how we use POS, some issues and made a few feature requests. I have been following David on Twitter for some time so it is always cool to meet twitter folk.

The new mobile phone version of Shopify was released on Tuesday which finally lets me login to multiple stores without the hassle of logging out on Android. It has only crashed once in 24hrs!

Suggestions/feedback

  1. Our biggest feature request is for the mobile app or bar code scanner to let us quickly scan products on the spot and get sales history. This would really help us review the position of products and any affect of moving, effectively letting us do easy A/B testing.
  2. As with many people i’m baffled that adding Cost of Goods isn’t possible natively within Shopify. How else do you know your profit margin?! it would immediately help you review products and maybe increase or delete a SKU.
  3. I also suggested that Shopify should look into partnering with retail shop fitters for pop-up equipments and fixtures.
  4. POS app can seem slow or unresponsive when our team are busy and we can get the odd crash – tough if it is in its locked enclosure!
  5. The till drawer only opens when we have wifi which sometimes falls over and unless you have the key you are in for a tough sell!

My favourite quote of the evening came right at the end when one of the speakers said “They can’t catch you if you keep running”

Thanks for having us!

#shopifyretailtour

The right out of office message means a clear inbox after a holiday

For most people the return to work from a holiday usually involves a great stress about peeking into your inbox to see what horror awaits. I get between 50-100 emails every day. This year I’ve had a three week holiday and a two week break. That would be hundreds of email to “catch up”. However I won’t be seeing any of these messages sent during my holiday on my return Monday.

I was finding it increasingly stressful last year playing catch up digging through hundreds of email just in case something important was hiding in that pile. This year I introduced a new way to completely side step the issue. I delete ALL email sent during my holiday with the exception of two people – my boss and my bosses boss. I have a modified version of Tim Ferriss’s out of office that is explicitly clear that if you need a response you have two choices, either contact someone else or email me from the date of my return. I’m serious.

It should be obvious why I exclude my line management – I like my job ha plus they know I’m away so anything I’m being sent is assumed for after my return.

After using this successfully for two holidays back to back it will now be part of my holiday check list. I can the jump straight back to work without wasting a week chasing shadows.

Visit to Brooklyn Museum 9th September 2016

I’ve wanted to visit Brooklyn Museum for years. I love hip hop and the museum crops up directly and indirectly in the culture – from my favourite rapper talking about art “Cop Rembrandt, hang ’em, pay the lot. Can’t complain, we ballin, true or not ma?” To showing artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat which pop up in my feeds frequently. No other museum has crossed my radar as much as the Brooklyn Museum and its famed African art collection to name just one area.

All of the above coupled with the exciting digital work such as the ASK project made choosing a holiday to NYC a sound decision. We took a stroll around the botanic gardens located next to the museum before visiting which our daughter loved. In addition to wanting to see the museum as a fan, in the back of my mind I’m also looking at our own future redevelopment of Bristol Museum & Art Gallery so seeing how other museums position various services will give me good ideas for the welcome, shop cafe, toilets etc.

The welcome

I’d say that the main entrance has three phases: an initial public outdoor space with cool foundation and seating, an inner floor to ceiling glass area with further seating and security (my normal bag too big which left me carrying a zzz 2yr, her change bag and my iPad – common practice in nationals) and then finally a large reception with bag checking-in area, welcome desk, access to the shop and toilets in view. The cost of “admission” is a suggested $16 or pay what you think. The messaging is good at having the bahaviour of paying the fee for me. The person at the desk explained the admission policy and that a benefit of paying is access to the special exhibition ‘Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present’. I took up this option whilst my wife went for $4 as she wasn’t bothered about sports. At this point I was expecting to hear about the ASK app but nope. A missed opportunity as Sara did say that staff normally tell folks about it. Hey we all have this happen. At this point I always ask the first visitor asssistant I see a question (I have a mystery shop list that is secret ha) and after they finally got my Bristol twang they gave me a very helpful answer. But first I needed to check out the cafe as I oversee two cafes at our own museums.

Cafe

They have two options, a lovely looking restaurant and bar called The Norm or a standard cafe. I was tempted to try The Norm but it looked too lovely to disturb the diners with my young daughter. I’m sure it is kid friendly but I had that “pang” of not wanting to be loud as it didn’t look like that kind of space – more cool date type. This is the same feeling everybody has about being very quiet in gallery spaces even though this isn’t a rule! Instead we ate a lovely curated (I forgot the name of the artist) turkey cheese sandwich with coffee. Service was very good and I loved the design of the menu and bar area itself. There was indoor and outdoor seating.

ASK app
Whilst having lunch I started to spot messaging for the ASK app on the tables and lift. The app connects you in real time to staff who you can ask any question to and they get back to you. It wasn’t immediately obvious if you didn’t already know what it did. They seem to have mostly solved this by the helpful staff who work at the ASK station which you pass early on the first floor. I “asked” about what Ghanaian art they had on display and got a few suggestions and liked the style of interaction which was friendly and felt personal with lines like “my personal favourite”. The app worked well and lived up to my expectations having read about it on their labs blog for the whole development.

As much as I wanted to see everybody in the museum using the app I feel that this strand of “connection” with the public is very much in its infancy. The team behind ASK are tinkering with the future by making it. In 20-30yrs it may not be ASK but it will be a distance relative. Personally I think voice recognition will be something to keep an eye on. As an aside when I’d previously mentioned ASK to our curatorial team they were intrigued and also concerned about the time involvement of answering questions – when is too much of a good thing a burden? I didn’t get a chance to ask about this.

Galleries
I really enjoyed the four open floors of galleries and started top down. The Luce Center for Amercian Art visible Storafe Study Center is the best example of explaining how a museum works I’ve come across. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a simple clear explanation of an accession number. The ASK app suggestion had the additional benefit that I felt I was seeking out a unique way to find objects.
I enjoyed seeing a closed section being worked on. I loved the African art, Rodin and got a sleeping baby and me selfie with the Venice scene by Monet. I enjoyed the sports photography and was pleasantly surprised to see a photo of Wolverhampton wanderers football team (I lived there for 12 months and saw them play) among the basketball all stars, boxing stars and Motorsport. Use of tech was subtle and mainly used for TVs with bright signs. I liked the use of directional audio. There was lots of big open empty space throughout the building.

Shop

Our own shop suffered from neglect for years so shops are front and centre in my head at the moment. The layout of the main shop was very nice and sweeping. I thought I’d see lots more budget kids stuff we love in the uk but it was more gift stuff which I’m sure works very well. I saw a print on demand station but sadly ran out of time to try it out. There was a pop up shop in the special exhibition area that was well visually merchandised. I liked the seating by the book section and overall visual merchandising.

Meeting a few of the team

I was very fortunate to get to spend an hour with Sara Devine, JJ and Christina who took me up on the offer of saying hello. I explained how we’re trying to transform our service and focused on our own version of Pay What You Think, user research, shops and digital literacy for staff. I picked up Some helpful nuggets and hope to see these guys on the circuit soon.

Thank you Brooklyn Museum and thank you Sara, JJ and Christina for taking time to meet me…. Now back to my holiday!