Field notes from Oslo 2018

I was invited to Oslo, Norway to give a talk and workshop to a network who represent 200 museums and galleries. I had previously visited Norway twice before and it’s definitely under the radar for most people. I arrived to Heathrow Terminal 2 early and used this as an opportunity to see how the shops were. Airports retail is often interesting as they usually invest in beautiful displays and make a lot of money. The mini John Lewis was a standout and I nearly fainted at the £68 at Dixon’s wanted for a MacBook air to hdmi connector which I passed on. The flight was full and they insisted my bag go into the overhead storage. This of course led to the breaking of my iPad screen. I still really really hate flying and my stomach felt like I’d been through the ringer even though the flight was smooth!

Oslo airport was impressive with great architecture and food shops as I whizzed by. The airport run into Oslo centre was via the efficient express train. It is only about 20mins and £20 each way. You can simply swipe your credit card for payment which is probably as frictionless as you can get. After a short walk to my hotel I went for dinner on the harbour at Olivia Aker Brygge with my host Elisabeth. Most of the city seemed closed which surprised me as they want to increase tourism. More food options on a Sunday evening please.

We had a very pleasant meal and chat.

The network met Monday to have a session with Innovative Norway to hear about the latest tourism plans. As the sessions were in Norwegian I had alternative plans to pass the time. After a nice walk through the Royal Palace Park and a glance at some royalty arriving with an escort I met with Ingrid who works at The National Gallery. The Gallery is most well known for displaying The Scream by Edvard Munch. I had an hour to really look around the retail offer and hear about the new plans for 2020 when the Gallery relocates to the the new location at Aker Brygge. I was stunned to hear that they will retain the existing building too. Great work whoever negotiated that deal. The retail offer had a really nice local artist and bespoke range that was also very popular. The long layout spread between two levels is challenging so I’m sure the team will be pleased to move to the new build where they will have three retail offers. I insisted on seeing the stockroom too as a lot is gleaned from the stockroom. I am very grateful to Ingrid for taking the time to host me.

Next I was due to meet Véronique from Astrup Fearnley Museet. Astrup Fearnley Museet is a private museum which re-located to the harbour in 2012. The building is stunning and set amongst law firms on the Fjord. I chuckled when I discovered that the collection store is under the water line. Brave! The retail area was designed by the architect so it has some very “interesting” challenges as is always the case with non-retail experts. That being said the shop looks amazing both as a piece of design and how Véronique and team have carefully considered the products and visual merchandising. Even the floor power had beautifully designed metal covers. I got to hear about how the team work with artists for in-store workshops and are constantly finding fun ways to engage with customers. I was mightily impressed with the retail. The product range was as good as anywhere i’ve ever been and they are quite rightly profitable.

I was visiting on a Monday when they were closed to the public which gave a rare chance to quickly explore the galleries including Jeff Koon’s latest exhibition and the permanent collection which includes Damian Hirst. The museum is a popular place to hire too and I enjoyed the visit. If the shop had been open and I had more time I’m confident I would have spent lots of money. The match boxes made using the collection were a personal highlight – the low light throughout winter means matches are a very popular purchase. They will launch an online shop before the end of the year.

Zak standing next to a piece of art by Jeff Koon's called Michael Jackson and Bubbles is a porcelain sculpture
Jeff Koon’s sculpture – Michael Jackson and Bubbles

By this point it was mid-afternoon and we rejoined the rest of the group to get a coach to a number of museums and galleries outside of the central. We started with the home of Roald Amundsen who was the first person to reach the South Pole in 1911. The house is located about 45min drive from the centre of Oslo on the Fjord in the type of location that these days money can’t buy. The house has pretty much been left as it since the day Roald left it for the last time. The home is restricted to 2000 visitors per year so I felt pretty lucky. The tour was in Norwegian but my partner in crime Mathilde Emilie Johnsen kindly kept me in the loop.

Our next museum was a cartoon museum with gallery called Avistegnernes Hus, DrØbak. The space was across two floors with plenty of cartoons (Newspaper cartoons) and was showing photography from Willibald Storn. Our host gave an overview of the history of the space which is famous in the newspaper cartoon world. Tasty local apple juice made for a very pleasant time.

Next we took a ferry boat across a Fjord to an island to Ank Oscarsborg. A fortress that was in use until about 2000. We had a wonderful dinner and great conversations about Norway. I really enjoyed the afternoon and evening not only to see the museums but to just “see” Oslo and surrounding area as the bus whizzed around. A quick beer at the hotel saw in midnight. Tuesday was my day to deliver a 90min talk with discussion and a practical workshop. I love days like this which hark back to my time delivering training at University of Leicester and for Jisc as part of the University of Bristol. I feed off the energy of the room and we all get to exchange ideas and challenge everything. I always learn a lot too even as the presenter. For example the majority of the room said they were running at 35%-40% gross profit margin. This makes it hard to be profitable and was a nugget for the day which I used for reference. The group seemed to really enjoy the day and I loved a short session where each person gave a 5min presentation with photos of their retail offer. A good way to see where they come from and the scale of the retail offer. If I had to guess which two areas they really engaged with the most I would say making a roadmap and learning what your museum “touch points” are. A roadmap using trello is a quick and easy way to work with colleagues on delivering incremental benefits. A touch point is any point of contact that any member of the workforce has with a visitor. There was a definite lightbulb moment when the room realised just how many interactions a visitor can have. The point is to surface opportunities to delight a visitor and to show that retail needs to be out in the museum not just in the retail space in order to maximise the opportunity to raise awareness. Follow the visitor. In practice it may be that placing a display in the cafe or a sign in the toilet is a way to become visible to visitor who would normally just skip the retail offer by default.

After the sessions I headed to the airport with a few of the group. I had a few hours to spare so got to people watch and relax after a long day on my feet. I had a quiet flight back and crawled into bed about 3am.

I would like to thank everyone that I had the privilege of talking to and Norway continues to be a delight. I hope to return for more workshops in the next year.

[Music I listened to: Belly – Immigrant, Edvard Grieg – The Best of Grieg, 6Lack – East Atlanta Love Letter, Travis Scott – Astroworld, Westside Gunn – Supreme Blientele].

Paper has a place in my toolkit

At work I’m known for being paperless. Like everyone else I use a computer at my desk. During meetings I switch to using my phone around folks who I work with often. It feels more comfortable than using the iPad but I feel less comfortable using my phone around new folks with the whole “I’m using my phone for work I promise” vibe. In this cases I use the clunky ipad. We have Apple TV and Chromecast devices in all our primary meeting spaces so I can show what’s on my devices to the big screen eg Trello or Basecamp.

So when I occasionally whip out my paper index cards or field notes notebook someone usually remarks in surprise. I’m surprised that they are surprised. I’m only human after all. Being human means I forget to charge my devices and need an alternative. Or I know I need to conserve battery life for something later that day. I try to follow Cory Doctorow’s ABCs “Always Be Charging” but alas again I’m only human and easy access sockets aren’t a thing.

I love index cards because they are affordable and I only ever write outline notes to jot my memory. I love field notes because they are small, the cover is indestructible and I heart the company behind them. So next time you see me with paper don’t be surprised…I always forget a pen though (or on purpose as I live in fear of pen eruption in my bag)…

So can I borrow a pen?

Being at the edge

When I was learning my advanced motorcycle skills my instructor said the only way to know when you are on the the limit is to pass it. It’s why in practice in all sports you see them seemingly make mistakes, miss, wobble or crash. The fact is they simply need to find the very edge as that’s where the fear lies and the opportunity. If you won’t go to the edge someone else will. I’d prefer to wobble rather than crash but if the edge is the place to be then so be it.

PS I thought about this as I was riding my motorcycle last week and tried a new line through a roundabout and lost the front for a microsecond before regaining control.

Reading list 2018

Starting off the year with a book I tried to finish at the top of the year but didn’t quite pull off. According to my Reading List 2017 I managed to read 10 books which isn’t bad going considering the packed year and lack of public transport time. I love to buy new books faster than I can read them like a true book fiend. I hope to continue finding new homes once I’ve finished them too. Books are meant to be read.

  1. Originals by Adam Grant finished 5th January . Paperback ISBN 9780753556993. A look at how you can think and/or let others let loose their originality.
  2. Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin finished 27th February. Hardback ISBN 9781250183866. A nice blend of military accounts and leadership principles that focus on owning mistakes and failures. Get Some!
  3. The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck finished 24th April. Paperback ISBN 9781846041075. Not my usual style of book and I struggled with it passed the first third. Oh well.
  4. the four by Scott Galloway finished 16 May 2018. Hardback ISBN 9780593077894. An insightful and witty take on four of the largest businesses on the planet. Lots of bits made me chuckle but there is a serious thread about the lack of control and tiny employment these guys generate directly. Def worth a read.
  5. Digital transformation at scale: why the strategy is delivery by Andrew Greenway, Ben Terrett, Mike Bracken and Tom Loosemore finished 28 May 2018. Paperback ISBN 9781907994784. A great recap of hundreds of people’s efforts in the past 6 years to drive digital change, for government but also to support folks like me in local government. The book does a good job of acting as part potted history and part guidance for getting things done. A message throughout is that it isn’t complicated, it’s just hard. A must read not only for those who are believers but also for folks who disregard or shrug off digital as something that can be ignored. Thank you to the GDS folks and everybody fighting the good fight.
  6. Hunting the Nazi Bomb by Damien Lewis finished 16 June 2018. Paperback ISBN 9781786482105. A story based on true events in and around Norway during the war to stop Germany gaining the ability to produce an atom bomb.

Sharing scales

If you need a tool, process or reference material then please do share that widely. Tell a colleague, speak at a staff meeting, write about it on the web. There is a very good chance someone else can benefit. Sharing what we do, why “that” choice and “how” we do something allows others to benefit. Your own  way  not  even  be  the best. Low cost for you but scalable for the sector.
How can I help?

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.

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.

Notes from Banksy panel: Does Banksy have a social responsibility to do more to support the causes he highlights in his art?

On Saturday 14th May 2016, to launch the 4th edition of the book Home Sweet Home by Tangent books we decided to host a panel “Does Banksy have a social responsibility to do more to support the causes he highlights in his art.?” At M Shed in collaboration with the Festival of ideas.

It was a glorious sunny day and about 100 people came to hear Will Simpson, Marc Leverton and Katy Bauer, all authors of Banksy books. Richard Jones was referee.

The third edition was one of our best selling products last year so this event seemed a great way to fly the flag whilst quenching the thirst of the Banksy loving public. We can’t go a day at the museum without people coming specifically to see our Banksy statue on their trail across the city.

We sold £100 worth of books and people seemed to really enjoy it. I know one person came all the way up from Cornwall.

It was only my second attempt at book signing and I have learned a few things to make it better. Also I’m convinced that it needs to either be an event or pure book signing. Either you want a signed boom or you come for the chat/debate. Cool.

Anyway below are the notes I scribbled down. They aren’t exhaustive and I may have misunderstood of misattributed points so please forgive any errors I may have made.

My panel notes

The majority of the audience answered “No” to the question “Should Banksy have a social responsibility to do more to support the causes he highlights in his art.
Will: explained that he was part of a group who went to Mexico with Banksy to paint and highlight the Zapatista movement. The plan was that Banksy was going to spend a few days painting and in-between they played some football. Whenever they were short of players, Banksy would be in goal. Will is recalling this trip from around 15 years ago and hasn’t seen Banksy in over a decade but remembers he was very smart and had a dry sense of humour. As Banksy was there to paint, Will remembers that Banksy had done lots of research and spoke to locals to see what they wanted. Will then backtracked to the Autumn of 2000 when Banksy was starting to get popular. To fundraise, he had an idea to use a painting, which was pink with a footballer doing an overhead kick and let people guess where the ball landed. The winner of the raffle would keep the painting. The painting was on display at Eat the Beat in St Nics for 1-2 months. Will and a few others thought of trying to rig the raffle but the person they sent pulled out at the last minute as they didn’t feel it was the right thing to do. The painting raised about £200 and eventually went on to be sold for £20,000 years later (Jo).

Katy: Described her encounter with Banksy’s people during the time of the Bristol tension with a new proposed Tesco in Stokes Croft. Chris Chalkley from People’s Republic of Stokes Croft funded a Banksy print to help fundraise. A Banksy contact approached Chris about the collaboration. It was very particular. All the proceeds must go to PRSC, it can only be £5 and they could only print the agreed 2000 [note – i have a signed copy of this as a wedding present…].
The prints were sold at the Anarchist book fair. Katy had asked if it could be sold for £10 as it was clearly going to be a sell out and the money would benefit but was told no. Katy says the experience was clearly very much that Banksy is in control and it must go the way he wants. Katy shared a story about a piece she wrote that never saw the light of day as Banksy censored it, Katy was appalled. The piece was intended for Paul Gough’s book on Banksy and was written as an honest piece that wasn’t meant to offend about Banksy maybe [recanted]. The incident left Katy a little disappointed that Banksy would do this.

Richard: The level of control and attention to detail is astonishing.

Marc: says that Banksy doesn’t have to be socially responsible but his size means that he almost has to. He thinks Banksy is very aware of his early start as a vandal and is now ironically part of the art world.

Richard: questions how much control Banksy really his over his own image and ability to affect anything.

Will: agrees broadly with Marc and that Banksy’s unique selling point is his leftie/punk

Marc: Says to answer the question you need to understand Banksy and he thinks punk was a big influence. For example Banksy and his contacts would have known the queue to buy the Tesco posters would have been chaotic and they probably like that. Hence why they didn’t stop people buying more than one.

Richard: If Banksy cares then why wouldn’t he allow a second print run, knowing it would have greatly helped?

Katy: Says it is sad that more people in the audience don’t think Banksy has a responsibilty as she thinks not only does Banksy but all of us should be helping each other and the planet. Banksy is the left-ing voice the media can’t resist. Katy def thinks Banksy would be left-wing and is very Bristol i.e. d.i.y with Marc saying Banksy is capitist. Katy doesn’t see addressing social issues and making a living as being exclusive.

Will: If Banksy making the news helps highlight a cause that is enough and is helping.

Audience now join in.

Audience: thinks his work is giving back to the community and showing we can take it further.

Richard: If he was Batman he’d have a charitable Wayne foundation surely?

Marc: Part outlaw, part capitalist

Richard: During the mobile lovers episode he thinks it was clear that Banksy only got involved as he was forced into it and that the piece wasn’t meant to be removed or sold.

Marc: Dismaland has lots of local people involved which shows social responsibility.

Richard: During the Banksy vs Museum exhibition Oxfam and the city benefited. Also the sale of advertisement opening tools for ads hells shows his view on advertising and his radical/left stance. However at the end of the show, all the works were sold.

Katy: Perhaps Banksy could be more helpful.

Audience: everyone has responsibility, especially with some power, influence and money. Being negative towards Banksy is a defence mechanism [claps from audience].

Audience: missing the point. Feels that Banksy is about making you think for yourself.

Audience: His work raises awareness when it disturbs us and his work is disturbing.

Audience (Chris Chalkley): we all need to be thinking of the arts as a movement to help. The techniques Banksy uses re purposefully the same as corporations. We should all be thinking about how to tackle keeping ownership of the visual spaces in the city. So much is now being hidden behind advertisement hoardings e.g. Bear at the end of the M32. We should heed the message from the Banksy piece laugh now but one day we’ll be in charge.

Audience: Banksy really appeals to everybody. The converted in the room but also the new people to his work.

Richard: The positioning of pieces at Bus height shows he is thinking of the average person not just car drivers. The Mild mild West piece in Stokes Croft was in response to the police breaking up a party.
Marc: Saw Dismaland as a return to form with the messaging, appeal and humour, even though the media missed the point. He thinks the GCHQ piece would really have annoyed him as it caused a headache for the family living in the house and this wouldn’t be be what he wanted.

Richard: the press didn’t like the dismal dismaland people

Will: His presence is important to the city.

Audience: He is a national treasure.

Audience: There is a battle for public spaces.

Chris: We should be fighting this attack on the visual public spaces – he turned down a lot of money when advertisers wanted to place ads around the bear pit in Bristol. Big corps should kindly go away

Katy: Sees Banksy as one of us.