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.

Accepting mistakes

During a recent interview I asked the hopeful job seekers across the table from me “Can you tell me about a time you’ve failed?”

The reason that I asked wasn’t to make them squirm, although they did, but to better understand how the individual views making mistakes along the road to success. 37signals say that failure is overrated and I’m inclined to agree in principle. All the cool kids say “fail fast” which is fine when nowt is at risk. I don’t want to fail giving our visitor a highly satisfying visit. I don’t want to fail to meet my income target (Over £1M) and lose staff as a result. BUT me and the rest of the team WILL make a ton of small mistakes. Making mistakes is not the same as failing. We need to have a goal in sight and get there, but I’m sure that by accepting and adapting after a mistake WILL make getting to our goals a reality. Fear of making a mistake will lead to failure.

A few recent mistakes I’ve made:

  • Ordered 200 bespoke mugs too quickly and now I have 162 still unsold
    Assumed Shopify saying it works offline without testing in detail which means the till drawer won’t open if we lose connection…
  • I didn’t include staffing recharges in my monthly budget forecast

How would you have answered?

Think of an interview as a boxing match

Over the past 2 years I’ve done a fair share of interviewing which has taught me a few things. When I get asked how best to approach an interview I always say “An interview is like a boxing match”.

In a typical hire/recruitment we have the application process (round 1), a task or presentation (round 2) and finally a series of questions (rounds 3-12). All scored by 2-3 people on a panel. A boxer typically wins by scoring more than their opponent rather than knockout. Yet in many of the interviews i’ve worked on, the interviewee throws caution to the wind and goes searching for the knockout by offering a single answer. I’m telling you for free that you’ll almost always be swinging a miss.

Which leads me nicely on to “You score points for landing” as boxers don’t get points for throwing punches. They score for landing blows both small and big. An interview question will likely require multiple responses, each of which helps you climb higher on the score sheet PER question. If you don’t think you’ve worked hard enough with your answer? you probably haven’t.

Like a boxing match you should be thinking of the goal and work steadily until the bell chimes.

Professional boxing scoring according to wikipedia