So…five years at Bristol City Council

1st July 2018 is a significant personal milestone for me as I turn five as an employee of Bristol City Council’s Culture team. Most importantly I’m happy. I absolutely love what I do and where I work. As a Bristolian, I feel immensely proud of helping the Council run such a great cultural service.

If you’ve ever heard me give a talk there is a good chance you have heard my tongue in cheek remark that “I originally came on a 18 month fixed term contract and by the time they work out how to get rid of me I’d be out the door anyway”.

In reality I set about using that first 12 months to show that digital was a key ingredient to the museum’s current and future success. I got to build a digital team from the ground up and since those early days my role has grown from one team to ten as well as shedding two job titles through promotion.

“We” have delivered lots of pieces of work in the past five years. I say “we” as no project is shipped without the effort from some of the most talented people I’ve had the delight to work with. We do so much that it is literally impossible to keep track 100% of what is delivered even though I try my best. Across the team’s there is at least 1-2 people working 7am to 2am most days of the week which is mind-blowing.

We are a team of teams and these five years have taught me a great deal about other people’s passions within the Culture team. I really love that both digital and transformation get to weave around all the corners of the Culture service so I get a glimpse behind the curtain of a much bigger picture.

I have met hundreds if not thousands of people across the globe who care deeply about using Culture as a force of good in the world. I have spoken at dozens of events and had the privilege of learning from lots of people who care enough to share time with me and the sector.

Do. Try. Deliver. Learn. Repeat.

I just wanted to pause to take the time to say thank you to anyone I’ve come into contact with, worked with, agreed with or “respectively disagreed” with. Transformation is a process not a project. Looking ahead, I continue to work on growing as a leader and helping the greatest city on Earth to deliver the best cultural offer. Getting better means regularly asking my colleagues what can I do more of, less of or what is good enough that should be kept as it is. Seth Godin says be “defenseless” in order to grow …also helps to keep the old ego in check.

I remember reading a guidance document that said a museum professional is somebody with “five” years or more experience. Totally incorrect way to foster good relations eh. I guess my tenture means I need to drop my joke that I’m a professional unprofessional…. and go make a ruckus.

Embrace constraints

There is always more work than the time you’ll ever be able to commit to making that perfect outcome/project/painting. Thus you find all the reasons you can’t ship/finish your workload. ‘I don’t have enough time’ is a common cry in the workplace. But instead of procrastinating use constraints to your advantage.

Pssst “constraints are essential for being somebody who wants to ship their project”.

If you know the edges, limitations of resource and/or time [constraints] you can ensure your project doesn’t become a never-ending saga. Too many projects seek perfection. Nothing good comes from chasing perfect. I used to push lines of code around trying to “improve” the code base and make it “perfect”. Or that’s what I was kidding myself thinking. I was wasting time. I didn’t know about constraints. You should be embracing the constraints as these prevent you from chasing perfect and will help you ship. If you needed 100 days for that perfect project execution but only have 20? great that will focus the mind and deliver “good enough”.

We all wish we had more time but the people who ship work have accepted that their work will never be perfect enough no matter how long they are given. So they ship. They get known for delivering and they ship some more. Embrace the constraints.

Its hard to Zag when you already Zig

Once I learn a particular way of doing something it’s hard to see any other path. The other evening for example I was messing around with Shopify and found a handy feature that was right before my very own eyes. Until today if I wanted to know how well a product has sold I exported the month or year to date (YTD) sales and then searched. However Shopify has a handy “Orders” feature that lets you search sales history. Bingo a super quick way to get the same result in a fraction of the time. I has previously written that feature off. I find it difficult to override this urge to follow the path well known. I know this applies to most tasks including driving routes. I’m trying to force myself to ask “is there another way?”.

My first website domain

I purchased my first website domain tribehut.com in a basement in Wolverhampton in 2002. A family friend, Tony, let me use his card.

The computer screen was glowing in the dark space which had a shoebox sized window with natural light. It felt like magic. Little ole me joining the online space.

I went on to design, build and consult on over 100 web projects with that website domain. Today it sits gathering dust. I fire it up every now and again to remind myself of previous goals met, mistakes I made and to remind me that there is plenty more to be done.

That small action and guidance from Tony was a huge step towards who I am today. Open bracket, HTML, close bracket.

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. 

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.

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.

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!

Gone on holiday Sept 2016

Hey folks,

My two week holiday starts now. I’ll be zipping around the South West for a few days then in New York City for some of my holiday. I last went to NYC in 2000 as an 18 year old. It really will be a special family trip and I can’t wait to check out the museum scene, tourist hot spots and hopefully cycleways with my wife and kid. If you live in NYC and want to meet up just tweet me or drop me an email and i’ll do my best to see you.

Those of you who know me well will know I have a fear of flying and days before my trip it is throwing me for a loop. However I am determined to board that plane, ride it out and have a fantastic time!

 

 

Reading list 2016

Below are a list of books I’ve read in 2016. For the first time ever I have a commute so it will be interesting to know if I get much more reading done as i’m mostly on a looong bus ride. You can see my 2015 Reading list or 2014 reading list2013 reading list and 2012 reading list.

  1. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! finished 4th Jan paperback. A very enjoyable collection of stories and worth a read.
  2. Ecommerce Bootcamp by Kurt Elster and Paul Reda finished 6th Jan ebook. A book about getting started with the Shopify retail platform. A few gems in here but not much for me.
  3. Fatale Books 1-5 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, finished 17 Jan graphic novel. A series about “Jo” who can’t help but  hypnotise men who are all after her and therein lies many deaths and heartbreak.
  4. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott finished 3 Feb paperback. A great read for non-writers/writers
  5. Poke the Box by Seth Godin finished 7 Feb hardback. This is a re-read for me. A short rant on starting and finishing.
  6. War with the Newts by Karel Čapek finished 2 Mar paperback. This book came recommended by a secondhand book seller and it was very well written. This could really happen…
  7. A Room of One’s Own by Virgina woolf finished 28 March paperback. A very different style of writing (or maybe the small typesetting made me read it differently) that kept me gripped. I will now be seeking out more of her work.
  8. When you Dead, You Dead by Guy Martin. A brief insight into the  year of Guy’s life as a truck fitter, TV presenter doing crazy challenges and a motorcycle racer.
  9. What to do when it’s your turn: and it’s always your turn by Seth Godin. Finished april 2016
  10. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. May 2016 hardback in New Zealand
  11. The E Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber paperback isbn 0887307280. Finished 27 May 2016. A great read about how to think of a business as a “system” using an example of a pie shop and McDonalds
  12. the dip: The extraordinary benefits of knowing when to quit (and when to stick) by Seth Godin. Paperback  ISBN 9780749928308. Finished 1 June 2016. A short book about quitting.
  13. Meatspace by Nikesh Shukla. ISBN 978-000756506-1 finished 19 June 2016. A funny story about life with the internets and family.
  14. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Finished 4th August paperback.
  15. Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want – by Nicholas Epley. Finished Oct 2016 paperback ISBN 9781846144332.
  16. The inevitable by Kevin Kelly. Hardback. ISBN 9780525428084. Finished 23rd December. Kevin looks at how technology will evolve over the next 30 years. As with all tech, nothing comes out of the blue so this is a nice introduction on the core services and tools that are quietly building now.