It’s hard to tell other people’s stories

You’ve probably heard that person at the bar, telling a story that isn’t theirs.

It’s still funny, or touching, or tense, but something doesn’t quite sit right. You can sense it.

Telling other peoples’ stories isn’t easy.

On the face of it this doesn’t seem especially important.

But stories are everywhere – not just anecdotes we share with friends over a beer.

Careers are stories. Confidence is a story. Even a curriculum is a story [1].

If you’re teaching something it can be hard to teach a curriculum that isn’t yours.

Sometimes you can add little embellishments or flourishes of your own but it isn’t easy to do this convincingly on the fly. Push it just a notch too far and the entire story can unravel surprisingly quickly. 

Tell that other person’s story without something of your own and the audience will know something’s not right. It’s hollow. You’ll lose them.

It’s a fine balance.

Actors tell other people’s stories all of course.

One of the ways they get good at doing it is to observe and absorb the story first. 

Read the book, learn about the author, watch the play, meet the characters in real life, try out the alternative adaptation. 

This needs a lot more time, energy and application than just telling someone else’s story.

But if you believe in the story, it’s worth it.

[1] Marc Lewis at School of Communication Arts takes this to the next level – his entire 1 year curriculum is a story he designs from scratch. Find out more on the Tickets podcast.

Coaching: 15 things that make your heart sing

One of the key components of my coaching certification program is to undertake peer coaching with other members of the cohort.

There’s a minimum requirement of peer coaching hours over the program, but most of us have gone above and beyond this already as it’s been very valuable time – both as a coach and a client (we usually do 30 mins each, swapping at the midpoint).

I’ve been doing a couple of peer sessions a week and that focused practice along with absorbing how my partner approaches sessions has definitely improved my practice.

For yesterday’s session as a client I presented an agenda of blocks around my creative work.

After we’d gone into a deeper agenda and talked through some related challenges, my coach invited me to try a couple of exercises to help re-align with that creative space.

One of them was simply to list 15 things that make my heart sing. 

At the time of the session I was finding it hard to even list one. We agreed to check back in two days later so I had some space with it.

Getting back into it today it came to me far more easily (in batches of 5, strangely).

Here’s what came out – plenty of music, a fair bit of food, and some sun.

I feel more in the groove already.

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Hiring? Look out for the goalkeeper

This weekend, Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea made no less than 11 saves in the second half of his team’s game against Tottenham Hotspur.

De Gea’s incredible performance was the catalyst for two now-inevitable things to happen: a flurry of Internet memes, and reports of his agent demanding a new contract with doubled wages.

Last night I caught up with a friend. We hadn’t seen each other for a while, and he hadn’t seen the United game.

As we talked, he shared news of a new hire he’d made in his company.

This role was an internship: maybe not of note for those in larger corporations, but for the owner of a small business, any hire is a big deal and can greatly affect the chances of success (or failure) of the company.

I wondered how he decided this person was the one to bring in. He wasn’t short of applicants.

What sealed the deal wasn’t a school credential or experience at a rival company. It wasn’t the candidate’s ability to ‘hustle’

It was their position on the soccer field.

The new hire was a goalkeeper, just like my friend.

The goalkeeper has to play a different kind of game to the other 10 players on their team.

They may spend long periods of a match seemingly unoccupied but have to maintain a constant soft focus as they can suddenly be called into action in the blink of an eye.

Their decision making has to be swift and precise. They need assertiveness to claim the ball in a melee of players.

They are the last line of defence, and the best of them can also be the first line of attack – sensing opportunities and understanding how to unlock their teammates’ potential.

Their mistakes are hugely amplified. If a striker misses an open goal it doesn’t long stay in the memory; if a goalkeeper concedes a howler (especially one that costs the team the game), no one forgets it. And there’s nowhere to hide.

They rarely get the plaudits. David de Gea is recognised as one of the, if not the best, keepers in the world, but he’s still not in the same league as Ronaldo, Messi or Kane when it comes to fame and glory.

The goalkeeper needs to have resilience, decision-making abilities, quiet confidence, focus, an ability to play the long game and be comfortable sitting one step back from the limelight, allowing others to shine.

Not bad skills to have in your locker.


The trouble with saying No

A few years ago Derek Sivers wrote a popular post called Hell Yeah, or No.

I like this a lot.

It’s a simple and useful heuristic to use in many situations, particularly for entrepreneurs and independent workers who are overwhelmed, have taken on too much, or feel scattered.

But it can be misleading, especially in the latter situation. What if it’s a little more complicated than that?

What if you’re running on fumes?

Those flow states aren’t happening?

The short term financial pressure is real?

You’re flailing, fumbling, scrambling?

The Hell Yeah easily slips into Yes, I Guess. 

The gut No gets suppressed. It can even gradually turn against you.

I still believe Derek is largely correct, but it’s not always easy to be so clear cut when there are a few shades of grey involved.

Sometimes we may need to compromise and allow for a little bit of yes…I guess.

Tickets Podcast: Adobe’s Andrea Rosen on creativity and the future of work

Listen now:
Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Overcast | Spotify | Stitcher | Acast | Google Play

Over the last 10 years Adobe’s annual 99U conference has captured the imaginations of creative thinkers from around the world through its 2 day programme of talks, workshops and collaborations, featuring a who’s who of both industry leaders and rising talent.

And alongside the New York conference, 99U has now grown into a year-round online resource for building a creative career.

Today on Tickets I’m joined by Adobe’s Head of 99U Andrea Rosen.

In this conversation we talk about the future of work, how anybody can tap into their own creativity, and where to find some hidden opportunities for creative innovation.


Episode overview

02:30 The beginnings of 99U

08:00 The secret sauce in the conference production

11:00 What 99U’s audience are gravitating to in 2019

19:00 Creativity: lowercase and capital case thinking

29:00 Creatives taking a seat at the strategy table

34:00 Andrea’s favourite talks from 99U

42:00 Why now for ‘the creative future’ at 99U in 2019

Beyond The Happy Meal: products to transcend generations

Regular readers will know I’m a fan of the author and broadcaster Steven Johnson.

I also admit I’m rarely an early adopter (as frustrating as this can sometimes be), and in Johnson’s case I only discovered his work via his TV series How We Got To Now which was broadcast on BBC2 in the UK a couple of years ago.

As I tweeted from our sofa how much I loved the show, my (now) wife could only look on with bemusement when I gesticulated in wonder 10 seconds later. The show’s host had retweeted me to his 1.5m followers. It was magic, until I sheepishly realised the programme had of course been recorded months before. He was probably at home having a cup of tea.

Something else with a bit of magic is the kids’ version of the How We Got to Now book which launched a few months ago.

It got me thinking about other products, ideas and creations that either transcend age gaps or can be repurposed wonderfully for those much older or younger than the intended audience.

Here are a few of my favourites.


Arts & Raps

This series from Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital takes the TV interview format and flips it into today’s youth culture (hiphop stars, young hosts, and YouTube). 

I like the blend of education and entertainment – the show touches on some tough topics that are important for young people to understand, without feeling like a public service announcement. And watching rappers squirm as they try to explain their lyrics to the young hosts is entertaining for adults too.

This path has been trodden before through shows like Kids Say The Darndest Things (the hook is the “out of the mouths of babes” cliche)  – but as Derek Thompson suggests in his book Hit Makers, a key ingredient to making something popular is often about New Wine aged on Old Oak.


Kano

The London-based computer company ostensibly exist to support kids in becoming developers, but their products are used enthusiastically by people of all ages.

As the company say, billions of us use computers, but only 1% of 1% of us can take them apart and change them. Kano’s mission is to drastically increase that number.

Musicians are creating weird and wonderful new instruments, street artists are creating code-driven installations, and teachers are teaching other teachers how to code.

I interviewed Kano co-founder Alex Klein on the Tickets podcast – check it out:


Netflix’s Sex Education

Netflix snapped up this UK comedy-drama in late 2017, and the first season was made available at the beginning of this year. Its combination of dry British humour, US-style college campus setting and superbly curated cast have made it a sleeper hit. 

I assume the show is aimed at the same demographic as its stars (14-18), but whether you’re going through the tribulations of puberty, have just cleared some of those hurdles, or wince at the memory of your own school days in decades past, Sex Education hits the spot on the number of levels. And it’s binge-worthy: my wife and I watched the whole series over this past weekend.

But the extra element that really makes it really stand out for me is that the unpacking and understanding of difficult topics are woven into the plot in a way that offers a guiding, but still optional, torchlight, rather than feeling like sitting through 6 hours of traditional sex education.


Kids’ fashion styles

Have you ever noticed how stylish some young kids’ clothing lines are? 

Notwithstanding a few premium designer brands, why is it that beyond the age of 8 so much fashion (especially for men) defaults to black, white, grey or a little bit of navy?

I’m constantly astounded at the get-ups my wife and I have bought for our now 3 and a half-year-old nephew.

The search for something suitable in my size continues…


Pornhub’s sex education

From one style of sex education to another.

This one is more strongly aligned to edutainment than necessarily crossing generations, but given Pornhub’s traffic levels it’s fair to assume a few different age groups are using their service.

Note: This Quartz article that delved into Pornhub’s incredible data capabilities is well worth a read.

Partnering with Dr Laurie Betito, Pornhub’s Sexual Wellness Center is a knowledge base of responsible advice, Q&As and other content.

At the time of writing the site has been up for about 18 months. Given Pornhub’s undoubted financial resources it seems a bit of a half-hearted effort thus far, especially as there’s such a big opportunity for brands of all types to create valuable educational content.

Still, it’s a good idea – could Pornhub content even be on the school curriculum one day?

Inclusive Apparel

Sneakers are big business.

NBA star Steph Curry has released a number of signature shoes with sports brand Under Armour. The latest is the Curry 5.

They’ve been a big hit – until one young female fan discovered the shoes weren’t available for girls. She wrote to her hero telling him so.

A little embarrassing for Curry as he’s been outspoken about gender equality in sports, and has hosted a girls’ basketball camp in the past.

His response on Twitter helped clear things up:

There are a couple of things going on here.

First, it turns out sneakers for girls are no different in shape or production than the ones for boys, it’s just design/branding that shifts. This makes the Curry 5 omission even worse.

Second, this episode shines another light on big sports brands still having issues with inclusivity, particularly at a corporate level. Nike and Under Armour have both come under fire on this

This lack of inclusivity is a big missed opportunity for these companies.

It sets them back on attracting great talent, connecting with new audiences, developing a better internal culture, empowering the athlete in everyone (as Nike to like to say), and yes, selling more shoes.

It’ll be interesting to see what the apparel brands do next on this front.


Of course, alternate versions or fully cross-generational products have been around for decades – from the McDonalds Happy Meal to The Simpsons.

What’s so interesting now is the increased generational fluidity across products – and more broadly than just toys, fast food or entertainment.

These are just a few examples of what’s happening.

What else can be taken from adults to kids, or visa versa?


Trend Spotting: How to identify what’s coming next

A workshop session I designed and facilitated in Summer 2018 (annotated and abbreviated version, with some classroom exercises and notes included)

Yes, it’s that time again – I’m back with another of my annotated slide deck adventures.

This time we’re diving into Trends.

I created this short session as part of the growth & change management module of the AMP NYC accelerator program which ran here in New York City over the summer of 2018. Including the exercises it was about 45 mins in duration, and can easily run to 2-3 hours if you want to dive deeper into certain parts of the content.

At the time I ran this session there were a few blank faces in the room upon seeing this first slide up on the screen, and not just because it was another of my bad puns.

I realised this movie is now 24 years old; pretty close to the age of the younger attendees in our cohort.

It’s also, despite its international success, still very Scottish and even as a native British English speaker I still can’t decipher all the local Glaswegian parlance.

So that’s the last we’ll be seeing of Begbie, Renton and Sick Boy (for this session at least) – time to get into some Trend Spotting.

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Concealing the Clues: Lessons from TV & film writers

The British crime drama series Broadchurch is one of the most critically-acclaimed TV shows of the past 10 years.

First arriving on UK screens in 2013, its 3 seasons and 24 episodes focused on the fictional town of Broadchurch and two of its police detectives.

Broadchurch is a classic whodunnit story. 

While the overall arc of the story is compelling, it’s the gradual reveals, shifting sense of suspicion, and carefully placed clues, decoys and questions that really keep the viewer guessing.

Creator Chris Chibnall spent a lot of time white boarding all the routes and paths before putting pen to paper.

He didn’t even know the identity of the killer until a few episodes in, and decided to rewrite elements based on what was happening during the production.

This method is very powerful when done well: concealing the clues, diverting attention at particular times, and tapping into natural human instincts of wanting to solve problems and also holding biases.

It begs the question of where else we could apply the best of Broadchurch and other innovative and compelling storytelling styles [1].

Is it in education? Tiago Forte writes about this on Twitter:

I’m excited about applying these ideas in what I’m doing here, as regular readers will be aware.

But what about other art forms? Or in hospitality? Even retail?

The question is no longer whodunnit? but who will do it, and how

Bottom Line: Stories are powerful, and when combined with other elements that influence people there are all kinds of new and improved experiences that can be created

[1] This post doesn’t even touch on the likes of Bandersnatch or Steven Soderburgh’s Mosaic project. That’s for next time…

Tickets Podcast: Betaworks’ James Cooper on building products, brands, and communities


Listen now:
Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Overcast | Spotify | Stitcher | Acast | Google Play

Spend some time around the world of startups and it probably won’t be long until you hear someone mention the term startup studio.

It’s recently become a bit of a buzz term for consultancies, ad agencies and brands, but New York company Betaworks have been working in and around this area for over a decade.

As well as their work building and investing in companies, Betaworks have recently opened Studios, their own membership space in the city’s Meatpacking district.

James Cooper is the company’s head of creative, working across a diverse range of projects from GIF sharing platforms to spatial design, voice recognition to meditation.

We talked about how we can use technology to escape technology, what Betaworks look for when programming live events, the future of the shared experience, and the benefits to looking outside to find inspiration in an always-on digital world.

Episode Overview

04:00 Going from digital to physical products

07:00 Why now for building a brick & mortar space?

10:00 The thought process behind Studios’ live event programming

18:00 The role of a creative director in a startup studio

25:00 Inside Betaworks’ ‘Camp’ accelerator program

33:00 The future of the shared experience; from games, to meditation, live quizzes and beyond

37:00 Where James finds inspiration, and how he stays on track

40:00 Advice for people wanting to build something new

About James

James has been Head of Creative at start-up studio Betaworks since 2013. His role is to explore creative opportunities for betaworks products and tell the betaworks brand story. Some of the betaworks brands include the no.1 game, Dots, which has been downloaded over 150 million times and won many industry awards.

Other betaworks products include GIPHY, the search engine for Gifs recently valued at $600M, Poncho, the most popular bot on Facebook and recent star of Apple’s, ‘Planet of the App’s and Dexter, a bot building platform. James also produced ‘The Intern’, a hit podcast about working in betaworks and the tech world.

Recently James launched betaworks Studios, a club for builders. Studios is a physical space where the new generation of builders can find one another and learn the secrets of sustained innovation betaworks has uncovered over the last ten years.

Before betaworks, James was a creative director in the ad world where he has won many awards including two gold lions at Cannes. He was a Creative Partner at Anomaly and ran Dare – named Digital Agency of the Decade in London and sold for $50m in 2007.  

Knowing what’s more trouble than it’s worth

A friend was recently given a cheesemaking class as a gift. 

The class focused on how to make the soft Italian cheese burrata.

It was a thoughtful gift: he likes cooking, traditional crafts, and learning how things work. He also loves burrata.

The class was thorough, authentic, educational and fun.

But it didn’t really work out.

He realised making burrata was just more trouble than it was worth.

There’s a long setup, it’s messy, and easy to make mistakes. 

The option of paying $7, $10, $12, or even $15 for burrata from a shop or a restaurant was still far more appealing to him.

The class itself was worth it, but building the actual core skill to a useable level (and thus rendering the alternatives at least partially redundant) just wasn’t.

Whether gifts, hobbies, or ventures, we often put ourselves at a disadvantage by taking on things that are more trouble than they’re worth.

It’s worth taking a moment to ask what would really this thing worthwhile for us.

It could be the outcome, the effort, the experience, or even discovering it’s not in fact worth it.

This way, we can choose to step in fully, or just save ourselves the trouble.