The one presentation slide to keep you on the edge of your seat

This morning I popped over to the John L. Tishman Auditorium at The New School on New York’s 5th Avenue.

It was another edition of the immensely popular Creative Mornings lecture series, and this month’s guest speaker was the founder of Charity:Water, Scott Harrison.

First was a slice of delicious irony – the seating in the design school’s auditorium has been designed so that no one in excess of 6’2” can fit in the seats. I had to find a spot at the end of a row and crumple my extensive lower limbs at a 45-degree angle into the aisle (it has been noted I have exceptionally long femurs). I was undoubtedly a picture of style and poise, bringing back fond memories of an early morning Ryanair flight from Croatia following a festival with no sleep.

After I took a deep breath to vanquish that hideous experience and also accept the prospect of an imminent visit to the local physio, it was time for the main event.

There were a bunch of interesting takeaways (I’ll be collating these into another post), but here’s one that particularly grabbed me.

It came into play just after the bittersweet crash from Harrison’s hedonistic lifestyle as a New York nightclub promoter.

It was nothing

Pitch black.

The blank slide.

There was no need to use images to make the segue; to take us from the nadir to the redemption.

The black screen did its work as the storyteller carefully took us to where we needed to go next.

Our focus sharpened on the words, on the person, and on the nothing. It was the time to take stock, take a breath, hold it – until it was the moment for the visual story to begin unfolding again.

This masterful storyteller’s time on stage featured plenty of vivid imagery, design, colour, passion, and tales of failure, success and reaching above and beyond.

But the real hook came in the nothingness.

Idea Fuel: The Creative Observer

Here’s a technique to help stimulate some fresh ideas.

In a group situation, try out just being a quiet observer. 

Actively listen to the conversation of the others in the group, but without trying too hard to intellectually process what’s being said.

Being a captive audience with indirect stimulus you may find interesting things can happen: idea fuel, and the connecting of disparate concepts, wide-ranging perspectives, all mixing and blending with what you may have already had in mind. 

Just make sure you ask nicely first – and bring a pen and paper.

The Kitchen

There’s a new kitchen opening up in town.

Some ingredients are grown in-house – simple but juicy tomatoes, colourful bell peppers and a handful of flavourful herbs.

Other items like organic eggs, crunchy kale, and succulent shallots need bringing in from experts. The kitchen has built a small but trusted network of local cultivators to help source these.

Then there are the more exotic ingredients – tantalising, exciting, diverse. They’re coming soon. For now the kitchen focuses on the items it knows best, because it holds a secret.

The magic of this kitchen is its ability can make a few staple ingredients come to life in new ways. 

And besides, this place ain’t like any old kitchen. 

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Battle Scars

Every battle is different, as is each person’s experience of it.

Every battle leaves its scars.

Sometimes the scars are visible, other times they’re not.

The battle may be oppression, or harassment, or abuse.

A battle of love, or loss.

It may be about moving up or moving on.

It could be the battle of starting something new, or going out alone.

Or pushing through, of bottoming out and feeling that searing burn of coming back up for air.

Every battle leaves its scars.

The experience of the battles and the scars we wear say something about what we’ve been through, what we’ve done, what we’ve seen.

Sometimes we hide the scars, no matter if they’re visible to the naked eye.

Sometimes we wear them as a badge of honor. As a way of proving it, or just to say in quiet solidarity – ‘yes, me too’.

Once we have the scars, going out into battle for the second, third or fourth time out feels like it should be easier.

We’ve seen it, we know it, we’ve smelt it, we’ve tasted it. We know how it’ll play out and what we need to do.

But often it’s not easier. Not at all.

The scars can harden us, instill fear, make us shy away.

Even when they’ve healed, what we experienced in those past battles can take us to a place that may have once helped us, but now holds us back.

The battles matter. 

The scars matter. 

But it’s important we acknowledge we may need more than to just let them heal.

We may need something more.

A new view, a new way, a new place, a new friend.

Different battles, different scars, same reasons.

Coaching: Preparing for job interviews

Job interviews can be nerve-wracking at the best of times.

There’s pressure, uncertainty, intensity; it’s a set-piece with a design out of our control.

We often don’t know what to expect from the interview itself. When combined with our pre-conceptions of the company, role and the wider market, as well as how we may be currently feeling about our own situation and abilities, we can easily approach a job interview from a singular viewpoint that’s limited, inflexible, or negative. From this place, we’re far less likely to get any kind of positive outcome.

Coaching can be hugely effective to help us prepare for interviews. 

Here’s one approach.

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How to build your network in a new city, country or culture

12 ways to get going when you find yourself in some place new

Moving around the world to live and work is becoming easier than ever. 

There are numerous factors and trends enabling and fuelling this shift: low-cost airlines, remote work, broader education access, open borders (sometimes…), an increase in sabbaticals, portfolio careers.

Whether you’re going somewhere new for a couple of months, a year or two, or perhaps even the rest of your life, you’re probably going to want to connect with some fellow humans for one reason or another. 

To do that you’re probably going to want to build some relationships and build a network.

Doing this can feel daunting, overwhelming, or downright scary.

Here’s a brief guide to help you navigate the new place you find yourself in.

A couple of notes before we get going:

1. While there are of course now dozens of online platforms to identify and connect with new people across a dizzying array of locations, interest groups and demographics, this guide focuses mainly on ideas to help forge in-person relationships when you’re in a new place.

2. I could have got this up to 20+ ideas, but given my self-enforced ~2200 word limit, 12 is where we’ll stay for now. Part 2 is coming soon.

Without further ado, here we go…

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3 flavours of workshop

The word ‘workshop’ can mean different things to different people.

Not remembering this can result in us being misunderstood. We can end up unwittingly undermining our efforts.

The educator talks about a workshop as a hands-on learning experience. 

The strategist talks about a workshop as a chance to get to an insight.

The operator talks about a workshop as an opportunity for a group to find alignment.

They’re all correct. 

And you may have noticed that all 3 flavours of workshop often share the intentions of the others. Sometimes we may also wear the hats of all 3 of these roles. 

But one of the 3 flavours has to take the lead. We need to know what the workshop is really for. We can mix the other two flavours in too, but really they’re added bonuses – a little bit of extra delight.

It’s worth noting that when done well, each flavour of workshop is designed in a different way and demands a different set of facilitation skills.

If we try and cover all the bases, we’ll probably end up covering none of them. Instead the result can be a confection.

The important ingredients are knowing who the workshop is for, what it’s for, and how we’re going to to get there.

Here are a few of my new workshops – one main flavour, with a few sprinkles as a bonus.

Introducing Coffee Notes: A template for better meetings

A big part of my discovery mission living in a new city was meeting people for coffee. A lot of people, and a lot of coffee.

I quickly realized two things:

  • Several topics and questions came up repeatedly
  • Preparing well led to better outcomes

I started using a simple template to help me prepare.

After a few iterations, I’m sharing it here in case it can help you with your coffee meetings.

It’s currently a Google Doc – nothing snazzy, but it should serve you well nonetheless. As always, I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions – just leave a comment below or send me an email.

Coffee Notes: A template for better meetings


Beyond the 1 hour meeting

The 1 hour slot has long been the default meeting duration – whether team gatherings, introductory coffees, or job interviews.

While the times are indeed a changing, the 1 hour slot is largely still the default setting.

Here’s another method to try when you’re meeting a fellow human being.

20, then 120.

First, 20 minutes – either on a call or in-person. 

Tight and polite, but with enough space for some colour to shine through.

In that time you’ll know if there’s a vibe, a connection, an alignment.

In fact you’ll probably know in way less time than that (come on, tell me you haven’t been on a date where you knew within 30, 10 or even 5 seconds…or I am just vacuous?) [1]

If that interaction feels good, next time forget the 1 hour slot and step it right up to 120. 

2 whole hours blocked off.

I’ve heard people call this “Valuable Slowness”.

It’s time to get to know one other property, beyond the allotted hour.

Time to go on tangents, find otherwise hidden areas of mutual interests.

Get into values, vulnerabilities, needs, wants, what really make each other tick.

The 1-hour slot still works well in many contexts, but in our always-on networked world, it’s worth investing in some valuable slowness.

[1] Pro tip: Within the first few minutes of meeting my wife for the first time I referred to her industry as vacuous (well before finding out what industry she worked in). Possibly a world record for scoring an own goal.

7 Lessons from Jim Collins on The Tim Ferriss Show

“I’m not really a business author; I just happen to have used companies as the method to study human systems because there’s great data.” 

Jim Collins

Jim Collins is an author, teacher and consultant focused on business management and what makes for successful, sustainable company growth.

With over 40 years experience and a number of best selling books, it’s probably not surprising his appearance on Tim Ferriss’ podcast clocks in at well over two hours.

I’d recommend diving into the full episode as there’s lots of good stuff in there, but for an express view here are some of the insights from this episode that I found especially interesting.

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