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Writing a blog at a typewriter.

I started writing here in 2015, and there are now over 100,000 words on these pages, as well as various videos, slide decks, mixtapes, diagrams and other ideas.

The main themes I write about include careers, entrepreneurship, the future of education, and the media & entertainment industry.

I’m particularly interested in the overlaps between these areas, and other themes and trends that are starting to connect and collide with them.

Listed below are a few of my most popular posts.

I really value getting feedback, comments and questions on my writing – please don’t be shy to leave a comment or contact me directly here.

Careers & The Future of Work

Coaching

Innovation

Media & Entertainment

Workshops/Teaching

Resources

Workshop Slide Deck (guided): Lifecycles in products, companies, and careers

Introduction

This is a workshop session I designed and facilitated in Summer 2018 (annotated and abbreviated version, with some classroom exercises and notes included for other educators to reference).

Here’s the Slideshare version, although this annotated one is far better of course 😉


I created this 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 40 mins in duration, and can easily run up to 2 hours if you want to dive deeper into certain parts of the content.

Lifecycles

This session is all about lifecycles – mainly in building products, services, and businesses, but also in careers and life.

Let’s jump straight in.

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On the guestlist: Making season 1 of the Tickets podcast

A few weeks ago I received an email from someone telling me they’d just finished the whole season of the Tickets podcast.

There’s a mix of gratitude, pride, and slight trepidation in knowing someone has invested their time into something you’ve designed and created.

In this case, it involved 10+ hours of their time and a closeness and intimacy to the work that the direct voice of podcasting is rare in providing.

Having done a lot of live events and consulting work of late it also reminded me of the value of creating something that is able to live forever. It’s out there, anyone can access it, and it’ll stay out there, available, until I decide I no longer want that to be the case.

That’s empowering, and a little scary too.

This post is a summary of the 16 episodes of the podcast series I started in New York in the long Winter of 2017/18.

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Tickets Podcast: SXSW’s Todd Hansen on live event programming and spotting talent & trends

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

In the Spring of 1987, a group of music fans and journalists organized a small live event in Austin, Texas. They were pleasantly surprised by its success – around 700 people showed up.

That first edition of South by SouthWest has become a 10 day conference and festival with over 28,000 attendees heading to Austin each March.

It’s now one of the most recognised and respected live events on the planet, and its core tracks of music, film, technology and education inform as well as reflect what’s happening in modern culture.

Today on Tickets I’m joined by Todd Hansen, SXSW’s head of conference programming.

In this conversation, Todd shares insights into the programming team’s process, what makes for a compelling keynote, and how to handle one of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs showing up at 1 day’s notice. We also reminisce about a surprise gig from a member of purple royalty straight out of Todd’s hometown of Minneapolis.

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My Podcast Gear: recording, editing, and publishing

a podcast studio mic

I’ve learned a lot from creating a podcast series: from asking good questions and improving my spoken delivery; to sales, marketing, and audio engineering.

As much as podcasts are a hot trend right now and plenty of people are jumping on podcasting in part because of that, I do genuinely believe there are many skills that can be built by getting involved in podcasting. So much so, I’d like to see every school include podcasts on the curriculum.

One of my earlier learning curves in starting my podcast was figuring out what equipment I needed, especially as I was working on tight a budget (this was a side project after all, and I’m a lean startup kinda guy...)

After a couple of early recordings using just my laptop’s mic (surprisingly passable, but only just), I invested in a more robust setup which I still use today.

My main point of reference for deciding on my podcast gear ended up being this Kit list from Tim Ferriss. I didn’t buy the whole lot from this selection but it definitely helped me figure out how high-end I needed to go to get the results I wanted.

After being asked a few times of late what I use and how I got set up, here’s a quick post covering my podcast gear, as well as some background on how I edit and publish.

I’ll put together a follow-up on distribution and marketing too.

And if you’ve got any questions on any of this feel free to drop me a line!

Here we go…

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Why Penn & Teller ignored the audience

One of Penn Jillette’s least favourite terms in show business is ’this works’.

It’s easy to let the audience (whether fans, critics, or business people) decide what works, and effectively write your act. This can be counter to the work of a creator.

When Bruce Springsteen wrote Born to Run some people said he was writing songs about girls in cars. Then, once in a while, he’d write some songs about girls in cars.

Was that what he was really doing as an artist, or was he listening to what the audience said they thought he was doing?

Penn believes bad reviews don’t hurt you that much, but good reviews really can. 

In good reviews, people are more likely to speculate on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It’s easy to agree with them, and you can soon find yourself doing just that.

If they’re wrong about why, that’s rarely good for you in the long run.

So Penn & Teller decide not to read their reviews.

Of course, nowadays is a little different to when Born to Run was released.

We create a lot of things in full view, with other people. Comments are open, feedback is everywhere. 

The challenge now is how to let other people inform the work in the right way, rather than the way that hurts you.


Penn Jillette on The Moment with Brian Koppelman

Bonus: Penn & Teller, live, and upside down…


Navigating Uncertainty: Climbing the Ladder, Going out to Sea

When we are learning something new there are usually some guardrails in place.

We’re learning how to DJ in the safety of our bedroom, not headlining Barclays Center.

We’re committing our code into a test environment, not straight into the App Store.

Our Spanish conversation practice is with a peer in the local coffee shop, not a televised interview with Alfonso Cuaron.

Sure, things can go wrong, but we can fall back onto the patterns and techniques we already know, refer to the guidebook, or ask our teacher.

It’s the Ladder of Certainty.

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Location Arbitrage

Go back 15 years or so and this was only a serious day to day consideration if you were an international trader looking to take advantage of fluctuations in currencies and demand for particular goods.

For the rest of us, it may have come up as something to think about when going on holiday (cheap sneakers! cheap beer! My UK Sterling is worth 1.5 dollars! ah…the good old days…)

Now, millions of us are thinking about it.

And you’ve guessed it, the internet has changed everything: the range of new careers it’s created, the careers it’s changed, and the rapid enablement of true remote work.

One of the reasons to be based in London or New York or Tokyo was because you could earn more there than other places.

If you’re working in a traditional company setup this is generally still the case. Being located in the major metropolises still adds a premium on your salary that generally outstrips the increased living costs.

It’s also true if you’re a freelancer where it’s important to be able to deliver your work in-person, in real time.

You take advantage of being in that location.

But what if it makes no difference where you are located to deliver the work?

For a growing number of people, the upsides of living in an expensive major city are reducing.

They can choose to take advantage of location arbitrage.

If you choose to be a solopreneur, do you need to be in New York or Singapore?

Probably not. You may choose to be there for myriad other reasons (and don’t get me wrong, there are a lot), but unlike before you now don’t have to be.

As this shift gathers pace, a lot of people in major cities are going to start thinking more about location arbitrage.

It could be splitting their time between the city and another place 60-120 mins away (I’m pretty bullish on the growth of this for co-works and other real estate and community-led projects), taking 3-6 month sabbaticals (an evolution of Tim Ferriss’ ‘Mini Retirement’ concept perhaps), or just splitting town completely.

Doing work that is location agnostic suddenly bring a whole bunch of 2nd and 3rd order effects into play.

Here’s one to start: Marc Andreessen recommended getting to the center of an industry as quickly as possible. This still stands to reason – but what if there is no one clear center? What happens then?

Being in a major city may actually feel like a disadvantage.

Bottom Line: It’s worth keeping an eye on location arbitrage, and even more so on its knock-on effects. That’s often where the most exciting stuff starts to happen.

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.

Continue reading “Coaching: 15 things that make your heart sing”

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.