Natural or Rounded?

My local barbershop is the legendary Astor Hair in Downtown Manhattan.

As I’ve mentioned before, in New York your barbershop feels like a boxing gym, your boxing gym feels like a nightclub and your nightclub feels like a barbershop.

Astor Hair looks and feels like a old school boxing gym, with the non-nonsense attitude to match.

Unless you’re a known face you don’t get to choose your barber. 

You don’t get to choose from a rate card – every haircut is about $20, plus a tip. 

You don’t get to choose any of the haircare products they may put in your hair.

One choice you can make, perhaps a little ironically, is how the back of your hair is styled. 

There’s a choice of natural or rounded. 

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How to start a podcast: a plan for success

This is the second episode in a serious of unplanned, non-sequential guides to podcasting. The first guide is here >

This episode is all about planning (yes, the irony is not lost on me).

Before we get into the good stuff, let’s talk a little about planning.

Some things in life are best left unplanned.

What to watch tonight on Netflix, which sandwich to buy for lunch, your anniversary gift to your spouse.

However, your fledgling podcast series shouldn’t be one of these things.

This feels like a good time to cite the alliterative wisdom of my pal Rik Lomas. Rik runs the coding school SuperHi, and as a developer, entrepreneur, and teacher he knows a fair bit about the value of planning.

As Rik says in his very good little guide to Ruby on Rails:

“Proper planning prevents piss-poor performance”


Note: Rik is from Manchester (the UK one). For emphasis, this quote is best read aloud in your finest Mancunian accent (channel Liam Gallagher if unsure).

Having said this, it’s also worth taking inspiration from the world of agile product management, and specifically my scrum master training. If there was anything to remember, it was this:

Instructor: “What do plans do?

All of us (gaily like an eager, well-honed choir): “Change!

Yep, they really do. Just look at the UK Government since June 2016. My lunchtime sandwich decision making is more precise and well thought through.

Anyway, just like the considerations of leaving the world’s largest trading bloc, your big idealistic taking back control podcast concept will probably change, but without any planning at all you’ll likely end up with a load of unusable, unintelligible ramblings. And we don’t want that.

(Ok, that’s the end of the thinly veiled politicising, I promise.)

So with these two advisory nuggets in mind, let’s crack on with some podcast planning.

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Coaching: Spinning our Wheels

Here’s a question I hear from time to time.

What is coaching for?

It’s a simple question, but not necessarily easy to answer.

We may think about leadership, success, being in the top 1% of performers.

Often it’s less about the big visible breakthroughs and more about realigning a small link in the chain that’s grinding against the rotating cogs.

One of the times where we misalignment happens is when we get stuck on one idea. 

We spin our wheels toothlessly. The cogs turn but without their teeth properly put in place nothing of any great note happens.

Or maybe we spin them with the chain just a little out of sync. It makes that nagging metallic clicking sound. 

Click. Clunk. Click. 

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Study Skills: The Reading Mesh

At the edges of Manhattan’s East Village are a cluster of student residence halls for New York University, more commonly known as NYU.

Drop into any coffee shop within a few blocks of these and you’ll be sure to see a scattering of students hunched over laptops and working through textbooks.

Their eyes focus, strain, and burn as they squint at the text on the page –  whether a sheet of well-worn paper or a backlit PDF imprint.

Here’s the thing.

It’s nearly always text.

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Insider, Outsider

Usually we want to be insiders. The inside scoop, the inside knowledge, being in the loop.

Being outside doesn’t sound so appealing. Being left out in the cold, an outsider looking in. Maybe even frozen out.

I’m an immigrant, trying to find my way in a new country and culture. I have a weird sense of humour, and quite a few other quirks. I don’t have a linear career path or an MBA. I regularly get ignored or straight-up rejected.

It often feels like a battle.

I often feel like an outsider. Sometimes I probably am.

But I’m an insider.

I’m a straight white male. Middle class. Two parents, still married. One brother, a close friend. I’m married to a loving wife. I’m a native speaker of a common language. I’m (usually) able to pay the rent.

I’m an insider. I have privilege.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognise, hard to spot, hard to see from a broader view.

An unexpected benefit from undertaking a coaching certification has been stepping outside. Turning it inside out.

The insiders like me are in the minority. I get to spend time with the outsiders, the new insiders. I hear their stories of being on the outside, their values, their needs and their viewpoints.

I sit inside, being an outsider, recognising my insider status, and am invited in as an outsider.

There are insiders and outsiders everywhere. In every group, every classroom, every train carriage, every stadium, every city, country, and society.

Sometimes we’ll be on the inside. Other times out. Some of us will certainly feel we’re on the outside more than we’re in.

Even (and especially) if we’re privileged enough to spend most of our time on the inside, stepping outside can be one of the most valuable things we can do.

We can choose how we do it. 

If we step out intentionally and mindfully, we may well be invited inside as a welcome guest.

Thanks to Josh Upton for inspiring this post.

Learning / Unlearning: Everyday Carry, Backpacks and Left Luggage

For an adult, much of education is often perceived as building out our toolbox.

And while our toolbox’s capacity can expand, it can’t do so infinitely (at least not until we get Matrix-style implants – and even then there’s probably some swapping in and out required)

On this adventure we call life we’re all carrying a bunch of stuff with us. 

And not just the toolbox.

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LA Story: Get to The Hour

Touch down in Los Angeles for the first time in a while and you’ll be struck by the casual vibe. Hoodies; flip flops; black sweatpants with ridiculously low crotches and sky high prices.

You’ll also soon be reminded that everyone’s here to find something. In NYC there are the hyphenates and the portfolio careerists, in LA perhaps it’s more that today’s gig is merely the placeholder until the big move comes into play. (Yes, I generalise)

Another aspect of California that hits the hardened East Coast resident is the friendly vibe.

People say hi on the street! They even smile at me!

The ultimate flexible LA gig is perhaps the rideshare driver. It’s portable, allows for clocking in and out at any time, and offers the potential to spend time with all sorts of people.

And in keeping with the friendly vibe, in LA your rideshare driver will be very happy to chat away. Sometimes they’ll chat so much you may feel like a backseat therapist. Other times you’ll feel touched, irritated, inspired, wistful, or perhaps just be grateful to be present for a small insight into the life of others.

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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.