Connecting different dots

I listened to a rather marvellous podcast last week. It featured Jerry Colonna, the founder of the coaching company Reboot, alongside legendary marketer, author and entrepreneur Seth Godin.

As I noted on Twitter, this conversation felt like listening to jazz after a long pop playlist.

It felt a little weird at first with an unusual time signature and rhythm – softly spoken, minor key not major.

After some time, you get into the groove and appreciate the subtle touches that most pop music doesn’t have because it’s been processed and compressed. This conversation was like a low-key neighbourhood jazz bar featuring the two resident players who just have this kind of music in their bones.

Anyway, amongst the various topics in the discussion, two came out at me, both of which were intertwined in the same part of the podcast.

Read More

How connected is your community?

I recently met someone running a daily newsletter focusing on news and trends in his industry.

It’s been going for a few months. He was understandably excited as he could see it starting to get some traction after a considerable time investment.

I asked him how he knew this. Was it sign ups, open rate, clicks, or something else?

He replied it was because people were opted in.

Here’s the thing – he wasn’t stating the obvious.

He didn’t mean what we normally think of as being opted in. Not just meeting GDPR requirements, or striving towards what Seth Godin refers to as ‘permission marketing’.

What he meant was going the next level beyond that.

Being opted in to the degree you’re invested.

Where you have a say in what’s delivered.

Where you’re a patron.

Being truly opted in.

People were replying to the newsletter unprompted to suggest improvements, new areas of the industry to explore, and making connections to other people he should speak with to get more feedback and ideas.

They were helping him craft the vision and roadmap of what he was doing.

It made his path clearer and his responsibility to his audience stronger. It made him more accountable.

You’ll see this trait in many strong communities and networks.

A good example is the successful Dutch newspaper De Correspondent.

After taking only 8 days to raise over 1 million euros in a crowdfunding campaign, last year they started a collaboration with NYU to better understand how communities and media companies can work more closely, with the public being at the heart of the publication’s work.

More broadly, the level of this deeper opt-in is a good heuristic for how powerful and connected a community is.

It could be a newsletter, a Slack group, or even a professional sports team.


What can you create where people are truly opted-in?

Tickets Podcast: What’s next in travel & tourism ticketing with Leith Stevens of Redeam

Think about the last trip you booked. You may have done it all from your mobile phone.

Flights – Kayak or SkyScanner.

Hotels? Expedia, Tablet, or maybe Hotel Tonight

Transfers – well, Uber and Lift make it easy

But what about a tour, an exhibition or an attraction at your destination? Even if the booking is online you may still need a paper ticket to gain entry. It’s a headache for both consumers & businesses alike.

> Apple Podcasts

> Stitcher

> Google Play

> Our podcast landing page


On the guest list today is Leith Stevens of Redeem, a Colorado based startup building digital ticket solutions for experiences around the globe.

In this conversation Leith gives us an insight into the inner workings of the tourism industry, the most interesting shifts in the ticketing business, and valuable advice for startups in all industries looking to go and build the right thing.


Episode Overview

04:00 How technology has impacted travel & tourism – from flights to hotels and tours

13:00 Lessons learned from startup 1 to startup 2

16:30 Disney’s Magic Band and the growth of multi-day passes for attractions

21:00 The fragmented tours & attractions market in 2018

23:30 A branding & digital marketing challenge

25:30 Starting Redeam – failed experiments and successful anchors

31:30 Trends in the ticketing business

35:30 Growth in the timeslot model

39:20 Resellers, distributors and secondary markets

41:30 Taking a trip to the Mexican cenotes


Tickets Podcast: The evolution of spaces to places with Bart Higgins, Partner at WhatIf Innovation

As the retail apocalypse looms large, the hospitality and entertainment industries are sitting up to take note, and the world of commercial office real estate is coming under threat like never before. The big question is what happens next.

On the guest list today is Bart Higgins, a partner at the international innovation consultancy WhatIf.

> Apple Podcasts

> Stitcher

> Google Play

> Our podcast landing page

Bart runs the firm’s 4D Experience practice, helping companies across retail, workspace, hospitality and entertainment identify new business models, create better experiences and build their internal capabilities.


In this conversation Bart shares his insights into what other industries can learn from retail’s struggles, the future of the company town, and how real estate owners can reimagine the experiences they provide.

Episode overview
05:00 Lucky breaks and designing a workplace for Wired Magazine
13:00 Reimagining retail store design – people, place and technology
19:00 Lessons from Little Waitrose and Whole Foods
27:00 The new commercial opportunity in the world of work
30:00 The office apocalypse, the 3 models of real estate ownership, and 3 big shifts
37:00 The future of the company town
42:00 Advice for real estate developers
45:00 The emergence of an important new hybrid role
47:30 Managing tension between old and new working styles
52:00 Thinking human
55:00 Iron Maiden and supermarket shocks


Tickets Podcast: Fusing music and technology with Sonar Festival’s Ventura Barba


> Apple Podcasts

> Stitcher

> Google Play

> Our podcast landing page

Make a list of the most respected international festivals and Sonar is bound to feature.

Starting in 1994 as a 3,000 capacity event in Barcelona, Sonar has grown to host over 120,000 attendees in the city each year and now has a presence in locations as diverse as Istanbul, Buenos Aires and Hong Kong.

On the guest list today is Ventura Barba, CEO of Sonar’s parent company Advanced Music. Having known the Sonar founders since that very first edition, he spent time at BMG and Yahoo Music before reconnecting with the founding team in 2009.

In this conversation we talk about how Sonar take their concept into new cities around the globe, the importance of featuring new technologies , and how brands are deepening their partnerships with festivals.

Episode overview

02:30 Sonar from 1994 to 2018

07:30 Expanding around the world and thinking about creative networks first

16:00 Sonar’s technology focus

26:00 Going out of your comfort zone to enable longevity

28:00 Brands as co-creators

Tickets Podcast: Storytelling in VR with Time’s Mia Tramz


> iTunes:

> Stitcher:

> Google Play:

> Our podcast landing page:

On the guest list today is Mia Tramz, Editorial Director of Enterprise and Immersive Experiences at Time Magazine.

Following a degree in Visuals Arts at Columbia University, Mia began her career as a photo editor before branching out into VR through her role running Time’s Life VR initiative.

In this conversation Mia talks about how she tackles telling compelling VR stories across over 30 brands, what’s it like to run a startup within a large organisation, the 4 levels of VR immersion, and reveals a life-changing night in the company of Gwen Stefani and Weezer.

Episode overview:
09:00 Taking a visual arts degree into photo editing and VR
12:00 Approaching VR across 30+ brands
19:00 Advice for startups interacting with brands and agencies
22:00 The 4 levels of immersion and the roadmap for VR and AR over the next few years
33:00 Identifying and hiring talent
40:30 The most exciting tracks for storytelling in VR
44:00 Productivity tips and staying ahead
47:00 90s concerts from Weezer to Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Here’s your perfect brief


One of the best books I read in my 20s was also one of the shortest.

It was by a man called Paul Arden, an advertising executive at Saatchi & Saatchi in London. He was one of those people who was held in very high regard by his direct peers, but little known outside his sphere.

He probably should have had much more of a following as his ideas were valuable and relevant across a multitude of disciplines. Maybe the fact he passed away in the same year Twitter launched is symbolic – I can imagine him being a big hit there.

Although pretty portable in terms of its application, the book is mainly aimed at advertising creative teams, and I enjoyed pulling what I could into other industries.

One of the best bits is about how creative teams tend to think about briefs.

“We are always waiting for the perfect brief from the perfect client. It almost never happens […] Whatever is on your desk right now, that’s the one. Make it the best you possibly can.” 

I think this very simple advice is even better 10 years later given how our attention spans have dropped, and feelings of entitlement and frustration increased.

I’ve found myself proffering this piece of advice a few times recently to impatient, ambitious or disgruntled peers.

We get fed up with the briefs that cross our desk.

It’s understandable. They’re often dull, or badly written; lacking incisiveness, or too safe.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t send back bad briefs to their author. But that’s another story.

The point is it’s about focusing on what’s in front of you right now, and like a lot of the best writing this simple little nugget from Mr Arden has a lot packed into it:


You may surprise yourself (and others) at what you can do with what’s right in front of you;

The odds are that you won’t ever get a shot at your dream brief without doing this one first;

The glamour fixtures nearly always come with a catch so be careful what you wish for;

And you never know who’s watching.


Perhaps that brief on your desk right now is perfect. You just don’t know it yet.


> Paul Arden

Are you built for the big company? Take a tip from Ripley

I like synchronicity. Every so often I have a day where after meeting a few different people, by sunset several of the topics and ideas we’ve discussed seem to connect and interweave as if by magic.

This could just be coincidence or my biases at work, but I believe it’s something more than that – something closer to the adjacent possible.

I had one of these days a few weeks ago.

After a sneaky late afternoon cocktail with the founder of a new marketing consultancy, I went to a bar around the block to meet a chap who works in a well known media company.

Alongside weddings, craft beer and other typical lines of conversation for men in their 30s, we talked about startup life vs that of a big corporation.

He had worked in bigger companies before and felt he now preferred life at a relatively small organisation. Meanwhile his wife worked at one of the biggest tech companies in the world and absolutely loved it.

He said the reason for this was simple: she was able to handle the big company exoskeleton.

An image from Aliens immediately popped into my mind. You may remember Ripley’s ability with the power loader exoskeleton; first to surprise a couple of sceptical marines, and then to dispose of a Xenomorph through the airlock.

The power loader is an intimidating bit of kit. It looks like it needs its pilot to have serious physical strength and brawn. This may be somewhat useful, but what’s more important is dexterity, patience, and rhythm.

When used effectively, it can handle enormous pressure, apply huge leverage, make big efficiencies and deflect all but the most damaging blows.

Use it carelessly, and it’s a blundering, flailing hulk with no agility and in desperate need of a makeover.

Sound familiar?

Ironically, one of the biggest problems large companies have is actually the dismissive marines. They’re skilled and to be respected, but sometimes they can be egotistical, elitist, focused on the pay check ahead of the mission, and at risk of being seriously caught out in a rapidly changing world.

So if you want to succeed in a big organisation, it may help to think more like Ripley.

And why the synchronicity that day?

My Tuesday cocktail was with the founder of a female-run consultancy called Ripley, named after…well, who else?

Tickets Podcast: Blending digital technology and physical space design with Parc Office


> iTunes:

> Stitcher:

> Google Play:

> Our podcast landing page:


On the guest list today are Will Prince and Charlie Marshall, principals at Parc Office, a New York based experience design practice.

Blending digital technology with physical environments, Parc’s projects include Google’s Cultural Institute, flagship store design for Adidas, reimagining Le Meridien hotel in Istanbul, and creating a modern day fashion Museum for Gucci in Florence.

Listen on for the duo’s insights into the impact of Instagram, how they assess new technologies, customising experiences for local audiences, and tales of jet-lagged Parisian bar crawls.


Episode overview

09:00 Parc’s founding principles

14:30 Positioning and meeting market needs

21:00 What clients are thinking about today

28:00 Retail strategies

35:00 Innovation and the trough of disillusionment

45:00 Choosing technologies and learning from failure

55:00 Designing for the hospitality industry

62:00 The dive bar experience