Results tagged “work”

2014: a year in travel

This is the first of a series of unashamedly self-indulgent posts, looking back at my working year through 2014. It was the year that my work as a self-employed digital publishing consultant really took off, and I've done so much this year that I actually need to take stock of what actually happened over the year. Plus, I can share some great photos.

I have never travelled as far - or as often - as I did in 2014. One single trip - to Hong King - probably beat my previous biggest year for travel in one fell swoop. I have, without quite noticing it, become a jet-setting consultant and trainer, and I've been really enjoying it. My work has taken me all over the world, and I've even roamed a little for pleasure, too.

There are downsides, of course: jet-lag ate me alive in Hong Kong, for example, and that trip cost me nearly a week away from my daughter. But, all in all, it's been a hugely positive experience. For various reasons 2015 is likely to be less traveled, so it feels right to memorialise a busy year.

Here's where I went, when and why...

Phil Libin at LeWeb 2014

Work has become pretty unpleasant for a lot of people, says Evernote founder Phil Libin. Many companies are stepping forwards to try and solve that. When iOS7 came out there was a movement away from skeuomorphic design - where we replicated physical ideas digitally.

We're still doing that. We don't need files, desktops and slides - but we haven't questioned that for 30 years. It's not quite the death of office apps - but PowerPoint is a lot of what's wrong in the world today. It's turned everything into a pitch - and that's not what every meeting should be. Meetings shouldn't be just about boring people until they give in. They should be discussions.

It's not great for the presenter either - you have to take the work you've already done and boil it down. Word is good for writing things you're going to print out. 10 years ago, 80% of what I wrote got printed out. It's less than 1/10th of 1% these days.

His solution? Turn Evernote into a workspace. Communicating becomes part of the writing. The research, communication and writing can all live in the same place. You have the work, the meeting and the context all at the same time.

Augmented intelligence, not artificial intelligence

Phil Libin talks his long-gone afro at LeWeb 2014

There's a lot of companies working in making you smarter. Some are taking the parent child, where the tech does the work for you and pats you on the head like a child. Option B is the CEO with an assistant. And Option C is making you into a superhero, with powers to do everything.

Phil doesn't want to be a child, or have an assistant - he wants to feel like he has superpowers. So, Evernote has a single-minded focus on building this supplementary brain that gives us those powers. Competition is good because it drive you harder, and there's plenty of it in this space. But Libin thinks no-one is taking the "make big companies feel smaller" approach.

The partnership with the Wall Street Journal is not about giving you a new place for reading it - it's about informing you as you prepare work. If you're writing in Word, you won't get the heads-up that there's been a breaking news story that changes your context for that work.

The LinkedIn link allows you to connect information about people even as you're mentioning them in notes.

One phase for all work

Evernote is trying to do away with the discreet "research, work, present" phases. The app will allow you to do it all - and stop you doing things that will make a bad presentation. It's not necessarily for the same situation as presenting at LeWeb - it's about having something on screen when you're meeting with 10 people.

Focusing Evernote on this idea of a new way of working is how they feel that they can have the biggest impact on the world.

Let's try this again

Well, hello, blog. I'm sorry I've been neglecting you. I've been terribly busy, you see. We're right in term time at City University, which always keeps me busy - but added to that, I've recently landed the biggest contract I've had since I went into consultancy, and it's for one of our national newspapers. Time is at something of a premium.

Plus, my daughter has learnt to open doors and turn on light switches, which means that I'm currently woken by the bed lights going on at about 6.30, with a cheery 2 year old saying "sleeping time is over, Daddy". And that's the good mornings. On the bad ones, she's affectionately poking me in the cheek. 

Little does she know that sleeping time ended when she was born.

So, writing in the evening is not exactly a great idea right now. 

But, the thing is, I promised myself I wouldn't do this. I would not neglect the blog (and the networking) when I got busy. And sometimes I just have to write myself back into blogging.

And that's exactly what this post is. 

Hello. Again. 

Good morning, Hong Kong

Hong Kong misty morning

I'm in Hong Kong for the week, running a training course. Jet lag has hit me in an odd way - despite getting a decent night's kip on a pretty turbulent flight, I woke up at 5am Hong Kong time - which is 10pm UK. My body clock is completely confused, it appears.

Ah, well, the adrenaline of training should keep me going...


So, here's a question. Why am I putting myself through the horror of trying to write something substantive for this blog every single day in March?

Leaving aside the possibility of an unexplored masochistic streak, the fundamental reason is because I want to. I like blogging. I love it, in fact. It's been nearly 13 years since I discovered it as a medium and it shifted my world around completely. I'm a busy man, though, trapped between a hectic four-day-a-week consultancy career (long may that "hectic" last) and the demands of being 50% of the available parenting resource for a little girl who has hit the toddler years fast and hard, and is accelerating towards the terrible twos as quickly as she possibly can.

The 40s are a problem for modern couples:

The modern 40s are so busy it's hard to assess them. Researchers describe the new "rush hour of life," when career and child-rearing peaks collide.

Sell, Sell, Self

This blog has got pushed to the sidelines repeatedly since I became a free agent and a Dad, and the closest thing I have to a New Year resolution this year is to rectify that. There are prosaic, financial reasons behind that: my blog remains my showcase, the source of much of my work, and without it I'm essentially doing very little marketing right now (my workload is leaving little room for the round of coffees and lunches that make up my self-promotion). The busy period will end - and I need something there to keep me in people's minds.

However, it's also the place where I crystallise my ideas about the subjects I follow. Some of that "writing myself into existence" has transferred into my lecturing and training, where I've been forced into developing a new language around some of my areas of expertise just so I can communicate them effectively - and that's a subject I intent to return to this month - but my blog still remains the most compelling way of doing so. Why? Well, because I can expose my ideas to the criticism of my peers - and that's incredibly useful in making sure I'm talking something that approximates to sense.

Blogito Ergo Sum.

The Inspiration

Also, some people have been doing something similar, and that lodged the idea in my head. MG Siegler kicked off the year doing something like this. The Man Mayfield pushed me into subscribing to Dan Hon's current experiment in daily mailings (leading to his probable nervous breakdown given the volume he produces) has been a daily(ish) prod to my own conscience.

Besides, a couple of recent posts which have garnered good engagement (and I feel dirty using that word) have reminded me that it's the personal stuff that makes a blog fly. Be it photos from the US, or an insight into an advert I ended up appearing in, that kind of material makes a blog engaging and human in the way some links and commentary doesn't.

I seem to need to relearn - or, at least, reinforce in myself - these kinds of lessons every few years. That's no bad thing, because it also forces me to check and re-evaluate what I know in the light of changes that have happened over that period. After over a decade's blogging, it would be horribly easy to get into a rut - and I don't want to do that.

The Rebellion

Somehow, over the last six months, I've slipped into being predominantly a trainer. The majority (but not the entirety) of my work has been teaching other people stuff. That's great, as far as it goes. It pays well - very well, at times - and is something I seem to be good at. There's also a pretty evident gap in the market for someone with my particular skill set, which works well for me.

I don't want too walk too far down that path, though. I enjoy both the strategic consulting and the content creation aspects of my work, too, and I'm going to be putting some more effort into landing that kind of work in the coming months. In the meantime, though, it's important to do as well as teach. And this blog is the place where I can do whatever the hell I want - even a stupid writing project when I'm far too busy already.

This is the second in a series of one-a-day substantive posts I'm going to try to write through March.

Next steps, two years on

My Office

Why you shouldn't be a freelancer, you should be a company:

Remember, you're not a no-strings-attached temporary employee, you're an expert in your field whom clients come to because they want the best product possible and can trust to guide them in the best direction possible.

Two years ago today, a shocking meeting in a nasty little HR meeting room put me on the road to where I am today. It may be time for me to take the next step on that road.

The purposeful gonzo life

Hunter S. Thompson on finding your purpose:

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal) he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

[via Brain Pickings, of course]

Busy in Barcelona

Bit busy, slightly abroad, hence the on-going silence. 

I've actually written an insane amount over the past 10 days - a lot of it in the last 48 hours. I just haven't been doing it here.

Normal service will resume at some point. 

A Sunday e-mail sabbatical

Cloudy Adur

There's something seductive about counter-intuitive solutions. The fact that they feel wrong makes you think that they're right...

I'm trying something counter-intuitive right now. I've been struggling with balancing productivity and family time since my wife went back to work at the beginning of the year and I committed to only working a four day week at the same time. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done that I need to get done. So far, I've been doing the intuitive thing - working more. I've slowly carved away hobbies and relaxation time to try and cram it all in. When Hazel goes down for her nap, I bolted to the computer to get some stuff done.

The last few days, I've gone the opposite direction. Family time is family time. I check my e-mails during my daddy day on Fridays, because that's working time for everyone else. Today? I have not opened my e-mail once. There are plenty of other non-e-mail ways of reaching me, if it's urgent. I'm just treating myself to a 24 hour break from the urgent ping of the in-box once a week, and see if that helps me focus better on my family time, and then on my working time tomorrow.

Today, I took Hazel to the play park, walked her while she slept, and played with her on the beach. It was awesome. It was worry-free.

Tomorrow, I work.

Reboot completed

Sunrise on the quayIn the 20 months since I last took a holiday, I've started a freelance consultancy career, bought a house, had a beautiful baby girl, gone part-time to care for my daughter one working day per week, and become a pretend academic.

Y'know what? I decided I dererved a holiday. 

And so, having had plans for the work-related things I'd do when I was in France, I abandoned them all for having fun with my family. Blissful.

Now, I'm back at my desk, booting up for what looks like a frantic couple of months until early November. (Need someone with my skills from November onwards? Drop me a line...) iTunes is on, set to the 80s and cranked up loud, and I'm working again. Life is good.

But I really shouldn't leave it 20 months between holidays, should I?

A silence, and an anniversary...

On the Finnish DockApologies for the sudden outbreak of silence around here - look on it as the lull before the storm, if you like. This week is likely to be quiet, as I'm deep in a deadline crunch or five, with Hazel's christening and a trip to Paris coming up soon. Next week, of course, will be the normal storm of liveblogging from Le Web...

Things have been so busy, in fact, that I missed the anniversary of my redundancy on Wednesday. A year before, after lunch, I was pulled into a meeting in an anonymous little HR meeting room, and told that my days with RBI were over. At the time, all I could think was that I was in the middle of buying a house with my first child on the way, and suddenly I had no job. A year on? I'm too busy to note the passing of the day. Between flying to Helsinki with some brilliant people, working with the next generation of journalists, and keeping up my commitments to various other clients,  things are busy, fun and reasonably profitable. Oh, and I'm living in that house, and spending more time than I would have otherwise with baby Hazel.

I'm not prepared to say that being made redundant was the best thing that ever happened to me - the timing was too appalling and stressful for that - but I will say that the way I've spent the year since has been so incredibly rewarding that it more than makes up for it. Certainly, I'm enjoying life, work and family far more than I was this time last year, and I'm significantly more optimistic about the future. 

And that has to be a great thing, right?

Boss free? Or co-owned?

Working at the RSA

Oddly, since my "liberation" from corporate life, I've become fascinated by alternative working models. This is just fascinating:

Valve, whose website says the company has been "boss free" since its founding in 1996, also has no managers or assigned projects. Instead, its 300 employees recruit colleagues to work on projects they think are worthwhile. The company prizes mobility so much that workers' desks are mounted on wheels, allowing them to scoot around to form work areas as they choose.

Will McInnes' post on company co-ownership versus traditional corporate models is worth some time, too.

Really looking forward to Meaning 2012 in October...


Probably the best decision I've made this year was to keep August quiet, with virtually no out-of-home working between my daughter's due date and the beginning of September, Balancing self-employment, largely home-based, with new fatherhood is a challenge. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes you lose five hours with no idea of where they went. 

One way or another, I'm starting to get back up to speed on my commitments, including posting on the TEDxBrighton blog with a new post about how points of passion can close generations - and how leaving it too late can cost you the opportunity to do so. Pity I missed the meeting in a muddle of cooking, nappy changing and baby soothing...

Redundancy: Five months on

A lawn full of daisies

The past five months have forced me to think about what I do with my working life more then I ever have. When I entered the workplace, in 1994, I had only one aim: become a journalist. Everything that has happened since then has been an evolution of that goal, the next step on a journey that had a fairly clear set of paths I could choose from.

And then the path got faint, and became a barely-trodden track - and then ended. I found myself looking at an open field. There are a few, basic tracks left by others. But they're still figuring out the best routes. For a while, I looked desperately for a new path, one that looked like the old ones, and came close to finding some. But I'm glad nothing came of those in the end. It would have been easy, safe and possibly even sensible - and they would have robbed me of the opportunity to really think about what I want my career to be.

Lately, in part inspired by some of the talks at last month's Like Minds, as well as long coffee-fuelled conversation with friends, contacts and colleagues, I realised the difference of emphasis between these two statements is subtle, but profound:

  • What can I do that will make money?
  • What can I do, that will make money?

Neither is inherently the wrong or right path. I know people who have followed the first path, choosing making money as their primary objective, but ploughing the money back into having a wonderful - and generous - life outside the office. Equally, I know people who are loving their work, but are challenged by the disparity between their income and many of their peers. Both have their pros and their cons.

I've spent a long time hovering between the two exteremes. I was working for a big corporate, but I wasn't making that much money. I was enjoying my work, but to allow that to continue I had to stop myself from seeing that my employers were significantly less committed to the sorts of philosophies and tools I was espousing than I was. I was dumbing myself down to serve security.

In a sense, I see that choice ahead of me again. I can walk one path, holding to my belief that social and communication tools will reshape our institutions and societal structures fundamentally, as the old barriers to communication erode. Or, I can put back up my old barriers, and choose to tone down those beliefs. I can try to reshape emergent technology in the form of old business models and structures, for a good paycheck, a nine to five job and a sense of stability.

But it's a false choice. The equation no longer resolves. The element that kept the second path viable is gone. My trust in corporates is broken. I genuinely believed that if I worked hard, focused my energies on the success of the business, and fought for what I thought was right, I would be rewarded. Instead, I was made redundant. I am no longer capable of trusting an employer like I did then. The noble words of valuing people can be proved empty in one, formulaic, soulless meeting in a bland little meeting room. It's likely that I'll take a corporate job at some time in my future, but I'll understand the provisionality of that job on both sides much more fundamentally.

That's liberating. That leaves me to pursue what I believe is right. I really believe - and have seen plenty of evidence - that human beings can be wonderful things, given the right tools for communication, for exchange, for conversation. Sure, there are darker aspects to human nature, but I'd rather strive towards the best, while preparing for the worst, than swim in a pool of committee-approved, unadventurous, packaged medocrity.

And you know what? So far, it's working. I'm not making what I was at RBI - yet. But the work is good and interesting, and usually for cool people who see the possibilities inherent in the changes we're going through. I have more time for family and friends. I'm taking a lower toll on the environment. I'll be around my baby when he or she arrives next month far more than I would have been otherwise. These are all good things.

Maybe this time next year, I'll have taken a new job, or have started my own business, or still be freelancing and contracting. I don't know. But, right now, the journey is its own reward. And that's cool.

Adur view
Blimey. It's been a bit quiet around here, hasn't it?

Here's why: I've just moved. We finally have the house we have been working towards for the past five years or so, and not before time, given that our first child is just a few months away...

Those two facts, by the way, are the missing elements of the story of my redundancy: RBI decided to part company with me while I was in the middle of buying a house, and my wife was in the early stages of pregnancy. Nice timing, guys. Some people wondered why I threw myself so fiercely into a job hunt back in December, given that the redundancy settlement was generous - certainly generous enough that I could take several months off without any concern at all. Well, now you know the answer: child on the way, house purchase in progress. Doing all that without a job looked like a frightening prospect back then. 

But here's the thing: we sorted out the house purchase without the job, and I'm finding the contracting opportunities more welcoming, and more enjoyable, than the job opportunities I'm seeing in front of me right now (and that's meat for several more blog posts to come). And so, I'm no longer a job hunter. I'm a freelance consultant, blogger and trainer (who might accept the right job offer).

2012 is certainly proving to be a year of changes for me...

Keep your eyes on this blog for the next few days, if you want to know a few more details of what I've got planned - it's not so much adders 2.0 as adders 3.0. 

Dan Satterthwaite, head of human resources at Dreamworks Animation gave a fascinating talk about how they've built a company that has coped with three major technology shifts, and fosters a creative work environment.

The first shift, of course, was from the hand-drawn, photographed and transferred to film workflow that dominated early animation, through to a CGI-dominated company. The transformation needed to backup that process was revolutionary at the time. It was 20 years ago, but the effects are still being felt. We had 1000 employees, now we have 2200 - but half of those started in the last three years.

60% of the employees made the transition from hand-drawn to CGI animation. It took an extraordinary amount of training and effort. They'd previously partnered with PDI that did CGI for adverts. They bought PDI, and a set of competancies with them. Animators essentially have to have acting skills to animate these characters.

The generational shift has happened lightening fast - and it left some people behind. There are a set of people doing different work now, because they weren't able - or willing - to make the shift.

Then they had the new wave of 3D. It's vastly different from the old 3D, because things are authored in 3D, so the wrokforce needed to be retrained in 3D thinking.

Now, they have multi-core processing in chips, which means they can do more, faster. They have models which know how the characters "function" and so can animate on an iPad-like device, just by tweaking the face rather than manually shifting numerical values about.

Stage 1 and 2 was seven years. Between 2 and 3? Three years. Maybe the next one will only be two years away?

What's NEXT? Post Digital Culture

The new NEXT Berlin website
So, I have a small announcement that I've been very much looking forward to making.

Yesterday, the website for NEXT Berlin, the excellent technology conference I attended last year, relaunched with a whole new look. Most importantly, it launched with a blog, and I'm the main contributor to that blog in the run up to the conference in May.

I'll be blogging around the concept of Post Digital Culture - and I've kicked off by asking exactly what that might be

I'm really excited to be part of this. Last year's conference was one of the highlights of my year, and it looked really deeply at the idea of Big Data and the implications that it has for the future of the web and our culture. 2012's topic looks even more stimulating, looking at what happens after the current digital revolution... Ticket sales kick off tomorrow, with an early bird rate, and it comes highly recommended from me. 

So, while I'm still actively looking for my next full time job (and, indeed, am talking to some people about a couple of great opportunities), this is the first piece of contract work that's keeping me off the streets in the meantime...