Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Changing culture, not easy but the prize is huge!

Want to Change culture? Then change habits.

I get asked a lot, “how can I change the culture in my organisation?” This is probably because I’m obsessed by change in the workplace (see previous posts) and I studied cultural theory along with other things as part of my MA. In a nutshell I believe If you want to change the culture of an organisation you have to change its habits. That is the habitual behaviour of it’s individual people. I always reply that’s not an easy task.
It’s widely written that organisational culture is all about values, behaviours and actions of its staff. Often expressed as the unique social and psychological environment of the organisation’s members. History, technology, strategy, types of employees, management styles, national culture, vision, values, norms and systems all play a part in the creation of culture. Along with symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs that become habits! Phew!
Ravasi and Schulz (2006) described organisation culture as; “a set of shared assumptions that guide what happens in an organisation by defining appropriate behaviour for various situations”. Wow, that’s deep. What’s more staff teach these assumptions and behaviours to new members as a way of perceiving, thinking and feeling. The sum of this is an employee identity that affects how they identify with the organisation. In other words corporate culture.
That’s really profound, and it is reinforced daily so it’s hard to change, a bit like turning the Titanic. I’ve got an old copy of Charles B Handy’s seminal work Understanding Organisations. The first section chapter 7, deals with defining organisational culture in great detail and is still a fabulous read.

So how might we begin to change it?

I thought I might try and list some questions we could ask staff to simplify the process. And I’ve begun to list the areas that change makers need to address with a specific organisation in mind.
Question is where are we now? And where do we want to be? What are the values in that department at present and how do we want them to change? Why do we want to change? Break that down, what are the shared departmental assumptions? What are they based on? What do people do every day? How can we begin to change it? Where do we want to end? What do we want to start?

Set the scene, take 1

I’m imagining as I think of a specific department in a particular organisation.
I walk into the dept currently in my head. It has an air of formality. Presenteeism matters, what you’re producing doesn’t. It isn’t inviting or interesting to visitors it’s actually intimidating in its blandness. It’s full of perceived stuffy people dressed in the same uniform with their heads down. The hot desks, cleared every evening have zero personality. It doesn’t cross fertilise ideas with anyone outside and the people clearly don’t get out much. This is by design and is reinforced each day by shared habits and behaviours. and a possible shared vision of the rest of the organisation. Possibly world, Gosh, is there a shared ‘world view’ also prevalent here? I’m scared, I’ll run now before my formal meeting, I’m only there for a ten second slot, the rest will be irrelevant to me. Will anyone miss me, last time they were all comatose before my bit. They scoffed at my ideas.
If I sit for a while what behaviour do is see? Men in suits and ties, I was struck in Hamburg recently by the office uniform of middle aged German men, blue shirts beige slacks. What do I see here? Shirts, collars ties, pointy shoes. The women are less formal but not informal and indeed some follow the format. I observe People arrive early, they stay late. They sit in the same locations. the hot desk, open plan vibe encourages no personality of space. It’s quiet, diaries are full of formal back to back meetings with formal agendas. The language is formal and reflects the professional education of the staff members. There is a clear hierarchy. People come and go from meetings. They don’t share information.

Environment & silos of experts

There are so many things here where do I begin? Let’s start with the environment in that office and progress down to the individuals. The organisation shapes the environment of this department. This means it’s open plan and there are no collaborative spaces, you’re not even allowed to stick blue tack on the wall leave alone anything else.
Silo thanks to
People tend to sit within a set group. They can actually sit anywhere they choose but they group naturally. This is ok, and research extols the virtues of silos of experts. They share stuff, have great conversations and can be productive.The open plan hot desk scenario here leads to lack of personalisation. There is evidence that closed work spaces can be more productive. And personal adornment of those areas increases productivity. Essentially as the articles suggest, workspace needs to be flexible. Lets redesign it together to make it more user friendly, suitable for the work to be done and useful for other more collaborative work too.

Bump in and get out more

The other problem with the silo arrangement is that people don’t bump into other silos of experts even those who work in related but different fields. Many books describe the positive effects of bumping into each other. Walter Isaacson’s ‘Innovators’ is a fab book for understanding this. Steve Jobs designed the new HQ of Pixar so that people would bump into each other in the atrium. He designed the environment to make it happen. Knowing that great things would occur and they did.
Co working spaces take this further. (co work hubs in Devon) At the extremes the better ones actively encourage cross fertilisation of ideas. See Impact hubs and their success stories for examples of this. Essentially people should spend 70% of their time outside of their silo. Time to cross that bridge.
Question; how can we redesign the space for quiet silo working with like minded experts. But make this personal space just a safe haven?Question; how can we encourage staff get out seventy percent of their time to a co work space or other professional environment?
In a nutshell go gather pollen from the flowers and bring it back to the hive.
Buckminster Fuller
Whilst we’re at it, take those empty walls, ask who inspires the folks at work there and fill em with pictures. Apparently Ranulph Fiennes was inspired by pictures of explorers on the wall of his family home. Don’t let the images go stale, circulate the images to keep them fresh and put a short description underneath. The department in my head brings pictures of James Lovelock, Heath Robinson, Jony Ive, Mahatma Gandhi, Buckminster Fuller, Petra Kelly and many others to mind. But ask your people and let them bring variety. In a big organisation they could swop occasionally with other departments. On that subject some of their time could be spent in the other department silos. Go forth to shared spaces and communicate. get out more!

Environment done! Getting out more done! What about some personality

So we’ve shaken up the work place and the amount of time spent in it a bit. But we need to bring out the personalities a bit more too. What are we going to do with what we learn from the big outside? Will we discuss it at the end of our rigid formal meeting whilst everyone scoffs? Or will we clear a space in our diaries each day for some informal bumping of ideas?
According to research, 52 minutes is desired as the maximum productive time, but only if we have 17 minutes in between doing something completely off the wall. So let’s use that time for an upload together. Make it a bring and share, bring ideas, learn, read, show videos and put them all to the sword in a public forum. Discuss pros and cons, make it fun. Do this every day. Have expressive space, big whiteboards, pin up spaces etc. People talk about learning and development as though it’s something separate from your work. It should be part of your DNA to learn and take on new ideas and break down old assumptions and do it collectively.

Language and identity

thanks to
This upload forum described above also serves a different special purpose. It begins to attack the assumptions of agreement. It starts to change the dept language. It starts to erode ingrained values and beliefs. It starts to give people personal identities as they emerge from their silos. It can begin to shape how people self-identify. There are swathes of academic writing about identity and I bow to the research of e.g. David Campbell and Ziauddin Sardar. I cannot begin to open this Pandora’s box, but I will say that changing language to suggest activities rather than cultural themes is a good start. Say out loud; I’m an innovator, engineer, creative, environmentalist, maker, writer, photographer. These are positives. Move away from job titles, they’re a bit irrelevant and yesterday. Move away from descriptions like, team leader or manager these are equally unhelpful. Self identity around what you want to do might be nice place to start, e.g. Environmental champion, creative engineer etc. This should become default language, the way you introduce yourself in a speed dating session. A bit like your elevator pitch for yourself. Oh and watch this video it deals with shedding old identities better than I can.

As the language advances and the upload conversations will become more detailed, notions of who do I identify with can come in. Not in a negative way like I’m a facist and all my friends are white supremacists, hell No! More like I’m really into making things, I’m influenced by Michael Reynolds and Geoff ‘Earthship’ Starlington, I like the work of Jony Ive, I follow the philosophy of Buckminster Fuller and Hundertwasser, I listen to Curtis Mayfield and Megadeath. Suddenly each participant in upload develops a personality. Someone recently suggested a bring your personality to work day. Maybe that’s a possible start? Who influences you at work and why? Who influences or inspires you in life and why? What are their values and qualities you admire, have you worked this out? Do you carry this knowledge with you? Do you share it? Go share it now!
So the environment has changed, people are out more and the personalities they bring back begin to emerge now what?

How do we cultivate these changes further?

So identities are not fixed, remind people they can change their nationality, religion, beliefs, gender, sexuality, name, status, geography (urban/rural). All of these cross cutting themes can vary throughout your life! Oh yes they can and do! But try to see people without those labels, it’s really hard and takes practice but it’s worth it. Some organisations manage this, it’s worth taking a long look at them. Ask me for details.
Let’s develop some ideas about culture change a bit more. How are we going to move further together?
Well people can choose their identity and express it and they can choose their actions. They don’t have to conform to organisational assumptions. Move them further, ask them who they identify with? Characters from film or fiction, role models? heroes? Why ask them this? Because I suspect they are a great guide to where people get their ideas and possibly to where they think they’re going, or would like to go. Who influences you? Who do you aspire to be?
How do you want to be seen now, and how do you want to be remembered?
Now we have opened Pandora’s box, we are beginning to change things. People are attempting to express themselves within the new environment and new ideas are forming as a result of the getting out more.

How do we filter those ideas into the work that needs to be done?

Ask questions of each other and ourselves. Why am doing this work? Who else needs to know about it? (Not just the usual suspects our professional partners). Who is working on this stuff as well as me? Originality is very rare, someone is doing your project somewhere else, even fire was discovered in different parts of the world simultaneously. So go find out who you might be able to collaborate, share with, increase value of, learn from. Where shall I go to find out who’s doing this? Can I test it with someone completely different than me? What do I know? Why do I think I know it? What do I want to know? Who’s opinion do I currently value and why? Is that correct?
I’ll say it here and now; it is sharing information that is powerful not keeping it to yourself!
thanks to
Once we work together, we need to create a vision. At present we are here. Where do we want to be? What will it look like? How will we behave? Describe ourselves and the organisation? What will people see, hear, feel when they come to see us? Once you’ve built, collected, asked, advanced, changed the environment you work in. And the way you work, got out more, questioned yourself and others. The culture will begin to change and it will show.
Ponder this scary thought, you’ve changed the culture, collectively and individually. When you finally put your ideas up there, what does it feel like? Ask any artist, writer, film maker, songwriter. Very scary but really exciting. It will be challenging or beautiful but not passive!

So what about habits?

Question: What about habits what have they got to do with it? Habits become what we wear, where we work, how we describe things, what we eat, what we read, the cafe we drink our tea at, the tea we drink (coffee in my case can’t stand tea, was an avid Earl Grey drinker then I stopped and drank coffee instead) our work patterns, how we describe ourselves, how we relate to others. The things that shape the assumptions that lead to the culture of an organisation come down to habits.
Individual habits and they can change. They are the elements of a culture and they are a choice.
Some people say that they are part of our personalities. But if you vary habits and break patterns it can lead to unexpected benefits and adventures and enhanced wellbeing. Imagine the thrill of watching a different soap opera. Get into new characters in a book. Or read different news, possibly with widely varied or opposite views to the ones you habitually follow. Scary but enticing territory. I watched horror films for a while found them challenging and jarring. I went back to my safe zone of crime, but I never quite viewed it in the same way again. I really began to understand why I liked it so much more than horror.

Back to work and culture

Do you wear a suit every day? Or wear one occasionally? If you never do maybe you should. How about you never wear the same twice in two days. Perhaps people will enjoy a guess and wonder what you might wear next. Then go sit in a different place, pick a silo elsewhere. Ask them questions about or related to your work and theirs. People are flattered by questions. Organise a non-traditional meeting, read up on how to do it. Or ask me for help. Yes you can do all of these things in the same day, after all isn’t variety the spice of life?
Change your language, describe your role and yourself differently when asked. Invent a new persona at work, be who you really are. Present your work as you. Ask for critique in a constructive way, or combative if you dare! You’ll never be the same again. Programme your work in a pattern, 50 mins head down, 20 doing something radical. Go work elsewhere, invite others in! Mix your meetings up. Bring in outsiders (shock horror) Let the washing machine engineers meet the fashion designers and together they can design a new car. Read this brilliant article on collaborative culture by Rosie Manning Oh and just read more, its like learning and development only more enjoyable. here’s a great guide to how and why.

Set the scene, take 2

In my mind I walk into the dept, it’s a hive of activity, individuals work here. I know that because no two look alike. They’re in groups or silos huddled together hard at work. Another group are around a display board. They discuss an idea, it’s a challenge to get a word in. When I do I’m accepted, they listen to and record my contribution. The silos break out into a hive of activity. The meeting i attend is brisk, it has objectives and outcomes. People only come in when they’re needed. Not all of the orchestra plays at once! I take actions with deadlines so do others. There’s an acknowledgment we will complete them on time.
A walking meeting passes by deep in conversation. I notice staff have adorned the walls with interesting images. I ponder them whilst I drink my coffee. I go to a different dept and ask what their images are all about. For the next fifty minutes I write my next project overview. I take it out to the display board, colleagues and visitors gather to discuss it, not a suit or tie in sight. The odd pointy shoe here and there and some decent beards but I ignore that and view them as people. I record all of their views and ideas verbatim, they help gel and confirm some of mine. Some are radically different. I make a note to test them against my assumptions.
Borrowed Earthship diagram
I’m off now to work in the DeskLodge Bristol now (or any other co work space you’d like to imagine). I know it’s full of creatives today for a conference. I’m Going to stay for the evening discussions. I will show them my project, I’m scared but excited. Work will never be the same again. I get up excited to cycle in. I’ve got a picture of an Earthship in my bag I’m thinking about building. I want to know what people think, how they would improve it. Tomorrow I’ll work at the science park, see what they think of my latest project. Will it stand up to their scrutiny or will I need to rethink. it feels exciting when I put myself out there. I’m hoping for something innovative. if nothing else it’ll be a challenge, it may be beautiful.
If you want to change your organisation, change the culture. If you want to change the culture change the habits. If you want to make it more diverse, stop trying and change the above two.
NB. I’ve tagged some books and articles I’ve enjoyed, there’s a wealth of research done on this topic too great to mention here. This is simply a blog of my thoughts not an academic paper. Go read more it’s fun! If you want help doing things different ask me.

This blog is also on Medium: 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Where are the future creatives? And what are we doing about it?

Only 1% of people on the internet are creators!
Creative tools past
Its an odd paradox that in an age where we have the most powerful creative tools in our hands most of us use them to do passive tasks. At best we might take a selfie, add a filter and post it in the ether. That is the endless stream of social media. yes we might well look back nostalgically at our efforts. But I suggest there are less and less people able and willing to make a living out of creating. Why is this?
First of all I guess the notion of jobs like photographer, artist, poet, writer, musician. Considered the creative roles appear diluted by digital technology and means of distribution. When I was a teenager if you wanted to take a photograph (my obsession back then), you had to and first save up for a decent camera. Mine was a Zenit E, followed by Canon AE and many more. Also the accessories as you gradually learned the trade of using different lenses for different reasons and flash in the dark etc. If you were a fanatic like me, you but a darkroom with a Durst enlarger. Struggled to create a space of total blackout where you could develop and enlarge your masterpieces. I was told that good print could last a 100 years or more. I wonder what digital archives will be around in 100 years?
Ingrained in that crazy slow learning curve was a desire to capture images that endured and pleased others. And master the techniques of presenting them. To exhibit was to bare your soul. The great and good came from far and wide to see, and if you were lucky purchase your efforts. You would number them to make them even more desirable. Oddly I've noticed a resurgence of people using film recently that might one day return to this situation. But I doubt it.
Like music and writing, the art of photography died with the digital camera. Music struggles on but the means of distribution have rendered earning a living as a musician almost impossible. Art is the last bastion. Struggling in its own way to stand out in the crowded space where social sharing and advertising increasingly co-exist. One in 11 jobs or 8.8 per cent of all UK jobs now falls within the creative economy, and one in six of all UK graduate jobs are also creative economy positionsThis is seen as good, but as work opportunities decline and the traditional notion of work disappears with the coming AI revolution. The percentage is going to have to be a lot bigger! 
Part of developing and autonomous, think on your feet, adaptable workforce is going to be all about stimulating and encouraging creative skills beyond the odd selfie. 
My self with Prisma - 5 mins of effort!
But how? 
At the moment our education system and every other facet of society pushes people towards the traditional view of 9-5 treadmill jobs. The new breed of hamsters, apart from a small minority, seem happy to follow. Disruption is happening in many aspects of society, bitcoin, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, AI, autonomous vehicles. But not in traditional education. According to many commentators it kills creativity. This is something we need to tackle quickly. Or we will hive our future creatives to mindless silos nose to the grind wheel.
The solution is opening things up, yes even schools and colleges. Oh the risks I hear you scream. But as long as we keep closed systems, closed institutions and closed thinking, we will not stimulate the 'autonomy economy' of future creatives. 
My vision is that the best things happen when strange worlds meet. Co working hubs around the world are demonstrating this almost daily. what we need is to do this earlier, faster and cheaper to enable worlds to collide more often. Creative hubs, freely available to all are the answer. When I was a kid the library was my education, but they are no where  near cool enough anymore. We need spaces that are the epitome of wow. Designed to attract and throw together the cleverest minds of all ages and social strata. No government will support this as this kind of autonomy terrifies them. It is for our generation, those who know how to make stuff, to provide them for the future. 
Some light is starting to appear, we have hubs coming out of our ears in Exeter and conferences too. The problem is they are disparate and not in the centre. There is no one centrally placed Loci, I propose a quiet takeover and I have a target place! Watch this space...

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

How much reality can we cope with?

There it was! One minute I was responding to a post about Pokemon Go suggesting that its a  stepping stone to full Virtual Reality and a way to get people interested in Augmented Reality (I'm totally surprised it doesn't yet have AR adverts. Then good old Google (speculation alert) are alleged to be working on, get this, a mixed reality version of Google glass!
Well I never. The question is how much reality can we take? It seems to me that people aren't yet ready for full on VR, unless they're queuing for a Japanese VR porn convention that is. So the middle ground is as ever to get people interested/addicted via a game. Well done Nintendo, you've certainly achieved that. Wish I'd had a few shares in the old Wii factory but alas I don't. Apparently it's been so successful it's outstripped Sony!
So what next? Well careful what you wish for, a number of commentators have been fixated about the internet of things, smart cities and augmented advertising. But they have taken their eye off the good old smart phone as the vehicle for this. Also of course the possibility of wearables if Google gets it's way.
TThis video from Hyper Reality thanks to Keiichi Matsuda (Above) gives a sneak preview of what might happen to your phone or indeed your glasses. Is it a case of glasses half empty or glasses left full? You tell me...

Hyper Reality 

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Cool Brittania - not anymore it isn't

Everyone's going to Brexit! 
Everywhere I go since Brexit I hear people discussing their desire to leave Britain. this is particularly evident among young people. I was in my favourite coffee shop and as always earwigging conversation. The young and interested who would have or voted remain are discussing Brexit. Not in the way you might imagine. Far from the infighting, xenophobia of politics.  They are discussing the exciting opportunities and sense of cool offered by big European cities. 
The primary target of this discussion is Berlin, itself the target of unrest lately due to gentrification. The young and the interested are rebelling. Cool Britannia, a tardy phrase coined by Blair and his cronies. When they'd finally, all too late woken up to the value of our creative industries, is dead in the water. Despite the best efforts of our film, music and creative arts industries worth £10 million an hour to the UK.  Britain is about to leech it's best creative minds. Selfish class ridden UK will become a desert wasteland of disaffected youth. Because those with the skills and abilities will realise that Shoreditch isn't it. Just take a tour of any major European city and you will sense the confidence of youth. Not for them the hang ups of class barriers for start ups. Not for them the labels of immigrant if you attempt to put yourself forward. Its a badge of honour to be well read, well dressed and entrepreneurial in the most happening cities in Europe. 
Check out wired magazine's hottest 100 startups and you will see the diversity of ideas and experience. It may be the baby boomers that built stuff, but it is generation Z who are using the tools to greatest effect. 
 It will be generation K who will be the test of Britain's ability to retain a skilled   society. Able to compete as independent individuals against the best in Europe. Douglas McWilliams 'Flat White Economy' describes how skilled immigrants saved London from going under in the last recession. Now Brexit has done it's worst, who will save London and the UK in the next one? The talented immigrants will leave, chased out by xenophobia and hatred. The skilled and independent generation K's from the UK will flee in their droves. I for one will mourn the loss of both. The creative youth that make our society so special. And the brilliant migrants I've met who've enriched my life and the life of our cities so much. Cool is elsewhere, just take a look at football, clothing, bikes, music, clubs, film, science, design and art if you don't agree! 

Friday, 13 May 2016

Find things to do and places to go in Digital Exeter

Exeter is on fire at the moment, so many digital events so little time! 
Tech Nation report highlighting the growth of digital sector in Exeter. The arrival of Hub@TechExeter and the second Generator co-working space on the Quay, Exeter Science Park open for business. Those fab Cosmic people offering digital leadership courses. I can hardly keep up! 
Slight problem is knowing when everything is on and where to find out! Yes you can follow Twitter and Facebook feeds and email lists, use meetup app,  but not definitive!

I've made a list of the initiatives I know of here:

Hang out and work
Innovation Centre & Cafe - Exeter University
Exeter Science Park
Generator - Co working space Exeter
Exeter Library Meeting Rooms for hire
Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre
RAMM Museum, Art gallery & Cafe Exeter
Devon Work Hubs - work hubs dotted around Devon
Tech Exeter, community, conference and co-working space (formerly Exeter Web)

Maker Space: 

FabLab Devon - Exeter Central Library
Raspberry Pi Jam

Go to events:

Exeter Castle Demos pitch your business
Exeter Startup Weekends - Start a business in 54 hours Twitter: @innovexeter
Digital Exeter - talks and networking Twitter: @DigitalExeter
TechExeter - community and conference
EXIST - Science and Tech talks and networking Twitter: @ExIST_Exeter 
ODI Devon - open data - talks and networking Twitter: @ODIDevon
GeekCampX - sporadic geek fun and games Twitter: @GeekCampX

Many of these are also on  Download the app if you have a smartphone

Please comment on this blog with any I've missed and I'll update and add to the post. Hopefully it'll become a useful source of reference.

Happy Geeking!

Friday, 6 May 2016

Today's Mantra all the World's a stage! No I know I didn't write that..

But, always figure out who is doing what to whom in any story. Then you can look at where you fit in. Make sure that it's right. #joesmantras
its interesting to me that I watch stories unfolding on a daily basis and I see the events that unfold. What I  see is that people involved in those stories, sometimes even key actors, don't know where they fit in. They don't see what their part is, if any. They don't anticipate where to come in and when not to. They definitely don't realise that the plot is unfolding around them. They are unaware of the possible outcomes. So be aware, ask why you're invited? What is your part in this scenario, project, adventure? Do you have to play all the time or can you just come in when you're needed?
Running a good project is a bit like conducting and orchestra. Not everyone needs to play all the time. Bring them in when necessary. Don't involve them at every meeting they'll quickly get bored. Most scenarios I witness have too many players altogether. They play too often they all come in at once and they don't have a clue where they  fit in. Often it's my job to sort this out. I ask why are you here? Do you have the time and permission if you need it? when and where does your bit begin and end? How would you like to be kep informed? An oh yes here's the script and timings (plan) to enable you to know theses things. I'll be in touch....

Sunday, 11 October 2015

You believe in your startup idea, right? Then prepare to pitch!

Got a business idea that you want to exist outside of your own head? Then you need to prepare to pitch. Pitch for financial support. Pitch to get the right team on board. Pitch to win clients. There we are I've said it four times - 'pitch'. Are you left with a feeling of dread? Maybe that’s because you've missed the more important ‘P’ word in this opening - 'prepare'. Not just write out what you want to say but really prepare to deliver it with passion!

I recently spent an evening watching 3 minute start-up pitches. It inspired me to write this list of pitching tips. I don’t need me to tell you that the substance of your pitch is absolutely critical. Don’t be vague about your own numbers when asking someone to part with their cash. But there are plenty of startup mentors to advise you on what evidence to take to the table. Instead let’s look at the mechanics of how you will deliver your pitch. Like a good barrister, you need both the style and substance to win the day.   

Decide what you want at the end of this pitch
You should know the minimum you want to walk away from this pitch with. This is the light at the end of the tunnel to keep you motivated even through your pre-pitch nerves and technology mishaps. Be specific and realistic about the amount of money or type of skills and support you’re looking for. And make sure you tell your audience in your pitch. If you want them to get on board with the next chapter of your story then they need to know where they could fit in.
Think about the structure of your pitch
You don’t need to be an expert in narrative theory to recognise a common structure in many films, plays and books. Writers do this to make it easier for their audience to understand and connect with the story they are telling them. Pitch writers can do the same. Watch Nancy Duarte’s excellent TED talk on The Secret Structure of Great Talks. In short, you should strike the right balance of explaining what life is like now and what is could be if your idea came to life. Spend too much time setting the scene and you'll leave us wondering "where is this going?"
One great idea at a time
By all means dream big but today's pitch isn’t the place to present the whole big picture of what your empire could look like when you’re Richard Branson’s age. Keep your pitch focused on making a compelling case for investing in the one great idea you have now. You risk watering that idea down considerable if you throw in all the other avenues you’re thinking about branching out into. But do prepare to answer follow up questions from your audience about where you see your company in 5 years.
Either make space for video and audio content or just don't use it!
Videos can be really powerful. You might want to demonstrate your prototype in action. Or get existing customers to validate there is a market for your product or service. If you go to the trouble of preparing a video, please don't talk over it! It’s amazing how many pitchers nervously do this. If you think this could be you, consider showing your video at the beginning of the pitch to succinctly set the scene and relax into standing in front of your audience.
Do you really need prompts to deliver a 3 minute pitch on an idea you’re passionate about?
Back in the 2000s I got pipped to the post for a job. The recruiter told me, "You were neck and neck with another candidate. We only decided to give it to them because they used PowerPoint". I thanked them for their feedback whilst silently screaming in my head "WHO NEEDS SLIDES FOR A 3 MINUTE PRESENTATION?!?". Others may disagree but I still think slides should be proportionate to the length of the pitch. A static slide with your logo, strapline, picture of your product, contact details will help people remember your identity. But if you’ve only got 3-5 minutes think carefully about whether multiple slides will make your key messages more persuasive or will distract from the words coming out of your mouth?
Make slides an asset not a distraction or irritation
In longer pitches make your slides an asset to your audience. Avoid ladening them with text and multiple bullet points. One takeaway point per slide maximum. Don’t let them become crutches. When you're nervous you're likely to keep turning towards your slides whilst delivering your pitch. If you do this, at least some of your audience won't be able to hear you. Trust me this is unbelievably irritating. I also don't remember Steve Jobs interrupting the flow of his annual product launches to say "uh, can I have the next slide please?". Invest £30 in a wireless clicker and learn to deliver your pitch looking forward with a minimal glance and point towards your slides. When it comes to the content take a look at this template pitch deck created by Chance Barnett, Founder of Crowdfunder.
Record yourself. Watch yourself. Cringe. Do it again.
Few of us like watching or hearing ourselves on camera but it's a necessary evil. You can capitalise on your fear of the camera to partially recreate what it'll be like stood in front of your audience. Once you've got over the cringeworthiness, watch out for clarity and content. Are you speaking too quickly? Did your voice tail off at the end of each sentence so your point was lost? Have you missed any key points? Does the pitch flow like a recognisable and engaging story?
Ditch the cast of hundreds to pitch
Every member of the pitching group should contribute something valuable. If you need one person to deliver the pitch and one person to stand there for morale support then you've got one too many people on stage. Do tell your audience who your team are but, in my opinion, you don’t need everyone stood there if they’ve nothing to say or do. It doesn't say "we're a lean efficient business where everyone plays an important role". It suggests a lack of confidence.
Expect the technology to fail
The wifi will be slower than your gran. The projector bulb will probably blow up. Even if it doesn't the damn thing is unlikely to recognise your laptop. If you expect all this and have a plan b you'll be fine. Avoid wasting time panicking and apologising for the technology, and instead show you’re agile enough to overcome a minor set back. On a related note, live demos are risky if your product is still in its infancy and you’re not confident at pitching. Consider a short, professionally edited video instead.
Screw modesty - you believe in this idea, right?
If there was a vaccine out there to combat British modesty I’d make it available on the NHS. Then we could all apologetically queue up at the doctor’s clinic for it. You can avoid being obnoxiously arrogant without defaulting to being painfully modest. Use natural words, tone and body language to show you're passionate and confident about your idea and have the energy and commitment to progress it further. Look your audience in the eye rather than staring down at notes. Take your hands out of pockets. Most of all, smile and be you. Even if Mr or Ms Ego in the audience tries to burst your bubble with a curve ball question, don't get deflated, defensive or dismissive. Thank them for the question and present your counter evidence calmly.

Mind your language
Talk like a human first and foremost. The word ‘leverage’ and similar corporate nonsense makes my blood run cold. In fact it makes me think you’re probably faking it a little too much.

Humour and controversy might make your pitch memorable for all the wrong reasons. On the plus side I vividly remember the pitcher used “data rape” to describe the problem his business idea would solve. On the down side I remember him because I thought it was abhorrent.  

Finally, I know this sounds stupid but, have you chosen a tongue twister for a name? Under pressure I’ve seen people unable to pronounce their own company or product name clearly. You either need to find ways to relax and slow down, or it might be time to rethink your brand!
Move on. Nothing to see here!
You WILL screw some pitches up. It's the law of averages. Spend 5 minutes reflecting on what went well and what you need to improve for your next pitch. Use these notes to prepare for the next pitch but don’t let the memory of a past disaster ruin future pitches.

Good luck pitchers!
Read more at Laura's blog Step33

Friday, 25 September 2015

Publish once, broadcast widely - what does it mean?

A few years back I was speaking about using social media in a crisis at a CIPR conference. During the course of that talk I coined one of my favourite mantras: "publish once broadcast widely"  (I have quite a few). Interestingly I've heard this coming back at me a number of times since, which in many ways is quite gratifying. The difficult bit is some people have misinterpreted it.

So to clarify, in a crisis you have one landing page or site on which you publish all relevant and important updates. Then you use all channels available to you to link back to the landing page. You then set about actively discouraging anyone who takes the information and re-interprets it. You persuade them to link back to the original text on your landing page.

Common sense really but you'd be surprised!

Friday, 14 August 2015

Digital Exeter, meetups, places and things to do!

Exeter is on fire at the moment, so many digital events so little time! 
Tech Nation report highlighting the growth of digital sector in Exeter
The arrival of Hub@TechExeter  and the second Generator co-working space on the Quay,Exeter Science Park open for business, those Cosmic people offering digital leadership courses. I can hardly keep up! 
Slight problem is knowing when everything is on and where to find out! Yes you can follow Twitter and Facebook feeds and email lists, use meetup app,  but not definitive!

I've made a list of the initiatives I know of here:

Hang out and work
Innovation Centre & Cafe - Exeter University
Exeter Science Park
Generator - Co working space Exeter
Exeter Library Meeting Rooms for hire
Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre
RAMM Museum, Art gallery & Cafe Exeter
Devon Work Hubs - work hubs dotted around Devon
Tech Exeter, community, conference and co-working space (formerly Exeter Web)

Maker Space: 

FabLab Devon - Exeter Central Library
Raspberry Pi Jam

Go to events:

Exeter Castle Demos pitch your business
Exeter Startup Weekends - Start a business in 54 hours Twitter: @innovexeter
Digital Exeter - talks and networking Twitter: @DigitalExeter
TechExeter - community and conference
EXIST - Science and Tech talks and networking Twitter: @ExIST_Exeter 
ODI Devon - open data - talks and networking Twitter: @ODIDevon
GeekCampX - sporadic geek fun and games Twitter: @GeekCampX

Many of these are also on  Download the app if you have a smartphone

Please comment on this blog with any I've missed and I'll update and add to the post. Hopefully it'll become a useful source of reference.

Happy Geeking!