Feb 06

Sir Ken in his element

Are you passionately doing something you’re good at?

That was Sir Ken Robinson‘s challenge to us (and everyone really) last night at the Arnolfini. I hadn’t seen his TED2006 presentation, you should, its just there on the right.

First of all, Sir Ken is an exceptional speaker. Very self-depreciating sense of humour, great timing, stage presence, etc. If the message weren’t so profound we might have been in the Comedy Club.

After a pre-amble Sir Ken opened by noting that he hadn’t really followed a planned career, that he’d been opportunistic whilst following his personal true north. But then do any of us follow a planned career these days?

When we write our CV we impose a narrative retrospectively, or as Sir Ken put it:

…thus I moved from being a gardener to helicopter pilot…[pause]

as have so many before me…

He boiled his book down into 2 core principles for being “in your element”:

  1. Doing stuff which for which you have a natural aptitude
  2. and loving what you do

Everyone has many aptitudes, things we’re good at, that we get. The trouble is, because we ‘get it’ we assume that its obvious, that anyone could do it. The trick is to realise that, maybe, it’s not so obvious and actually we are genuinely better at that particular thing than others.

The example Sir Ken used was Terence Tao. At two, Terence taught himself to read, by 3 he was doing double-digit mathematics, by 9 he scored 99% in the Maths SAT, by 20 he had a PhD and by 30 he won the Field Medal for Maths. Terence was good at maths, he ‘got it’.

Not everyone can be as good at maths as Terence, arguably no one is. But there are things we’re good at, that we get, that others find difficult. Those are the things that Sir Ken is suggesting we find, discover and encourage in ourselves and others. In an aside (of which there were a few) the culture of corporate & organisational development was touched upon. A very powerful case was made for thinking of the organisation as an organism, to consider development more akin to gardening than engineering.

A good gardener creates the right conditions for plants to flourish, a good manager should create the right conditions for their people to flourish.

Sir Ken then moved on to the concept of loving what you do. He related a gig he went to many years ago. Afterwards they were having a drink with the band and he remarked to the keyboard player that he’d love to be in a band and playing keyboards. The response was “no you don’t”, after a bit the clarification was that Sir Ken liked the idea of being in a band, whereas the keyboard player loved it, would be doing it even if he wasn’t playing gigs.

When we find something we love doing that plays to our natural aptitudes, then we’re in our element.

Like natural resources, human resources are often buried. They’re not always lying right on the surface to pick up and run with. That should be the role of the education system. In the TED talk Sir Ken makes the point that the education system is designed to produce University Professors. Which is fine for University Professors, but of varying use for everyone else.

Another issue touched upon was that life is not linear but our education system assumes it is. You can’t plan the future of anything (the recent weather has re-taught us that) let alone people. Schooling kids at Primary / Kindergarten to prepare them for University is madness. A 3-year old is not half a 6-year old; a 6-year old is not half a 12-year old.

Unfortunately there wasn’t much on what Sir Ken’s education system would look like or how it would operate. Perhaps that’s in the book. A lot of people are working on similar ideas, most notably in Bristol the Enquiring Minds project with Futurelab and Microsoft but the systemic transformation is some way off.

Thanks go to Bristol Festival of Ideas for organising and the Arnolfini for hosting.

Jan 07

Serendipity engineering

Atticus Finch Uploaded on August 21, 2006 by Dunechaser

Atticus Finch - Uploaded on August 21, 2006 by Dunechaser

How valuable is engineered serendipity to your business? On my way back from a meeting in the Watershed I thought I’d stick my head into UWE’s new business incubator facility in Bush House. Only opened just before Christmas they already have a good selection of tenants including the usual scattering of graduate start-ups (such as Carolyn Newton from Whale Bags, a business plan competition winner).

I also bumped into Chris, Dave, and Toby from Evans & Finch. I’d spoke to Dave & Chris last year at OpenCoffee before they’d settled so it’s great to see them finding their feet so quickly. For one thing the holding page they had back in November is now funky showcase of their work.

Chris, Toby and I threw a couple ideas around for some funding they’re thinking about applying for. They had a very strong feature set (not unusual for a software / tech company) and a pretty compelling description of the benefits, which is nice to see. The challenge we were kicking around was how to bring that to bare upon the funding call.

We took a step back from the application itself and looked at the funders as clients. This lead to some great new directions for the proposal. We’ll find out how they get on in a couple of weeks.

So how does that help jbsh? Well in the short term it doesn’t. It does build the relationship with Chris, Dave & Toby (especially if they land the funding 🙂 ) which may lead to some consultancy in the future. More likely, they’ll bump into someone that needs some business planning support and think of me.

Serendipity works like that, so long as the opportunity cost doesn’t outweigh the benefit its always a good investment.

I was in town, I could have gone straight home and sorted a couple emails or helped Chris & Dave and lay the opportunity. I think helping out Chris & Dave was a better use of my time and the emails will get answered in due course.

Nov 27

A real Live Guy

Dan Such bags a netbook

Dan Such bags a netbook

A variation of igFest‘s Moosehunt came to Bristol yesterday in the form of Vodafone’s LiveGuy, his mission (which it looks like he accepted with eagerness):

I’m travelling from the north to the south of Britain, laying down clues to my whereabouts. Your mission is to find me – and maybe even bag yourself a netbook. You’ve got two ways to win. Either Find LiveGuy in person or Find LiveGuy online.

<plug>All with the help of a very cool looking Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook connected to the Vodafone network and with a GPS chip giving location updates (delayed slightly for the purposes of giving LiveGuy a fighting chance).</plug>

Sam Machin catches up with LiveGuy

Sam Machin catches up with LiveGuy

Through the wonders of social media, Mike Coulter met with with LiveGuy at the start of his journey in Edinburgh. It was his blog & twitter stream that alerted me to the project. Mike then dm’d me to see if I wanted help drum up some interest around Bristol.

A few txt messsages, phone calls and emails led to an early morning rendevouz at a top secret location before the day’s excitment around Bristol. As well as bringing Liveguy and his support team (Alastair) up to speed with some of what’s going on around Bristol in the creative use of mobile & locative technology we also had a really good discussion over the future of such technologies and what you can achieve with them.

Obviously the creative and pervasive media projects going on around the Pervasive Media Studio were of interest along with the robotics research between the Universities, but what struck me was the genuine interest around communities, engagement and ways in which technology, and the service providers, can help facilitate that engagement.

Bristol has as checkered a history at public engagement as any other city but in recent years a number of really good initiatives have shown what can be achieved. The flagship is probably the Knowle West Media Centre with a huge and expanding range of community programmes covering pretty much all aspects of digital media. These are so good they’re now running a social enterprise with clients including blue chips and local community companies. They’ve also engaged in a number of innovative mobile and locative technology projects exploring the ways in which civic engagement can be facilitated by technology.

Tom Dowding also spotted LiveGuy

Tom Dowding also spotted LiveGuy

We also talked about the Connecting Bristol project which came out of the Digital Challenge. This is another area where creative use of technology is being applied to wide civic challenges. Under the wing of the City Council, but operating independently out of the eOffice on Wine St, Stephen Hilton and Kevin O’Malley are part of 10 city collaboration. As well as news about the DC10 grouping of cities, Kevin regularly posts about other initiatives and news that is of interest for those at the intersection between technology and civic change (environment, education, planning, transport, are just some recent topics).

With that it was nearly time for LiveGuy to fire up twitter and hit the streets of Bristol, and for me to head off also. I’m staying in touch with Alastair so watch this space for more announcements.

Congratulations to Dan Such, Sam Machin, Tom Dowing and the online winner, Ruth Bailey.

Disclosure: Although I knew where Liveguy was starting his day in Bristol, I didn’t know the itinerary and chose not to take part in the Find Live Guy challenge. There is no business relationship between jbsh LLP, Vodafone or the agency behind LiveGuy.

Update 1: the picture links to Picassa didn’t seem to work – so I’ve copied the images to jbsh.co.uk and linked to them here.

Aug 20

Dorkbot Bristol

Handle with Care, its an Amstrad

Handle with Care, it's an Amstrad

Last night we gathered at the Pervasive Media Studio for the second in the Dorkbot Show’n’Tell series. Sam Downie gave us an introduction to life casting and some of the technologies he’s been using in his internet radio and video casting shows. There was also a large swag bag from the last MacWorld that Sam was trying to get rid of generously giving away.

John Honniball then stepped up and showed some of his near inexhaustible range of old junk that too many of us recognised from our early brushes with technology. Whereas we used and abused these artefacts, John has accumulated, restored and demonstrates them. But not the Amstrad in the picture; thanks to Sir Alan Sugar’s engineering/business acumen, the plastic has degraded to the point that it has to be handled with latex gloves to prevent getting decomposed Amstrad all over your hands. Nasty.

We also had an introduction to SWiM from Tom Holder. Since a large portion of the audience were involved in web development, there was a ton of interest. Some great questions about authentication and the quality assurance for the apps store that they’re planning rounded out a great evening. Thanks to Sam & his Eye-Fi card for the photo and to Rachel for organising. More Dorkbot photos on Flickr soon I’m sure.

Aug 12

Cambridge Folk Festival 2008

Photo by Clare Borley

Photo by Clare Borley

The Cambridge Folk Festival might be a strange topic for this blog, but it is a function I have been working for the past sixteen years!  Most people attend events such as this to watch great bands performing live.  They get to enjoy the atmosphere and attempt to dance between the rain drops. I however am there to work!  Obviously many people are there to work; security, general helping staff, vendors, bar staff, stage hands, electricians, gas engineers, not to mention the performers, but as it is often said an army marches on its stomach.  That is where I come in……

I meet up with a select team of people each year under Bob the chef as part of the ‘Quintessential Cuisine’ team tasked with providing food for the “Staff and Artists”.  This merry band of 5 produce breakfast, lunch and evening meals for 2000 people over a four day period.  I am part of this team, but I also specifically look after the artists and their riders.

A contract rider includes specifications on stage design, sound systems, lighting rigs, as well as an artist’s wish list-from transportation and billing to dressing room accommodations and meals. At some festivals, a promoter will refuse a demand (crossing out the request on the document), but at Cambridge the stars usually get what they want, whether it’s new black cotton soaks, or a box full of fruit so they can prepare their own smoothies.

So I spend considerable amount of time preparing special meals for some artists and vast numbers of sandwiches and deli platers for others.  What this does mean is that when the rest of the catering team are not working I am in the kitchen trying to get on top of things so that when the main rush hits, I can help out with the staff meals and coordinating service times.

This break from the routine of health/clinical psychology and research analysis is wonderful.  As a qualified chef, preparing food is a careful balance of colours, flavours, textures and presentation not to mention getting it on the table in time (no mean feat when you’re basically working on a camping gas stove).  I also experience a whole different side of humanity.

It essence it keeps me fresh and if you’re not going away on holiday then a change is as good as a rest!