Options 1, 2, 3…


Every choice you take...

This will be my last blog post until 8th December – I’m taking a bit of a break from these computery things for a few days. If you’re bored in the meantime (!) I’ve uploaded and categorised every daily email I’ve ever written, dating back (with a few gaps) to September 2012, here – categories on the right, or at the bottom of the page if you’re on a mobile.

I’m constantly fascinated by the results of decisions, indecisions, forks in the road, pathways to take.

Everything you do (and don’t do) has an unimaginable number of consequences: the exact time you leave the house determines who you sit next to on the bus or train; the jacket you put on might be the difference between whether someone strikes up a conversation with you – which could lead to new friendships, love, jobs, opportunities…

I remember once when I used to play golf, teeing-up the ball a couple of feet behind the tee-line, only to see, a few shots later, my ball fall short of the hole by the exact same distance.

“If only I’d started two feet further forward, that would be in!”

Of course, it wouldn’t. Every subsequent action would have been slightly different – the bounce, the lie, everything.

There’s probably a fallacy named around this, but I don’t have time to look it up this morning. Answers on a postcard…

It would be a mistake to allow this sort of thing to overwhelm you: if anything it should comfort you. There is no control over what might happen – only how you react to any situation you find yourself in, and which situations you allow yourself to be in. It’s true ‘bigger picture’ stuff – you can’t plan for who you’re going to randomly meet this weekend, but you can commit to taking whatever opportunity may arise.

Make decisions with the best expectations, but do not pretend you can control every aspect of every result of your decision. You don’t know what’s going to happen next, who you’re going to meet or what may become of it.

On the other hand, you do know that how you react to the various whats, whos and hows of life can lead to great things in the future.

Not knowing is half the fun. Enjoy the ride.

I should be back on the 8th December.

Photo credit: Dominick

Just because you can…


You can't make an omelette without breaking all the rules of quality content creation

Eye-roll of the day yesterday was a video demonstrating how to make an omelette in a George Foreman grill, which I’m not even going to offer the dignity of a link.

“It only takes a couple of minutes” was the proud boast, as our intrepid filmmaker frantically scraped the ridges with a (non-scratch) spatula before closing the lid to cook something that looked nothing like a) an omelette or b) anything edible.

Life hacks like this are, at best, tedious. They come from the content-for-the-sake-of-it school of marketing, the “Read this list – numbers 3 and 7 will blow your mind!” epidemic which has swept the web in the last few years.

You don’t need to hack an omelette. I’m not even sure you can – it’s a ridiculous premise in the first place, and people across the world lose untold hours reading and watching such rubbish when they could be, I don’t know, cooking an omelette.

Firstly, don’t pretend that finding efficiencies is always efficient. Sometimes you can save time by improving technique, or re-engineering how you do something. Other times, it’s not worth the bother.

Secondly, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Technology is a wonderful thing, when it’s used properly. It’s wonderful when it makes our world easier, happier, better.

The George Foreman grill isn’t designed for omelettes. It makes horrible-looking ones, doesn’t save you time and achieves nothing.

If you take a look around at some of the other things you do on a regular basis you can probably apply the same thoughts. So much of our activity and energy is spent on things which are unnecessary, inefficient, pointless or simply an utter waste of time and resources – take a moment to consider whether that latest ‘life hack’ is of any use whatsoever, or if you’re doing it for the sake of feeling like a domestic revolutionary.

And if you want a good omelette, try a pan and some eggs. It’s really not difficult.

Photo credit: Ed Schipul

Turn away the crowds

Don't spend your life firefighting

Don't spend your life firefighting

I spent Saturday evening in probably the busiest pub I’ve ever been in, watching a band. Proper arms-by-your-side, move-only-with-the-sway-of-the-crowd busy.

Busy with people, anyway. Busy being a pub…? Perhaps not. The bar staff weren’t exactly rushed off their feet – anyone more than a couple of feet from the bar had to either make the choice to fight through to get a drink, or just not bother – and retain the hard-won space to actually enjoy the music.

(This was a jazz band, by the way, in a small, local pub – we’re not talking heavy rock concerts in a stadium.)

I suspect the pub didn’t make as much money as they expected; and would have done considerably better if it were ‘fairly’ busy instead of one-in-one-out unable-to-move busy.

It’s a familiar enough concept, and I’d like to think my old economics teacher would have at least a shiver of pride to know I can still remember the concepts around the law of diminishing returns.

An empty pub makes no money, a reasonably busy one makes plenty: but the average spend per person will decrease as the number of people increases past a certain point – i.e. the marginal value of allowing an extra person into the pub decreases as the pub nears capacity.

Sometimes, you can simply be too busy. I agree to a certain extent with the old adage that if you want something done, ask a busy person; but there comes a point where that stops working.

We’ve all experienced in life the impossible to-do list, the backlog of orders or customer requests which simply can’t fit into the time available, the demands on your attention.

Too much noise.

Just as an aeroplane can’t take off without a runway, you (or your business) can’t be expected to function effectively if there is simply too much to do (or, worse, people can’t even get to you because of the crowds).

At some point you have to stop letting people in through the door.

Photo credit: Jazz Guy



When you see someone who is angry, they’re more likely to actually be experiencing a different emotion: perhaps fear, embarrassment of failure, grief, perhaps even ignorance; or, to go slightly deeper, an underlying dissatisfaction with the path of their life has taken and the ever-increasing gap between the actions of their current self and the belief in who they truly are.

Something like that, anyway.

Anger, like revenge, extends suffering. You dwell on wrongs, both past and future. You create scenarios in your head which didn’t, or may never, happen. It leads to self-doubt, mistakes (which leads to more anger), ill-thought-out reactions, upsets others and is generally a Bad Thing.

You can’t be happy all the time of course, not truly. And you shouldn’t try to control your emotions – there’s no switch to flick, no happy button to push.

But you can control who you react to how you feel. Angry, upset, stressed…? Perhaps not a great time to try that complicated new recipe you’ve been thinking about. Overwhelmed? Say no to a few things. This all sounds like obvious advice – it is – and it also sounds easy – it isn’t.

Learning to adjust your actions to your state of mind is an incredibly important part of daily life. Force yourself to pause, whether it is through a few deep breaths, or by temporarily removing yourself from a difficult situation. Understanding how your actions or reactions are affected by your state of mind can improve not just how you act, but how you feel.

Catching yourself ‘in the act’ is the first step of taking control: so much of anger is a reaction to not being in control.

Catch yourself, pause, and think.

Photo credit: Guyon Morée

Doing good


The factory was ablaze – three buildings and 2,600 jobs going up in smoke. Lives ruined, careers ended, a community devastated and a business in tatters.

Malden Mills, a textile manufacturer in the US, caught fire on December 11, 1995. CEO Aaron Feuerstein had a few options. He could walk away, start again – perhaps in a new, cheaper location, perhaps overseas.


He could continue paying the salaries of his entire staff whilst the business wasn’t trading and the factory was rebuilt.

Feuerstein said:

“I have a responsibility to the worker, both blue-collar and white-collar. I have an equal responsibility to the community. It would have been unconscionable to put 3,000 people on the streets and deliver a deathblow to the cities of Lawrence and Methuen. Maybe on paper our company is worthless to Wall Street, but I can tell you it’s worth more.”

Doing right when it’s easy is, well, easy. It’s when it’s difficult (or when people aren’t watching) that your morals and true resolve are tested.

There are three stages of moral development according to Lawrence Kohlberg, a 20th century American psychologist:

  1. Doing right out of fear of punishment, or out of self-interest
  2. Doing right out of convention – what is expected of you by society (and/or the law)
  3. Doing right because it is right – a principled conscience.

(I’ve got a nice little argument around this about people behaving as you treat them: treat criminals as criminals and they will remain so. If you govern conformance through fear and self-interest, people will become afraid and act accordingly. Perhaps one to explore another day…)

Doing right returns us to the good old question of: why are you here? I’ve written before (somewhere) about the problems of wanting to change the world, compared with the more realistic, attainable idea of changing a world.

This place in which we live is both too small and too big. Too small to live a selfish life; too big to easily change. We must instead focus on what we can do – begin the ripples which will become waves; take the first steps of the transformative marathon which is life.

The transcendentalist movement in 19th century America believed in the fundamental goodness of people. One of its champions, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote:-

“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.”

There are worse ideals by which to live.

Photo credit: ccbar

Glockenspiel nights


Specialise, we’re told. Find your niche, they say. “Become an expert in something you love”, is the order (bonus points for excreting the word “passionate”).

But there’s a big difference between specialising and finding a niche – what if the niche, for example, is that you don’t specialise?

I saw Katzenjammer last night, who were fantastic (it’s almost impossible to choose a single video to sum up the act). One notable feature of their show is the instrument changes:  band members will switch effortlessly from bass to acoustic to piano to balalaika, accordion, trumpet, drums, glockenspiel, kazoo… at one point seven instruments were being played with three voices harmonising – quite an achievement for a four-piece band.

Quantity is, I’m well aware, no replacement for quality – but this wasn’t done for the sake of it, but the result of a total love for music, a stonking amount of practise and an understanding of how to get the best out of each instrument, band member and song.

Anyway, eulogising aside, my point is: perhaps that tiny little niche, at least in the ‘traditional’ sense of the world, isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Whilst specialising can of course have its rewards – a true expert is a valuable thing – there is risk. Like a driver blindly following their sat-navs down a narrow lane, you can forget to explore and learn what else is out there.

You can become blind to possibility, ignore the changes in the world which do not suit your skills (read Marketing Myopia – 875Kb PDF – by Theodore Levitt), dig your expert head into the sandy desert of your, um, field.

There are a lot of curators out there at the moment. They bring things together, unsurprisingly, and have a wide, deep knowledge of their field, but perhaps without the specific skills to proclaim expertise in a niche. It matters not: if you employ a lookout on your ship, better they watch the whole ocean than merely the fifty yards in front of your bow.

A person who can bring skills, people, expertise, knowledge together in an effective way is just as useful as the experts themselves. Someone with a range of abilities can fill gaps in a business (or elsewhere) in a way others cannot.

Polymath, perhaps, or maybe a short attention span – but the ability to put down your guitar and start playing the glockenspiel can be a very useful thing in life.

Photo credit: Hans Olav Talgø

Past, present and future


Plan, but don’t worry, for the future. Reflect, but don’t dwell, upon the past. Live the present moment, and neither endure nor postpone it.

The past is made-up of memories, dissonance and contradiction: but also of happiness and pleasure. History is written by the victors: and your own personal history is often written by the strongest part of your personality, which may be positive or negative.

The future is made-up of plans, worries, prejudices and fear: but also of optimism and action. It is controlled by that same side of your personality: positive thinking tends to lead to positive results, negative to negative.

The present, on the other hand, is where everything actually happens. There is no disguising. You may react differently to similar situations depending on your mood (a meal eaten when hungry will often taste better than that same meal eaten when rushed, upset, stressed…).

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” – Annie Dillard

But the present is where you are, always. However much your mind drifts to what has gone before or to what is yet to come, what you experience now, at this moment, is your true life.

Orwell’s oft-quoted slogan, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past” is normally used in a negative light.

But take joy from it: your past was yours, your future is yours, and so is your present – and you can have control of each, if you really want to.

Photo credit: Jim Sher, Flickr



Jun is a small town in Spain. It’s pronounced ‘hoon’, if you’re interested.

It uses Twitter. A lot. Led by the mayor, José Antonio Rodríguez Salas, local people have joined Twitter and had their identities confirmed at the local town hall.

Want to report a pot hole? Tweet it. Broken streetlight? Tweet.

Problems are shared, publicly. Promises made, publicly. Promises get kept.

Apart from the benefits of transparency, it turns the often negative interactions between public bodies and citizens into positive communication. When the council tax bill comes through, in other words, you perhaps don’t feel so bad about it.

Opportunities like this are everywhere, in life and work. It doesn’t mean you have to use Twitter to solve your problems; but at least be open to new ideas, to alternative ways of doing things.

A lot of problems can be solved by identifying the actual problem. In the case of Jun, the problem being solved is not how to use Twitter, but how to create instant, transparent, actionable communication. I suspect one of the reasons it works is the 140-character limit: it forces you to be concise. Arbitrary limits can be good.

And with that in mind, I should stop typing.

Photo credit: Duncan Hall

What next?


“S[an] F[rancisco] tech culture is focused on solving one problem: What is my mother no longer doing for me?” (via @azizshamim)

“It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up.” (George Packer)

The rise in the ‘sharing economy’ (where the people who make most of the profit share most of the risk downwards) will lead to an existential, phenomenological crisis where people desperately cling to any hint of meaning for their life.

Every day will become about grasping the gig; much as dockworkers used to line-up to be picked-out or sent home. The money will, of course, flow upwards. The rat-race will be replaced by a rat-fight.

Technology is, can be, a powerful force for good, but it can also be incredibly isolating; the 1% will become the 0.1%. Where we’re going is almost impossible to predict: a lot of jobs will be replaced by tech, but a lot more will be created too. It’s not hard to put together a pretty lengthy list of jobs which didn’t exist 10, 20, 30 years ago. Change happens and it will continue to.

Will we still have weekends in twenty-five years? It’s a struggle to see the need for them, and only some sort of social necessity dictates the current format of the working week. Weekends create social opportunities – Friday night drinks, Saturday morning swimming with the kids, Saturday afternoon football, the Sunday family roast… although many place less emphasis than others.

From a working point of view, weekends are increasingly unnecessary and irrelevant: but it’s easy to argue that from a social and wellbeing point of view they are more important than ever.

It’s easy to pretend that a 20-year-old with cash on hand doesn’t have any problems – “at least, not compared to me” – but everything is relative. The people with the energy, enthusiasm, ideas and money will always drive things forward, whether those things are driverless vehicles (we should perhaps stop thinking of them as ‘cars’ with the individualism that tends to conjure-up) or mobile apps to take away the unending nightmare of having to wash some clothes occasionally. Imagine.

This is perhaps a good time to warn you that I don’t really know where I’m going with this email. It’s just an amalgamation of a few things jumping around my head this morning as I cycled across Cambridge: in itself a bizarre amalgamation of the old and the new, with the universities and science/tech parks working side-by-side and against one another in a weird form of magnetic attraction and repulsion.

We must keep our traditions, but change everything.

It’s tough to come to a conclusion when you don’t really know what you’re trying to say, but the concepts of business, life, family, social interaction is changing faster than ever before; there are some things we must surely cling onto and others we have to change (many of which haven’t even happened yet).

Any thoughts?

Photo credit: JD Hancock

Happy Monday


Monday morning – how do you feel?

If you get those “Monday morning blues”, there are probably a few reasons. One, certainly, is that you expect to get them, and so you do. Yes, it all seems jokey and fun to share another inane meme about Mondays, but you’re simply not giving yourself a chance.

Each Monday is your blank slate for the week: you should start it as you mean to go on.

Common scenario: you hit ‘snooze’ on your alarm clock (breaking your first promise of the day), then get up and turn on the news – immediately filling your slightly vulnerable sleepy self with negativity. It’s no wonder so many people look miserable in the morning.

There are a couple of practical steps you could take: firstly, you could make your weekends more miserable, so the change isn’t as great. Alternatively you could make your weekdays happier.

How you start your day and you week is fundamental to what actually happens. If you approach everything with an attitude of “this is terrible, this will go wrong, what’s the point?” … well, what do you expect to happen?

Have a great, and happy, week.

Photo credit: Henrique Simplicio