From the Journal
In November, I shared the sad news that Casey Neistat was calling at a day and ending his vlog. As an educator I shared Neistat’s vlog with hundreds of students (not to mention a multitude of professionals). It was packed with useful advice and, even better, it was an entertaining way to learn.
Great news: “The vlog is back.” This made my day.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of discovering Neistat’s thinking, you now have a good reason to rectify that (and I’d encourage you to do so, post haste). Welcome back, Mr Neistat! I’m looking forward to a daily dose of inspiration once again.
I recently discovered Madlug, a travel bag business with a difference. Their story, which is clearly articulated and poignant, caught my attention.
Madlug’s story, and its purpose, is clear:
With every bag purchased a new travel bag will be given to a child in care to help them make their way with dignity.
Reflecting on the business’s founding principles, Madlug’s founder, Dave Linton, tells a story of how he was struck by the plight of a young girl in a wheelchair, who explained:
Health trusts don’t provide suitcases. Sometimes foster carers loan us a suitcase, but more often our belongings are moved in black plastic bin bags and we lose our dignity.
Determined to address this heartbreaking situation, Madlug was born, with a focused mission: to create ‘Make a Difference Luggage’.
From these humble beginnings, Madlug has grown into, “A movement of incredible people buying incredible bags so that new travel bags can be given to incredible children and young people in care.”
To date the company has given over 1,100 travel bags to children in care, helping – in a small, but important way – to give these children back their dignity.
Yes, Madlug is selling bags, but what they’re actually selling is something else: dignity.
We might be living in an age where UK CEOs ‘Earn 386 Times More Than Workers on the National Living Wage’, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference to others’ lives and, in the process, help to build successful businesses.
Madlug, and other companies like it, are selling hope, and hope is a precious commodity in the here and now.
Next time you’re looking for a travel bag, why not make a difference at the same time, and pick up a Madlug bag? You’ll be helping others in the process and making your own small dent in the universe.
Since 2015, John Maeda – working with a talented team – has published an annual Design in Tech Report. This year’s edition was posted in early March and, if you’re in any way involved at the intersection of design and technology, I’d strongly recommend downloading a copy, saving it and reading it.
I’m a little late to this year’s party as my focus of late has been on teaching, writing and running workshops – not to mention taking a little time off from screens – but, as they say, better late than never.
2017’s Design in Tech Report is filled with useful advice. A number of insights leapt off the page for me:
Design isn’t just about beauty; it’s about market relevance and meaningful results.
Few would argue with this, but – surprisingly (as is often the case with key insights) – it’s often overlooked. Design isn’t window dressing, it increasingly lies at the heart of everything we do, and it’s great to see this thinking moving to the fore.
At top business schools, design thinking is moving into the curriculum.
Not before time! As an educator, I believe that the most interesting and exciting opportunities that lie ahead sit at the intersection of design and business. (That’s why Tiny Books is focused on exploring the design of business and the business of design.)
Imagine what we could do if we tore down the silos that exist between design and business education? Imagine an MBA with a fundamental design-driven focus, as opposed to design added as an afterthought. That’s a course I’d like to contribute to.
Code is not the only unicorn skill.
As a writer and designer you won’t be surprised to hear that Maeda’s stress on the importance of writing as a core part of the design process appeals to me. Writing is a critical design skill that is all too often overlooked in curricula. Indeed, it’s a skill that will become increasingly valuable with the emergence of conversational interfaces.
(My only, minor, complaint is that the ‘design schools that include writing and content strategy’ singled out in the report are all based in the United States. Design is a global activity, after all.)
If you’re late to the party like me, this year, make haste and download a copy of the report. It’s filled with thought-provoking advice.
We live increasingly in a world of streams.
Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media seduce us into a river-like model that sweeps us along, carried away on the current of conversations (if, that is, our thoughts even spark conversations).
The stream is relentless. You commit your ideas to it and hope, against hope, that they might find traction somewhere… anywhere.
To be a part of this stream is to be a part of something (or so we’re told). A short update here, a brief link to something there… feed the stream.
These fragments of thought are all too easily imparted, but when we live in the stream – in reality a torrent, that can easily sweep anything of lasting value away – we’re in danger of committing our thought to a world that often seems only interested in the superficial.
I’m beginning to question the need to be immersed in this river.
The stream is seductive, of course. It’s fuelled by a fear of missing out. We’re led to believe that turning our backs on the wealth of social media platforms that vie for our attention will leave us isolated, disconnected from the masses immersed in the rapids that are hurriedly moving forth.
However – if we’re not careful – we can get swept along by the stream and find our thinking lost all too quickly in a relentless torrent of fragments. Shallow shortform thoughts are easily swept away.
This idea – of shallow thought, versus deep thought – is something I’ve been thinking about a great deal of late (thanks, in no small part, to a decision I made on 1 January, 2017 to forego the shallows of social media streams – Twitter, in particular – in favour of spending more time reading, thinking and aiming to share thoughts that were more fully thought through).
Deep thought – by its nature much harder to mine – is where I believe the real value lies.
Over the holiday period I read and re-read Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and, whilst I might not agree with the entirety of Newport’s thinking, the book did force me to question the sheer quantity of time I was committing to what you might term ‘shallow outputs’.
As an educator, one of my roles is to signpost interesting thinking and, for the last year, I invested a great deal of time sharing links to interesting articles and other discoveries via Twitter. I hoped that by doing so I might point my students, and others, in interesting directions.
On balance, however, I think the effort I expended on this was, for the most part, sadly wasted. Looking back I think the time I expended in the stream would have been better spent elsewhere.
This line – from a recent post by Newport – shouted at me from the screen:
Deep, audacious results are the only currency that matters.
It might seem obvious – it is to me, now – but deep, audacious results (the result of deep, audacious thoughts) are less likely to emerge in the fragmentary streams we currently find ourselves immersed in. We need to focus on life beyond the stream.
To find the ideas that matter – the ideas that really last – it might be an idea to step out of the stream altogether.
If we do that, I believe, we might share ideas of value to an audience that is crying out for more – much more – than 140 character status updates.
If the web’s your forté I’d urge you to take a look at Pixel Pioneers, a series of affordable events that brings world class advice from designers and developers right to your doorstep.
Courtesy of Oliver Lindberg – until recently the editor of net magazine (and, in the interests of full disclosure, a good friend of mine) – Pixel Pioneers 100% echoes my values: it’s priced incredibly reasonably; it has a line up that features a balanced mix of speakers; and it’s touring the UK, so travel expenses should be less of an issue.
Pixel Pioneers’ inaugural event will take place in the lovely city of Bristol on 22 June, 2017. It’s just £99 for an early bird ticket, so it’s well within reach of all: snap a ticket up quick!
Even better – from my perspective – Pixel Pioneers is coming to Belfast on 16 November, 2017.
I’m very much looking forward to attending a conference in Belfast once again, having run Break and contributed heavily to Build. It feels long overdue to welcome everyone to our city once again (this time without the stress of running a conference!).
Roll on November!
I’m very much looking forward to joining a wonderful line up of speakers at DIBI, Edinburgh in March, 2017. I’m honoured to be part of a schedule that includes a host of world class speakers, including: Joshua Davis (always an inspiration), and a wide range of inspiring speakers from Slack, Clearleft and Adobe Typekit, amongst others.
I’ll be delivering the closing keynote on the first day and (I hope!) priming the audience for an evening of heartfelt discussion.
My talk, ‘A Calculated Leap of Faith’, will touch on some of the ideas I covered in my first Tiny Book, ‘Start! Stop Procrastinating and Pursue Your Passion’, and will explore the pieces you need to put in place to turn your ideas into a reality.
If you’ve not picked up a ticket – and you’ll be in the vicinity of Edinburgh in March – I’d encourage you to get a ticket before they disappear. I very much hope to see you there.
If you’ve ever wanted to speak at a conference, I’d strongly recommend reading Des Traynor’s thoughts on How to Get Started at Conference Speaking. It’s to the point and filled with useful advice that’s well worth heeding.
Traynor, one of the co-founders of Intercom, is a seasoned speaker and his advice, hard won in the trenches, is worth taking on board. One idea that caught my eye is the idea that you can, “Build your own speaking resume without having a stage.” As Traynor puts it the web is a powerful – off stage – medium for practising your on stage thoughts:
As examples, Ryan Singer and Benedict Evans have given great talks to their laptops and published these online. So when people tell me they can’t find their, “first speaking event,” I tell them it’s right in front of them.
This is great advice (and something I’d overlooked before).
I’m a firm believer in the power of conference speaking to shape your thinking, but getting started can be a challenge. If you’re considering embarking on the road to a keynote, I’m sure you’ll appreciate Traynor’s thoughts.
Taking time off from time to time is, I think, important (if often overlooked). It’s hard to recharge your intellectual batteries if you never retreat and regroup.
As the new year dawned I made a conscious decision to pause and set aside some time for reading, something I’ve enjoyed tremendously over the last few weeks.
I’ll be sharing some recommendations for required reading shortly – drawing from my recent reading retreat – but for now, it’s time to get started again and, from today, share some thoughts for a new year (albeit a little belatedly).
I’m looking forward to 2017, there’s lots to learn and I’m looking forward to learning it.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a week, but I’m delighted to have finally launched my first book: Start! Stop Procrastinating and Pursue Your Passion. It’s been a long – very long – journey, but it’s a relief to have finally shipped.
Not before time!
I’ll be writing a longer, reflective post – sharing some of the lessons I learned on the journey – in due course, but for now… I’m looking forward to having a short break and catching up on some long-overdue reading.
If you’d like to buy the book I’d very much appreciate your support. It’s timed perfectly for a spot of holiday reading, and if you have an idea for a business you’d like to turn into a reality, it will help you achieve your goals.
MailChimp’s tools are incredibly easy to use and – equally importantly – their guides are a gift. If you’re embarking on an email marketing journey (which I am), I’d thoroughly recommend using MailChimp and availing of all the helpful advice they offer.
As they put it:
The Email Design Guide is filled with tips and advice to help you convey your message in style. Learn how to better use images, fonts, calls to action and more.
The guide takes you step-by-step through everything you need to know to design effective emails, ensuring your message is heard loud and clear.
I’m looking forward to hitting ‘Send’ on my launch email later today. If you’re not subscribed to the newsletter, sign up and you’ll get a special 48 hour discount when the book launches, saving you 1/3 off the price.
I’d like to thank MailChimp for ensuring the process of creating my launch emails was effortless and easy. Hats off to their team for all their hard work!
If you’re interested in improving your thinking, one way to do so is to read smart books recommended by smart people.
Bill Gates has shared a short list of five books for Holiday Reading in a short – less than three minute – video, complete with a few thoughts on why they’re worth your time.
On that note, I’m off to my local book store….
My father was a world class chess player and, as such, I never stood a chance playing against him. (It’s a measure of his single-minded dedication to the game that he found it profoundly difficult to allow anyone to win, even when playing his grandchildren.)
As a consequence – never winning and never having a chance of winning – my early passion for the game evaporated over time. I just lacked the strength required to win, and playing against an international standard player didn’t help.
Discovering Really Bad Chess reignited my love of the game. An iOS app, developed by Zach Gage (@helvetica on Twitter), it turns the game upside down, breaking all the rules in the process. I discovered it via John Gruber via Jason Snell, who both wrote glowing reviews. As Snell puts it:
[The game] puts a clever spin on chess by seeding the board with a totally random collection of pieces.
Whilst the allocation of pieces seems arbitrary – “Try 8 Knights, 4 Bishops, and 3 pawns… why not?” – it is in fact heavily weighted. Snell summarises one of its innovations nicely:
Ranked mode lets you play increasingly difficult boards – you start with a huge power advantage over your computer opponent, and the advantage slowly shifts until you’re trying to defend while underpowered.
This fundamental reimagining of the game completely alters its dynamic and I’ve been enjoying playing it as a result. As its creator, Gage states:
Chess is one of those games I always wished I enjoyed, but its commitment to beauty, elegance, and perfect balance always turned me away. Really Bad Chess removes these boring restrictions and flips chess on its head.
The game itself offers lessons we can learn from and apply in a wider context. The history of chess stretches back thousands of years – it’s rules are set in stone – and yet, here’s a version of the game that questions those rules, toying with them to create something similar, but entirely new.
Just because something exists it doesn’t mean you can’t rethink it.
Ask yourself, what might you reimagine? There’s plenty of room in the world for more than one execution of an idea. If you make an idea your own, who knows what you might achieve.