Friday, 10 December 2010

Global Innovation Game won by RBD supporter nominating Midomo!

GiG was the official game of Global Entrepreneurship Week and- to our surprise and pleasure- shortly after GEW we received an email informing us that a winner of GiG had nominated Midomo as an idea!

The Global Innovation Game (GiG) challenges an international community of players to create, buy, and sell solutions to problems facing the world. It creates an effective stock market of ideas, where proposed solutions are traded and find value in the ‘ideas market.’

We are so happy that Hilary Singer, who writes for Startup Cafe was impressed enough by Midomo to have nominated it as a solution to a global problem. That Midomo gained enough value on the ideas market to become a winning idea has genuinely given us a real boost- (there may even have been some high-fiveing.)

The mission of Global Mind Games, who created GiG, is to use social games to spark debate and encourage real world change. What GiG has done for Midomo is a brilliant example of an online game creating interest in a real product that can create a difference in real people’s lives.

We’d just like to extend Hilary, and all those who supported Midomo in the virtual market, our sincerest thanks! It’s always been vital to our development that people take an active role in learning and speaking about Midomo and we’re ever grateful for new interest.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A Weekend at Ethical Just Got Fabulous!

Last weekend saw the Midomo Bracelet team mixing ethics and fashion on Portobello Road

When we first heard about the Ethical Just Got Fabulous Christmas fair, we knew we’d stumbled on something special. The organisers, Naomi, Leona and Kate, are dedicated to ‘supporting the good work of those who strive to be both fashionable and ethical in their production,’ which struck a chord with us given the underlying message behind our Midomo Bracelet campaign: ‘you don’t have to change your life to change someone elses’.

‘Ethical Just Got Fabulous’ presented the perfect platform for us to promote a bracelet that on the one hand is a beautiful, exclusive, designer piece, and on the other provides a family in Africa with safe, clean drinking water for a year.

We arrived at the 20th Century Theatre, just off Portobello Road, to find a handsome old room decorated with upcycled chandeliers. There were so many inspiring companies including Josyflo for belts and accessories, Juzi and Delight Rubellery for jewellery, and Paperself for the most amazing cut-paper eyelashes! Moreover, each company shared the conviction that an ethical product should not have to compromise itself on style.

Over the weekend, Amanda and I ran a raffle, where shoppers could buy tickets for the chance to win a Midomo Bracelet. Demand was high, but there could only be one winner, and yesterday we announced that this lucky person was ….. ..Gwen Rahardja!

We wish Gwen all the best with wearing her bracelet and do hope she shows off its ethical fabulousness to everyone she knows!! At the same time, we would like to thank everyone who bought a ticket, together your support and interest has funded the production and shipping of a Midomo water purifier to an African community, where it will provide potentially life-saving benefit.

We came away from Ethical Just Got Fabulous with an optimistic view of how not just fashion, but the consumer market in general, is changing. There is a demand for products that deliver on style, function and ethics, and this surely means that supply must follow suit.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Global Entrepreneurship Week: A new website and a very busy week…

We launched the Midomo Bracelet microsite a week last Sunday, just in time for the start of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

On the Monday of GEW, during a 'Good Deals' panel debate, ex-Dragon and exemplary entrepreneur Doug Richard called a commercial break. In this interlude, to our delight, he presented Julie Devonshire of One Water with a Midomo Bracelet. He then called on others to visit our website and buy one too!

The following days were a flurry of networking, speaking (Amanda), pitching, selling and generally 'seeing and being seen'. Then on Saturday, when we were attempting a recovery, the bracelet was featured in the Financial Times ‘How to Spend it’ Christmas Supplement! The excitement continues…

So you should probably check out our new website…

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Red Button Design Do Parliament..

On 3rd November Red Button Design had the great honour of attending the World Preservation Foundation conference at Westminster. That we had been invited to this event was exciting enough, but what really delighted us was the fact that this was also the first trip out for Midomo, in the UK.

As I wheeled Midomo towards Storey’s Gate it raised a few eyebrows..

But once settled at our exhibition stand it magnetically drew people towards us to sheepishly ask what it did. When we told them that this simple looking piece of equipment could provide safe, clean water to communities in the developing world- without dependence on infrastructure or energy resources- everybody was suitably impressed; we need to order some more business cards!

We also took along some Midomo Bracelets in order to show people how they could personally donate a Midomo, and at the same time obtain a luxury designer piece of jewellery. Many fashionable and philanthropic sorts duly added us to their Christmas lists and one lovely man even bought one for his wife!

As well as showing off our wares we also had an enjoyable and informative time. The speakers delivered quite alarming facts about climate change, and then offered some potential solutions, eloquently. We then tucked into a vegan lunch that was good enough to satisfy and inspire even dedicated omnivores.

Midomo’s emancipation into society was certainly respectable. And if they’ll have us, we’d love to roll by Parliament again some time…

Friday, 15 October 2010

Blog Action Day 2010: The Worth Of Water.

There is a saying that states, ‘We never know the worth of water ‘til the well is dry,’ and isn’t it true?

I think for many of us, the particular pressures of modern Western life; excelling in work assignments, arranging fun times with friends, or even deciding which dress is the most stylish, leave us overlooking the marvel that is this clear liquid that descends from the tap when I turn it, and into my glass.

However, what if that seemingly infinite supply of clean water should suddenly become inaccessible to me? I probably wouldn’t care so much about my outfit. I certainly wouldn’t be able to concentrate on work. It’s most likely I would be too unwell to go out with my friends. It is an often-heard cheerful truism that ‘water is the building block of life;’ but without it, we cannot aspire to much more than basic survival.

This is the reality for almost 1 billion people in the world. More people die from drinking contaminated water than from all forms of violence and war. 1.5 million children die every year from water-related diseases; a higher death toll than that from AIDS, measles and malaria combined. In Africa, women and children spend up to 10 hours per day collecting water, meaning that -even if they manage to remain healthy- education, play, work and self fulfilment are all but out of the question.

Blog Action Day is about drawing attention to these facts. Hopefully, the sheer number of both high-profile and relatively unknown blogs inspired by will raise awareness of a global, and preventable, problem. Most importantly, it might inspire people to action.

Of course, the aims of Blog Action Day also run parallel with the purpose of Red Button Design. The founding statements of the company were to design, produce and supply products for the humanitarian market, products that address the problems faced by the Developing World outlined in the UN’s Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).

Red Button prioritised our water solution ‘Midomo’ as we recognized the basic fact that without water to drink, the remaining MDGs; even shelter, sanitation, education and gender equality, all become secondary.

We are not martyrs. Red Button Design is not a charity, but a social enterprise that seeks to make a fair market profit in direct correlation to the benefit we can provide. For us, humanitarian goals, financial aspirations, and the proven utility of our products are all inextricably linked. After all, if we are not profitable our ability to effect sustained and meaningful change is severely capped.

Our ‘Midomo Bracelet’ Christmas campaign - a limited edition piece of jewellery by Alex Monroe that covers the cost of sending a Midomo to Africa- embodies this position. We are not about self-denial or guilt, but believe that modern and considered business models can mean that you ‘don’t have to change your life to change someone else’s’.

For me, the point is not that I shouldn’t worry over where the best night out is, the minutia of my grammar in an essay, or even the height of a heel on my shoe. However, I should absolutely remember that I am in a privileged position where I can take the basics of survival for granted, and that I have a duty to others who are not.

For that reason, my ‘blogger action’ shall be to ask for a Midomo Bracelet for Christmas. It will celebrate the fact that I have aspirations, give credence to an emerging, ‘win win’ model of enterprise and, by giving the most basic gift of safe, clean water to another person, it will enable that person to have aspirations too.

Sophie Orbaum,
Red Button Design,

Friday, 8 October 2010

Red Button Design's Midomo Bracelet - Social Vision 2010

Red Button Design's newest venture The Midomo Bracelet needs 2 mins of your time!

Please Click Here to submit your email voting for us in the following competition..

Triodos Bank, the Social Enterprise Coalition and the regional social enterprise networks of England are working together to run Social Vision 2010: business at its best – the annual national social enterprise photography competition. (Our submission is the thumbnail above.)

The amazing prize on offer is:
• £750 cash
• an entry ticket for two people to Voice 11.
• a year's free associate membership to the Social Enterprise Coalition
• a year's free subscription to Social Enterprise magazine as well as £1000 worth of print advertising in Social Enterprise magazine

..all of which would be really important for us. But to get there, first we have to win the London heat. So please:


The deadline for voting is 11:30am on Monday 11 October.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

For some people, boldness is not a character trait but a function of need..

Someone once told me that, for some people, boldness is not a character trait but a function of need...
..I am one of those people.

I spent years wondering why everything I did only came together at the last moment; why vital assignments were always submitted minutes before a deadline, why I only found high paid consultancy work when I was down to my last £10, why supporters, funders, mentors only appeared in my life as I was giving up and not in the agonising months prior while I was searching high and low for help...

It’s incongruous to the way I’d like to view myself but the truth is
it takes an extraordinary amount of pressure to displace me from my comfort zone.

If I am under no pressure, why should I do the arduous / complex / scary things?
Only when the deadline is looming, big and scary on the horizon, does the fear of failure even begin to overcome the fear of the actions required to succeed. Then, and only then, will I do the things I ought to have done from the outset. The things I knew in my heart were right but was fearful of.

Excelling at a subject, pushing your boundaries, upselling yourself to make new connections requires moving out of what is comfortable. Not merely working harder or smarter but moving out of your emotional comfort zone. It requires courage (because it’s nerve wracking) it requires confidence (because it’s intimidating) it requires faith (or why would you even try?)

99% of the time I haven’t achieved my goals it has had nothing to do with my level of competence. It has everything to do with indulging hesitance and fear.

Maybe if I worried more about *that* and less about making a prat of myself, we'd have something other than a last-second-success?!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Esme: Midomo Charm Bracelet - Preview Party Round Up..

Press Release: Here
Pictures from the event.

Twitter @RedButtonDesign

Become a Fan on Facebook

The evening was approaching... The clock had nearly struck half past six...The guests had been invited, the glasses were polished, the cakes looked heavenly, the bracelet was displayed to perfection and we were in our party dresses (James was in a shirt, his dress stayed at home for the night). But there was one rather large and irritating problem - the TFL tube types had decided to go on strike!

Why they obviously decided to sabotage our party I’m not sure, but in the end most of our lovely guests battled on despite the odds and managed to join us, if a little fashionably late! Red Button Design’s preview party for the Midomo Bracelet was a complete and utter success and I am sure I speak for the whole team when I say thank you to everyone who came along.

This was a special night for everyone at Red Button because it was really our first ever fully-fledged-wine-and-cakes-in-the-evening event, and even more importantly because it marked the launch of the Midomo Bracelet.

Teaming up with Alex Monroe, creator of the infamous bumblebee necklace (for those of a fashonista inclination) was really a honour. Alex has designed and handmade a delicate, beautiful charm bracelet, featuring various charms to represent our latest project. The wearer of each bracelet will not only be the proud owner of a bespoke and beautiful piece of jewellery but can also wear it with the knowledge that they have helped someone else along the way. For every one bracelet purchased, one Midomo will be donated to an NGO in a developing country. The owner can track the journey and arrival of the donated equipment via a unique serial code imprinted on their bracelet - just log on to our site, and see who is benefiting.

I think that is what I have cherished throughout this project - that you don’t have to be a martyr to help those in need. You can enjoy the jewellery you love and all at the same time, know that your decision to buy that charm bracelet rather than any other, is directly solving the old age problem of water shortage for one family. Small steps, but steps in the right direction.

Aside from the serious stuff.... We had a great crowd of people at the party. To name a few, we spotted fashion bloggers including Hannah from His&Hers Daily Styling and Saskia from Not Just Medical swapping notes, the crew from Pants to Poverty, Lauren from Cosmo, William from Green Element and Jan from Global Giving. There were all sorts of media moguls hovering about the sumptuous cakes and I hope everyone had a chance to talk about the project. Emma popped in from Alex Monroe’s team to say a few words about the collaboration too, I liked her sparkly shoes very much....

Amanda, in the style of her confident and lovely self, did a great introduction to the bracelet and gave everybody something to think about after we watched the promotional video which accompanies the bracelet. James was a whizz with the electronic stuff as per usual and dealt with all queries of a technical nature... i.e. that us girls know nothing about! Sophie, who (I am so sad to write this) has just finished her internship, was amazing and the party wouldn’t have happened without her.

I will not mention much about the aftermath - merely that it featured eating all the left over cakes, almost thinking the only Midomo Bracelet in the world was lost, then finding it, and several more drinks in the pub across the road... Well we did have something to be proud of, after all...

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Red Button Design to collaborate with Alex Monroe on Christmas Gift Initiative

Critically acclaimed social enterprise Red Button Design has today announced an imminent collaboration with renowned jewellery designer Alex Monroe, on a Christmas Gift Initiative.

To celebrate the launch of Midomo - a revolutionary water purifier for developing countries - Red Button Design has commissioned a limited-edition bracelet by award-winning jewellery designer, Alex Monroe. Each bracelet will cover the cost of donating one Midomo to an African community and, through a unique serial number imprinted on the jewellery, the owner of each bracelet will be able to track the journey of their donated Midomo. The bracelet is a perfect Christmas present; forever symbolising the gift of safe water, it can be worn as a reminder of growth and development, as well as a beautifully crafted, stylish piece of jewellery.

This initiative is not simply about saving lives; it is about quality of life. For children who have been used to walking for up to 6 hours a day to collect water, Midomo provides not only safe, clean water, but more free time With these extra hours a child could attend school, learn a trade, or simply play and ‘be a child’. The Midomo Bracelet therefore represents more than the gift of safe water. It also represents aspirations, ambitions and the chance to learn and fulfil them.

Announcing the collaboration, Amanda Jones, Red Button Design's Chief Executive

“Red Button Design believe that making a difference to someone’s life doesn’t have to mean making a sacrifice in your own. The bracelet Alex has designed for us not only embodies the feminine & celebratory style for which he is so acclaimed but those dreams and aspirations we all have for our futures. We hope that wearing yours will remind you of all that you have achieved, and encourage you towards those goals which you have yet to accomplish; just as you can know that simply by wearing it, you are also giving the same gift to an ambitious young woman in a more difficult situation.”

And Alex Monroe added:

“I really am honoured to be collaborating with Red Button Design. What they are achieving is amazing, and it's very humbling when you get approached to help fight for such a great cause.
Through their incredible product, Red Button Design are essentially giving life to thousands of people, and I hope that through my design I can make people aware of this. The Bracelet is a celebration of life - it's fun, and something to treasure, play with, and remember why you bought it in the first place.“

For more information please contact Amanda on 07982715187 or


Red Button Design
Red Button Design is an internationally award winning social enterprise set up to design, manufacture and supply life changing products exclusively for the humanitarian market.

Midomo is a household‐level water transport, purification and storage solution designed for use by individuals throughout the developing world.
The device uses an internal filter system, powered by the rotation of the wheels, to transform harmful water to drinkable water on-the-go. A user would roll the unit to the nearest source of water, fill the 50 litre tank, and roll it home. Once home, the water drawn from the unit is potable to World Health Organisation standards.

Alex Monroe
British jewellery designer Alex Monroe grew up in Suffolk. He trained at Sir John Cass School Of Art in London, and uses nature to inspire his whimsical, intricately beautiful jewellery.
Established in 1986, his core aspirations remain unchanged; to make great quality, wearable jewellery, which is originally designed and well priced.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Safe water and sanitation - a human right, not a privilege.

On July 28th 2010, a vote took place which, for the first time, saw the United Nations declare access to water and sanitation a basic human right.

That's correct, despite the statistics and the decades of awareness campaigns, prior to July 28th access to safe drinking water was, for all of us, a goal, an aspiration, but not a legally enforceable entitlement.

At Red Button Design, we are thrilled that the balance of power has shifted. State Governments are no longer providing a service by ensuring access to safe drinking water, they are committing a human rights violation when they are not.

Harsh words, yes, but illustrative that a long awaited step change has finally been set in motion. Declaring access to water and sanitation as a human right is a huge leap forward. Not only does it bring to the fore just how important water is to human life and how it must be the basis upon which we build further medical, educational & economic development, but this resolution also acknowledges some of the lesser publicised water problems; from privatisation, exploitative pricing and the practise of controlling water supplies as a method of blackmail and weapon of war, to the effects of climate change and over population in relation to water scarcity.

This resolution will, of course, also bring significant challenges. The guidelines for minimum water requirements vary wildly from agency to agency, there is currently no centralised body to approve water quality, or indeed no universally accepted water quality standard. Water quality can be affected by a vast array of harmful contaminants which vary by season and by region, and on-site water testing methods are on the one hand costly and unwieldy, or on the other, hugely unreliable!

It is our hope that the next few years will see a renewed effort on behalf of the international community to prioritise the provision of sufficient safe water, and to consistently and appropriately address the above concerns with a combination of policy, funding, new technologies, better implementation and greater transparency, in order to assist international learning...
High hopes we know, but then again, at RBD we do travel hopefully!

Monday, 2 August 2010

Meet Esme..

Hello! I’m Esme and I am the other new intern working with the lovely people at Red Button Design.

If we were to go zoom back in time roughly ten years, and were to ask a littler (but not much) Esme what she wanted to be when she grew up, I think she would say she wanted to be either a ballerina or work in a bullet-proof vest for the BBC reporting from a war zone. Seriously - these completely polar career choices have been my aim for as long as I can remember. And I did work hard to turn both ideas into reality... I went to ballet school (but hated it and ran away) and ended up doing all sorts of journalism and media work experience. This work experience ranged hilariously from working on Home Affairs at The Independent to tape logging for Cash in the Attic. Glamorous eh?

So... It is completely by chance, and a lot of good luck that I have found myself, a true fledgling graduate, working with an amazing and life changing company who have already inspired me continue a career in the same field. I still feel an attachment to journalism and feel that it encapsulates much of what goes into social enterprise; you have to be great communicator, a people person, and a passionate, driven individual. You have to care about what is going on in the world around you. But what divides the two is that a reporter observes and comments on the world, a social entrepreneur changes the world - they see a problem and they hope to fix it, for good. Trying to establish myself within the latter seems more worth while to me...

I studied English Literature and Language (opting mostly for all the novels...) at UCL where I managed to drink a lot, perform and organise a lot of dance through the union, do a bit of volunteering and most importantly, get a degree. The great thing about English Literature is that you learn about the world in all its shapes and forms; I covered everything from Old English to Ian McEwan but the Restoration will forever be my favorite age for writing.

So what have I been up to? I have been writing a lot of copy, have already shimmied to a social entrepreneurial party (where not enough food was eaten and too much wine drunk) and been collecting ALL sorts of literature on the web about Red Button. I have also been working on an overhaul of Red Button’s website, their manifesto and most importantly, the enormous task of marketing their very shiny Midomo. I can reveal... that we have teamed up with an equally shiny jewellery designer on a Christmas gift initiative! Sophie and I are so very, very, very excited to be a part of this project and our aim is it just get as many Midomos sent out to where they are needed, as soon as possible.

We also want to spread the word so keep looking out for us on twitter and on the facebook group for more revelations!

I am very lucky to be working with Amanda and the team, I am already learning so much and hope I can make a difference.

Esme x

Monday, 19 July 2010

Meet Sophie..

Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Sophie
*offers firm handshake and best smile*

Despite being told from all corners of the media, my parents, and almost all adult acquaintances that I would end up on top of a big pile of unemployed, living at home, graduates after finishing my UCL degree, I seem to have landed on my feet.

That is, I’m here, less than a month after finishing uni, being the ‘affiliate marketing officer’ (no less) for Red Button Design. If that wasn’t good enough for you I’m also being paid for it by the UCL Advances internship scheme. So take that scaremongering media.

Anyway enough about me- oh go on then just a little bit more-. I’m a history of art graduate who took philosophy as a subsidiary subject. I have a wide range of interests (art, music, travel, parties), am very ambitious and a teeny bit (read: a lot) competitive. I also want to work at something that I feel is worthwhile and that makes a positive contribution to the world. Then I can be a really, really smug adult.

So that’s what drew me to Red Button Design; a business that could improve the standard of living for many communities in the world, and at the same time make a profit. I was not at all enticed by the fact I might get to go to a party and meet Peter Jones (ok well it was at least the 5th reason on my list).

Now after all my gloating and celebrating at defying the unemployment odds, I have actually had some work to do. Tea-making it wasn’t. So far I’ve been drafting letters, making spreadsheets and mood boards, attending meetings with potential business collaborators and tweeting my progress. Who was it that said work is more fun than fun?

Unfortunately I can’t tell you entirely about the project that most of my energies are being directed towards. If we keep you in suspense it builds up the anticipation you see… BUT I can tell you that you will like it. Especially if you are a woman (or know one), who likes gorgeous things but also has ethical tendencies. Ooooh. Did I mention I’ve been contacting Angelina?

So I will leave you there, hanging on to the cliff of suspense, wondering what Midomo has to do with a luxury item. Meanwhile Amanda and I will go and get a cup of tea (not made by me).

Sophie x

Friday, 16 July 2010

Snapshot: July 2010

So the last post, June's Snapshot, was one of the most viewed posts I've ever written outside of the 12 Lessons Series. Who'd have thought you'd actually appreciate a bit of concrete info! Obliging as ever, I thought I'd make it a regular thing and see how long it takes you to get bored ;-)
Welcome to July's Snapshot...

Growing the Team
Spoilt for choice I have hired not one, but two new interns into the Red Button Family. Sophie Orbaum and Esme Jones are both fantastic UCL graduates poised to take over different parts of our sales and marketing efforts. Not exactly chosen for their propensity to be shy and retiring, I'll let them introduce themselves in due course!

Design and Build
Whilst awaiting delivery of our new units, design and build has turned into an operations and logistics mission relating to sales targets and the speed at which we are able to roll out in various regions/countries.. However, as ops & logistics is one of my least favourite things, it has also provided the opportunity for parallel fantasy-planning for our impending launch party! What can I say? Needs must on both accounts!

The Internets
Work has begun, not just on a new space for the blog, but a complete redesign of the site-that-never-really-was. Though, for convoluted and uninteresting reasons we have always based at, we've recently secured and for development. Big on ideas but strapped for time and resources, these are coming along very slowly indeed, so any web designers fancying a bit of pro bono work in return for love and beer/wine please do give us a shout! :-)

Sales and Marketing
Gosh this is an exciting subject at the moment! So, not only will you be able to buy a Midomo online this Christmas and donate it to a certified NGO of your choice, but we have a very sexy, top secret retail collaboration underway which .. well.. I can't say much (Sophie will kill me) but it's awesome. Really awesome.

Safety and Certification
Happy to say that following on from last month's hinting, we will be working with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to test our new prototypes and corroborate the previous trials undertaken up in Scotland and, subsequent to winning the National Laboratory Services design award for environmental technology last year, we will also be benefiting from this exciting partnership to create a simple water-safety diagnostic test, suitable for use on site. Cool, huh?

Problem Solving
Well, James elected to remove last month's problem by getting too sick to work for a while. Oh yes, despite me clearly telling him he was not allowed to go away and get ill, he managed to get Malaria ... all of two weeks before having his thunder stolen by Cheryl Cole! Don't worry though, he was well looked after and is now on the mend - meaning that I will very shortly get to battle with temptation at the Apple Store after all..

I'm currently reading The Island by Aldous Huxley on the recommendation of one of my shareholders and I just can't believe I haven't read it before.. No excuses, it's amazing, get your hands on a copy now!

Professor Philip Zimbardo's RSA Animate contribution The Secret Powers of Time which looks at the way in which our individual perspectives of time not only affect our work, health and well-being but how, depending on which of the six "time zones" you live in, time also influences who we are as a person, how we view relationships and how we act in the world..

at Pants to Poverty trying to coax them into being an all singing, all dancing, blogging, tweeting, facebooking lot. Y'see what I did there? I'm worth every penny they're not paying me.. :)

Monday, 14 June 2010

RBD Snapshot: June 2010..

There's a slight possibility you've already noticed this, or previously had it brought to your attention, but it's June already. Yes, no less than 45.2% of 2010 has already gaily paraded by and is now drinking in the pub..

So having avowed to be better at communicating (as opposed to just making noise) here's a quick insight into a few of the goings on around here..

Growing the Team
Not content to settle at 12 we're after a Lucky 13th RBD'er. Using UCL's fantastic Advances Internship programme we have already had over a dozen excellent CVs and will be interviewing and hiring over the coming fortnight. For your interest, this is the 'job description' as advertised..

Design and Build
Work has recently resumed with alacrity towards our centrally manufactured prototypes and within a week we should know when the first samples will arrive in the UK.. Do I even need to say you'll be hearing more on this soon? ..

The Internets
I am trying to clear some space to tidy up our web presence. I know it's still rubbish, it's something that started badly way back in 2007 and has never really been resolved. Plans are afoot to create something worthy but, in the mean time, here's a sneak preview of this blog's soon-to-be new home. Don't switch your RSS just yet though - it still needs a little work!

Sales and Marketing
Speaking of online.. would you like to be able to buy a Midomo online this Christmas and donate it to a certified NGO of your choice? Yes, we rather thought you would.. working on it.

Safety and Certification
Just peeking over the horizon, we have some very exciting partnerships for certifying Midomo's performance both in the field and a repeat test under Lab conditions. Thinking a little further forward (and don't you ever accuse us of being unambitious) we're exploring the possibility of creating a new water-safety diagnostic test, suitable for on site use by minimally trained individuals..

Problem Solving
It would appear that, over the weekend, James was able to find a source of mains electricity for his MBP on the road towards Kenema. It would also appear that Salonean electricity and shiny Apple devices don't mix. Within a few hours of work, and just a few minutes on Skype with me, the power cable met it's demise with a exasperated little 'pop'* and the MBP would charge no more. Now we're both wishing he'd stayed old skool and stuck to the oil powered generator in Bo and all that remains is for me to:
    a) go to the Apple store and purchase a new power cable.. only a
       new power cable.. and NOT an iPad...
    b) somehow safely send my existing power cable to Sierra Leone..
    c) preferably arriving in less than the 8 weeks remaining before his
       visit to the UK
    d) get it somewhere James can collect it
    e) send him these instructions..

In other news, here's some of what I have been up to..

I've just finished reading The Spirit Level and can't recommend it enough. I tend to alternate between books I want to read and books I categorise under 'development' (professional or personal) I rarely enthuse about the latter, as useful as they are, so it came as some surprise that this was a funny, engaging and insightful look into why inequality not relative wealth / poverty is the root of society's ills..

“How to start a movement” ..what transforms a lone nut into a leader.
It's a 3 Min TED talk by Derek Sivers and I cannot encourage you enough to watch. Seriously, you can view it in the time it takes the kettle to boil and it'll make your morning

On a project code named "Hackney Pirates" which is every little bit as cool as it sounds and gives me regular opportunity to drop nautical puns and speak like a pirate. Learn more via the usual ports of call ;) @HackneyPirates, Facebook and though still a work in progress, we're online at

Not sure that's quite how an informative blog post ought to go - but feedback always welcome via Twitter or comments below.

* I totally made that up. I have no idea what sound, if any, it made when it failed.
Picture credit to James who is has been uploading some amazing images to this album

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Human Nature, Social Enterprise & Business Models..

Last week, from the comfort of lying prone in the grass on the sun baked Highbury Fields, I Tweeted a few ethereal thoughts on social enterprise business models. These were widely ignored ;) but a few people commented and so I decided it was worth expanding on, if only to clarify my original musings...

The original Tweets, responses, and my narrative clarification:

Recent human meddlings aside, Nature is the perfect system.. But how does everything "get done"? Does Mother Nature have a to do list? ;)
.. or .. 1) when whatever happens is good.. nothing truly needs to 'get done'.. 2) or when things do what they do because of what they are..
..then whatever happens is a direct result of the actual nature of things. It's an honest system in the sense that there's no should/ought..
Pondering how #socent can build on the real nature of people .. (assuming we think humans are basically good well meaning creatures).. create biz models that are more natural, less 'work' .. if we're basically good, the systems allowing us to act on this and *do* good..
..should be simpler? Or have we overworked our nature??
// Today's ramble brought to you by #zenhabits #socent & sunny day in the park.. ;)

@Ghww: Re @RedButtonDesign multitweet: I warn against seeking 'natural' solutions. Capitalists have always done this. & nature has no should/ought.
@RedButtonDesign: RT @ghww: "nature has no should/ought" that's my point, a system that relies on discipline of it's agents to uphold the system will fail things will inevitably act according to their nature, therefore you have to adapt systems to human nature, not human nature to systems. Problem is we've forgotten what our real nature is, so we need to get that back ..
@curtistim: @RedButtonDesign so, a truly 'social' enterprise that treats humans as persons rather than functional, fictional commodities?
@Adilabrar: @RedButtonDesign come again?

So, some confusion...
Let me clarify.

- Nature is a self organising, self perpetuating system
- Humans are basically good.
- Social Enterprise endeavours to be a self organising, self perpetuating system which allows Humans to act upon their natural instinct to be good.

Current Social Enterprise business models do not appeal to our natural desire to do good, they appeal variously to our sense of obligation, guilt, commerce or vanity. All of which are strong enough drivers to promote action, but none of which are sustainable as they lack a certain authenticity of motive.

Nature works as a system because the system is simply the sum of the given behaviours of the elements within it. As soon as you try to force nature to act against these impulses.. (want seasonal fruits all year round, want forests here but not here, more of these creatures and less of those..) you disrupt the system and it acts out, or fails.

Humans vainly like to think of themselves outside this system, But the fact is, we have a set of characteristics which are inbuilt and though we may very successfully train ourselves to repress and control these characteristics, we aren't doing anything more than that. They're not going away.. we're just learning how to displace them.

Interestingly, one of the things that many societies have done, is suppress the desire for equality by suggesting (falsely) that achieving a higher status is actually beneficial. Capitalism and clever advertising have systematically manipulated our natural instincts until we have a situation where hierarchies, not communities, appeal to our evolutionary instincts to protect ourselves and our families. It's not as simple as desire. We create safety (or an illusion of) by having more .. more money, more food, more power, more weapons.."more". Where as traditionally it was understood that the best thing for an individual and their offspring was to be within a community of equals.

Only now are we beginning to gain perspective and see more clearly that this is fallacious. Brilliant works like The Spirit Level clearly demonstrate that inequality doesn't just cause more suffering to those at the bottom of the scale, but verses an equal society, inequality actually causes suffering to those at the upper end of the scale to.

So, my thoughts were that rather than create a system of business models and structures for social enterprise which are then implemented based upon the inequality we have mistakenly promoted: to create models based on the natural sense of equality and species protection that we diverged from, prior to this. To build the new system upwards from the last healthy point of development.

If you do that, and look at the way we naturally wish to express goodwill and philanthropy - it isn't from a distance. It isn't by signing a direct debit to a high-brand charity in return for receiving their end of year report. It is by having a human interaction, a human, emotive response to the act of helping another. Doing good makes us feel good, current models of Social Enterprise disconnect the act from the primary benefit of the act. Much in the way that Milgram's famous study allowed people to act more cruelly than anyone imagined when they were divorced from the effects of that cruelty, bringing people together to face the effects of their kindness will, undoubtedly, promote them to act with a generosity beyond that which we currently account for.

Social Enterprise needs to be a force which enables the reconnection of our naturally good nature with the pleasure of doing good. The only way for this to happen is for the "models" to build upwards from true human impulses, not to build backwards or sideways from the capitalist mess we have created.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Shine 2010 Fink Club: What I meant to say was....

May 13-15th saw the great and the good of social enterprise (and a few people I think must've snuck in the back door) gather for Shine 2010.
The original unconference upped the anti for it's 3rd year. One of the bolder ideas in a fantastically crafted, inspiration packed event, was the Friday night, not Fight Club but "Fink Club"..

"A boxing ring, 4 opposing positions, 4 pugnacious and opinionated social entrepreneurs refereed by the legendary Liam Black of Wavelength. The gloves are off. You decide who wins"

Oh yes...
Rod Schwartz, investor, serial entrepreneur and founder of Clearly So.
David Barrie, regeneration consultant, film-maker and founder of The People's Supermarket.
Saeeda Ahmed, Social Enterprise Ambassador, SSE Fellow, founder of community regeneration company Trescom

and .. Me. Literally, they couldn't get anyone better ;-)

My rallying cry in the face of calls to man up, become more commercial and attract more equity finance was, surprisingly, for social enterprise to "stay young, stay hungry & stay innovative" ..
Well, there was definitely hesitation, and repetition, as well as language Russell Brand and Wossy would have blushed at (sorry mum) but here's what I planned to say, the PG version..

"What is the most important contribution that social entrepreneurs can make to our society now?"

The most important contribution we can make to society, is to recognize that whilst the sector we have created is good – it is not the holy grail and it cannot and should not attempt to “do it all”.

Social Entrepreneurs are not like other entrepreneurs. We aren’t here in the ruthless pursuit for money, power and influence, we are here because we have organisations addressing the fundaments of human nature. Problems which are not new to society but, thanks to us, are now being approached with a new hunger and a fresh creative spirit.

This is a sector that is still dominated by early stage new start organisations. It’s fantastic! Young organisations are special. They’re cash strapped, they’re resource limited, they’re geographically and sector focused; they have to be responsive and single-mindedly motivated to create impact, they've a childlike desire to prove themselves in the wider world.

And as soon as you begin to shepherd them along the well trodden path towards traditional commerce, towards the status quo, you lose these characteristics.
The stability afforded by bountiful capital and regular contracts tempers the hunger, it introduces a fear that hinders innovation, what was once youthful and unafraid to make mistakes becomes risk adverse and unresponsive..

We must resist. We should not be swayed down a path of complacency by political buzz words and the all too common belief that if we throw enough money at it, it’ll somehow get better.

It *is* tempting to think that we can change the way investors think. But investors have a mandate to maximize profit. Do you??

I’m not anti-commercialising socent per se, for goodness sake, if we create anything of any real value the commercially minded will come right in and “monetize” it anyway whether we like it or not! I’m simply suggesting we don’t do their job for them.
It’s not the place of social entrepreneurs to fit our round sector into their square boxes

No. The SINGLE greatest contribution we can make right now is to harness the sectors majority; the youthful, hungry and innovative majority and focus our efforts for impact, continuing to innovate where innovation is needed most.

Stay Youthful.
Stay Hungry.
Keep Innovating.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Lets skip some of the narrative and get right to the good news..

Yeah yeah, I hear ya: "It's all well and good telling us what you did 12 months ago but where are you now? Are you still going? ..Does it work? ..Can I buy one?"

Well, the short answer is yes, yes, no, not yet. Let me expand, but skip some of the narrative... 'eh? (buy me a drink in the pub if you want the rest of the "Dragon's Den" story, the "Law suit against a major business support agency" story, or the "3 minutes away from losing our patent" story .. buy me the whole damn bottle if you want the "So, you're in London.. and James is living in Sierra Leone??!" story..) ..and get right to the good news.

We're funded.
We've re-designed, re-branded, we've got manufacturers, suppliers, and we're beginning production.

There, that's better isn't it?

I won't say too much while we're still pushing paper on the investment, but suffice to confirm the deed is done (was settled on my 26th Birthday none-the-less). And incidentally, for those who knew us way back when, this means that the, long in exile, 3rd director is no longer with the company in any facet; shares, power or intellectual property
(if you don't know this story .. add it to the 'buy me a drink' list above!)

Unbelievably this also means we are now a team of 12. James heading up product design and cultural implementation, myself on business model development and sales/marketing, we have a primary investor, a non exec director, 4 vocal and hugely talented 'value-adds' and 4 (mostly) silent loyal supporters!! It sounds more hectic than it is, though, as the reality remains I'm the only full timer and most days I work from home.

I should expand on my mention that James is living in Sierra Leone. He left (the country not the company!) about 6 weeks ago to apply his engineering skills to developing an appropriate and accessible way to dig water wells in developing countries. Not only is this a natural expansion for Red Button Design and extremely valuable in terms of the data being gathered, but we also hope that the team he is forming can become our first worker owned manufacturing co-operative. You can follow his work via his Blog, his updates on Twitter: @RBDAfrica and see some of his pictures on Flickr

Product-wise, thanks to a concentrated effort by James, our design support team at Quadro, and our international sourcing contacts at Tiger Global, we have finalised what would have been "ROSS 3.0" but is now simply known under our new name 'Midomo'.

Midomo is about to undergo its first production run with our new manufacturers and suppliers. We expect this to go ahead within the next 8 weeks, meaning we should have something for you to put your grubby paws all over come Autumn! And yes, expect a London-based launch party in which I force lovely influential humanitarians, entrepreneurs & willing volunteers to publicly drink Midomo-purified water and hope they're still talking to me a week later.. In more ways than one!!

Which brings me on to that very obvious question.. "When can I buy one?"..
Now, my team don't like me making promises about when we will be ready to make commercial sales, so I absolutely cannot say that I expect to close the first orders in November. But as soon as everyone is comfortable announcing November as our expected sales date, I promise I'll let you know... ;-)

Just one last thing, this post actually has a slightly ranty but honest and well meaning Addendum, which you can read, if you so wish, by following the link below...

Addendum: An Optional Explanation Of Time & Rescouces..

Addendum: An Optional Explanation Of Time & Resouces..

Appreciably, there are always a lot of questions surrounding the length of time this has been under development. Some genuinely interested .. some pushing on accusatory .. (some worse..) And I would be lying if I didn't say that, on occasion, I find this a rather irritating and difficult issue to address. I can't help but wonder what one imagines the capability could be, for two broke students to run and fund an R&D project on a new technology which needs certification from the World Health Organisation itself? Just how anyone, at 25, goes about getting meetings at the United Nations, raising half a million quid.. let alone the hum drum question of how to afford your mobile phone bill when you're refusing to take a 'real' job..

Don't get me wrong, though this sounds aggressive it really is nothing of the sort. I completely understand that given my pitch often includes the statistic "lack of access to safe drinking water results in 10,00 deaths every day" people gain a sense of urgency! The same sense of urgency perhaps that we all have, at RBD, and keeps us working on the project despite some unimaginably taxing and harrowing personal sacrifices.

I often use the analogy of a vaccine or a new drug to make my point known. because even once the development and internal trials are finished, the sheer beurocracy of creating something which essentially takes another human beings life, and puts it in your hands ...

That isn't a process I am willing to rush.

But I do get it, and I genuinely apologise to those of you who feel this has been a long time coming. I feel your boredom, eagerness and frustration more acutely than you know. I invite you to get in touch and find out how we've been progressing - you never know, there might be something you can do to help speed the process along..

Friday, 23 April 2010

We never set out to start a business... but this is how it started.

(apologies for the delay dog ate my homework? Well, actually, blogger ate my first post and I was so dismayed at needing to re-write everything it took a while to replace it.. I'm sure the first version was shorter, funnier and more eloquent .. but here we are)

Red Button Design was founded by James Brown and Myself in 2007, six months after we'd come up with what we thought was a pretty cool idea; a water purification product that avoided chemical or electrical components, and made dirty water drinkable at the same time as assisting in its localised transport.

The idea itself evolved slowly. James and I were, even then, both actively involved in humanitarian issues and understood the need for more sympathetic technologies. Over coffee one day we were bemoaning the need for something more responsive than taking what the capital rich R&D departments of medical and military institutions were creating, tweaking it for robustness and economy, and selling into NGOs under the fashionable banner of 'appropriate design'. With typical student arrogance and youthful naivety - we thought we could do better..

The market needed an answer. James, who at the time was in the penultimate year of the hugely esteemed Glasgow School of Art "Product Design Engineering" Masters, needed a dissertation project worthy of his skills and interests and I, only recently graduated with my second degree, this time a joint Masters in Psychology and Philosophy, was looking for a way to avoid "a real job" that was more productive than cycling back into the oppressive world of arts & academia...

We never set out to start a business... but that is how it started.

It didn't take long for the Scottish enterprise community to catch sight of our little hobby-project, and when they suggested that there were a few competitions with cash prizes for designs like this .. well. Have I mentioned my dislike of traditional work?

Our first win was the university enterprise group's "Big Idea" competition. We netted £500, a pleasing bubble of praise, a bit of publicity and a mandatory trip to the local high-street business advisory centre. They, with little more than a cursory glance, sent me off to "gather support", by which I suppose they meant conduct some market research and come back with interviews, case studies and testimonials. However, I was unsupervised (James was after-all still in full time education) and prone as ever to insubordination and grand gestures, I elected to take a .. slightly less traditional tack.

What we actually did was apply for and win a series of high profile enterprise and design awards and then, one night, about 3am, safe at home in my pyjamas, my ego got the better of me ... and I applied for the Dragons Den.

To be honest, the day the BBC phoned to interview me, I was at work in one of my many short-lived attempts at engaging with the concept of 9-5 in return for a wage. I conducted the interview hiding in the stock room and agreed to screen test 200 miles away the day after next. We had nothing. No prototype, just a drawing and some theory. I was supposed to be at work all that week, and I hadn't told James I had even applied for the Show (nor, infact, did I until we were on the train!! ..) It's a good story! :) However... it's not a story for today.

For what it's worth, we never did get a prototype together for the filming and yet the show yielded us the best deal ever seen on the programme at that time. All 5 Dragons' coming in for the full amount, for the original equity offered. Despite this, good TV is still just good TV, and off air some months later we turned the deal down. For the next year we proceeded agonizingly slowly, crippled by lack of time, money and resources.

It took a year, but when my ego finally gave in and we returned to the 'Den' to do the follow up programme we had a brand new working prototype show off. This first fully-functional unit was the fruit of James spending his 'summer holidays' hauled up in his Dad's garage with a tiny budget, a brief that industry experts said he couldn't achieve, and me 350-odd miles away. I will never know how he achieved it .. though I'm reliably assured the latter was somehow critical (!)

Thanks to a second spike in publicity we clawed in just enough support to commission a biochemical report conducted by a UN microbiologist, the last line of which, is probably the most boring arrangement of phonemes ever to have made me 'squee' with delight:

"It can be concluded from this preliminary study that the system was effective in the removal of organisms from contaminated water."

This prototype, hand built on no budget, fully expected to fail at every post, went on to pass some further stringent tests, won some more awards including one very notable scientific award from the National Laboratory Service. We were stunned. Don't get me wrong, it was not perfect and it also won us some harsh criticism. It was this polarized reaction, thought, that triggered what was to be a long hard slog to find the financial and experiential support we'd, frankly, been struggling to survive without.

It seems simple enough to say it now: "we built a prototype", "we commissioned a report", but that first year and a half was in every way the most extreme tax on our emotions and resources. By the time 2009 rolled around James and I were both, at once, ready to jack it all in and finally certain that what we had was viable.

I'll not speak for him but I will admit that there were times I had hoped that the prototypes would fail the tests, the patent searches would reveal prior IP, or that the market would be stormed by something better, and that I would be forced to step down, guilt free.

But it didn't. I haven't and that's just the first chapter.
So on to 'the now'...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

An Update on the Update..

It's a very telling thing, but as I went to write that long-awaited update post, it became very clear that I couldn't update you without recapping where we were last time we spoke. I couldn't really say or justify where we were, though, without mentioning how we'd gotten there. How we got there necessarily involved mentioning 'why' or what the overall aim was, which I would assume you all know except that, thanks to OxfordJam and recent re-runs of The Dragons' Den, I have acquired a volume of new followers..

All in, it started to seem as if I should just start at the beginning.
So I did..
And it got long.

Too long for one post.

So, as of tomorrow I will be posting the following..

1) The Intro
2) The Status Quo
3) The Future
4) The FAQs

And if there is anything that lot doesn't cover (!) you'll be able to add additional questions in the comments section of the FAQs. How's that sound? :-)

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Lessons from OxfordJam (then promptly back to business..)

I am very aware that we're well overdue a thorough update on Red Button Design's progress. A lot has happened in the first quarter of 2010, much of it good, some significantly better than good (!) and I am genuinely eager to speak about our achievements. Rest assured, all has not stagnated - as you'll see in my next post..

Meanwhile, I'm re-calibrating after OxfordJam: the social enterprise unconference/phenomenon that I mentioned last month I was involved with launching. Broadly speaking it came to be that I was responsible for websites, wikis, social media, a little bit of planning, pr, promotion, design-for-print work and first port of call for all manner of tech and digital fitzjiggery while the event ran Wed-Fri last week. (14-16th April, 2010).

True of all the best things, I found it very difficult to limit my involvement with OxfordJam by the amount of time I had available. Rather, I wanted to limit my involvement by the amount I felt I could usefully contribute. As the amount I felt I could offer greatly exceeded the amount of 'spare' time I had, (and I hasten to add this is mainly by virtue of having little time vs. being vastly talented in this arena!), I had to make the decision to displace some of my non-essential functions at RBD in order to benefit from the experience of helping make concrete something I believe our industry needed. Controversial, perhaps, but I am glad I did. I feel like I gained a lot from the process and I wanted to share with you some of my learnings.

I cannot comment much on the content from a delegates point of view, but suffice to say that feedback so far has been abundant and extremely positive. We'll be collating all this on the OxfordJam website. Meanwhile:

10 things I learned from OxfordJam
..and think apply to all entrepreneurs and small business owners, alike..

1) If you have 'the big vision' don't sweat the detail. It's easy to get hung up on the little things, but act with the vision in mind and the details will align themselves accordingly.
2) Stay flexible. Be willing to re-evaluate everything and anything, even at the very last minute, if doing so will make a positive difference.
3) The strain of long hours and high stakes can be mitigated by working with amazing people.
4) Understand that ultimately what you're creating is not yours, it's the delegates'/customers', and be prepared and willing to let go.
5) Resist the temptation to oversee other people's work. Get good people and trust them to perform accordingly.
6) Tea. Lots and lots of tea.
7) Good communication is the lynchpin of an effective team. Have a protocol for keeping everyone updated with the latest developments, allow disagreements, and have an open line of dialogue for when things get tough. Achieving the latter is by far and away the most difficult.
8) Smart crowds can usually self-manage, and will naturally weed out their own bad seeds if you let them.
9) A little bit of praise, when deserved, goes a long way when things are stressful and spirits low.
10) There is absolutely no substitute for genuine enthusiasm. Not contacts, money, prestige nor a perfect résumé.

A tough but worthwhile experience and great lessons learned. Better still, I do not believe that OxfordJam is over simply because we're no longer gathered in The Jam Factory! I hope to continue working on the project (though at a much more manageable pace) and will propose to help the contributors and delegates build a living, open, resource that will grow alongside our learning and understanding, and that this could also provide a platform from which to begin the discussions next year* As well as proposing this, I'd like to suggest perhaps a regular virtual conference or twitter-based chat in the vein of Ashoka's #SocEntChat and perhaps even the occasional 'tweet up' for us folk for whom London is fairly accessible...

So if that sounds of interest, or for more on OxfordJam, please check out the OxfordJam blog and Twitter feed, both of which are also manned by me.

And the next time you hear from me here (very soon!) it will be with a concrete and informative post about Red Button Design's progress.
Promise! :-)

* and yes, for good or ill, one by one, the OxfordJam team and attendees all gave up saying "if we do this again" in favour of "when we do this again"!

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

'Twelve Lessons' - the run down

... Obligation,
commitment, brevity, advisers, business plans, delegating, tenacity and faith, actions, flexibility, people, priorities, caution and providence ...

I have my favourites, both to have learnt and to have written, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the series. So, if you've been reading, drop me a comment below and let me know your thoughts - whatever form they may take

All the best,

#1: A favour given isn’t necessarily a favour owed.
#2: You can’t half-ride a bike.
#3: Brevity is good.
#4: Too much love will kill you.
#5: Schrödinger's cat.
#6: If you want a job done well..
#7: Be an emotional starfish.
#8: A speaker of words and a doer of deeds.
#9: Scrap that...
#10: Net-works
#11: The Cobbler's children
#12: Caution caution

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

#12: Caution caution.

Throughout Jan-Mar I've been posting the "12 entrepreneurial lessons I learnt from 2009" series.

Installments so far: Introduction,
Lesson : #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11

This post is a big concept, which is a pleasing fit for the grand finale of a series I, at times, wondered if I'd even see to completion. Big concepts tend towards long concepts without supervision, however, and I've been sufficient in violating lesson three as it stands. So, you'll have to come dashing through with me and I trust it will resonate no less for it..

From the moment I was born, a ceaseless string of people have endeavored to teach me to curb my predilection towards impulsiveness. From my immediate family up to the government, from two days old through to two decades, one message held consistent: you ought to look before you leap, try a little bit first, wait for the second release (once the bugs are out), sleep on it, keep your options open, plan ahead, leave bridges unburnt, lines uncrossed and marks understepped..

It was Benjamin Franklin who said that “distrust and caution are the parents of security". Well, who in their right mind daren't aspire to security above all else?
Everybody understands that wanton, indiscriminate, risk taking is a recipe for destruction. Thoughtlessness in the face of danger will surely lead to disaster.. but what about indiscriminate caution?
How wasteful is thoughtless caution in the face of opportunity?

How often do chances of brilliance pass us by because we weren't 100% ready, 100% sure. Well here's something I proved in 2009, as strictly speaking I didn't learn it. I've always known it...

You'll NEVER be ready,
You'll NEVER be sure,
and if you try to hang on until you are..
You'll NEVER make a difference.

Only when you begin will you truly see what you've undertaken. Only then can you beg, steal, borrow or divine all that you need to make it work. To fail to plan may be to plan to fail, but you can't properly prepare for what you cannot know.

Goethe is over-quoted in his shortened form, far more beautiful in full, and I cannot resist..

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."

'The moment one definitely commits oneself' - not before.

Caution and security are luxuries we can't always be treated to. Someone has to take a chance, brave the risk and leap anyway, because sometimes risk and fear are the only things powerful enough to overcome inertia.

And with society and planet close to bearing right down a dead end path, I only hope there are enough 'someones' remaining, and enough 'sometime' to realise that while only the former is government endorsed, indiscriminate caution is just as dangerous a thread in humanity as indiscriminate risk taking..

Saturday, 20 March 2010

#11: The Cobbler's children.

Throughout Jan-Mar I've been posting the "12 entrepreneurial lessons I learnt from 2009" series.

Installments so far: Introduction,
Lesson : #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10
We're edging towards the end of the series, so I'm going to go out on a limb and assert that those of you running an enterprise started doing so because you believe you have a particular combination of knowledge and skills which make your business idea both conceptually accessible and practically achievable to you.

Great stuff. The world would be a better place if more of us could be clear and honest about the skills we have, and create ourselves a space where we are able to do that which we are best at.

And as you can tell from my last post, I'm a big fan of the mantra 'make yourself useful'. Such that it sometimes feels as if it can answer all things; that the best we can do to advance as people, entrepreneurs and small businesses alike, is to share our knowledge, utilise our skills for others, and provide a genuinely helpful product/service.

But as with all things, even the great ones, there's a natural limit above which this behavior does no one any good at all.
So the saying goes "The Cobbler's children go unshod".

Admit it. We're all guilty of this one: expending our greatest talents on others, solving their problems rather than our own.

I can't tell you the number of times I've volunteered to help out a friend with a task identical to one sitting patiently on my own 'to-do' list. I'm not blind to the irony that this blog is hosted on blogger when I advocate wordpress, or that it has an old ready-made theme I am not happy with when, in the last month, I have launched and re-designed 3 custom wordpress sites for other people. It's a ridiculous contradiction but a common one. So why..?

As far as I can make out, there are a thousand excuses but no reasons.

I'll do a better job for you than I would for myself because my positive and negative incentives are different. I both seek your approval (who doesn't want to do a good job?) and I am fearful of your judgement (we hate letting people down). Yet, I neither fear my own disapproval nor particularly feel a drive to try and exceed my own expectations.
There are countless excuses not to act. The only difference is, my excuses to myself are always acceptable.

One of the things that changed last year when Red Button Design began to take on minority shareholders, establish expected delivery dates and accept in-kind investment, was that my excuses to myself ceased to .. well .. 'hold water' with the rest of the team. It became clear that I needed to readdress my priorities. My time and skills needed to be expended on my venture, first.

Sometimes the last people we help are ourselves, but it makes no more sense to be utterly selfless than it does to be utterly selfish. We need to take care of ourselves and our own in order to retain the capacity to help others. So next time you're about to step in and do that favour, check that you're only making yourself useful and not making excuses to displace an ulterior task. You started this because you believed you had the skills and knowledge, so be your own incentive. You owe it to yourself and your team to utilise your talent close to home before you make yourself useful to the rest of the world..

Monday, 8 March 2010

Dates for your diary: OxfordJam, 14-16th April '10

Not for one moment forgetting the remaining posts of the 12 Lessons series, or indeed my very important birthday wish, but I did just want to have a quiet word in your ear..
In the spirit of Lesson #10 and gift economy, let me share with you a upcoming social-enterprise event on which I've been fortunate enough to do a bit of moonlighting..

Running 14-16 April 2010, parallel to the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, OxfordJam is a co-created, pay-what-you-can event for the nurturing of social economy and social finance projects the world over.

Instigated by Ben Metz, OxfordJam isn't going to be your average conference, or even your average un-conference. OxfordJam is a conference 'in relief' asking you to: "Invert everything you have experienced at any vanilla flavoured conference, however inspiring.."

But if that's a little too 'down the rabbit hole' said Alice, worry not.
The basic premise is strikingly simple:
⇒ Take the breaks “in between” normal conference programming and fill them full of inspiring TED style “talking heads”
⇒ Take the programmed time of a normal conference and empty it out immediately after each of these very short talks
⇒ Allow the inspiration borne from the talking heads to fill this space
⇒ Let the conversations and encounters go where they will…

The plan is to provide the space and the inspiration, alongside the tools and games to facilitate. That’s it, nothing more.

We're like your favourite Auntie; we'll let you loose in the toy box, you can stay up past bedtime, and we're genuinely eager to see what you create!

Yes, much to my delight and exponentially increasing interest, OxfordJam is becoming quite something other. Huge thanks to those who willed it into existence and adoration to the growing list of participants.
Tickets (free/by donation) will go live this week, so do check it out. Such a series of amazing people, coming forward with this level of conviction and energy, is not to be missed. Better yet, it is still yours to influence so get involved:*

Follow @OxfordJam on Twitter..
Check out the website..
Join the facebook group..
Subscribe to updates via RSS..
Contact the organisers
Comment below!

*Really, do volunteer to get involved... Else I fear, if left unchecked, the food and sexy metaphors may get the better of us..

Friday, 5 March 2010

Birthday Wishes..

12 lessons series will be back after this brief birthday interlude..

This time next week will be my birthday! As I figure it, this means I am entitled to ask you all for favours.. or is that only if you're 'The Don' and it's the day of his daughter's wedding? ..I forget.

Anyway, I am going to be 26 on March 12th.

..And for my birthday, I would like it very much if 26 of my twitter followers* were to register as organ donors.

Now, I have absolutely no interest in changing your views on the subject. So if, for religious or personal reasons, you're uncomfortable with the idea of organ donation** that's fine; my Amazon wishlist is here ;-)

No, this is more for all of you who really don't mind, or perhaps agree it's a good thing to do and just haven't done it yet. Do it now, please. Before you, or someone you know, needs to use the service; before it becomes trite, or before it's too late. It is easy and it wont take long.

And if you do sign up, *please* tweet or comment below so I know how many people have given me this birthday present!
Thank-you muchly.

~ Amanda

*(or more! more would be good too!)
** I assume you'd also be uncomfortable with the idea of receiving a donation if you needed one then *ahem*