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*

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

#10: Net-works

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

Everyone's heard it, some of you will have said it:
"It's not what you know, but who you know".
Whether you believe it's that simple or not, it is hard to deny that knowing the right people can put a good entrepreneur on the fast track to success. I do mean exactly that, though, knowing the right people can put a good entrepreneur on the fast track to success.

A really good entrepreneur can almost certainly make it without much outside support, it'll just take longer, and if you're a bad entrepreneur, well, all the who-you-knows in the world aren't going to help you. But for most startups, securing pertinent, influential contacts within our sector or customer base is an important part of our development.

And the way to get to know the right people in your industry is to build a network.. and when it comes to building a targeted international network, cheaply and effectively - the 'net works.*

There are a lot of doubters when it comes to online networking, and a lot of online networking platforms to have doubts about. There are also a lot of blog posts out there dedicated to; why you should care, which sites to choose and how best to use them. So I'm simply going to remind you that 80% of the UK use some sort of social network and I suggest that, unless you're certain both your influential industry mentors, product/service evangalists and your competitors and pissed off contacts/customers are all in the 20% not using soical media, you might want to do a little strategising in this area. That's all. ;-)

3 tips on building and nurturing a business network online:

1) Target

Very simple maths. There's one of you, there are lots of social networking sites; any one of which could easily consume several hours of your day, everyday. Target the right sites, target users who log in frequently, share good content and have a strong following themselves, and ration your time there.

If you're hiring and you want to see CV's you'll be better on Linked In than Livejounal, which would suit you better if you're an aspiring writer. Bands looking for signing head to MySpace: to quickly spread documents and links try Twitter, to build a fan base start a Facebook Group, to get the attention of an industry leader comment thoughtfully on their blog. If they don't blog, comment thoughtfully on your blog and send them the link.

You can't make a play on all the networking sites out there. Spend a little time deciding on your aim and audience, and pick the one that suits you best. Use your time there productively. Which leads me to my next tip..

2) Make yourself useful

Once you've picked your target site, settle in and make yourself useful.

The most common mistake I hear from newbies is asking what is the benefit they'll receive from online networking. To paraphrase an old one, "ask not what the network can do for you, ask what you can do for your network". Make yourself useful to others. It'll earn you friends, respect from the community, it could accrue you favours and it will showcase your knowledge. Explaining this to a freind the other day, they then likened Twitter to a gift economy. I couldn't have said it better. Make it your mission to be useful, the rest will follow.

3) Seal the deal, respectfully

Approaching someone online is a very different skill to walking up to them at a networking session. One of the deceptive things about the internet is how it distances you from the other person. You're socialising or collaborating but not face to face, not necessarily in real time, they can't see you, and you lose the 93% of communicative clues we use that are non verbal. Accordingly, it is more important than ever to be respectful when writing emails, messages, and forum posts to possible contacts. Always be polite. Always get to your point in the minimum number of lines, and you must double check spelling, punctuation and grammar, it's the online equivalent of ironing your shirt and polishing your shoes!

Many social networks try to account for the lack of non verbal cues by allowing avatars, font and colour customisation. All I can say is that these don't fully compensate for the complexities of body language and vocal tone but they do still count. Suffice to say people who email me in Coloured Comic Sans have a special place in my inbox. Oh and one more thing, get a sensible email address. No one is going to take "tinkerbell84" or "racerboy1" very seriously.

Treat your online network with no less care than you would treat someone you were meeting face to face. In fact, treat online contacts with greater care. There is often a temptation to hide behind the web and allow the distance and relative anonymity to fool us into become louder, brasher or more pushy than we would be in person. Dont.
No, really - don't!
Everyone has bad days and everyone misjudges situations sometimes but If you're a little pushy or rude to someone in person, only you and they know about it, and the moment (hopefully) passes. If you're throwing your weight around on a blog or forum .. the world knows and it becomes public property, out there to be re-lived ceaselessly.

Creating and nurturing a network is difficult! It is a high level skill which takes a huge amount of perception and social bandwidth, but your business needs someone who can do this just as surely as it needs someone to balance the books; and if you're a start up short on time & budget, using the net to broaden your reach is ideal.

Lesson No.10: When it comes to networks.. the net does indeed, work.

*Anyone who thought i'd get through these 12 blog posts without a bad pun, grab your things & move down to the front of the class where I can keep an eye on you. You've obviously not been paying enough attention.