My 15 Year List of Ideas is a Ready Made Company Selector

For the last 15 years I’ve maintained a list of ideas to build – things that both excite me and improve the world.

I’ve kept it pruned, adding new ideas, removing those that no longer seem viable and adding more details of the idea over time to those that still do.

It turns out this list is a wonderful way to help me identify those companies that I would really love to work with. To help those people build things that I am passionate enough to want to build myself.

Turns out that I care more that those amazing and positive things become realised and are in the world doing good than I do about being the person that created them.

Turns out I’m equally happy to be one of the many hands and hearts to bring them into existence.

One such company is Too Good To Go – this amazing organisation is using tech to reduce food waste.

Their mission ties in so strongly with an idea that I had about five years ago – “fix the problem of global western food waste”

Then at the Agile Testing Days conference in Potsdam last year as I brainstormed with some amazing people including Maria Urdaneta Castro, Ilan Kirchenbaum and Karen Greaves, that idea morphed into “The People’s Pantry”:

So what is the takeaway here (pun intended!)

• keep a list of your passionate ideas, keep them pruned – I spend 2 hours a month on this. Remember to write what the compelling goal is  – what change do you want to see in the world.

• keep a look out for those people/organisation that are trying to build it.

• join them and help, if you can.

I hope this proves helpful to you to remember what you are passionate about and to help when you are looking for a job where passion and purpose are important.

Thanks for reading and I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

My first week of Helpful Conversations

Last week I started having Office Hours to have conversations with anyone who wanted  the benefit of my experience in startups, tech and a few other things from my 25+ years in the software space.

Using the awesome ‘Booked’ wordpress plugin – which I had acquired for another idea that I was launching last year – I set up a simple calendar/appointment booking on my blog site and wrote a blog post to make my offer and kick the whole thing off.

The first week has been tremendous. I’ve had 4 conversations that each went well beyond the 30 minute slot that was booked and all ended with some very positive feedback and heart felt gratitude from the people I spent that time with.

I haven’t asked their permission to write about the conversations – they are, of course, private and confidential – so no names will be named and no identifying details will be shared.

Two of the conversations were about starting out as an agile coach, one was about remaining relevant as a people manager and the last one was helping a startup on its growth plans – specifically raising market awareness. Here are just some of the ideas I shared:

Starting as a (independent) agile coach:

  • Don’t do it. The market for ‘agile coaches’ is saturated and filling up with project managers, scrum masters and all sorts of other folk. Rather than be bound to some title,  strive to be of value instead by understanding what problem your client is trying to solve (and not simply help us do Scrum/LeSS/whatever) and be determined to use *all* that you know to help them.
  • Know what you bring to the engagement – be clear about it, at least to yourself!
  • Get yourself financially lean to compete, take risks and endure the downturns.
  • Get comprehensive agile experiences – learn to code, ship something, try to market something – you cannot empathise effectively if you don’t know what they are going through.
  • Stay in your day job long enough to get the essential capabilities you need – once you have to make money, it becomes harder to make strategic decisions  – being financially lean can mitigate this but not remove it entirely.

Remaining relevant as a people manager:

  • Ask the people you manage what they need – practically, emotionally and financially – to be happy and fulfilled in their jobs.
  • Remember that your responsibility is to spend authority wisely – for the benefit of your reports and indirectly, the organisation.
  • Stop shielding people from the consequences of their professional actions – agree some rules beforehand, but blind support does no one any good. That said, helping to create an environment where the consequences are manageable and fairly trivial is also important.
  • Tell the person who manages you the same thing (even if they don’t ask for it).
  • Go ask your ‘customers’ what they enjoy about you as a manager and what they don’t. Commit to them to act on their feedback.

Growth for a startup – creating awareness of a product or service:

  • Focus on what the users and customers are actually trying to use your product or service to achieve. No one uses a tool for the sake of the tool. Customers will value your service better if you strive to understand their goals.
  • Be honest with what your product and service is great at and what it isn’t – users do not appreciate wasting their time on something that doesn’t work in their use case.
  • Use your paying customers more – if you are lucky to have them, then engage with them more.
  • Try and get better at being out of your comfort zone by doing more of it and learning ways to be better.
  • Rediscover your passion for what your product does – the unique way you want to change the world. This is the bigger goal than the features you are building and enables you to speak and promote your startup with passion.
  • Give what you have to get what you want – create content about useful and helpful things, share it, help companies for free using the expertise you’ve developed from your product. Earn goodwill, it pays off.

A huge thank you to the amazing people who accepted my invitation  this week and had the courage and humility to ask for help. Needless to say, I’m deeply enjoying these conversations and hope for many more.

If you or anyone you know would find a conversation with me helpful – book a time on my office hours, show up and lets do this thing!

 

I'm Delighted By: Fitness Blender

In my previous life as an agile coach, I travelled a lot and stayed in hotels, airbnbs and other accommodation. Most didn’t have gyms and, to be honest, I’m not really a gym person.

Now anyone who knows consulting, knows you eat out almost exclusively whilst on the road and anyone who knows me, knows I like both my food and wine (and cocktails and desserts!) So staying fit and healthy on the road is doubly hard!

But a few years ago, I discovered Fitness Blender and I began to do their workouts whilst on the road. They have such a wide range of really great workouts for every phase of fitness. From less than 10 minute long easy workouts to more than an hour workouts that would literally have your lungs in your mouth!

The best thing about Kelli and Daniel – the founders –  is that they do the workouts with you. They feel exhausted at the same points you feel exhausted, when they say ‘what a burn’, you feel like they spoke for you. Oh, and the workout videos are free – they make some money from advertising and selling longer programs but you can get fit and stay healthy for free!

They have lots of workouts but my favourite are the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) videos that need nothing but bodyweight (and do I have a lot of that – less since I started with them!). The HIIT workouts are generally short – bookended with warm up and cool down, they are between 15 and 35 minutes long.

Now that I’m not on the road that much, I still do their workouts 3 times a week, I’ve never met them in person, but they are like old friends!

I seriously think that without these guys, I would be dead by now.

Please, if you are on the road a lot, don’t feel that you can’t keep fit and healthy. You always have time for one of their workouts. Look after yourselves – you aren’t any good to anyone dead.

Thank you @fitnessblender!

30 Day Challenge: 5 minutes of planks everyday!

Challenge Yourself!

I decided at the end of January that it would be a good idea to force a habit of exercise and do something every day that is both hard and beneficial.

So, the 30 day challenge was born – technically it runs for calendar months not strictly 30 days, but it still works.

First up – are 5 minutes of plank exercises every day during February.

I’m already 10 days into it and it is only just getting easier. Coupled with the HIIT and CrossFit that I also do in the week – some days the planks completely finish me off.

That said – doing them first thing in the morning is such a sense of achievement and sets me up for the day.

If you would like to do the same challenge, here are the exercises:

Kudos to Neila Rey who put the visual together!

I use the very useful IntervalTimer by Seconds Pro to help me not cheat on the timing. Here is the timer for this plank workout.

Challenge yourself!

Next for March: 3 minutes of High Knees every morning!

Why I don't cheat.

A tale of 2 exam papers

Twenty seven years ago, in a small but important town in southern Nigeria,  two teenage boys – bored with revising for their GCSEs – succumbed to the temptation of ‘guaranteeing the outcome’ of their Chemistry exam.

As with any situation with demand, supply always rises to meet it. As such, both boys independently went off to acquire the exam paper from different sources.

A few days later, they jubilantly reunited – each with their exam paper – suitably contained in large brown envelopes. As each boy opened his envelope and read the questions to see how well they were prepared, the first student commented that one of the questions didn’t make sense, thus prompting the second boy to look at the question.

Before too long, both boys looked at the papers side by side in disbelief. Both papers seemed identical on the front page but as soon as the pages were turned, the questions were completely different.

If they were different to each other, were either the correct paper or were both actually just passable fakes.

Despite their unscrupulous intentions, lady luck smiled on the boys. They still had a week before the exam and, to put it mildly, resumed revising with unquestionable focus.

One of those boys was me. I remembered I paid 70 Naira for my fake exam papers, at the time that was about £20.

That was the first and ultimately the last time I ever tried to cheat – neither in an exam or in any dealings with anyone.

Lessons to live by

That experience held some powerful lessons for a young person to learn, namely:

That some things are too good to be true – especially when the alternative is hard work. That the time you spend chasing the quick win is valuable time being ‘stolen’ from working hard on the surer win.

Something quite tremendous happened in addition to the lesson – I developed a strong principle of not cheating and not tolerating it from anyone else.

This is not to say don’t look for shortcuts – because there are some. But rather, invest in looking for the honest ones, that don’t compromise your principles. Of course, if you don’t have that principle then none of this matters.

What experiences and lessons about cheating have you had? Or what principles have you developed from your own experiences – I’d love to hear them.

 

Offer: Let's have a helpful conversation

It seems that when I’m most busy is when I also seem to want to share and help others the most – so continuing in a long established tradition, I would like to offer some office hours to help anyone who needs it.

But first – at the risk of inventing another buzzword/phrase that gets trademarked and certified, what is a ‘helpful conversation’?

It is simply a time that you bring something a person needs help on, we talk about it and you leave feeling better, clearer, energised or otherwise ‘helped’. If you don’t leave the conversation feeling like it was s good spend of your time, then we haven’t had a ‘helpful conversation’.

It isn’t free, it’s priceless.

My time is the most precious thing I have and I offer it, in the hope that we both have a brilliant conversation and learn and share from each other. My reward is knowing that I helped you.

So, what could be helpful to you?

Here are some things I know I can help with:

Startups

because I’ve spent the last 15 years learning by doing

Bootstrapping a startup
Designing your test-the-market strategy – MVPs, guerrilla testing
Essential tools I use everyday to planning, testing, prototyping etc super easy
Designing marketing experiments
Dealing with failure – how to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’
Hiring and equity sharing
Advising your startup on a regular basis

Agile Things

because I’ve been coaching for over 10 years and been a dev, product guy, maker in this space for the last 16 years 

Most things about Scrum, Kanban, Lean and variations therein.
Should you get agile certification? I have an alternative view and can help talk you through your options.
Building and growing self-organisation, empowered teams
Being an effective manager or executive in an agile organisation or during a transition

Helping People be Successful & Joyful

because that is basically what my entire career has been about – and I love it.

Using improv to get better at being present, collaborative and generally ‘good to work with’
Software and tech industry career advice – what you might want to invest in (and not) as you start out in tech –  attitudes and essential skills
Valuing learning and relationships.
Getting mentors

Business meeting culture

because I built a startup to fix this and it has 6000 users.

Simple techniques to transform your personal meeting behaviour
Make any meeting better (or at the very least, suck less)
Helping your organisation have fewer and better meetings

I want a helpful conversation,  how do we do this?

I thought you’d never ask! This is simple as pie.

If you don’t know anything about me – I encourage you to check out my about page, my LinkedIn and some of my tweets.

Then, if you think I could be helpful,  checkout my office hours availability, book an available time slot and show up.

There, all done. I look forward helping however I can.

 

Be a Person of Substance

I love to take my dog – Maya – for walks and she loves it when I throw for her and she fetches. A long throw really helps her open up the speed!

As I took her for a walk this morning, I brought with us one of her ‘throw and chew’ balls. Much like a tennis ball but squidgier.

Usually I throw rocks for her and I have a pretty long throw – but despite my usual effort, this ball didn’t travel as far.

Now, it was substantially larger than a stone and almost perfectly spherical – looking picture perfect to throw, but it lacked density and this is why it didn’t make the most of the strength with which it was hurled. In fact, sometimes it only travelled a few meters! Needless to say, Maya was none too pleased.

It got me thinking

I believe that Life, the Universe and the force that is greater than us all, seems to want to propel us to great heights towards what we wish for ourselves, but what do we bring to this ambition to help it along?

If life presents an opportunity to propel a person forward – perhaps to greater learning and prosperity, how does that person get themselves in a position to maximise how far they travel?

As I pondered this, I wondered if the density or substance of the rock was more suitable to be propelled than the ball – which ‘looked’ like the best thing to be propelled.

What is the substance of a person that helps them make the most of the propulsion that life offers? Seems to me that by the time the opportunity arrives,  there is likely very little a person can do to acquire the skills to make the most of that particular gift. So it seems substance is a set of general characteristics and capabilities.

Here’s a list of attributes that I think count as ‘substance’ by which a person ‘goes far’.

  1. Integrity – being true to your word and being guided by your principles.
  2. Being good to work with – being respectful of others, open to collaboration.
  3. Being adaptable – anticipating and responding elegantly to change,
  4. Learning what they need to – and quickly.
  5. Being generous – with their time, knowledge and resources.
  6. Being open – in mind and of heart.
  7. Persistence –  knowing when to push on (and pushing on) and when to pull out.

I’m sure this is not exhaustive but what do you think?
Do you agree with my list, can you think of any more?
How does one develop these capacities to be a person of substance?

Yes, learning is hard. But do it anyway.

It seems popular, these days, for coaches and consultants to talk about ‘continuous learning’ or the ‘learning organisation’.

Learning is like sex – everyone nods knowingly when it is being talked about, but few are actually doing it well or at all.

For me, learning a new skill is hard – especially if you are unconsciously competent – i.e. an expert, in another domain. Although I take baby steps and mentally (an emotionally) prepare to feel inadequate or stupid, that preparation does not fully protect me against those feelings. I do feel frustrated and stupid when I learn something new.

I’m not one of those naturally curious ‘take it apart to see how it works’ nerds. I need a reason to do anything – even if that reason is simply to have some fun. Luckily I am a solution dreamer – to problems that I see everywhere and even those that haven’t yet peaked. So, what I lack in curiosity, I make up for in imagination.

Of course, learning is only the beginning – think of it as an introduction to a new skill. You are barely becoming competent, you are simply prepping yourself to begin. Practice, once you have the basics, is really where I make all my solid, sticky learning. This holds its own hardships too.

My preferred style of learning anything is to have a goal – for example, when I learned to knit, I set myself a goal of knitting a scarf.

This goal-focused approach means that I can focus my learning, ignoring those things that may be valuable but do not directly move me towards my goal. It also means I have a reason to practice – rather than to learn, it is to create my goal.

What often suffers when I take this approach is that I skip a whole load of important theoretical back story of why certain things are the way they are. But on the plus side I get something tangible quickly.

Every step of the learning experience, especially in the early stages are painful. I feel frustrated that I’m making such slow progress. I find having expertise in a related domain makes things worse.

For example, as I learn React Native to build my Personal Relationships Management app – “Percy” – the WTF/min are really high because I know how quickly I can achieve the same functionality in Java or Ruby – both of which I code with some fluency.

Of course you hear those well meaning fools who harp on about ‘make it fun’ – clearly they haven’t done any learning recently. How do you make the constant feeling of inadequacy or the sense of being a dumdum any fun?

When I learned to juggle, I remember feeling physically sick from sense of failure when – in spite of my best efforts – I just couldn’t keep three balls in the air at the same time. Until I did and that sense was immediately quashed forever.

This turnaround is addictive – and anticipating when I will get beyond the tunnel of crap into the light of palpable competence – itself is exciting. It’s a rush. It’s what keeps me showing up to learn and improve.

The capabilities you develop are rewarding – if nothing else, this new skill gives you a new set of filters and paradigms to see the world through. It gives me a new world from which to draw metaphors from.

So – of course it hurts, but it’s worth it – so do it anyway.

How does learning affect you and why do you show up?

 

I can't write about colonialism or the Commonwealth

I’ve been trying, without success, for the last month to write a blog post on the curse of colonialism and the abomination that is the Commonwealth.

As I explore my thoughts and organise them into something coherent, I become paralysed by the scale of the destruction that the UK has wreaked and continues to wreak with its imperial history.

Britain has truly changed the world, in a way that world is worse off.

From language to cultural identity, to the idea of sovereignty – colonialism shifted it all. From the idea of what is beautiful, to who is intelligent – Britain orchestrated a deliberate collective mind-fuck through time and space bending and breaking once powerful cultures to its shallow, defunct own.

So, I can’t write about this right now, partly because of the scale and mostly because I am so incredibly sad about it.

Perhaps one day.

I finally get Trump

From the moment Donald Trump threw his hat into the US presidential campaign back in June 2015 until his controversial win in November 2016, I’ve experienced a range of emotions from hilarity, incredulity, fear, disappointment and now – lingering sadness and disappointment.

Why do I care, why do any of us – non-Americans – care what happens in American politics. Are we obsessed and chattering about Ugandan elections – such as they are – or Indonesia? Or any other country for that matter?

We care because America has been the military, cultural, economic – and therefore – global political empire of the last 70 years. “Has been” is the key part here – this empire is dying – there is no doubt about that. Every empire ends, regardless of how long, how great or how wide its sphere of influence.

I – like the rest – of the world expected a certain type of global leadership from the President of the United States. In part, this expectation has been set by history. With a few exceptions (ahem, George ‘Dubya’ Bush), American presidents and their administrations have maintained the global status quo – dealing respectfully with their allies and being the leader that was needed.

Not anymore. Trump is not maintaining the status quo, not in any sphere of his administration. He has asset stripping CEOs in his cabinet, Russian-buddying, obviously dodgy-as-fuck campaign managers. His administration pursues policies that devalue life, hurt innocent people, create divisions and actively demonstrates aggression to everyone.

Personally, he seems to have the morals of a brothel keeper, no sense of decorum, very little social skill, is unwilling to listen, extremely egotistical and seems to have very little goodness. He even fails at the very basic requirement of the office – being there as a voice of reason, measure and comfort for his country when it experiences tragedy.

I finally get him. He is a terrible United States President.
He is also the best one to catalyse the demise of this dying empire.

His latest ( 5/Dec/2017) –  bucking of convention is to announce that the US administration is recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This is causing huge anger and response from pretty much every corner of the political space.

Jerusalem is central to three of the worlds big religions –  Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It’s dumb and shouldn’t matter who controls it politically, but the Muslim world wants a piece of it under Muslim control through the stalled peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The hitherto best chance for peace between those two is a two state solution with shared control i.e. division, of Jerusalem. Israelis and their obsession with ‘the chosen people and special relationship with God’  narrative claim an ‘undivided Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people’.

But back to Trump – he is a simple man. Some may even say, simple minded. He is a pussy grabbing, McDonald’s munching, unashamed capitalist and his administration is driven – perhaps more than any other previous one – by his own personal narrow world view. This world-view, like most people is informed by those we hang around with, what we hear and are exposed to daily. By our relationships.

He is very much pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he be? the world of finance and big business in the US and especially in New York is awash with Jewish and pro-Israeli relationships. Truth be told, so it has always been. The Clintons, Obama, Bush etc have all had deeper relationships – personal and professionally with pro-Israeli people compared to pro-peace/pro-Palestinian people.

So – Trump says ‘Jerusalem is Israel’s capital’. This is stating the obvious. The US will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – so what? Trump spouting it doesn’t magically make it so.

Jerusalem is already Israel’s capital.
The Israelis treat it as such and no amount of condemnation or support is going to change that. Will other countries follow suit – I strongly doubt it – no Arab/Muslim country that has diplomatic ties with Israel will be moving their embassies to Jerusalem. The Germans might, but they would anyway – because of the perpetual national guilt they carry for the Holocaust. Will the UK? Probably not – they are facing Brexit and looking to increase trade with many Muslim countries to mitigate that disaster – now is hardly the time to court more controversy.

China and India have so far been very diplomatic about it all but have their own global ambitions. Russia picks its fights very carefully and this is not one it is interested in and besides, for countries like China, Russia and India, being led on this by the US is not a reasonable part of their big global ambitions, it would show subservience, not independence.

What happens when any nation strays too far beyond the range of acceptable behaviour? Unfailingly, they get sidelined. The UK and Spain are prime examples, post Ottoman Turkey is another. Their relevance as global powers are questioned, their standing in the family of nations diminishes whether they choose to recognise it.

From domestic gun control to global climate change, from tackling wealth inequality in the US to North Korea, Iran and Cuba – Trump has shown he is willing to do the unreasonable thing. He has nearly done enough for the rest of the world’s nations to sideline him and his country, nearly enough to seal the irrelevance of their leadership.

So, I get it. Trump is the driver of the United States’ unrelenting , full-speed trajectory to global mediocrity. That is a better and more achievable definition of Making America Great Again. By ‘great’ meaning back to living in its own bubble and helping the world by not being able to fuck it up. I, for one, welcome it.