Monthly Archives: October 2014

Peace of mind

IMG_5194On my return from a free swim at our local leisure centre (ref recent blog ) I walked past a parked domestic appliances van. On the door it offered ‘peace of mind ‘ (for the price of a 2 or 5 year guarantee).

Companies have long known that people will pay for ‘peace of mind’ and they play on the opposite – anxiety about problems that might arise (but in reality may be very unlikely).

Only now are people waking up to the fact that paying for central heating breakdowns as/when they happen is usually cheaper than buying an annual care package. The exception to this might be our gas boiler which was installed over 20 years ago but has since been fitted with so many new parts – ‘for free’ under an annual care package – that it behaves like a young teenager (no jokes please about it going out at night and being slow to get started in the morning…)

I still remember when, 20 years ago, we went to buy a video player with our 3 year old daughter. The shop tried to persuade us to buy their now much-criticised ‘extended warranty’. Even now I can hear the salesman’s pitch “Imagine what would happen if your daughter posted a slice of buttered toast in the slot for videos …” It didn’t persuade us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about built-in obsolescence recently because we had our fourth Royston Repair Cafe last weekend. It was another great success in the fight against consumerism and encouragement to buy new rather than repair and re-use. To see what we got up to, go to

Of course in reality we can never buy peace of mind; if it isn’t a domestic appliance breakdown, we’ll find other things to worry about. For me, peace of mind comes from feeling as though I’m in control – building mindfulness into my daily routines, ensuring I’m not instantly contactable for much of the day, and communicating as clearly and honestly as I can with those around me.


Pencils and personalisation

IMG_5643Many years ago that wise man Martin Farrell at Get2thepoint ( gave me a brilliant tip – cut your pencils in two and sharpen them at both ends.

Not only does this create four writing options for the price of one pencil, but it also makes your pencils so distinctive that people can’t say they picked them up ‘by accident’. I think Martin also suggested the very act of personalising the pencil would make it less attractive to would-be purloiners because it looks like someone loves it.

I was thinking about Martin’s tip as I used my (stubby) pencil to design a display stand made out of – yes, you’ve guessed it – an old pallet. This will be The Repair Shed’s first commission for a pallet product following an outing to the Festival of Enterprise in Ipswich last week – a ‘graduation event’ organised by the East Enterprise Hub.

I like the implied impermanence of something in pencil – to me it suggests creativity with an openness to change (although I can never find a rubber when I need one – especially if someone has sharpened both ends of the pencil that had one on). I think that knowing you can change what you’re about to draw (or write) is liberating in a way not equalled by being able to press the delete button on a keyboard.

For our would-be client I felt it was important to show that the design was not ‘written in stone’; rather an idea that we can adapt to suit their needs. It was also about personalising the final product – if we get the commission it will be a handmade one-off.

I know our would-be customer – a small producer of healthy spice drinks using 100% natural ingredients – is as keen as I am to get away from large-scale mass-production and standardisation. For me, personalisation is the name of the game.

PS I’ve also been thinking about pencils because this year I’m considering growing an ear-to-ear pencil moustache to raise money and awareness about men’s health for Movember (more at but that’s another story…

Enterprise essential – be an information gatherer

Never stop looking, listening and learning. There’s a wealth of accessible and affordable sources out there – much of it online and free. Try the Business Planning Guide for Social Enterprises at to get started.


Enterprise essential – look for opportunities in adversity

Following the closure of a library in Bournemouth, books were re-housed in the nearby pub. This meant the ‘new library’ was open until late each night, and on Sundays. It also brought people into contact with books in a non-threatening setting. Hard times can stimulate creativity and progress. As Ben Cohen, founder of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, has observed “to stumble is merely to move forward faster.”


Routine or innovation?


Chris Lee (left) receives voucher for 10 free swims from North Herts Council Director John Robinson

Chris Lee (left) receives voucher for 10 free swims from North Herts Council Director John Robinson

At the end of September I won a North Hertfordshire District Council competition organised to celebrate ‘Waste Less, Live More’ Week (22 – 28 September – put it in your diary for 2015).

To cut a long story short, I can now call my pallet table ‘prize-winning’ and I’ll be swimming in our local leisure centre for the next ten Fridays for free!

I’m more of a runner than a swimmer, but this week I learnt from a great little British Heart Foundation booklet on physical exercise for the over 50s* that 30 minutes ‘moderate intensity’ swimming burns the same number of calories as 16 minutes running’.

So ten free swims is a valuable prize.

This Friday was my first free swim. I hadn’t been to the pool for a couple of years (it’s not cheap) but happy memories soon came flooding back. I go early and it was the usual 6.30am crowd – older swimmers standing in the shallow end chatting and the ‘speedos’ ploughing up and down the lanes, power drinks lined up in bottles poolside – very intimidating.

I am neither a chatterer nor a speedo – I did my 20 lengths in slightly fewer minutes – but it gave me the time to reflect on the joy of some routines, such as chugging up and down a swimming pool. In fact I got so carried away I lost count of how many lengths I’d swum so I might, in fact, have done 18 or 22 lengths.

How different from the world of social entrepreneurship – in which I’ve been immersed over the last 12 months – where we’re urged to constantly innovate and, more recently, be disruptive (whatever that means). It’s as if doing things differently and being creative in always a good thing. My wife works in the NHS and, like in education, she works in a world of constant change, re-organisation, and energy-sapping disruption. She suffers from people trying to ‘innovate’!

Yes – there’s a need to find new solutions to enduring problems, and urgently, but maybe we should also value the idea of ‘sticking to the knitting’ (as a now notorious ex-government minster suggested recently), doing what we do well, following tried and tested, reliable routines and – like my plodding up and down the swimming pool – allowing ourselves the time to slow down and think.

*Be active for life download for free from the British Heart Foundation website.

Waste less, live more is at

Reflecting and sharing will be the theme of an early November blog post

Enterprise essential – make the physical environment your business

Social enterprise is about environmental sustainability as well financial viability. Whether its travel to meetings, the conservation of energy in your office, or the re-use and recycling of equipment, we can all play our part in demonstrating how social enterprise can be a better way of doing business.


Enterprise essential – are you still needed?

Sometimes people are so focussed on the daily demands of running a business they don’t see the world around them has moved on. In the context of social enterprise, the original need being served by the business may have changed so radically, or is being met by others, in other ways, that winding up is the best option.


Enterprise essential – communicate your impact

Demonstrating the difference you’re making to people’s lives is a good way to build support for your business externally and internally. Be proud of your achievements – blow your own trumpet – but don’t be afraid to explain how you’ve learnt when things have gone wrong. For impact measurement tools go to


Enterprise essential – be entrepreneurially alert

Don’t stop scanning the market and assessing the competition. See what others are doing well and think how you could do it better. Creativity is about making new connections. Albert Szent-Gyorgy who discovered Vitamin C, is reported to have said “Genius is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.”


Enterprise essential – be a mystery shopper

How does your enterprise appear from the outside? Try phoning up or writing for information (anonymously of course) for information and find out! For smaller organisations, ask a friend to do this for you and ask them to note how well the enquiry was handled. Alert staff that ‘mystery shoppers’ will be in touch in the coming weeks.