Tag Archives: ideas

Trade secrets – your best ideas will come when you’re not trying

What they don’t tell you about starting a business

One sure way not to be creative and come up with good ideas is to try too hard. Your best ideas will rarely come sitting at your desk. Lightbulb moments are more likely when brushing your teeth, standing in the shower, lying in bed, having a quiet drink in the pub, or out on a run (in other words, when you least expect them!)

So the message is not to spend all your time doing the above, but rather to have means of recording the ideas as soon as possible after they come into your head.

Once recorded you can then afford to put them on one side and return to evaluate them when you have time to do so. This may be weeks later as long as you’ve recorded the essence of your (potentially brilliant) idea. The time lag can even help with the assessment process; in the cool light of day ideas are often viewed more objectively.

For other Trade Secrets in this series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/trade-secrets

The business plan paradox

“If you don’t have a plan, you can’t change it”

In my work with young entrepreneurs, we set great store by them developing a business plan for each would-be enterprise. I describe it as the key that unlocks further support – including a start-up loan and a business mentor. And it can. That’s the carrot for young people hoping to start their own businesses and the stick is… well… it’s me giving them feedback on their various drafts at 1-2-1 meetings. It has to be  their business plan and after each encounter, I  hope they won’t give up; no one is going to force them to stay the course. Of course, many end up ‘doing their own thing’ and we lose touch.

But then I have mixed feelings about business plans. They are, at best, an informed estimate about how things might turn out. We know they’re out of date the minute the ink dries on the page and they can be knocked sideways, backwards, and forwards by unforeseen opportunities and obstacles in the weeks following. Business plans chart 12 months ahead in a linear, orderly fashion (with words and figures hopefully describing parallel journeys) but we know that real life – personal and professional twists and turns – mean that’s unlikely to happen. We say that the business plan should be a ‘living document’ – dynamic and being constantly updated – but I wonder how many really are…

Then there’s my guilty secret – in the three years I spent setting up The Repair Shed (a social enterprise in Hemel Hempstead) my business plan lay unopened,  unloved, and out-of-date on the shelf. In fairness, I did have a 12-month project plan for the funders and I spent a lot of time explaining why things didn’t turn out quite like I said they would.

And yet… and yet …

Young people starting a business plan, and progressing it from one draft to another, shows learning in action, and achievement – massive achievement is some cases – that is credit-worthy in itself. Transferring ideas from inside heads on to paper helps make thinking tangible and, can often clarify issues and gaps in knowledge. A written business plan can share understanding between strangers about the young entrepreneur and their new venture. Even if the business plan is abandoned, it can be retrieved at a later date – a lifeline if the business is floundering, a leg up if the business was never started. And there’s proof that the author of a well-worked business plan can become much more employable as a result of that planning exercise alone.

There’s a much-quoted saying “no business plan survives first contact with customers” but I’d be happy with that – it says our young entrepreneurs have actually started trading!

See also: What makes a great business plan?  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/what-makes-a-great-business-plan 


What’s the purpose?


Finger fun with forks

A repairer at our local Repair Café recently told me that the back brace of a windscreen wiper is good for making lock picks. He’s a juggler with a circus school, so he may have a legitimate need to pick locks (when the escapologist can’t?)

When it comes to being environmentally aware and saving resources, we have to learn a list of words beginning with ‘r’ to add’ to the existing green lexicon – recycling, re-using, refusing, reducing.

Two relatively new kids on the block are ‘re-purposing’ and ‘upcycling’. Like the mis-use of ‘recycling’, the two are often used interchangeably. For pedants like me, try this from Mike – co-founder of reCreate Design Co in Sweden; she writes…

“Upcycle, in very simple terms, is taking something and making it better. It’s the reuse of an item that will still be used in the same way – but it looks new and improved. Upcycling can be achieved through paint, add-ons, new upholstery, etc. Repurpose, quite simply, is taking one thing and reusing [or re-creating?] it as something else. “

document-holder-hackThen there’s ‘hack’ by which I don’t mean listening in to  phone messages and e-mails. In this context, a ‘hack’ is a clever solution to a potentially tricky problem. To hack is to modify, or apply an unintended use for, something in a creative way. For me the key element of a hack is the ingenuity brought to practical problem-solving (even if that’s making something you need when you can’t afford to buy). My current favourite hack is to use a retailer’s plastic trouser hanger as a document holder.

All this is a long-winded way of announcing my plan to share my passion for re-purposing through highlighting some examples (some my own, some from others) from time to time on this blogsite.

The first in the series – coming soon – will be a Soap Sock. Feel free to share your own favourite re-purposing and hacking by replying to this blog.

Further reading: 

Recreate Design Co  http://recreatedesigncompany.com

Words to cut waste https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/words-to-cut-waste

The forgotten ‘r’  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/the-forgotten-r-reduce-reuse-recycle-and-repair

Soap Sock https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/green-and-grey-repurpose-soap-sock 

Green and Grey – A Christmas Gift Guide

green-grey-logoThis is a shameless plug for the work of some of the wonderful people I met at the Festival of Thrift in Redcar back in September. We share a passion for taking reclaimed materials – other people’s waste – and turning them into festival-of-thrift-logostylish, quality products. Some are functional, some are artful, all are crafted with care for the environment and recognise the charm of the old (green and grey … geddit?) Thoughtful gifts created by makers who know the true meaning of value.

Purepallets founder and son http://www.remadeinbritain.com/purepallets/ with a small selection of there lovely stuff

Purepallets founder and son http://www.remadeinbritain.com/purepallets/ with a small selection of their lovely stuff

101 uses for an old washing machine drum from www.upcycled-cumbria.co.uk/

101 uses for an old washing machine drum from www.upcycled-cumbria.co.uk/



Upcycled cycle parts -discover your inner tube with www.veloculture.co.uk

Upcycling -discover your inner tube with www.veloculture.co.uk









Are you a budding Seasick Steve? Diddley Bros can help www.diddleybros.co.uk

Are you a budding Seasick Steve? Diddley Bros can help www.diddleybros.co.uk





A sunny serenade from Mr Spatchcock (or was it Mr Wurzill?) www.spatchcockand wurzill.com

A sunny serenade from Mr Spatchcock (or is that Mr Wurzill?) www.spatchcockandwurzill.com



Ten green bottles (with candles) from www.upcycleupnorth.co.uk

Ten green bottles (with candles) from www.upcycleupnorth.co.uk


Small really is beautiful when you're a Beady Magpie www.beadymagpie.wordpress.com/

Small really is beautiful when you’re a Beady Magpie www.beadymagpie.wordpress.com/

Brilliant birdfeeders from BerryBootique https://www.facebook.com/BerryBootique/

Brilliant birdfeeders from Berry Bootique https://www.facebook.com/BerryBootique/

Drinks cans to artworks by Sarah Turner http://sarahturner.co.uk/

Drinks cans to artworks by Sarah Turner I like the can-do attitude! http://sarahturner.co.uk/







A balanced approach to wine drinking with www.gwkwoodshed.org.uk

A balanced approach to wine drinking with www.gwkwoodshed.org.uk



See you at the Festival of Thrift in 2017? www.festivalofthrift.co.uk

See you at the Festival of Thrift in 2017? www.festivalofthrift.co.uk

Small change, big difference

Tc-9R-road-diversion-warning-signIf you’ve ever read a book on organisational development, you’ll probably know the quote (variously attributed to Henry Ford and Tony Robbins) “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” This is closely followed by Albert Einstein’s “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  

So the message is ‘dare to do things differently’.

Translating this to self-help personal development, the theory is that if you feel stuck in a rut and/or want to boost your creativity you should take a risk, break a routine and jolt your brain into a new orbit.

The standard suggestion is to take a new route to work (or it you’re doing a Fitbit Challenge, you can get off the bus a stop early and take the stairs instead of the lift when you arrive at work). Only small changes, but the idea is that because they’re small and specific they’re less scary (we tend to fear change) and more achievable – think how many new year’s resolutions come to nothing because they are too ambitious and vague.

In my case it’s my regular running routes that I vary. I try to run circular routes and alternate clockwise and anticlockwise if nothing else. Whether I introduce other diversions depends on whether I’m in mindful mode (I stay on track) or problem-solving mode (I explore new routes).

Then there are people who do something different because…

One person did what would be unthinkable to many – deleting over 700 e-mails without reading them. They had arrived in his inbox while he was away on a two-week holiday. He didn’t find any real downsides – most e-mails were time-wasters and the ones requiring action were eventually re-sent to him. He saved hours of trawling time that would have undone the good of the vacation.

I once worked in a place where a member of another organisation dressed in black every day of the working week (and at weekends for all I know). I don’t think he was in mourning – he did it for years, and nor was he a goth. I think it’s just he didn’t want to have to think what to wear in the mornings (a bit like a business suit I suppose). He had an appropriate first name – so we called him ‘black rod’.

Then there was someone else I worked with who cut his hair once a year – on July 4th. If you saw him on July 3rd (long hair) and July 5th (head shaved) you wouldn’t know it was the same person. He wasn’t from the USA; I never found out the significance of 4th July or why he did it.

Recently, as part of a course I was doing, I said hello to strangers (only to women if there was eye contact). Most seemed pleased and said ‘hello’ back to me and I didn’t get as many strange looks as I’d expected!

So why not be bold – do something different and see where it takes you?


Beyond the garden wall

IMG_8881“The grass is always greener where you water it” Neil Barringham

When I left book publishing in London after 15 years, I had a dramatic career change – working as a Community Enterprise Coordinator in the Cambridgeshire Fens. That beautifully stark part of the country is another world where, I was told, change happens by generations.

Like many relatively remote rural areas, if you aren’t born in the Fens, you’re an in-comer for ever. Imagine my situation then – I didn’t even live in Cambridgeshire, let alone the Fens, and the European Union was paying me to tell the local population who’d been there for generations how to live their lives. And I had absolutely no formal qualifications for the job.

I’d been advised that I had two advantages – I was male and mature. I’d never been described as mature before, but they were right; people did at least give me a hearing. But then on my third day in the job, someone said ‘you know Chris, we’re a terribly self-sufficient lot’. I knew I wouldn’t have people queuing up outside my door asking for help.

Then I got some great advice from a community development worker in Devon who’d been in the field (literally) much longer than my two weeks. She said, and this is the point of this blog…

“Think of yourself as a gardener, sowing seeds. You plant the ideas and if some of them sprout, you water them and nurture them. If they shrivel up, you know they’re non-starters and you plant other seeds in, you hope, more fertile soil. And don’t give up trying – it might just be the wrong time of the year.”

I found that advice amazingly useful over the following 18 months – it was an analogy that fitted the rural soundings and helped me explain my role to local people.

And then the gardening analogy cropped up (pun intended) when I was back in London working with the biggest and friendliest charity that’s ever been foolish enough to employ me.

In the course of advising people about business planning, I learnt about SHARE Community in south west London – a charity that provides training, education and personal development for disabled people and those experiencing social exclusion. SHARE Community’s CEO Annie McDowall describes a strategic planning day with a difference…

“To be honest, I was a bit bored with the same old format … SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. This was my first away-day with SHARE and I wanted to make it special. Also, I wanted to include a fair number of SHARE clients all of whom experience some level of disability…

SHARE has a horticultural project and we’re all very enthusiastic about it… How about we did a SWOT by imagining SHARE as a garden? We could use art materials to build up a picture with strength represented by trees, ladybirds and so on, weaknesses as weeds, slugs etc, opportunities as birds and bees, threats as greenfly – that sort of thing…

The next part of the planning session looked at what features of SHARE we wanted to keep and what to throw away. We kept the metaphor of the garden identifying what were weeds (to be got rid of) and what were hardy perennials (hold on to them). Next we asked each group to identify new garden features they wanted to introduce to SHARE. This was a really useful exercise because it produced a list of action points for the year ahead.”

Even though that planning session happened over a decade ago, it struck a chord with me as a brilliant idea. It’s remained in my memory because it connected at a higher level.

I’m pleased to say the garden analogy (or is it a metaphor? I never know) is still thriving – another intended pun. Just last week I read two blogs – from that wise man at Strategic Edge, Nicholas Bate, and the other was a 2013 blog post from another insightful writer – Seth Godin. Nicholas linked gardening to business, parenting and life, and in Seth’s blog he observes “Great projects start out feeling like buildings… but in fact, great projects, like great careers and relationships that last, are gardens.”

So plant seeds, grow well, and may your life, career and relationships bloom.

Further reading:

Nicholas Bate’s blog http://blog.strategicedge.co.uk/2016/01/mmmm-5.html

Seth Godin’s blog http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2013/07/gardens-not-buildings.html

SHARE Community’s gardening enterprise http://www.sharecommunity.org.uk/social-enterprise/share-gardening



Communicating more with less

A laugh is the shortest distance between two people

A laugh is the shortest distance between two people

People have many concerns about the impact of social media on the digital generation – younger people who have never known a world without the internet.

Reduction in attention spans and writing skills are just two, and I have to admit I’m a grumpy old git when it comes to language. Poor spelling and grammar, lazy use of jargon, and unexplained acronyms and abbreviations all get my goat.

We live in a world in which we’re increasingly bombarded with information. We crave the time to deal effectively with the deluge, so it may be that the short text, 140-character tweet, and other bite-size bullets (not to be confused with great dollops of bullshit) are part of the answer. And might their brevity make them better communications?

Effective communication is, of course, not only about transmitting a message, but that message needs to be received, registered and (in a marketing context) acted upon. For me, two characteristics of a good communication are that it touches me emotionally and that I remember the content long after – the two are probably closely related.

So what do I remember from the past? Two communications spring to mind…

When, over 40 years ago, I was in my first, impressionable year at university, we had a talk from Sir Huw Weldon who was a big name at the BBC, associated with Monitor – a series of arts programmes for TV. He recounted how he was making a programme about the life of a composer (Elgar I think) and he was unhappy with his commentary. As it got closer to transmission, he was increasingly concerned, then suddenly realised that much of the commentary was unnecessary. He simply replaced it with the composer’s music; making it all the more powerful.

Many years ago I applied for a job with a carers charity and was astonished and moved to learn about the thousands of young carers – school-age children who, when not at school, care for a family member. I didn’t get the job but never forgot about those cleaning, cooking dressing, young carers who were previously invisible to me (and probably most of society)

Fast forward to a dozen years ago when I used to run a training session for charities – Learn to Love your Annual Report – which tried to help them turn often turgid and unreadable documents into interesting and useful promotional tools. One of the samples I used – as an example of a good report – was produced by another carers charity.

On the cover was a simple black and white photo of a young teenager kitted out for some abseiling; he was obviously excited. The only words on the cover were a quote “I wish I could act my age for a change.” It moved me and left a lasting impression.

Next week I have a job interview which includes a 10-minute presentation (fine) without the use of Powerpoint slides (even better – I gave up using slides, other than photos, years ago). Now all I’ve got to do is to KISS (keep it simple stupid) and leave a lasting impression… for the right reasons.

But enough of this blog – I’ve already gone on too long.