Twits, tweets and Twitter

The internet has produced yet another weird way of communicating. It’s called Twitter and it allows you to ‘microblog’, that is to post a short message (called a tweet) on the internet about what you’re doing. Then other people can sign up to your updates (to become a ‘follower’). You can send updates on the web or as a text from your mobile.

So what’s the point of that? No-one yet really knows. There’s very little point if all you’re saying is ‘Having my breakfast’, but if you’re detailing what it’s like shooting your documentary or movie like Stephen Fry does to his 63,000 followers, or giving back stage info on the re-launch of your tv show like Jonathan Ross does to his 14,000 followers, it can be quite interesting. Barack Obama used it in his election campaign. He has 144,000 followers, the largest amount at time of writing.

Perhaps when you have enough followers you can broadcast your problem or your latest business offering as some people have quite successfully. The secret seems to be to use it to enhance your brand, to post information that may be of interest to people who would find you interesting. So it’s no different to any other sort of marketing; know your audience and provide what they may like. I’m giving it a go. Why not join me there.

I thought having Google Earth was quite voyeristic. Following Stephen Fry around feels a bit like stalking, but he seems to enjoy it (see his interview).

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Graphical representation of Obama’s speech

This is a visual representation of Obama’s inauguration speech by Brandy Agerbeck.

This is how it was done:
“…I ended up scribbling down the main points I heard in pencil on a notebook. Not a real-time drawing. And as I scribbled notes, I realized that it was critical to quote Obama’s words. One of my skills is to distill points into shorter, clearer phrases. Because this content was recorded and would be quoted, it was good to keep it in Obama’s voice, even if it took my shape, my synthesis.

After I scribbled the notes, I downloaded a transcript. I highlighted the phrases that resonated with me when I listened live. Next, I needed to figure out how to wrap these points around the Obama banner I had drawn as a centerpiece. I started knowing that the O would be a face saying a major point. I chose to make that “Greatness is never a given. It is earned.” I built the main point around the banner, though not strictly in linear order.”

See it here.

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Hard Times? Apple posts record profits

So times are hard and people aren’t buying stuff? Apple have announced that they made a net profit of $1.61bn (£1.15bn) and posted record revenue of $10.7bn for the last three months of 2008. (For the same quarter the previous year, Apple’s profit was $1.58bn and its revenue was $9.6bn.)

In this three months Apple sold:

Macs: 2,524,000, up 9%.
iPods: 22,727,000 iPods, up 3%.
iPhones: 4,363,000, up 88%

Does anyone need an iPod or Mac? Not really. But they certainly want them. How can we increase the value of our stuff so that our clients really want it?

Perhaps we can see clues by having a look at Apple’s philosophy as told by Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook, who is overseeing Apple’s day-to-day operations during Steve Jobs’ absence:

“(Apple has) over 35,000 employees that I would call “all wicked smart”. And that’s in all areas of the company, from engineering to marketing to operations and sales and all the rest … We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products, and that’s not changing. We’re constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple, not the complex … and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence …and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change … those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.”

Just read that quote again and ask yourself if any of it could apply to your business. It should.

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Tony Hart 1925-2009

Tony Hart, the double BAFTA winning artist, broadcaster and one of my heroes has died.

He wrote and presented the childrens’ weekly television programmes such as Vision On, Take Hart and Hartbeat from 1952-2002 on which he demonstated how to draw, paint and create different forms of craft. He also designed the Blue Peter logo, still in use today.

As a child I was inspired by his easy going style style and straightforward step-by-step methods that made artistic creativity fun and imediately do-able.

I never did send any of my pictures to the Gallery (to be shown on the programme), one of the few things I always regreted (not writing to ‘Jim’ll Fix it’ was another), so finally meeting the man and seeing the studio where he thought up all his techniques last year was a great honour.

Tony was also kind enough to write the forward for my new book which details how everyone can begin and progress on their creative journey. Visit Tony’s website here.

Here’s a clip from the first episode of Take Hart from 1977. Thanks Tony.

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2009 may or may not be the European Year of Creativity and Innovation

The European Commission has realised that for both social and economic reasons, increasing creativity and innovation across the whole population of Europe is essential to enable people to embrace change and seize new opportunities.

Jan Figel, the Commissioner responsible for Education has said that the idea for the Year is “an effective way of helping to meet challenges by raising public awareness, disseminating information about good practices, stimulating education and research, creativity and innovation, and promoting policy debate and change. By combining action at Community, national, regional and local levels, it can generate synergies and help to focus policy debate on specific issues.”.

The Year should focus on creating an environment favourable to creativity including social and entrepreneurial innovation. Emphasis should be put for on education across a wide range of subjects including mathematics, the sciences and technology. The aim is that by highlighting creativity across a range of skills will improve problem-solving and the practical application of knowledge and ideas.

The proposed European Year of Innovation and Creativity would act not only education and culture, but also enterprise, media, research, social and rural development. It should include information and awareness-raising campaigns, promotion of good practices, debates, meetings, conferences and promote a wide variety of projects at regional, national and European level.

The decision will be taken later this year. By then most of the year will be over and the budget needed for the remainder of the year will be a lot less. If the decision is held over till around Christmas then the Year can be named retrospectively, saving even more funds. Genius.
As you well know, last year was the very successful European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. Apparently.

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Are you an idiot? Take this simple test.

I’ve had to make a tough decision recently in my workshops. If I accept that my job is to inspire and enable people to generate ideas and take action, to do that I might have to challenge them. I might have to point out their failings and that might not make me as well liked as if I just glossed over that and did an entertaining talk after which everyone can go back to being unproductive and uncreative as they previously were. I decided it would be better to be slightly more forceful and get the results.

I’ve spoken to hundreds of businesses this year about the topic of being more creative in generating ideas to improve profits. There are a lot of good people and great businesses out there but I want to tell you about the sizeable proportion that are sloppy, self-loathing, lack confidence, closed to new ideas and resigned to failure.

We all agree those attitudes are not helpful to a successful business. The first step in changing those attitudes is to recognise that you may occasionally slip into them.

I’m getting better at spotting these people in my workshops. When we get onto the ‘breakout sessions’ where the delegates work in small teams it quickly becomes obvious who is going to benefit and who isn’t. One of the tasks is to generate ideas for each others main problem. These are the worst things people do when they’re having other give them suggestions, they:

– are reluctant to write the ideas down.
– filter the ideas.
– criticise, saying “we’ve tried that”, “that won’t work”, or “you don’t understand, in our industry..”
– translate the idea into their own words, changing it.
– keep talking over people, giving ‘classic examples’ instead of allowing more people to offer more ideas.
– don’t understand their own problems properly or are unable to explain or clarify.
– behave resigned that their problem is unsolvable (“mine’s such a bigger and better problem than yours”).

This is the behaviour of an idiot. What it does is to shut down right brain thinking (by using the dominant critical left brain to judge) stopping further idea development or ‘brain-waves’ to come from a suggestion. It stops people wanting to offer their suggestions (which may be pure gold) because the don’t want rejection or criticism for their unformed new thought (understandably). You can feel the annoyance in the group. Why can’t people have the good grace to listen and accept the gifts people give. Interestingly enough, these same people fail to contribute any ideas for anyone else’s problems.

I hope I haven’t described you. But if you recognise any of this behaviour – force yourself to change it now. Those attitudes are the tip of the iceberg of the doom that will surely come if those negative manners eat into your business and relationships with staff and customers. Change your mind into an open, willing, positive, playful, experimental, good-finding, inventive workshop of ideas.

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‘War on Terror’ a mistake – official

UK Foreign secretary David Miliband has confessed using the phrase ‘War on Terror’ has got us more war and more terror. See the full article on the bbc. The phrase, dropped from use by the UK government several years ago, “implied a belief that the correct response to the terrorist threat was primarily a military one – to track down and kill a hardcore of extremists”, he wrote. The stance he now promoted was international “co-operation”. This is exactly what we discussed here a short while ago. Click here to have a look.

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Goodbye to Woolworths

In my previous post I said about my plan to write and record a new folk song in a day. Here’s what happened.

I wrote the song in about an hour and a half, then set up my camera and filmed it (with the lyrics written up on large pieces of card either side of the camera – no time to learn them!) I put a capo on the 3rd fret so that the song is in G but I’m playing the chords of E and A7. This allowed me to get a better sound with the sustained 4th notes with my little finger. Two takes and I had it recorded. I then went to Cowley Centre in Oxford, my nearest Woolies and got some establishing footage. If only I’d thought of this idea sooner I would have got some sale footage as this this chap.

I stripped the audio track from my video using Quicktime Pro and used Logic audio software to multitrack other instruments: electric bass, 12 string Rickenbacker, electric guitar (my Epiphone Casino through a Laney value amp) and a shaker. Because I hadn’t thought to record my vocal and acoustic guitar on separate tracks (they were just picked up my the camera’s mic) I re-recorded the vocal on top so you could have a chance of hearing the words. Then I added a harmony. No song is complete without a harmony in my opinion.

Then I mixed that all down and imported it into Final Cut video software and tried to match the audio to the video. If you’ve ever seen a film clapper-board then you can work out how that’s done in cinema. You have the sound of the ‘clap’ and the sight of the board closing so you an sync them up. I had a sharp downstroke on the guitar (edited out of the final video) to do the same job and it worked better than I thought. Then I edited in the Woolworths footage and uploaded the finished film to YouTube.

In one day it achieved 183 hits – my quickest growth rate yet with a video (thanks to those of you who helped with telling people about it).

With more time I may have done a better mix. Same day recording and mixing is always tricky. And I’d have got the original vocal on a separate track from the start. But it proved to myself that it can be done.

I’m now thinking of my next topic to write a song about. If you have any ideas let me know!

Here are the lyrics:

Well it’s goodbye to Woolworths. The credit crunch has taken its due
The sales are no more and you’ve closed down the door
And the town won’t be the same without you

It’s goodbye to Woolie. We had a feeling it couldn’t last
You hung on for years and you were run by old dears
And now you’re consigned to the past

I suppose I never really shopped there and I don’t know anyone who did
I remember rummaging for LPs and singles
In bargain bins when I was a kid

So there’s a lesson here for us all that businesses often ignore
If you don’t want customers to walk out the door
You better have what they’re looking for

Because we all tend to do everything, be all things to all man
But the jack of all trades is master of none
And your business will go down the pan

So it’s goodbye to Woolworths. The credit crunch knocked you for six
But when you’ve said your last goodnight and turned out the light
Where are we going to get our pick ‘n’ mix?

The song goes out to all those affected by job losses in these changing times. Keep thinking positively and you’ll find a new path.

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A new kind of folk song

Maybe it’s the current climate of social and economic change that made me feel like it but I’ve suddenly got back into my ‘folk’. By that I mean simple songwriting about contemporary issues, done quickly, not too ‘produced’, aimed at telling a story or giving a message.

So I bought a banjo (I’ll tell you about that later) and picked up my guitar to see what song would come out. I had a whole Saturday to think of something, write it, film it, overdub it and upload it to YouTube. I wanted that immediacy of creativity and due to family and work commitments I had the window of opportunity of a day so had to get on with it.

I started writing a ‘credit crunch’ song which needed a focal point – which quickly became the sad but inevitable closure of Woolworths. The fall of Woolworths into administration and then closure forms a great parable. It also is not a direct ‘victim’ of the credit crunch as such, and yet the factors of the economic slowdown meant that it could no longer hide its inadequacies to do business in today’s competitive highly focused and brand aware way.

So here is my new ‘folk song’, written and filmed in a day. See what you think. In my next post I’ll let you know how I did it, the problems I faced and what I learned.

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New Years Resolutions are a Waste of Time

You may be surprised to hear that but it’s true. New Years Resolutions are a waste of time. If you don’t believe me just think how many people you know who have a New Years Resolution to give up this or start doing that, and then of course do no such thing. If you attend a gym regularly you’ll notice that the car park gets full up in the first few weeks of January. But by the middle of the month it’s getting back to normal. All the time-wasters have given up. They’ve probably started smoking, drinking too much coffee and eating too many pies again as well.

The truth is that, as Zig Ziglar points out, New Years Resolutions are nothing more relevant than New Years Confessions. ‘I confess I’ve got to give up smoking’, ‘I confess I’ve got to lose some weight’. Now confession is a great start. It’s the first thing you should do when setting a goal. But don’t end it there! People just don’t seem t o be able to grasp the basics of goal setting. I even saw a woman on television saying her New Years Resolution was to win the lottery. How did she figure that one out? This is all a mess. We’re going to do something about it right now.

I want to make it really simple. Get a pen and paper out and do this exercise right now: write down a list of all the things you did in 2008 that were great. All the things you were really pleased with. Don’t stop writing until you’ve got at least fifteen. Anything you were proud you did. Small things, big things. Work things, family things, pleasurable things. Get your diary out or anything else out that can remind you. This is your ‘Glory List’ for last year.

Now look at the things you’ve got on there. Some might be holidays you’ve had, achievements at work, skills you’ve learnt or whatever. Get another piece of paper. Write at the top, ‘Glory List 2009’. Go through your 2008 list and write down two things for every one thing you wrote down for 2008 that are just a little bit better or are the next stage for whatever the achievement was last year. Do it fast. Don’t let your conscious mind edit it. So if you put ‘One week holiday in France’ for last year put ‘Two weeks holiday in the Caribbean’ for this year as well as something else – or whatever’s right for you.

Now you should have a list for 2009 with thirty things on it. This is your Glory List for 2009 that you will be writing down on January 1st 2010, listing all the great things you’ve done in 2009. The only difference is that you know in advance what they will be, you’ve already done it! That is what goal setting really is. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve by when, writing it down and getting on with it as if it’s bound to happen.

You see, things will happen in 2009 anyway, whether you set goals or not. That’s what happened in 2008 and all the years that preceded it. The simple act of writing down what you actually want to happen means it’s so much more likely to actually happen. Don’t let me find out that you haven’t done this simple exercise. Stop reading now and do it!

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