My Psychic Octopus song on the Radio

My fun video and song posted on YouTube two weeks ago has now passed 1500 views. Not an monster viral hit, but interesting non-the-less. A lot more people have seen it than I could hope to reach live or using pre-internet methods in the same timeframe.

I was also invited to appear live on BBC Oxford Radio. I was at Kings Cross station on my way to do some gigs in Bradford so we did the interview live on the phone. They played a few clips from the song and I even featured as the last item on the 9 o’clock news!

I talked about creativity in business and how we should all find a way of bringing our talents and interests into what we do as work. You can hear the full interview here:

Ayd Instone on BBC Radio Oxford

You can watch the video here:

and even download the song as an mp3 for free here.

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My New Website: Part 5 – My crazy design idea

From the starting point of wanting my website to look like a magazine, I thought about how I could take that idea further. I wanted to come across as unique so what approach would be unique? What if I made it look like a comic rather than a magazine? What if I found a way of breaking down the ‘grid’ structure that every website uses? The comic strips I love the most are by illustrators like Dave Gibbons (Marvel), Frank Bellamy (Dan Dare) and Chris Achilleos (Target Books). But the one that struck me most for inspiration was the work of Ron Turner in the 1960s TV21 comic. The way he broke up the panels to make them non-linear was the perfect visual metaphor for my message, to be reflected on my website.

I plotted out the essential content and started to work out the shapes that I’d use to display the various clickable areas that would visually show the visitor what the website was about.

You can see the sketches below.

The next phase was to get new photography. I wanted photos of me (after all, it’s me the website is selling) but since there was to be so many panels, the photos had to look interesting and dynamic, almost like shots from panels of a photo strip. Working with Haddon Davies at his studio, we came up with a large variety of shots that could be matched up with the uses I had in mind. What I didn’t want is a generic portrait shot, that would have been no use to me. We shot the images on white and black backgrounds to make it easier for me to cut the images out and apply them to a variety of backgrounds. We were also keen to avoid clichés where possible and yet get the balance right between interest, irreverence and professionalism. Everything about my brand needs to capture my uniqueness, and that obviously has to include the photography.

See what you make of the result:

My New Website: Part 4 – The big questions

Let’s go back to the questions I posed in a previous article with my own answers:

1. What is the point of the website?

To attract visitors looking to book a unique and dynamic speaker on creativity and branding.

To convince those people who have met me or been referred to me that I have what they’re looking for and have the credibility to back it up.

To scream the essence of my brand: creative, exciting, dynamic, fun, different.

2. What do I want people to do when they are there?

To easily click through to the section relevant to them so they find the detail they need easily.

To watch my videos.

To sign up to my mailing list.

To contact me to book me for an event

To buy a product.

Any design I came up with had to fulfill those aims. The first question is stylistic, the second functional. (Interesting that the first is ‘right brain’ and the second ‘left brain’).

So now to the actual design…

Click here to see what I did next.

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My New Website: Part 2 – Website fashions

The new Doctor Who website impressed me. In many ways I found it refreshing and groundbreaking. The main reason, and the idea that I’d become besotted with implementing on my own site was this: it should no longer looked like a website. It should look more like a magazine.

BBC doctor who website

There are fashions in website of course, as there are in anything. Just a few years ago the trend was to have two or three columns of text, full of hot links to various pages. The classic and perfect version of this is the BBC news website. A great many new websites today are built with the pre-fab templates provided by sites such as WordPress. They follow this approach of blocks of text and navigation.

I watched with interest how the BBC would handle the re-branded television programme Doctor Who in March this year. That brand makes almost as much money from sales of the programme abroad and merchandise of every description as the rest of the BBCs output put together. They couldn’t afford to mess it up. The same was true of the new Doctor Who website.

It didn’t disappoint. Apart from the obvious changes of the new logo and the corporate colour changing from orange to blue, the changes on the website were actually quite dramatic. It ceased to follow the common ‘blocks of text’ format and instead used blocks of images and video. Here was something that you could take in at a glance and navigate without having to read much text until you were where you wanted to be. I loved that idea.

My own website revamp was long overdue. How did I know? Some key trusted individuals had pointed out that what I do onstage, how I behave in person and the essence of who I am is clear and strong. That part of my branding was good. But when they saw my website (the structure of which was now three years old) was underwhelming. The excitement and uniqueness just wasn’t present. That’s not to say there was anything wrong with it. And that’s the point. It was, ok. It was ‘good enough’. It ‘did the job’. But it wasn’t me. I’d moved on and left it behind. Something had to be done. Fast.

Find out what here.

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My New Website: Part 1 – How often should you revamp your website?

I have just completed my new website. Have a look at

How often should you totally change your site?

You should, of course, be updating your website every day, keeping it fresh with new material as well as reminding the search engines that it’s a vibrant and relevant resource to offer in their search results.

But what about the design of the site? How often should you ‘start again’ and re-do the whole thing?

If it was just the branding of your business we were talking about then my opinion would be that a corporate identity should be refreshed every five years or so. Not necessarily completely changed, but modified or enhanced. We’re talking about a concept (the internet) that hasn’t been with us long enough to have formed a reliable pattern to guide us.

There are two factors that help us answer the question. One is that the technology is constantly changing and improving – there are better things you can do with a website today than you could five or even two years ago. The other is how people interact with websites and more specifically, how your customers and prospects engage with you online.

When businesses started on the web, things progressed more or less in this order. Their first websites were an online copy of their brochure. Then they realised they could add much more information than the brochure so they added more pages. Then they added Flash animation. Then they took the Flash animation off. Then they realised that they could add data capture, signups and sell materials via their website, have shopping carts. Then they realised that they could add ‘microsites’, separate but connected websites for sub-brands and promotions. Then they realised they could add more regular updates in the form of blogs, twitter feeds and have readers interact with that content (so-called web 2.0). Then they realised they could add video clips. Todays up-to-date website is probably incorporating all of those things.

So what’s next? Technically, it’s hard to say what, if any of the cutting edge web technologies will catch on and actually be useful. It’s not our remit to worry about the actual technology when it comes to creating our websites. It’s far more valuable to spend the time thinking about what we can do to attract the right visitors, to enthuse, impress and inspire them to engage (and buy).

So rather than thinking of the solution first and finding a problem to fit it, we should be defining the problem first and then working out the best technical solution to deliver.

The key questions I had to answer to avoid wasting time and money were these:

1. What is the point of the website?

2. What do I want people to do when they are there?

In the next article I’ll discuss how I answered those questions.

See Part 2 here

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For the Record: Paul the Psychic Octopus

Click here to watch the video: Paul the Psychic Octopus song

Every now and then I manage to think of an idea good enough to turn into a slightly funny song and see if people on the internet want to run with it. The last one was about the MPs expenses scandal. My new song about the World Cup oracle, Paul the Psychic Octopus has eclipsed that. At time of writing the hits on YouTube have passed the 1200 mark.

For the record, here’s what I did.

I was bashing around some chords on the guitar on Sunday night and had the idea, but no real lyrics. The next gap in my schedule when I could work on it was Wednesday 14th. That morning I got all my recording equipment set up: guitars, amps, mic and stand, cables etc. This was the intent: I was going to write, record and film a song today. Nothing else. So I sat down with the guitar and wrote the first two verses and chorus. When you tune in your creativity, set the intent, it can flow. I called my good friend and football expert Jeremy Nicholas to make sure I didn’t cause a faux pas by using the incorrect pronunciation of vuvuzella (which nicely rhymes with paella). After a coffee I finished off the last verse, typed it up and printed off the lyrics. I then had a think through about what video footage I might be able to shoot that day to illustrate the lyric. I jotted down a few ideas; the egg, the boxes with lids and the saucepan.

Then the recording began. I fired up Logic Pro on my MacPro and recorded the acoustic guitar (my Rainsong WS1000) in one take, leaving a gap for the did-did-did-did break I planned to play later on bass and electric, inspired by the Vanilla Fudge rendition of ‘You keep Me Hanging On’ which I felt suited the song.

Then I recorded the main vocal, again in one take with an SM58 mic and pop screen. I decided that I should only apply harmonies to certain lines in the verse and the chorus so rehearsed a few variations and recorded in two takes for the first backing and four takes for the second harmony.

Then it was time for the bass. Spent 30 minutes devising a suitable bass line and then recorded it in two takes. Then it was the turn of my Epiphone Casino. I miced up the amp set to a mild overdrive and worked out and recorded a lead line in four takes based in the twidle I’d played one on the acoustic at the start of the song. Again, I didn’t want to make the recording sickly by covering it in a wall of sound so I played the riff every other bar.

The hardest part was the drums. The first time I’d every played drums was at Christmas so I knew I’d have to do something really simple. I worked out a rhythm first for the verse and chorus and then started playing along, trying to keep in time and get the changes right. But I couldn’t get the MIDI to work properly. It wasn’t registering the closed hi-hat, no matter which sound bank I used, there was also some ‘latency’ – an annoying delay due to the digital to analogue conversion. So I gave up on that and took a stereo line out from my Roland TD4 and that worked fine.

So the song was finished. I left it for an hour before mixing it, then started on the video. The first shoot was me miming to the song in front of the camera. But since the song was so new I hardly knew the words so actually only gained a small bit of footage. I made up for it by shooting the previous ideas I’d had with the toy octopus and Ferrero Roche boxes after printing out flags for the containers, plus a few extra ones with a football. I didn’t have any mussles so used gurkins for the octopus food. The only part of the whole process where I needed help was with throwing the ball at my head which my wife gladly did.

Then I converted the footage to Quicktime and used Final Cut Pro to put it all together. By the end of the day it was ready and was uploaded to YouTube first thing Thursday morning.

You can hear the finished song, read the lyrics and download the mp3 here.

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Creative confidence – totally lacking in today’s schools?

I’ve done talks at a fair few schools recently. I’ve written about what I’ve found before (see here) and some of those same concepts of a lack of creative confidence keep appearing. It all makes me wonder – is it worth it? Should I be bothering at all?

When I ask the audience (of 14 to 18 years olds), “what would you do with a billion pounds?” they manage to answer it, just, but in such a low level way.

“Buy a car” was one boy’s answer.

“What sort of car?” I asked.

“I dunno”

“What about one of those small bubble cars?”

“No way!”

“What then?”

After a big pause he said, embarrassed, “A BMW”

“Ah, one of the small BMWs”

“No way, a great big one.”

“So, you do know” I said. “Why didn’t you know that you knew? Why didn’t you write down ‘A big BMW’?”

One other girl said, in all seriousness, she would by “A book”. A billion pounds and she’d by a book.

“What book?” I said.
“I dunno”

Reading this you’ll probably laugh and say ‘that’s teenagers for you’. But I’m not sure that it is, or rather that it should be.

The question is of course testing imagination and barriers to thinking about what we want and what we deserve.

One teacher questioned my approach of attempting to ‘inspire the students to think big, break out of artificial boundaries and claim their future’ saying that they were quite capable of that and really what they needed was to knuckle down and concentrate and that my message negated hard work and academic study.

What would be the point of booking a speaker on Creativity and Brilliance for them to say “you’ve got to get your head down and study” – that’s the schoolsjob. I have to assume they’re doing her job and I can build my message on top.

It was announced this week on the news that on average 70 graduates apply for every graduate job. Companies will not even look at anyone who has less than a 2:1 degree. My theme is not that hard work and study are not important, the opposite in fact that you need to perform even better than before, but that great qualifications are no longer enough ON THEIR OWN. And that creativity is what will be the deciding factor if everyone has the same high standard.

So are children confident with their creativity? Are they able to unleash it and use it to be brilliant, to better solve problems and further themselves and their careers?

I’m not so sure. When I do any of my creativity games at schools, fun tests to see who’s paying attention and who recognises boundaries to their creativity, they all fall for it, everytime. They’re all so eager to please that they don’t have any thoughts of their own without thinking about the answer they think the teacher (or in this case me) is looking for. When I do the same routines for business we have good fun with the games and occasionally people see through them. But when the children stand there in my orange hula hoop, terrified to step out of it in case they ‘do it wrong’ I feel that imagination, thinking big and identifying boundaries is needed by them more than any generation I’ve ever worked with.

This raises the question of how far I can go without appearing to tread on teachers or the system’s toes. I don’t think I do, but anyone who has a particular bee in their bonnet may feel that I do.

If you see me do the hoop thing you’ll see that I say we need to get rid of the artificial self imposed limitations that constrains us but we are still bound by the walls of the room – the real boundaries and we need to know what those real boundaries are in order to be fully creative. I use sport as an example: without following the rules you can’t play the game. I make a big point of saying that everyone has unbounded ‘creativity’, not ability. What we all chose to do, what we’re all eventually capable of, is different. Only an idiot would say “you can do anything”.

If you look at the lyrics of my closing song it says: “You’ve got to do everything that you can” not “You can do anything that you want”. There’s a key difference there.

Schools by their nature have to operate like sausage factories. My message is anti-sausage factory, it’s an add-on to what schools do, it’s what they can’t do. At the end of the day, I’m talking about creativity, not about being normal. I’m talking about standing out and standing up, not about being the same. To do that I have to be a maverick, I have to be a loose canon, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing the job right.

We’re dealing with a changing world. The only thing we can be certain of is that things will change, and at a faster pace too. I think that systems, like schools, don’t like that and try to fight it.

My message is that if we can teach our children one thing, it needs to be that they are able to cope with change. We need to make sure they learn how to learn. And that’s what creativity is.

My opinion is that the schools may not want it, but our school children certainly need it.

(Read more here)

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