I don’t believe in Experts


expert, thought leader, expert success, entrepreneur revolutionHave you ever met someone who had a particular faith, let’s say an evangelical Christian, or whatever, and then one day, something happened? Perhaps a particular set of incidents conspired to create a new realisation that knocked the legs from under their faith. Suddenly they found themselves no longer believing. Suddenly they had to modify their identity in light of this loss of certainty.It must be devastating and yet liberating. It must be embarrassing and yet empowering. To realise that many of the precepts that your day-to-day life depended on now have no meaning, or a totally different meaning. It must be unnerving and exciting. (Just for the record, it may be a similar process going the other way, from being agnostic to believer in something, I imagine).But I’m not talking about religion here. But the metaphor is apt. The preoccupation I’d like to discuss with you is not organised traditional religion, although it shares may of the motifs of a religion. I have lost faith in the Cult of the Expert.

In my model there are perhaps four types of businesses; those that are so large that they are a system, those that are so small that they are a family and those two that are an individual who operates as either a skilled freelance tradesperson selling action, or as a consultant selling ideas.*

So to make it clear, a large corporate company like Tesco or IBM operates as a system where individuals have their tasks but are unlikely to have overarching big-picture roles and are probably siloed into departments or divisions (let’s call them type A).

A small business like an engineering firm or accountancy company operates as a family as everyone knows everyone (lets call them type B).

A freelance tradesperson is a plumber or graphic designer or even a marketeer or business analyst. They do things for the other two types of businesses (let’s call them type C).

It’s that final category where the ambiguous role exists; the individuals who are ‘Experts’ (type D).

It’s been said, by Malcolm Gladwell, that an Expert can be defined as someone who has done constructive, consistent practice or work in a particular area for around 10,000 hours. (I’ve explored this myth here). The ‘Cult of the Expert’ would use this evidence to label Gladwell as a type D ‘expert’, in light of him having written the book Outliers, as an ‘Expert in Experts’. This is my loss of faith. I say he is not an Expert. He is a journalist and author. His expertise makes him a type C. He may be paid to deliver talks. In that role he is a type C, paid to share his experiences that people may learn from, but more likely he has added a new form of type C to his portfolio, that of an entertainer.

At this point let me explain that I’ve been running my type C business for 12 years. I’ve been selling my services as graphic artist, publisher and professional speaker and trainer in creativity and innovation. Perhaps there was a while when I though I might be a type D Expert. But no, I am not.

I’m proposing that Experts do not exist except in the egos of people who believe they are, or have convinced other people that they are.

If you’re a disciple of the Cult of the Expert, you may not agree at this point, or I may not have explained my thoughts clearly enough. So I’ll try harder.

Let’s imagine you are a dentist. You are not an ‘Expert’, you are a dentist. You are not even an ‘expert dentist’, you are a dentist. You might be a good or not-so-good dentist, but you are still a dentist. Your expertise is dentistry. But you are not an expert.

The Cult of the Expert would claim you are an Expert and should write a book, create a training programme and range of products to sell to others, your followers, who are not Experts, to help them become like you, an Expert. But you are not an Expert, you are a dentist. You either operate in a type B or type C business model.

In other words, to move to type D means that you are actually leaving your expertise behind to become a mediocre trainer, internet marketeer or author. If you excel at any of these new models then you have become a new type C business person; you are now a dentist and an author, trainer or internet marketeer. You have new expertise, but you are still not an Expert.

The Cult of the Expert suggests that expertise exists in isolation from actually doing something. It’s a subtle difference between the person who has expertise in an area that they have practiced and delivered and then also have the expertise to explain and train some element of that expertise or experience. This is the concept of putting a type C business person on a pedestal (or putting themselves on that pedestal) as an ‘Expert’.

Confused? Consider this. A teacher has expertise in a subject and in the teaching of that subject. They are not an Expert, they are a teacher as as such command a certain salary. Likewise a trainer gets paid a market value fee for showing someone how to do something. Then there’s a motivational speaker, who has a story to tell and some experience or expertise to share. They command a certain fee (usually a lot more than a teacher). The fee is often proportional to how famous or how wealthy they are. This is where the Cult of the Expert kicks in. It is in effect similar to the Cult of Celebrity. People will pay more for the Expert because they believe some of their magic celebrity, charisma or money making power will rub off on them.

So if I’m not an Expert, who and what am I? I have experience in a few areas that others don’t and I believe I can explain them well. I deliver my knowledge as a facilitative trainer and as an entertaining speaker. If I was lucky enough to be on tv or to suddenly make a large amount of money (in any field) then I would be a celebrity and could command higher fees. But my new celebrity status would not have increased my experience or knowledge in any way, even though I would the be hailed as an Expert.

Likewise having written a number of books has not increased my expertise in any way but has given the illusion that I am perhaps a Expert in the Cult. But I am not. My books may be interesting, entertaining and educational but they do not add to my expertise (other than I am now an ‘author’). They are marketing tools that promote what I do and what I know. They do not make me an Expert, or to give the Cult its other name, they do not make me a Thought Leader. I do not want to scrabble to compete with other so-called thought leaders to compete with their thoughts to get in ‘the lead’. I have ideas, I may have even thought of something new, something before anyone else has thought of it. That’s nice (but unlikely) and it gives me something new to explain or train. But it doesn’t make me a leader. Neither do I want to have a bunch of disciples, following my so-called thought leadership.

Why am I so against the idea of the Cult (or any ‘cult)? Because having lost faith in the religion of the Cult of the Expert I now believe that it has at its centre an erroneous belief system that is perpetuated by deception. I feel that it has a dark side that sustains it by drawing energy (and money) from its disciples, who, like many religions, are the weakest and most desperate people in any given society or community.

I have woken up to a new dawn in which there are many wonderful talented people with expertise, but there are no Experts. There are plenty of great people who have plenty to say and from who we can learn a great deal, but they should not be worshiped.

In 1970, John Lennon closed his first solo, post-Beatles album with a moving and dramatic song called ‘God’ in which he dismissed everything he had ever believed in and had ever worshiped (including Elvis, Bob Dylan and religious and political figures). In the end he closes with the devastating confession, “I don’t believe in…. Beatles”. In that one line he destroyed the myth that he himself had co-created and that was worshiped by millions. The song ends with, “I just believe in me, Yoko and me. That’s reality”.

The Cult of the Expert is the desire to set up ourselves, or our favorite celebrities, as gods. The world has enough gods already and they don’t seem to do us much good.

As business people or people in business, I believe our role should be to add value, to increase knowledge and understanding for the benefit of ourselves and others in a symbiotic relationship, that benefits the whole. I believe in humility, humanity and the service of others for the greater good.

That belief now rules me out of joining the Cult of the Expert. What about you?

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

* Ok, it’s overly simplistic and there are blurred areas, so feel free to have your own model that’s different. These are my opinions, other opinions are available and encouraged. That is the essence of this article, to think for yourself, but not to conclude those thoughts are better than someone else’s. Just because I’ve lost my faith doesn’t make those that still believe wrong, because that would be an absolute. It’s just that I believe them to be wrong. But just because I believe something doesn’t make it right. I might be wrong thinking that they are wrong. The burden of proof is now on the Experts to prove they exist. 
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Are we all, in fact, in a ‘Creative Industry’?


Creativity is often related almost exclusively with the so-called ‘arts’. When I say ‘creative industries’ you don’t think of a firm of solicitors do you? You’d probably think of a web design company, film company, animation studio, graphic design or music related business. Why is that?

With the concept of creativity we generally have to admit it must mean you have to actually ‘make’ something. I often use the broader term to ‘manifest’ something, i.e. the act of creation ‘brings something into existence’ something that wasn’t previously there.

This is clearly true of all the so-called ‘creative industries’. They use their creativity to manifest websites, films, animations, designs, pieces of music and so on.

But a baked bean factory ‘manifests’ something too, tins of baked beans. A car plant manifests something too, so too does a construction company. So why aren’t these firms labelled ‘creative industries’ as well?

Part of the reason is that in general, what they create, make or manifest is perceived as a commodity. So we may think the graphic designer or photographer is the artist, the ‘creative’, if you like, but the printer who actually makes their design into a printed artifact is not.

So it seems we have two stages here: creative conception (design, writing, making music etc) and the creative construction (printing, recording etc).

I would say it’s wrong to say that one was artistry and the other not. It would be wrong to say one was technical and the other not. Both types have specific skills and particular tools. You could even say both have particular talents. Compare a musician to the recording engineer for example. Are not both creative, one conceptually, one corporally.

We’ll think of the designer of the car as being creative of course but we don’t rate the construction and manufacture on a production line as being creative at all. We might give a little creative credit to the artisan who stitches the fabrics and leather by hand for the seats, but even that’ll be given a little grudgingly.

We often view craftspeople and artisans differently from artists as if the craftsperson makes repeated works, or makes money from what they make they’re somehow not ‘an artist’. They are of course both creative. The artist may be more of a creative conceptualist and the artisan more of a creative constructualist.

Let’s go back to business models and look at the next part of the chain within all industries; the service part. These are the vital parts of a business that make everything happen: sales, people and resources management, marketing, accounts and law. (Some of these are labelled as ‘professionals’ which is a bit outdated, and perhaps even patronising to both those who do it and those who don’t. There’s nothing un-professional about good sales or good design that’s better than a good accountant or good solicitor.)

These service based roles may not actively manifest an end creation by their own hands but they enable more end manifestations to happen. They enable the factory to mass produce goods. They enable the creation of increased wealth. They are necessary for scale. So why aren’t these service roles also labelled as creative? T

They should be. They are the Creative Continuators. They make the creativity of the artists and artisans go further and achieve more.

Here’s a summary of the component roles with our newly defined creative industries:

• The creative conceptualists

• The creative constructionists

• The creative continuationists

A modern example of a company within a previously designated non-creative industry yet is intrinsically linked with creativity is Apple Inc. They manufacture stuff. We can be gushingly romantic and point out that their products are often works or art (the original iMac from 1997 was actually exhibited as such).

But let’s face it, in reality they make mass manufactured stuff, no different to an attractive poster print, no different to a nice car, not really any different to a nice beaked bean tin.

But we do see that company in a different light. We do see them as a creative company, even if the computer, hi-fi or mobile communications industries that they work within are not ones we’d traditionally label as ‘creative industries’.

It’s because Apple have realised that they are indeed a creative industries business and that every part of that business contains highly creative people, whether they’re working in software development, manufacture, design, retail, marketing or whatever.

The big question is – does you business need to do the same?

What creative roles do you actually employ and do you treat them as such (or do you stick to the 19th Century industrialist model of management and worker drones?)

What role do YOU fulfill and where do you sit in the 21st Century’s ‘creative industries’?

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

9 reasons why your business needs to be more like John Lennon


John Lennon ink drawing 1967

John Lennon from 1967 by Ayd Instone

John Lennon may have left us 31 years ago, but his legacy is not only alive and well – it’s making a lot of money.

• It has an annual income of over £10M which adds to the existing £400M already banked.

• Lennon is number one in the world for rock memorabilia. Any handwritten lyrics usually sell for in excess of £400,000. In June 2010, handwritten lyrics to A Day in the Life sold for £810,000. His simple line drawings sell for around £4000

• 1 million people visit Liverpool each year to follow the Beatles trail, spending around £48M while they’re there.

• There are over 5000 books on Lennon currently in print. There are numerous stage musicals, plays and tribute acts performing around the world.

You may scoff and say, “of course there’s money, he’s an icon, a legend, due in part to the obvious fact that he’s dead. It’s not like my business at all, a completely different thing.”

But you’d be wrong. Just think about what that really means…

The aim of any business is to make money and the aim of any business owner is for that business to make money without them being there. Lennon has achieved that.

He did, in fact achieve it in his lifetime and were he alive and well today he would be making even more money. The Beatles were repeatedly offered $1M in the mid 1970s to reform, even just for one day. They couldn’t be bothered. In one such offer, they were asked live on a television show, just to turn up to the studio before the show finished. Oddly, Paul McCartney was visiting John in New York at the time. The story goes, they got as far as putting their coats on, but then, feeling a bit tired, decided to stay in and order pizza instead.

But let’s put to one side the thoughts of Lennon and the Beatles being gods with the Midas touch, leave for a moment the wonderful music and the messages of peace and love and look at some of the practical aspects that have turned John Lennon from rock ‘n’ roll performer into a massive, profitable business empire.

Lennon’s legacy is a type of business that if we weren’t clouded with the magic and beauty of his original product: entertainment and the fact that so many of us equate creativity with some other purpose other than making money, we’d see what it is. It’s a franchise.

The Lennon franchise includes those heritage tours, the museums and exhibitions, the sales of his artwork and writing, the repackaging of his back catalogue plus the ever expanding business in tribute acts, musicals, biopics and books created by an ever increasing pool of fans, friends and relatives. They may all working to keep the name alive but in the process have created  a branded merchandise franchise not too different to George Lucas’s ever expanding Star Wars (do you remember when it was just a film?) or even, if I can bring myself to say it, MacDonald’s.

There are some key choices that Lennon made, as part of the Beatles and after that helped to grow the Beatles, and then his own solo success. He also made more big, and more devastatingly bad decisions in his short career than the rest of us usually make in a lifetime.

Here are 9 great decisions and actions he used to great effect:

1. Choose one niche, do one thing really well, irrespective of what everyone else is doing

It’s hard to believe now, but when the Beatles performed their peculiar version of Rock ‘n’ Roll to audiences in Liverpool and then Hamburg in 1960 to 1962 they had chosen an obscure and almost irrelevant out-of-date musical style. Rock ‘n’ Roll was a fad that had lasted from 1957 to 1959, mainly imported from America by the likes of Bill Haley and Elvis. Many of the other acts we know about today in the pantheon of the genre were not too widely known and by 1960, rock ‘n’ roll had all but vanished to be replaced by crooning pretty boys singing safe, boring Tin Pan Alley formula songs. The Beatles chose what they liked and what they were good at, irrespective of market forces. They were told by the record company Decca, “groups with guitars are on the way out…” and they took no notice.

2. Appoint people to your board who are better than you

The American author and speaker Bill Stainton puts it best in his book about the Best Decisions the Beatles Ever Made where he points out what bigger and decision could a teenager like Lennon could make than to allow a cleverer, more talented, prettier musician into his own band with whom he’d have to share the limelight with? Lennon knew that the Beatles would be better with McCartney. His ambition and decision making process was not clouded by pride.

3. Charm the media with natural wit – not a fake persona

One of the keys to the Beatles immense success was the way they charmed the World’s media. Lennon was the best at it. It worked because he was always himself. Whereas McCartney was always awkward and embarrassed in front of the cameras, Lennon appeared natural and honest. He could be cruel, cheeky and very funny. The Beatles became quickly seen as young men of interest and influence, not just grinning pop singers. Their opinions were sought on a variety of intellectual topics that before the Beatles appeared, would be unthinkable to ask a mere singer or musician. Lennon’s honesty and integrity came across and it connected people to him.

4. Bring your interests and expertise into your money making products and services to make them more unique and more compelling

The towering beacons of the 1960s were undoubtedly the Beatles and Bob Dylan. What’s fascinating is how they admired, hated, loved and influenced each other. Lennon inspired Dylan to expand his music arrangements into new areas and Dylan inspired Lennon to expand his lyrics into new areas. Dylan couldn’t understand how Lennon could write such interesting, deep, funny and clever prose in his two books (In His Own Write, 1964 and A Spaniard in the Works, 1965) and yet kept that use of language, wit and allegory out of his song lyrics. Literary reviewers had likened the poems in In His Own Write to Edward Lear. High praise. And yet Lennon was still writing songs about banal topics as ‘diamonds and rings’.

Lennon took this observation seriously. The first results were the introspective coded lyrics of I’m A Loser (Beatles For Sale, 1964) and You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away (Help!, 1965). These were followed by the creation of songs whose theme was not romantic love such as The Word (Rubber Soul, 1965) and the mighty Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver, 1966). From then on, Lennon’s songs explored obscure themes of existence and thoughtful psychology with only the exception of songs directed inspired by his relationship with Yoko. Look at the internal questioning of Strawberry Fields Forever, the dreamlike Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the wordplay of I Am the Walrus and the surreal imagery of Happiness is a Warm Gun.

5. Be prolific

From 1963 to 1966 the Beatles averaged every year two national tours and a world tour, 3 to 4 number one singles, 2 top charting EPs, 2 number one albums, a film and a few short promo films, a Christmas show, numerous tv appearances and a weekly radio show, every year. That’s prolific.

6. When you have nailed your first key product or service, move onto the next natural one. Constantly change by evolving

Having conquered the hit song, Lennon and McCartney started selling their spare songs and writing songs for other performers to sing. This increased their earnings considerably. Lennon then entered the world of book publishing with his collection of funny surreal verse, another win. Then they entered the movie business producing four hit films, A Hard Days Night (1964), Help! (1965), Yellow Submarine (1968) and Let It Be (1970). The Beatles left frustration and feelings of inadequacy with other rock musicians in their wake. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was frustrated with his own groups inability to change and evolve their sound as quickly as as unexpectedly as the Beatles. There was a secret competition to out-do each others albums that came to a head when the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band causing Brian Wilson to give up and have a nervous breakdown. He shelved the Beach Boys album Smile (it was finally released in 2011) feeling it wasn’t enough. He knew that the Beatles sound was constantly evolving. “Each Beatle album sounded different” he said.

7. If it’s boring, stop doing it

Like everyone of his generation, Lennon wanted to be a film star, among other things. After getting the taste for it in the first two Beatle films, he agreed to be in Richard Lester’s How I Won the War in 1966. He described the experience as being “as boring as hell” and would not appear in a movie again (bar the Beatles own biopic, Let It Be.)

8. Marketing is simple if you keep it simple

Lennon was a genius at marketing. Just think about the ‘Bed in for Peace’ from 1969. It’s still talked about today, 42 years later.

9. Seek out new experiences and new muses

John Lennon ink drawing 1974

John Lennon by Ayd Instone

John had a number of creative breakdowns, each of which he recovered from with something new. The first was perhaps after the whirlwind of touring as a performing Beatle came to an abrupt end in 1966. He, like the others, felt defined by being a live performer with a full schedule. What was he to do now? After throwing himself into the red herring of film acting, Lennon and the Beatles found that experimenting in the recording studio wold give them a new direction. It worked and a new level of creativity was reached.

The next breakdown was sometime in late 1967. Sgt. Pepper had been a massive success, as had every other piece of music that had come from the studio experimentation. But by the end of the year Lennon was creatively drained. His home life was at its lowest ebb. The increased use of drugs was having an effect on his ego resulting in a massive loss of self confidence and feeling of failure. Added to this was the death of the Beatles manager and Lennon’s close friend, Brian Epstein. He was questioning the meaning of everything and losing his purpose.

There were two parts to his escape from this low. One was the getaway: the Beatles retreat to India. Intended as a spiritual retreat, it re-fueled each Beatle’s creativity, composing so many songs that their next LP would have to be a double, The Beatles aka The White Album (songs from India also made it onto the Let It Be and Abbey Road albums the following year as well as onto Lennon, McCartney and Harrison albums for many years to come.)

The other aspect to Lennon’s creative revival was Yoko. Many people cite Lennon’s pairing with Yoko as the worst thing that could have happened, and the reason for the Beatles split. The truth is more complex. It’s true that Yoko replaced Paul as Lennon’s main collaborator. It did mean the fab four would never be the same, but that had been true throughout their career anyway. Yoko started off as John’s new muse, his inspiration, then became his competition and then his business manager and finally Empress of his legacy.

After the Beatles split, each Beatle suffered heavily with lack of purpose, low self confidence, doubt and criticism. In many ways John suffered most, in part because George and Ringo came off, initially, so well in comparison. It must have confused and galled Lennon that Harrison, freed from the restrictions of two songs per LP in the dominated world of Lennon-McCartney, had just released a triple LP of critically acclaimed material. Ringo became (briefly) the highest paid actor in Hollywood. Paul carried on being Paul, now teamed with his new wife Linda, and was having melodic hit after melodic hit. And yet there he was, the instigator and powerhouse of Beatlemania, struggling to enter the charts, estranged from a hostile press, addicted to Heroin and within a few years separated from his second wife. (He and Yoko nearly divorced, their 18 month separation was re-branded as ‘The Lost Weekend’ by Lennon after their reconciliation of 1974).

His recovery from all this took the rest of his life to turn around. First, during The Lost Weekend, he was re-aquatinted with old friends and collaborators, healed old wounds and wrote and performed for fun. He hung out with Ringo, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Bowie, Elton John and Mick Jagger, but it was his oldest friend that would seal his fate to create the final chapter in his life. He’d been seeing Paul McCartney on and off in 1974 (they even had a jam together with Harry Nilsson and Stevie Wonder). John was ready for a reunion and Paul had the choice, after a conversation he’d had with Yoko, that he could get the Beatles back together, or, relay how Yoko felt and what John needed to do to heal their marriage. Paul chose to help John and Yoko. They got back together in 1974. The Beatles reunion was postponed for the next opportunity, but by the time it was planed to happen in 1981, it was too late, John had gone.

But returning to John’s creativity breakthrough, it needed two elements, missing from the early 70s, which he finally found in the last years of his life. One was security. At last his finances were in order. His lifestyle was healthy, his home life was stable. He has a proud ‘househusband’ and father, bringing up his son Sean. The second was adventure. he sailed a boat single-handed through a storm in Bermuda and he thought of returning to the stage with new material (plus greatest hits of his solo and his Beatle hits) in the new year of 1981. The first fruits of his renewed creativity gave us the LP Double Fantasy and the posthumous tracks on Milk and Honey. There would have been much more to come if history had taken a different course on 8th December 1980.

In the next article I’ll discuss more of the best business decisions Lennon ever made plus look at some of the most devastating bad ones that almost brought the myth, and the money, crashing down.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


The Changing Business Landscape


Me at the BWC doing my "40 seconds". Thanks to http://www.markdolmanstudios.co.uk

I took my Dad along to a recent Business Wealth Club networking meeting and it made me think how much the business environment has changed. When he was out on the road as a sales engineer from the 1960s to being a sales manager in the 70s and 80s and director in the 90s and 2000s he was employed by a company and travelled around his area visiting prospects and customers. He’d meet his colleagues at head office or regional offices and at the various exhibitions and dinners. There was no real line of communication with competitors, why should there have been? After all, his was the first generation to discover that a job is not for life, there wasn’t an environment of switching allegiances to rival companies.

Now it’s different. I know who my competition are and what they’re doing. I often team up with them to pitch for larger jobs o to work together on certain projects. We are in an age of joint ventures, of companies being smaller but teaming up to supply each other with extra knowledge or resources.

Looking around the room at the networking event I could see 150 people. I knew 75% of them personally. Even though many of their businesses are completely different to my own. I’d probably worked with about 15% of the room and had made profit making connections with 40%.

What’s changed since the late 20th century is the concept of silos, or companies as competing tribes. Most people wok for a small business with less than 100 employees. There’s much more interaction with people who don’t work for the same business and this has allowed, in the more entrepreneurial businesses to realise that cooperation and cross-company teamwork (often called Joint Ventures) is the new way to do business.

Photo by www.markdolmanstudios.co.uk

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Innovation Mind-flow at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com

10 Years, In the Blink of an Eye


Apple PowerMac G4

The first thing I bought when I started my own business…

I wrote a song in 2000 called ‘5 Years in the Blink of an Eye’, about how my band, formed in 1995 was now 5 years old. Now I’m writing a blog with a similar title, about my business, started in 2001, which is now 10 years old.

But back in September 2001 I never heard of a ‘blog’. No-one had broadband (I dialled up and downloaded emails and the  switched it off again quick). My Apple Powermac G3 had a 6Gb hard drive.The first Lord of the Rings film wasn’t out yet. I drove a Volvo 240. I didn’t own a DVD player or a mobile phone but still made use of my cassette player. I didn’t have a TV or TV licence in protest that Doctor Who wasn’t on.

Today my day consisted of a Skype call to a client in Saudi Arabia (I’m publishing his book), then I went into town to my favourite bookshop to write 1600 words (on my MacbookPro) in 90 mins for my own products. Then back for a video Skype call with a colleague who’s organising my appearance on his radio show in America next week. Then a bit of other client work on their books, follow up some arrangements for future speaking appearances. Once I’ve set up my newsletter it’ll be time to get back to put my three children to bed before getting ready for the final episode of Torchwood. What a day. And all unimaginable 10 years ago.

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Innovation Mind-flow at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com

10 Years in business and the problems of working for yourself


Tigerlilly disrupts work

On 12th September 2001 the world changed forever. Or at least my world changed. Because of a decision made that day I would never go to work again.

I decided to work for myself.

Having a boss. Commuting to work. Being late. Being early. Having to be somewhere at the same time each day. Looking forward to lunchbreaks. Getting stuck in traffic on the way home. Office politics. Feeling naughty or odd to be in town during the week. Having to make do with out-of-date equipment. Naff coffee. Poor seating and lighting. Head aches. Bad back. Having to cope with co-workings odd habits. Watching the clock and noticing time slowing down in the afternoon.

These are the things I certainly don’t miss.

But it’s not quite as simple as that. There may not be office politics but there’s plenty of relationships with clients and suppliers that need careful handling. I have plenty of meetings, conferences and seminars to get to on time and often that means coping with traffic.

I don’t have a boss, but by having hundreds of clients I have hundreds of bosses. ‘Working for yourself’ is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more accurate to say I’m actually working for everyone, or anyone.

The fact that anyone could be a prospect, lead, supplier or advisor is an interesting concept. It means that the self-employed/entrepreneur is always ‘networking’. There’s never really a time when I’m not ‘on’. I always carry my business card and notebook (you never know when ideas may come) and I’m always dressed appropriately as my personal brand has to be consistent, you never know who you’ll meet.

Working for yourself or setting up your own business gives you freedoms you couldn’t have imagined when being an employee. (I’m writing this is in my favourite coffee shop on my MacbookPro at 11.30am on a Thursday). But some are taken away. There is no scheduled lunch or coffee breaks. Sometimes I don’t bother with them at all. There is no scheduled start or finish time: the division between work and home life becomes blurred.

Some people say, ‘Oh, I could never work for myself. I’d stay in bed or watch TV all the time’. The opposite is often true: early mornings, late nights, sometimes are taken up by work projects. You have to learn your own time management and project management  methods fast. After all, up until you choose to work for yourself, timetables have always been provided, by parents, at school and colleges and then by companies.

There’s the knowledge that if I don’t perform well, there’s no money coming in. A salary is not guaranteed. This is the main difference in attitude that I’ve noticed over the years. Employees can usually afford to be complacent, ignorant or snobbish towards money, after-all it arrives in their bank every month. That pay cheque becomes a divine right and a pay-rise is thought to be compulsory. A lot of people feel that their pay is just for showing up and gracing the company with their presence. This leads to a disgruntlement if they feel they’re not being paid enough or appreciated enough to why not take a few pencils and envelopes from the stationary cupboard? After all, you deserve it.

There’s no such luxury when you own the business. It’s all your money. You’re suddenly responsible for every penny that comes in and every penny that goes out. You become aware very quickly that your job is to provide value. The more value you add, the more money you can charge. Doing a good job is not good enough, it has to be exemplary.

There have been ups and down over the past decade but one thing is certainly clear: I wouldn’t change it. I would never go back to employee status. In fact many people who do work for themselves feel that they become in many ways ‘unemployable’ due to the attitude changes that have to take place to be successful working for yourself.

I think they’ll come a time when almost everyone is working for themselves, or at least realise that that is actually what they’ve been doing all along.

When more people realise that they are responsible for their performance, training and education and that they can decide when their pay rise will be, we amy see a paradigm shift from victim and blame culture to empowerment and positivity that would not only benefit individuals but the economy and country as a whole.

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Innovation Mind-flow at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com

10 Years in Business – How I got it wrong


Ayd Instone Waterstock

One of my early promo photos... One of them looks a bit wooden, with ginger hair and the other one's a rocking horse.

There are many things I feel I’ve done right:

• Investing in the right equipment to speed up processes and quality.

• Not employing people but having strategic partners and suppliers to provide extra resources and skills as and when I needed them.

• Not wasting money on advertising but heavily investing in networking and teaming up with numerous people and opportunities that came from them.

• Outsourcing certain processes and marking up some of them as added services to clients.

• I’ve kept the business flexible and specialised in what I offer but not been too restrictive on the sectors I’ve worked for. This has paid off recently as some clients have seriously reduced their spending but other have not. I’m still here because I didn’t put all my eggs in one basket.

• Investing in personal business development to make me better at all aspects of what I do from the technical skills, to business skills to people skills.

But there are a fair few things I’ve done wrong:

• Not thinking big enough. There have been times when modesty should have been replaced with confident assurance. Opportunities were missed.

• Staying too local for too long. Today we can be either super-local and have that as a USP (Unique Strategic Positioning) or we can be global. There is no such thing as semi-regional or semi-national. It took me a long time to realise this. I’ve since worked with companies that are walking distance away as well as ones in Africa, America and Asia.

• Getting bogged down within projects and letting my own marketing slip and be too sporadic. It’s the old trap of the rise and fall of looking for work, then doing the work, then having no work so starting to look again. Marketing should be continuous and we all need to create systems to ensure that.

• Not being consistent in collecting testimonials. I’ve had some big name clients who I’ve worked for who’s endorsement would have opened up similar doors elsewhere. Sometimes I simply didn’t ask so didn’t get.

But the biggest mistake, which in effect encompasses all of those above is one that is so hard to get right as all instincts fight to prevent it happening and that is to say no to somethings so there’s more room to say yes to the right things. When you run you’re own business, especially at the start or when things get tight, we tend to say ‘yes’ to everything and anything. This has been the cause of most stress and the cause of reduced profits. Annoying clients, fiddly time consuming low grade jobs, unclear briefs and in some cases inappropriate jobs slightly outside of my expertise all take their toll on confidence, time, your brand and your profits. We often forget that we’re in control and can say no when it’s right to do so.

So there you have it. Hopefully you won’t make as many mistakes as that, but if you are working for yourself or embarking upon it soon, take heart that it is the most rewarding and exciting journey and I wish you every success.

Perhaps we can even work together on something one day.

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Innovation Mind-flow at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com

Change, and not a moment too soon: How I started my own business 10 years ago


My first business card, front and back. The grey part was actually metallic silver.

I started my own business on 12th September 2001. That’s right, one day after 11th September 2001. On that fateful day I was flying back from the Caribbean after a two week holiday and had just landed at Heathrow when the first plane struck the North Tower. The next day I went back to work to find the company I worked for had gone bust (unrelated to 9/11). It was a very strange, unnerving and memorable couple of days.

I was creative director of a multimedia firm. Don’t let that title throw you, I wasn’t on the board and I had no insight into the accounts or general finances of the company. My job was mainly to manage and do the jobs in the studio. I did know, however, that the value of the work coming in couldn’t possibly cover the salaries going out, which had been propped up with loans secured against the boss’s house.

The company had been set up ten years earlier to build bespoke PC systems that were used for multimedia presentations. Most of that market had disappeared due to the advancement of PCs and the availability of straightforward software like Powerpoint which virtually did the job for you. Why spend thousands on a bespoke system when you could pay hundreds for an off-the-shelf one that was probably better?

As creative director, I saw my role as attempting to guide this outmoded offering into the much richer vein of design-led graphics. The company could easily pick up branding, print design and of course web design as well as still doing high-end multimedia such as CD-ROMS which were still in demand. My team created a new identity and marketing campaign along with a brilliant website, mostly due to the talents of Michael Reading (now running http://www.hello-design.co.uk) that I was sure could have attracted press attention, if not awards, had it been properly launched.

But the boss had put the brakes on. He just wasn’t comfortable with ‘creativity’ and ‘design’. He wasn’t comfortable with newer technology, especially things like the new Apple iBook that Michael has just bought and amazed us all by editing video on it. It was able to do exactly the same job that the bosses hot-wired custom-built three tonne editing suite could do, except that it was a lot faster and didn’t take up half the office. The boss would really rather be fiddling with PCs with their cases off and discussing servers over a pint of ale at lunchtime than creating better and more profitable ways of doing things. He was a great guy, but in the wrong role.

While I was on holiday I had come up with more marketing ideas and the concept of a ‘sub-brand’ that could be used to sell the new design portfolio without appearing to impact on the more traditional technical image the boss wanted to cling onto. I did a lot of thinking about creativity and how it can be used to solve our potential clients marketing and branding challenges and came up with ideas for names such as ‘Ideas Workshop’ and ‘Ding!’ (which I later put to good use).

So, although shocking, it wasn’t exactly a complete surprise that the company was no longer in business when I got back.

The next day I started my own company and began to put all the ideas I’d come up with into practice, except this time, for myself.

Many people have started their own business in this way: because they had to. Sometimes you need a kick in the teeth to actually take action and get on with things.

So why did that multimedia company fail? To an outsider it could have appeared to have everything going for it. All the ingredients were there (Except for clients of course.)

Inflexibility, stubbornness and fear of change were characteristics of the boss. He yearned for the good old days of 1990 when it was just him and his mate building custom PCs. He saw the market was moving, but couldn’t or didn’t want to follow it.

With all it’s imperfections, that business helped give birth to mine. To start with all I did was the exact opposite of what it did and hit the ground running with the rejected ideas I’d come up with that my gut instinct felt would work, and it did.

But all the time I was aware that it’s oh so easy to fall into the same trap that my old boss found himself in. He loved doing part of his business. But it became the part that no-one needed anymore. His business had become a comfortable slipper to wear, but the terrain outside had transformed into a rough and dangerous landscape.

Over the last decade, I’ve tried to keep my business flexible and in many ways it’s completely different to what I started doing on that day in 12th September 2001. My old boss has found his feet too, finding a role within a technology business where he can at last do what he does best.

So here’s to the next 10 years. Who knows what we’ll all be doing then!

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Innovation Mind-flow at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com

Do you employ drones or a creative strategists?


Dalek new paradigm blue strategist

Dalek Strategist

There are two types of people: creative people and non-creative people. They are not born that way, they decide to be that way. Sometimes they behave in one way in a certain situation, say being a monotonous drone at work and yet a creative genius at the weekend on the sports field or with the children.

The problem in most businesses is that they may say they want creativity and creative people working for them but what they manifest is mindless monotonous drones.

Creative people in business do not sit there doodling or daydreaming (but if they do you can bet they’re onto some big idea). Creative people innovate better ways of doing things. They naturally follow the path of progress. They can’t help making things more interesting. When channeled, these attributes always lead to increased profits.

Dalek new paradigm red drone

Dalek Drone

 

If you have sales people: they need to be creative sales people because they need to create new relationships and create new sales opportunities.

Sales Drones do not create new sales opportunities. neither do they know how to up-sell new offerings to existing customers.

If you have administration people: they need to be creative administration people. They’re job is to make things work smoothly and there are always problems they need to resolve and there are always processes that can be made better.

Admin Drones just do filing.

If you have managers they need to be creative managers: handling people and their relationships is a complex task with many factors constantly changing. Motivating people to do their best is a skill that is bespoke for each individual. Problem solving skills and emotional intelligence are needed more than ever in such a role.

Manager Drones annoy good people who then leave and join your competitors.

If you have staff that deal with customers they need to be creative staff who deal with customers. Creating great customer service is the most underdeveloped method of increasing sales and profits. Knowing how to handle problems or how to create value added extras that turn customers into advocates is a creative skill that’s worth its weight in gold.

Service Drones annoy customers who then post on Twitter how bad your service is.

Don’t employ drones, and even more importantly, don’t turn your employees into drones. Good people who get fed up and leave their jobs usually do it because they weren’t appreciated. A great way of getting good people to stay and excel is to allow them to use more of their skills and talents in their role, to have more responsibility for their role.

Research has been done that the amount of perceived self determination within an organisation is directly proportional to increased profits and success of that organisation. Using or converting people into drones is like running your business with everyone having one arm tied behind their back, or chaining employees to a desk (which is exactly what so many companies actually do if you think about it).

I can show you how to turn your drones into productive, inspired creative strategists who not only do a better job with their current role, but are capable of innovating areas around them. Some businesses (and of course most employees) would be offended to have people described as ‘drones’. That may be the case but when the economic climate is more challenging, the risk of drone conversion is even greater. I can show you how to avoid the dangerous slide into drone manufacture, to help you get even more from the good people you have.

Come and see me on www.aydinstone.com

Business As Unusual


I have no sympathy if you’re going bust.

Seriously, I haven’t. Why should I? I don’t mean to be rude, but being rude, if you’re business is in trouble it’s for one reason and one reason only. I shouldn’t need to spell out that reason but I will:

You’re not selling enough stuff.

We can’t blame the economic situation. We can’t blame the government. If we’re not selling it’s because of only two reasons:

1. People don’t want what you’ve got.
2. You’re not good enough at selling.

That’s it. And both of those are no-one’s responsibility but your own.

Once we accept that, perhaps we can do something about it. We’re living in unusual times that call for unusual ideas to combat these two issues. We need to be doing ‘Business as Unusual’.

That’s why I have little sympathy for struggling businesses who haven’t grasped that. I’ve presented to quite a few small-medium business leaders over the past few months and am often quite dismayed and sad that some of these companies will soon no longer be with us. I talk about how we can be more creative in business, to generate killer ideas to solve problems and improve (i.e. innovate) business processes such as sales, marketing and service. But many just don’t listen.

For example, as a matter of course I have a look at the websites of the companies I’m speaking to beforehand. What horrible sights I see. Clutter and slop, lack of information for potential customers, nasty images and confusing navigation topped off with antiquarian logos. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that when I say that I’ve had a look at their websites, they say, “We know about that. We’ve had a web expert in and we know about that”. “When did you see this expert?” I ask and the answer is, “9 months ago.” 9 months and they’ve done nothing about it.

If they haven’t the facilities, the time or the inclination to sort out something as simple as the errors I see on those websites, there’s little hope they can satisfy the basic needs of a cautious customer who has plenty of options.

‘Business as Unusual’ is about looking at your business in a different way. Perhaps as the customer looks at it. To me these tiny, almost insignificant problems are the tip of the iceberg of a lack of focus, due diligence, quality and customer focus. Having dirty offices, a rusty sign and bad telephone manners are signals that something is very wrong. So too is an out-of-date looking logo, bland business cards and a website from 1996. It’s as if these businesses have been sleepwalking for the past 12 years or so.

‘Business as Unusual’ is about allowing yourself to think differently. To consider other ways of doing things. It’s about considering possibilities and working out where your boundaries and restrictions really are, not where you think they are. It’s about making new connections and taking risks, knowing that standing still will mean losing ground. It’s about doing all you can.

Business as usual has come to an end. To survive we need to realise that and embrace the scary prospect of change: Business as Unusual. Be ready.

(Actually I do have sympathy for those businesses, especially in manufacturing, who find themselves caught out because of extraneous pressures out of their control. Van manufacturer LDV comes to mind. A small loan would save this UK company, and we’d get to keep a great brand with a long history and have it back in UK ownership, but it seems our government will only ‘save’ banks or foreign owned businesses.)

For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
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