Observations in moving to NYC

We moved to Brooklyn from Brighton & Hove 17 days ago. These are my field notes.

Food, drink, etc.

  • I’ll start with food, because I always start with food.
  • The food is better than anything you can get in the UK, including London, by sheer quality, variety and how dense those options are. I don’t care what you say. This is a fact. 
  • Seamless is a mobile app that you can order takeout from – imagine two or three hundred 4 or 5 star options that will deliver to your home within 30-45 mins, stored in your phone with your card details. *PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING*.
  • Brisket.
  • For better or worse, much of the US culinary genius lies in blending salty and sweet. In cookies, with bacon and syrup, or whatever. If it’s sweet, they’ll make it salty. If it’s salty, you’ll get a sweet twist. 
  • Most things taste saltier here (tortilla chips, bread, peanut butter etc). Gotta watch that.
  • Buying food in shops is more expensive in general than in the UK
  • We found a good wine shop with reasonable prices (phew).
  • A pickleback is a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice. Love dem.
  • Smorgasburg - 60 food and drink independents selling their Ethiopian / organic fruit slushies / Donuts / Lobster Rolls, weekly on Saturdays in a small park by the East River. Weekly.
  • The peanut butter part of the aisle in the supermarket is impressive. PB FTW.

Culture and stuff.

  • New Yorkers are as obsessed with the weather as Brits. It’s brilliant! They love bitching and speculating and the whole damn weather thing. They do it well. We unite on this.
  • Related: knowing the location of things is a badge of honour for New Yorkers. “It’s on 14th and sixth”. “No, fifth”. “That’s right, 14th and fifth – they moved their last year”.
  • People talk on their mobile headphones as they walk more than they do in the UK. Jabbering away.
  • We think as Brits we know American celebrities (or I did), but of course we just know the top 10% – many conversations reference celebs I have never heard of. (I hope I retain this ignorance.)
  • Grilled cheese is Americanese for cheese on toast – for once*, we are more literal than them. (See: sidewalk).
  • When people don’t understand my accent, they react as if I am stupid. Like this: “HUH?!”. It happens about once every two days.
  • In NYC, no one cares about your fancy British accent. (SF, also).
  • On the other hand, colleagues tell me that if people hear you have a British accent, they assume you are smarter than you actually are. So it’s not remarked upon, but it gives you a little upgrade in the intellectual dept. Useful.
  • The Mrs has been saying ‘kinda’ way more than usual. Noticeable uptick. (Kids haven’t started school yet).
  • People are friendlier. It’s just a fact. And some of it is lip service, but most of it isn’t.
  • Walking around busy Manhattan is no different to walking around busy London – the whole tough New Yorkers thing is only really apparent when it comes to two things. Hailing cabs. And being a busy metropolitan person in brutal winter conditions.
  • A homeless guy, wrapped in many layers, apparently asleep on a bench in the subway, gave me correct directions when other commuters didn’t know the answer.
  • The Social Security office has been my only real perspective of the real, rest of American life. Grim.

Physical stuff

  • On his impressions of NYC, our oldest offered “on the one hand it’s big and scary, and on the other hand it’s safe and secure”. +1 to that.
  • Subway is quick and easy. Apparently the platforms get horrifically hot in summer (the carriages are AC).
  • Consumer electronics stuff seems much cheaper – from TVs to Apple gear.
  • IKEA Brooklyn is exactly like IKEA in Croydon. For better or worse.
  • Transition from (small ish) house to (large ish) apartment has not been claustrophobic as feared – in fact, to our surprise, it’s actually been quite liberating
  • On the liberating front, we await our cargo shipment not with eager anticipation but more the fear of an impending tidal wave of old junk we’ve been without for 6 months. Shipping companies should offer a ‘nuke it’ setting – push the button, they burn/eBay it. If you ever do this, make a clean break. 

 

Augmentation

In the last few weeks I’ve joined the millions of people who need the support of something external to carry out their daily lives.

For me, it’s just reading glasses.

But getting my head around needing these, remembering to wear them, having to carry them around with me, has been a very unusual and disconcerting experience. (I’ve needed them for a while but ignored the need. Then I got them and hardly wore them. Then suddenly in SF a few weeks back my vision threw a hissy fit and I’ve been wearing them solidly at my desk since. And it feels better, easier, like it’s needed.)

Weird for me having to depend on something just to see properly.

Weird that if I left them at home, my work would be much harder.

As human augmentation goes though this is pretty pedestrian stuff, I know.

Two weeks ago I had a meeting in the same San Francisco office building where a Google Glass team is located. A guy had a pair around his neck in the elevator. A young woman had a pair on as she crossed the street as I walked away. As if it were normal (which soon it will be, in some parts of the world).

And then a colleague asked me to pick her pair up from our NYC office on my latest transatlantic trip. Sci-fi tipping into every day life.

All of this got me thinking about augmentation again.

Wearable tech has been hyped in the recent year as the big investable area. The new new. It makes sense to me that as the value that we get from the network continues to rapidly grow and the technology continues to rapidly shrink, we will all be augmented further – more than through glasses and pacemakers, more than by our companion smart devices and nearby screens.

For my own experimenting I decided to get one of those exercise band things too – a Jawbone UP at the advice of Drew Benvie and Stephen Davies.

It’s relatively humble experiment about personal data, about data and behaviour, and about augmentation.

The early signs are interesting. I walked further than normal today, because I was (temporarily?) more conscious of taking steps – the main currency the UP band takes note of.

I now have some data on my sleep last night, and my sleeping has been inconsistent with all the travel and time zones I experience at the moment. So that might be enlightening to observe.

But what is perhaps most interesting and indicative of the way things will go is plugging my band into my phone and seeing them talk to one another about my movements – me, the fleshy host, hot, stupid and inconsistent; them the cold robotic collectors of data, computing my movements, ‘motivating’ with colourful charts and smiley faces.

Me and the tech, as part of a little personal ecosystem.

So in the last few weeks I’ve found my every day self being a little more augmented. Both by need and by choice. And I find myself feeling that augmentation is an interesting part of the next phase.

And if all of this is a bit tame for you, here some further questions rolling around the back of my un-augmented brain:

  • What would it be like if my family all had this kind of data-gathering, and we shared our information with one another?
  • When will we go from wearing to hardwired, and why?
  • The feeling of becoming accustomed to a crutch, to something integral, is interesting – does anyone know of any models from academic research that describe this transition to ‘dependency’?
  • Can any of this help solve the great problems of our time and if so how?

Reflections

Last year was great in many respects.

Highlights in no order whatsoever were:

  • Going out for a burger and coming back with small, stupid tattoo
  • Doing Tough Mudder with my brother
  • Organising some of the social events for my Crossfit Connect fam
  • A brilliant trip to Denver with Max for the WorldBlu conference, seeing lots of old friends and then hanging out in the Rockies with Alexander and Jon and Max
  • Our younger boy learning to ride a bike :)
  • Going for a bloomin’ cold sea swim in January with Clive
  • Seeing more of my heroes speaking at the bigger and better second instalment of Meaning Conference (for videos, follow the link – there are literally five or six of the speakers who gave my ‘favourite talk of the day’, too hard to pick one, but favourite moment was when James from BrewDog got 300 odd people to open a can of Punk IPA at the same time)
  • The project that we did at NM with the smart, brave people at Orbit
  • Jumping onto the back of the crazy dragon that is Brandwatch, becoming part of something different for the first time in ~11 years, and especially working with our international teams and all of the different culture stuff (inc new food!) that brings
  • Being part of Rebuild 21 for the second time – I love those guys, and got to continue my love affair with Copenhagen
  • Crossfit, generally
  • NYC, generally
  • Instagram, generally

There were some very tough times too. I feel that I got lost in my latter period at NM, I made at least two crap decisions, two key relationships went wrong, and leaving was hard. So there were real lows, and the soul-searching that came with that was heavy.

Looking ahead, I’m looking forward to:

  • Exploring ‘Merica (and a bit more of Berlin and Germany, and wherever else our international expansion takes us)
  • Making a big impact at Brandwatch – I’m settled in, now it’s time to rev things up and enjoy the unbelievable opportunity we have
  • Seeing our kids evolve and change as they explore a new country and cultures
  • Having fun, generally, and staying fit whilst eating all of the things.
  • Doing some neat lil’ projects that haven’t even been conceived yet
  • Might do the NYC half marathon

Excited about 2014.

Tearing ourselves apart?

I am generally an optimist. And I have believed and tried to spread the idea that we have the potential to use networks to positively transform the world.

But when I look at my networks today I feel that we are increasingly using our new-found connectedness to tear one another apart. (I could give examples, but you know and every day will see and experience your own – individual vs organisation, individual vs individual, organisation vs organisation etc etc).

And it makes me wonder which way we’ll go… We, as a species, as a global society.

Is this a necessary step on our journey towards some new kind of enlightenment where a readjustment has to happen? Perhaps all of this turmoil, challenge and stress is the energy required to fuel an important recalibration in how people and organisations relate?

This has been my hope, since reading Cluetrain, and ploughing my heart and energy into making large organisations more social and more human through the projects I involve myself in.

I do believe in lifecycles and phases. Maybe this is just the next stage, the ‘storming’ before a more harmonious ‘performing’ in the largest group setting, together, as a new global networked society.

But maybe it is not – maybe this raw networked debate is the start of a great schism, a global jigsawing of society into ever more distinct tribes who are newly mobilised in a new, networked, global context. Now the tribe isn’t just the local goths or petrolheads or city chapter of socialists or day-trading liberatarians – now these tribes are global, they are sizeable, and they can pool resources to achieve their goals. (At the extreme but certainly well within the possible, we can speculate about ‘smart crowds’ evolving towards the emergence of new communities with resources to compete with very large organisations or even nation states).

Maybe as we become more networked, we have the chance to be more polarised, to just find more people like us and more ideas that match what we already believe, rather than finding more difference or finding new perspectives, rather than compromising and blending and empathising.

Maybe we will just retreat into homogenous digital enclaves where we all think the same things, leaving only to attack – Clash of Clans-style – the opposition. Could that happen?

I still believe we have a huge opportunity. (I am an optimist!). We have this new superpower – the network. But I do wonder what we’ll do with it. The choices we’ll make. We, the people. Do we just need to learn-by-doing? To fuck up and fuck up and fuck up until we collectively appreciate the power we now have and how best to employ it to make the world better?

I wonder. I do.

Lifecycles, phases, obsessions

I’ve always been through real phases with things.

In recent times it has been mountain biking (no longer an obsession), CrossFit (current phase, but not the white hot obsession that it once was), looking further back, rugby, outdoorsy stuff.  I wrote the book in a kind of obsessive bursty way too: 3 months of disciplined writing, done and dusted from start to finish in 6 months. 

From a work point of view, it was marketing, then entrepreneurship, then digital, then social media, then culture and organisations. Now it’s my new role. I am noticing as I immerse myself. So is my wife.

These phases or cycles last different amounts of time. But the patterns are similar.

I devour everything on the topic. With mountain biking I subscribed to two magazines, read a forum daily, rode when I could, lovingly washed the bikes, took photos of them, ate and slept biking. It is obsessive. These things become ‘my thing’. It has been the same in work. When a world catches my interest, I immerse myself, I turn almost all of my available attention and energy to it. There’s both a learning energy and a doing energy.

Quite funny really.

Family and friends seem to be less cyclical, fortunately. But some of the people I love to be with the most are newer friends. That said, nothing compares to people I’ve known and who’ve known me for decades.

So for me, cycles are interesting.

It’s the winter solstice today (I just remembered, as I write). Another cycle, another turning point. In my work, I am seeing cycles and phases – as Brandwatch becomes a bigger company, with bigger international teams, moves into its next and most ambitious (yet) phase, as our market moves into a new phase, as I move into a new phase, as my team start a new cycle. We are all shifting.

These cycles are irresistable. They just are.

The best advice my mum gave us when we had our first child was that, now matter how rough things were at any time, to ‘remember that everything is a phase’. She was right. And not just about coping with new borns :)

Authenticity and values not wanted

An email from why of the more senior people in my network. Currently in a top role at an important organisation:

A funny thing happened to me today that I thought you would appreciate.

Out of curiosity I accepted an invitation to go and talk to someone about a job. I’ve no intention of leaving [current organisation] but sometimes do accept these meetings.

I spoke to the guy and he noted I had all the skills and experience and so on. He went on to say – rightly I hope – that it’s clear that to me ‘authenticity’ is an important thing and that I’m ‘values’ driven in my leadership.

I thought he was paying me a compliment!

He then said that he felt that these could be challenging traits when working in senior role in a publicly listed company.

So apparently what we’re looking for in our corporations is inauthentic leaders with no core values…

Dear oh dear.

Man.

I really don’t know what to say. Is it any wonder?

New adventures, new perspectives

Two things to share, both pretty exciting:

  1. My new adventure
  2. Meaning 2013 lineup

1. My new adventure

We’ve announced a whole raft of exciting changes at NixonMcInnes, including me joining Brandwatch (‘whoah! YAY!!!!’), a company I’ve been a fan of for a long time, as Chief Marketing Officer in a global role based in NYC. So a very exciting new adventure for me and my family that blends my experiences, talents and values in a really interesting new way.

My brilliant colleague Max St John is taking on the MD role at NixonMcInnes, my co-founder Tom Nixon is returning in a Founder role, and Jenni Lloyd will be providing continuity as a board director looking after products and services. (I will continue to be a fan and shareholder, but will be inactive day to day).

To get the whole story, read more on the NixonMcInnes website.

2. Meaning 2013

Blimey, if that wasn’t exciting enough, check out the Meaning 2013 line up now.

photo (1)

We have:

  • A pirate
  • A rogue economist
  • A story-teller
  • An activist
  • A startup MD
  • An artist
  • A co-operativist
  • A rebel CEO
  • Plus two more to be announced over the next two weeks.

This is the place to come to if you believe that business can be better and want to get inspired, get practical insights and connect with likeminded people. Last year was AMAZING.

Our numbers are growing by the day, and I will be there in my last moment as a regular NM-er, so it will be special for me too.

Tickets go up in price on Monday, so grab ‘em today.

See you out there in the wild :-)

Join us at Meaning 2013

At NixonMcInnes we work to change the world of business. Big mission for a small company, and to reach it we have to think about ways to intelligently expand our reach.

It was with that mission in mind we decided to put on an ambitious event that would bring together the people who we believed shared our view of the future of business.

We called that conference Meaning, and about a year ago 10 incredible speakers inspired and challenged the 300 of us in the Corn Exchange, Brighton. It was a brilliant, fun, inspiring day! (Do enjoy the videos if you have the time.)

If you follow this blog because of my book Culture Shock, then Meaning is the equivalent in an event form :-)

And now it is that time again.

This year we have gathered a Pirate, a rogue economist, an artist, a social entrepreneur, a storyteller, a cooperativist and a provocateur to lift us, to help us see, think and feel differently.

Pretty cool mix!

I am extremely excited about how these guys will connect with the second Meaning audience on November 8th. We are based in our home city of Brighton, a city with an international reputation for being different, 20 minutes from London Gatwick airport, and 60 mins by train from London.

These speakers are part of a new generation that is shaping what business can be in the 21st century. Here we can learn from them, support them, connect with them. Most importantly, we can find our own ideas and answers, and go on to create more positive change in our own organisations.

This year we’re not starting from a standing start, and already 100 people have grabbed a ticket.

So if you’d like to give yourself a day to reconsider what business is and can be, to gather new perspectives and connect with interesting, different but likeminded people, then join us.

NOW WITH ADDED WORKSHOPS!

And as a new experiment we have 3 hands-on workshops delivered by 3 top-notch Meaning speakers where attendees can learn directly from the experts about making Behaviour Change, Workplace Happiness and Storytelling work in their businesses. Take a look at these workshops:

Mary-Alice Arthur – The story dojo: how to harness the power of storytelling
Alexander Kjerulf – Happiness is 9 t 5; how to create happiness at work
Prof. Karen Pine – Do Something Different; behaviour change in organisations

2103 speakers announced so far…

Umair Haque – rogue economist and Harvard Business Review writer and author
Mary-Alice Arthur – storyteller, author and Art of Hosting steward
Rick Falkvinge – founder of the Pirate Party political movement
Mikel Lezamiz – director at Mondragon, the giant Spanish co-operative
Anne-Marie Huby – CEO of JustGiving
Honor Harger – artist, curator and creative director at Lighthouse
Lee Bryant – social technologies visionary

So, if that sounds like your bag, we hope that you will join us on November 8th (or for workshops the day before too) and be part of this group of people intent on making business better.

Book your ticket today. I’ll see you there.

Future of education: part 1

Like many people, I’m fascinated by how education is changing.

My dad is a teacher, my brother is a teacher, my sister works in professional publishing – the books she commissions end up as textbooks in universities.

Education is family thing, I suppose, though I was hardly passionate about education when I was in it – scraped through with half-decent A-levels, dropped out of a half-decent university.

I particularly love the work of Sugata Mitra. I love the Forest Schools ideology. It’s interesting to me that the school I went to, a state school, is now an ‘Apple School’ where every teacher and every pupil has been given an iPad.

So it was exciting to be invited by Facebook to speak at The Sunday Times Festival of Education at Wellington College back in late June. Just that combination alone had my interested: Facebook + Education + Wellington College (very old, well established public school).

Just arriving was an experience – Katie Price (‘Jordan’) was being greeted by Antony Seldon, headmaster at Wellington and a proponent of progressive ideas about the importance of teaching happiness at school. Ellen MacArthur walked past and then David Willets MP (I think). Not my usual crowd – I grabbed sandwiches and ran.

What was most interesting was how Facebook had partnered The Education Foundation, who in turned worked with two UK schools – London Nautical College, a proper inner city state school, and Wellington, an extremely affluent leading private school, to use Facebook in the classroom.

Hearing those two teachers, and those two groups of students, explain how they had experimented with using Facebook groups to manage learning projects was cool.

It was very thought provoking.

These were my takeaway points:

- both groups had found it useful enough that they’d do it again – that was a surprise to me, particularly – if I’m honest – Wellington

- both groups talked about how quickly the kids (who were teenagers) moved on from ‘fiddling around on Facebook and getting distracted’ to cracking on with work

- the kids themselves expressed how they were sceptical that they would be able to use Facebook without getting distracted but had surprised themselves

- Last surprise: how the parents hadn’t kicked off either, again I would expect that to happen especially at Wellington – perhaps people are more open-minded than I expect?

Surprises all round…

What I took away was another sense of just how much education is changing and about to change more. Methodologies, tools, practices, expectations, it is really interesting. Terrifying and thrilling when I think about my two boys who are in school.

And Facebook’s goals are absolutely clear here: they are interested to see how their platform can be positively used in education by educators and learners, and they are open about that. I have a combination of emotions about that: caution, curiosity, excitement.

I guess this is just another piece of this great big shift that we’ve been thinking about and exploring together for a while now. Digital transformation in education…

Questions

Question 1:
What will it take for women to be equally represented in senior management, and do we think it will happen?

Was chatting with a senior exec of a company where there are many more women than men in the general workforce, yet in senior management there was an equal balance. Broadly in her industry this is true, with many CEO roles being held by men.

I have noticed this in both PR and publishing, and I expect other industries (retail?).

It looks like the ranks get thinned when the roles get bigger. And of course there’s maternity and choices influencing this but is that all? And what is the world of business losing through this lack of balance?

We talked about the usual stuff about some of the characteristics more often found in women that make them great leaders – achieving with people rather than over them, dialogue, willingness to share, emotional intelligence etc.

But the question is what will it take for these profound imbalances to change? And do we actually believe it will happen?

Question 2:
What is the environmental impact of obese people exercising more and eating healthier?

I know this is random. But I keep thinking about healthy living, obesity, health inequality here my home city of Brighton, CrossFit and how that helped me gain control of my body.

And I wondered, what would the net effect be, from a sustainability perspective, of many more obese people exercising more? Because morally it’s a no brainer if there are ways to help people be healthier and happier.

Crudely, we’d use less much resources in healthcare caring for all the consequences of obesity, but I’m imagining that people might eat more (?) to fuel exercise, certainly more unprocessed foods, and they’d also live longer so more years would need resourcing…

If we’re all healthier, do we finish up or down – globally – in terms of calories consumed?