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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Time to think

The pause between this post and my previous was unexpected, but inevitable given the circumstances. My first two weeks at Essential have been fantastic – involvement in several interesting and diverse projects, and a night out that the K-box may still be recovering from.

My arrival coincided with a particularly busy period of debriefs and pitches. In theory, a nice problem to have but priorities need to be set and resources assigned accordingly.

Businesses should be flexible to adapt when these situations arise, but they should be atypical and not the norm (at Essential, it is not the norm). Organisations shouldn’t overstretch themselves. Short-term revenue gains can be quickly counteracted by a lack of focus, quality and staff morale.

Quite rightly, we regularly talk about a work-life balance being crucial to successful and stable careers and businesses. Each person has their own unique balance – whether sixty hours of work a week or four. But I believe a third dimension should be added to the equation.

Thinking time.

We should be talking about a work-thought-life balance. Thought is the commonality between our work and life personas, and time should be scheduled to improve the quality of both.

Everyone needs breaks. Whether it is stepping back to think more strategically, or searching for outside inspiration to crack a problem, we can all identify multiple benefits of pausing for thought. It could be taking a walk, it could be reading a book, it could be taking a bath to wait for that eureka moment, it could be going to a baseball game as Jon Steel did. Our subconscious can continue to work on the issue, while our conscious mind diverts to not only rest but also to absorb new stimuli.

This is important in all industries (Google giving engineers 20% personal time has led to some enormous successes), but it is absolutely crucial in creative and knowledge industries. Even in research, there is rarely an objective truth easily uncovered, and so time needs to be spent formulating the best approach at each stage of the process.

I am now making a more concerted effort to build in thinking time into both work and life spheres. For me, blogging comes under thinking time. I mull over thoughts and then try to formalise them into a coherent message. This post, for instance, is a synthesis of thoughts jotted onto post-it notes over the past week and additional thoughts that emanated as I deciphered a theme.

I could have punctuated the aforementioned gap between blog posts by quickly writing up one of those thoughts scribbled onto a post-it note. But I chose not to. I don’t post for the sake of it. I write to improve my understanding of matters –  an incremental process that is boosted by the thoughts and posts from others whom I read and interact with.

It is a question of quality vs quantity. Unlike Twitter’s temporary ambiance, I view my blog as a permanent (WordPress permitting) record of my output. I aim to create an evolving, but ultimately a coherent and consistent, body of connected thoughts, ideas and statements – both my own and those of others I intersect with.

I hope my blog achieves this – I don’t want to undersell myself, even with something that could be called a hobby. When I visit someone else’s blog for the first time, I read their previous five posts to see if it is something worth subscribing to. It doesn’t matter if those posts were written in the last 5 hours or 5 months; it is the quality I care about.

A sidenote of interest to me is also the journey one undertakes when they discover a new blog. I see two primary routes – search and social.

A high quantity of posts will influence Google juice and deliver visitors from search. But a high quality of posts that people value leads to social recommendations; attracting people through overlapping spheres of influence. Fred Wilson has noted that he is getting more referrals from social media than Google – I put that down to the consistently high quality of his blog as much as the increasing influence of our online networks.

Furthermore, a recommendation is also more likely to lead to a deeper contact. Search is transactional – I find my answer and move on. Links and retweets are relationship builders. The latter is definitely more valuable.

Anyway, that was quite a large digression. But I’ve finally arrived at the underlying theme linking together my disparate points and post-it notes.

Commoditisation.

By taking our time, by taking a step back, by seeking advice and inspiration, we bring more thought to the process. We ponder, we ruminate, we deliberate, we mull, we muse, we meditate, we even brainstorm and thought-shower.

My contention is that a situation where work-thought-life are in equilibrium will lead to a higher quality of response. Quality is what we should aspire to in order to make ourselves distinctive and unique.

Whether it is research, strategy, marketing, music or blogging, we shouldn’t commoditise our outputs.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dharmasphere/

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Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business

The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New BusinessI’ve recently been re-reading my notes from Jon Steel’s book Perfect Pitch and am reminded of what a great resource it is (incidentally, Seth Godin has some typically insightful tips on getting the most out of business books).

The central argument of the book is an obvious but often overlooked one – using your content to engage with the audience. The book is written in a compelling manner with some fantastic examples. For me, the litmus test of a good business book is whether it provokes me into not only considering or approaching an issue differently, but implementing the tips. This book passes the test with flying colours. I would highly recommend it.

Jon works in fives (as another sidenote, the book I am currently reading would have a theory on that). He sees a pitch constituting five jobs – those of researcher, writer, producer, director and performer – and there being five distinct stages

  1. Grazing, and gathering raw materials. We should combine research, general knowledge and learned knowledge. He uses a Post-it note for every bit of relevant information and then re-organise it into themes.
  2. Looking for meaning. Drawing everything together and looking for connections
  3. Dropping it. Rather than working 24/7, we can let our subconscious work on the problem while we take our conscious mind off it by doing other things
  4. Adapting and distilling. There should have a central theme that could be repeated in 2 minutes. With the full presentation, each part should engage and surprise. It can be broken down into an inciting incident, progressive complications, a crisis, a climax and a resolution
  5. Writing the presentation. Jon believes the script should be written down to the last apostrophe. It gives control – both in terms of content and timing. If you know the content inside out, you can deviate from it if necessary

And adapting Jon’s method, here are five elements to his thesis, with five nuggets under each heading

1. Prepare

  • People work better on one task than several at once
  • Work in a small, tight, committed team
  • Take control. Taking control means keeping work and social life separate, not allowing interruptions, having space for thinking, treating others as you would like to be treated and looking after your brain
  • Start quickly and devote equal time to each aspect
  • Practice makes perfect

2. Recognise the competition

  • The focus should be on beating the competition and not finding the perfect answer
  • Belief has to be turned into action – this is done by persuading that your idea is the best
  • Save energy for the big issues rather than proving the obvious
  • Either say something different or say the same thing better
  • But a USP of some description is needed to stand out and plant doubt in the competition

3. Ensure a narrative

  • The best speeches are done using the simplest language
  • Presentations should tell stories
  • A good presentation has a start, a middle and an end
  • A few well chosen questions can be a powerful tool
  • Use minimal slides with a prose leave-behind

4. Keep the tone engaging

  • The five key elements are truth, beauty, excitement, significance and persuasion
  • Communicate; don’t lecture. The best presentations are question marks; not full stops
  • Communicate one idea at a time
  • Be inclusive as the audience doesn’t listen to what you say but what it means to them
  • Passion breeds success. When you believe, giving ground is tantamount to failure

5. Connect with the audience

  • Own the room
  • Minimise space between the presenter and the audience
  • Give a sense of what it would be like to work with you
  • If one answer is given, don’t give a second if it involves repetition
  • Keep consistency of message and openness of mind and manner

The above is just a small extract of the wisdom encapsulated in 288 pages. I would recommend reading every last page.

sk