Everything is going to be alright

Tate britain This past weekend we caught the Turner and the Masters exhibition at the Tate Britain before it closes at the end of this month. I liked it, there was some beautiful work on display (and ironically enough, I preferred the masters to Turner half of the time). And at the same time I am incredibly frustrated (and not just because we weren't very smart in going to the exhibit on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks before closing which meant that some paintings weren't visible because there were hordes of people looking at it). 

I'm disappointed and frustrated because I think most exhibitions don't do enough to draw people in. Think of an interesting idea for an exhibit, do all the hard work to get the paintings together, commission text and images for the catalogue, set up the shop and order merchandise, add a section to the website, order the audio guide et presto. And mind you, that's a lot of work right there, a whole heck of a lot of work. But it ain't enough. Here's what I'd like to see happen:

  • I want to be able to prepare more by listening to the audio guide beforehand (and I don't mind paying money for the file) and downloading it to my iPod
  • I want to read more, and see more, about what I'm about to go see. Give me more background, put some of the catalogue up as pdf's, set up a wiki or point towards information I can use
  • I want to read what other people thought of the exhibition and add my own thoughts, to help make future exhibitions better
  • Why not enlist the visitors in creating a catalogue of the paintings? A good curator pulling together a great exhibition is great (and for instance, the current Sacred Made Real exhibition shows passion and care in how the curator put it together) but why not tap into your audience? They collectively know a lot and would love to share it methinks.
  • Put the lectures/podcasts that accompany the exhibition online.

I have to admit that I think exhibition visitors, me included, are lazy. We hear about an exhibit, everyone else goes, we go, we see, we buy and walk away. If we're lucky we enjoy. And we might learn something. But that's it. It's time to reinvent museums and exhibitions. I've been reading on the museums of the future and done a bit of collecting of thoughts around this and I can't wait to put some of it in practice, and I know it'll all cost money but it's well worth it, I'll predict. Now, to find a museum who'll be the guinea pig (Tate, National Gallery are you listening?).

An innovation in books

 And I don't mean e-books. The prospect of e-books frightens the life out of me, quite uncharacteristically since I normally love my gadgets. As a book-historian my heart bleeds at the thought of paper books disappearing, of generations growing up without the consolation and delight of paper books. The medium is sometimes the message, or at least an important part of the message, and I like the paper medium. Plus, if everyone's reading e-books, how can I snoop and see what people are reading on the tube? 

No, I want to highlight another bookish innovation: the Dwarsligger. It's a book, a good old-fashioned paper one. But with a twist. Almost literally. They're half size paperbacks, on bible or onion paper, and flipped sideways so once you open them it's the size of a paperback (if you want to see more, check out the video). It's cute, it's handy (fits into my coat pocket), it allows me to read on the tube without having to stick my book in someone else's ribs. And it's a great new take on the book. If you read Dutch and live in the Netherlands, buy one. And let me know what you think. 

Focus, people, focus!

4176307833_3d5534a978_o Last year around this time, I decided that my motto for 2009 was LEARN, and boy, learn I did in 2009. The year didn't quite go as I had planned or could've expected and that taught me a lot. Learning to deal with unexpected events, learning to let go of some things and to hold on tight to others. I had to put my MA on hold for a while, which wasn't an easy decision to make, but definitely the right one. I'm picking it up again next year and am already looking forward to it.

So for this year, I decided to think about what I want the theme for this year to be. After a bit of to and fro with my partner-in-theme-crime Farhan (who set his own theme also) I decided that my theme for 2010 is FOCUS. 2009 taught me that life is wacky, wonderful, mysterious and filled with unexpected surprises. Sometimes it felt like too much was happening at the same time, and that I lost focus somewhat. So this year, that's what I'll focus on: focussing. Do one thing at a time, and do that with the utmost concentration, mindfulness and attention. More of less at any given time. Focus on what's most important, and not worry about (most) other things. One thing at a time. My mum was right (as she often is). So there you go: focus, people, focus!

And, yeah, I have a bit of a bad hairday in this portrait. We created personalised baubles for the office Christmas tree, and this is what I look like. Well, according to my colleagues at least.

Delight and money: the story of a panda USB stick

Panda_usb … also known as the USB stick I paid a premium for. Why did I pay a premium for something that is a prime example of a commodity? You can pick up USB sticks on every street corner. There is only one thing that you think about when you buy one: what's the storage capacity and how much does it cost. Or I should say 'how little does it cost?' since you want the most storage for the lowest price.

So why did I pay a premium for this panda USB stick? Because it delighted me. It made me feel like something that is by definition a commodity doesn't have to be dull. That I have a choice to bring a smile to my face with something as humdrum as a USB stick. I felt I was choosing a utility based on something other than most storage for the lowest price, instead I was making it on how much delight and joy this would add to my life. There is beauty and joy everywhere, if you choose to see it and seek it out. Even in USB sticks. Let this be a lesson for all commodities. Seek delight, surprise and beauty. Find it and you will find people willing to pay a premium for it.

Do-lectures, last but not least: Adam Lowry

IMG_7098 Last (well, for me, I left a bit early) but definitely not least was Adam Lowry, one of the two co-founders of Method, which could be described as a cleaning products company, but one that is turning the category upside down. Adam's talk was the most dear to my heart because he talked about a topic which I've been thinking about lots lately: the design of business.

He thinks business is an opportunity to change the world for the better, and that you can make 'change by design'.

He said they love it when their business model gets copied, because that will create a new (and hopefully better) state of equilibrium. If Method brings out a product that is better for the environment, and P&G copies that, it's good for everyone.

'Don't make the consumer sacrifice, make the product better!'

About change: 'Start small, to prove the business case, and then scale it up.'

The most important skill a business needs is DESIGN. The definition of design is changing: it's going from being mostly concerned with aesthetics to design entire processes. Currently design is about the present tense, in the future we will need to think about yesterday, today and the future (something he calls 'design karma').

Who is a designer and what needs designing is changing: everyone = a designer and everything needs to be designed.

Little do: think like a designer, even if you're not formally trained as one, you'll be able to make change better that way.

Big do: 'help me redefine design'!

Books are good for my soul

Sometimes you love doing something. Really, really love. For
me it’s books and reading and being in bookstores and buying books and
collecting books. It’s not just something I like, it’s something I’m
passionate about. When I feel down, I wander into a library, a bookstore or
perch myself down in front of my bookcase and after a while, life is manageable
again. Books are good for my soul.

Even though I’m passionate about books (heck, I have 1.5
degree in book history), I sometimes forget. For a long time sometimes. Life
takes over, screams out at me to take care of other stuff and I do. And then I
forget about the consolation of being around books and the thrill of reading
them. It becomes buried under day to day life. Then, all of a sudden, and
usually what feels like a coincidence, I stumble upon my first love again. I
walk into a bookstore, get transported back into the safe haven books offer and
become entranced all over again. I browse, see new books and familiar ones (am
I the only one that judges a bookshop by a small number of books, if they have
those, they’re a good bookshop, if they don’t, they’re not
very good?) and breathe paper and ink.

This happened to me this past Sunday. We wandered into the
Holland Park branch of Daunt and as if by magic I rediscovered my passion for
books. Strangely enough, that makes the rest of life more interesting and
alive and Technicolor too. The passion transcends into other areas of my life.
I’m not quite sure why this surprised me, since this has happened many
times before. And it doesn’t really matter that it did surprise me. What
matters is that it worked. There’s a little extra magic in my life. And
another book (you didn’t honestly believe I could walk into Daunt and
leave without a book, did you?).

Do-lectures: some something concrete

And this is an awful pun, 'concrete', but I couldn't resist. David Rosenberg, CEO of Hycrete, a concrete company. Though I think he'd beg to differ: after a few introductory slides, he said that his is not a concrete company, it's a insurance company, they provide peace of mind. Which is when I sat up and started listening even more intently. 

Let me repeat what he said: 'we're not a concrete company, we're an insurance company.' What a great example of changing the way you think about your business. You're rarely in the business of the product or service you sell, you always 'sell' something else. He also mentioned they have moved from seeing themselves as a product company to a solution company.

That taught me (yet) again the lesson of humility. Even things which to me sound initially far beyond my comprehension or interest can be very interesting. And teach you a lesson. And that David definitely did.

Do-lectures, some more, Ben Hammersley

I wonder if this guy is Superman. And I don't mean that in the 'he's kind like Superman' way, no I mean it in the 'oh my god, this could actually BE Superman, he just changed his name'. Ben Hammersley was up next, and if there's anyone out there that can make you feel like you've done preciously little with your life, it's him. And I say that in the nicest and most awe-struck way.

Right, now to the actual talk/lecture, the title of which was 'The Optimised Self': choose a thing to maximise and focus on that by measuring what you do and then maximising it. Socrates said it all these years ago: 'The unexamined life isn't worth living.'
Before you start running out and focussing the hell out of something, you have to figure out what counts: 'Making things better depends on learning what to count.'. If you choose to measure something, that's what you focus on, so be careful what you wish for. Or measure for.

There is a trend at the moment to collect personal data (and it's likely I'll write more about that at some point, since I'm fascinated by it) and publish it for the world to see. And building on that there's a whole host of applications that build on that, e.g. Citysense, and people will start to use data to analyse their own and other people's behaviour.
Emotional data is a big deal and online sentiment analysis is the next biggest thing online (you heard it here first!).

People are already maximising their lives, companies need to offer the opportunities to do this. By concentrating on the numbers first, you free up time for creativity: you take away all the uncertainties, then creativity is left.

Little do: what are you measuring right now (and everyone measures something) and figure out if that's the right thing to measure.

And as an extra bonus, some sage life advice:
* In the most dangerous situation: smile. It helps.
* How do you become a foreign correspondent? Go to a foreign country and correspond!

Do-lectures, something interesting

Interesting's been getting a bad rap lately. 'May you live in interesting times' isn't exactly necessarily a good thing. 'Hmmm, interesting' also isn't usually a good thing. I was reminded of this at Interesting2009, the third (or fourth) compere did a whole schpiel (spelling?) on it. So what to make of a speaker from the Really Interesting Group? Tom Taylor was up next, who with Russell Davies and Ben Terrett amongst other things forms the RIG (and the Newspaper Club). I've been keeping an eye on RIG for a while (wow, that sounds a bit stalker-y, I don't mean it in that way, I mean it in the interested in a good way and getting exciting about what they're doing kinda way, you know in that bookhistorian-print-is-interesting kinda way. You understand. I even got one of the papers they made earlier), and I was excited speak to hear Tom speak.

What I love about RIG is the ethos behind it. 'Delighting and inspiring people is a good thing'. And tinkering and doing and experimenting are all also good things. Tom talked about how do you retool 20th century infrastructure (printing presses) into 21st century tools? He called it 'put the web back into the world' and that's something I've been interested in for a while now too. The 'real' world of atoms colliding with the 'virtual' world of bits and bytes. Except for maybe the distinction isn't so black and white. The one isn't real and the other virtual. And they needn't exclude eachother. In fact, how cool is it when they reinforce eachother? Enough rambling, back to the talk.

'It's never been easier to make things', 'how can you reuse and repurpose TV, FM radio, manufacturing plants?'. All great questions. Questions you can get excited about. Well, I do. It speaks of optimism. Of delight and enthusiasm. I'm a little bit frustrated with the pessimism, the whole 'the internet is ruining everything'. Yes, newspapers as we know them are going down the drain, but that will also open up opportunities to do new things. And yes, traditional advertising on TV will go the same way as newspapers, but that can also be a good thing. New isn't always bad. New can be exciting. A new opportunity. A new way of doing something fun.

Do-lectures, part, ehm, 6 I think

Another round up post of various speakers from Do. Rolf Potts talked about Vagabonding, traveling as a lifestyle. In a way his talk was very zen: 'be where you are now', 'let the trip take you', 'slow down', 'the journey is more important than the destination'. All of those are important, and good to hear, but what I really liked was his concept of time. 'Make your own time. Don't wait til the end of your life or retirement. Don't wait til someone gives it to you.'

Alan Moore was up next, talking about connecting dots, a new landscape in terms of collaboration. What I remember most from his talk was a quote by Jung: 'I needs we to be truly I'; he mentioned how we should take responsibility for our collective spaces, and make sure there is shared collective joy. What a great concept, shared collective joy. That's definitely something I'll take forward and do (no pun intended) something with. I already have plans for something, so keep watching this space. The seed has been planted.

Alice Taylor (who also spoke at Interesting2009) works for Channel 4, where she commissions digital games to engage and teach kids. I thought it was really interesting she mentioned how games actively improve your brain, the reward mechanism in the brain that releases dopamine is triggered by games. She also quoted Henry Jenkins: 'Games teach that failure isn't bad and that collaboration isn't about cheating.'

Do-lectures, going above and beyond: Gabriel Branby.

IMG_7102 You know how you go to conferences, or receptions or other official events, and the food is not, ehm, well, not very good? Yeah, the Do Lectures weren't like that at all! The food was stellar, every breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee time was a feast. And most of all, they provided a wonderful accompaniment to the conversations.

The night before Gabriel Branby, CEO of Gränsfors Bruks AB axe company spoke at Do Lectures, I sat next to him at dinner and we had wonderful conversation about choices in life, how to build a good company and why reading is so important. After that conversation I was looking forward even more to his talk. And did he deliver!

He stressed the importance of learning as much as you can when you start with something new, since that will help you make the most out of it. If you learn everything there is to know about a subject (including its history, history's important because it shows you precedent), then you're the king. Knowledge trumps everything else. It's important to read deeply and widely. [oh boy, do I agree, as you can probably tell from the list of books I've read]

What I loved best was when he talked about how he started on the path of developing the best axes in the world: 'take away something, replace it with more information instead and you'll have a better product' (words inspired by Paul Hawken). If you think about what you can take away from a product (e.g. the paint on an axe) and add information (in this case a booklet telling you all you could possibly want to know about axes), you have a better product. Even a product like an axe can have information attached to it which makes it a richer product. 

And you need knowledge to figure out how to compete: if you know why
product features were added in the past, you know what to take out.

After knowledge about the product comes knowledge about yourself. Know why you're doing things. Something in what you're doing has to be important. 

I have to admit that I wasn't too sure what relevance axes had in my life, which shows a serious lack of humility. Learning comes from the seemingly strangest places, books, events, and people (not that Gabriel was strange, on the contrary).

Do-lectures, doing even more: Tony Davidson

Do_tony_davidsonFollowing Uffe was going to be a hard task. And Tony Davidson (who makes his money by doing creative things at W+K) did a great job. His talk was called 'My Dad does' and I loved it, it was so charming.

His dad was an inventor, a tinkerer. And I say that with the utmost respect. The kind of guy who could make anything with two rubberbands and some sellotape. The McGyver of the UK. Tony talked about the creative process, and on why doing is so important in the creative process.

A few quotes (bastardised by me no doubt, wait for the video to come out to check whether I got it right):

* 'Part of the creative process is collecting things' (thank God someone said it, makes me feel less bad about collecting so much paper and random things)

* Make sure you don't throw everything away.'

* 'Make sure you do things.'

* 'Don't worry about it, just START!'

His little do was 'do something that you wouldn't normally do'.

I also loved the talk because my dad (and my brother) are similar to Tony's dad. They tinker, they can build anything with two rubber bands and some sellotape.They invent, and modify and do.

In the Q&A after Uffe and Tony talked, I took the following notes (though I didn't write down who said what):

'Don't get caught up in your own goldfish bowl, throw yourself into the chaos, surround yourself with different things, be CURIOUS!'

Do-lectures, part 4: the return of the lectures with Uffe Elbaek

IMG_7103 Sometimes all you want is a cuppa. Cups of tea are the English (and Welsh) way of dealing with problems, breaking down social barriers, opening up chit chats with strangers, and waking up in the morning. And boy, was the tea good at Do! We had all different flavours of Teapigs, my favourite was the Rooibos with Creme Caramel (though I have to say I passed on the tea with chocolate for now).

After my first cuppa of the morning, we sat down to listen to Uffe Elbæk, who's the founder and former principal of the KaosPilots, International School of New Business Design & Social Innovation. Isn't that the coolest name ever? I've known about these guys for a while, and think they do great stuff. This is what education SHOULD look like! I was very excited to finally be able to hear Uffe speak and he didn't disappoint. He talked about two related topics 'Can we hear the future?' and 'how can we say yes to opportunities and really say yes to them'. 

On the future: how well are we prepared to hear the weak signs in our society that show what the future will be like? How well are we (as humans) organised to do this? What's the tipping point of those weak signs?

Uffe went on to talk about how he became the Principal of Kaospilots, a beautiful story about how powerful it is to feel that fire in your belly, that feeling that you know you're doing the right thing, and that it's going to be one hell of a ride, but you wouldn't miss it for the world. 

In the Q&A he explained how one time the consulting team attached to the Kaospilots had their client (all in suits) come in and explain the problem to a group of 5 year olds. Now there's an idea. All people thinking about handing their problem to a consultant should do this before they hand it to the 'experts'.

Also, he said to find playful ways to solve problems. Don't make everything so serious. And I totally agree. There aren't many things which are so much fun than having fun.

Every speaker was asked about their Big Do and Little Do. Big Do's are the things that will need to be done to make the world a better place, little do's are the small things we can all do day to day. I love Uffe's small do: 'start to dance with your partner'. Excellent advice. In fact, I'll go ahead and do that right now. I hope you are too.