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.

Springcleanin’ part two: my company manifesto

As I was springcleaning stuff earlier today (taking full advantage of being unemployed, not for much longer) I found a page with notes I took last year summer as I was thinking about what I'd do if I started up/owned a company. The heading says 'back of the envelope manifesto', and it's a random list of thoughts that lay down the ethos of the company:

  • we create.
  • it's about two things: the story and the people.
  • the aim of the story is about delight and surprise.
  • the people tell the story.
  • fail. often.
  • everyone's an adult, and behaves that way.
  • for every project, we assemble the best crew, not the most convenient crew.
  • collaboration = everything
  • do good. not a little less bad.
  • life is short. have fun.
  • tight and loose. left and right. black and white. we don't do 'or'. we do and and. but we don't do half-assed compromises.
  • integrity and respect rule. no seriously, they rule.
  • why is the best question in the world. never go a day without asking it. 

Reading it again today, I think that pretty much sums up what I think good companies behave like.

All aboard

So there we go. Like billions (billion is the new million, isn't it?) of others, I watched president Obama's inauguration today. I suspect this might be one of those moments in history that I'll tell my grandchildren about. And yes, one of those moments that calls for a blogpost. I'm excited. I have high hopes for Obama and his administration, but even higher hopes for America as a nation. For someone to inspire a nation in this way, and hopefully inspire the change that the US and the world need a bit of, that's amazing. Go Obama. Go US. Go world. Let's go out and make this world a better place.

I fancy a snog

No really. A snog*. One of the things I'm learning about this year is Soho. My new company (I should really stop calling them new, I've been here for almost two months now) is based in Soho, right behind Piccadilly Circus, which means all of central London is right on my doorstep. And I love exploring Soho in more depth, it's such a treasure-trove of shops and alleys and more shops. And restaurants. So far I'm loving Papaya on St Anne's Court for Thai food for lunch, and Taro on Brewer Street, being able to pop down to Liberty, and I haven't had lunch from Fernandez and Wells yet, but I will soon.

And then today I saw this:

Opening March 2009 apparently, I can't wait!

* for those not British, a snog is slang for a kiss.

And the motto is

Sometimes I feel like I'm sounding like a broken record. And this record is titled 'Resolutions'. So I don't do resolutions at New Year's. I sometimes do at my birthday. But what I do do, or at least started last year and have done this year, is set a theme for the calendar year ahead. A theme, a motto, something that is a one-word guiding principle for the rest of the year. I don't think about that word/idea the whole time, but it pops up every now and again. And for this year, the motto is 'learn'.

Every day in 2009 will be about learning for me. Learning at Central St Martin's doing my final project for my MA, learning at my new job, from my new colleagues and new boss, from friends and family, listening to podcasts and watching videos (how I love the BBC iPlayer!), going to lectures and exhibitions, traveling. Every single day I am making a conscious effort this year to learn. Excited and scared, since learning comes with potential, maybe even imperative, for failure. And I'm not very good at failure. So there you go, another thing to learn: how to be better at failure.

[edit a few days later: friends rock. Especially friends like mr F, who's written a great post on mottos and themes here.]

I’ve found it

Mrbs I've spent all my life looking for this. Everywhere I go, I try and see them out. Bookstores. They are temples for my soul, soothing and exciting at the same time. I love being surrounded by books and browse and yes, occasionally buy some books (for which sadly I don't and won't have enough time ever to read all of them). So when we were in Bath a couple of days ago, I was over the moon when we stumbled upon this: Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights. And it is exactly what it says on the tin: a delight. In fact, and this is quite the statement and I realise that, it is THE best bookshop I've ever been to. And I've been to quite a few in my life already.

What makes it so great? Well, the name to start off with. The building, which is a lovely converted Georgian building, lovingly decorated. The character that oozes through in every single thing they do: the selection of books, the way they recommend books, the bathtub with books on the ground floor, the Tin-Tin wallpaper in the staircase, bibliotherapy room inviting you to sit and read to your heart's delight, the free coffee and tea, the delightful and friendly staff. It is in everything the perfect bookshop. This is book-heaven. If I think of the perfect bookshop, this would be so close to it, it's almost perfection. The one big downside: it's far away, in Bath. Although on second thought, maybe that's a good thing. I'd spend all my time and money at mr B's otherwise!


What a year it’s been

Most people who read this blog know that I don't normally make New Year's resolutions at New Year's, I make mine on my birthday, which is my way to reflect on the year that's been, and the year that is to come (see here for the most recent installment). However, even though that was only 3 months or so ago, much has happened since which means with a few days to New Year's my thoughts are turning towards looking back, and forwards into 2009.

Since my birthday in September I've traveled to Texas which was a great experience (especially since it meant hanging out with my good friends mr and mrs M), driving around in a convertible, visiting museums, bookshops and more bookshops, and eating wonderful food.

After that I changed jobs in the middle of November, which I mentioned on here a little while ago. Mum asked me over Christmas what is it that I do, and the best answer I have is 'think, read, write and talk about that, with a focus on brands'. Officially I'm a brand strategist or brand consultant, at least that's what the new business card says. So far, so good. I love the job, and the company and am excited every day I go into work. And as far as I'm concerned, jobs don't get better than that: being excited going into work every day.

Another first for me this year: I traveled to India! A good friend from b-school got married and I was lucky enough to be able to attend. And it was amazing. Absolutely wonderful. No adjectives I can use can really describe it, even though I'm scrambling to find the right ones. The hospitality of the groom's family, the warmth with which they adopted me into their family for the week was enough to make me cry on the way back to LON, and the wedding was something straight out of 1,001 nights. And I wore a sari for the first time, which was so comfortable that I'm now looking for excuses to wear it more often.

And lastly, but definitely not the least important, there's been some changes in my personal life which mean I walk around with an almost perma-smile on my face. Sorry to be so cryptic about this one, but I'm sticking with my self-imposed rule of not involving others in much detail unless they specifically ask/beg/pay.

Looking back, 2008 has been quite the year. The first full calendar year of being in the working world again after two years of b-school. The first time that I've been able to travel a bit again. The first job-change post b-school. The first ever time I even considered calling myself a designer. New friends, new experiences, new loves and addictions. But also a year of constants: friends and family, the city I love and live in.

I have no idea what 2009 will bring. No doubt it'll be an interesting year on a macro-political-economical level, which I'm looking forward to. Lots of change. I hope for the better, because this world could do with a bit of positive change. And for me? Who knows. I couldn't have predicted a year ago what would happen in 2008 and it's turned out to be an amazing year. So here's to 2009. May all your hopes and dreams come true.

Professional goals, or why I don’t have them

" I've never been someone who sets professional goals or ambitions for myself for the future. I think it'd be a dull waste of my lifetime to end up somewhere I expected to. " (Jim Prior from The Partners in Campaign, 31st Oct 2008)

Yesterday was my last day at my old job, next Monday I'll be starting to get used to a new commute into a new place, with new people to call boss. Still in branding and design, different focus this time, more thinking based, less running around like a headless chicken. Well, that's the aim anyway.

Grateful to my old company for taking a chance with me. They (nor I) really didn't know what they were getting themselves into, taking on someone who'd never worked in design and branding before. Steep and sometimes seemingly unsurmountable learning curve, both exhilerating and scary. Now it's time to move on, take the next step and throw out some cliches about that.
So let's see what happens on Monday. I'm excited and nervous and excited and scared but mostly excited. New job, new people, new tea-mugs. And to top it all off: new phone. The old boss decided to make my leaving day and give me an iPhone as a leaving gift, making this gadget-geekette very happy. Life is good indeed.

I love vending machines

Vending_machines I love vending machines. Love 'em, love 'em, love 'em. So when I saw this specimen during a layover yesterday in Minneapolis, I couldn't help but peer inside and take pics.

I'm typing this from the very comfortable sofa in the fabulous house of Al and mrs M, who are kindly letting me set up camp in their house and invade their lives for the next few days. And even though I've been here less than 24 hours, I already love Texas, and am reminded why I love the US so much. Vending machines such as the one on the left, great weather, ice machines in the fridge door (yes, that makes me jump up and down with joy), and of course the company of great friends. I can really only say one thing: yeeehaaww!

So that was.. uh, interesting

One my most beloved professors ever, prof Paul Hoftijzer, once told me 'Everything is interesting if you're interested'. And you know what? He's right (well, of course he would be, he is one of the smartest guys I've ever met and one of the best bookhistorians). Totally right. Everything IS interesting if you take an interest.

Yesterday I went to the second edition of Interesting, the 2008 installment. (If you want a full run down of who was one and who talked about what, check out the Technorati listings of blogposts here and here or WordPress tags here, and see photos here). And it's my duty, as someone who attended last year's installment too, to say that it wasn't as good as last year's. Actually, now that I've availed myself of my duty, I can secretly admit that this year was every bit as interesting as last year's and I yet again had a blast. Where and when else will you learn all you wanted to know and much more about toilets, why horses get scared by crisp packets, what the links between graphic design and music are, find out what zoetropes are and fall in love with them (see Jim Le Fevre's stuff here), see an impromptu 35-person recorder orchestra perform, why lego is brilliant, and why Winston Churchill was loveable. And tons more that I can't remember now but that was equally stunning and touching and brilliant and unexpected. And I loved Steve's presentation on what specifically it is that generalists do, a topic close to my heart (see here). The world can't be all bad if days like this happen!

Special hello goes out to Amelia, who made sure I didn't hide in the corner the whole day. It was weird having my online world collide with my real world (having lots of that lately, colliding worlds), weird and wonderful. Must make that happen more.

On meeting childhood heros

You know how they say you should never meet your childhood heros when
you're all grown up because they will disappoint? They have a point.
Except, that is, if you're hero is Bruce Springsteen. In which case
that theory is utter bollocks.

I fell in love with Bruce
Springsteen in 1985, lying on my tummy on my aunt and uncle's bed,
watching MTV on their telly in the bedroom (what a luxury, a telly in the
bedroom!). We didn't have cable then, so watching MTV on a TV in a
bedroom was the height of sophistication for me. And there he was.
Bruce. In all his glory. I'm pretty sure my knowledge of English was pretty non-existent then, so I can't have known what 'Dancing in the Dark' was all about but that didn't matter at all. The first ever CD I bought was the Live
1975-1985 box set (80 guilders, which was a lot of money then for me),
and I would listen to it on our family stereo (I didn't have my own CD player then) with these huge headphones on. Later on, I traced him back to his first albums and loved him even
more. But always from a distance. It never occurred to me I could
actually go and see him, live, doing a concert. Until this past xmas then all of a sudden I realised this is one
childhood dream I can make come true.

this past Wednesday, I boarded a plane, went to Amsterdam and saw the
Boss in action. And boy, was it good. I didn't want the night to end or
Bruce & the E Street band to stop playing. He was awesome. You could tell he was having a
great time and he worked his butt off to give us a good time too. The
whole band did. Better than I could have imagined. Here's to childhood dreams and making 'em come true.

When bschool and dschool collide

I love it when a plan comes together. A few weeks ago, at the Innovation Edge 08 conference, I ran into Gabriele, LBS MBA2009 (and a few other 009s), of I want to shadow Steve Jobs-blog fame. Before I knew it, the idea was born in my head to try and do a bit of rapid prototyping of our own and bring together bschool and dschool for a networking event. I roped in two of my studygroup mates from dschool, the wonderful Helena and Julea, and together we started making a plan, picked a date and set the ball rolling (well, that ball was kept rolling by Gabriele, Helena and Julea, I must admit I tried my hand at delegating on this one ;-) And this past Thursday, the two worlds collided and we had ourselves a blast! I think about 35 people showed up (including a special guest, Idris Mootee, who blogged about it here) and I think it went well. 

When people ask me about the diffferences between bschool and dschool, it's so easy to fall into cliches. And some of them are true. There are bschool people wedded to their Excel spreadsheet. And there are designers with not a commercial bone in their body. But they are extremes, and I'm finding that there are a lot more similarities than differences. The problem as I see it tends to lie in language (it is like speaking two different languagees, bschool speak and dschool lingo) and perceptions, both in large part due to the way we are educated to see the world. Once you bridge those, beautiful things happen. And I think they happened last Thursday. I had a blast and thank Gabriele, Helena and Julea. Awesome job! Here's to having some more of these events this autumn. 

PS The countdown is on, 3 more days and then I'm off to A'dam to see Bruce Springsteen, and I can't wait!

There’s something very nice

2363917267_717551e7a7about jargon. It gets a bad rap from a lot of people (who hasn’t in their life played a little bullshit bingo? I know I have. Sometimes still do. If you don’t, check this out), saying that it obscures the meaning of what you’re trying to say, or makes you sound like a pompous ass. And sometimes, yes, it does that. But there’s also something really nice about jargon. It makes you feel like you know what you’re talking about and in some cases even means you know what you’re talking about.

I’ve been working in branding and design for a good 8 months now, and I’m slowly getting the hang of the design lingo. I know what Pantone and CMYK is, what the difference is between perfect binding and a half Canadian, and I even used ‘negative space’ in a sentence the other day. I’m by no means an expert yet, but I’m loving getting a hang of this, and learning the jargon is making me feel like I am really earning the salary that I’m getting at the end of each month. I hate feeling stupid, which I did a lot at the beginning of starting work here. I had no idea about anything design related. But slowly and surely I’m catching up. I’m starting to know what questions to ask. And boy, does that feel good.

So excuse me whilst I throw around a few more designer-lingo-words, honest, I’m not trying to show off, but I’m enjoying finally getting the hang of them.