Book: Small Gaints Companies that choose to be great instead of big // Bo Burlingham

Book: Small Gaints Companies that choose to be great instead of big // Bo Burlingham


I absolutely ravished this book. Totally loved it. It felt like I was looking into a future I want. These are the types of company I want to run and seeing that it is possible is awe inspiring.

I heard about from a Tim Ferriss Podcast, I can’t remember who it was with. It’s definitely worth a read especially if you are an entrepreneur, in a leadership position or just want to learn about how great organisations work.

“It’s a passion for what their companies do. They love it, and they have a burning desire to share it with other people. They thrive on the job of contributing something great and unique to the world”

“Corporate charisma we see in profitable companies with mojo, as well as the full range of accompanying qualities- the intimacy with employees and customers, the closeness to the community, the passion for excellence, the openness to innovation, the constant searching for new ways to do things better.”


Ira Glass on Storytelling

I stumbled on this Ira Glass, radio personality, chat on storytelling via Design Affects blog.  He has so much wisdom on creativity, storytelling and making good stuff.

He breaks down storytelling into anecdote, (sequence of actions) constantly raising and answering questions (a moment of reflection) and characters with personality.

Love when he shows how bad he was after 8 years working on the radio. It takes time. We have to learn to be forgiving of ourselves but keep going. 

And the beautiful animation by David Shiyang Lui

The cult of productivity

The cult of productivity

This brilliant article by Steven Poole on the Cult of Productivity really hit the nail on the head for me.

I’ve reached my productivity theory tipping point. I stumbled upon another productivity-esque blog and a wave of dread went over me. Not another thing to add to my ever growing list of “productive habits!”

Not another thing that’s recommended! Not another thing I’ll feel guilty about not doing!


As Steven says it’s everywhere. Everyones talking about it, governments, businesses, adults, kids….

“People boast of being busy and exhausted and eagerly consume advice from the business-entertainment complex on how to “de-fry your burnt brain,” or engineer a more productive day by assenting to the horror of breakfast meetings.”

Think of all the 10 effective strategies for (insert productivity here) that are out there.

Productivity ++++

We are constantly working, preparing to get work done, having productive down time or reading about how to be more productive.

Work hard now so you can relax when you retire.

“Exercise,” advises one business magazine feature. “It makes you more productive.” In a perfect world, you would be getting exercise while you work—standing desks and even treadmill desks are sold as magical productivity enhancers.”

My friend had some great advice. She said we need to realise that there are no absolutes, just other peoples projections.

Finding and sensing what works for you is key. We’re all different, all have different lives. Some days you just feel like doing nothing. And that’s alright!

I love all these productivity things, find them quite interesting. But if I did them all I would have no time. As Steven writes-

“All that time saved by knowing the exact location of the baseball cap you want to wear will surely add up, earning you hours more freedom to hunt and hoard ever more productivity tips, until you are a purely theoretical master at doing nothing of value in the most efficient way imaginable.”

It’s time we rethink this cult of productivity and start taking proper time to ourselves…. and not for the sake of being more productive (check out my post on making time).

What I learned from starting and quitting a social enterprise

What I learned from starting and quitting a social enterprise

In my last post I wrote about why it’s alright to quit. Here are some things I learned from starting and quitting a social enterprise.
Your vision is what people buy into. 
“People love to be challenged with idealism” Tim O’reilly.
I was constantly amazed by just how much people connect to a human story.
It’s easy to start focusing on money, when you realise you aren’t making any, and you’re working several jobs to make this work. But what people invest in is the vision, the story.
Your purpose tells you what to say no to.
This was the advice we got from a chat with a Glasgow social entrepreneur.
Starting a business you probably have a million ideas like we did. Knowing what to focus on is really important. Energy follows attention. So focus on what you can optimise.
Purpose is not the same as the why. It’s what you are trying to change. The impact your business wants to make on the world. It can be as simple as Debbie Millmans
“I try to make the supermarket more beautiful”
Founders need to learn let go.
I’ve now worked with several founders and they are amazing people. The dedication, energy, passion is unmatched. Every moment is spent thinking about, talking about or working on their business. And they cannot let go of their baby!
Steve Jobs was notorious for this. He was involved right down to the last detail. For your sanity and those you work with, letting go is important. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you
Then TRUST them.
Trust them to do their work well.
The reality is that not every founder can grow the business, it takes a very different set of skills. The smart thing can be to let others take charge they might surprise you. Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso did this. She stepped down as CEO this year to focus on creative and brand marketing, where her passions and talents can be best used.
Be clear about partnership roles from start.
Again this was advice I got before we got started.
Ask each other where your strengths and interests lie, what each person sees for the company and be honest. As a team we all had very different passions, this should have meant that we could work perfectly together. It takes work to balance this and overtime I realised that we weren’t equally contributing to decisions.
If you decide on an equal partnership, set ground rules for what that actually means. What is the decision-making process? What happens if you don’t all agree?
Make sure everyone in the team is heard and heard equally.
Japanese companies start with the lowest ranking person speaking first at meetings and the highest ranking person speaking last. This is one way.
Creating space for people to speak up honestly is important.The people pleaser like myself will only speak up when asked what they think. The introvert may have the best ideas, unless you ask them and then listen, you may never know.
Decide and set the company culture early on.
I recently finished reading Small Giants Companies that choose to be great instead of big by Bo Burlingham. It’s an inspiration. It showed me that successful companies with mojo focus on creating an intimacy with customers and employees and are embedded in their community. This comes along with the usual passion for excellence and openness to innovation. It’s a process and continuous act, just saying it doesn’t make it true.
Enterprise is a creative act and you can create whatever you want. Whatever culture you want. And I want a working environment like the Small Giants with passionate, creative people who have space to grow.
Understand your risk aversion and liability…
Just like in investing you need to know just how much risk and liability you are willing to take on (this was much less than I thought!)
Trying to make change isn’t simple….
It’s a moral rainbow. You may think is right, someone else could be equally convinced it is wrong. I don’t feel comfortable with the current enterprise is the way to solve Africa’s problems, aid is bad drive but there are many that absolutely think it’s the way forward.
There isn’t one way, you just have to experiment till you find the one that works for you, the communities you are working with and the problem you are trying to solve.
Find people and organisations you admire and study them…
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” Mark Twain.
I really agree with Mark Twain, we get caught up thinking we’ve come up with the most original idea ever. There’s no one doing what we’re doing.
There is always someone you can look up to. Work out what they do well, what they don’t do well and learn from them.
Starting a business with a team makes your life a lot easier….
As Y Combinator say “a startup is too much work for one person”
I learned that there is so much involved in starting a business and if you can do it with other people it’s much better.  To share the load with. Like me you may be working to earn an income while building your startup. Working with a team means you can share the load. They’ll have skills you wont have. You can bounce ideas of each other…
Finally taking the time to reflect… and look forward is vital
I’ve learned this from one of the companies I work with. Getting into the habit of looking back on where you’ve come from and where you want to go is really important.
A mentoring session we had really revealed this to me. We were asked these questions
  1. Given what we’ve done up till now what do you feel?
  2. What have you done right?
  3. What could you do better?
  4. What organisations do we aspire to be like?
  5. Within reason where would we like to be in 1 year, 3 years, 6 years…
Do it every couple of months and record it. You’ll be amazed by what you learn.
Looking for a mission statement inspiration, read the 8 word mission statement.
images (1)
Have you started and quit your own business I’d love to know your experience 🙂
Why its OK to quit your social enterprise

Why its OK to quit your social enterprise

I quit my first business when I was 15. It was an eBay store, Sweet Talk. Reselling 10p books I bought at my local library and over stock car chargers from my Dads shop. I loved it. Keeping track of the finances, paypal, speaking to customers.

I’d read Rich Dad Poor Dad and had been truly bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Then GCSE’s started and I found it was difficult to balance the two. So Sweet Talk closed.

I quit my latest business a couple of months ago. This was meant to be the one. I’d had a bit of an epiphany in my final year of architecture at uni and realised that I was passion about using design to make a positive impact. Luckily I had a friend who shared the same idea and we decided to set up together. We were then asked by a friend who ran a charity with the same mission to join and set up a social enterprise with the charity.

It could not have been more perfect. We were setting up with a well established organisation. One that we loved, with a great reputation and experience.So we started our social enterprise.

The first months were amazing, we were moving forwards fast. Had projects opening up, got an amazing office space for free.

Then a big project fell through and suddenly we were re-examining the business model and looking at taking a very different direction. The only problem was I wasn’t comfortable with this

I tried convincing myself that I could work around it. Did lots of research looking at both sides, still wasn’t convinced. Raised my objections to my colleagues who had answers for every problem I could see, still didn’t feel right.

Then the thought hit me. Maybe I could just quit.

I felt guilty.
I’ll be letting everyone down!
I was afraid.
What will I do next? What if I’m wrong and its a huge success?
I felt like I was giving up.
Maybe if I try harder to like it or to convince the team of my point.

But in my gut I could feel it wasn’t right and it was time to move on. Speaking to my family and friends I realised that it was fine. The world wasn’t going to end on this decision.

It is easy to feel as though there’s something wrong with you for wanting to quit. All the stories we see are of successful people who never quit. No matter what. That’s why they are a success we are told.

Our culture is obsessed with perseverance, productivity and positivity.

Entrepreneurship embodies all this. It is the holy grail. The solution to all the worlds problems.

“winners never quit and quitters never win”
Quotes like this don’t make it easier
But its okay to quit
 quitting can be good
quitting isn’t the same as giving up.

Sometimes that path just isn’t right for you….
 It didn’t feel right for me, I didn’t believe in the new vision and story. I felt that there was a better way to achieve our social aims, and we were focusing on the wrong problem.

 But the path was right for my colleagues who are still continuing on. And I’m sure they will succeed. It just wasn’t for me.

Like Blake Lively who recently closed her online shop Preserve because “it wasn’t making a difference in peoples lives,’ social and ethical businesses can feel like everything. You personally invest in the vision. You want to save the world and it is a blow to realise it’s not quite what you want or even agree with.
Things had changed and with the information I now had, I could make a new decision.

To step out of the way…
Although conflict can be good, I didn’t want to be the “no” person. I realised if I couldn’t be passionate, it was better to get out of the way and allow people with that drive to continue.
…. pass on the baton. 

I have always been a believer in trying things. That’s one reason I’ve kept working for other social enterprises (as well as needing to pay the bills!)

Being able to see other ways of doing opened my eyes. I could work out what suits me and transfer learnings between the organisations.

I learned so much from the social enterprise. I learned a lot from leaving too. I learned that the method is as important to me as the problem the business is trying to solve. (Check out my next blog post for more learnings)

So if you’re thinking about quitting your business, job, project or whatever else. Think carefully about it and then go with your instinct. It’ll steer you right. And if you later realise it wasn’t the right choice. You can change your mind.

Quitting is not giving up.
It’s an opportunity to start again.
This time with more info.
Here are some great articles on quitting


 8/10 businesses fail within their first year so quitting is more common than we think
Weeks learnings/ discoveries 29.04.15

Weeks learnings/ discoveries 29.04.15

I love this collection of photographs of famous artists and their studios. It’s fascinating to see how the spaces they work in.
I signed up for Seth Godin’s course for Freelancer Course on Udemy. I’m looking forward to learning pearls of wisdom from him.
Seth Godin’s post on overcoming irrational fears. ‘Habits are more powerful than fears.’
Great interview with Mark Zuckerberg at the Y Combinator 2012.
I recently discovered the Jungalow, the beautiful blog by Justina Blakeney. It’s an inspirational design blog with some great tips like how to style shelves with personality.
Some lovely style options for natural haircuts on Huffington Post.
Weeks learnings/ discoveries 20.04.15

Weeks learnings/ discoveries 20.04.15

Some trends in corporate social responsibility. A great tip I learned this week from a new friend is to ask potential partners to invest in your cause.

Some interesting case studies and approaches from Ripple Strategies on how to use the media for change

This brilliant guide to organising finances and the UK self assessment system from Freelance Parents. It’s for the UK tax system but there are some great tips on record keeping & saving for your tax bill. It has become my go to guide as I start my first freelance tax return.

Great steps to digital hygiene from Seth Godin “spend the most creative part of your day creating not responding”. I’ve already stopped all notifications on my phone.

DoSomething guide to getting corporate sponsors to love you. The key thing I learned is that research is key. Tailor your proposal to each organisation in order to stand out from the crowd. It’s not just for them to help you but also how can you help them

The weekly freelance schedule from Studio Meroe, some brilliant tips on planning your week. Monday research and inspiration, Tuesday business and finance, Wednesday social media, Thursday marketing and networking and Friday organising. Some great tips, it reminds me of Jessica Hirsche’s Admin Monday.

This brilliantly funny guide to the 7 sins of humanitarian douchery made my weekend!

I went back to Salsa this week after a year and discovered muscle memory :-).
Weeks learnings/ discoveries 12.03.15

Weeks learnings/ discoveries 12.03.15

I started listening to Your Dreams my Nightmares. It’s a great podcast I’ve heard about a couple of times but only just started listening to. Illustrator Sam Weber interviews illustrators about their work, lives and how they got where they are. I particularly liked the discussion with Kaye Blegvard on how addictive praise can be “praise vampires”. They focused on feedback online and how it has little or no context, everything is presented on its own and the feedback you get has no context.

interesting article on Impact Design Hub’s blog about the less travelled career path of public interest design. As someone who decided after graduating to take this path it was good to see that we all have similar experiences.

I saw this description on Good Partipation of incentive in participation, inviting people to take part and it made me think.

An invitation does not guarantee that participants will attend or take part. What’s the reason why someone would want to be a part of your experience? What’s more – how do you make it irresistible to join? The starting point is to know the audience, identifying specific people or groups of people, understanding their personal characteristics and motivations to take part in the experience on offer.
Inspiring talk by Tina Roth Eisenberg the best way to complain is to make.

Insightful thoughts from Brian Eno on ideas and surrendering. The way art offers a way of surrendering.

“The big mistake is to wait for inspiration, its not so much creating something but noticing when it is starting to happen”
“Everything we call character is deviation from what we call perfection”

I stumbled on a definition of environmental graphic design, a field I know little about but sounds fascinating. It is as a design profession that encompasses many design professions including graphic design, architecture and industrial design. It is concerned with aspects of way finding, communicating identity and brands, information design and shaping a sense of place.

This made me also look up a definition of Service Design a field I’m also starting to learn about since taking part in the Global Service Jam. Service design is the activity of planning and organising people, infrastructure, communication and material aspects of a service to improve it’s quality and the interaction between the service provider and customers.

Great Lecture by Nina Simon on participatory practice in Art. It’s a long talk but worth the listen. There was an interesting point made at the end about the lack of central places online to look for participatory arts, design or architecture. This is something I’ve noticed when I tried to find references for my individual project on my community arts course.

Andy J Miller has a great post on how to be a happy creative on his tumblr;

1. Refuse to see your entire life either as a success or failure

2. Make something everyday

3. Be authentic

4. Know your purpose

5. Address and defeat your fears

8 things I learned from Architecture School

8 things I learned from Architecture School

Architecture school is definitely an experience like no other. I ended up going to 3 schools, in London, Glasgow and Vienna. A mix of traditional universities and arts schools, each with it’s own approach. Architecture students were the same everywhere working all day and sometimes night, the studio’s buzzing with chat and creativity. I ended up making some life long friends and learning a lot not only about design but about an approach to life. Here are some great things I learned from architecture school.


1. Presentation is important

Not only how you talk about your work but also how you visually depict it. We live in a highly visual age and if you can explain your idea visually it makes a huge impact. I also found that how you talk about your work makes a difference to how it’s perceived. It’s about having confidence in your ideas and work.

2. There is no correct answer

There are of course some things that you see that make no sense but good design is highly subjective, it takes for every to realise this but with creative courses like architecture there is no right answer. We all bring our own perspective that is formed by our experiences. This can be hard to see sometimes because each school has their own way of thinking about design, be it contextual, theoretical, narrative based or technical.

3. Choose your heroes carefully

every school has the people or offices they reference constantly and you absorb them by osmosis. The internet also make it easy to spend time swiping through beautiful photographs of buildings but a photograph cannot tell you as much as actually visiting the building can do.

4. Failure is part of learning

I failed second year and at the time it felt like the worst thing, however it ended up being a fantastic opportunity to take time away from intense study, explore what I wanted to do and even earn some money. I ended up learning so much in that time.

5. Fear is stifling

Some architecture schools seem to think they need to put the fear of God in students. Separate the wheat from the chaff, e.t.c, but I truly believe that fear is the biggest killer of creativity. It causes people to play it safe it afraid to take risks in case they “fail.” But failing is a step to succeeding.

6. How to do late nights

This is definitely one of the first things you learn at architecture, how to stay up all working all night. Especially around final deadlines and reviews. You end up sleeping in the studio and drinking a lot of energy drinks. It’s almost a badge of honour for architecture students and even working architects.

7. To have a life outside of the studio

I found that doing things outside of the studio gave me so much balance and perspective. I took salsa classes, joined the fashion society and took classes in other departments when I could. It was a tough one because architecture students like medical students often stick with people from their course and the intense hours make it almost impossible to do anything outside the course.

8. Don’t wait for permission

It took me till my final year, when I decided to do my final project on a slum in Lagos, Nigeria. I was on exchange in Vienna and the thesis tutor asked us to say the first project that came to our head when we thought about what we wanted to do. It was so refreshing to learn to just go for it, trust my instincts and not worry about how it’d end up. It was amazing.

Here’s a great post on Archi-ninja of the 10 things they don’t teach you in architecture school.

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