Innovation Thinking

Essential Technology Work Tools (Nov 2018)

Here’s our preferred current core ‘technology stack’ at work:


Trello is our core project management tool.

It has become our central dashboard to running our business. We are power-users at our Firm so we track everything into and via Trello.

All tasks are set up as cards and passed through the Kanban-style workflow process. Boards are linked to other boards so that everything can be seen at the touch of a button.

We know internally where all work is up to, what’s outstanding and what’s been done – all clear from one central dashboard.


Slack is the ’email-killer’.  It is a great way to communicate both internally and externally with clients (in shared channels).

So much more intuitive and user-friendly than email.


When you have to use email, it’s still the best out there.

We just use the normal Gmail client user interface. We’ve trialled different ‘front-ends’ but keep coming back to Gmail primarily due to the add-ons and extensions that can be built in (e.g. into Trello, Slack, Loom etc).


The best way of communicating with clients for calls. It can be used both for video and teleconference calls. So much more reliable than Skype. Nice integrations with Google Calendar to set up Zoom meetings directly via calendar invitations too.

There’s a decent free plan.

Loom / Soapbox

Good for quick video screen recordings or short presentations. Both are free in their basic form.

Soapbox is provided via Wistia and is marginally better, but the downside is that you can’t download videos unless you upgrade to their fairly expensive annual subscription.


Great for quick ‘on-the-fly’ screen-grabs and short GIF demos or how-to explainers. Works well with a Chrome extension and lightening fast.


A simply awesome ‘bridge’ to make your favourite apps or online tools (like those above), talk to one another.

Really intuitive, with no coding skills required. Automation at your fingertips. Mind blown…

Which technology tools couldn’t you live without in your business?

Chat with Ian Sanders: Entrepreneur, Writer, Author, Ideas guy

Ian Sanders Chat from Business N2K on Vimeo.

Here is a talk with Ian Sanders (entrepreneur, writer, published author and all round ideas guy) on business, entrepreneurship, story-telling, productivity, education and making it as a successful business in 2013.

Please note that this talk was recorded back in Feb 2013 and is now released having solved some technical issues – entirely my fault ;)

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Fancy playing Business Card Roulette?

RolodexSo just imagine, we meet at a networking event and you proudly pass me your business card. I reach into my inside jacket pocket and pull out a bundle of assorted business cards – some slightly dog-eared and others like new – and wriggle one out from under the tightly bound elastic band.

I pull a pen out of my other pocket and proceed to scribble my name, number and email address on the card.

This was evidently someone else’s card that had previously been passed to me.

I proudly hand over my DIY business card commenting:

“Here are my hand-written contact details – I prefer to recycle the business cards I’ve received to keep the owners’ contact details in constant circulation; you never know, you might find them useful too. If you do, please let them know that I passed on their details – in fact, if it’s not too much trouble, why not drop them a line anyway? Their card was the first one I picked for you so fate might deal its hand to your mutual advantage (again)….”

Think of all of those business cards languishing in drawers or under desks that could be brought back into service. If you’re anything like me you will have used the business cards to connect on Linkedin and now have no need for the card itself.

Business Card Roulette could hold the key to increasing the leverage from the endangered business card whilst also allowing for some random acts of kindness and serendipity.

This is an idea inspired by a reference made in Blake Mycoskie’s excellent book, Start Something that Matters – Blake of TOMS Shoes fame.

How’s about it? Fancy starting a [business card roulette] movement!

Let me know how you get on.

#businesscardroulette #bcroulette

Image credit: Creative Commons License Ged Carroll via Compfight

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The Don’t Be a Banker scholarship!

We were busy running off a grant report for one of our tech startups when we stumbled across this inspired scholarship opportunity from Mint digital:

“The Don’t Be a Banker Scholarship – £4,000 – aimed at steering talented graduates away from a career in banking”

I originally thought it must be some kind of joke but its for real. What a fantastic idea!

The blurb states that the grant is also available for those graduates seeking to join large consulting firms so perhaps, if this had been released earlier, it could have “saved me from myself” too…..

Bad news: I understand the timelimit for applications has closed. Boo hoo

Oil Regeneration: A slick idea!

Whilst the herd frantically invests in oil futures to protect against rising oil prices, it is both refreshing and inspiring to see stories of the few who are prepared to think differently. In this case, to not only regenerate oil so there is some left for future generations, but also to take steps to reduce the amount of plastic waste that needlessly fills our landfill sites the world over.

Your lucky oil strike might be closer than you think…

5 minutes well invested.

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Open Offices for All

How long will office work in its current form last?

Seth Godin consigns offices to history as relics of the industrial age and I’m inclined to agree – but with an important twist.

I believe that offices do still have an important role to play in providing a place for human interaction at its most basic level. People who work from home often caveat the sense of freedom with a loss of interaction, communication and camaraderie with fellow colleagues. There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction but whether this is necessary from 9-5.30 every week day is up for debate?

I would like to propose an alternative mode of working.

First, let me question one basic assumption: why is that every city centre or town is filled with offices each separately occupied by different businesses e.g. a team of lawyers in one office, web developers in another office, accountants in another, PR agents in another, a startup in another and so on?

What if we mixed it up? So we have an office of ‘hot desks’ occupied by a lawyer, tech startup entrepreneur, financial or business advisor, digital agency marketing employee or whoever else is in town that day all sat side-by-side. Just think how much these skilled workers could learn from one another simply by sitting and (indirectly) working together. New business and client relationships could be built. New networks established. Cross-pollination of ideas leading to new services and products etc. 

Sure, business organizations could retain a hub or office where they meet but this could be for one or two days a week. The rest of the working time could be invested in these mixed community offices.

Tech communities are starting to build this approach with the likes of Techhub that has recently opened in the South, Daresbury Innovation Park in the NW and many other tech / science parks but my sense is that these are subject to more rigid criteria of accepting fledging tech businesses only. I believe we need a more fluid approach to doing business. Drop-in offices that become favoured haunts like local coffee shops. No necessity to turn up every day. No long term tie-ins. Open offices for all.

What do you think? Are there some good examples of this that I am missing?

Effective communication need not cost the earth

If you’ve been wandering around the streets of Manchester of late, you might have noticed a new and ingenious advertising opportunity as demonstrated by on the pavements and side-walks. cleans paving slabs using just water and a stencil to spell out each striking advertising message. Simple, eco-friendly, clean, innovative and 100 times more noticeable than a billboard!

Could this work for your business to communicate its message in a highly effective yet affordable way?

I highly recommend that you visit their website to view examples of their 3D pavement art – simply stunning. Watch this short video as a taster:

Whilst we’re on the subject of innovation and things being not quite what they seem; how about the following for a novel way of reducing road speeds:

If you saw this ahead, would it slow you down?

Likely. But you could be cunning and aim to drive so that you’re wheels straddle the pot-hole either side. To combat this, would the following slow you down?

Almost certainly, but hey it’s not very eco-friendly or cost efficient to go around digging potholes in otherwise perfectly manicured roads – unless all is not quite what its seems?

Two good examples of effective and innovative communication that need not cost the earth.

Do you have any other creative and innovative examples to share?

13 tips for attracting more luck in business

It is easier to look at successful entrepreneurs and business owners and think or say “You’re so lucky”.

But can you make your own luck in business?

Try the following:

  1. Have a clear and meaningful purpose. Shout about it.
  2. Practise (“the harder I practise the luckier I get” – Gary Player)
  3. Be clear on your vision and what you need to do to get there.
  4. Turn up and give it your all. Every day – without fail.
  5. Listen. Listen. Listen some more.
  6. Inspire a sense of fun and adventure. Be playful.
  7. Focus on what’s important. The rest is busy-being-busy-time-filling fluff.
  8. Approach all from a mindset of service. Help others first.
  9. Build the fire and the heat will come. (Never chase the heat first, aka money.)
  10. Try new stuff. Test results. Refine and reappply the stuff that works. Keep on tinkering.
  11. Love your customers. Never take them for granted as you chase that new account.
  12. Share successes with your team. Build paths to enable them to rise alongside you.
  13. Be positive (yet realistic). Always.

What have I missed?

Social learning beats innovation to business success

Business Dilemma: You can build your business by either:

  1. Copying your competitors or
  2. Striking out to develop new Blue Ocean markets.

Which is likely to be more successful?

A fascinating new study carried out by Kevin Laland of the Universtity of St Andrews (covered in The New Scientist – 1 May 2010) suggests that the former copy-cat appoach is likely to lead to greater chance of success and survival.

This is at odds with much of the wider thinking on the importance of innovation and original thought in business today.

Laland carried out an online gaming tournament (a sort of SIM City) in which gamers from across the world controlled agents. They started with 100 agents each and the challenge was to see who could develop the strongest “fittest” species of agent to dominate the virtual world. Players could choose from a variety of behaviours ranging from “innovation” to “observation” to “exploitation” at each stage of the game.

Social learning held the key to success in the game. For example, the fittest agents spent more time watching and observing other agents whilst the less successful focused more on innovating. However, there’s more to it than simply sitting and watching; the successful agents were careful in allocating the amount of time they spent observing (“between a tenth and a fifth of their time seemed to be the optimal range”) and also managing the recency of the information observed and digested.

In other words, the top performing agents observed the best and most recent traits of success on offer then were quick to implement these skills for themselves.

Building from this was the importance of ongoing learning – it was not front-loaded in the sense of: watch and learn then put into practise these new skills for the whole of the rest of the game. Rather it was more a case of watch and learn then put into practise for a bit; test results; watch and learn some more; discard out-of-date knowledge and put into practise latest learning; test results; and on and on. This brings into notion the fundamental flaws in our current system of: spend the first 16 – 21 years of life in education and then into the workforce (with all learning behind you) for the remainder..?

The corollary to this is that you still need innovators too. If there are only social learners then they will watch, observe and copy one another infinitum until the knowledge becomes so outdated that they all perish. Instead, an innovator will break the mould and successful social learners will jump on the bandwagon in “parasitic” fashion as played out in the game.

It is fascinating that so many entrepreneurs seem to think that they need to have that great idea (which incidentally rarely lands) whilst all around us are successful entrepreneurs who have built their fortunes on tried and tested business models originally developed by others.

Overall, the winner of the experiment demonstrated a canny ability to watch and learn (the right innovators) then take and apply that knowledge and behaviour. But more than this, the success  also lay in keeping a watchful eye on the ever changing environment to identify when it was time to go back to the drawing-board and find new and updated skills to copy. Then to get back out there and do it again and again and again…