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Flowers, Isles of Scilly
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Tim’s Core Values (v0.00001) – Request For Comments

I’m trying to find my personal core values. Can you help?

It takes effort to find out what those values are, and I suspect this document is about version v0.00001. Probably equal to “a vague prototype” that may change considerably.

Take a read and let me know what you think.


The ultimate goal is: happiness, and contentment at a life mindfully working towards self-fulfilment.

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I aim to:

1) Be relentlessly confident things will be ok in the end (whilst confronting the brutal facts of the situation and working out the next steps to improve it).

2) Be persistent in journey of personal growth and learning

3) Be a consistently great communicator

4) Be down to earth

  • Aspire to be humble, selfless, generous and approachable
  • Show gratitude towards those who’ve helped me
  • Acknowledge my shortcomings
  • Be slow to criticise, and quick to apologise

5) Leave other people in a better state than I found them

  • Frequently ask myself “how can I help this person enjoy life more and be a better person?”
  • Help people where possible (even if it’s just helping them meet someone who can help them)

6) Work hard to make cool things I care about happen

  • Avoid things that don’t assist the furthering of these values
  • Create a medium term plan. Make that happen. Reflect. Repeat.

I also have some thoughts that it’d be nice to have:

  • Integrity
  • A tendency towards openess and sharing
  • An element of daring – a willingness to take calculated risks
  • and a bunch of other things

But I’m not sure they fit into my values… yet? Or at least I do some of them without thinking or thinking about thinking of them?


This is version v0.00001- very much a public draft for discussion and certainly missing points that I’ll probably want to add in later.

This probably contains sloppy language I should clear up, and maybe points that are ‘obvious’ or too specific and so can be removed.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Howto make a DIY Teleprompter
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Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded”

oooh. Another one about hacking… Let’s tackle this set of values in reverse order.

In Paul Graham’s essay “What you can’t say“, he asks

Who thinks they’re not open-minded? Our hypothetical prim miss from the suburbs thinks she’s open-minded. Hasn’t she been taught to be? Ask anyone, and they’ll say the same thing: they’re pretty open-minded, though they draw the line at things that are really wrong. (Some tribes may avoid “wrong” as judgemental, and may instead use a more neutral sounding euphemism like “negative” or “destructive”.)

Based on that statement, can one ever plausibly claim to be open minded at all? 

Some people certainly seem to seek out challenging experiences and challenging viewpoints to try and gain a better understanding and learn from those experiences. Those experiences may reinforce pre-existing views, but will help them understand their pre-existing views with more clarity.

To me,  being open minded means working out where your nerves & boundaries are – exploring them, challenging them and trying to understand your values better.

Most of my life, I’ve lived in very accepting community, but when I was younger, I spent some time with an area of society where racial tensions were high, and racial slurs were social currency. It was too much. The people were good people, who I genuinely believe just want good things for themselves and their families, but I had to remove myself as I felt it rubbing off on me.

However, I came away from it a stronger person, because I understood more about my values of respect and equality – and where my limits were – something I might have otherwise been unclear about.

Recently, I spent 3 weeks living and working remotely from Sofia in Bulgaria. Whenever I visit new places – with their own ways, customs, traditions – I try to approach as non-judgementally as possible, or at least, defer judgement. It’s not “wrong”, it’s not “right” – it’s how they do things, and that’s different.

This is because there’s a good chance you’re wrong about something. You probably don’t know what it is, but whilst doing something one way may seem alien and new to you, it may well be the best thing there in that situation. You don’t know. Until you have all the information, all the background, know all the parties and reasons, it’s best to defer a value judgement and just try to understand as much as possible. One of my favourite stories about someone realising how wrong they are is this story of a train in Japan, told by an American (kindly introduced to me by David Day).

(Interestingly, trying to stay open minded is what I found hardest about in the US - much more difficult than Kyrgyzstan.)

Open-mindedness often becomes noticeable when you travel, because you often put yourself in places where you don’t know any of the details, but there are places much closer to home where you might be quick to write people off because you can’t understand how they can hold views that you disagree with so much. If you took the time to understand why they held those views, you might find you still disagree with them – but can agree to disagree…. or one of you might change your mind!


Being creative is hard… and easy. Sure I can take photographs but I think I prefer to approach the word “creative” as in “creative approach to problem solving”.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

- Steve Jobs

When I flew to Bulgaria a few weeks ago, my luggage was lost. For over 7 days I tried and tried to get someone to help, but with generally unhelpful airline contractors, nothing seemed to be happening until I was told that my bag had been in Sofia for 5 days already.

Howto make a DIY Teleprompter

Howto make a DIY Teleprompter

Still nothing happened so I made a video challenge to the CEO. The next day, my luggage arrived (yay!), and I got a call from one of the senior airline exec board members who wanted to talk about what could be done(wow!). Whether anything ultimately happens or not, that 2 minute video had more of an impact than the hours of calls and emails before.

I’ve blogged previously about other creative things, and I think – following on from the Steve Jobs quote – the trick is just be happy to take inspiration (copy!) an approach that seems to have worked elsewhere and (if appropriate), tweak it slightly and apply it to a different context. It may not work, and if it does, I can certainly sympathise with the quote – you’ll probably feel a bit of a fraud – when really you’re standing on the shoulders of giants.


I want to take “Adventurous” away from the outdoor adventure context: I like outdoor adventures, I’ve done them - it’s kind of devalued for me, and if I attempted to say “I value adventure because solo-hiking in Swedish backwoods” you might say “yes”, but I’ve set my personal bar for what seems adventurous quite high in that regard, and I’d prefer to consider the areas of life where I’m just beginning my adventures (and I don’t mean trying new adventure sports).

Living and working in a foreign country is surprisingly easy, and surprisingly hard. The difficult things – (in my case at least) were not the work (chatting with familiar UK clients on the VoIP phone!) but the basics you take for granted.

Finding vegetarian food on a menu like this is pretty straightforward - transliterate each option into Google translate til you get something good. No problem!

Finding vegetarian food on a menu like this is pretty straightforward – transliterate each option into Google translate til you get something good. No problem!

For example, imagine that going to the supermarket becomes an experience where there is a possibility, it could be an adventure.

Imagine you just want to buy some food – you find what you want and head to the checkout. You mutter a greeting to the cashier who starts to scan your stuff. He asks you (in Bulgarian) if you want a bag (and you understand because of body language). You say “да” (“da”/yes) and instinctively nod. He asks you again. Again you say  ”да” and instinctively nod. He asks you again. Again you say  ”да” and instinctively nod.

This is the moment that you realise that Bulgaria is one of the few countries in the world which has reverse head nods and shakes. Shaking your head indicates an affirmative, whilst nodding indicates a negative.

So now you’ve thoroughly confused him and realised how, you yet lack the language skills to explain why or how this happened, to effectively apologise for the faff or. Eventually, you’ll get the bag, the food, pay and leave the shop. You’ll let out a big breath, and your heartrate will drop. Drama over.

Encounters with shop assistants were often the most adventurous moments of my day – the very poorly pronounced Russian that I can speak might be understood by the shop assistant, but you can bet that any non-trivial response in Bulgarian, will be completely lost on me.

As I’ve blogged before, communication challenges are the scariest (yet often most rewarding) parts of any story,

I think really most best thing about being abroad is the unexpected adventures in the mundane things. The large adventures you’re (hopefully) prepared for.

It’s the moment when your taxi driver, holding his phone to his right ear, lets go of the wheel with his left hand so he can reach across his unseatbelted body and change up to 4th gear so you can do 130kph in a 80kph limit, that make you think, “this is interesting – what actually is my risk appetite with regards to road safety”? Is he even not legally required to wear a seatbelt? Do I know anything about Bulgarian roads law? So long as nothing goes wrong, should I even care?

In my case, we arrived at the airport before I had a chance to answer those questions, and so I gave him £8 (20BGN), and mulled it over on the flight home. Since I had had a very small number of taxi rides, I decided to defer judgement. The drivers creative approach to driver might make a lot more sense if I’d be able to communicate and understand the reasons, but with only a short time, and limited understanding, I decided to keep an open mind and continue to form my opinions when I return next. :)

It was a fun trip. :)

An incredible mess of cables... or the best the engineers could do given the circumstances? You don't know til you've unraveled it.  (Kosovo 2013)

An incredible mess of cables… or the best the engineers could do given the circumstances? You don’t know til you’ve unraveled it. (Kosovo 2013)

Ben Nevis and the Carn Mor Dearg Arete
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My thoughts on Scotland

  • I support self determination of the people of Scotland.
  • I think it’s great that we can have an open and democratic conversation about it, in a civilised and peaceful manner.
  • I’m delighted by the level of engagement and thoughts people have on it, north and south of the border
  • If Scotland does become independence, I’m fearful about relations between the UK and Scotland. I hope these fears are unfounded, and I hope that, were it to happen, it would not become a source of conflict. I’m fearful because:
    • It’s really hard to separate without bad feeling:
      • was this deal negotiated in favour of one side or the other? (both will likely say the other)
      • did someone not play fair? (both sides will likely say the other)
      • it’s a very easy political manoeuvre to blame tough times, on another country – both sides may face those in the future
    • Very few countries have separated without violence, especially with a smaller unit devolving from a larger entity. Arguable the best example in recent history would be the Velvet Divorce of Czechoslovakia. I hope in the event of independence we can outdo them in peacefulness
    • I’m only afraid of bad feeling, aggressive posturing and violence. I’m hopeful that we enough shared respect and understanding for each other that this is not such an issue.
  • I’m excited by the referendum, because no matter what the result, it will have shaken up politics and engaged people in issues they care about.
    • I hope the interest and political engagement can continue to shake things up
    • I hope that each political group focus on positive ways to engage the people who are apathetic to the political system
    • I hope the quality of life in the whole of the British Isles continues to improve as fast as it has since the mid 20th century.

Really the referendum isn’t about you or me, it’s about how our children play together. I hope they’re free to play and enjoy a better life than the one we have.

No expense spared!
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Do More With Less

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Do More With Less”

Howto repair the best phone in the world

Howto repair the best phone in the world

Well, I’m an incredibly humble, world class expert shopper at Lidl – where your money buys more for less!

I should be more serious: But this is a fun one to talk about. This is basically about hacking, scrimping, making ends meet – lots of doing.

A few years ago, I used to use a Nokia 3310. Almost indestructible, but yet I managed to destruct one and crack the screen. I had another broken 3310 that wouldn’t turn on – though the screen looked alright. I set about to see if I could replace the broken screen. Unfortunately, Nokia 3310′s use torx screws, and I only had philips and flat head screwdrivers. So, using a trick learned from my dad, I sawed a groove into the top of each screw with a hacksaw – and simply them used the flathead screwdriver to unscrew them.

From that point on, it’s a trivial task of swapping the internal circuit boards around, and doing the screws back up. I got pretty good at repairing them in the end. I can’t remember exactly when I finally retired them, but I was still seen with a Nokia 3310 in 2010.


The stairway with an improvised handrail

The stairway with an improvised handrail

Finding a way through things, is just what I do. I mean, it doesn’t really occur to me that I’ve some cupboards build with scrap wood from an old bed, or that I turned the rubbish filled cellar of the house I live in, into a home office by salvaging a table, dropping several extension cords down, and setting up clip spot lamps. It’s just standard problem solving.

I guess one thing that I’m aware is less normal is a piece of functional interior design. The cellar leads down a number of uneven steps, and the bannister was long gone. Replacing the bannister looked like a real faff, so instead, I got two big loops, and screwed them securely at the top and bottom of the stairs, and hung a thick, knotted rope between them – so that people walking down the stairs can steady themselves with a hand on an overhead rope.

Flawless? Certainly not.

Functional? Definitely.

Characterful? I’d say so.

There’s a bunch of other things like this in this blog post about growing up without a TV.


When it comes to tech, the easiest way you can do more with less is just to use slightly older hardware and open source. I’m pretty good at that. Apparently the company laptop I’m writing this blog post on was made in 2011 – but I don’t care – to me it is pretty fantastic and does all I want from a laptop. It runs Debian with awesomewm, and the concept of buying software I can’t just install with a sudo apt-get install is foreign to me. I self-host a lot of things (like this blog!), but there are also services I pay to have managed for me. There’s a pragmatic line to tread.

I guess some people might arguing that getting a job without a degree is doing more with less. I think I dispute that – the degree was never the requirement – just the maturity, knowledge of area, and attitude.


One of the pragmatic lines I tread relates to travel. I cycle round Manchester most of the time, but occasionally I take a taxi or a train. I still find that to cheaper (and more comfortable) than owning and insuring a car.

Lots of things are about tradeoffs between different things – travelling is a good example. Hitchhiking is certainly the cheapest form of transport, but often the least reliable. Flying is often the fastest, but probably most expensive. It’s good to always be aware of the options because sometimes you find that, the cheaper options can be the most fun, or something be advertised at an unbeatable price.


In business, being able to hack the way around problems is great trait. Especially if the problem is “limited funds”. We might be talking something as simple as sleeping on a friends floor whilst you go to a conference, or just watching lots of conference talks on youtube rather than paying for a conference ticket. It might be about working from your bedroom, sharing office space, skimping on furniture, reading second hand books. There’s an almost endless stream of options.

In sysadmin, this probably means automation. One well known digital rights commentator whose website once hit the reddit frontpage 3 times at once, told me that he hosted the site’s server at home on the balcony of his flat to keep it cool, with the site served behind a CDN.


I like doing more with less. It often can be a fun challenge – though it’s often wise to take a pragmatic view – weigh up a range of options and take the option that’s best for you. Doing more with less doesn’t always mean spending the smallest amount of money.

This is where we are, this is where we're going
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Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication”

This is a tough one to blog about, because anecdotes, by definition – no matter what the nature of the relationship, is always going to be very personal – between me and them. It’s kind of a shame, because anecdotes about open communication are often some of the best, but I’m struggling to think of any I want to write about online!

Great communication isn’t just about making sure everything you just said is understood, but about making sure you understand the other person’s position, and making sure you’re both working towards the same goal.

It’s not too complicated really though; the best relationships – working, personal, families, friendships – whatever the context, are ones that involve being honest, and clear, and proactively communicating things. Often it can be that you’re fearful of how someone might respond to something, and actually the fear is completely unjustified.


I guess a good example my be in the context of a mountaineering expedition. There’s two of you, presumably friends, in a remote place seeking to climb a thing.

Communication is the key – if you need a rest, you need to explain you need a rest (as opposed to just sitting down), if your partner needs a rest, giving them an opportunity to tell you that (because you’re walking next to them, rather than 500m in front) will work best.

If your partner feels that you’re taking too many rests, or is concerned about the progress you’re making a team, they can make things better by saying so. Often the most difficult things to say are things like this: “I feel we’re not making enough progress. Is there anything I can do to make things easier for you? Can I carry something perhaps?”

This is where we are, this is where we're going

This is where we are, this is where we’re going

You might be in situations where one person can speak a local language, and the other cannot, and so in a conversation where the linguist was negotiating a meal, he might choose the appropriate moment to relay that on to his friend, to give his friend confidence in the situation. After a while, they might trust each other enough to know that the linguist would do the talking, whilst the other person did something else – but only once they’d built up some trust between them.


Learning to communicate, under pressure, in a non-confrontational, problem-solving way like that is a fantastic skill.

Often, if you communicate clearly about how you’re finding things, and what your thoughts are – particularly when it comes to fears, worries, nerves, frustration – then as a team you can work on them to solve them. Often the things that seem like a big deal, once communicated openly, are actually nonissues.

Sometimes there are issues, but communicating well (and in some cases over communicating – reiterating and saying things that may not be necessary, just in case they are) can make things much easier – because you’ll both respect the others ease of communication, and honesty and frankness.

Often other people aren’t as good at communication as you, so you can help them, and help your relationship with them by offering them lots of opportunities to tell you their thoughts. In a mountaineering context, you might ask your slow walking friend how they were finding it, or where they were looking forward to reaching.


Communication is the key to all social units of people. Learn about communicating, and how you can do it, and you’ll get good at building relationships surprisingly quickly.

Reflect in nature
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Make Time to Reflect

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Make Time to Reflect”

My favourite way to reflect is solo hiking. The fewer people the better.

Some people have told me that going deep inside their head, and being just with themselves is scary. I respect and understand that, but I find I’m the one person I can always trust, always have time for and is always happy to spend a long time on thinking.

That’s the foreveralone manifesto is right there. ;)

But as Paul Buchheit has said, “Walking in nature helps”, and it does.


When I spent 12 days, solo hiking round through Northern Sweden one year (and didn’t see another person for a 5 day stretch at one point), I didn’t take any books. Instead, mentally I contemplated a number of topics that I later wrote up into a series of blog posts.

Once on a solo cycle touring trip, I remember lying in the tent, designing video live-streaming systems.

I do enjoy great conversations whilst walking in nature, but one of the great things about the solitude is leaving your brain with the minimum to concentrate on. There are very few interrupting distractions, there’s very little to think about apart from where to put your feet, whether you’re walking in the right direction, and when you can have your next rest.

Solo hiking is fun.


But reflection isn’t just in the execution. Reflection is also in the theory. I’ve found that reflecting on my current goals on a regular basis, and tracking my progress helps me remain focused, and helps be check I’m on the right path. It might be that when I think about it, the end-goal which seemed sensible at the start, isn’t relevant anymore – but at least then I’d know not to worry about it anymore.

Often I find, at moments of conflict where it’s easy to respond instantly, it’s wiser to take some time to reflect, and think about the situation. lots of sleep often helps a great deal.


I remember a story I once heard about someone, let’s call him “Jim”, who went to his friend “Rob” and said “My business is failing. I’m trying to do all these things, but everyone wants me. I’m not sure what to do. Help?”
His friend Rob suggested that instead of focusing on one thing or the other, or replying to emails from only these peoples. he should go on holiday.
He went on holiday, and when he returned, he knew exactly what to do, how to deal with it all, and set about making it happen like a new man.


It’s always worth taking time to reflect. I like hiking, but meditation is also well recommended (and much easier to do frequently). You might err away from that level of hippiness, though people often find it helps them separate and steer their thoughts, so they can choose when and what to think about.

Reflect in nature

Reflect in nature

Learning Russian
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Pursue Growth and Learning

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Pursue Growth and Learning”

I love that this value can apply to personal growth and development and business growth and development. (Whilst it might not always be appropriate value for, say, a community enterprise that really doesn’t want to grow significantly, if growth is part of the plan, then focusing on it is very wise.)


In a business situation, pursuing growth seems logical, but codifying it as an aim – makes it clear that the business doesn’t want to stagnate, and seeks continual improvement in everything it does..

If you view everything as an experiment with aims to increase growth and learning, then it means everything you do will have a positive outcome if you grow and/or learn from it.

If you take that to the extreme, it’s the Lean Startup Methodology. You may not want to apply it to everything you do to the extreme – but even

“We tried putting tea cakes in the toaster. It sort of worked, but now the toaster smokes a lot, so work out another way to toast your teacakes or work out a way to do it less smokily.”

is something learned from an experiment.


When you’re making things happen:

  • Pursuing growth is good
    • because it means you can work out how to help more people
    • makes you think about learning how you can grow
  • Pursuing learning is good
    • because you can understand what drives your customers, and what it is you’re doing that makes your customers really happy
    • because you can understand what drives your growth (maybe you want to pause your growth engine whilst you understand better what drives your existing customer from satisfied to super happy)

This is something I epically failed to understand a few months ago, which caused me to re-examine my approach to learning, and to look carefully at what I didn’t know about.


Books I've read this year

Books I’ve read this year

I didn’t have a smooth relationship with my schooling, so it was well after I’d left formal education before I realised I’d been learning for fun for a long time!

Academia and I didn’t manage to align perfectly, and the medium in which most academia is conducted (thorough literary explanations, rather than applying the learning to real life problems) didn’t work perfectly for me.


Possibly one of the more useful things I learnt from school was a lecture on how it’d be useful for to evaluate areas you’d like to improve, and then rather than just say “try harder” at, say French vocab learning, to put some plans down in concrete steps: “I’m planning to improve learning french vocab by making flash cards with each set of words, and learning each set of flash cards”.

Turning a set of intentions into the concrete next steps, and then applying them with the best discipline, can really help work towards goals.

I guess my aims for this year, and my commitments from 2013201220102009 to reflect on how things went, and plan where I want to grow myself have been quite helpful. Of course, this year, I’m staying slightly more on top of things, by reviewing things every 3 months.


My preferred way of learning has often been to have a go – make a breakable toy project around a problem or desire I had, and play around with it. I guess there’s been loads of these projects that quietly concluded, and from each of these experiences, I’ve learnt something about how to do things, how hard some things are, what works, what doesn’t, what interests me, what is quickly really dull. Sometimes weekend hacks, turn into larger things, like jobs, and often just trying to learn more about things helped guide ones path in the right direction.


One of my aims for this year is to read 24 books. I’ve not said whether they have to be fact or fiction, but currently my preference is very heavily on nonfiction that will help me understand more about things I’ve naive to. I don’t think the goal is super ambitious – it’s just meant to be achievable.


A word on TV:

I have an almost certainly slightly unfair and limiting mantra that TV limits learning, but what I suspect this comes from is that while *I* find TV entertaining, there’s rarely anything super informative in any field I want to learn about. For nonfiction, it’s just a less efficient knowledge transfer medium compared to text .

This means I almost never watch TV. This week, I watched the same amount of TV as I watch last week: 0 hours.

I like entertainment, but I tend to choose to have that in the form of action sports like hiking. :)

Thistles
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Be Humble

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Be Humble”

This is really hard. Like, really hard.

It’s particularly hard to explain in a blog post how good you are at being humble! Err, yes. Ummm. Right.

Some people might point to candid blog posts like these and suggest they’re evidence of humbleness, I’m sort of uncomfortable talking about humbleness at all in the first person, because I think I’ve a long way to improve.


One of the ways you can instantly communicate humbleness is by trying to improve your communication. It’s incredibly easy to use words “I” and “me” a great deal in constructions like: “my thoughts are”, “I’ve found that”, “one things I’ve considered”.

There are times when this is only option, but often you can improve your relationships with people, by working out how to rethink and rephrase what you’re trying to communicate by removing yourself from the centre of the sentence. It’s surprisingly tough thing to try to do, but it can be surprisingly rewarding. My journey towards perfecting this is just beginning.


What I will say is that I think humbleness is really important. Many people who are widely disliked are the opposite of humble – arrogant, and many of the people we most enjoy looking up to are incredibly humble. In fact, the more humble, the more one directs attention away from oneself, the more is revered.

I recently watched this interview with Pharrell – the musician, and was impressed with how often he turned the interview away from himself.

If I was rewording this value, I’d be tempted to reword it as “be down-to-earth“, but I can see why “be humble” clearer in meaning and semantics.

Being unpretentiously friendly, modest yet generous is a great thing to work towards in a business or personal context.

I hope I can work further towards it over the next few years.

Look forwards

Look forwards

Looking for the answers in a teacup
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Embrace and Drive Change

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Embrace and Drive Change”

When it’s change you want – change you asked for, it’s easy to talk about embracing and driving change, but that’s only part of it.

It’s different when it’s unexpected change. Suddenly you have to do things differently (when you didn’t ask for it), suddenly things are different around you, and you realise you don’t know how to do things you previously were an expert at.

I think it’s really useful to choose a value about choosing Positivity and Happiness - that way you can take an optimistic approach to all change – which makes it a lot easier.

If you’re thinking, “this environment has changed since I first came into it, but maybe this change will help it in great ways that I don’t yet understand“, then you’re likely to be able to accept and drive the change much more easily, than if you were worried about the negative consequences.

I’m struggling quite hard to think of times that I’ve embraced change when I’ve not been one of the drivers – I guess it’s quite important for me to feel that I have a stake in the change – otherwise I don’t class it as “change to be embraced” – just “things that happened”.

Looking for the answers in a teacup

Looking for the answers in a teacup

So changes to my role at work, were embraced and driven because they directly involved me. Changes to the way software and processes worked were critically evaluated, but embraced.

I’m not sure, but I feel I don’t have enough life experience to talk much about how I’ve embraced change. I probably have done so – the tech industry has changed, I’ve changed, my friends have changed – but I can’t see examples in front of me.

I guess attempts at politics and activism reflect my desire to drive change, but I feel that the best I can come up with in the embracing bit is “sure, I embrace new technology, I use Uber“.

My feeling is that it may be that I just enjoy a constant state of change – I enjoy diversity in things I do, I enjoy hearing about positive changes to UK law, working on different projects, climbing different mountains, and going to different places.

Despite my uncertainty about whether I can say I apply it, I think this is really important and clever value to have in a business – a self-updating module in anything is always wise, as human organisations go through many changes, incarnations and phases – just like software. A value like this helps ease the organisation through those hoops and hurdles and makes the path much smoother and clearer.

What do you think?

Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.
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Listen First, Then Listen More

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Listen First, Then Listen More”

Everyday we hear things, TV, people talking to us, but how much do we listen?

Sometimes, it’s quite easy to talk – if someone tells you about their recent holiday, sometimes it’s tempting to talk to them about your recent holiday the moment you get a chance. But that’s not always what you should do.

Lots of people, starved of good listeners, find actually actively being listened to a very powerful thing. You can gain respect, make friends,  simply by listening to people.


When I tried to do politics, and stood in the 2010 general election for the Pirate Party, we learnt this the hard way.

If you ever get involved in a political campaign in the UK, you’ll find that the best way of engaging with voters, is knocking on their door. This is kind of scary the first 2-300 times, but to some degree the fear subsides.

What we came to learn was that it was much easier, and much more effective to knock on people’s door and ask them what problems they had in the neighbourhood, than knock on the door and try and get them to vote Pirate.

A couple of weeks ago, I read How to Win Friends and Influence People which pretty much codifies, and expands upon what we learnt on the streets: people like being listened to.

During a council election campaign, there was this one council house that we knocked on, and asked if they had any problems with the council. At first they said “nope, we have no problems here”, and then “well there is just one thing” and showed us an uncollected recycling bin, and then “oh well there is one more thing”, and showed a half-smashed window, and another bit where the council hadn’t made a correct modification to accommodate one disabled resident, and a string of other things. When we got back to our base, we had huge wad of issues we knew we could help them with, and we knew their life stories.

In contrast, I remember a lovely lady, I once tried to persuade to vote for me. She’d lived in the area for ~30 years, and I’d lived there for ~2, and in the nicest possible way, she batted questions at me to try and get me to justify myself. I suspect I talked myself out of her vote, simply by answering honestly. It was around then, that I decided that trying to influence politics was less enjoyable than I’d hoped, even at the best of times.


My girlfriend once described me as an extroverted introvert, and I sort of agree:

When you first meet new people, sparing using your words, and encouraging them to do the talking can help you to understand where they’re coming from and how to help them relate to you.

It’s easier this way too – you don’t have to say much, and can get a feel for what they’re interested in, and how best to respond to them.

It can even help over email.


One theoretical problem I’ve often thought about is, “if you meet someone very well known, who you respect the work of, but have little to say to, what should you say?”  What should you say if you met Tom Cruise, or Katy Perry or David Beckham or someone?

It’s complicated, but, my feeling is that relying on pieces of wisdom like these can help:

“Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something.”

-Plato

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

-Abraham Lincoln


When it comes to customers, and business, encouraging customers to talk about things that they care about can make a great deal of difference. I like rock climbing, and I was looking over this customer’s website, and I noticed the person I was talking to was also a climber, so I asked them where they’d been recently. It was as if I’d opened a floodgate – suddenly they were recommending me places to go to develop my climbing, and suddenly it felt like we were communicating on a friend-to-friend basis, rather than a business-to-business.

Another memorable moment is once when I went to a customer site to work out how we could help them. Talking about the tech they were building, where they were, where they were going, what their challenges were made a real impression on them. I thought I was just sort of gathering information, somehow, by being interested and asking them questions about how they planned to do things, they were delighted to have someone to explain it to. They took me through these details, those plans – and by the time we left, I understood a great deal about their system. The customer was so happy, they broadcasted on social media about it, and still remembered it a few years afterwards.

I think it’s also relevant if someone has some criticism aimed at you, or something you’re in control of. Going and giving them your full attention, and saying “you’re absolutely right, this does sound serious – thanks for bringing it to my attention – I’d like you to tell me all about it”, can make someone feel a lot more valued, and pacified. Do that with enough passion, and it’s completely possible to turn their relationship with your business from frustration to love.


Listening is more difficult than it sounds, but you can learn to do it, and it makes people happy. :)

Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.

Listen to the users. If they want chalk, let them draw.