IMG_1638

How much money is the ideal amount of wealthy?

We’re taught that annual salary/’the amount of wealth’ we have is something that matters, so if we’re going to devote our lives towards working towards something, it makes sense to think about it carefully.

If you say “Would you like to be richer?” to people, most people will easily answer “yes”.

Ask people – “How much money (in GBP) do you think is the ideal amount of wealthy?” – say by specifically how much, and it becomes an order of magnitude harder to answer.


Perhaps the most interesting thing about this question is not what is the ideal amount of money, but what you think is the ideal amount of money.

Recently there was an article that at first glance is designed to enrage you (“‘We earn £190k a year. Do we need to sell our flat to afford private school fees?'”) and maybe it does – and yet perhaps there’s a powerful lesson to be learnt: “no matter how much cash you have, you can still be really stressed”.

There’s another lesson there too: “and when you have more than everyone else, people are less sympathetic to your stress”.

Another thing you don’t expect is something Paul Graham mentioned:

And one of the many weird little problems you discover when you get rich is that a lot of the interesting people you’d like to work with are not rich. They need to work at something that pays the bills. Which means if you want to have them as colleagues, you have to work at something that pays the bills too, even though you don’t need to. I think this is what drives a lot of serial entrepreneurs, actually.

You think you can see the upsides, can you also see the downsides?

So it’s worth considering – the question: “How much money (in GBP) do you think is the ideal amount of wealthy?”.


I’ve thought about this question a great deal, and I still don’t know my answer.

Having spoken to people in less economically developed countries who earn an order of magnitude less than me, my sense is that it’s difficult for them to imagine life could be stressful when earning what I do – and when my salary is a 10x multiple of theirs – you can see how it could be tough.

Put in perspective, it seems like the easiest way for me to answer the question isn’t to answer it at all – and to wholly separate wealth from happiness. Whilst this can’t be easy to take to heart, I think this must the right way.

I guess you can link wealth with quality of life, but it seems unwise to link wealth with happiness directly.


For anyone else, it really comes down to the much harder question “What do you want from life?”. “What would you do or want *if* you had tons of cash? Once you know that, you’ll know find it easier to answer this question.


How would you answer it? What do your friends say?


P.s. I think my answer to “What do you want from life” is “an enjoyable journey” – but that’s another blog post

My favourite parts of Upfront Mini 2015

Yesterday I was lucky to attend Upfront Mini – a smallish (150 person!) one day conference about Front End Web development – the parts that appear in your browser!

I particularly liked this part of the introduction:

First up was Lily Dart talking about how the skills of a good designer: empathising, taking responsibility etc are also the skills of a good leader:

I don’t write front end code. I wish I could, but my role is that well known sweet spot between systems administration, user research and sales, and so like everyone else – I was there to learn. Being able to understand, empathise and mentor customers and colleagues is a really useful skill and I strongly agreed with some of her points.

Her slides are here:


I enjoyed Sam Beckham’s talk about the Polymer library and Web Components.

Most of my front-end experience was gained 5-10 years ago, in xhtml 4.0 where you felt lucky if you avoided a frameset so I find HTML5 (and Web Components in particular) mindtwistingly futuristic – perhaps how the internet must feel to people who group in the era of letters and telephone operators.

By chance I read this great article about web components the night before the conference, and Polymer is a library (a HTML library actually – how about that?!) that makes Web Components easier.

In the most basic, layman’s terms (probably with inaccuracy and missed subtly), Web Components are a way to create snippets of html, and call them back later in a simpler form – perhaps slightly like creating a function in code. Say you want something to create a slider or something, but don’t want to copy all the setup code everytime you want to call it – so you can import the html library that defines it, and then simply reference it with a simple tag. It looks like this is the future.
Unfortunately, currently: Browser support = patchy.


Emma Jane Hogbin Westby’s git talk was interesting (here’s the slides and notes) – and fortunately a few days before, I’d also read this great article on git branching – so I was able to follow along and understand most of what was being said. because I don’t really touch code, and only touch git for hobby projects , I don’t have such a deep understanding of that part of software development. As a result of the talk and the article though, I now know a bit about where you might want to keep all the individual commits that make up a feature and where you might want to squash them into a single object.


Amy Philips’s talk about mobile testing gave me an incredible headsup about how little I know about testing. Basically, testing mobile software is super hard – because there are so many different platforms, software versions, levels of connectivity, accessibility settings that testing becomes super-hard! I now feel extra inspired to go listen to Gem Hill’s Let’s Talk About Tests Podcast and understand more about the subject.


Benjamin Hollway gave a talk about young people and technology – nothing out of the ordinary I thought – just another youngish developer talking about the issues of being young, and trying to get into the technology community. Then after the talk, it came to Q&A, and it was revealed that Benjamin was 17. I was floored. Of course, I should have spotted the clues, but to the organiser’s incredible credit, they hadn’t billed the talk as anything different, they hadn’t said the presenter was young. It was very well executed. The Q&A were lively, with some people clearly inspired to see 17yros doing impressive things, suggesting that perhaps agencies should be recruiting people pre-university. Other people were unconvinced, wondering if pre-university young-people would be able to concentrate through a 9-5 day. They were roundly put down when it was pointed out that most normal developers can’t concentrate through a 9-5 day, not to mention that school/college is basically a 9-5 commitment before that point!

I could empathise with Benjamin a great deal and was psyched to see another YRS alumni going on to fulfill their own dreams and forge their own path. I didn’t go to university, got a job straight out of college, and heard lots of people telling me lots of conflicting information at that time. I always love the conversations that arise when a conference supports a young speaker like that, and I really appreciate that Benjamin and the conference organisers made it happen.


I had a good time catching up with Katrina and talking to Nathan about design processes and how to build things, meeting Goose, working out scary tech halloween costumes with Chris, finally chatting to Nick in real life and Andy about marketing & deals.

As the first event in the upfrontconf/speaktheweb that I’ve attended, I really enjoyed it – the organisers – Simon, Rachel, Katie, Dan & Jack, deserve a high five for putting in all the effort to make such a great event happen. Thank you all!

Pieline.net

What we learnt from building a jobboard

A few months ago we built a jobboard — pieline.net. It was mostly a programming challenge — we wanted to learn more about databases and Node.js, and we thought that this would be useful and straightforward.

There used to be the Geekup Jobboard, run by Andrew Disley, free and for everyone (except recruiters). It was split up by functional areas — business, design, development and others. A few years ago, Andrew focused his efforts on a better solution — NeedHQ and the site received no new jobs.

Pieline.net
Pieline.net

Tim had talked to an Agency owner who was sad that the site had gone and we also knew new developers who weren’t aware of the volume of jobs available, because they didn’t know the names of all the different companies to look at their websites. Other jobboards didn’t have jobs outside of London, didn’t have a clear UX, or were full of recruiter jobs which obscure the name of the comapny you’d be working for.
The idea was to create a simple job board — listing one job from every tech company around Manchester for 30 days. Ideally, people would submit their jobs to us. In practice for the time we ran the site, we manually added ~200 jobs by hand, and never had one submission.

Learnings about companies

Companies are hiring all the time. Even the small ones. Everybody would like another developer or two.

Most companies suck at designing their websites with recruitment in mind. At least half of the sites we visited buried their recruitment page — we often found ourselves trawling sitemaps for a link. Given how competitive it is to recruit developers, we thought that every company would list the main technologies a developer would be using in the job, but all too often we found that ‘Front End developer’ really meant ‘PHP developer’, or there were just no useful details at all. When we looked over recruitment pages, we were struck by a unifying theme — they put no effort in. We rarely had enough information to say whether we could do a job, let alone if we wanted to choose one over the 200 other jobs in Manchester.

When we talked to employers, whilst they were interested in receiving better people, they were totally uninterested in yet-another-jobboard — especially without any candidates already coming in. There are many job boards, and it seemed like putting the jobspec together at all was a labour. They were understandably deeply suspicious of anything that resembled cold calling recruiters (even when we approached via email!).

A very small minority of companies listed clear breakdowns of the job and requirements, with renumeration, perks, and insight into company and engineering culture. We’d probably say AO.com has one of the best hiring pages of the companies we’ve reviewed. If your page is half as good as theirs, you’re above average.

Learnings about technical things

If you don’t know if you’re building the right thing, use duct tape, not superglue

On the technical side, we learnt how you (in a very hacky way) use Node, Express, Bootstrap, CSS, MySQL (especially joins), resolve git conflicts, and Tim learnt some JavaScript. We wanted to use a fairly lean approach, and we had a somewhat functional site live within hours. This was possible because we borrowed a lot of the backend from an open source Node CRUD app.

When we needed to secure the admin area where we could add and review jobs, we didn’t want to learn about authentication in javascript — so instead we created a password protected area via nginx and left it at that. Not rock solid, but good enough.
We never had a staging site — we deployed straight from our git repo. This wasn’t ideal but did force us to test a lot, and fix it if we broke it. When we wanted to move fast and get it out the door — we got it out the door.

Learnings about UX

To figure out how it worked in the hands of users, we went to tech meetups, and asked people if they wanted to see this thing we’d been building, and when they said yes, we asked them to apply for a job on the mobile site. As we watched them use it on their phone, we saw them click on the wrong bits, expecting things to work differently, and instantly gathered feedback about which bits worked and which bits didn’t. Some more experienced developers (I’m thinking Bobby and Martin in particular) were kind enough to critique the UI for us as well, which helped us get some of the common-sense navigation in place. We were reading Lean UX at the time, which gave us some great approaches for iteratively improving the user experience.

Users said many things — often they asked for features we didn’t want to implement in an MVP like search. Almost everyone wanted a clear salary range and we just didn’t have the data.

One of the challenges was that people often didn’t know what jobs they wanted.

People who could be hired into junior or graduate jobs, didn’t know whether they had the qualifications, when all they really needed was enthusiasm, the ability to learn and not being unpleasant to work with.

For more senior people, it often wasn’t really clear what the most useful details were to put in front of them. “Can I actually do the job?” seems like an important question, but understanding what the company is like, why they might want to work there more than where they work now, is also important information, which we couldn’t figure out a way of displaying.

One idea we had was that most job adverts are sparse on details, and so it seemed like the ability to ask each company a question — in an anonymous, ebay-style public Question & Answer might be an appealing feature.

The Q&A feature
The Q&A feature

We still think it’s a good idea — imagine: You read the job advert, you’re happy with the salary, you know where they work, you have the skills, they seem nice enough — however, you have some questions…questions that might be awkward to bring up in an interview. Questions like “do people ever pull all-nighters to finish things for a deadline?” or “will I be able to leave early some days to pick up my kids from school?”. Ultimately, although we tried our upmost to seed the board with questions, and use this feature to add value — we weren’t able to get it moving. We think it’s a neat idea, and perhaps might work really well — unfortunately we didn’t hustle hard enough to see any traction.

We tried adding Optimizely A/B testing to gather data about incremental changes. We might have been better off testing more radical variations but we learnt that with the amount of traffic we had, we were never going to learn much fast with very subtle A/B testing. Ah well.

Learnings about Growth

We never had a growth strategy that was sustainable, real or existant. We tried some paid adverts to get traffic, but since we never received any revenue from the site, this was clearly unsustainable. The idea never had a ‘purple cow’ so there wasn’t much virality potential. The question feature is probably the closest we came to it.

We feel this is an area we would give more thought to next time. Really, we should have tested this part first. ;)

In conclusion

One great outcome is that a several people found jobs because of pieline! This was without doubt the best part of the experience — we’ve heard from a couple of people who found companies on pieline, applied for the jobs listed and got them, which is very satisfying. One of them became a good friend, and we got to hear all her stories of starting her first development job. It was also a great side project for Clara to show off to employers as she was looking for her first coding job at the time.

We learnt a lot from the project — about technical things, about product, about UX. I think the main thing we learned, was that a job board isn’t the best way to solve this problem. We’re not sure what the best solution is, though better company careers pages are clearly somewhere to start.

The site is mostly now offline, though it survives on archive.org, Github and trello. As for us? We’re better prepared for our next adventure.

Pieline was made in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire with love by @czmj2 & @tdobson.

Engineering Culture at Autotrader

We’ve just come away from the AutoTrader “Science Fair” and we’re full of thoughts, ideas and reflections and wanted to get them down somewhere.

We heard about the event at Barcamp Manchester last weekend, and decided to go along to get a better understanding of how AutoTrader works. I know AutoTrader as a customer – we bought the van off it – so it was interesting to understand how things work behind the scenes.

An open evening! Whoever thought of this mag-fucking-nificient idea should be knighted. What a great way to help people find out more about you in a low pressure, chilled way (with free drinks!).

It reminded us of school open evenings (in a good way) – lots of people, hands-on-activities and posters. It felt a bit cramped in places – there were some areas where we thought pushing the desks against the walls might have been a better use of space.

Clara is a developer, so whilst I would have found it fascinating to talk to their editorial team and learn more about their inbound marketing efforts, talking about technology is common ground to us both. So as we only had 45 minutes to spare, we decided to immerse ourselves in their ‘technical’ room.

AutoTrader organises its teams in ‘Squads’ – autonomous, cross functional product teams who take complete responsibility for an area of their business, which meant that when we asked one of their devops people who would be the best person to talk to about Front End, there wasn’t a clear functional stand. Each AutoTrader squad has design, product, marketing, development all together – creating user stories, picking them off one by one, and working through them. One of the things we found surprising about all this was that they don’t tend to have a purely front end function in their squads – it tends to be something that their Java developers have or develop on the job.

We had a great chat with Jan and Gareth in the Dealer Portal Squad, who were super helpful in filling us in on how the system works, and how their system’s AngularJS app works (with Flux, doing some cool sounding event based things!). We found it interesting how none of the squads we spoke to really seemed able to talk about how they handle their CSS – even “Do you use a CSS pre-processor?”. It’d be really interesting to understand more about Autotrader’s approach to the front end – especially since they seem to work in a cross functional way.

One of the recruitment tools we admire the most is two videos that Spotify’s engineering team put on YouTube. These two videos outline Spotify’s engineering approach, company structure, and explain how things get made and product gets shipped. All explained concisely & knowledgeably and beautifully illustrated. To an outsider, it’s dizzying to be introduced to AutoTrader’s two dozen or so squads on the floor of their office, without a clear understanding of how the company works, and how their development processes work within it. Before we saw the Spotify engineering videos, we didn’t have any feeling about Spotify’s tech team. Now we feel they have a great (yet modest) engineering culture that we’d try to be part of if the opportunity arose. Perhaps there’s something for AutoTrader to learn there.

To be honest, we’re inspired. Perhaps not to work at AutoTrader (sorry!), though we now know the company a lot better (yay!). We’re inspired to take this open evening approach and suggest it to the companies we work for, and the ones we know across Manchester. This seems like such a great way of getting people to understand what you do, that we wish they happened more frequently, in more companies.

Thanks for having us AutoTrader!

-@tdobson
-@czmj2

A refreshing beer

I gave up drinking. Here’s why.

For the past 8 months, I’ve been completely teetotal. I’ve not drunk any alcohol since before Christmas 2014.

I’ve come to realise that the answers to my life’s problems don’t lie at the bottom of a bottle, and sometimes I found I can’t be certain there isn’t an answer there, til the bottle is empty.

I respect those who wish to keep searching for themselves, and for me, it’s time to call of the search (of alcoholic bottles).


A refreshing beer
A refreshing beer

I don’t think I realised at the time, but subconsciously I started binge-drinking self-destructively – I think subconsciously wishing for something to have a dramatic effect on my life. I say subconsciously – it was concious in a sense, but I couldn’t identify it as a serious thing to avoid. It was sort of prefixed by “loooooool, at least something interesting will happen”.

I’m lucky that apart from a few sore heads, and missing some fun opportunities, the negative impact on my life has been minimal. But it could have been huge, and very painful. I’m glad to have removed myself from those situations.


I’ve never really liked drinking. Since I turned 18, I’ve always thought that the most enjoyable drinking I’ve ever done was age 17, and it’s never really got back to that point. I enjoy being aware of the situation I’m in, and I feel able to have fun, without being drunk. Not-drinking isn’t a super-new thing for me – at one point in the past 5 years, I remember going to a popular nightclub, completely sober. The soberness wasn’t a terrible part of the experience (getting lots of glass embedded in the bottom of my shoe… that wasn’t ideal!).


It’s been 8 months now, and I don’t regret it for one moment – I’m happier, more comfortable with myself and more relaxed. There are times when I like the idea of a drink – but I know I’m happier sober. :)


FAQs:

What do you drink?

Everything. That’s not alcoholic. It’s that simple.

Shouldn’t you just drink less?

I found it really difficult to know the difference between ‘fun’ and ‘too much’. Since the ‘fun’ wasn’t really linked to the alcohol, and more the circumstances, I feel it’s easier for me to abstain.

Isn’t going out less fun?

I find it more fun. We get to do things that are actually fun, rather than just drinking. I find things that are just focused on drinking less fun, and yet I enjoy hanging out with people who are fun to hang out with.

Don’t you miss a great beer?

Yes. My favourite non-alcoholic beers are Cobra and Erdinger. I would love to try more.

Becks Blue is an alright drink, but cannot be called a great beer.

Doesn’t this help with van driving quite a bit?

There are unexpected positive side effects. Never having to think about the drink-drive limit is one.

Are you doing drugs instead of drinking?

Lol. No.

Are you casting judgements on everyone else?

No. Just like I’m happy other people like eating broccoli so I don’t have to, I’m happy other people can enjoy alcohol without any downsides.

Is this for forever?

Probably not. I reserve the right for it to last as long as I want it to. If and when it seems like the right time to drink, I may do. It’s like to be in moderation.

Trying to pressure me to drink ‘right now’ is likely to be a bit like pissing into a jet exhaust.

Haven’t I heard this before?

Probably.

This is no fun!

I said no drinking. Messing around, playing games, taking the piss, telling stories… I’m cool with that sober!

Getting it wrong

This One Time I Screwed up (or Sorry I Was a Dick)

I don’t think there’s enough analysis and sharing of non-technical mistakes for others to learn from (see a dramatic hiking trip postmortem).

It must have been a year or so ago now, I was sponsoring and exhibiting at a conference. Also exhibiting were a company I’ll call FooCorp from an industry that I have a strong distaste for. As delegates piled in, FooCorp’s team fired up this well oiled process of handing paper to people walking in. As a one man band, I felt a bit outdone.

I’d used twitter ads at events before, and so quickly I fired up a campaign. Trying to be edgy, I said something along the lines of “if you don’t want to be leafletted, and have your email added to a database, come and find me for a chat”. I can’t remember the exact wording, and whilst I don’t think it went any stronger, I can’t find the original copy so I can’t be sure. I thought “heh, why bother leafletting when this is so much more efficient”.

Learning from mistakes
Learning from mistakes

One might think “I don’t care about any companies in this industry, so this is a good approach”. One might think “I have no relationship with these people, so it doesn’t matter”.

Those points may be true (though these days, I have doubts), but I hadn’t anticipated the thing that happened next.

The conference organiser came up to me and said “Tim, we need to speak”, to their absolute credit took me to a private area and lividly explained that I needed to:

  • immediately delete the tweets
  • apologise to the people in question.

A wise or experienced person might have anticipated that, whilst I didn’t have a relationship with the FooCorp people, actually, lots of people around me, whose mutual support I depended on, did have a relationship with the people, and would like to continue to have one after the event. They might want to continue to ask FooCorp people to sponsor events they run etc. I realised that I’d failed to consider this point of view at all. That was poorly thought through. :(

When someone explains reasonably to me that I’ve upset people, and can easily avoid this, I know that I should do as they say.

Apologising to people face-to-face is hard. Apologising to people, who support an industry you have a distaste for, is harder.

But what makes it even more heart wrenching is when you notice that at the end of the day, they’re real people, trying to do good things, to help their children and families have a better life, and that I’d needlessly upset them.

As it turned out, my heartfelt apology wasn’t enough to undo the impression I’d already given them and I’m pretty sure that any memories that remain of me are about “that awful man”. 

Were one anticipating this situation beforehand, one might assume one would be comfortable with that if it happened. Instead, I feel sad that I had to learn this like this.

And I have learnt from this.

I could be chatting with someone whose sector I utterly, totally cannot endorse, and I aspire to treat them with respect and humility. I reserve the right to continue to dislike their sector, even them personally – but if I meet or interact with them, I’ll treat them with the same respect and humility I show to my friends.


So I guess if either of the two parties in the story are reading this – you know who you are:

Conference organiser: I’m sorry for putting you on the spot in front of your other sponsors and for behaving poorly. I massively appreciate your approach to resolving this. You had a multitude of options, and you took the most professional route, and allowed me to do what I could to right the situation. For that, I’m forever grateful.

To the people of the company I’ve called FooCorp: I know I ruined your mood for the day, and I’m really sorry I wrote those tweets. I wish I could have done things differently now, but what’s done is done, and a lesson has been learnt. I’m sorry that my learning that day was at your expense. As you can hear, it’s a lesson I vividly remember many months later, and I hope it’s one I never have to relearn. Thanks for talking to the conference organiser and allowing this to be resolved in the manner it was. I really appreciate your professionalism under the pressure I know and regret that I put you under.

Painting of Bess

Describing the monsters under my bed.

I want to describe one of the monsters under my bed – one of the things that keeps me awake at night. I don’t believe describing the monster will make it disappear, but I hope it may help you understand how I’m feeling about something I’ve barely mentioned.

Bess, Christmas 2015
Bess, Christmas 2014

In 2007, I wrote this article about my dog Bess and she’s still my best friend.

The only thing that has changed? Everyone is 8 years older.

Bess is now 13.

I’ve written before about life and death, but mainly with people being uncertain I might hurt myself for me – which in hindsight seems very easy.

Writing about knowing you’ll have to confront the fear of losing your best childhood friend is much much harder.

On the one hand, there are so many things I feel lucky for: so many people whom I’m happy to call friends, colleagues and family – who look up and look out for me, so many more books to learn from, mountains to climb, friends to help finding their own paths through the labyrinths of life, and exciting projects to get stuck into – that I feel as connected and alive as ever.

On the other, I can’t communicate with my sofa-bound, best friend to tell her how much I love her, and have appreciated all moments we’ve shared together. To tell her how much her sniffs and snuffles meant through a decade of teenage turmoil, to share memories of our stomps around Blake Moor, or simply how much I enjoy rubbing her tummy.

When Bess was a young puppy, she used to be small enough to fit underneath a wardrobe, and used to disappear under it, and the emerge as a wild-monster-puppy, growling and showing how ‘big’ and ‘bad’ she was.

At other times, when Bess would sleep on my bed, with her nose at my toes, she’d sometimes wake up a from an exciting dream about rabbits and snap out at the nearest thing to her mouth – for example, my sleeping foot, which would be subjected to a surprise attack… until she realised my now-very-awake-foot, was indeed not a rabbit.

It’s easy to argue from reason: to point out she’s had a good innings, to say she’s lived almost every one of however-many-lives-a-dog-has, or to point out how lucky she’s been to have such a caring family. These are true, but logic and reason doesn’t make it any easier.

It’s so challenging for me to acknowledge that many of those great moments have passed and they must now live on as memories. Not unexpected, just very challenging.


So that’s out there. Those thoughts are something that’s taking up brain space right now, but isn’t something I talk about much.

I find it really challenging to talk about – maybe to the point that I don’t really want to talk about it because wanting to avoid uncontrollable floods of tears and an instant urge to go and see her is… well a pragmatic approach of sorts in many situations. I suspect there are no ideal approach.

I think the best thing you – as someone reading this – can help can do to help is just to empathise and be supportive where and when you can.

And so that’s the monsters under my bed and the ‘monster’ that used to shoot out from under my wardrobe. It’s good to put it out there.


Footnote: Different cultures see time in different ways, and my culture has a very linear approach (past, present future) which is reflected in this blog post. It doesn’t make it easy to see things as a cycle of things that have happened before and will happen again.  

Flowers, Isles of Scilly

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.

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

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

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.