The Pick Up & Play Office

The Pick Up & Play Office

In 2007/2008, when I did the IPA Excellence Diploma, there was one section of the course that asked you to create five different pieces of creative. One of them was about building a place fit for creativity. It was my favourite exercise of that module, possibly because the task was far removed from what I did everyday; it asked you to think in terms of architectural permanence, rather than fleeting media experiences.

In hindsight, it may well have been be the thing that set me off thinking about how the space around us really does influence the things we create and the way we create them. We’re all just reacting to context, be it other people, or things other people have made.

Anyway, I submitted a piece at the time which helped me define a roaming, itinerant working method of being out and about as much as possible, and not trapped inside white-walled offices trying to crack problems.

Actually, thinking about it now, though the brief perhaps asked for something more consistent and solid, I contrived something which largely ignored the potential in static space in favour for a wandering and wondering approach, inspired by this piece on Creative Generalists.

It’s below, should you want to travel back in time. The piece only exists in separate strands now – a hosted audio track, and the slides over which it went. Slideshare used to offer that functionality, but have since stopped supporting it. Therein lies any lessons for things wot we store on the web; they change, or go away, when we’re not looking. I’m sure you can click along to the dulcet Scottish tones if you wish.

And yes, I’m highly embarrassed by the phone I chose to represent ‘camera phones’…

Why do I bring this up now though?

Well, many reasons, some of which I’ll expand in future posts about the  three-year anniversary of Smithery (TL;DR – exciting times).

But one in particular, related to one of the companies that I’ve used since I wrote that piece, to help facilitate the working method by carting various bits of tech around; Crumpler.

1 - Crumpler Logo

I’ve been using Crumpler bags for the last six years, and before that housed laptops in their excellent neoprene cases. I have had various sizes and varieties of Crumpler that have served me very well indeed.

But I found myself after something in particular; a spacious, hand-luggage sized backpack that I could use for going on my wee European work hops.

Big enough to get the tools of the trade in (and spare undies and the like), but small enough to manhandle into one of the Easyjet’s Krypton Factor-esque baggage sizing devices.

They didn’t have anything like this in the online shop. So I got chatting to Michael there at their German HQ, first via twitter, then Facebook. To cut a long story a little shorter, he said he’d send me over a couple of bags from the new range that wasn’t out, and I said I’d test them out and review them here.

But rather than a straight review of the bags, I thought it’d be more interesting (for you, me and hopefully Michael) if I tried to talk about them in the context of wider work stuff.

The first bag is called the Muli Backpack M, and it’s a small, super slim backpack. It’s basically the perfect bag for what I’ve come to think of as The Pick Up & Play Office, the bag that’d hold everything you need to do unexpected things on an expected job.

It’s most useful to look at what I have inside the bag. Ever since discovering it during a piece of research on a chewing gum brand, I’ve been in love with What’s In My Bag on Flickr… a better insight into global ‘carryable stuff’ trends you may never find.

So in keeping with that trope, here’s the plan view of  the contents for a typical day (btw – most links go through Amazon Associates, other shops are available)…

15 - All Gear

- Steel Water Bottle, by Penguin – I’ve been carrying a water bottle for years, rather than buying endless plastic water bottles. Funnily enough, because of the slightly lame literary joke (“On The Road” by Jack Kerouac – geddit…?), it’s become a conversation starter with more people than I’d ever have imagined it would. It’s a water cooler moment you can carry with you. Anyway, you should all stop buying bottled water, or indeed helping to sell it. It’s stupid.

- Panasonic Lumix LX7 Camera – this wee camera is by far the best tech investment I’ve made in two years, which is not a statement I’m going to make lightly. It’s a bridge camera; functions and capabilities beyond that of a standard compact, but without the inconvenience of having to heft around a full-on DSLR. It’s good enough to do really quite serviceable product shots, little instructional vids, or one-handed filming of projects on-the-hoof, especially in slo-mo. Extra bonus – they’re dead cheap now, as the LX8 is coming later this year.

- Samson Meteor – a USB mic for interviewing, podcasts etc. I usually hook this up to the iPad mini, and use the Soundnote app for interviews or Audioboo to capture little audio-hunches.

- Apple Mac Air, 13″ mid-2011 & Apple iPad Mini 64Gb, 2012 – as often as I’ve tried to just take an iPad to work on, I find that on its own, it’s more of a time-shifting device – it helps you capture the things you need to do for work later, rather than do the work itself. So I travel with both the Air and the iPad Mini pretty much all the time.

- Joby Gorrilapod tripod – now, this is a really handy little tripod stand for the LX7 when I need it, but also it can turn an iPad into a hi-tech Overhead Projector for working with Artefact Cards (thanks to Mick Lock at Experian for the tip) – get your iPad mini, and add a Grifiti Nootle cover that takes a tripod screw on the base. Then connect a Lightning to VGA adapter, and you can plug the iPad in to any standard projector, open the camera app, and whatever the camera is looking down at appears on the screen behind you, like below.


It means that groups of people can work quickly on the Artefact Cards, and show their work to the group pretty easily. You should see people’s faces when they look back and realise how quickly they’re working (instead of going away from meetings to return with a PowerPoint presentation a few days later).

- Artefact Cards – naturally, of course, given I make them as well. I’ll try to carry around four blank packs, in a mix of colours, every day. Some of them will be for using on my own or with others, but inevitably some packs get given to people who become really curious.

- Sharpies – for using with the Artefact Cards. Wielding a Sharpie feels like wielding a weapon.

- Assorted wireage, connectables, and power supplies – I tend to carry a lot of little connecting things that’ll help bodge things together on the off-chance I need to. Whenever I don’t, it seems, there’s always something that crops up where I could have done with something. It can get messy unless you’ve got the right sort of storage… which is where the Muli bag comes into its own.

Let’s think in terms of the layers of working – how often am I going to need stuff, and how easy is it to access?

Firstly, the aforementioned wires are going to be an ‘every so often’ thing, they’re never going to be the first thing I reach for. So right in the heart of the bag, there’s a large mesh pocket over the laptop section into which we put all the wee wires, connectors, USB drives, clickers etc…

11 - Rucksack wires

Behind this, then, is the laptop section, which I use for both the Air and the iPad Mini. It has plenty of space, and could probably take a Mac-book Pro and a full iPad combo. But what the bag seems to do is really shrink back to constrain whatever’s inside. It’s like it’s always trying to be as slim as possible. Anyway, that’s the next layer; whenever I’m sitting down to work somewhere (train, office, museum, coffee shop) the bigger devices are relatively quick to access when I open the bag.

10 - Rucksack laptop

Then in the main section, we’ve got the larger things that I might want to grab quickly; for instance, the water bottle for a drink, or the camera to shoot something. They naturally sink to the bottom of the bag, and nestle quite comfortably away from the other stuff.

12 - rucksack chunky

Yet it’s quickly accessible; the whole front opens and closes a little like the eggs in Aliens…

13 - rucksack zip

…zipping all the way up to the top…

8 - Rucksack thin

…then the flap folds over on the zip, like a security jiffy bag, to make the bag waterproof. It’s a delightfully simple design, and even more secure method than I’ve seen before in Crumpler bags.

7 - Rucksck front

6 - Rucksack straps

So, really well sealed up, all the stuff safe inside. What if I want to get something quickly though…?

Hiding under the flap at the sides are two pockets, one either side, which are perfectly sized to take 2-3 packs of Artefact Cards and three or four sharpies in each… so in seconds I can be working anywhere. In case of emergency, pull zip.

14 - Rucksack Artefact Cards

Over the last month or so, it’s proved to be the best bag I’ve owned for The Pick Up & Play Office idea. Those layers of accessibility have proven to be just what I needed, though as always, you never really know until you get your hands on something how it’s going to work out.

It also has the capacity to get enough stuff in for an overnight; I took it to Dublin for my IAPI talk last month, and breezed through the airport security malarkey with the least of fuss of course.

But wait; surely the idea was to get a bag that’d do longer than that? Well, here’s the thing; the other bag was the Track Jack Board Case. I can’t stop thinking of it as the bag Jason Bourne probably has packed at the back door at all times. It’s a holdall equipped with dozens of sections and pockets, and a few neat tricks.

2 - Crumpler Holdall

What I like most about it though is the bag-within-a-bag thing I can do – essentially, I can just take the fully laden Muli backpack, and drop it inside the Board Case, and then pack anything else I need round about it.

5 - Rucksack and holdall

4 - rucksack in holdall

Then, I can either carry it as a holdall (it easily fits into the overhead locker size constraints in airports, because it’s a soft case), or turn the Board Case into a backpack itself, by deploying the hidden straps…

3a - Holdall closed

3b - Holdall straps

3c - Holdall rucksack

It’s more Bond than Bourne, perhaps.

Anyway, both bags individually are brilliant (and as rugged and hard wearing as you’re expect from Crumpler), but together they’ve formed another layer, a nested variation on the theme of working and accessibility.

You can get see the Muli Backpack here, and the Track Jack Board Case here. I’d like to thank Michael for sending the over to test out too – I’m not sending them back, as I’ve bought them both :)

As promised before, I’ll be talking a lot more about layers, levels, and working practices as we head towards the Smithery third anniversary in August…

Innovation isn’t what you bring, it’s what you leave behind

Innovation isn’t what you bring, it’s what you leave behind

I was delighted to put together a talk with Tracey Camilleri for today’s Innovation Stories 14 event about The Key To Leadership project we created last year (alongside Thomas Forsyth, Chris Thorpe and Fraser Hamilton) as part of the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme at the Saïd Business School.

UPDATE: David Burton‘s done a terrific set of sketchnotes of the whole event, here’s the one for our talk:

David Burton Sketchnote innovStories_6

Also, check the Innovation Social site for links to other summaries of the day.

In reflecting on what had happened before, during and after the programme, we realised that so much of the project wasn’t a simple, straightforward interpretation of what we did at the time. When you look at it from distance, and the effect it’s had on other parts of the organisation, it’s something that had a set of a series of brilliant, if somewhat unintended, consequences.

It made us realise that innovation isn’t what you bring, it’s what you leave behind.

It’s the changes and differences you make to an organisation when you’re no longer there. The stuff that keeps creating value in your absence. The big things, yes, but also (and more importantly, perhaps) the little things. The things people will pick up and run with every day as they work on new things.

Our last point was that this makes innovation hard for traditional agency models to find a viable role for. If you’re there to deliver continued value over time (“we are here to do this for you”), as if it was an advertising campaign, then you’re not really leaving anything in the client organisation to make it stronger. Perhaps successful innovation demands a generousity of spirit, leaving as much as it can as continued catalyst, if it is to stick from the outside.

Anyway, here are our slides (with some added narration) if you want a little look. We had a tremendous time, thamks to Nadya Powell of Innovation Social for the invitation, and the rest of the brilliant speakers from whom we learned loads of things today too.


MTPW > MPWT – IAPI talk in Dublin

MTPW > MPWT – IAPI talk in Dublin

As promised, my slides from the IAPI talk I gave yesterday in Dublin. I’d like to thank my hosts, Tania Banotti and Ken McKenzie, for a wonderful excursion, a great crowd, and some really thought provoking discussion whilst I was there. It was deadly, as one might say in Dublin.

Beer As Validation

Beer As Validation

I’m in Dublin today.  And I found another example to add to a burgeoning pile of examples I have of “beer you havn’t heard of in shop windows.

Small, independent shops (who have the choice of what to put in their window, with no top-down regional control) used to use big, international brands in their windows to show that they were a valid business – “look, we have access to the precious things”.

More and more, in every city I visit, I seem to see these same shops using “beer you haven’t heard of” as a pull – “look, we have access to the precious knowledge“.

Worth watching – will bigger stores start to use this to pull people in?  Or are they too wedded to selling their store space as media…

photo 2


The New Anaesthetic?

The New Anaesthetic?

Having just returned from holiday, I have (as always) a surfeit of thoughts and ideas that sprang from the books I read whilst away. And whilst I’ll get round to blogging about them soon enough, just a wee short one which has been proimted by the recent statement on how the UK  classes digital communications as external ones, and therefore fair game for monitoring.

Without delving down into the whole post-Snowden world, I’d just like to think about the apathy that news like this is met with by the general public.

We don’t seem to be able to get worked up about it. Should we not be a bit more concerned, or ask a few better questions, or become a litttle more circumspect on what we share? Why don’t we react?

Here’s where the holiday reading comes in. I was reading Raymond William’s Keywords, an exploration of some of the most important words in the English language. It’s from 1976, the year before I was born, so a generation ago for me.

The first word in there is Aesthetic, which of course for me will be ever-welded to James Bridle’s New Aethestic work. Something in William’s definition of aesthetic grabbed me though, a connection I’d previously not made:

…from [the middle of the nineteenth century] onwards, with advances in medicine, anaesthetic – the negative form of the increasingly popular adjective – was widely used in the original broad sense to mean deprived of sensation or the agent of such deprivation.

Whenever I’d thought about the New Aesthetic before, I tried to think about how it made people feel. But maybe that’s wrong. Maybe what’s happening is that it doesn’t make us feel, it deprives us of feeling, it numbs us, so we don’t react. Is the New Aesthetic actually an Anaesthetic?

Piketty for Attention

Piketty for Attention

Posted by on May 6, 2014 in economics, media | 6 Comments

In between reading swathes of Peppa Pig to our youngest, I’ve started reading Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st Century’, the book that’s taking the economic and political spheres by storm.

If you want some quickfire synopsis pieces on it, try Paul Krugman in the New York Review of Books, or the Economist’s ‘Capital summarised in four paragraphs‘.  The book is changing the way that everyone is having to think about capital, wealth, and the widening inequality gap between richest & poorest.

Largely, of course, because it’s based on a lot of hard-graft data work, rather than messing about with theoretical models; as Piketty puts it, “the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for the purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences… this obsession with mathematics is an easy way of acquiring the appearence of scientificity without having to answer the far more complex questions posed by the world we  live in”.

There’s a lesson in that alone for planners and strategists of any discipline.

Rather than get into the economic and politics of the book though, I’ve been thinking about the main assertion that Piketty puts in the book, and wondering how it plays out in the media world.


Piketty’s point is neatly summed up by a very simple equation: r>g, where r is the rate of return on capital across the system, and g is the rate of economic growth.  The data suggests, say Piketty and team, that having money is greater than earning money.  You can make more money just by having a big pile of it than you can by starting from scratch and trying to earn it, taken across the board at the macro level.

This is the status quo of the capitalist system; through the twentieth century, there are decade long shocks (The two World Wars, with the great depression in between for instance), but we’re now return to the ‘norm’ of this system, and in some countries Voctorian-era levels of inequality.

What I’ve been wondering is if the same pattern plays out at the media level, with attention.

(I’ve been thinking a lot about this across the last year, with the Fracking the Social Web stuff, and if you haven’t read Matt Locke’s terrific thinking in his Empires of Attention then do so now.)

These aren’t answers, of course, but questions.  They’re probably questions that could be answered with data, too, but consider this a formative post to start thinking about the area.


In short, is the best way to grow attention to have lots of attention in the first place?

By having a big pot of users that people will hand over money in advertising money to access, do have ready access to capital that allows you to acquire more users more quickly than if you were starting from scratch?

This could either be in the form of spinoffs (unbundling one big service in to more smaller services), or just simply buying the rapidly growing competition.  The arms race between the technological giants to buy services which will now never grow to rival them; if they continue to be successful, great, more money for the pot.  If they stagnate, shrink, or even disappear, then fine, there’s one less gunslinger in town.

In the same way that the events of the mid-twentieth disrupted Piketty’s r>g, did the internet disrupt the media only in the short term, when the previous media giants suddenly found themselves exposed to the rapid growth of competitors.  In the medium and long term, are we settling back down into the previous pattern; the only way to get significant attention is to have significant attention?  Are these media giants the ones we’re now stuck with?




Knowledge is faster than Mortar

Knowledge is faster than Mortar

I picked up a bag of coffee beans whilst we were on holiday, roasted by Skye Roastery and sold out of the Skye Farm Shop (“Local Produce for Local People”).  The coffee is especially interesting for me personally because I’ve been using coffee as a proxy for how MTPW>MPWT can play in even existing, seemingly saturated markets, but I was fascinated to find both the roastery and the shop on Skye, because it shows again just how quickly (and far) ideas can spread through culture.

Let’s think about two waves of coffee culture in the UK (and other countries too, but I know the UK best), assuming year zero as the time when coffee was either being a poor italian imitation in  restaurants or instant out of a jar in a cafe.

The first wave is the chains, which revolutionised the experience around buying coffee (Starbucks, Nero, Costa et al), though arguably their coffee isn’t that much better than what you could expect at the end of your meal in a decent restaurant.  But it wasn’t so much about the coffee as the thing that connected people, but the places they drank it in.  The second wave is the Artisan Coffee movement, where the quality, provenance, style, technique and other factors about the coffee itself very much is the thing the connects people.

The first wave has not reached Skye.  There are, as far as I can see, no coffee chain shops on Skye (the nearest Starbucks, for instance, is 113 miles away).  But, interestingly, the second wave has taken hold, and is evident in a lot of the places you can buy coffee, before the first has.

Interestingly, in a place where the second wave hits first, like Australia, it’s hard for first-wave style businesses to make inroads – “95 percent of the 6,500 cafes and coffee shops in Australia today are independently owned” according to the Slate article, despite Starbucks first having tried to extend into Australia in 2000.

It’s kind of simple when you think about the differences between the two.  The first wave needs things like:

- physical bricks & mortar stores
- a consolidated, consistent approach (or ‘brand’ if you will)
- centrally owned entities
- a minimum level of market size and opportunity in a certain location order to bother setting up there

The second wave, as evidenced by the Skye Roastery packaging, instead needs:

- the idea that there is one place things are done (the ‘roastery’ itself)
- the right cues that lots of other similar roasteries use as a brand (“Artisan”, Provenance notes, Black & White hand stamped labels)
- a loose affiliation of ‘people like us’ (the other shops who sell and serve the coffee)
- a much smaller, yet simultaneously less geographically specific market opportunity

The second wave coffee shops share an unoffical, decentralised brand.  Swedish wood counters, slate & chalk pricing boards, bearded folksy looking baristas.  It isn’t an official thing, there isn’t a formal checklist, it’s just people looking, thinking ‘I could do that’, and copying in their own way.  As a crude shorthand, knowledge is faster than mortar.

And not just the physical mortar of having to build and fit out locations.  The slow, leaden process of sticking organisations, brands and markets together in one place means that the first wave is always going to take longer to put together than the second wave. But they become bigger entities as a result, surely?

Whilst the first wave chains are invariably worth more money (and I’d guess a lot more), it’s very hard to judge how much the second wave is worth because, well, they’re all independent of each other.  Every time I find a long list of ‘independent coffee shops’ like this one, invariably it’s more notable for the omissions.

It’s invariably really hard to keep track of all of the independent coffee shops and roasteries (not forgetting the mail order coffee start-ups like Pact or Eight Point Nine).  In his chapter in Brand New Brand Thinking (2002) John Cronk talked about how Marketing was like yacht racing – there’s a start line, a finish line, but in-between you’d invariably postion yourselves by what the other yachts were doing, accoerding to who was finding a good line.  Yet by and large the instruments available to us are set up to look at other ‘yachts’.  How do you set yourself up to look at all the canoes, speedboats, jet-skis and other small nimble craft at the same time?

It’s largely impossible to set a value on what this market is worth, because of the speed with which they will set-up (and sometimes disappear again).  In some ways, the independents are to coffee what Anonymous is to politics.


(from Australian coffee shop ‘Anonymous‘)



They’re not one entity, there is no consistency, there is camaraderie and occasional fractious rifts between members (if indeed, membership is a thing that can be defined).  There are a loose set of cues that anyone can pick up and run with, yet it’s hard to fake – the community is pretty good on vetting anyone who doesn’t ‘fit’ – Tesco’s 49% ownership of Harris + Hoole, for instance, was jumped upon rather quickly, which will likely force it into competing with the first wave chains as a proposition, rather than a halfway house between the two.

What’s also interesting is how neither fits with the old model which they rail against.  You can’t vote for Anonymous, or form a coalition with them, or even sit down with the leadership and talk about doing things together.  Because they’re not built like that.  The old mechanisms don’t fit the new social structure.

Equally, if one of the established first wave chains decided that the second wave was worth investing in… where would they start?  Despite the success of the emergent second wave, there’s not an entity there to acquire, as such.  And even if Starbucks did buy one or two of the independents… what would they do with them?

As always, coffee is my chosen sector to use as a proxy for what might be at play in other sectors.  Something that caught my eye whilst thinking about this was the latest focus is on the falling sales for the big four supermarkets, and the implied answer from centralised measurement tools is that it’s being stolen away by the other challenger ‘yachts’.

Nowadays, we have to keep in mind that the money in peoples’ pockets isn’t just going to one of the other competitors on the research list.

Just because you can’t see it, or measure it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there, growing, and significant.




Posted by on Apr 9, 2014 in Making, random inspiration | One Comment

It’s time to finish the essay I’m writing for the next Creative Social Book, which I’m thrilled to be a part of.  It’s a two-and-a-half-year perspective on the phrase that has come to define Smithery’s purpose: Make Things People Want > Make People Want Things.  I’m trying to make it a useful elongated version of the idea behind the phrase, pulling out each of those four words, identifying what they should mean in order to step beyond exploiting existing demand, and creating new demand.

You’ll have to wait until the book’s out to read it, of course, but it’s sparking all sorts of others ideas which will end up here in the usual tentative, exploratory form.  Right, I’m clearly blogging instead of writing.  Back to it.  This view will help with the inspiration, no doubt.

Buildings That Cry

Buildings That Cry

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 in random inspiration | No Comments

There’s a curious thing that happens with buildings around the area I’m from in Scotland.  The colder, damper weather demands that when you build houses, you don’t leave as much raw brickwork exposed to the elements as you might in the South.

As a result, a lot of the houses have roughcast on the outside.  But after a while, the damp still seeps in, and begins to stain underneath the top floor window sills.  As a result, in a certain light, the buildings look like they’re crying.  Rows upon rows of bawling homes.

Sometimes what seems like a sensible short term solution has unfortunately long term consequences.

buildings that cry 2


How To Knock Off A Saddleback Leather Bag

How To Knock Off A Saddleback Leather Bag

Posted by on Mar 27, 2014 in internet, Making, material culture | One Comment

Genius (via Mr Sparke) – from Dave at Saddleback Leather, who’s concerned that folk are knocking off his bags.  So he’s made a twelve minute instructional video on how they should do it well

This is slap bang in th emiddle of the fragmentation principle I talk about in the Fracking The Social Web stuff, of course; make everything you do with the infinte canvas of the internet in mind.