Twelve small (but important) things I’ve learned so far this year.

BA 8725, Glasgow to London City

It’s Monday evening. I’m writing this from my hotel room in Manchester. Looking back at the last few months, here’s a list of twelve small — but important — things I’ve learned:

  1. Running a workshop is like hosting a dinner party. I’ve been leading a series of workshops for the BBC (that’s why I’m here in Manchester, I’m running one tomorrow). It’s generally the same content, but delivered to different groups of people. I hadn’t run many workshops before, but I soon learned an important lesson. A workshop is like a dinner party: the menu might be the same, but the people around the room make it different every time. That’s what I love about it.
  2. Make ’em laugh. This year I’ve spoken at a diverse mix of events: hosting a panel discussion for Rooster Punk in a Covent Garden pub; a guest lecture to students at the University of East London; a presentation at Inspire Live at Google’s shiny new Kings Cross HQ. What I learned is that the moments where the audience — and I — came alive were when we all laughed. Where I said something funny, or someone in the audience did, or when I slipped up and went off-script.
  3. The best experiences are stumbled upon, not planned. On arriving in Glasgow earlier this month — the first time I’d been to the city for 15 years — I took a stroll and discovered Argyle Street where I found The Steamie, a great coffee shop. After my coffee I walked around the corner and stumbled upon Ox and Finch where I made a reservation for dinner. It was one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to. I’d had no map to get me there, no guidebook was involved. I love that feeling of discovery. It sends a tingle up my spine.
  4. Give people permission to run wild. One of the most successful elements in my storytelling workshop is Story Safari where I send delegates out to explore the streets around them. I’m delighted that I always get such a positive reaction. People come back completely fired-up, with a child like sense of wonder, full of inspiration and ideas. Why is it so effective? Because it feels such a treat to be given an hour off to roam, and to soak up the world around you.
  5. Take time out to throw a Frisbee with your kids. If you’re a parent and you work from home a lot, I know it can be hard separating work and family. Especially when they arrive back from school and the house fills with noise and clatter. Last Wednesday at 6pm I was working from my attic work space when I heard laughter from the garden. I looked out of the window and saw my two sons mucking about, throwing a frisbee to each other. Instantly I knew where I needed to be and I raced down the stairs to join them. It was the highlight of my day.
  6. The best meetings happen nowhere near meeting rooms. I’ve been lucky. Some of my best meetings lately? On the roof of Shoreditch House sitting by the swimming pool. Taking a client for a walk-and-talk along the Thames estuary. Sitting in a buzzy coffee shop. A reminder that the most productive meetings tend to happen outside of office buildings. That’s why I like to run my coaching sessions outdoors.
  7. It’s worth paying extra for a room with a view. When I checked into a riverside hotel recently I was disappointed to discover my room didn’t have a river view. Instead it faced a busy road and noisy building site. I asked to move to a river view but was told I’d have to pay for an upgrade. My first reaction was that I’d save the money (it wasn’t a cost I could have passed on to my client) but it took me all of thirty seconds to change my mind. It’s always worth having a room with a view.
  8. Talk to the locals. Cab drivers and waiters in Belfast. Baristas in Cardiff and Glasgow. Record shop staff in Cardiff. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with locals, getting the inside take on places I’ve visited lately, asking for coffee and music recommendations. It was also great to turn some Twitter connections into real life ones (thanks for the Cardiff drink Marc), and to meet up with some people I hadn’t seen for years (great to see you in Glasgow, Gregor).
  9. Nothing beats ‘content’ that lands on your door mat. The Week Junior and The New Yorker are the two magazines the Sanders family subscribe to. Yes, we also get our news, features and stories online, but nothing beats the excitement of great, original journalism landing on the door mat; my kids can’t wait for the postman to come on a Friday.
  10. I’m not a tube of toothpaste. Earlier this year I had a conversation with an old friend whose background is in brand marketing. He gave me some advice about my ‘brand.’ I came away thinking I needed to have a simpler value proposition, but was confused about how that might dilute the reality of my breadth of offering. Then I realised. I am a human not a tube of toothpaste. Some people can’t describe what they do in one line, and actually, that is okay.
  11. We need to talk about mental health. I’m not a Royal Watcher but after listening to Prince Harry on the Mad World podcast, I have a new admiration for Princes William and Harry for their candour about mental health. It’s something I care deeply about too, and here’s my 500 word take on the subject.
  12. My best thinking happens on short flights. I know business travel can be tedious, I certainly don’t envy my friends and contacts who regularly fly transatlantic. But short flights from small airports? They can be great punctuation marks in the day. Above the clouds, with a Gin & Tonic (depending on the time of day), I do some of my best work. So come on, if you’re in a European city and you need a speaker or someone to run a workshop, book me for your event. I need the flying time to stay fired up!

Ian Sanders is a creative consultant, storyteller and coach who gets organisations, teams and individuals fired-up about their work.

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