Conceptual Strategy for Intranets

I know, that’s a rock and roll blog post title, eh?

A short video, explaining something that Chris, Mark and I worked on a while ago for a client, but that came back round again today when someone asked ‘any thoughts on setting up intranets?’. Rather than a long blog post, or a detailed email, I made a scratchy video…

…using the webcam/lamp stand thing I hacked together a while ago.


Froebel’s Gifts for The Internet

Over the past few days, after John first introduced the topic to me last week, I have been looking in to Froebel’s Gifts. For those of you who are unaware of Froebel’s gifts, they are a series of playthings for kids that are widely considered to be the world’s first educational toys.



The gifts, created by Friedrich Froebel, were introduced in 1838 at a similar time to when Froebel coined the term and opened the first Kindergarten. They appear deceptively simple but represent a sophisticated approach to child development. The six original gifts were accompanied by a series of “Occupations” such as sewing, gardening, singing and the modelling with clay, which were designed to help children mimic their experiences through play.

The idea of these gifts and occupations did spark a thought with us over here at Smithery. What would Froebel’s gifts be if you were designing them today, to help people grasp the idea of the Internet? Can you easily translate the physical lessons from 1838 over to the digital age? This translation is something I have struggled with in the past, as my brain works towards predominantly physical solutions for things.

Some of the lessons Froebel was trying to introduce included:

i) The idea of learning through “focused play”

ii) Seeing the interconnectedness of all creation.

iii) The importance of knowing how information fits together, rather than memorising facts themselves.

The last two lessons really stand out to really lending themselves to understanding the internet. Obviously the world is becoming more and more interconnected, and more recently the emergence of the Internet of Things will accelerate this. But also I like the idea of helping people develop a powerful skill; to be able to use the internet well without needing to be an expert in any of its particular disciplines. A way of closing the gap between amateurs and experts perhaps, or at the very least create common ground for dialogue between the two.

So we’re setting ourselves a task; what would Froebel’s gifts and occupations be for a digital world? We’ll have a little play around, with the Artefact Cards which exist already, and some other ideas we’ve been playing with.

And maybe, just maybe, we will try to create a collection of gifts to go along with one of our new years resolutions about producing more, and set up a subscription service for people to receive them.

We have some starter questions that need answered; if you can think of any more helpful ones, please do drop them into the comments below.

What would the internet look and feel like in your hands?

What would Froebel’s occupations be to enhance education for the internet age?

What’s the metaphor or analogy that helps you understand what the internet is?

Flow Engines vs. Fracking

I ran an innovation session yesterday for The Network One, to a group of owners and CEOs of various nimble, independent agencies. I was going to just explore some of the ideas in Fracking The Social Web, but given it was an afternoon session I tried something new.

(Also, as a rule of thumb, just talking in an afternoon slot isn’t as good as getting people to do things. I can’t remember where I first heard this theory, but it’s always worked for me. Mornings are for heads, afternoons are for hands.)

By using the Flow Engine approach to set up ‘different ways of working’, and using Artefact Cards as went, we moved through three steps.

Firstly, I asked people to write on a card the biggest issue for them in bridging the gap between traditional marketing structures and the more fluid, granular approach needed for working on the social web. In their groups, they then shared these in the centre of the table; some would be similar, some different, but what was interesting was the conversation betwen the teams about the different issues.

Secondly, we then used the Fracking themes to think about why agencies need to work differently; as I went through the themes and examples, the participants in groups would be noting down things on cards (either direct points, or ideas set-off by the thinking), so that in small groups they could start addressing the points in the centre of the table, building out a map of the territory.

Finally, I asked people to looking at the map and just write down a final card for themselves on what they would change tomorrow when they got back to the office, taking inspiration from the map they’d created together.

The slides are up here, so you can get an idea of the session. In hindsight, I think I tried to do slightly too much in the allocated time, it’d have been nicer to have some extra reflection time.  Apart from that though, it seemed to work pretty well – thanks to everyone there for throwing themselves in, and thanks again to Paul, Victoria and Doug from The Network One.

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

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.


Don’t meet your heroes. Work with them. Presenting Artefact Cards for Hiut Denim…

David at Hiut Denim asked me earlier in the year “would you like to do something together for our second year book?”  I eagerly said yes.

Fast forward a couple on months, and the new year book has just landed on my desk.

Year Book - On Desk

At the back, there’s this: “A small shop of products that we curate to show off those that we think do their one thing well”

Year Book - Open

And in there, you’ll find the limited edition Hiut Artefact Cards:

Year Book - Artefact Cards

You would not believe how long I sat and just looked at that page.  Yeah, I know.

There’s something about the red and yellow that just works.  It’s rhuburb and custard, perhaps.  They’re my favourite ever Artefact Boxes.

Hiut Artefact Pack Shot

They’re available now, from the Hiut Shop:

Got get some before I buy them all back myself.

“It’s Genius; it’s Moleskine for Post-its”

“It’s genius, it’s Moleskine for Post-its”

So said Matt Sadler, my friend and fellow graduate of the IPA Excellence Diploma’ of Artefact Cards, as we caught up for the first time in AGES tonight.

I liked that so much, I made him write it down. Then put his face very close to it.




We were down at the launch of an initiative at The Bakery, which has been started by Alex Dunsdon & friends; Alex is another friend of ours from the Excellence Diploma. The Bakery brings together brands, agencies and technology companies, to try and solve problems consumers have with technology, rather than just use it to deliver advertising.

MTPW > MPWT, etc.

Anyway, the two things together (“Moleskine for Post-its” and Tech startups) made me remember a conversation that Mark Earls, Tim Milne and I were having yesterday, about one of the subjects around Mark’s new book he’s writing.

When people are pitching new tech startups to people, they tend to throw together two familiar things to make an unfamiliar thing. It’s Last.FM for Running. It’s Etsy for Auto Parts. It’s Mailbox for Calendars. It’s Instagram for Video. It’s X for Y.

Anyway, there’s probably a clear formula to use:


And it’s all out the “Cut Up Technique” play book, of which Artefact Cards a definitely of the school of. Cut Up Technique is basically where you take an existing body of text (or images)’ cut through them all, and start rearranging to find new combinations.

It’s what the brilliant William S Burroughs quote “When You Cut Into The Present The Future Leaks Out” refers to. Cut into what exists, reorder, and see what might exist in the future.

Try it tomorrow. Write down lots of popular things in culture, and a set of broken things around the thing you’re working on. Then mix them all up, and see what you can create.

Minimum Viable Presentation


We had the first Artefact meetup last week, which was great fun.  More on that over here.  But there will be more, that’s for sure.  Thanks to Helen & Mel at BBH for hosting, and the guys over at Carlsberg in Copenhagen for being the beer sponsors (and sending us some fine craft beer from the Jacobsen microbrewery).

At the end of the evening, Adam mentioned that he’d heard someone describe the app as “Minimum Viable Presentation”.  Which I think is brilliant.  I just wish I knew who it was who’d said it.

Anyway, get your MVP tool for iPhone over here, if you haven’t already –

And if you have it already, do be a dear and write us a review of it 🙂