Just over a week ago, I was part of the Workstock pop-up event within the Workplace Trends conference. I was planning to write a blog about the experience, which has started to open some doors (or at least find the doors to open), but others have already covered it in a way that’s both more interesting and more insightful than I could.

On Wednesday, I met with Lloyd Davis, a fellow Workstock presenter and a man who has lived his live by a number of incredible projects as a ‘Social Artist’. His amazing story of relying on the world to keep him in shelter, food and some form of work for a year literally blew my mind, particularly as he’s so unassuming about it all.

We got to discussing life and work outside the usual structures.

I mentioned how every Friday, as everyone else is looking forward to a weekend of respite after a working week, I seem to hit a dark patch of self-doubt and sheer panic. Lloyd gave a knowing smile and just said:

It’s always on Friday.

That in itself was so reassuring —knowing that I’m not the only one completely unsure about the ridiculous path I’ve chosen to take- but also fascinating in that Friday, the end of the working week, should terrorise those of us outside the structure. There’s some psychology to analyse there.

This week, the Friday feeling hit late on Thursday night. I’m now through it enough to have some perspective…

Approaching the Red Dots

My friend Matthew Partovi, creator of Culturevist, Microsoft (Yammer) employee and Co-Founder of the Responsive Org movement shared a post a while ago on red, orange and green dots in organisations.

My main problem is that in everything I do, red dots are my targets. Whether as customers, event attendees or sponsors, the people I really want to be involved with are those who actively don’t want to come, or don’t believe they need what I’m offering.

I know how ridiculous that sounds, but I fully believe in my ideas around simplifying organisations inside and outside, creative projects that carry through to branding and deconstructed events that are more fun than the standard corporate conference. The unfortunate thing is the people and organisations who will get most from them are those who don’t recognise the themes at all!

If one way I’m going to be paid is in recognition of the value I create, I need to work where there’s the potential for the greatest impact. Namely, large, multi-national and corporate organisations. SMEs I’m happy to just help where I can — they’re already open to new ideas and can implement them simply, just to try them out. They don’t need me, they can just experiment with the ideas and I’m happy to share with them. It’s the lumbering big boys I want a crack at.

In the news this week I read about Tesco’s turmoil and demise. If I walked into the boardroom, I know exactly where I’d start and I could make a huge impact, very quickly.

The problem is platform. More specifically, that I don’t have one.

It’s a pattern I’ve seen since my days in the NHS, only then I was tied to a salary. I know I’ve got great ideas and if under The Work Project payment can be to recognise the value I create – really, what would Tesco, or Jaguar Landrover, or any of the other organisations I’m trying to get into (and know need my input) have to lose?

Without a platform though, I’m unable to get on their radars in a way to open the right conversations. Without access or reputation, there is no platform.

That was highlighted last night – sending me into my Friday malaise early this week…

You Have No Reach

In June, I ran an event called All About People – Creating Amazing Workplaces, which catalysed my journey into all this. I have some amazing ideas and fully plan to do it again next year. As per usual, the plans are big, but they’re coming together nicely. To make it accessible to everyone (as amazing workplaces should be) I need to secure some funding.

This year, I invested my own money just making it happen. Given my current working status, I can’t afford to sustain that again! Rather than a standard, mundane sponsorship deal, I can see a better way to partner with brands to represent their interests and get All About People funded. I’ve called it Unsponsorship, but (as I’m becoming all too aware through everything I do), people aren’t necessarily open to thinking differently.

The premise is almost ridiculously simple – I’ll do some work for the supporting partner, creating an outcome for them, they’ll give me some money, I’ll just happen to put it towards making my event happen. Ideas I’ve been considering include research into the effect of video gaming in the workplace, people-based content creation and other impact studies, white papers or more creative projects.

Herman Miller have been supportive and it looks like we’ll be getting the ball rolling together. I need to raise £400k or more to deliver the whole programme though, so I need other partners and bigger projects to deliver and while I’ve spoken to a few organisations with initial positivity, as yet I just can’t get it over the line.

Yesterday, someone from one of my target organisations, a major global brand with some excellent synergy to All About People in their messages, took a look over the idea and gave me this feedback by email:

Interesting idea and nice website. My feedback is that it needs to be a bit more compelling for a company like XXX to consider investing. You would need to guarantee a set number of attendees, etc. Also, I would recommend that you work on your twitter following. 800 people doesn’t scream wide reach or industry influencer. I get that it’s intended to be a smaller group, but influence is critical.

Beyond the lack of attention paid to the Unsponsorship idea, which makes this not just about the event itself (the brand association is a bonus after we create value through project work) and the very staid nature of the consideration, there’s a story in here of why the corporate world is so slow to evolve – and ridiculously, why I want to work with these red dots!

Let me vent this now and move on…

£400k to these organisations is nothing from their marketing/ advertising/ sponsorship budget and for what we could do together with that, I’d not only be able to provide them value in output (greater than for the millions they’re pouring into ad agencies), I’d be able to put on an amazing programme of important events which I can also make accessible to all. They just need to be open to the conversation about how we could create that mutual value.

Now we get back to platform and reach. Even when I manage to speak to target organisations, judgements are being placed like:

Also, I would recommend that you work on your twitter following. 800 people doesn’t scream wide reach or industry influencer.

That’s the whole point! I’m not an industry influencer, I’m looking to change things – I’m bringing you something new, something different. If I was an influencer, I wouldn’t be approaching you with anything but a mainstream event.

And is 800 followers completely insignificant?

My social media hero Marji Sherman wrote this piece on the importance of real conversation/ connection over token following. Amongst the 800 people who follow me on Twitter are people who have helped me unbelievably this year, in fact, they’ve shaped my life.

I count amongst them old friends and new. When I ask, they help, when I talk, they respond, when I meet them in real life, I feel like I’ve known them for years – and the same goes in reverse. I spend a decent amount of each day on Twitter, just talking, listening, learning and sharing – it couldn’t be any more active… but this obviously doesn’t count in the corporate world, where numbers and measurements are far more important that anything human.

If it is about numbers and pure reach, then I’m out of my depth. I get positive feedback every time I blog, but having just checked my stats they’re rarely seen by more than 100–200 actual readers. On LinkedIn, I sometimes share thoughts, reaching a few hundred people – yet inane, standard business waffle (10 Essential Habits of Amazing CEOs, How to Put the Pin in Pinstripe, etc.) gets viewed and shared by millions.

I don’t want to be an expert, I just want to make better, newer ideas happen.

That’s my conundrum… how?

Advertising Wanker

On the subject of platform and reaching the right people, amusement this week was supplied by a member of the advertising industry itself. Having attended the DigitasLbi event recently and blogged about how it inspired me, I followed up with one of the speakers. As someone who works at the organising company itself (Chief Creative Officer, no less), he spoke very well on this new dawn of people-focussed advertising inspiring human connection and how important it is that this is the future.

The notes I took from his talk were:

Quality of branded content is important. Emerging opportunity to create culture (e.g. Red Bull associations). Enlightened self-interest for brands with human-interest storytelling. Emotional connections are key.

After being inspired to the conclusion that #100Connections is a story that needs to be told and that a ‘new advertising’ brand association would be a great way to make it happen, I reached out. If he and his organisation are preaching the virtues of this new, human approach, then they must be the best starting place for advice and conversation!

Here’s how it went:

I haven’t heard from him since.

On Thursday I spent a lunchtime at Nest Co-Working space in Bournemouth, leading a session on how we can more creatively approach problems. Chatting to Ben Kay, the UK arm of Burns Marketing, I recounted this story. He just smiled and said:

That’s the problem with advertisers, they say things because they need to sound important. They never actually believe their own hype…

That says it all.

Furthermore, just through talking to Ben, he’s helping me with a couple of relevant introductions to chat the #100Connctions idea through. No conditions, no woodland animals required. Of course, if there’s any way I can repay that favour, I’ll do it without hesitation. That’s the point of this new, human approach to everything… it’s actually human.

Structuring Work

Beyond the creative potential of my projects, there’s still work to be done. This week I’ve entered into conversation about a project I really hope to be involved with – in itself it will say a lot about how ‘work’ is evolving and so could feed into The Work Project in multiple ways.

I’m hoping to share the full conversation once it concludes, but it’s been really interesting already. The main question it has already raised is –

without any structure, how can we measure the value of our work?

If I’m only going to be paid in a way that recognises value I create, then actually, some kind of recognisable structure may well be essential…

More on that soon.

For now, I edge ever-closer to making this thing work. There are pretty major obstacles, without which I’d be flying, but seriously, isn’t that life? If you’re sheltered from the difficulties, how will you know when things work out?

If there’s one certainty in all this, it’s that I’m determined to make things work out!

By Andy Swann on October 24, 2014.
Exported from Medium on July 15, 2016.