On The Way of the World

This was my first travel book.

I’d been attracted by the cover colour scheme. A two tone design of pale cream and rich burgundy. And of course its cover photo: a battered old Fiat Topolino (the quintessential car of mid 20th century Europe), a young man hanging out the roof and, rolling out in the background, the open road.

A road that led from Geneva to the Khyber Pass.

For me The Way of the World is the definitive travel book. All the dreams you’ve ever had of taking a car and adventuring were first realised by Nicolas Bouvier and Thierry Vernet. A writer and a painter. An illustrator and a humble crafter of words. Poets in ink.

“We denied ourselves every luxury except one, that of being slow”

Together they take a journey for two years with money enough for four months. The route takes them across Yugoslavia (it’s 1963), Greece, Turkey, Iran and its deserts (yes, in a tiny Fiat Topolino), as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan. But reading it feels endless. Until it ends. I must have read the last chapter a dozen times to hold on to the feeling it leaves me with.

And then, in other passages, I have been so shocked by its casual beauty that I’ve had to stop. Close the book. And gaze into the distance so that I could prolong the moment, the warmth of the scene portrayed.

“Travel outgrows its motives. It soon proves sufficient in itself. You think you are making a trip, but soon it is making you – or unmaking you.”

Why am I moved so much by this book?

I’ve written before about the qualities that make for great travel writing. Mood. Place. A permanence that makes its truths last long after you finish it. But The Way of the World affects me because of something more profound: because it is a book filled with a love for humanity.

Thierry’s fleeting descriptions so lovingly capture the essence and the glow of the people who help, hinder or pass them by. Take this section: in Iran, meditating on the safety of their car & possessions, it suddenly widens out to encompass the Iranian soul and to wonderfully humanise those whom other writers might reduce to background:

“… up until now thieves had been considerate, no doubt because of the lines by Hafiz which we’d lettered in Persian on the left-hand door:

Even if your night’s shelter is uncertain

and your goal still far away

know that there doesn’t exist

a road without an end – 

don’t be sad

For months that inscription served as password and safeguard… In Iran, poetry that was quite hermetic and over five hundred years old still held popular sway to an extraordinary extent. Shopkeepers squatting in front of the stalls put on their glasses to read it to each other across the pavement. In cheap restaurants in the bazaar, which were full of headstrong types you sometimes came across a ragged diner whose eyes were closed in pleasure, his face lit up as a friend whispered poetry in his ear.”

How human and alive are its characters!

There are rogues and scoundrels in the book too. But even when penning the portraits of the infrequent few who try to cheat our heroes in their journey, there is love (and comedy). Take this moment, when their car had broken down, and attracted some unwanted local helpers:

“The Qashqai were lending a hand, and it took is a moment to register that their eyes had lit up, and that while they were pushing a bit, they were pulling even harder. Yes, they’d found us sympathetic but our luggage was a very beguiling sight, and we had difficulty in disengaging the large hands now reaching for it, pretending to laugh… knowing that only the pretence of farce would stop our coming to blows. At the same time we were pushing like galley slaves, and as the slope was steep and the car was laden, it soon got up enough speed for us to leap inside. A few zigzags on the level of the earthern walls left behind even the most zealous of our helpers.”

And this is a humanity that is equalled in Vernet’s naive caricatures and sketches. They rarely illustrate the scene they’re placed amongst, but complement it. A man’s proud and bushy moustache. A chicken staring through a window. Two men in conversation, face to face on the back of a donkey. Lovers lost in a dance.

Here are two men on a journey, seeing two halves of the same world.

It’s a wonderful book. Its love for the people of the world will make you ache to get up and journey into the hills, across the dusty roads of Anatolia and on towards its borders. To strike friendships with weary soldiers, madams and kindly wanderers. To unwind muscles in the hamams of Asia Minor.

To sing songs with fellow travellers.

“Travel outgrows its motives. It soon proves sufficient in itself. You think you are making a trip, but soon it is making you – or unmaking you.”


Managing stake (through the heart) holders

“When should we include stakeholders in this project?”

We’ve all been there. You’re working up something new for your organisation, and you’re thinking about how to involve your key decision makers. You’re conscious that if you don’t handle them right, or include them at the right time, then they could be a massive pain in the neck. 

The worry is they might kill your project or suck the lifeblood out of it. Because that’s what stakeholders do.

Okay I’ve stretched the Nosferatu metaphor as far as it needs to go.

Fundamentally what you are concerned about (and rightly so) is that the product you are developing doesn’t meet your stakeholders’ approval. Or worse still that it fails to meet their needs.

So the question should really be: when should you involve your stakeholders to help guarantee the success of your project?

What kind of stakeholders are they?

Product users as stakeholders

But the first important thing to do is agree who we’re talking about.

If the stakeholders are ‘users of the product’, they need to be involved from the start of the project. 

They are the drivers of need, upon which your attempt to deliver a solution are based. They need to inform it, from research to inception to development and launch, and at every stage in the product lifecycle.

These are not the stakeholders I want to focus on in this post.

Sign off / power holding stakeholders

If the stakeholders are NOT the end users, and instead they’re ‘power holders in the organisation’ who need to greenlight the project in some capacity (for instance, line managers, a non-profit’s directors or board, interconnecting teams, etc), then this is a slightly different scenario.  

And these are the stakeholders I want to talk about.

An unrealistic ideal

There is an idealised scenario here which you might have heard: that you agree with your power holders that they sign off the start of the project and then leave you alone, or that they have diminishing input as the project progresses.

But that rarely happens. I have yet to work in one role where a manager has said that they are comfortable to work in this fashion.

A more practical alternative

Instead, I advise that sign off stakeholders are involved at the outset and then their involvement reduced at a specific time, a time which both reassures them and aids the project. 

In order to know when this is, we need to look at the creative process and how ideas lead to products. 

The creative and decision making process

You include stakeholders at the early stages of a creative project to get their buy in. That much is obvious. 

After this point, you should picture a diamond. When you are the initial task of coming up with a solution or formulating a response, you are at its point.

As you launch into the creative process all the options become available. Research and discovered needs stimulate ideas, which are thrown into the ring. The possibilities and options widen.

What are you going to be actually making? Who knows yet, but it’s very exciting and there’s loads of ideas on the table. 

This is divergence

Divergence – coming up with all the solutions

After a period you reach the point where the breadth of options is at its widest; and it’s now that the team realise:

  1. these ideas are increasingly distinct and incompatible
  2. the clock is ticking and you need to make some decisions

Making decisions

So now you need to hone in your ideas, reject some and consolidate others. The range of options shrinks until eventually you reach the final concept. This is the point at the other end from where you started and the diamond is complete.

What you went through was convergence

It’s a diamond of idea generation, opening and then closing.

Convergence is all about making choices and eliminating options so you can decide how to proceed.

Convergence – eliminating options, consolidating ideas

Stakeholder commitment

But how it relates to stakeholders is this.

Implicit in convergence is the act of commitment. As you move along convergence you are saying, based on what we know now: ‘we commit to say that these ideas are good enough to keep working on’.

So the important thing to do is to include your sign off stakeholders both at the outset AND as far along the convergence process as you can. 

At least get them to the point where convergence begins, where decisions are made about what to cut or consolidate and some ideas are moved forward. 

Get them involved in convergence. Get them to hone down the choices. And in doing so you’ll get them to commit. 

Commitment – get your stakeholders this far at least

Risks of non commitment

If you include stakeholders only in the divergence, the creative steps, then they are always going to ask

  • “What happened to my idea,” or
  • “What happened to that idea I heard which sounded good,” or
  • “It was a great process, and that tells me that maybe there is more to be done and more great ideas to be found. Let’s run this again and bring in more people [etc]”

In conclusion:

When should you bring in stakeholders?

At the start, and definitely at the point of idea generation. Take them through the process (divergence) to the point where decisions have to be made and ideas consolidated or culled to move forward. This ensures their commitment. 

At this point risk of them killing or delaying your project starts to decrease. The longer you can keep them involved from here, the better. But make sure you can get them to hear at least.


15 useful questions for product-based businesses, post Covid-19

This is the second in a series of three posts on products and innovation in the New Normal, focusing on businesses. The first post focuses on users and society, and the third on teams.

They are derived from a workshop I ran in June to look at what Covid-19 (and the future thereafter) means for products, users, teams and society. 

The resulting How Might We… questions are designed to be a stimulus for others to come up with solutions in their own context.

We’re going to be building a new everything. So we might as well build it right.


Obviously there are lots of issues here. And so many resolve around uncertainty.

What should our businesses adapt to? What should we strive to reach for? What is the most pressing problem to be solved and where should businesses place their resources?

In short, we’re not confident about our direction and our next steps. This lack of certainty can be passed on to our users.


  1. How might we… acknowledge the uncertainty around information we are providing to engender trust?
  2. How might we…better understand our industry and how the pandemic could affect it?
  3. How might we…document solutions to problems to better prepare for next time?
  4. How might we… instil a sense of certainty/credibility in our supporter so that they in turn believe in us?

Meanwhile users have a lack of patience around tools that can be used for multiple purposes. This can affect those of us whose core products are tools rich with features and flexibility.

Our users are urgently looking for “one tool for one job”. (See also: Users are going with what they know and trust, even if it’s not necessarily the best tool for the job.)


  1. How might we… communicate our value proposition clearly to users?
  2. How might we… diversify our products?
  3. How might we… design/make a product that’s as easy-to-use and reliable as a fridge or a microwave?

And of course we are losing customers. Sales are being delayed. Users and clients are worried about their income and cancelling their accounts. So…

  1. How might we… offer incentives to new customers, but protect our brand and perceived value?
  2. How might we… maintain (or increase) retention of existing customers?
  3. How might we… help them understand the value they’re receiving?

In response to a potential loss of income, there’s a drive to adapt and find new income streams. However it’s hard to know how much we should experiment and innovate vs. shut down and wait it out.

  1. How might we… understand what’s realistically and financially possible when it comes to innovation right now?
  2. How might we… we diversify to protect income streams?
  3. How might we… encourage risk taking from our senior teams?

And our roadmaps are being thrown out of the window.

  1. How might we… best roadmap and plan in a time of uncertainty?
  2. How might we… do away with roadmapping entirely, and adopt a development process that focuses on rapid iteration, experimentation and alternatives?

Moving on

Hopefully some of those will have inspired you.

The questions continue in the third and final post in this series, on teams and team-building.


How embracing possibility and enrolment leads to better campaigns

Recently I’ve been listening to Seth Godin’s excellent Akimbo podcast on enrolment and possibility. And these two concepts are so valuable when you’re thinking about new campaigns, products and content.

The crux is, to change culture, to find your core believers who will support a campaign or use a new product, you need two things. Possibility, how you sell the potential to have impact and change the culture, and enrolment: the system to facilitate buy in and to take people on that journey.

Why are these important?

Going beyond the same-old, same-old

They’re important because all too often we forget about what we are really trying to achieve through our campaign or with our product and so we fall into habitual behaviour: we focus on employing the same old tactics that we have used before and are expected to do now.

As a result our campaigns and our products are not as effective as they should be.

For example, let’s pretend we are launching a new online campaign.

(And a quick note: I’m going to use “campaigns” from hereon in, but a lot of this is applicable to thinking about new products too.)

If we’ve done online campaigning before we might think it’s a good idea to daisy-chain calls to action together (“sign this pledge”, then “thanks for signing the pledge, now can you share the campaign on Twitter?”, then “thanks again, now how about signing up for our mailing list?” and so on).

By why are we doing this? And if we are going to offer different levels of participation – because that’s what we are doing – what’s the best way of doing it?

Moreover, how can we treat people who participate respectfully, and not repeat the same old tactics that are done to supporters by so many other campaigns?

Now is a good time to think about possibility and enrolment. By doing so we can refresh our attitudes and be more effective in our ways of connecting with people and mobilising change.


Possibility is the potential you have, your campaign has, to bring about real change.

Of the two concepts, possibility is the simplest to consider.

And of the two concepts, possibility is more important than enrolment because no matter how easy it is to take part in your campaign it won’t matter if it seems like the end change is an impossible one to achieve.

So ask yourself:

  • How might your campaign and the messaging around it sell the idea of possibility?
  • How might it evidence what is possible?
  • And how might the campaign make the possibility seem attainable?
    Because (and this is a glib example), a campaign that aims to “end world poverty” feels like it is overreaching. But a campaign that aims to, say, put a new kind of safety net in place “to help prevent vulnerable people from falling into inescapable poverty”? Well, that sounds like it might be possible. It’s a future that we can visualise and a campaign that we can back.
  • how might your campaign convey the increasing possibility of success as the campaign unfolds and people take part?
    In other words, how might it ratchet up its own chance of success?

If you can think about these questions when formulating your campaign, and if you can consider them when you’re crafting the language around it, then you can make sure you’re building possibility into your campaign for your audiences.


If possibility is the most important, enrolment is the most difficult to get working effectively. But done right it can be your engine to deliver the possible.

In short… how can people get started? How might the system you create facilitate their participation? How might the system you build help people deliver the possible in an engaged and active way?

This is why the idea of enrolment is so important. To be enrolled means to be an active, contributing part of the system. Enrolment is a way better analogy than sign up. Sign up is passive. Sign up is ‘take my email and maybe I will do something with your newsletters and updates’.

Showing up and doing the work

Enrolment recognises people’s role in the change they want to bring. It rewards commitment and effort and encourages being part of an active community.

And if you think the word ‘enrolment’ evokes college learning and working together: that’s the point.

At its heart, enrolment is about connecting people.

Let’s take an example.

LendWithCare is a fantastic campaign that gets people micro lending to small, local entrepreneurs in the global south. You can lend people £5 to help them start a new brick oven, to buy a new market stand, to purchase a motorbike to increase their distribution, etc.

You can browse who to support, see their photos and read their life and business stories. You get updates on the progression of their repayments. And when they have repaid you you get your money back, ready to reinvest with another person.

It’s fantastic in connecting you to those you are supporting.

And it connects you to others like you. You can create groups of lenders and come together to back people you believe in. You can gift LWC vouchers to get friends and family lending (which is the start of some great person-to-person conversations about the campaign and its possibility) and the LWC team are always present and on hand to chat.

As a result, the people who support LendWithCare are a fantastically enrolled and passionate bunch. The team at LWC could run a ‘what shall we do next’ event next week and they would have a room packed full of supporters, many of whom would have gladly travelled far to contribute their advice.

Give supporters the value they expect from their involvement

Which brings me to my final point about why people support campaigns.

We must recognise that when people contribute to a campaign, even if it’s a charitable one, they rarely contribute freely.

People usually give because on some level they expect to get value back. Deep down it’s worth more to them to give than not to give. This is true whether they are making a pledge, giving time or donating £100.

The value they receive from giving is emotional, spiritual or social.

Value comes through storytelling

And the value returned comes via the story they tell themselves about their own contribution. About their impact on the world and their personal role in delivering the possibility.

If you’re struggling to see what I mean, think about the LendWithCare supporters and the stories they must proudly tell themselves (and those around them) about how they’ve helped people in developing countries grow their own businesses and build their own livelihoods. This is worth so much more than their £5 loan.

So, as campaigners, we have an obligation to recognise that supporters who give us their time or money hope for something in return, and that this is perfectly fine, normal human behaviour.

Going beyond the daisy-chain

Which brings us back to the idea of daisy-chaining calls-to-action.

It’s not enough to just escalate calls to action. It’s not enough to just say thank you in the web browser, and gradually feed supporters towards subscribing to your email list. What story can they tell themselves and others about that?

So be kind. Give them the value they seek. Whatever type of campaign you are running, ask yourself:

  • How might the system we are building give supporters the emotional, spiritual, or social value they seek?
  • How might it help them to tell the best possible story about their own involvement?
  • And most of all, how might the campaign help supporters to be enrolled, to reward their contributions, to actively connect with others and deliver a change that’s possible?

How to run effective Design Sprint workshops

Recently I’ve been lucky to run a range of design and product workshops with Outlandish, the worker-owned tech agency. It’s something I love doing. From 5 day Design Sprints based on the Google Ventures handbook approach, to one day MVP planning, design sprint-in-a-day sessions and more.

Through this there are a few simple techniques that I’ve come to appreciate that can significantly improve the experience of those in the room and the output of the day.

Some of these have already been recommended by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz in their book Design Sprint. I reiterate them here because, when you’re reading the book prior to running your first sprint, it’s easy for their importance to be overlooked.

Others have been learnt the hard way or developed with input from Outlandish colleagues.

Okay, in no particular order, here we go:

If you say sketch, then sketch

In a design sprint there is a lot of sketching. There needs to be. However some people don’t feel comfortable sketching because they’re worried about presenting their drawing skills to their peers. Also they’re concerned they can’t capture what’s in their head.

They will want to write their ideas instead.

But you should avoid your participants writing instead of sketching at all costs.

A written response feels clear and complete. But the beauty of sketching is that it IS crude and unfinished.

A sketch invites more contribution and engagement. It leaves space for the idea to be explained by its drawer and interpreted or elaborated upon by the listener. Because of the space around a sketch the potential feels larger, and more gets opportunities are seen within it.

Sketches, crude flowcharts, stickmen – these are all fine. But written responses should be discouraged.

Reassure your participants that no-one is judging, we are seeking to be inspired. Use the explanation above if need be. Explain why sketching is so important.

Make them stand

There’s something about tables that puts lead in people’s butts and makes them want to sit. This is murder for a collaborative process.

Keep the space more space than table. Give plenty of room around the whiteboards.

Take as many tables out as you can. Leave enough for people to sit at and make notes, but ensure that it’s light on tables. Even a little cramped. People will feel inclined to get up and out of their seat.

Equally, direct them. Don’t be afraid to explicitly ask people to stand up. Ideally before explaining the rest of the activity instructions.

Tell them directly: “Okay, for this next activity I need everyone out of their seats. So, please stand.

“What we’re all going to do is take one sticky note, write on it a user type, and post it on the board. And we’re going to do that for as many user types as we can think of for the next 2 minutes.”

And know where to stand during their feedback

As the facilitator and someone who’ll probably doing the majority of the speaking during the session, attendees feel naturally inclined to address any feedback to you. Be aware of this. They need to be feeding back to their peers, not ‘reporting to teacher’.

So when people are feeding back, try to stand in the midst of the group. Even better, stand behind them, so others are between you and the person at the board explaining their work. This way eye contact is made with their peers, group engagement happens and feedback is taken board.

Two people standing, drawing designs on a board.

Be aware of the power in the room

The main client has a lot of power. They’re probably an important decision maker too and it’s important that they’re invested and involved.

However they’ve got a team with them, and some of them in that team have a very different status. The intern. The assistant. The new hire. The student help. And the reality is they’re likely to have just as valid input.

It’s probably imperative, in fact, that new thinking is required on this project – and perhaps even they’re closer to the product’s target user than the CEO.

However it’s easy for the CEO to have a louder voice and the intern to be excluded. So, ensure that everyone is given full chance to speak and participant. And make sure that the intern, the assistant don’t just get a turn at the end of an activity, after everyone else has spoken and now the clock is ticking to move on. But rather, mix them up. Mix everyone’s turn to speak up.

As an aside: Outlandish, where I spend much of my time these days, uses a consent-based decision making process on their projects called sociocracy. Using it in design sprints is a great way to help level the playing field. They offer training in how to apply sociocracy in your own work here.

Make those sticky notes work for everyone

There’s a reason why sticky notes are sticky, and that is so they can be unstuck. And moved.

The process of design requires that people form associations and take action.

Writing notes and sticking them to a wall allows us to immerse ourselves in the chaos of information. Our brains kick in and try to form associations, and soon enough we find ourselves making connections and spotting common themes.

Moving the notes and resticking them elsewhere allows us to spark ideas and conversation, and so on.

If an activity requires sticky notes (e.g. for an idea generation activity, or capturing insights and research), make sure that they go on sticky notes. And insist on one idea or insight per note. Then get them up on the wall.

Really, do push your team to do this. They’ll find it unusual at first, and you’ll need to guard against over-talking and discussion of the notes as they’re created, but soon they’ll see the value of doing this.

A woman looks at a wall in the street, covered with sticky notes

Use the board to cut down discussion

A simple yet effective trick: partition a slice of your board off at the start. Draw a line to make a column to one side of your board.

This is your park board.

Here you’re going to park any questions that are taking up too much time.

In my experience they’re usually questions about what-ifs. I.e. other things that the project may or may not need to connect with in the future and how this challenge might be resolved; what other stakeholders who are absent might say; and risks.

Although these can’t be resolved in the room right now, you will find that one or more people will start discussing it like it’s part of the output of the day. It isn’t

I like to capture these things as questions, and refer back to them in the Design Sprint How Might We…? session, if you’re running one.

And when the day is over, you should also refer back to the park board to see if any of the issues and questions parked are still valid and actionable after the sprint.

You can also use the park board to list vocabulary that your team might be unfamiliar with, key dates, or other headline insights, and so use it to reduce the cognitive load on your participants.

Show the running order

Let’s think about the setup for a minute.

In the Design Sprint book Jake Knapp recommends showing the agenda at the start of the day, indicating all the different stages and activities you’ll be running.

There is something so fundamental about doing this, but it’s easily forgotten as you strive to get everyone settled and to get going.

Sure you can just launch into the day and try to take people on a creative journey, but attendees derive confidence in you if they know there is a grand plan. That things are heading in a certain direction – even if they don’t understand what the items on the running order mean or what they’re going to be doing.

Showing a topline running order means they relax. They give themselves over more to the activity. And your day just got a lot easier.

Ask permission

Another simple win. After the introductions and showing the order, check the understanding of your guests. Then, explain your role and the desired outcome of the day.

Finally, ask your attendees to allow you to lead. That’s all. Just ask your attendees something along the lines of “if I have your permission, I will be running through these activities and taking us towards this goal. How does that sound?”

They will say it sounds good – yes, you have their permission. And of course they’ll say this. But in this moment there is a transaction that takes place and trust is imparted to you.

Speak less

It’s scary to speak to a room, to lead a workshop. There is the fear that you won’t be understood. You feel a pressure to fill the air and over-explain. You feel that people expect you to have all the answers.

But that’s not true. It’s mostly in your head.

So breathe. Take a moment before you speak. Talk a little slower than you usually might in a conversational setting. Actively listen to yourself as you talk.

And when you’ve said what you have to say, lean into the pause. Leave it hanging in the room.

Generally your attendees will want to help you or rise to your challenges.

And as for questions: recognise that you don’t need to have the answers. If someone asks a question, open it to the room. You are there to help the day run beautifully and the attendees to be as productive as they can be.

When you do these things, you pay more attention to what you’re saying. You see where your tongue is taking you and how to finish the idea you’re halfway expressing.

Prepare. Prepare prepare prepare…

And finally, preparation is key.

When I was teaching English, I liked to have a running order, by the minute. For example, prior to running a class I’d make notes like this.:

  • 3 minutes – warm-up activity the ‘eee’ and ‘i’ game
  • 5 minutes – write past-perfect example sentence; elicit other examples; elicit grammar points
  • 15 minutes – set questions
  • 5 minutes – check answers and understanding
  • … etc

At every step I would also prepare what I needed say, almost like a script.

And I do the same thing with running workshops.

However I know that we will probably stray from this. I know that I can’t keep referring to the running order every few mins – it’s impossible. I accept that I will get sidetracked, or I’ll forget something.

But that’s okay, because the act of preparing helps me really get comfortable with the activities and feel relaxed. And in the room, it helps me have a better awareness of time.

So there you are! A few tips to help you run sessions. Hope they’re of use 😉