Month: July 2015

Getting Started With #NoEmail (Part 2) – “Unsubscribe”


In this series I explore my Top Ten Tips to slay the email beast, unpacking some of the methods I’ve used to reduce my email use by over 50% in the last four months and create stacks of time to do more interesting and productive things.

This post focuses on what I call “Content Bombs” – emails that drop into your inbox unexpected at the most inopportune moments and completely destroy your focus and attention.

They are the stealth bombers of the email world. Feats of technical online marketing ingenuity. Their power is witnessed with awe as they explode in glorious technicolour (or Pantone) in your inbox.

They know when you’re at your most vulnerable, even if you don’t. They know what you like to buy and when you like to buy it and they know what interests you.

Well, of course they do – you told them.

You asked for them to come.

You subscribed.

All I really want to share with you in this post is that you have a choice. I worked out recently that I was dealing with loads of content bombs every day. I thought they were interesting, even useful. Often they took me down a lovely rabbit hole of information and sometimes, just sometimes, something useful would come up.

Frequently, I would procrastinate.

Over time, I realised that although these emails had some interest and relevance, they weren’t adding much value to my working day. I also realised that in 100% of cases, I could find the content on the internet just as easily as having it dumped in my inbox. I could find it when I wanted to rather than have it imposed on me and tempting me with diversionary delights.

Dark Playground people

So I took drastic measures. I ‘unsubscribed’ from every single content bomb I signed up to.

It actually took me months. It was amazing how many I had signed up to and the process I had to go through to get out of their grip…

  • Some of them were conscious sign ups like industry newsletters.
  • Some were more subversive sign ups, like when I’d entered my email address as a new sign in for some new service or other, and then started to receive all their other regular content.
  • Some were relatively easy to unsubscribe from within a couple of clicks.
  • Some stopped emailing me straight away.
  • Some persisted and I had to unsubscribe multiple times before the emails stopped.
  • Some were more complicated to unsubscribe from, requiring website sign-in and changing email notification preferences, or even deleting my account.
  • Some were plain evil and offered no way to unsubscribe. Any organisation falling into this category, I blocked and marked as SPAM… and swore at my screen for good measure.

Eventually after two or three months it started to have a real effect and now both my personal and work emails are pretty much content bomb free! Occasionally I get a little explosion in my inbox (no giggling on the back row), but I can easily handle it. I’m still unsubscribing straight away from any new sign ups that result in unwanted content.

Now, the critics among you might be saying “but surely you’re missing out”.

Listen, think about this – with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Yammer, RSS feeds and the whole of the WWW to search whenever I want, do you really think I’m missing out on valuable content? If I want to find out about the latest course, the latest news, the latest events, innovations and ideas, the latest productivity tips, dance craze or cat videos, I am only ever a few clicks away from a multiverse of relevant content.

Only now I’m in control, and I’m getting so much less email.

So much less!


wego… what?

Sometime in July 2000 I found myself not wearing any shoes for a few weeks; a mere 25 years of age and still in many ways behaving like someone ten years younger still.

I’d been drifting around south east Asia and was happily washed up on the Shores of Bottle Beach, Kho Phangan, Thailand.

I got stuck.

It was, after all, pretty nice.


Each morning I would wake up thinking, “I really must leave this beach, my visa is going to run out and I’m sure I should explore more”.

Each day at sunset, I would slunk down in my hammock and listen to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore in perfect stereophonic sound…


Bottle Beach is only accessible by boat, meaning it had remained pretty isolated compared to other beaches. Every day, a long-tail boat would arrive carrying new arrivals and also picking up day trippers from the beach who needed to head to the local town of Chaloklum for supplies.

As I was barely getting myself together each day, the most energetic of these boat men would run up and down the beach front shouting “CHALOKLUM, CHALOKLUM, WE-GO-NOW…. YES YES WEGONOWWWWWWW!!!”

I liked him. He was a man of action. He had a deadline. He was going places and he was going places now and we’d better all be on the god damn boat now if we wanted to get anywhere today…

…except I was never on the boat. I was having breakfast.

But the imminence and power of his energy and his demand for collective action stayed with me. It became something I mused on for years after I (eventually) left the beach. I took on “wegonow” as the prefix to every personal email address I could from that day onwards and its resonance has never left me.

I was hooked on the idea of ‘wegonow’ – it became symbolic not only of a time I felt really relaxed, but also of a time when I felt anything could happen (and it frequently did!). The word became more than a reference to a sun kissed travelling memory. It became something along the lines of:

we = collective

go = movement / action / direction

now = imminent / happening

And that, my friends, is all there is to it.


N.B. …that’s all there is to it except that this particular escapade on Bottle Beach was where I first ran into this man; who, while I haven’t seen him for several years, remains someone I consider to have been something of an inspiration and key influencer on my journey into the world of management. Although don’t tell him I said so.

Empathy Mapping

Recently at work I’ve been progressing at a full on pace with a programme and multiple projects, some of which I’m involved in, some of which I just need to be involved enough in to keep up with what’s going on.

Success (if that can ever be truly measured…) depends on a whole crate of plates being spun; a whole flock of ducks being lined up; way too many flags being flown up a multitude of expectant flagpoles, and an enormous field full of tents being pitched… the mind boggles.

And to get through the boggling, I have been doing lots of stakeholder analysis. Quite frankly, it’s not a job I enjoy. So far I have a list of over 130 named stakeholders and ten or so email circulation lists which I need in order to communicate effectively [anyone who has been following my #noemail series of posts will recognise the sarcasm and deep irony I’m holding in that last sentence].

Every time something shifts in the cosmos with a stakeholder I have a pang of anxiety that I probably need to update my Stakeholder Analysis tool. It’s important for me not to treat it as a diversion or procrastination, so I make sure I’m not in there more than once every few weeks, otherwise it gets overwhelming. The intent is for a check in only, once in a while. There’s an element of self management going on there though!


I say I don’t enjoy it, but I have to admit how useful it has been. I’m not just putting people in boxes like the diagram above, but also rating how my relationship is with that individual or group at the current time. This points to what action I need to take and is useful in highlighting trends and issues with particular communities of people.

I notice I’m more resistant to talking to some people I know less well and feel less confident with and so the exercise is a good prompt for me to pick up the phone, drop by someone’s office for a face to face or arrange a meeting. So something that recently helped was when a colleague pointed me toward the idea of Empathy Mapping.

Empathy Mapping takes the process of Stakeholder Analysis even further and more helpfully gets me into the mindset of the people I’m trying to work with or ‘get on board’ [the bus, or the boat, or the flock of seagulls or whatever…].

I haven’t Empathy Mapped all 130 people I’m working with, but where I don’t know someone too well, the process has opened up new thinking for me and helped me prepare for phone calls, communications and meetings. In essence this is prompting me to think about what someone else is Thinking, Feeling, Seeing, Hearing and Saying in relation to the work I’m doing. It’s a more humanistic approach the stakeholder analysis… and I like it.


Predictive Text Poetry #1

iPhone 5s predictive text mode. I started with the word “never” and then just kept pressing the centre option. Weird. 

Never thought I’d say it was the best of the day before I get a follow back on my way home from work

to be the first half of the day before I get a follow back on my way home from work

to be the first half of the first half an inch and the other hand is the only thing that would have to go back

and I don’t think that I have a great way of life and the other hand is the only thing that would have to go back

and the first half of the first half an inch and the first half of the day I have a great way of life

and I don’t think that I can get it right away with the same thing

that would have to be a great day for the next few weeks of a new phone case 

you want me too

I don’t know how much you mean to be the best. 

Permaculture Design in Local Government


One problem with trying to apply permaculture design to Local Government systems change, is that there are so many clients. When I was completing my Permaculture Design Certificate last year, most of the case studies we used had one main client. Plenty of stakeholders, yes. But one client. In some of the examples the client was ‘me’. Which made the consultation, observation, and specification of design a lot easier.

Shifting into a local government context:

  • Fact: Most systems changes or service redesigns start as ideas thought up by managers.
  • Fact: Most ideas being thought up at the moment in public services involve trying to save money.

So, who is the client here?

  • We have elected politicians; the leaders of the Council and decision makers… they provide vision and direction and are the client of any change process.
  • Senior execs and managers certainly are a client, working out how to execute the plans and decisions that the politicians make.
  • So are the teams that deliver the work, undergo and ultimately feel the effects of any systems change.
  • And so are the service users who really, REALLY are the most important client

The top down structure of that list is there to demonstrate a more subtle point; it’s arguable that politicians represent the desires and needs of the public / communities that elect them, therefore creating a kind of closed loop of Clients. But sometimes that loop is broken or the communication does not flow so well…

So from a permaculture design perspective when we would normally start by identifying who the client is before coming up with even the faintest notion of an idea for change, that in itself can be quite a challenge in Local Government. Not insurmountable but complex and requiring a lot of energy input at the beginning and again and again. It is a problem to solve: where to start with systems change?

In practice for me, this has meant moving through flowing spirals of work rather than linear project timelines. Survey and Analysis stages of a design need to be revisited over and over as new information and requirements are fed into the process. I think (and I am no expert) this has a parallel with AGILE more than PRINCE2 or MSP. It certainly feels a better fit from a permaculture perspective. The process is iterative. Even from a Requirements point of view (rather than client Requirements being very fixed and only alterable via the strictest of change control processes).

I guess the point of this post is to say that in local government there are Clients everywhere. As an officer trying to execute the plans or ideas, my job is to ensure that those client requirements are met to the best of my abilities. For me the starting point of any redesign should always be the end user of a service. They should provide the user experience (UX) desired or required in order to inform any process. Tension appears when the user experience doesn’t match the requirements of the decision makers.

Sometimes, conflict can arise out of there being just too many identifiable clients all with differing needs and desires and a difficulty in public services can come from a need to take more money and resources out of the system, which is exactly what a lot of our customers don’t want. The skill is in balancing all of these factors and creating the right conditions for change to happen – finding the opportunities between the gaps and at the edges…

Digital Catapult Brighton: Placemaking


Last night in the hot, hot city, a happening happened. A taster event for the Digital Catapult Centre Brighton to open up a discussion on digital technology, innovation, art, culture, design and #placemaking.

Here’s a copy of the programme:

I found it really thought provoking. Especially the stuff from Peter Passaro on data and how it could be used to support social change; creating a better city, a better place for everyone to live in. And there was something visionary about a city data centre which everyone (yes everyone!) put their data into that was ‘owned’ by the people of Brighton and Hove.

It made me reflect on what I was doing at this event. I’m no tech expert. I don’t work in the sector. I am an unlikely candidate for catapulting!

But there is something in all of this that fascinates me. A belief that technology can support the building of communities and the ‘rehumanisation’ of work and play.

In some circles there’s a pervasive feeling that technology is going to ‘dehumanise’ work, eventually taking over people’s jobs – and that in a dark future, the robots will assume control and humans will become ‘redundant’.

I don’t think this way. I believe if we ethically harness the power of digital technology we can do some amazing things to support communities to be healthier, happier and more resilient and self sustaining. I want to support the tech sector to help the public and voluntary sectors make that social change happen and the presentations we saw inspired me to continue on that journey.

What I heard from Liz was that digital technology not only has value as a medium for creating art but also that there is art to be found in the collection of ‘people and place data’ – beauty in a 3G signal!

I also loved Ava’s answer to the audience question about the Screens In The Wild project: “Do we really need more screens?”, which was simply “No!” – a Zen Slap moment of realisation that what we were learning about here, was research and development in action; a design process – not a market product…

And so this event came with a warning, which was nicely picked up by Jenny Lloyd in her opening presentation: all design should be informed by and start with User Experience (UX). People first, right? Without user experience informing the show, the tail of technology wags the dog of design… and we end up with a dog’s dinner of a development.