Just do one

Last updated on: Published by: Leila Johnston 0

What do you really want to do? That thing that you bottle up and suppress because you know it would be such a good idea, but the thought of it feels so overwhelming – what is it? Maybe you want to start something up. Or read more books. Maybe you wish you could be a bit healthier? Or just dearly want to stop feeling a certain way about a situation, person or personality trait?

This sense of looming overwhelm is one of the big things preventing us doing things we want to do, or don’t want to do right now but know will be beneficial in the longer term. It’s not even actual overwhelm, is it? It’s the anticipation of overwhelm – “If I start on this, it’ll soon be too much”.

We can’t really claim to have invented this, as it’s the sort of wisdom your gran might have passed down, but it bears reframing for the modern world. And maybe someone needs to hear it right now, and maybe that person is you. So here it is. Whatever it is you think you can’t do…

Just do it once

You don’t need to make going for a run every day your goal, but you can do one and take it from there. Then at least you’ve done it once! You don’t have to transform yourself into a different type of person overnight, like in that Kafka story. But doing things once gives you a trial and error research project; you can narrow down your hopes and dreams, and work out what to focus on, over time.

Make it about doing, not feeling

There’s something about taking action which is key to all this, too. For example, if a situation keeps bringing out a negative or obstructive emotion in you, why not try behaving like someone who isn’t bothered? For a moment, let yourself forget about what you’re feeling, and focus instead on what you’re doing. Let’s face it, this isn’t easy! Negative feelings are absolutely convincing – we’re programmed to listen to them and believe them, and we may never be able to see through their wicked illusions! The key is not to try. Make this a behaviour war to be fought on behavioural grounds. Bad feelings want you to think you need them, and that they can help you logic some sense out of things. We may never be able to put them aside forever, but remember: we don’t have to commit to giving up feeling angry or upset or self-defeating forever. What have we got to lose by trying to behave like someone who doesn’t feel those things in these situations, just once?

Having a reference point

We are explorers, as we go through this life. The more things we try, the more potential we have to understand others and subsequently make the world a better place. And when we’ve done something once, we have evidence for ourselves that it can be done. We can look back and say, hey – I didn’t think there could ever be a different outcome in this situation, but there was that one time I successfully surprised myself and jumped out of the plane (proverbially or actually!) If you did it once, you can do it again.

So… what are you going to try today?

Five minutes with… Anjali Ramachandran

Last updated on: Published by: Leila Johnston 0

Anjali Ramachandran is a storytelling pro with a background in digital media, strategy and innovation. She’s a Director at the Brighton-based agency Storythings and an advocate for diversity, equality and inclusion. Anjali is kind of everywhere: you might have come across her from her global women in tech network Ada’s List, or her newsletter, Other Valleys, which looks at creative and tech-related news from emerging markets, or followed her amazing conference tweets over the years, or run into her at an event… She’s an excellent human all round, and we’ve been lucky enough to know her for a long time, so it’s great to have an excuse to interview her! We based this little chat around our organisation’s fundamental ‘three Cs’ – creativity, clarity and clairvoyance (i.e. the future!) Hope you enjoy it.

Anjali, you are a very positive and calming influence to talk (and work!) with. How do you keep going through these tough times with such energy and enthusiasm? Do you have any practical tips that might help others?

Thanks for your kind words! Not sure I’m always positive and calming but I try! These times have been unbelievably hard for a lot of people. The pandemic and witnessing friends and family affected by it in different ways is a lot to take on. Add to that trying to work, trying to manage caring responsibilities, even doing basic tasks like figuring out meals… just existing does feel like a task. And then I am just grateful that I am OK, even if I feel like I am languishing sometimes. 

Meditation, when I can get myself to sit down for a few minutes and focus, helps. The one thing the pandemic hasn’t stopped in the UK at least is walks, and being in the fresh air is really invigorating. I also try and collect factoids and bits of information that are new to me (they may not be new to everyone). Tom Whitwell does his annual 52 Things I Learned This Year, so collecting bits of information like that is a nice way to focus on something other than all the bad news. And Spotify’s Discover Weekly is always nice to lose myself in at the end of the day. 


As a hands-on Director at Storythings, how have you found managing other people’s creativity through all this? Have you noticed clients or freelancers working differently – any different attitudes or working habits? 

First of all, the way people have adapted to Zoom is amazing and a bit scary, if I say so myself! Who would have thought that we would all spend SO MUCH time in front of a screen talking to little heads in windows?! I’ve noticed an array of backgrounds on Zoom as a way of people sometimes expressing their creativity. In terms of working habits, I’ve noticed people working at different hours of the day – I assume this is to manage around other responsibilities at home, as I do. I find many people prefer to switch video off, as constant video has proven to be a mental health hazard, unsurprisingly – and an environmental hazard


What’s the secret to clear communication? Why do so many people love talking in jargon?

The secret to clear communication is knowing your subject matter like the back of your hand. If you understand what you’re speaking about, you can explain it in simple, easy-to-understand language. Conversely, if you don’t truly understand something, you tend to waffle on a bit. The reason so many people love talking in jargon, in my opinion, is because there’s so much information flowing across our screens and not everyone has the time, energy or mental space to delve into subjects in detail. As a result, they use complicated words they might have just come across to make it sound like they know something well. There are also people who probably believe that using big words makes them seem smart?! It’s an interesting conundrum of our times, where information can be an enemy. 


Everything seems very uncertain and I know no one wants to make predictions. But if we forced you to (!) – how do you see your industry evolving in a post-covid world?

I think collaboration will become much more common and important. And the times we can meet people in person, which won’t necessarily be every day in an office anymore, will start to be more creatively, intelligently used. I think people will be more empathetic to what’s happening around the world, because if the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we do not live on an island (even if we geographically do, sorry UK) because people and things move around all the time, sometimes with devastating consequences. And to end on a happier note, I think people will start seeing more of the good in others, which can make for some beautiful stories decades down the line.

Keep an eye on this blog for more chats with the people who inspire us!

What if talent doesn’t exist?

Last updated on: Published by: Leila Johnston 0
Things have changed, and it’s not all bad. There’s no time or energy for messing around anymore. The glitz had a good run, but it’s come off the the world a bit, hasn’t it? Things that used to look cool and exciting don’t hold the promise they once did.

Many of us have stopped channelling our dreams into shopping and travel and are focussing instead on saving our money and loving our friends. And they might have designer kitchens in their Zoom backgrounds, but all the celebrities and super-successful people are stuck in their homes, struggling with video conferencing software just like the rest of us. Where does this leave the obsession with ‘talent’?

Hopefully it’ll finish it off. Some people seem to be managing better than others, sure, but pretty much everyone’s life sucks, in some way, at the moment. The pandemic has been a great leveller; we’re all being slapped in the face with our vulnerability every day, now. It’s a hard fight, but we can promise this: things aren’t tough because you’re insufficient in a thing called ‘talent’. So please don’t add imaginary “lack of talent” to your worry list! And if you’re in a competitive frame of mind, don’t peg it on others, either.

Now, you might be like: ‘Hey! I’m an enlightened 21st century earthling, I don’t judge people!’ But we all do this, subconsciously, all day long!  Especially at the moment. Criticising people for putting visible skills and experience to work only fosters a misconception about talent that harms all of us. It also penalises those who are already up against it.

The trouble is, we aren’t seeing each other in real life much at the moment – with no genuine eye contact and warm bodies in our space to keep things in check, judgements are flying around like nobody’s business. When things go wrong, or go well, we only have theories to fall back on. It’s natural, but let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine this is true:

Talent isn’t a magic thing installed in the womb by Zeus’s lightning bolt through your mother’s belly button. Talent is actually a concept invented to sustain a power structure, by making some people seem like magic wizards and causing others to look foolish and give up.

Whether or not you agree, just for now let’s review two possible consequences of insisting that talent is innate.

  • Individuals who’ve been told they have natural ability may never reach their true potential, believing the magical safety net will always catch them. As they experience their whole life through the ventriloquism on this imaginary genie, they will never understand how they think and who they really are.
  • Individuals who work hard but don’t fit the ‘talent’ model risk being dismissed as ‘poor untalented souls’. The harder they work they more they will be pitied — after all they must be compensating for their inner lack. In fact, of course, they should be praised for their dedication.

I don’t want to make this about gender, but it is relevant to this case. How many times have you heard about females of all ages, from school onwards, working ‘too hard’, over-dedicating themselves, and generally behaving neurotically as they drive themselves into the ground in their frantic, desperate, and ultimately hopeless bid to try keep up? Meanwhile, boys just have the knack, don’t they? If only they were a bit less lazy and worked as hard as their empty-headed female peers, they could really capitalise on their god-given genius! Both perceptions are equally preposterous and equally difficult to shake.

Do you know what the world ‘genius’ means?

An attendant spirit present from one’s birth, innate ability or inclination

It’s also, if memory serves, a male spirit that for some reason only works on men. Nothing particularly surprising there, virtually everything in history is mysteriously male, after all. But the idea of a ‘flash of genius’ — something spontaneous and free of any sort of labour — persistently applies to a certain kind of person, with a certain gender, colour and often background, too.

Is talent real?

It’s nice to believe we can be born with talent, though, isn’t it? If you’re about to become a parent you’d probably barely dare hope for it. It’s an unexpected bonus one wouldn’t know what to do with, like putting a 50p in the vending machine for some Quavers and a KitKat plops out, too.

When people work hard at something that we’d like to be able to work hard at, we excuse our own shortcomings by holding their hard work against them.

Well, of course they did well at that exam/career/situation. They worked every hour god sends. Me? I prefer to be Captain Cool. I only move when the Mysticc Lightbulb appears over my head. I still do alright!

Or we pretend we’re ‘worried’.

Oh she does terribly well, much better than me – but she works so hard! She’s going to make herself ill if she keeps that up.

And all the stupid nonsense people claim about having never picked up a book their entire schooling/university etc and still got 100% for everything. It’s all the same thing. We love shaming other people’s sacrifices when we’re not ready to make any of our own.

Most people (need to) believe they are above average, even if only by invoking supernatural experiences in utero, as ‘talent’ surely must. When we see people who actually are above average, it’s a bit of an affront to our self image.

We all tear down hard workers. It’s a natural way to protect ourselves from self-admonishment for laziness. But it’s also completely absurd, and yeah, pretty toxic.

Our challenge to you:

Look out for your positive and negative thoughts about others, this week. Are you making excuses for yourself by building them up, or putting them down?

Do you know about our giveaways?

Last updated on: Published by: Leila Johnston 0
Times are tough and we want to make a difference anywhere we can. So, in the hope it might brighten someone’s day, we’re using this site to give away quite a lot of stuff! Here’s what we’re handing out like candy so far. Come munch:

Free 50 page ebook

If you’re signed up to our newsletter you’ll already have received our ebook. And if you’re not, now is the time! The ebook is a primer on everything from holding meetings in the age of covid to podcasting, storytelling techniques to working with influencers. To get your own copy, just sign up to our mailing list.

Free ‘Away Day from home’ handout

Still working from home and wondering if it’s even possible to do an Away Day anymore? Download our worksheet to discover how to use your space differently.

Free workshops every Wednesday lunchtime

Every Wednesday at 1pm we offer a free, 30 minute session over Zoom all about sharpening your digital creativity. All are welcome, pop in sometime. Sign up here for the Zoom link.

The thing about focus

Last updated on: Published by: Leila Johnston 0
Leila Johnston

I’ve been thinking about focus recently. It is extremely difficult to make plans, the way the world is at the moment. It’s also really hard for any of us to work out what’s important. Our own issues combined with the world’s can do a real number on motivation.

Think about it. You’ve got a triple whammy of an unordered ‘everything at once’ future; the complication that this future is even more holographic than usual, and the meta worry that dwelling on personal future in the throes of a global crisis is the action of a self-important git. The world hasn’t stopped because of a lack in us, but we tell ourselves we should be able to move it on, and the result is a kind of shame paralysis.

I’ve been mentoring a few people for the last three months, and I seem to be seeing more of this. Shame is the thing that keeps coming up, about current behaviour and future plans (and if you’re a professional self-flagellator, reverse engineered into one’s past, too). Call it what you like – lack of focus, lack of priorities… I like to call it the shame of not organising the information ‘correctly‘.

The right way to have fun

Years ago I worked as a primary school teaching assistant in the Reception year (4 year olds). One child, let’s call her Sally, was exceptionally good at art – especially her use of colour. She coloured in a picture of an elephant beautifully, in vibrant checks to match her favourite elephant, Elmer. When she was done, she proudly held it up to show the teacher (a difficult woman, to say the least!) And… the teacher had an absolute meltdown, bellowing in that way that slicks hair back and shatters windows:

“THAT’S NOT WHAT ELEPHANTS LOOK LIKE!”

She threw the beautiful drawing in the bin and sent the child off with another sheet to fill with grey.

That’s not what elephants look like. But that’s a connection Sally made. Rather than represent the expected, she used the tools available to her, a wide selection of colours, to share something special about the wider world. She made a link, and she had joy in her heart. And she was four years old. What lesson was she learning?

Well, a few, I suppose, but this is the one I want us to pick up on here: built into many systems, even something as innocuous as colouring in, there is an expected right way to do things. To introduce connections from outside is to break the law. Early in life, we learn to be ashamed of not organising information in the right way.

The thing about focus

I know a lot of polymaths, people so prolific and so excellent in so many areas that one would imagine they would be utterly delighted with themselves all the time. But many of them, heartbreakingly, live with shame, regret, and self-doubt. “If only I could focus on one thing I would be amazing at x by now-“. What I hear is: “If only I had organised information differently, I’d fit in better in a known category.” Or, to put it in Sally’s terms: “If only I’d coloured the elephant in grey, I could be one of the best of the regular elephant colourers.”

Now, look… there is some reasoning here. In the dull, limited, non-diverse world system that we seem to have been determined to keep ticking over, being good at grey elephants brings many advantages. But things have changed.

Being different is an advantage when everything’s changed

Sarah and I believe that being good at, or even just interested in a few things, is going to be a major benefit in the world we’re entering. It’s already happening. If you’ve got a background as colourful as Elmer, you’re probably pretty well equipped to deal with some surprises from life. You’ve probably got a robust range of skills and contacts, and the flexibility to turn on a dime. Who wouldn’t want someone like that around, right now?

Focus isn’t that great

Another brief story. Some years ago, I watched what is now a very famous tech innovation take off; I was there at the first whisper of it. Around the same time, a similar project was underway. Right from the start, the approaches taken by the very famous one and the one you’ve never heard of could not have been more different, even though the products were in some ways alike.

How did their approaches differ? The one that failed was incredibly focussed! The creator put everything he had into it. He remortgaged his home. He was determined he could run every part of the business and that it would fly. The famous one? Well, in a way, he was less emotional about it all; it was his idea, that was enough. He put together a team of the best people, early on, and the goal was always about the product… not his product. But by the usual rules of ‘focus’, the unsuccessful project was the one that played by the rules. It was an all-consuming vision, a narrow perspective with no distractions. The successful project realised that you can be focussed across a collaboration, and you always need the full spectrum of colours to make great stuff. Focussed projects are fine – just don’t put your own body and soul behind the prism. Disappointment, or a total loss of sanity, that way lies.

See the whole sky

It really breaks my heart when I hear wonderful people lament their lack of focus. Some people aren’t made for close-up detail; some people are designed to see the whole beauty of the night sky, not just one star at a time. And if you could see the whole sky, how could you tear yourself away? And why should you? We’re here for a good time, not a long time. There is no one right way to organise information. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’d do better if you were different, or that your ideas are too imaginative, or that your appetite for life is too large. The alternative is the old way. The new world needs all of us.