How might we travel in the future?

Over the past couple of months I’ve been reading Yuval Noah Harari’s books Sapiens and Homo Deus. It’s been a fascinating deep-dive into our past, present & future.

One of the things it’s made me question is how we use transport – in particular the car. Joanna & I are no different to many families today in that we have two cars. We live in Inchture, work in Dundee, and in my case I do quite a bit of driving to and from meetings. But is owning two cars really necessary? Let’s think about it.

Our two cars spend about 90% of their lives sitting unused. Overnight they sit in our drive. Then we use them to drive to work the next morning – usually a commute of between 15-25 minutes, depending on the traffic. Whilst we’re at work all day they sit idle, before making the journey back home at the end of the day.

A couple of evenings a week we’ll have stuff on; stuff that requires us to travel back in to Dundee or sometimes to Perth. And of course we use them a bit more on the weekend.

But most of the time they sit there unused. Then there’s the cost! The cost of ownership, of fuel, insurance and servicing. It adds up.

If these were business assets, as an accountant I’d be seriously questioning their worth. Yet because we own them personally, and it’s kind of what humans do, then we don’t have that conversation.

We should though, shouldn’t we? Are there different ways we could travel to work? How might we re-design our working days so that only one car is needed? Or none? How will car ownership work in the future?

If you live in a bigger city, then you can already make use of services such as Zipcar where you hire instead of own the car. Not only does it cost a lot less, but it’s also much better for the environment.

How many cars sit idle for 90% of the time? I’d guess around 90%. That can’t be sensible in anyone’s book.

It’s time to reinvent the way we travel. So how might we do that?

Dogs & Love Hearts – the Barnett Formula

One of the things I do is run workshops on Customer Experience. We do an exercise where I get participants to tell stories about good & bad experiences they’ve had. Over the past few months one name has come up again and again when it comes to good experiences – Barnetts Motor Group.

Barnetts are based in Dundee, where they have dealerships for Vokswagen, Mazda and Volvo. They also have a Volkswagen dealership in St Andrews, Fife.

I had two people in Aberdeen workshops recently tell me about their experiences buying cars from Barnetts, and how both now travel to Dundee to get their cars serviced. That’s pretty amazing – Dundee’s over an hour from Aberdeen!

I wanted to find out what makes Barnetts so good. A quick email to a contact got me an introduction to Paul Barnett, son of the founder Bob Barnett, and the current Managing Director. Paul replied quickly with a few dates and times that he could meet with me.

Last Thursday, I spent a fascinating afternoon at Barnetts, learning about how they run their business, and their relentless focus on creating a great experience for their customers. What came across loud & clear was Paul’s passion for the customer, along with his attention to detail. That was replicated in many of the people I met as we walked around the Barnetts base at Riverside.

Two stories capture their ethos beautifully for me.

The first is about Love Hearts. Every service desk has a tub of Love Hearts – the mini packs, not the full-size ones – below the counter. That’s done on purpose – it’s all about the element of surprise. If they’re on show, people expect to be given some, whereas when they’re hidden, it’s more of a surprise and people appreciate the gesture more. As we walked around, Paul checked that each desk was properly stocked, asking the staff member how many they’d given out that day. He explained that the mini-packs were chosen on purpose – he didn’t want to be giving out big packs of sweets, whereas the mini packs are just the right size for parents not to be concerned about the sugar level.

The second story is about dogs. Man’s best friend is welcomed with open arms at Barnetts. There are water bowls and dog chews provided at every dealership. How to deal with a customer that comes in with their dog is part of the induction process, which includes the following question:

A family comes in to the showroom – mum, dad, child, and dog. Who do you speak to first & why?

What do you think the answer is? Let me know below.

I spent a fascinating couple of hours with Paul. Much of what I learned, I’m keeping to use in my talks and workshops. I’ve given you just a little glimpse with these stories. The biggest message is that Paul leads from the front. He sets the standard, it clearly comes as second nature to him to behave this way. It’s also a daily challenge to get his team to think the same way, one that he relishes, and that’s delivered fantastic results for the business – Barnetts Dundee are Volkswagen’s most profitable dealership in the UK, and Volvo is in the top 3.

That speaks volumes for this kind of customer-focused approach.

Edinburgh’s Trams are not a good User Experience!

We went to Edinburgh yesterday. When we go at the weekend, we tend to make use of the park & ride at Ingliston and take the Tram in to the City Centre. It saves paying a ridiculous amount for parking, and it’s a lot less stressful.

Over the past couple of years I’ve observed the process of buying a ticket for the tram. It’s terrible, and it seems as though no thought has been given to the passenger – particularly if they’re from overseas. For many people arriving at Edinburgh Airport, the tram will be their first experience with Scottish hospitality, and it’s not a good one.

First of all, there are signs saying that you MUST buy a ticket before you get on the tram. However, if you’re not a native English speaker, then there’s a good chance that you’ll miss these, and then run the risk of a fine (or on-board ticket as the website calls it) of £10.

The number of times we’ve arrived at Ingliston just as a tram is pulling in, and been unable to get on because we haven’t got a ticket yet, must be into double figures. In the winter, when the wind whips through, those 10-15 minutes can be awful. So cold!

I’ve noticed visitors from Japan & America struggle to pay with their cards – which don’t have chip & pin – at the ticket machines. The little keyboard that you’re meant to enter your PIN on is also too low – unless you happen to be 5′ 2″.

Today, on our way back to Ingliston, we witnessed a ridiculous situation. A young German girl had got on at Princes St without a ticket. The ‘Ticket Services Assistant’, to be fair to him, didn’t try to charge her £10. Instead, he gave her change so that she could get off the tram, buy a ticket, and then get back on the next tram. Is that really how we should be treating visitors to our country?

I think the trams are great, let’s get that out there. It’s just that NO THOUGHT has been given to making this a simple process for the user. It’s been designed entirely with the needs of the Tram Company at the core, and in my view that’s COMPLETELY THE WRONG WAY AROUND. It needs to be designed around the User’s needs – make it easy for them.

Have you used the Trams? What’s been your experience? Let me know!

Do What You Can’t

I’m a big Casey Neistat fan, as anyone who regularly reads these posts will know. Last week Casey posted a new video on his YouTube channel  called Do What You Can’t.

I LOVE THIS VIDEO!! I must have watched it a dozen times.

For so many of us, there’s been someone there saying ‘You can’t’. It may have been a parent, a relative, a school-teacher, a friend, a University Professor, or in my case a business partner.

But do you know what? YOU CAN!

You can do anything you set your mind to. Anything is possible. For me, running a business can be hard. At times it’s really hard, and there are days when I want to throw the towel in. Days when I feel like screaming. But I dig in, double-down, and push through. Because I CAN, and because I know I’d be a terrible employee.

This doesn’t have to be about business though. Maybe you want to paint, design jewellery, travel to Africa to work with children, create videos on YouTube, or run a marathon. Don’t listen to the doubters, the nay-sayers, those negative people that always see the problems.

Fuck them!

Life is out there, waiting to be lived.

Do What You Can’t.

Why do I Vlog?

Yesterday I published Vlog number 9. That’s been 9 weeks, and I’ve had fun. Inspired by a few of my friends – Gavin Bell, Roger Edwards & Vicky Gunn, I took the plunge, bought myself a Canon Powershot G7x, and got busy.

It’s also been a great excuse to binge-watch Casey Neistat and other YouTubers. I’ve got a tonne of ideas from watching them.

But isn’t this all a distraction from the work that I should be doing? That’s one way you could look at it.

However, I see it differently. I’m creating, and the only way you can learn is to do it. I’ve always been creative, but never found my ‘thing’. I’ve realised over the past few months that I’ve got a passion for photography and film. I bought my first DSLR camera just after we got back from New York in September, and have been busy getting used to it.

Vlogging gives me an output for my creative work. Yes, up until now I’ve been sharing my work in the vlogs, but that’s about to change. I’ve got into my rhythm with them now – storyboarding, filming, editing, choosing the music. It’s my creative outlet and I’m loving it.

I’ve been spending some time thinking about the purpose of the vlog. I could keep on showing you my work, documenting my week, but that doesn’t feel right or sustainable for the long term. So, I felt that the vlog needed to be about something more than just me. Then it hit me. Here I am in the UK’s only UNESCO City of Design, working part-time as a Design lecturer, running a design business, and knowing a bunch of designers. That should be the focus – Design!

Design and Dundee. The people, places, and spaces that make this great City, alongside the broader world of design. So that’s the direction I’m going to head. It’ll still be based around my day, but this focus gives me a new creative direction to play with, plus a reason to hang out with some cool people.

What’s not to like?

My Addiction

I bought my first proper road bike back in Spring 2005. Within 6 months I would do my first road race, and in the following 10 years bike racing became a huge part of my life. It’s a sport that demands commitment – if you’re going to race, you need to put the training effort in. I raced in road races, time trials and cyclocross. I never got into mountain biking – I think the fear of crashing and injuring myself was too much.

Training has always been the thing I’ve enjoyed most however. I could lose myself in the effort, me against myself. I never enjoyed the racing as much – I found it too stressful, particularly after a few crashes and broken bones. But I could happily spend time training without a care in the world.

The bike has got me through a few tough times. It was there for me at the end of a particularly unpleasant business relationship a few years ago. Getting out on the bike, pushing myself to my physical limits, and other times just riding for the sheer enjoyment of it, lifted the gloom.

My last season of racing was 2014, when I had a pretty successful year in terms of results and performance, however by the end of the season I felt worn out. I needed a break. So I started running.

I’d been doing a bit of running as part of my cyclocross training, and with a bit of coaxing from my friend Julie Ramsay, I found myself signing up for the Winter 5k race in Edinburgh around Arthur’s Seat. The snow that day was ridiculous, but I loved it! Before I knew it I’d entered the Edinburgh Half Marathon, found myself a training plan, and started training for a new sport.

That’s always an enjoyable phase, you’re getting better all the time, beating PBs on a regular basis. There were other 5k & 10k races, a 5 mile and 10 mile race. The adrenaline of training and racing had me again.

Since then I’ve gone back and forward between the bike and running. At the end of 2015 I decided to get back on the bike. Trained solely on the bike for 6 months, then switched to running for a couple of months. Back and forth.

And so it’s continued. I’ve realised that training is my addiction. I love it. It makes me feel good, happy, content. I love nothing more than getting up at dawn and running as the sun rises. Or getting out for an hour on my bike while everyone else is asleep. My breakfast always tastes sweeter on those days.

My days of racing are behind me (for now). But I’m still training as hard as ever. Pushing myself, feeling the burn, getting fitter and stronger. This winter I’ve added HIIT sessions into the mix. I feel better than I have in years. My power on the bike is as high as its ever been, but I no longer feel compelled to pin on a number and race.

I’m content to just do this for me. That’s not to say that I won’t race again, it’s just that for now I’m doing what I love without the pressure that racing brings. And I’m cool with that.

I’m back!

Well, that’s been two weeks away from blogging, and what a busy two weeks it’s been!

The first week was the Design Sprint at DJCAD, where Louise and I worked with 80 amazing students during an intense, emotional rollercoaster of a week. This was one of the most rewarding weeks of my working life.

I’ve been recovering over the past week if truth be told, and acclimatising back to the world of business after my week as a design lecturer. Oh, and getting new furniture – you’ll hear more about that in this week’s Vlog, which will be online at 8am on Tuesday.

So what have I learned over the past couple of weeks? Firstly, my time at DJCAD (I was also teaching there on Friday) confirmed my love for teaching that I wrote about recently.

I also learned a huge amount from Louise about how to plan, manage and teach a module. I loved that we had a structure that allowed us to adapt to the needs of the students, a fluid and dynamic approach that I hadn’t encountered teaching in other parts of the University. It put the students front and centre and I liked that. I liked that a lot!

Going forward, I’m going to be doing more teaching. I’m really excited about that. It’s a nice balance to the commercial work that I do.

We’ve also won some great new business at Ashton McGill over the past fortnight, and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into several exciting projects. I’m also looking forward to having Andy with me in Dundee soon.

I’ve left the most exciting thing until last. I’m going to see Simon Sinek speak in London in May! I managed to get tickets along with several friends from the Content Marketing Academy. Simon has been a huge influence on me over the past several years, so I can’t wait to see him in the flesh!