Believe in Better

On Saturday evening we went to hear my good friend Lauren Currie speak at the University of Dundee. Lauren is one of the people who’ve inspired me on my journey in the world of design over the last decade, so it’s always a delight to see her.

When she introduces herself on stage she’ll typically say, “I’m Lauren Currie and I believe in better”. It’s a simply phrase, but one that sits at the core of everything she is and does.

Lauren has this ability to make you look at the world in a different way, to see the things that aren’t working, and then to do something about it. All with a focus on social change and making our world better.

It’s become a mantra for me too over the past few years. It’s why I do what I do. Why I get involved in the things that I do. It’s a question I ask of myself each and every day – are you really making things better today?

Let me explain.

My world is the world of business. It’s where I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life. For several years I’ve been trying to find my ‘thing’. Where can I make most impact; how can I help people the most?

It was staring me in the face, and it was my son & business partner Andy who helped me to see it. You see, I’m an accountant. Always have been and always will be. An accountant with an ability to communicate often complex things in an easy to understand way. An accountant who’s embraced the world of design and who believes in better.

That’s why we setup our accounting business last year. We could see that the world of accounting wasn’t delivering what customers needed. Accounting needed to change and we were up for the challenge of leading the way.

We’re now 9 months into the journey and I believe that we’re making a difference. But there’s still lots to be done. We’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Do you believe in better? How can you use your skills and experience to make a positive difference? I’d love to hear your thoughts….

Pushing onwards….

A lot has happened since I last posted back in February!

First of all, I raced the Garioch 10k on 25th March. It was a new route compared to when I last raced in 2017, and no longer went past our old house in Inverurie. I do wonder if they’ve kept the original Johanna Basford wallpaper we had in the sitting room – it would be worth a fortune now!

I finished in 46:35, so not a PB, but a good effort early in the season. Reflecting on the race, I took it too easy on the early miles, where I was trying to run within myself, knowing that I had some pretty big hills ahead of me. However my last 2 miles were both much faster, so I had it in me to dig deeper – a case of what could have been, and a useful learning experience.

I was pretty good at putting myself in the pain cave back in my cycling days, and it’s fair to say that I’ve yet to develop that skill as a runner. I’ve since spoken to my coach about this, and we’re going to experiment with a few races to see if we can work on my ability to push into the red zone and hit those faster times.

Speaking of coaches, not long after Garioch I decided to get back in touch with Richard Coates, the London-based coach that I worked with back in 2015. Until then I’d been using an online coaching service, but I was missing the personal interaction with a coach – something I’ve been used to and enjoyed in both my competitive golfing & cycling days.

Fortunately Richard had capacity to take me back on, and so in mid-April we started working together again. It feels like we never stopped and it’s great having a coach that I can speak to and bounce stuff off again, as I mentioned earlier.

Race Schedule

Looking ahead, there are a couple of races on the horizon. First up, on Sunday 20th May, is the BHGE 10k in Aberdeen. Having lived and worked in Aberdeenshire for almost a decade, it’s always fun to go back up there and this should be a good race. It’s going to be pretty flat, a nice change from Garioch, so it’s definitely a chance to run a PB.

The following weekend I’ll be running the Edinburgh Half Marathon, a race that In first ran back in 2015. However this time around I’ll be running it with my daughter Rebecca and I can’t tell you how excited I am to run with Becs!

In between these two races I’ll be spending a week in London, where I’m attending an Accounting Conference. I’ve got a nice wee AirBnb booked in Balham, so I’ll be running around Clapham and Tooting Commons and making sure the legs are ready for my big day with Rebecca.

This week’s training

Here’s what’s on the cards this week coming….

  • Monday – Rest day
  • Tuesday – 6 x 5 mins tempo intervals, with 75 seconds recovery
  • Wednesday – 30 mins easy, 30 mins strength & conditioning. Massage in the evening
  • Thursday – 2 x (5 x 60 second hill reps @ tempo effort). This is a bugger of a workout
  • Friday – 40 mins easy
  • Saturday – Rest day (will probably do a core workout)
  • Sunday – 60 mins progression run

Have a great week!


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?

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!

I love teaching

A few months ago I was pondering what it is that I really love doing. I spent a Saturday morning freewriting and mind mapping, and by the end it had become clear – teaching! I’d been talking about the fog I’d had around this with my friend Caroline McKenna earlier that week, so I excitedly messaged her as I was getting the bus into town that morning to tell her about my breakthrough.

Her response? “We all knew that Ali – it’s obvious!”

Sometimes others can see the things that we can’t, no matter how hard we look.

For most of my life, my teaching has been done in the world of business. I’m always excited to learn new things, and as a regular speaker, I spend a lot of my time helping others to learn. It makes me happy, and I get a huge sense of achievement when people who come to my workshops and talks tell me how much they’ve learned.

In 2014 I started working at the University of Dundee as Head of Enterprise & Entrepreneurial Strategy. Once we’d designed the strategy for the University, I quickly found myself in a position where I had to design the content for an academic module, and then deliver it. For someone who never went to University, this was kind of a big deal and I threw myself into it with gusto.

Resources were tight, so I didn’t have a great deal of support. Not having an academic background turned out to be an advantage – I tried things that someone with more experience wouldn’t have. I was rapid-prototyping, iterating on the move. We got the module designed and delivered, with high energy and interactivity. It wasn’t what they were used to. But I always had a sense that we were getting through by force of personality, and that the academic rigour wasn’t as strong as it could be.

Fast forward to the winter of 2016. By now I’d moved on from my role at the University (although I’m still the Entrepreneur in Residence), to focus on growing my business. Dr. Louise Valentine from DJCAD got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in helping her deliver a module called 21st Century Designer to 80 second year design students. I jumped at the chance.

We’re two days into a seven day module, the first two days being on consecutive Tuesdays, with a five day Design Sprint taking place next week. I’m having a great time, and as well as helping to teach, I’m learning so much! I’m learning how to plan, organise, communicate, teach, and provide support.

Teaching in an art & design school is more dynamic than in the more ‘traditional’ subjects that I’ve taught on before. I’m learning that you need to be resilient, authentic, open, adaptable, and prepared to expect the unexpected. I’ve also realised how far out of my depth I was before, and still am at times. But this time I have the support of not just an amazing, inspiring, professional colleague in Louise, but also by a wonderful group of students who are teaching me as much as I them.

Next week we enter the sprint. 5 full-on days, working together on a social innovation challenge. I’ve never done a Sprint before. I’m excited, it’s going to be intense, emotional, fun, challenging, and I’m going to learn a lot about myself. I’m ready to lean-in to my discomfort.

I also couldn’t have a better group of people to be working with, all 80 of us. Bring it on!

Be More Human

Yesterday morning I spoke to 80 design students at DJCAD about communication. We talked about the importance of writing or creating content regularly and how the more often you do it, the easier it gets. We spoke about the need to reflect, to think our own ideas, and not just write about what we did.

Kevin Anderson from The StoryEdge joined us for the afternoon, and after some Northern Soul (wait until you see next week’s vlog!), Kevin delivered a spell-binding talk about how to write with confidence. We were all luck to be there.

I’ve just been scrolling through twitter, and the vast majority of what I’m seeing is just soulless content. Content that’s written for SEO benefit, but not to get humans to engage with it! Which is why none of us do.

Mark Schaefer talked about it when he spoke about Content Shock – the sheer volume of content now overwhelms us.

So when you write, do what Kevin says and take your time to plan it. Write that Ugly First Draft. Share your thoughts and feelings, tell your story. Write the piece that you’d want to read.

Be authentic, be honest, be open, and be you.

Be. More. Human.

Feeding off one another

Yesterday was a good day. I spent it with some great people, and was lucky enough to bump into some good friends along the way. I also got to speak to some amazing people on twitter, who I’d have loved to spend the evening with.

You see, life is about people. I don’t buy the whole B2B / B2C thing. We’re dealing with people. Or as someone said to me at a meeting yesterday evening, Human to Human.

Do you ever have days like that?

I was up at 5.30am, to get my bike training in. I love pushing myself first thing in the morning – it really fires me up for the day. Then, after breakfast and some amazing coffee, it was on to Dundee for the first of several meetings. We spoke about redesigning a traditional approach – there are always opportunities to do things better.

I then spent three glorious hours at DJCAD, working with Louise Valentine. An amazing person, who is teaching me so much as we work together. I’m excited to be working with Louise on several fronts.

After some emails and calls, as well as time planning a talk I’m giving at Aberdeen University next week, I walked down to DCA to meet with Charlotte Gillet. Charlotte is awesome! The most un-accountant type of person to be the owner of an accounting business that you will ever meet. I love spending time with her. This was the last meeting of the day, yet with the energy we generated in the 90 minutes or so, we could have powered Dundee. I left DCA feeling fresher than I’d done at 9am, full of ideas, and excited about the things we’re going to work on together.

Reflecting on my day, I realised how lucky I am. I’m 47, almost 48, and I’m more excited about life and how I earn my living than I’ve ever been.

And I haven’t even told you about my online squad! The guys in CMA, the folks in London celebrating #upfront last night, including Ummi & Lauren.

Thank you to all of you. For being you, for doing what you do, for inspiring me. I couldn’t do what I do without you.