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Why it’s good to be messy

 

Last year one of my favourite books was Maria Kondo’s ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying‘ It really did change my life. I threw out all the clothes that didn’t give me joy, cleared out all my old work files and visited Wandsworth tip on a regular basis. I recommended it to everyone I know.

However, this year the book I keep banging on about is Tim Harford’s ‘Messy. How to be Creative and Messy in a Tidy Minded World’. It’s the complete opposite of the Magic of Tidying, but is just as compelling and inspiring. This book argues the case for introducing disorder, chaos and randomness into our lives in order to make us more productive and creative. What I love about it is the variety of source material he draws upon – music collaboration, building design, aircraft safety – and it’s relaxed, anecdotal style. Plus for someone, who find’s it easy to be messy, it made me feel less guilty about the state of my office.

 

WeChat – it’s the future!

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I’ve just come back from a week in China and found the technology difficult to handle. Internet connection was poor. I couldn’t use Google, access my gmail account,  or get onto Facebook and Instagram.

However, what I discovered and started to use was WeChat and from then on it become THE most important way of communicating. It was so easy to use, lots of fun and now I’m a convert.

Today there are 1 billion WeChat users in China and it’s Global user baser continues to expand. Everyone I met in China loved WeChat. Someone said to me “Wechat is the future!” and I think it’s true.

At first glance it appears to be like WhatsApp – a simple instant messaging service, however there’s a lot more to it. You can transfer money and pay for goods electronically. I was also told that you can book airline tickets and order taxis. There’s also a Facebook style facility called Moments, games and opportunities to meet random people! No doubt its services will continue to expand. Here’s a short film that tells you more about it

So if you’re planning to go to China and want to keep in touch – download WeChat. Even if you’re not – give it a go. It’s fun and it’s the future!

Why Jimmy’s Iced Coffee will go from strength to strength

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As a former Nescafe brand manager and coffee lover I’m always on the look out for new and interesting coffees. So, last Saturday afternoon, whilst in Waitrose I sampled some of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, which I really enjoyed. I even bought a few packs.

When I was worked in the Nescafe brand team in Croydon,  back in the late 80s’ ‘the opportunity for ready to drink iced coffee’ always featured in our brand planning sessions. We were inspired by our colleagues in Greece and France who told us how popular ‘Nescafe Frappe’ was in their countries. We even launched a ready to drink product in a tetrapak format…which didn’t do very well.

So, will Jimmy’s Iced Coffee succeed where Nescafe has failed? Well I think it’s got a very decent chance. Here are the reasons why:

We love an entrepreneur

Jimmy is a real person. He started his business with his sister and has dedicated himself – very publicly – to making it a success. It’s one of those real life start-up stories that we find inspiring – at least I do anyway!

It’s got real personality

Jimmy – with his hipster beard and his cool packaging appears very likeable. The brand’s got a really friendly website with an amusing Youtube video. You can’t imagine this being produced by the Unilever or Nestle brand managers. All the other bits and bobs on social media are quirky and friendly.

Coffee culture’s changed

Back in my day, drinking iced coffee was considered a bit weird. Nowadays, thanks to the likes of Starbucks, it’s much more normal. It’s also generally accepted that coffee is quite good for you – which didn’t used to be the case.

They’re nice products

Not too sweet with a decent coffee hit. I could imagine drinking one of these rather than other soft drinks. Plus there’s a few to choose from.

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I’m sure that this Summer I’ll see more and more people walking around the streets of London with their Jimmy’s Iced Coffee!

Drink and snack innovations that blur boundaries – intriguing but a tad confusing

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I blame the ‘cronut’, but in recent times I’ve noticed quite a few new products that bring together separate categories to create something new. Nowhere is this more evident than in the worlds of drinks and snacks.

Within drinks, there’s been quite a few examples of ‘speers’ (spirit and beer) and ‘spiders’ (spirit and cider).

1 Desperados

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This is what their website says

Desperados is the world’s first Tequila Flavoured Beer. A distinctive combination of full bodied lager with a kick of Tequila flavour. A light & refreshing taste profile balanced with spicy and lemony notes for sweetness’

Beer and Tequila – easy to understand, easy to imagine. Popular with youngsters, targeted at the party occasion, it’s been an international success. There’s also a mojito variant called Desperados Verde

2 Cubanisto

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A similar concept from AB Inbev, with rum replacing the tequila. According to their website

‘Cubanisto is a rum flavoured premium beer with a fresh taste of citrus, orange zest, lime and an aroma of caramelised cane sugar and treacle.’

Again targeted at younger drinkers, it comes in bottle with a UV-light sensitive coating designed for night time drinking

3 Magners with Irish Whiskey

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Cider has grown massively in recent years with a lot of the new interest driven by Magners. I was particularly intrigued to see Magners with Irish whiskey. Clearly, the Irishness of the brand makes this a natural combination.

4 Orwell’s Amaretto Cider

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Joining the ‘spider’ party, here’s an interesting concoction. Described as

a refreshing blend of amaretto notes and a fruity hint of cherry paired with a crisp cider apple background’

Not convinced? Neither am I

5 Pimm’s Cider Cup

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However, this sounds much more interesting – English cider, flavoured with Pimms – with a hint of strawberry and cucumber in a ready to drink format. Perfect for the bbq season. Will add this to my shopping list if the weather continues to improve.

6 Walkers Crispy Crackers

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Moving away from drinks, let’s explore snacks. The most interesting hybrid category I’ve come across is crispy crackers or cracker crisps

It’s another attempt to make salty snacks healthier, they’re lighter than crisps and oven baked. Walkers is a mega brand, they know their flavours and they’ve got Gary Lineker, so am sure it will be a big hit

7 Jacobs Cracker Crisps

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Interestingly, Jacobs are addressing the same opportunity as Walkers but from a completely opposite direction, calling them ‘Cracker Crisps’. Who will be the winner? I guess there’s room for both.

Learning to Love Constraints

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I’m loving Adam Morgan’s latest book – ‘A Beautiful Constraint’. I’ve enjoyed all his books and this one’s a cracker. It feels like the right book at the time.

We’re living in times of constraint and austerity. Few businesses or economies are doing particularly well nowadays and we’re all being asked to do more with less.

What this book does is recognize and indeed embrace this reality, arguing that constraint is something we should see as a stimulus for inventiveness rather than something we should complain about.

It’s full of inspirational examples of where people have turned constraint into innovative solutions. There’s also lots of practical advice on both the mindset shift you need to undertake as well as tools and techniques you can use to embrace your constraint and thrive within it.

Highly recommended

Tuscany. The home of red wine, olive oil…and craft beer

Craft beer in the UK is well and truly mainstream and here to stay. You just have to visit any bar or supermarket aisle and you can’t escape it. 200 new breweries open every year. Brewdog, the leader of the Revolution, is going from strength to strength.

Italy on the other hand is not a beer drinking nation, but one of the biggest revelations of my most recent holiday to Tuscany was the prevalence of craft beer. As a regular visitor, I’d seen one or two obscure examples but this time it was present in all the bars and cafes I visited. Here’s a couple of the examples I came across.

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This is a small brewery based in a small village called Caprese Michaelangelo. I know very little about it apart from the fact they make lovely beer. I particularly liked this example which was made with chestnut honey – a local speciality

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Based just outside Siena, this is another craft brewery producing interesting nicely packaged, artisanal beer. I tried their white beer which was delicious.

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No doubt there are many more craft beers popping up in all corners of this wonderful region using local ingredients to create unique tastes and flavours. I’m quite interested in trying out this one – Bastarda Rossa – which is made using chestnuts. It has obviously been inspired by Brewdog’s naming protocol!.

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As can be seen from this directory of Tuscan microbreweries, many have started up over the past few years, so no doubt local beers will become more and more available. In a region with such firmly entrenched wine traditions this is truly remarkable.

So on your next visit to Italy I would suggest you give the Moretti a miss and look for something more interesting instead.

My favourite British cycling clothing brands

In Britain we’re in the midst of a cycling boom. Sales of bicycles are growing exponentially. More people are cycling to work. Our cities are gradually becoming cycle-friendly. Thanks Brad. Thanks Boris.

In parallel, we’ve seen the emergence of new and interesting British cycling clothing brands, feeding our desire to look the part and perform at our best whilst we’re pedalling. Here’s a round up of some of my favourites.

1 Rapha

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You’ve got to start with Rapha which has been at the forefront of driving new trends and styles in cycling apparel. Founded in 2004 it has been phenomenally successful and in 2013 replaced Adidas as the kit supplier to Team Sky. Quite an achievement. The clothing is beautifully made with it’s signature black and pink styling, but comes with price tags to match. It’s a brand that polarises the cycling community. Cycling in the UK has got strong working class roots and some have come to resent Rapha and all that it stands for, accusing it of driving up the price of clothing. However, I’m a fan. I’ve got a pair of their shorts that I love.

2 Vulpine

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Vulpine, which was created in 2012 has clearly been inspired by Rapha’s success and has also adopted a premium priced positioning. It also combines functionality with classic, fashionable design. There are probably two things that differentiate it from Rapha. Firstly, it partners with individual riders. There’s a range created in partnership with Sir Chris Hoy and it also sponsors Laura Trott’s team. Secondly, it has a sharper focus on female riders. 30% of its sales are via it’s women range

3 dhb

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If you don’t want to pay the expensive prices of Rapha and Vulpine, you could look towards dhb, the ‘own label’ brand of Wiggle, the huge on-line cycling retailer. dhb makes non-nonsense, great quality gear. It offers great value for money, probably due to its scale. I’m a fan of their merino wool base layers.

4 Morvelo

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Morvelo is a Brighton based brand of cycling apparel, founded in 2009. Unlike the other brands mentioned so far, it represents a broader spread of cycling interests, including cyclo-cross, mountain biking and bmx. It draws it’s inspiration from popular culture and seems to be less obsessed with the traditions and spirit of road cycling. There’s also some quite interesting examples of creative collaborations with other bike-related brands, so their designs are quite eclectic. Here’s a video the reflects the spirit of the brand

5 Stolen Goat

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Another newcomer to the cycling apparel market, Stolen Goat was founded in 2012, by a bike-obsessed entrepreneur. It offers a nice range of high performance items for both men and women with fairly classic cycling. Being a smaller, newer brand it places a great emphasis on customer service and the ‘small company’ feel of the business. I’ve bought some of their items and which I was really pleased with.

6 Fierlan

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Female cyclists appear to be a growing part of the market and I was interested to discover Fierlan, a brand that focused solely on the needs of women. It’s based in Bristol, a city renowned for its cycling culture and was created in 2013. Their range continues to evolve with the input and insight from the female cycling community. It feels like a young brand on a mission – to champion the cause of women in the world of cycling.

So, that’s my brief round-up of British cycling apparel brands that have caught my eye. However, I’m sure there are many more out there. If there’s others you’d suggest, I’d love to hear from you.