Friday, 24 December 2010

Are you Celebrating Twixtmas?

As well as Christmas and New Year, will you also be celebrating Twixtmas?

Over the last two years the Twixtmas movement has been growing.

Originally, it was a word developed by the US travel industry to describe the period between Christmas and New Year so they could promote these vacations.

The word has been hi-jacked by Andy Green, the man behind Beat Blue Monday, to promote a better way of celebrating this period.

As a rule the five days are sent doing very little apart from the odd sales shop and a visit or two to relatives. In reality, much of the time is spent eating, drinking and watching films on the television.

The Twixtmas campaign urges people to do something for other people, the planet or something beneficial to your future. It's a nice idea and offers people the chance to find their own level of engagement.

- The first day of Twixtmas is about spoiling yourself and thinking more positively about you, enjoy an indulgence.

- The second day of Twixtmas is to do something for someone else, help a neighbour or good cause.

- The third day of Twixtmas is to help a friend or maybe get in touch with someone you have not called in a while.

- The fourth day of Twixtmas is about doing something for the planet.

- The fifth day of Twixtmas is to do something for your future, maybe think about your goals for 2011 or learn a new skill.

So for day four you could do everything from recycling your cards to setting up a neighbourhood litter pick using up you Christmas scraps rather than throwing them away. Equally, if you miss the odd day, it doesn't really matter.

In such a time poor society, it is sometimes good to have a focus on such days and I'll be drawing up my Twixtmas list soon

There is a brilliant presentation on ‘How to start a mass movement in 3 minutes’ by Derek Sivers, an inspirational entrepreneur speaking at a TED conference that springs to mind Andy's quest. But if everyone is having fun and the world's made that little bit brighter by your actions, then everyone gains something.

So will you join in this year? You can find out more at

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Pudsey Pudding – Christmas on a giant scale

Christmas shopping, something caught my eye in the window of a charity shop.
It wasn’t the thought that this would be an ideal present - far from it. I can’t really think of many people I’d want to give it too.

Let me explain. It was a print, possibly an original print, of a newspaper item from 1846. The local article demonstrated an event that made Pudsey a well known place in England long before anyone had knitted a bear for the BBC. It was also seemed festive, although I later found this not quite to be true.

Although public relations is seen as a modern practice, it’s something practiced for millennia even if the term “PR” is something new.

This article talked of the Pudsey Pudding, a giant steamed Christmas pudding, made in the town to celebrate the repeal of the Corn Laws. The gesture had to be original and capture the mood that saw one of the most unpopular laws in British History consigned to the dustbin. The pud represented the end of an import duty that left many poor people starving and the gesture saw a democratic sharing of a celebratory dish made by the community, for the community.

The pudding may have been made to a Christmas recipe but it was actually steamed on 31st July by the radical free traders of Pudsey. The details are staggering even to the modern media. I’ve seen a “world record tower of pompadoms” that looked barely two foot tall and managed to squeeze into the papers:

The result was a pudding weighing nearly 1000 lbs.

Twenty housewives each mixed her twentieth share to the proper ingredients ready for the final blending.

One of the dye-pans at Crawshaw Mill was thoroughly cleaned and filled with spring water.

The twenty dames, with assistance, brought their twenty bowls containing the mixed flour, fruit and suet and tipped them into a large and strong and new canvas "poke" specially made for that purpose, and by means of a windlass which had been fixed over the pan, the "weighty matter" was hoisted into the vessel.

For three days and three nights the pudding was kept boiling, along with half a dozen smaller puddings, to keep it company.

On July 31, 1846, the pudding was craned out of the huge copper and placed upon a wherry. There the steaming monster sat in triumph, with the smaller puddings around it.

A procession was formed, and went round the town, with thousands of people looking on.

The final scene was in Crawshaw Fields, where tables had been arranged in the form of a large military square, and with a special "spade" provided for the purpose, the pudding was "dug up" and served to the crowd."

This historic story shows that communication has always been key. Engage a community with a common purpose is the “new PR” of the social media age – yet this feat could not have been created without a real community coming together.

May be the modern media is trying to re-engage with a sense of community that is fragmented and no longer as strong as it was in those days. May be we don’t have the political events to celebrate.

Sadly the largest Christmas Pudding no longer resides this side of the Pennines. The current record weighed is 7,231 pounds, and was made in Aughton, Lancashire, on July 11, 1992. The village has a once every 21-year tradition of producing puddings to celebrate the cutting of their reed beds.

I can only see records going back to 1886, so may be it was inspired by the Pudsey Pudding – let me know if you have more information than I do.

But there is an opportunity for Pudsey to get find some community spirit again and regain the title and start a friendly war of the roses. Aughton is due to break the record again in mid July 2013, so maybe we should start planning for the 31st of July and hold the record for 21-years.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

How many ways can you peel a Banana?

No this blog isn’t a PC version of how many ways can you skin a cat. When I first saw the question “How does a monkey eat a banana?”, I thought it was a joke. But the answer wasn’t because he found it ape-peeling.

What’s more the answer came in a video, the video that’s featured below. After trying the monkey peeling method it got me thinking of a lot of different things.

It is actually easier to peel and the stalk acts like a handle. Equally, you don’t get to chew on the bit on the end that tastes pithy.

What if you just assume you know how to peel a banana and skip the video? One thing I’ve l heard from older business people is that they’ve tried everything once, so it’s not worth trying it again. That might be true to an extent. There are few truly original ideas. However, societies change and opportunities can be missed by not looking at other viewpoints. The hotel that still sends out its direct marketing via the post is adding massively to its costs by not considering electronic messaging and promotion.

The company that ignores social media to connect with its customers can’t engage with them. They then can’t find out what they truly feel towards their products, services and brand.

Learning to eat something like a banana is a meme. We don’t know where we learnt it but it must have been from watching our parents eat bananas. The stalk looks so obviously like a lever that it must be the ring pull of the natural world. Let’s not forget that the fruit was still fairly rare in the UK even up to the 1950s so it is still a relatively new food to these shores.

It’s not just the British. I’ve yet to see any mainstream American or European media featuring upside down banana eating – yet in the countries where bananas are grown, this is not unusual and they’ve developed their own meme for peeling a banana.
There is an assumption that our ‘meme’ is best, that the lessons of our fathers are better than those from other cultures. The problem is that these prejudices are often subconscious and the British way to be understood is to shout louder and more slowly. It is not about understanding the cultural landscape or listening to alternative ways of working.

Take the Greek example. A shake of the head tends to mean yes in that country, and the word Nai means yes. A nod and the word Ochi means no. It is counter intuitive to most of Europe and these differences can lead to mistakes.

In my work life I’ve often had to translate the cultural aspect of a business or news story. Think of a company in the UK that’s made a new product made from recycled plastic. It’s a great selling point on the environmental side of things – right?

Well, it depends where you are selling that item and in which markets. Yes the environment is high on the consumer agenda in most European countries, but is this a key point everywhere in a recession? What about countries where recycled products have an image of inferiority or a potential health risk? The facts may be clear on this area, but a public perception can be damaging even if it is wrong.

We’ve all heard the stories about how American working practices were shoehorned into the UK in the 1960s and 70s or the stories of product names that just don’t translate tastefully.

Another good example of why memes mean different things to different people comes from Andy Green on the Greenblog. His posting pointed out that Cheverolet dislike the term “chevy” to describe their products, despite the shorthand being so common in US culture and beyond. To the company, it cheapens the image of the brand yet they’ve not tried to find a different way for people to associate with the name. The company is trying to raise awareness of their brand in the UK, and I’d have thought people would associate a little more with the term Chevy.

What’s my advice? Try it out for yourself and learn a different way to do something. I’m not talking just about bananas, but the way you do business.

Learning points:

• Remember a meme is just one way to peel a banana.
• Your way may be good, but is there a better way
• Just because you understand something, it doesn’t mean that everyone gets it, or finds it straightforward.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Getting a sense of community in the snow

The weather has brought more than a knee deep torrent of snow, freezing the icy hills of Leeds into an impassable blockade. It has also brought about a sense of community which tends to vanish as fast as the snow vanished under the heat from the sun. But while it lasts, hopefully we will be able to rediscover the joys of community.

I’ve been thinking about community thanks to events like TEDxLeeds and the launch of the Leeds Community News Hub. Hopefully this blog will draw together some key learning points into something demonstrable.

On a basic level, the snow actually brings people out. Bizarrely the bad weather forces us out of the comfort of our cars and onto the streets. Most people on my street have been walking to work, or at least to the bus stop. Rather than rushing past they’ve been stopping to chat.

While one foolish driver attempted to get up one of the steepest roads in my area, first one, then two then three and four people went over to help push the back of the car. The car got up the hill, but it was a sense of community that helped get the vehicle up over the hill and onto the top road.

Community can be defined as people coming together for a common purpose or for a shared interest. I’ve also heard comment that communities are not created. They are sometimes latent, but rarely can you force a death metal music fan to enjoy watching the X-factor.

I think communications professionals miss the point about latent communities. They sometimes hit on a community in need of a social glue and mistake it for creating a new community that hasn’t existed before.

On my street, I’ve always tried to keep my driveway clear – mainly so I can get my two wheel drive cars out if there was an emergency. Last year I got some comments from neighbours saying I should keep up the good work, and one negative comment that I was wasting my time and causing more ice to form. The area near my cars cleared sooner and the other half of the cul de sac turned into a skating rink.

This year I did the same. I noted that many of the 4x4 vehicles able to drive on the snow used my ‘cleared’ area as it was less slippy. Unfortunately the warm tyres create ice tracks which are nigh on impossible to shift – but shift it slowly I do.

Now a couple of days ago, a few of my neighbours were out clearing the space out of their drives. We engaged in conversation and discussed the weather, the airport, the struggles of other locals on the roads and general chit chat.

Today that escalated. Far from just clearing the drives, we moved on to the main bit of the cul de sac. There were more of us and we had a common purpose – clearing the snow.

We’d created a community. We’d also created momentum and were picking up on the latent potential of the cul de sac. More people came out to help. One person joked to a twenty something girl that she’d have to bring her shovel out when she came back. Amazingly she took the joke to heart and came out to help. One of the men with a 4x4 took up the shovel and snow plough despite not needing to. In no time at all, the cul de sac was cleared.

Further down, the hill section of our road had been cleared and now just a narrow strip of road is still clarried with snow.

Once a community becomes successful and an aim seems achievable, you can draw in people to the community- much like a blackhole draws in material around it because of its gravity. The caveat is that those who might join in the community must have a latent interest in joining the group.

And what of the one person who made the negative comment? Well they’re enjoying the benefits of the community, but is one person I’ve yet to see with shovel, snow plough or brush in hand - proving that you can’t force people to join a community.

To recap:
Community can be defined as people coming together for a common purpose or for a shared interest.
• Communities are not created
• Some communities are latent and need some way of bring people together
• Some potential community members may not be active
• Creating achievable aims for a community can invigorate it and create a movement and gravitational pull for potential new members
• You cannot force someone into joining a community