My Summer reading list

Library, Ireland

It’s been over a month since I published a blog post… how did that happen? Well, the disappointing UK referendum result has unfortunately been a big factor, leaving work slightly busier than usual.

In the last three weeks we’ve seen UK Prime Minister, David Cameron step down, serious doubts in Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn – so much has happened that a full list on this blog would be littered with way too many commas. It should be noted that the real instigators of the Leave vote have jumped ship and never had a plan; well, bugger.

Anyway! For those of you who would rather read the jollies of this little PR blog, rather than reading proper newspapers, I’ve been organising my Summer reading list. Reading is so important, not only for learning but also for perfecting writing style. The challenge I have is commitment, it takes me a while to warm to a book and even longer to actually make a purchase decision.

With that in mind here are my first seven books I intend to read this Summer. There is one fiction, the rest factual; for personal development and relaxation. If I reach the end of this list, then I’ll be publishing another reading list!

Oh, and I should probably mention that Wadds published his list first (it’s big).

book, woman, looking

In no particular order…

#1 Fellside
by M. R. Carey, 2016, £8.99 (Kindle)
My current read. Currently my only fiction book this Summer. It’s the second book by the M. R. Carey who shot to fame when his book The Girl With All The Gifts became a bestseller.

#2 Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve
by Tom Bissell, 2016, £8.99 (Kindle)
For those who know me, I’ve always been deeply interested in philosophy and religion. Bissell’s book that came out earlier this year is about his journey from Rome and Jerusalem to Turkey, India, and Kyrgyzstan; to find out about the Apostles.

#3 Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End
by Atul Gawande, 2014, £5.79 (Kindle)
For most of human history death has been a natural, common, and accepted phenomenon. The systems that we have put in place to manage our mortality are manifestly failing; but, as Gawande reveals, it doesn’t have to be this way. The ultimate goal is not a good death, but a good life – all the way to the very end.

#4 Deserter: The Last Untold Story of the Second World War
by Charles Glass, 2013, £5.99 (Kindle)
During the Second World War, the British lost 100,000 troops to desertion, and the Americans 40,000. Commonwealth forces from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Britain’s colonial empire also left the ranks in their thousands. This is a book about the deserters, an emotional and under-researched part of war.

#5 Other People’s Money: Masters of the Universe or Servants of the People?
by John Kay, 2015, £6.47 (Kindle)
Shortlisted for the Orwell Prize this year, Kay is an economist who argues that the financial services sector has become too large and profitability is partly illusionary and appropriated to wealth created elsewhere. This is a highly relevant book considering my PR job and I’m looking forward to a challenging read.

#6 The Dark Net
by Jamie Bartlett, 2014, £4.99 (Kindle)
Beyond the online world we all know, directed by search engine such as Google, lurks a hidden world called The Dark Net. I’ve personally fiddled with the technology to access it before and scrolled some of its pages – but I’m looking to learn more from this book.

#7 Long Hard Road out of Hell
by Marilyn Manson, 1998, £6.99 (Kindle)
I love music, especially from the heavier side of the spectrum. It’s time I read this bestselling, controversial, and dark book by Marilyn Manson.

What are you planning to read this Summer?

11 Views From The Thames That Show London At Its Best

River Thames, Slow down men at work

I became a tourist in London last weekend. Travelling on a boat from Westminster to Greenwich, curving around the Thames and seeing bits of the city move from left to right; it was a breath of fresh air compared to train commutes.

The waterways of London are a welcome reprieve from the gridlocked roads, offering a peace that only seems to be emitted from water. I never knew London could be relaxing and the boat crew spoke with each other as members of a close community, calmly making their way across the water beating the rush of traffic on land.

As I work in London the city has always been part of my professional identity, in my spare time I prefer to escape to greener lands. Last weekend was different though and I attempt to show that through my pictures below.

Feel free to share and download, click the images to see their full size.

River Thames, Slow down men at work

Please slow down, men at work!

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge with the Shard in view

The Shard

The Shard… obviously

The Grapes pub, London

The Grapes pub.

The remains of the old bridge in London

The remains of the old bridge.

Tower of London

Tower of London with the traitor’s gate.

London City

London City

Speedboat on the Thames

Speed!

The Financial Times

The Financial Times offices

Westminster

From this angle all looks calm, but on the green a protest was taking place

The London Eye

The London Eye, as seen moored at Westminster Pier

See beyond your age: 26 life lessons at age 26

lonely playground

lonely playground

Last Monday I hit the beginning of my late-twenties and started to think about life lessons.

I find it difficult to comprehend that I was 18 years old eight years ago. Family photos show the quick transition from boyish complection to manhood. Time stops for no man; the years are racing.

For me right now, life is a treasure chest of opportunities. Whether that is translated through my appreciation of philosophy, joy of reading, understanding of the arts (yes, I’ll include heavy metal in this category!). After years of curiosity, I’m even turning my hand to amateur photography for the first time.

Whilst an enthusiast for life, I’ve also experienced some tough life lessons. Losing a close-friend, turmoil of relationships as people transitioned from university, the depression of being stuck in a job that wasn’t right. Sadly, natural parts of life and more to come.

At the end of the day does age matter? Not in my eyes. It’s your attitude, thoughts, and actions that really count. In my head is an excited eight-year-old chasing dreams and the surly older man who is told that he thinks beyond his years.

So in a similar style as Stephen Waddington’s wise observations from middle-age, I’ve contributed some of my own life lessons below. Broadly categorised into the main things that matter in life; purpose, relationships, career, learning, approaching life.

Perhaps when I hit middle-age some of my approaches to life will change? I’m still learning. The below shows where some of my thinking currently stands.

Purpose

#1 Live for pleasure

The primary form of intrinsic good in life is pleasure. It’s safe to be directed by a hedonistic lifestyle if it operates within ethical guidelines.

#2 Be lead by convictions

The most turbulent personal years was when I hadn’t formed my own convictions. Be true to what you believe in and put this before everything else.

#3 Freedom of enquiry

Be thankful that you live in a liberal society and don’t be afraid to approach life as a sceptic.

#4 Be inspired by others, but don’t imitate

When it comes to role models, life is full of potentials. Be inspired but don’t try being somebody you’re not. Perfect yourself.

#5 Challenge perceptions of success

Your life is not an advertisement; material gain will not bring you happiness. Your journey through life might be a mess, you will have to work hard.

Relationships

#6 You’re never an expert

I’m certainly not.

#7 You’re not singular

Where possible put yourself before others, act as a couple and contribute to your communities and society. Self-obsession makes life impossible.

#8 Build bridges

Do not burn them. Treat people as you would like to be treated. Don’t let emotion overcome you in difficult situations.

#9 Keep calm. Carry on.

You’ll meet lots of different people through life. Don’t count your friends, value the relationships you have.

Career

#10 Do what you love

This goes back to #1 ‘live for pleasure’. You’ll spend almost ¾ of your life working, make sure you enjoy it (this is the secret to success).

#11 Beyond money

Whilst it’s not always possible, try to think of money as an outcome of enjoying work. This is challenging in the entry-level roles of a career, but I’m certain it makes a difference. Being motivated by money alone is not attractive.

#12 Be prepared to work

Nothing in life comes for free, you have to work for it. Rather than aim for the successes in life, think about what you’re willing to struggle for. Do you want a big salary? Then be prepared to work through late nights for it.

#13 Respect

Everyone is different. Everyone knows something you don’t. Don’t be quick to pass judgement, you have no idea what people are dealing with behind the scenes.

#14 We’re all human

We all face the struggles of life. We’re all naked under our clothes. When things get tough, realise that the world is much bigger than the contained situation you’re dealing with. I find perspective alleviates stress.

Learning

#15 Learn something new each day

Try to learn something new each day. No, Google is cheating. Actually talk to people and leave the confines of the home and office. True learning is through experience.

#16 Never give up

Nothing was worse than struggling with dyslexia as a child, but having a passion for reading and writing. It was frustrating, but I beat it. Today I manage and almost hide my dyslexic traits entirely. How? I can recognise the way I think and know the mistakes I make.

#17 Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

I’m not telling you to mess up a multi-million company merger. Just don’t be afraid to try new things, receive advice from others, and build on your abilities. Learn from your mistakes, create something incredible.

#18 Listen

Stop talking. Listen. You’ll learn a lot.

#19 By guided by passion

In life I’m a child lost in a sweet shop, chasing interests and being guided by curiosity. Let your learning be guided by your passions.

Life lessons

#20 Balance

Technology has merged our careers with personal life, try to keep these separated. Use the off button, otherwise what’s the point in living?

#21 Dealing with hardship

Life can be difficult; some situations are tough to understand. Stay true to yourself and eventually try to use experiences to help others. That’s why I made the decision to contribute this post to CALM last year.

#22 Support

You’re not giving up by letting others support you. Always be willing to support others. The human race is biologically one big family.

#23 Actions

There is a difference between action and intention. Make things happen in life, otherwise you’re just speaking empty words.

#24 Look after yourself

Sadly, we’re not immortal and the decisions we make with our health today may impact the rest of our lives. I’m still trying to look after my body better.

#25 Love

Without love, life is not possible. Nurture love, try not to understand its complexities, but appreciate it.

#26 Age

See beyond your age. Don’t let it sway your approach to life.

My three words for 2016

Michael White, Lansons, Berlin

Happy New Year! Another year, 12 months to make a difference.

If you’ve been following my writing for the last few years you may know that on January 1st I focus on three words that I use as a guide for the rest of the year. I use these words to refocus my efforts as the months roll on.

The dates for ‘my three words’ span from my University years, through various stages of my career, to now; a digital account director. A lot has changed over the years, priorities change. One thing for certain, it’s been a real adventure and I’m damn lucky. Some people wish away their entire lives, surviving for the weekend. Not me.

Click on the dates for the blog posts written at the time:

2015: Charity. Creativity. Insight.

2014: Balance. Contribute. Health.

2013: Stability. Growth. Decisiveness.

2012: Missed this year. It was also fairly unsuccessful.

2011: Understand. Grow. Support.

Deep down I knew one word would be change for 2015. I changed my job, where I lived, and possibly matured my mindset; it’s incredible how different I feel from my 24-year-old (2014) self.

I’ve provided consultancy to 40+ organisations, including charities and social enterprises. This was only possible through support by family, friends and colleagues – plus tireless revision/reading. It was a year full of charity, creativity, and insight.

Now it’s time to look ahead to 2016; over the next 12 months what should my three words be?

My three words for 2016

Coaching – Without the help, support, and belief of family, friends and colleagues I wouldn’t be where I am today. I never forget this and must now owe the world something in return, by better supporting the personal and professional journeys of others. I consider this one of my most important career objectives for this year.

Charity – For the first time ever I’m repeating a word from a previous year. You can never have enough charity and I can always do more. Last year I did more charity based work than 2014, in 2016 I want to make a bigger impact. Perhaps even commit to a cause I’m passionate about? We’ll see.

Adumbrate – This is a deep one. It’s possible to know the mere outline of yourself, of your personality, but require it to be ‘filled in’. By this I mean building on my passions such as philosophy, critical thinking, and getting involved in causes I believe in. Having a more personally wholesome New Year.

Michael White, APPC quiz

So there we go, my three words for 2016. Let’s hope the year lives up to 2015.

Marsden March 2015: Walking 14 miles to help science kill cancer

There has been so much going on this year I almost forgot to mention (or boast about!) how I managed to complete the Marsden March 2015 last weekend. Yes, I walked all 14 miles between The Royal Marsden’s Chelsea and Sutton hospitals. It may have taken 4 ½ hours but it was done! As part of Team Goldsmiths (as my partner is an employee) we raised over £3,000 for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. It was a brilliant experience and it was incredibly moving hearing the stories of brave cancer survivors, and from the family of friends walking to remember loved ones. I would do the walk again, although I should probably let my knee heal first!

Along the route I took some pictures. The atmosphere was as vibrant as the clothes some walkers chose to wear! Social media was buzzing too with plenty of #MarsdenMarch tweets and some live streaming their efforts to loved ones at home.

 

Only good storytelling can drive social engagement

StorytellingWhen we think of social networks we tend to think of sites such as Tumblr, Flickr, SoundCloud or Twitter. Social media is often claimed to have revolutionised the way we communicate with each other, but in reality these sites simply facilitate our biological need to be social.

We have always been social animals. Sociological research shows that the ‘natural’ size of a human group bonded by gossip is about 150 individuals – as most people are unable to communicate effectively outside of this group size. This is in our DNA as humans and therefore impacts our use of social networks.

For instance, Facebook research has shown that 39% of Facebook users have between 1 – 100 friends. With the overall average number of friends at 338, a median number of 200 friends. Other social networks differ with friend numbers as the way different social sites are used vary. For example, on Twitter connections are frequently unreciprocated.

In Clay Shirky’s book, ‘Cognitive Surplus’, the online consultant argues that these connections on social networks allow individuals to constructively put their spare time to use. Shirky notes that Wikipedia represents the investment of 100 million hours (in 2009); compared to 200 billion hours we spend watching television each year.

His argument is compelling, and highlights another component behind online social interactions; the story matters. A constructive social project like Wikipedia is only possible because its values unite a range of like-minded individuals.

It is these values that have allowed us to extend beyond our small social group as a species. As suggested in Harari Yuval Noah’s new book, ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’, we are slaves to our biology that prefers small social group sizes. It is only through good storytelling that humanity has escaped our social biological lock.

This has meant that we live two realities as humans: the objective reality of the natural world around us (plants, rivers, rocks, etc) and the imagined world of gods, nations and corporations. The imagined world is stories that have been told to allow people to work together (E.g. Employees working to fulfil the goal of Mercedes, British culture and jurisdiction being recognised, Christians working to end poverty).

The online world is the imagined world; it sits beyond the fold of nature. It is the chatter behind global events, the sharing of a corporation’s PR crisis, the spread of rumour across Reddit of an electoral swing. Objectively none of our social networks really exist. Instead they are the branded names representing a number of users who have gathered because they have similar interests, values or ideology.

This is how we extend our own individual social networks from beyond 150 friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. This is why Pinterest has an overall community of 48.7 million users, how a group about mining in Africa on LinkedIn can engage 1000 members, and why we are tied up in various communities on Twitter without even knowing it.

Social networking is in our DNA and it fuels how we use social media. However, it is the stories we create that bonds social media users together.

 

If you’re looking to get rich, blogging may not be the answer

It all started with a letter from Amazon.

amazoncheque

A cheque for £1.16. The money representing three months worth of my blog writing on Thought Symposium, thanks to those subscribed via Amazon Kindle (thank you if you are one of those subscribers!). Yes, it is a very small amount. So it is a good job I never decided to blog for the money. Over the years this blog has rarely made any sort of meaningful cash. Around 5 months ago I enjoyed a £60 pay out from Google Ads – not bad. Although that had been generated over a three year period…

There are places, such as ProBlogger, who claim by following the right blogging steps, you can eventually climb to a six-figure salary through blogging. I’m sceptical though, because I think any sort of online commercial generation usually negatively impacts user experience.

In fact, I once calculated that every day this blog generates something like 5 pence. You know what though? I don’t care.

I’ve already got a full-time job and the purpose of my writing here is to connect with fellow PR folk, whilst advising others how they may improve their comms programmes.

So thank you Amazon for my £1.16, it will help towards this blog’s running costs but I’m doing okay. Okay?

 

Everything online is a bit noisy, isn’t it?

The thought occurred to me standing on one of the side streets of Westminster in the early hours of the evening. Unlike the tourists I wasn’t looking at Big Ben, but beyond to the clouds becoming silver silhouettes against a greying sky. The sky seemed like the only peaceful thing in the sprawling city.

Having just come back from a holiday in Crete where internet connection was less regular and costly – the noise of London was apparent. Only a few minutes ago my smartphone had dumped a leviathan of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and email updates (work and personal). Most of which were probably from PR or SEO agencies, of absolutely no integral value; delivered at an inappropriate moment by my smartphone.

Such treatment by our digital devices is expected in the city and digital folk tend to sneer at less developed digital economies across the world. But why? It’s not pleasurable being hassled 24/7, being pumped full of useless content. The worst thing is that we designed this noisy social media world. For every poor click through rate or product conversion, stands someone like me, staring up at the sky wishing the world was just a little bit quieter.

Of course, some social companies (usually venture capital funded) are working on ‘content curation’ methods to make our lives a little bit more bareable. I can’t help but wonder if such companies are just further adding to the noise though. Even RSS readers, with basic honest application, inevitably add to the noise.

Then there is this blog, this post in particular, which has ironically added to the noise. Throughout the last few years we have become victims of social media – adapting ourselves for channels, rather than designing them towards delivering quality content.

Search engines prefer quality in quantity; publish to mature your web presence faster. Social media influence is often ranked upon the frequency of posts, number of followers, etc. In my eyes, the industry is reaching a point where enough is enough. We must slow down, post less, focus on quality in order to maintain the integrity of social media (if there is anything left to salvage?).

Social media is my full-time career, it’s my passion, but it’s time to look at the technology we are using and if it is always having a meaningful impact on our lives. Unfortunately social media consultants are not necessarily the ones to rectify the noise problem, it’s the social companies themselves who have based ‘quantity’ as a metric for reaching ever-greater audiences.