Sunday, 17 May 2009

Perfect Sense.

I seem to have a chip in my brain that means I can’t stand to see potential unfulfilled. I’ve been like that since I was a teenager. I remember making dates to go round to friends’ houses to work out what they needed to do in practical terms, in order to be where they dreamt of being. I have one official success story - a former cinema projectionist who is now a very happy and successful primary school teacher - and hopefully have many more in the offings; I am constantly joking that, in a few years time, the Sony Radio Academy Awards speeches will almost all feature a thanks to me. But actually, I’m half-serious; I regularly meet up with people who are trying to get into radio, and do my best to support and advise the ones who are making it happen and in whom I see great potential. This kind of behaviour is how I ended up managing Sam Isaac - I was so smitten with his music that I was doing everything I could to get A&Rs to come to the gigs and listen to him, helping him in any way I was able, until someone pointed out that I was effectively managing him and I decided I wanted to make it official.

Sometimes, I think about things that I’m good at, that have little to do with any of my jobs or any I might want to do in the near future. I am not bad at writing press releases and thinking about what the best way to communicate a message to a potential customer or journalist. I’m quite good at commanding and engaging a room full of people in a business (as opposed to an entertainment) environment. Sometimes I have ideas for inventions I will never, ever use. I know I’m not exceptional in this. Obviously, there are vast swathes of people who have excess skills they‘ll never use. Sometimes, I think of all the businesses that could use the help of these people and it breaks my heart a little.

So, let’s think about how many people there are with extra untapped resources, and how few of them are likely to ever use them in order to help other businesses, when these people have their own jobs to occupy them. Imagine if there was a way you could use this extra knowledge/talent/pools of ideas, without employing people full time. Now, wouldn’t this be even better if you could pick from a varied pool of people, all doing interesting things, in locations spread across the world? This way, you could combine a wide variety of their experiences and areas of expertise. Finally, how about you could do it in such a way that it was incredibly rewarding for those people whose insight and ideas you were using? A win-win situation for everyone concerned, right?

This is what The Sense Network does. Sense Worldwide is a London-based research and innovation consultancy. It uses a worldwide network of people who sign up by autonomous choice. I first learnt about it from a conversation struck up in an airport security queue. In order to join the network, all you do is fill in a wee questionnaire. If, like me, you always do Saturday paper magazine Q&As on yourself before reading the interviewees answer, this quite a fun thing to do. Sense then email out a monthly newsletter, detailing their activities and those of various Sense Network members. In addition to this, they periodically send out emails asking for specific kinds of people. For instance, they might be looking for someone who lives in a capital city, goes out a lot and for whom fashion is important. Or, they might be looking for someone who uses portable speakers during their work. If you think you fit the criteria (and are interested in taking part), you usually answer a handful of questions on the bottom of the email (again, for those of us that do myspace quizzes for fun, this is enjoyable). Then, if they select you to take part, they might call you, ask you to do some online activity, or go into their offices for a day (if you’re based outside London, they’ll fly you in) - all of which has a financial reward.

Having done the odd phone interview and online task, last month I was selected to be one of a group spending an afternoon in the Sense London office, discussing a number of ideas. Part of the deal is that you sign a contract saying you won’t divulge anything that was discussed, so I can’t go into details about the particulars, but MAN it was fun. It was a wonderful combination of people asking, “What do you think?”, in a low-pressure, accepting-of-all-ideas environment, of batting around ideas as they were forming and of hearing loads of really interesting people tell you really interesting things. During the discussions, we collectively came up with a lot of ideas for different inventions. It actually made me a bit sad that not all of these would end up getting made, as I feel my life would be better for their existence. I also learnt a lot of facts that I have since been quoting. As well as this, it felt like my mind was being broadened; not just by quantity, but the way that we explored some ideas opened me up to new ways of thinking about certain things. Finally, it was exciting to think that, not only were we all clearly having a ball, but also that these discussions were going to be of practical use to company (we were told which one it is on arrival, so there were no worries about helping one we might have moral issues with).

What a wonderful and simple use of otherwise untapped potential. The chip in my brain felt deeply satisfied.