A lot of the projects I work on tend to be online. This has big upsides: mobility of work, flexibility of work, cross-pollination of work. But the downside is I often spend a disproportionate amount of time with my battery-inefficient macbook. What this means is that each month I make sure I have at least one offline project (more than just an event or meeting) that I’m committed to doing. Ideally two or three.

Here’s what I’ve got in the pipeline this Spring. See you there!

1. THNK Accelerator Festival

Why am I going? To re-connect with friends and THNKrs on projects we’re all working on, to discover new great projects and people and to enjoy fine Dutch hospitality.

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2. Tribewanted Monestevole Season 2 Opening & Digital Detox

Why am I going? To join my Umbrian family for the celebration of a new season and all the good things Monestevole brings, and to discuss with tribe members and visiting guests how best to manage our tech diets.

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3. Hunter Gather Cook Treehouse HQ Opening

Why am I going? I love treehouses and I’m working with Nick Weston and friends on building a community around getting more people into trees. If our kickstarter goes well we’ll be building the foraging school’s new HQ and hosting a bunch of the backers for a wild cocktails party in the woods.

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I spoke at the Escape School event this week and shared some of these insights that have helped me over the years stick to work I want to be doing (almost) everyday. Let me know what else guides you.

1. Think in 3 Horizons – but only execute on 1st and 3rd. 

Horizon 1: What are you doing now / this week / month to set you on the path you want to go on? Act. Do. Make something happen.

Horizon 2: What’s going to happen between now and the long-term? You don’t know. Things change. A lot. So, don’t waste time planning too much.

Horizon 3: Where do you want to be in 5 years? What values will underpin this lifestyle? Who will you be working with? Always keep this in mind.

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2. Write a letter to yourself from the future

It’s 2019. Write a letter to yourself saying what you’ve achieved over the last 5 years and how you’ve done it. This may sound stupid but it’s a great way to visualize where you want to go and what really matters. Exchange letters with a friend or mentor if it seems weird doing it by yourself.

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3. Less is More. 

Simplify everything. This isn’t just about great UX. It can be about a lot of your life.

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4. Master the most important venn diagram in the world

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5. Write an Escape List and pin it on your wall (fridge. facebook. bathroom)

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6. Don’t let being comfortable kill your ambition, because it will. 

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7. Bin the CV. Build a Story. 

I might be wrong but I think CVs won’t be around forever. What matters when I meet someone is whether they’re doing something they really want to be doing and have gone out and built the skills and experience necessary to do that thing better. There are SO many good web tools for sharing your story, there’s no excuse.

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8. Do one thing exceptionally well rather than everything just well. 

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9. Always try and escape the ‘vicious circle of badness’ @davecorn

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10. Use stimulants! Coffee for productivity. Beer for creativity. Water for life.

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I was recently discussing with a friend how to balance paid work with working on your own startups, especially in those leaner times. Here’s what I came up with. Not rocket science, nor the solution for everyone – but this approach has helped me. Let me know what’s worked for you too.

Woodland sunrise taken at The Lodge, Bedfordshire by Stuar Geeves (rspb-images.com)

1. Pay it Forward – I know it’s frustrating when you work on things that don’t pay you straight away but I’m a big believer in give before take. Loving new ideas and supporting people on their career/startup journey is actually a pleasure, at least from a karma point of view!

2. Drop the CV & build a page that shows off why you’re different (and therefore valuable). Tell you story! I’ve used Strikingly. It’s free and looks a whole lot better than a CV.

3. Ask yourself what you would really be happy/fulfilled doing? Then build everything else around that. If the answer is running your own business, in what? And then, how? If that means working on it part-time for 12 months whilst you freelance, do that.

4. The right freelance work takes time to get – I’ve always done a little of this but now (because of a new family arrival) I’m making much more of an effort. In fact, I’ve used my wife’s pregnancy as a timeline to get the contracts signed. The result? I spent Sept-December meeting and networking with people I wanted to work with/for. It really only costed me my time and coffee and I’ve now got 3 interesting paid projects. Yes, they’ve taken time to close and they’re not enough yet for this years income target, but at least I’m working on things I want to be doing (which means I should do a better job) and then I use the rest of my time to work on my own startups.

5. Collaboration increases productivity - I’ve spent a lot of the last few years working mainly on one project with one or two people. I’m now working on 4 or 5 projects with a lot more – yes, I have to be organised – but I think I’m getting better and more productive at what I do.

6. Hibernate from email – Less is more. I’ve always told myself this with projects. But I’m not very good at practicing it. This year I’ve started taking weekly 24 hour email fasts – what we used to call ‘a weekend’ before blackberrys and apps changed things. I’ve learnt that enforced regular time away from my inbox has lots of upsides – and most of them are work based. If you’re interested in reclaiming your tech health, come hibernate with me.

digital-detoxWhen did the addiction begin?

April 2006 (although I wasn’t aware of it at the time). It was the time my first startup project – Tribewanted – took off. We had just shared the idea of forming an online community to support  the development of an on-island (Vorovoro in Fiji) eco-tourism project. The Metro newspaper mentioned us and then my relatively quiet inbox went bananas.

How did it feel?

Amazing. People were signing-up (and paying) in droves to join the tribe. Every paypal notification was like a shot of something good into the bloodstream. Every ‘woo-yeah’ note of excitement, a kicker, a high, an endorphin rush.

What happened next?

Well, it kind of spiraled. More members, more excitement and then the questions and challenges came…not in a great flood, but certainly a growing swell, and I started to notice that I’d be spending almost all my time tapping away at my keyboard, managing the growth, responding to the questions. I struggled to find time to eat, let alone exercise, reflect on what was happening or hang-out with friends and family.

Has anything changed since then?

Well Tribewanted grew and slowed and grew again. And the years went by. And other projects happened. And facebook and twitter happened. And life happened. But, some of those early online habits (and ongoing challenges with the way I work online) have never really gone away:

1. The futile journey to the lost city of ‘Inbox Zero’

Every-time a note pops up (gbox, twitbox, facebox…wherever) it often feels like it doesn’t matter how big the sand castle is we’re building the tide will swallow it. When traveling, the cliche goes that the journey is the destination. In gmail, the journey often feels like we’re trying to get to Mordor while carrying about 25 rings.

I’ve fought the gmail orcs with some success with weapons like sanebox (instead of an insane box) and unroll (simplify your subscriptions) but I need something more…something that changes my habits.

2. The distraction trap: Tweetdeck & Hootsuite you bastards!

Can I get to the end of this blog without clicking on another browser. Seems not…my wife just asked me the surname of someone. I checked on facebook and I’m pulled into more notifications including one titled ‘what happened to Downtime?’ (I’m being distracted by an article talking about distraction whilst writing about distraction – its a post-modern ironic mess)… damn, 5 more minutes gone.

3. Binge Browsing Vs Serendipitous Surfing

And as a result of the weariness of the journey to inbox zero and the distraction trap…I find it difficult to differentiate between binging on online content like a never-ending conveyer belt of fast-food that just looks and smells so good that I just don’t know what might come out of the kitchen next, so I’ll hang around a little longer AND surfing the wonderful web and discovering some of my favorite things in the world.

I’ve tried plugins like Momentum and it helps, but only a little. I want to be more focused and have as healthy a tech diet as I do with the food I eat.

So what now?

Well I’ve been talking about this with friends for a while. More than half of me still feels like tech  has set us free. Really. The people, projects, ideas and experiences I’ve had since April 2006 have been phenomenal. But I think I’ve compromised too much and given the screen too much attention. So, now I’m proposing to myself, my friends and anyone else who wants to join me to actively takes step to reclaim control of our tech tools. For that’s what they are – tools for us to use to better our lives, to go on great adventures and to change the world.

I’m going to start small. I’ve taken a pledge, to take 24 hour ‘e-fasts’ (email fasts) at least once a week. Zero email. A digital detox. And in that time I will focus on projects (yes, still work) and people that don’t come in the form of lists or notifications. I hope this becomes a habit. I’m starting my first deliberate e-fast now – Midday on Tuesday 31st December 2013. Why don’t you join me in hibernating in 2014?

Night ceremony

A scented candle. A personal city tour. An airport pick up. A special playlist. A great dinner. A new friend. Good hospitality makes a difference. We all know that.

But what if good hospitality – sharing our place, way of life & favorite things could do more than simply make people smile and add an Instagram memory or two?

For the last 10 years or so I’ve been part of, witnessed and learnt about hospitality experiences that have done more than just provide good memories. Hospitality thats changed lives. Guludo Beach Lodge in Mozambqiue, for example, has only 10 rooms but has already impacted over 25,000 local people’s health or education.

But as inspiring as places like Guludo are, they are only individual examples in isolated places. They have not scaled. The ‘responsible/eco/community tourism’ movement is still only on the fringes of mainstream travel.

Recently, however, something has changed.

The Sharing Economy. 

We’ve started sharing extraordinary hospitality through a new open, online peer-to-peer economy. In hospitality terms first there was Couchsurfing – stay on a couch anywhere for free; the hippy travelers ultimate online community. Then there were smaller projects like ours, Tribewanted, which focused on one or two locations by crowdfunding their development and engaging people online as well as locally. Now, of course, in Airbnb we have perhaps the most disruptive and fastest growing hospitality business ever. Watching Airbnb’s Open Live event the other day and listening to the team talk passionately about how they see themselves enabling a global army of amazing hosts to share their talents, homes and generosity with curious travelers AND make money – it became more and more obvious that this is just the tip of the iceberg for hospitality with impact.

During Hurricane Sandy in New York, Airbnb host, Shell, decided to let her apartment out for free to victims of the storm. 24 hours later 400 more Airbnb hosts had done the same.

Imagine if that started to happen in places where food, water and shelter are needed more than just during a one-off crisis? How far could an army of networked hosts go?

Could global communities like Airbnb bring their equity spread and host empowerment model to the people and places that really need it, and would there be a demand in such places?

Smartphone access is clearly key – Airbnb has recognised this – but then barriers to entry are low both for potential hosts and guests.

Extraordinary hospitality is about sharing the best of you. Could this action of peaceful giving be a more powerful act than we could have previously imagined?

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This has been on my mind for a while. Jo Confino’s blog today about communicating the reality of climate change might be best done not through facts and figures but by telling people – as artist Stephen Fairey suggests – ‘to stop being dicks.’ In other words if you don’t connect with people emotionally they won’t pay any attention. Or as Fairey says: “Sometimes the most powerful weapon against propaganda is absurdity, creating images that are funny.”

Looking from a start-up point-of-view it seems to me that there is some truth in this, not so much in ‘selling climate change’, but in getting people engaged in tackling abstract, distant (for most us) problems, the best approach is to try and get authentic emotional buy-in.

Thinking about the projects I’ve worked on over the last few years reflects this and why I continue to drawn to the storytelling, positive visioning, what-makes-me-care, approach to insurmountable problems over the ‘I’m going to drown you in a tsunami of data and then tell you buying a different detergent will solve the problem.’ No it won’t.

THNK: Creative Leadership school in Amsterdam. After being given a challenge (what do we do with big data, solve climate change, provide clean water for everyone etc…?) participants are encouraged to go on a ‘wild safari’ to gather inspiration, stories and facts about the subject before a ‘visioning’ phase of generating ideas concludes with the sentence: ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if…(big data ended malaria etc…)?’ before prototyping these ideas. By reframing a huge challenge as an amazing opportunity that matters personally a whole new raft of ideas surface.

Tribewanted: eco-tourism and community experiences. We’ve learnt by going slowly the ups and downs of building ‘sustainable’ communities. The open-minded spaces at Tribewanted projects free people up to think differently and creatively about big issues. The solar panels are really just the backdrop to what really matters: the cross-cultural living experience.

Escape the City: Inspiring frustrated corporates to ‘do something different’ is a brilliant way to get a talented resource (clever graduates) to move into careers they really care about. No wonder the community is 100,000 strong already. 

Right to Dream: Africa needs more role models. A sporting leadership academy in Ghana recruits talented, young people and gives them a world-class education. The graduates with a golden ticket then spend their next 15 years ‘giving back’ credits to their community and country in the form of fundraising, business start-ups, and international representation. The future Black Stars (Ghana’s national team) will likely be loaded with talented, smart, leaders.

Projects I’m a fan of that aren’t writing strategies but doing…

Hunter Gather Cook: Adventures in Wild Food. I took my brother on this for his stag do. Going wild in the woods topped any embarrassing night out on the town.

Project Wild Thing: Taking on the small challenge of getting kids off their iPads and into nature because it’s more fun. See also Camp Kernow

Jamie’s Farm: (Not *that* Jamie) Sharing wonders like where the ‘egg’ comes from by getting city kids down on the farm, often for the first time.

Roost: on a mission to get people into trees by showcasing the amazing treehouses of the world.

Microadventures: No more time-money excuses for going on adventures – you can have one between 5pm and 9am. I tried this.

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I was part of a class at Oxford Brookes university last week. These were some of the trends and ideas I shared from personal observations over the last 12 months.

1. Community Experiences for All

Ok, so this is nothing new but are community tourism experiences now finally building up a head-of-steam? At Tribewanted we’ve seen an increase in the number of young families wanting their children to have authentic cultural experiences as early as possible in life, rather than simply resort recovery-time. This also seems to be happening alongside the reaction to the ‘McDonaldisation of Tourism’ (Golf-courses everywhere) that Leo Hickman argues convincingly in his book The Final Call. This is happening in the tourist guide space too – Tripbod offers ‘your friend at the other end’.

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2. Digital Detoxing

We all knew this was going to happen. Right? Silicon valley uber-geeks heading to the hills at the weekend for an iLife amnesty, for a few hours at least. In reality this deliberate ‘disconnect to reconnect’ trend is something we’ve seen in our mirrors for a while. The number of surf n yoga retreats on offer shows this. But it feels like the need to hand-over our techno tools in order to relax and revive means we’ve reached a new point where a health problem at work is now an opportunity for travel and tourism.

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3. Pop-up Hotels

Ok, it’s just glorified camping or Glamping as we know it. But by reframing and marketing as ‘pop-up’ alongside the trend in retail, are we likely to see this grow especially at events and festivals? This year we’ve seen it at Glastonbury and with urban pop-ups.

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4. Home is your Hotel room

One name has dominated them all – Airbnb – who have successfully monetised the trend that Couchsurfing was the first to explode online. This year Airbnb is expected to book 55 million ‘bednights’. That’s 50% of any of the major hotel chains and the company isn’t even a decade old! As with the trust in crowdfunding their seems to be a growing acceptance of ‘staying with a stranger’ and the businesses that provide a great online user experience are profiting. See also: One Fine Stay, Housetrip, Sleepout, Kippsy.

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5. The End of the Stars

Could 2013 finally be the year when industry-led star ratings are overtaken by peer-led reviews? Tripadvisor has been disrupting this space for a while. With the rise of guest and host locked-in review systems like Airbnb (you review each other) are we going to see less bitchin’ and more honesty? Do hotel stars still matter?

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One of my favourite emails I’ve received in the last few years said:

‘Tribewanted is the only place you can go on holiday and feel homesick when you go home.’

Seven years into our journey to build a collection of the very best eco-tourism and community experiences available we’re ready to take that feeling of belonging to some more amazing places by launching an exciting crowdfunding campaign (video)

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Coming Home

Since 2006 we’ve been funding and building our eco-tourism communities – first on Vorovoro Island in Fiji, then on John Obey Beach in Sierra Leone and this year we opened Monestevole, in the hills of Umbria. Each project has had its successes and challenges.

But what has connected them all is a sense that, together with our local partners and supportive members we’ve created places where we all feel at home. Like a part of us has always belonged there – even though the language, diet and culture may seem very different to the place we might normally call home. And because we feel ‘at home’ we’re open to engage with different ideas, foods, experiences, and people as well as rejuvenate and play. With the leadership of our local teams and communities we’ve been able to reinforce the importance of protecting cultural heritage as well as the natural environment and resources.

It’s one thing to feel and experience this. Its quite another to bottle it and build a sustainable business model around it so you can grow what you and others believe in.

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Shifting our model towards Partnerships

Moving ‘doing it from scratch’ to partnering with those that already do it to a high standard will be a slightly new approach for us. But it is something we feel strongly about. First, because the market conditions are right – responsible and eco-tourism is finally on the verge of going mainstream – it’s growing a lot faster than other parts of the industry. Secondly, because we’re ready – we’ve learnt through 7 years of prototyping our models on the ground what works well (eating together, open participation in projects, private accommodation, creative space, sharing our story and cultural immersion) and what doesn’t (short-term partnerships, depending on local government support, under-pricing, trying to do too much).

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Our stronger, more experienced leadership team

I’ve been working with Filippo for four years now. We lived in Sierra Leone together for a year on the beach where we built our partnership. Since then Amy & Neal Carter-James have joined us (now living in Umbria too with baby India) as leaders in sustainable tourism. Amy & Neal’s success with Guludo Beach Lodge in Mozambique has proven that the holy grail of social business in tourism is possible: that the more successful your tourist product the larger your community impact. We’ve spent the last year getting to know each other at Monestevole and planning what would be an important next step for Tribewanted.

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Crowdfunding our Tribe

We’re going to carefully select a collection of the very best eco-holiday destinations on the planet.

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Our new Partner Locations will provide exceptional holiday experiences with inspiring community projects that visitors can choose to get involved in. Potential Partner destinations include: Guludo Beach Lodge Mozambique, Laos, Nicaragua, UK, & Bali.

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These independent Partner Locations have an urgent need for support in marketing, sales, web-presence, online booking facilities and funds for local projects, all of which Tribewanted will supply for a booking commission.

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30% of all membership fees will go to community projects at our Partner Locations which significantly improve local inhabitants quality of life (health, education, conservation, enterprise, clean energy). At the same time we aim to inspire our members and visitors to engage in these issues during their stay and when they return home.

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Through the crowdfunding equity platform Crowdcube we’re seeking an investment of £200,000 for 20% equity in Tribewanted Ltd with three reward levels. We will be investing these funds into our online product, our team, developing our location partnerships and marketing our business.

I hope you can join us on the next step in our journey!

Ben

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“Congratulations you’re the first class to finish this course. You’ve made it through the challenges and hurdles that we’ve thrown at you. You’ve become true creative leaders and are ready to be released into the wild. Remember to come back someday….”

That’s how it should have been right? A rousing graduation ceremony. Hugs and handshakes. A perfect piece of embossed paper inscribed with our names, todays date and a distinction to frame proudly on the downstairs loo wall for the rest of our lives.  

But that’s not what happened this weekend at THNK: The Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership. Yes, we were the first class to complete the 18 month part-time programme that began with a walk across water to a misty island. But graduate with honors? Nope. Join the illustrious alumni? Nada. Update our linked-in profile with a gargantuan new bullet-pointed achievement. No chance. 

Instead, in the middle of the Acceleration Festival weekend, twenty of our class snuck into a small room, sat round a table and looked each other in the eyes. No challenge tools, no post-it note piles, no whiteboards, no macbook pro line-ups. We simply asked how each other how we were doing. Not with our projects or businesses so much, but how were we really doing.  

And then something special happened.

One-by-one we quietly started to share our stories from the last year or two. The stories that mattered most. The insights that uprooted our long-held assumptions about how the world works and our roles within it. We shared our perfect moments, deepest anxieties and dreams. We cried. A collective exhaling of life poured like a waterfall from one-to-another around the room and beyond as we shared our absent classmates stories too. 

We know we’ve been the lucky ones. To have been part of this brave new school of creative leadership just as it has been born into the world. The funny thing was, that sitting there quietly in that room together, the big goals, accelerations, global challenges that we all care about didn’t seem to matter as much. What mattered was that we got to share this. And we wouldn’t change it for the world. Which is why we decided we’ll be back in six months time, to do it again.

We didn’t graduate. We didn’t want to. We’re going to stay in this class, forever. 

A soulful, wondrous weekend. #greenman #chaiwallahs

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