3 ways to think bigger

When you’re faced with an intractable problem or you need a new perspective sometimes the answer may be to take YOU away from yourself. Here are some tools that will help.

Be someone else

Ask yourself how someone you admire (or even someone you dislike!) might approach a situation. How would Google/Apple/Steve Jobs/Vito Corleone tackle this problem.

‘What Would Jesus Do?’ became such a well-known tool that WWJD was a bumper sticker seen across the US in the 1990s.

I prefer the secular, specific proposal of the writer Neil Gaiman: pretend you are a wise person.

What makes this mental exercise so effective is that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes frees you of a lot of your own baggage because you try to saddle yourself with theirs!

Be somewhere else

Distance matters.

The greater the imagined distance between you and an idea the more likely you will be able to critically evaluate it. As something gets closer people tend to become less interested in the concept and focus more on the practical problems such an idea might face.

When assessing ideas for a new business, a study by Jennifer Mueller showed that, people tended to be far more critical when the person with the idea was said to be based around the corner than if the idea seems to come from a far distant source.

The moral is that to think critically about big concepts it helps to imagine some distance between you and the idea.

Speak in a different language

The relationship between distance and bolder, more conceptual thinking manifests itself in other ways too. Take language. You will think more conceptually in another language than your mother tongue.

Bjork, the Icelandic music megastar, told The Guardian: ‘[speaking] English for me is still like an arm’s length removed. You are always a bit different in the mother tongue. That’s why it’s maybe easier for me in English to be an extrovert. In Icelandic I’m more private.’

Bjork attended the Cannes film festival dressed as a swan.


Adapted from The Little Book of Thinking Big and published on Virgin.com/Entrepreneur

Your space or mine?

“In his first report from the frontline of London’s startup scene, Rich Newton finds a place on the bench”

This is My December 2014 column for British Airways magazine, Business Life

The man on my right accidentally-on-purpose elbows me. And it’s perfectly acceptable. I’m encroaching on his space and in this coffee shop, especially on this particular bench, space is precious. He looks familiar. No doubt he’s another Old Street startup founder, as I am. He’s tall and blond. Estonian? Swedish? Maybe American? No – he would have said something. I guess I must have seen him at one of a dozen startup ‘meet-ups’ I’ve been to over the last few weeks since I moved back from Texas.

Our laptops comprise just two ships in an armada of Apple products lined up on this coffee shop bench. This particular bench is by the window. It’s prime workspace. Hence the cold war conducted with elbows, drummed fingers and an arms race of wires, tablets, phablets, phones and chargers.

He was here first but he left a gap (schoolboy error) and I’ve wedged myself in between him and another contender. Without doubt she also works in a tech startup. Observe the stickers plastered all over her Macbook: tech conventions, hackathons, demo days and myriad unknown-yet-familiar-sounding startups. These are campaign medals,creds.

Fake-casually, I turn my iPad over. She can’t help but notice the back cover stickers: SXSW 2014, Techstars, BBC Labs, plus a bunch of startups she’s never heard of in Austin, Texas. Back atcha. Austin, the fastest growing city in the US for the last four years, is twinned with Hackney, the London borough that adjoins ‘Silicon Roundabout’. Not a lot of people know that. My last startup is based in Austin but it was born here.

The ugliest roundabout in the world sits above Old Street Tube station. It’s an appropriate landmark for what used to be an East London no man’s land between the City and residential Islington. After the dot-com crash in 2000 the low rents attracted a bunch of bootstrapping internet startups that still ‘believed’ and when they noticed that they’d clustered, they self-mockingly dubbed the scene ‘Silicon Roundabout’. This attracted yet more startups. And eventually the moneymen glided over, sniffing the air. Consequently, that particular form of low rent magic dissipated. Office and residential rents climbed as investors, accelerators, property men, quangos, and corporate giants such as Google planted flags.

And following the capricious law of unintended consequences, now that the money is circling the startups, the bootstrapped startups themselves are in danger of being squeezed out. But that’s for another column. For now the entrepreneurs still pour in from around the world. And this, as my neighbour’s elbow reminds me, brings up the matter of supply and demand for physical space.

Bootstrapping is truly an art form of the internet age. Almost your entire company can be summoned up from your keyboard – accounting, legal work, project management, storage, distribution, design and even stickers. All but one thing. You. You still occupy physical space and you, in your dogged non-virtualness, insist on some space in which to, you know, be.

And maybe a few inches of bench space is all you need. Which is when you notice that every year you say the same thing: “The invasion of coffee shops must have peaked. Must have!” But no. Right now I’m sitting in a coffee shop that is both next to a coffee shop and opposite a coffee shop. Each is stuffed like a troop carrier with a brigade of caffeinated, mission-oriented, earbud-isolated, sharp-elbowed pros like me.

When I set up my first company I was told that as a rule of thumb the minimum amount of office space you needed per person was a square metre. Those were the days, grasshopper. I dream of a square metre. So does Jens. Or Bastian. Or whoever this demon is.

The swarm of coffee shops has mirrored the rise of Silicon Roundabout and its entrepreneurial army. Or even facilitated it. Coffee, WiFi and a flat surface for your laptop: such are the table stakes for bootstrapping your business. It’s symbiosis. We depend on the coffee shops. They depend on us.

Who doesn’t know that JK Rowling nursed a cup of tea all day long in her local café while she wrote Harry Potter’s early adventures? When it comes to paying office rent by the cup, she was an innovator. We have crossed the chasm. Now the early majority are all at it.

My neighbour packs up his weapons and turns to leave. “All yours, mate!” he grins. He’s a Brit. Blimey. In Old Street. 


Hacking the hackathon

Something was missing from the British Airways “ungrounded” hackathon last month: hackers.

“Well, a hackathon doesn’t have to be about code,” says Hamish McVey, BA’s head of brand engagement. “It’s more about the attitude to get things done, about making ideas real and getting them in the hands of customers.”

From my feature article on hackathons for the Financial Times 


Fortune magazine’s “Books to help you think big…”

Fortune magazine kicked off 2015 with a list of six books to help readers to “think bigger or start smaller”

The Little Book of Thinking Big  was included even though it hasn’t hit the US yet. Fortune wrote:

“A hit in the U.K., Newton’s book tells readers to “beware the preoccupation of narrow thinking.” His advice: Map out big priorities, and don’t be derailed by the modern-day “cult of busyness.” Work expands to fill the time available, the adage goes, and since smartphones and the like have made us available all the time, we’re always working. Try to focus on the big stuff. “When you deliberately put your energy in a single direction you generate momentum and then you make progress,” Newton writes.”

The other recommended books are:

Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently by Caroline L. Arnold

The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence by Steve J. Martin, Noah J. Goldstein, and Robert B. Cialdini

Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message by Tara Mohr

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Newton_Little book

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The full Fortune article is here:




The Wild Pigs of the Okefenokee Swamp

Okefenokee Medium

A stranger halts his horse and wagon alongside a general store on the fringe of the untamed Okefenokee Swamp.

He calls over: “I’m here to catch pigs.”

The locals burst out laughing. “Those wild, dangerous beasts? No chance.”

“The most powerful guns won’t stop them. Go home”

“I lost my leg escaping the pigs, stranger. Turn around.”

“I wanted to buy some corn, actually”, he says. So the old timers sell him the corn and he goes on his way. And every week he passes by the store to buy more corn on his way to the swamp.

And every time the hunters shake their heads, tap their guns and the months pass until one day the stranger says: “Gentlemen, I need help to take 600 pigs to market.”

To stunned silence he explains how he did it: “First I put some corn on the edge of a clearing. Each week I led the trail closer to the center.”

First, the young pigs but eventually even the largest, fiercest pigs could not resist the lure of easy food.

“They stopped fearing me and one yard at a time I built a pen. Eyes on the corn — they never even noticed the fence going up.“

“It’s not possible!” gasped the old-timers. “That’s not hunting!”

“Oh it is”, he said. “And this morning I shut the gate.”

This fable, which I first came across in an article written by Steve Washam, is a two sided morality tale. Both sides beg one thing: Use your mind.

1. The stranger challenges old methods of catching pigs and thus triumphs.

2. The pigs cease thinking and fail to see that gradually (and helpfully) they are being fenced in.

Misty windows on the 55 Bus to Oxford Circus

I try not to litter this wordpress blog with too many of my pictures of pavements. There’s tumblr* and instagram and facebook for all of that. But every now and then – just to break up the growing layer upon layer  of words one or two might sneak past the censor. Like this one.

This is called:

Misty windows on the top deck of the 55 Bus to Oxford Circus as the first snow of winter starts to fall.

Misty windows final


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