Shorn of the dead

How entrepreneurs can break free from zombie armies to defy economic gloom

This was first published in The Times on 3rd January 2012

Why do we love zombies? Every year brings a slew of new zombie-based entertainment. Indeed, to test the popularity of the genre, I just counted iPhone apps with the word “zombie” in the title. I gave up counting when I arrived at the game Farts vs Zombies. I’d got past 200 by then.

And why does it matter? It matters because of the time of year. I’ll explain.

You see, there’s an argument that the reason zombies figure so large in popular culture is that we share their pain. A zombie army tends to be controlled by an unseen force, to face a grim future and to be unsure who to blame for its predicament.

In the original zombie films of the mid-20th century, there was someone to blame — it was a voodoo chief. If the zombies could overpower the voodoo priest, they could reclaim their freedom. In other words, they had hope.

Alas, in modern zombie films there is no voodoo chief to overthrow. Thus, there is no hope.

Which brings me to the feeling I got from every 2012 economic forecast I read over the allegedly “festive” period. We are in for a grim 12 months (nay, even longer). No hope. No light at the end of the tunnel. Just varying shades of calamity. And worse still, there’s no voodoo master to overthrow.

Which means we must create a better future ourselves. For many of us, the only way to do this is to set up and build our own business. Entrepreneurialism will be our new year resolution.

Now we all know what happens to the average resolution, so here are ten tips to help you stay the course:

Don’t quit work prematurely. You don’t have to resign in order to start developing your business. In fact, you should try to keep the steady income for as long as possible while you work weekends and evenings to get your new business up and running.

Don’t get fixated on the frills. Spending your money on business cards and letterheads might make you feel your business is real, but you might win more customers if you spent the £50 on, say, google ad words.

Planning. In the enthusiasm of the rush to liberate yourself from the zombie army, you might forget to do the basics. Like making a plan. Break down your activities into manageable and measurable tasks.

Be realistic. Such is their fear of failure that some people get their excuses in early by setting unreasonable, “bound to fail” goals. As a result, they don’t really try; they already have failure baked in. Save yourself and everyone else the heartache. Keep it real! The “Smart” way to set yourself goals is to make them: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed.

Follow your passion. Actually, this is schlock: a few lucky people are driven by a passion to do a certain thing; most of us aren’t. Nevertheless, there is some truth to the idea that you will be better at pursuing what you enjoy. If you don’t know what this is, observe yourself. See what you do when your mind wanders. Do you dream up recipes? Do you buy extreme sports magazines? Do you find calmness or hell in spreadsheets?

Build a support team. Bring people with you on your mission. They don’t have to work with you but if they provide advice and morale, it’s surprising what a difference this can make. Experiments show that faced with a steep slope to climb, those who are surroun-ded by friends estimate the gradient to be far more manageable.

Don’t be a perfectionist. You can spend forever building the perfect plan, perfect product, perfect logo. The only way to test your business, your product or your service is in the white heat of the market. The sooner you get it out there and find what doesn’t work, the sooner you can make it better.

Remember the ticking clock. Time is short and races by while you procrastinate and deliberate. In the blink of an eye you will be watching next year’s Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special. Make sure you escape the zombie army before that happens.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. You might worry about what others will say about you and your plans. Truth is, though, they’re too busy worrying about their own issues. Since the dawn of time, 106 billion humans have lived and died. Maybe they all took themselves too seriously? And to what avail? Learn a lesson from them.

Start. Without which there is nothing. And by which we immediately change the status quo no matter what. And that’s the best way to fight back against the voodoo controller.

• Richard Newton is the author of Stop Talking, Start Doing: a Kick in the Pants in Six Parts and writes at www.richard-newton.com. You can downloadthe first chapter for free from richard-newton.com/book 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten steps in the right direction

...alternatively, this is "How Not To Do It" in one simple step.  But we all know this one, already.

First published in ivillage

It’s hard to be bothered to do things. You could start a business, write a novel or get a degree at night school, but it’s so difficult when you could be sitting on the sofa watching TV. How do you motivate yourself to hide the remote and actually achieve something?

Richard Newton, author of motivational book, Stop Talking, Start Doinggives his tips for achieving your goals.

1. The tick-tocking of the clock. Life has a sting in the tail. It’s over in a shot. And it’s only at the end that we realise how fast it went by and how much time we wasted worrying about the enormity of things that in fact were only big to us. Life will be over in a split second and the moment you finish this article is the instant you should take control and start enjoying it the way you want to.

2. What if people laugh at you? What if people snigger that you even tried to do something new. Well fuhgeddaboutit. These people don’t deserve even a back row seat in your life story. This is your life. And the people whose opinion you’re worried about? Well here’s two things you should know: First: They  are actually worrying what people say about them too much to pay you much concern. Secondly: Just like you, they’re 72.8% water. That’s like being laughed at by a bathtub.

3. The world is at your kitchen table. Here’s another reason to start something new: It’s never been easier! Thanks to the Internet we have access to knowledge and experts in ways our grandparents would never have believed. And if we want to set up a business or research a trip to somewhere exotic then it’s at our finger tips. You can find out everything you want and reach everyone you want to.

4. Unconventional is now conventional. Sixty years ago a gentleman wouldn’t go to work without a hat on; ten years ago they stopped wearing ties. Now you don’t have go into work to go to work… so who knows what people are wearing. But the point is : who cares?! Society cares less about conformity than it used to. This makes it easier to swim against the current. Easier to do something different, challenge convention. If you want to give up your job and travel round the world, learn to juggle, join a commune – your neighbours might cough and shake their heads but you can cope with that… Or they might just tell you how they always wanted to do the same thing.

5. Feeling of Emptiness. You might be asking yourself: Is that all there is? You might work hard for long hours just to pay the bills and be too exhausted to do anything fun. You might ask why you’re so worried about keeping up with the Jones.  What would I rather be doing with my free time? With my money? How am I going to change things? Well… I can’t answer that but I can recommend you use this feeling as a spur to change things. Because let’s face it only you can change it! (and by the way… remember the clock is tick tick ticking!)

6. Make your own path. There’s no job for life any more. For many people there’s no job at all. The great thing is you have nothing to lose. We all have to be entrepreneurs now: Entrepreneurs in spirit!  Fight the gloom and make your own job or make the change you want in yourself and in your life. See it as an opportunity and go for it!

7. Fear and Regret It’s totally normal to be scared of doing something different and taking on a new challenge. But I tell you what is a whole lot worse than being scared of something: It’s looking back on your situation ten years from now and regretting that you never took the risk. Deal with fear and even if you screw up, so what?! Take pride in trying! Ask yourself what pride you can take in not chasing your dream… and you know the answer to that: not much.

8. Observe yourself. Now funnily enough some of us don’t have a burning desire to do a specific thing. But we have a nagging sense that we could be doing something different. So for such people as we then it’s quite difficult to answer the question: “what are you really passionate about?” because we don’t have a burning desire to learn the flute or set up a business. Well here’s a tip: audit yourself. See what you do when your mind wanders. Do you doodle knitting patterns, do you love researching recipes, are you drawn to spend your time rearranging your furniture (and your friends’ furniture) or do you buy extreme sports magazines? You might find you subconscious is giving you clues about where to direct your energy.

9. Set yourself achieveable challenges. Be realistic. Keep your dreams in the clouds… but keep your feet on the ground.  One of the things to watch out for is “bound-to-fail” goals. Some people announce (to themsleves or the world in general) that they have set a goal they can never realistically meet precisely so that they don’t have to really go for it and so that no one ever really expects them to achieve it. They have failure already baked in. Save yourself and everyone else the heartache. Keep it real!

10. 106 billion humans have lived and died At the end I come back to the ticking clock. Nothing is more important than owning your life and the precious time you have. I just hope the people who lived before us had the most fun they could in their short lives on the planet. I hope you do too.

Stop Talking Start Doing: A Kick in the Pants in Six Parts is published by Capstone and is available now.

…alternatively, this is “How Not To Do It” in one simple step. But we all know this one, already.

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Whooosshh!

Life has a sting in the tail: It’s shorter than you think.

This will now be illustrated by Messrs Calvin & Hobbes:

 

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Losing my iReligion

10_iCommandments550x250

I was outside the cathedral.

The glass and steel one.

I entered through the enormous glass doors and passed by the security guards. Climbed the glass steps.

I’m both excited and nervous when I go to the iChurch.

Thrilled by the artifacts and the iCons. And yet at the same time nervous the iChurch will take all my money.

And when I tear my eyes from the shiny new stuff and look at the noisy congregation – I mean consumergation – who are also thrilled and also being monitored by the blue-t-shirted novice priests with their lightweight card readers I begin to question my religion.  I want to …pray different.

But I didn’t have time to linger on this: My soul was broken.

I mean my iPhone.

I didn’t know why it was broken. That’s why I needed help: Because I can’t see inside my soul.

But the geniuses can. There’s a “bar” of geniuses. And I had an appointment.

A high ranking member of the order of coloured t-shirts was in charge of herding the consumergation away from the bar of geniuses. Some of the parishioners looked on in pain.

“They’re not doing anything at the moment – can’t I just go and see one of them now?” asked one. “I’m in my lunch hour”.

Red t-shirt looked at the iOrderofservice-pad. “No. You can’t just go and see a genius. You have to make an appointment”.

She turned to me. I gave her my details. She winced at her screen and told me to take a seat on the pew with the other sinners.

I rehearsed my story: “It just stopped working.”.

Time passed.

Eventually my name was called.

I was led to the bar of geniuses. The geniuses wear the sacraments of orange t- shirts and are mostly trying to grow beards and they look bored of dealing with supplicants.

I sat down, wiped the screen of my iSoul and put it on the altar.

“Talk to me, dude”, the genius commanded.

I guessed he meant about how I broke my soul.

I told him how it just kept switching itself off ever since I installed commandment iOS5.

I showed it to him. He didn’t look at it.

“ Did you drop it?” he asked.

“No”

“Did you get it wet?”

“No”

“You didn’t drop it in the sink or spill a drink on it?”

“No”

“And yet it doesn’t work?”

“No…I mean I might have used it when it was raining once but it wasn’t raining hard. It was barely raining actually. It was just a really short phone call…”

He sat back, nodding. The confession had begun. This inquisition was easy.

He lazily pulled out a tiny torch. He looked inside the hole where the earphones go into the iSoul. Said nothing, then he shone the torch inside the port at the bottom of the iSoul.

“Okay”, he said neutrally. “I need to have a closer look”.

This was it. This was the moment. Only the geniuses have the tools to peer inside the impenetrable. We miserable consumers have no way of looking inside. The knowhow is forbidden. The obelisk lights up. Or not.

And if not we are condemned to a life of darkness. I can’t see inside my iPhone. I can’t see inside my iPad. I can’t remove the muscular-looking cover that hides the workings of my car’s engine block  from meddling fingers.

That’s because we sinners are not supposed to try and fix anything. But we can buy an extended warranty.

(And I labour the point I know but) we are conditioned to make a leap of faith in technology because it is sealed off. My iPhone works because it does. It stops work because it does. It has two buttons. When it breaks I press them in that tiny number of combinations you can try when there are only two buttons. If that doesn’t fix it I stop meddling.

I didn’t realise it was happening to me but I have been conditioned not to want to know how stuff works; Just accept that it does. Or does not.  I am baby-fied.

Which is why I was drawn to lean further and further toward the genius when he said he was going to look inside the phone. I wanted to know how he does it.

But of course he won’t open it out there in full view of the consumergation. That would demystify the iSoul: The i works in mysterious ways and the entire worldwide iChurch is going to keep it that way.

So the genius picked up the phone and walked behind the bar of geniuses into the sacristy.

I sat there for a long time. It felt a long time anyway; I had nothing to fiddle with.

The consumergation throbbed all around.

I wondered what would happen. Would I get a pristine new soul? Or would I serve penance with a broken one until my contract expired and I got a new one.

Or I could buy a brand new one here and now. Blessed is the consumer because he doesn’t know how to fix stuff but he has a credit card.

The tithe, the percentage of my income I spend on technology, is as high as anyone else’s.  Surely the genius can tell that and be forgiving.

As ever the decision lay in the hands of people better qualified to know. I would just have faith it was the right decision.

…Well, I don’t know what the d-iVine revelation was but I didn’t care because I got a new phone.

And in any event I couldn’t really hear what the genius was saying because  the voice in my head was saying : “Shuddup. Take the new phone. Don’t question that which can’t be understood.”

So it was pretty cool, really. I don’t know what the problem was. Don’t care. I’m happy.

Except that something rankles. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. And it is not that technology isn’t wonderful; It is.

As Robert Pirsig wrote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “”The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of the mountain, or in the petals of a flower.”

But for most of us technology is impenetrable and alien and mysterious. To a degree that was always the case. But now it’s more so. In the mission to make technology useful it is simplified, black-boxified and we are being taught to accept ever more ignorance.

Just face west toward California and pray it continues to work. The people there are even smarter than geniuses. Ipso facto they must be smarter than us. We are being conditioned: Accept mystification. Accept ignorance. Pay the tithe and say: this is cool.

 

The 10 iCommandments – by Jon Marsh who updated an old painting by Gustav Dore

 

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The one time in your life when pigeon crap helps

When you try to do something different one thing’s for certain: You are going to upset people.

Better get used to that.

The trouble arises because we are creatures of habit. We like our life to be just so, even if we’re not entirely happy about the way things are. So if a work colleague, friend or family member says: “To hell with the way things are, I have been talking about doing [something] for ages and now I’m going to go and bloody well do it”… and then they actually do it, well that upsets the apple cart.

How do you deal with your fear that you will make someone else angry. Angry because, for example, you are:

  • giving up a job to pursue a dream,
  • competing with them for a promotion,
  • quitting your regular social event in order to do something else like retrain or pursue a new interest.

The stress of dealing with someone’s angry glare or huffing and puffing puts many off doing anything new. It becomes the difference between talking and doing.

Pigeon poop is one way to deal with it.

It’s a surprisingly simple and effective way to control how upset other people make you. And here’s how it works: Instead of taking their anger personally, tell yourself that the real reason they just are about to go thermo is because they slept badly, lost their train ticket, their mom let them watch too much TV or their new suit got splatted by a pigeon just as they left for  work.But it ain’t you and it ain’t personal.

This re-appraisal technique is pretty basic stuff for Cognitive Behavioural Therapists . What’s interesting is some fresh research from Stanford Univeristy which shows the value of de-personalising the meltdown in advance.

Conventional thinking has it that “reappraisal” is a post-event activity. In other words once someone had got angry and upset then you could reflect upon that episode later and by telling yourself it was the pigeon poop – not you – that had made them angry you would get over your feelings much faster.

However, new research from Stanford University suggests that the real trick is to reappraise IN ADVANCE. If you anticipate that someone will go volcanic then tell yourself in advance that this will be for a non-personal reason – such as pigeon poop – then you will be be barely disturbed by their reaction.

This is significant. The thinking used to be that you had to experience the negative emotion when someone got mad at you. It was a necessary paret of the process that preceded reappraisal. The new research suggests that by anticipating the angry episode and preparing for it you can skip the need to even feel upset in the first place.

Early tests show that by de-personalising the huffing and puffing a priori the whole thing will just wash over you.

Which means you can save your energy for doing – not fretting.

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Life lessons from a brain-munching zombie army

by jonathan-marsh.tumblr.com

Here’s the thing about zombies: They have something important to say about us and the way we live our lives…And there’s a lot of them about.

I’ll explain.

Let’s start with the fact that zombies are really popular. I’m talking about films, computer games and TV shows.

I started counting iPhone apps containing the word ‘zombies’ and stopped after coming across the game “farts versus zombies” – and I’d reached 200 by then. And yes, in this game you do save yourself by farting on zombies. (Natch.) Incidentally, there are only about 100 fart games on the app store which just shows how insanely popular the zombie genre is: more popular even than farts which themselves have provided entertainment for over a million years.

This Zombies-as-entertainment trend is significant. I say this because the relationship between pop culture and the state of our collective psyche is well-documented. For example, consider how America’s neurotic response to its new role in a new world order post ww11 was reflected in the development of Film Noir – shadowy films in which you couldn’t always tell who was good or who was bad or what was real or what was fake.

So, what does it say about our collective state of mind that we can’t help embracing zombies?

Of course, by now you know the punchline is that it’s because – somehow – we are all zombies.

Sure, that’s coming. But there’s more to it. You see, the way zombies are portrayed has changed. And it is the way this has changed that should be ringing alarm bells.

When Zombies first hit the big screen the undead had hope. Now they don’t. There you go – that’s the kicker. The first zombie movie was White Zombie (1932), and as you’d expect the Zombies were demoralised and undead and grim. That’s the minimum requirement, after all. But the old school undead were markedly different from today’s species in that they were slaves of an evil Voodoo priest.

The original zombies had an enemy: Voodoo.

“Crucially, the ending of White Zombie  in 1932 and other films of its time spoke of hope and featured the overthrow of the controlling voodoo master by the zombie slaves”, according to Dr Nick Pearce who has researched the story-telling at the University of Durham.

And over time the voodoo element of the story got dropped. Does the modern Hollywood zombie doesn’t care about voodoo? No, sir. It just wants to kill, eat some brain, and pursue a hopeless existence. There’s no fightback. There’s no enemy for the zombies to struggle against. No redemption. They just go round munching until …the film ends or they die. Or someone farts on them.

Such is the fate of the modern zombie. With no voodoo priest to overthrow the contemporary zombie cannot seek freedom, cannot resist, cannot dream of a better future, doesn’t have an end. It’s a bleak picture. Pearce warns: “Zombies may well be popular today because they speak to a similar feeling of powerlessness shared by many members of our society.”

Kerpow! So now let’s take a look in the mirror. The real life zombie works all day, comes home to watch films about zombies, which are punctured by advertising for heavily branded goods. And at the weekend marches to the high street to consume (not br-ains but) br-anded goods.

But if we are all zombies programmed to consume high street goods, cars and mortgages until the end of time then who is the “controller” we should fight against?

The knee-jerk reaction is to say the enemy is advertising because it has turned us into an army of consumers who fetishise products and brands.

by jonathan-marsh.tumblr.com

But it ain’t that simple. The controller is nowhere and everywhere. It’s the very system we live in. And I think this helps explain the strange directionlessness of the Occupy movement. On the one hand it’s a worldwide and passionate movement that persists determinedly and on the other its target is never articulated simply because it isn’t clear what that is.

In a similar vein,  today in the UK we see the largest public sector strike for 30 years. The strike – protesting against cuts in the public sector pension provision – is enormous and yet it hasn’t galvanised public opinion in the way you’d expect from a strike this large. I think this is because while people may sympathise, the target here is similarly elusive. In this case the enemy is not enough money, and it’s hard to protest against that. It’s not an enemy you can lash out at.

So, here are two examples of large protests struggling to identify what it is they want to change, neither of them having a clearly defined voodoo overlord to overthrow.

Faced with the subsequent sense of frustration and powerlessness this brings, we find ourselves collectively at the point of the zombie army that doesn’t know who to overthrow to win their freedom.

At the individual level you might also want to protest about your situation. But blaming other people is about as fruitless as munching your own brain. To change your situation you are compelled to turn to you own resources to create jobs, find new values, find meaning.

In other words at the point you discover you’re a modern zombie – which is to say that at the instant you realise that while things ain’t how you want them but there is no voodoo controller  – that’s when you  have to make the change yourself. It’s time to make your own path. Dance. Sing. March. Ignite your rockets. Fire up the engines. Whatever it takes: Leave the world of the undead. Be the change. Stop talking, start doing!

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Get 1/6 of a kick in the pants for free

Thanks to the wonders of technology* you can download a free chapter of Stop Talking Start Doing – A kick in the pants in six parts from here.

That means you get the first part of your kick in the pants for, like, nothing! Only five more to go until you get fully kicked into action !

And as Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE, the world’s greatest living explorer, said: “To achieve anything in life you have to start somewhere, be it writing a book, starting a business or climbing a mountain. This book will set you on your way”.

So in the time-honoured tradition of try-before-you-buy I recommend you download a chapter, get 16.67% of your Full Kick in The Pants, and make up your own mind.

 

*And the clever folk at Okapistudio

 

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The time to start is now

 

 

 

Here’s a little video based on some of the ideas in Part One of Stop Talking Start Doing.

It’s based on the idea that NOW is the best time to start something. Not having made a video for twenty years or so this was likely to be a bodge job. Luckily Jon Marsh saved the day with some great doodles. What’s new?!

To take a few lines from the book:

 

Life has a sting in the tail.

It’s shorter than we think.

And it races by while we’re working out what’s really important and what actually isn’t.

As time roars past our ears we drift deliberate, doubt and take ourselves too seriously yet all the while we talk about what we would, could and should do to make it better.

And then it’s gone.

So let’s walk the talk.

Because there’s never been a better time, or a more urgent time to start doing the things you want to do.

Let’s dance!

The first part of the book explores four reasons why you should start scratching your itch now.

This first video deals with the first of them; the simple fact that many of your (our) excuses are redundant because You Can.

And most of this is thanks to the Internet…

 

 

 

 

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New doodle from the the doodleblogger

The recent post on Shrink The Monster post now benefits from a great Jon Marsh doodle.

Check it out

…and check out Jon’s tumblr too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The yawning chasm…

…between those who do and those who …talk about doing:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

’nuff said?

I drew these cartoons for Stop Talking Start Doing.

If you haven’t joined the STSD movement then put your mission on the wall now!

Seriously, it’s a big step in right direction and a surprising help. Check out this post:

 

 

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