The Universe Laughed When I Made Plans

In January this year I wrote a newsletter to my network explaining that I would be changing my modus operandi a little, mostly for health reasons*.

I said: “My condition is only mildly debilitating, and has progressed slowly. However, it becomes increasingly important to manage my time and energy more effectively. I’m not about to give up work, but I do want to spend much more of my time on things I can do easily and well – with good hourly rates obviously.”

Then I explained what I would do – and not do – how I would lighten the workload. My aim was “to make my work and life almost indistinguishable from each other”.

A couple of years ago I’d refocused [my research company] Windshift on two distinct types of work – Windshift Observations, which encompassed societal research projects and social commentary; and Windshift Navigator, a research design and mentoring service. I was planning to put more emphasis on Navigator. Together they were called Windshift Projects.

I also had another social tribes book underway, and I was planning to re-launch  Well Made Lives in April. The revised site was to cover “mostly food, home and lifestyle topics, but there will be experiments and occasional blog posts of interest to those who, like me, are gearing down busy lives or reassessing their priorities”. 

And then the Universe laughed. 

But try as I might, the universe wouldn’t bend to my will. Planned projects didn’t get off the ground, revenue targets failed to materialise. Instead of having the luxury of time to build a new lifestyle website I was scrambling to make ends meet. But at the same time, new, more interesting topics and perspectives began to emerge . . new solutions to the same underlying problem.

Six months on, it’s my Windshift website that is to be relaunched. Navigator has been entirely de-emphasised and the new focus is on writing and selling mini-reports, based on data from recent social research projects. I’m in the middle of soft-launching at the moment, putting up one report a week for six weeks to build up the base content. I’ve also re-purposed some 2017 content as blog posts.

Poor old Well Made Lives, which has been sitting under the digital equivalent of a tarpaulin for months will brought out into the light to carry those “occasional blog posts of interest to those who, like me, are gearing down busy lives or reassessing their priorities”.  But it will build slowly rather than emerging fully formed.

By why did it laugh?

Because I was under-estimating the context I was operating in. Marketing and market research are industries in transition. Budgets are narrowing or shifting entirely. Clients move to new jobs at double or triple the rate they used to. Continual evolution is essential but incredibly difficult. Time is very tight. This was the year these forces hit home to me.

I was also forgetting how much of an outlier I am now. I can have all the wisdom in the world about life in today’s world, but if market research positions itself as being the specialty of 60-something women, it dies.If you want to attract research clients, ‘algorithms’ are newer and much sexier than ‘insights’ now.

Fortunately small businesses can turn on a dime. So I’ve gone for short, instantly available, clearly focused, but broadly useful little reports. Products instead of services, priced at the business equivalent of a ‘cup of coffee’. [Well - dinner for four. Like a birthday or something. But not a big birthday].

The aim is to build a good list of topics, keep updating the ones that are most popular, and cross-sell with volume discounts. And of course, find ways to ensure the audiences of my audience know all about it.

I’ve been reading – and really enjoying – Hit Makers: How to Succeed in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson. I’ll write about it soon because it’s another of those books where I feel the author has been inside my brain, refreshing and extending my thinking about change. He ends the book with two examples of how to thrive in the modern world – one is Disney, the other is a rapper called Ryan Leslie who writes songs and beats for a living and markets them through a smartphone app he built himself.

Derek Thompson says:

“Cultural change is impossible to plot along a straight line, because culture is Newtonian. The strongest actions provoke opposite reactions. . . Tomorrow’s empires of entertainment can be bigger than ever. But the independent artists can be stronger too. . . these two futures of hits [are] large and small – empire and city-state”.

My first thought was: if he’s using that analogy Derek must play Civilization too. My second was – yes I’m building a new city state.


* I have mild Parkinson's Disease