Friday 14 July 2017

Evelyn Glennie, Musician and Businesswoman hosts HBN's Out and About

HBN had a fascinating visit to see Dame Evelyn Glennie, renowned solo percussionist - and discovered that there was also a surprising amount of business acumen needed to be an independent artist in the modern world.

Having literally created the concept of a solo percussionist, Evelyn found herself increasingly in demand and rushing around the globe at the behest of agents and events. In one of the few breaks in a hectic schedule, the moment of enlightenment came on a simple post-it note on the wall at a meeting with her small dedicated team. It simply asked, "Who owns your business?" 

It was time to answer "Evelyn Glennie".

Stopping to think about where you wanted to be, what you wanted to achieve and how to get there was that key stage at which so many of us small businesses fail. Even artists have to deal with the practical realities of when to get paid, logistics of moving material and products around, and most of all, business development.

Used to having shattered preconceptions of what a percussionist does, Evelyn and her team began to change the rules in how an artist finds work and gets paid for it. Rather than relying simply on agents, Evelyn increasingly used social media to reach out both to the audience, the venues and promotors who organised events. Facebook and particularly Twitter overtook paper advertising - and also reached out to new audiences. 

Taking control of her own business also meant being open to new opportunities and collaborations - with dance groups, scientists and of course other musicians. There was also space to engage in more socially minded activities. And of course there are the masterclasses, speaking engagements etc.

A lovely vignette was the story of The Letter. It had been a busy tour and Evelyn returned tired and expecting  the usual mass of accumulated letters. Her desk, however, was empty, bar a tray with a solitary letter and a cup of tea. Oh my, what could this portend? Bad news perhaps? It was the letter from the Palace notifying Evelyn that she had been chosen to be Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2007 New Year Honours. And this year, she was appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2017 New Year Honours.

When the tables were turned and we recounted our varied business interests, Evelyn was not only genuinely interested but saw connections and links either to her experience or possible useful connections.

It was a relaxed, personable meeting as conversation and questions bounced across the room, intermingled with laughter. Unpretentious, unselfconscious, Evelyn Glennie was a gracious host and we all left grateful for an informative, educational and entertaining couple of hours in conversation shared with other local small businesses.

And a special thanks for being game for our group photo with the newest, if apparently reluctant, human percussion instrument!

Matthew Bailey introduces "Smart Cities” to Cambridge

Matthew Bailey, Internet of Things Pioneer, confidently overcame the technological challenges both large and small, in his talk on Smart Cities at the Allia Future Business Centre on Wednesday 12 July. I'd hummed and hawed about going as work was piling on, but was glad I did. I came back with three clear messages from his talk:

1. Need to return data ownership to the individual
2. Sharing local data intelligently in Smart Cities
3. Connecting Smart Cities.

But what is a Smart City? They are "cities that have deployed—or are currently piloting—the integration of information, communications and technology (ICT) solutions across three or more different functional areas of a city", according to Lisa Arrowsmith, associate director for connectivity, smart homes and smart cities at IHS. These areas include mobile and transport, energy and sustainability, physical infrastructure, governance, and safety and security.

For anyone familiar with the UK's construction and housing sector and Government structures, this does sound like a pipedream, where new communities can be built without even giving thought to the basic provision of decent high speed internet coverage as integration is certainly absent between providers of housing, services and transport.

To achieve anything, you do actually need to have a more local influence to initiate bringing disparate sectors together to create that greater whole that might even have a glimmer of a hope of becoming a 'Smart City". Matthew gave us some excellent examples from the US such as Massachusetts and Boulder, Colorado. The key factor in success here was convincing Mayors and  other politicians that you could solve city logistical problems AND win votes at the same time with an integrated Smart City approach.

Within Cambridgeshire, this should certainly be on the radar of the newly elected Super-Mayor for our region.

The added advantage to relevance of developing more local strategies, is escaping the clutches of either monolithic, labyrinthine national or federal bureaucracy or the stranglehold of large international commercial service providers who can exert a stranglehold on development. A prime example given was a certain power supply company that could dictate a city's policies, right down to street lighting in the US.

Initiatives for Smart Cities are seeding globally and, because they see the advantages of integrating big data on their communities and services to ensure a more effective city growth and development, they are also beginning to talk to each other and share experiences, good and bad.

The thing that struck me as I was thinking about the democratisation of information gathering and decision sharing, was that this also requires smart opinion collecting. Matthew had been approaching the strategy from the top down - Mayors and other politicians, then down to interested focus groups and possibly looking at local feedback from individuals. Rightly so when you consider the power and money flow.

Now, many communities are already building their communication networks, newsletters, blogs and discussion forums very locally. These might be dealing with micro-issues in the wider context of things. However, if one could crowdsource this information or even integrate these micro decisions/opinions, you would have a bottom up source of local information on needs and desires that could really make Smart Cities the integrated 'Rainforest' of interconnected and yet balanced city ecologies.

As ever, there was a note of caution that tied the blue sky thinking solidly back to the ground. To be able to intelligently share data, you need robust systems that will not fail at the critical moments. Rather than spoken, the point was driven home by the technical issues of trying to connect a laptop to the presentation screen. Something that functioned perfectly before the talk and then failed just before the presentation, was restored and then failed again at as Matthew was approaching the denouement of his exposition.

Smart Cities are in their infancy but will be powerhouses of the future. Matthew has written on open White Paper on the four stages to develop one in your city. you can access it here