Work inspiration with
Mel Exon

  • Mel Exon

    Mel Exon

    Chief Digital Officer, BBH & co-founder BBHLabs

I’m the Chief Digital Officer of BBH in London, the co-founder of BBH Labs (our R&D arm), a mother of two daughters, a writer. I've also loved photography since I was a kid and used a dark room for the first time. I spend the rest of my time talking nonsense with good friends, plus I like to run and I like to ride horses. If I don’t run or ride for a while, I start to dream about it. 

This means that most weeks I’m attempting the following:

  • keeping in close touch with everyone at BBH and my clients
  • drawing, reading or playing with my daughters
  • endlessly downloading photos and backing them up
  • writing an article or a blogpost
  • reading, reading, reading
  • writing. I’m attempting to write three books at the moment – a children’s book, a business book and a novel
  • singing and doing gymnastics with my eldest daughter (who is radically more talented than I am at both things)
  • finding errands I can run

Hardware

  • MacBook Air – it has enough processing power and memory, just. I’m writing and walking about the whole time; I love its featherlight weight and economy of design.
  • Then I have a huge Dell monitor I jack it into at work.
  • And a hefty 27 inch iMac at home.
  • A Nexus 4 'phone. It's too big for my hand, fugly and doesn't take the best photos, but it works for work.
  • A Canon EOS 5D Mark III, which made me a better photographer overnight.
  • iPad mini – I use it almost exclusively for reading and note taking.
  • I always want a really good paper notebook for work. Currently addicted to Clara von Zweigbergk for HAY (you can pick one up from Liberty’s in London near where I work).
  • A beautiful Parker 51 fountain pen that I was given as a wedding present by a husband who knows me better than anyone else on the planet.
  • If you like notebooks and pens as much as me, check out the Google + community.
  • Artefact cards (available from smithery.co) for capturing, gathering or processing ideas.

Software

  • Am a self-confessed Google super user: two gmail accounts, Docs, Chrome, extensions galore (goo.gl url shortener probably my most used), Hangouts, G+.
  • Some tools and services transcend any kind of rational role. Twitter burned very brightly for me for a long time and I still find myself visiting, but I don't live there any more. Instagram, the same.
  • WhatsApp for group messaging
  • Keynote for presentations and early prototypes
  • Dropbox as backup and for easy, synchronous storage and sharing
  • Percolate: my filtered, filter bubble. Nicely done though
  • Feedly: trying to dedicate this to staying weird
  • SoundCloud for audio that doesn't all sound the same
  • Sublime Text

Dream setup

Wireless electricity and instant connectivity would be good. 

Plus natural light & air. Snow-covered mountains at my back, water in front of me.

To continue to be surrounded by very smart, very nice people. The most talented people I know are the best listeners and are able to laugh at themselves and each other, relentlessly. This is super important when you're working insane hours locked in a room together.

Work inspiration

Very simple really: I walk, read, write. 

The first thing I do is to go for a walk with no distractions. I really mean no distractions. My ‘phone has to be somewhere else, buried in my bag. The volume of work we all face contracts the time you have just to think. Just 20 minutes walking or running feels like a luxury, but always helps to clear the fog. Solutions and new ideas suggest themselves.

Reading a really, really great writer – can be a novel or non-fiction – is another thing. At the start of this year I read 'Stoner' by John Williams, which had me holding my breath with its clean, quiet prose (Julian Barnes puts it perfectly here) until I’d finished reading it. Reading takes you out of yourself and puts you back in touch with an external reality. Then connections to a project you're working on start to appear. It's like engineered serendipity.

Then, occasionally, stuck for inspiration, I can write myself out of it. It's not very sophisticated: I blunder along until a gear shifts and the words and ideas start to flow.