Great interview with David Birss

What is your background briefly?

My background is pretty varied. I’ve been a musician, stand-up comedian, veterinary assistant, nude model, farm hand, university lecturer, radio broadcaster, film director and several other things. In amongst that, I spent 20 years as an advertising creative. However, I left that behind a few years ago. I now write books, do public speaking and help businesses innovate more effectively.

Does it seem like a logical background to what you do now?

I guess it does. Everything I’ve done has involved creativity and ideas in some way. So what I do now takes learnings from lots of different areas and perspectives. It’s made me a more rounded individual with a broad bank of knowledge to draw upon.

1 min pitch for what you are doing now?

Everything I do is focused on demystifying creativity and innovation. Both of these areas have so much B.S. and I’ve taken it on myself to clarify them. I do that through consulting, training, writing books, doing public speaking and making films. The media doesn’t matter to me; it’s the goal that I’m interested in. How many seconds do I have left?

Why did you get involved with this project/book/ the Fast forward Forum?

The Fast Forward Forum was the joint idea of Heimo Hammer, Jon Burkhart and myself. As people who regularly do public speaking, we wanted to experiment and create an event together that challenged the assumptions of the typical conference.

We ended up creating a PowerPoint-free, three-day event with less than 20 attendees and 8 speakers. Each talk would last no more than 20 minutes and the rest of the hour would be spent discussing, challenging and developing the ideas. The end result of the event would be a hardback book with each speaker having their own chapter alongside the attendees’ thoughts.

That’s what the Fast Forward Files is. And we’re really proud of it.

Why do you think it is such a powerful idea?

Most conferences leave the attendees with limited value. They feature speakers with off-the-shelf talks, they’re dominated by dull PowerPoint decks and they fail to tap into the intelligence of the audience. People leave with few benefits and everything’s forgotten in a matter of days.

What we created was focused on building on the thinking of smart people and generating a high-value output that helps people, regardless of whether they attended the conference or not.

I think our focus on better thinking and a longer lasting output has really paid off.

You attended the Fast forward Forum last year, how important is it to also work with people face to face as well as remotely?

Working remotely has its benefits. Personally, I work by myself most of the time and it works great for me. It gives me the freedom to write books, create talks and develop my thinking. Being undisturbed lets me immerse myself in a subject and challenge it without fear of judgement. But there can be real benefits in face-to-face interaction. And the Fast Forward Forum tapped into that.

The event wasn’t just about sitting and listening to talks. It included time for socialising and chatting. And that’s where a lot of the best discussions happened. There was an incredible spirit of openness and sharing where people discussed their personal and business issues. Some amazing bonds were made over the weekend. So much so that four months later, we all still keep in touch.

I think it’s good to understand when you work best by yourself and when it’s better to work with others. That will help you do much better work than you’ll do if you’re permanently chained to your office desk.

How easy do you find it to be innovative?

I’m not a good example! It’s simple for me because I work for myself. I don’t have a chain of command to approve my ideas and I don’t have an army of employees to worry about. But it’s different for people in organisations.

I spend some of my time helping organisations be more successful with their innovation efforts. And there are lots of things that can damage the ideas before they ever see the light of day (if they see the light of day). We look at leadership, processes, culture, environment, training, recruitment, approval, feedback and lots of different areas of business. I usually start by doing an ideas audit, to see what they’re doing right and wrong. Then we work out the best way of making the biggest impact.

Different companies need different approaches. But the one thing they all have in common is that any efforts will have limited impact if they don’t have the support of the leadership team.

What are your sources of inspiration?

If you think of inspiration as the interesting pieces of input that lead to interesting pieces of output, it helps you understand the importance of consuming good stuff.

Personally, I have an obnoxious level of curiosity that leads me to find just about everything interesting. Except for reality television. I always like to learn new things, give myself new experiences and pick up new skills. I consume lots of information online. I’ve always got half a dozen books on the go. I visit museums and art galleries. I talk to people I wouldn’t normally have conversations with. I watch documentaries and listen to podcasts. And all of these things help me come up with ideas.

The broader the input you have, the more problems you can solve. And the more valuable your solutions can be.

How can people find out more about you & your work?

I’m horrendously Google-able. I believe there are only four ‘Dave Birss’s in the world (we all got in touch with each other a few years ago!) They probably all hate me now because I seem to dominate the Google results for our name.

The easier thing to do, however, is simply to visit . That’s where you’ll find out about my books, videos and other stuff. And if you’ve got any questions or criticism, please just drop me a line on Twitter where I hide under my own name – @davebirss

This was just one of your books from the last year. What else have you published?

Yes, 2018 was most definitely the year of the book for me. The Fast Forward Files was the seventh book I was involved in last year, which is clearly a stupid achievement. Amongst the other books were How To Get To Great Ideas, which explores how individuals and organisations can think more effectively, and Iconic Advantage, a handbook on more effective innovation that I co-wrote with my friend, Soon Yu.

I’ve got a couple of other books in the pipeline. And Soon and I are already planning a follow-up which we hope to write over the summer.

You always have a number of projects on the go. What can we expect from you over the next few months?

I’m in the final stages of editing a documentary on part of my book, How To Get To Great Ideas. It looks at how organisations can get better ideas out of their staff. And I’ll hopefully be releasing it in the next few weeks.

I’ve also just completed an academic study with KROK Business School in Ukraine. We’re currently turning the results into an academic paper, which will be accompanied by some articles aimed at helping businesses. We’ve got more studies in the pipeline, so please give me a shout if you’d like to get involved in those.

And I’m always releasing articles, films and even web apps on a regular basis. It’s best to connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter to find out when I launch something new!

Dave Birss is the co-author of Fast Forward Files: Opening Up, published by Molden Verlag, which is available now, priced at £28. For more details visit

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