The Happy Bus

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the “Happy Startup Summer Camp” on a farm just outside East Grinstead.  It blew my mind.


Run by the Happy Startup School, Happy Startup Summer Camp brought together entrepreneurs, potential entrepreneurs, mentors, coaches (the human variety), and business people of every kind, to explore and share ideas and experiences around happiness in business.  The thesis is simple: happiness is good for business.  A happy team delivers happiness to customers and finds fulfilment at the same time.

It started off, as all good things do, with a journey on a Big Lemon bus, to a farm on the edge of the Ashdown Forest.  Here, in an old barn, Sanderson Jones (co-founder of Sunday Assembly) gave a rousing welcome to the 100 or so delegates and a brief history of the Sunday Assembly.  “Live Well, Help Often, Wonder More”.  What a great philosophy.  We were in the mood for a weekend we’d never forget, and we got it.

After describing Richard Dawkins as “created by God to make atheism look unattractive” to howls of laughter Sanderson introduced us to the speakers and facilitators who would help us become better businesspeople, by giving us strategies for creating happy businesses.

The next couple of days was a big happy sandwich stuffed with wisdom.  I only managed to get a fraction down on paper, but I still filled three notebooks.  Here’s a random selection:

 IMG_0679     IMG_0661     IMG_0662

   IMG_0664     IMG_0665     IMG_0666

IMG_0667     IMG_0668     IMG_0669

IMG_0670     IMG_0671     IMG_0672

IMG_0673      IMG_0674      IMG_0678

One of my favourites is “Will it make the boat go faster?”  This is from Olympic rower Ben Hunt-Davis, whose team never won an Olympic medal until they decided to live their whole life by one simple rule: when making decisions, always ask yourself “Will it make the boat go faster?”

“Shall I go to the pub? Will it make the boat go faster? No.  Shall I do a couple of hours on the erg? Yes, that will make the boat go faster”

Ben’s team won Olympic Gold in Sydney in 2000.

This morning the cat started sneezing at ten past four.  I woke up, went to the loo, then thought “Shall I go back to bed? No, that won’t make a great business. Shall I go to the office and write about the Happy Bus? Yes, that just might…”

So, what is the story behind the Happy Bus?

One of the workshops we had was called “Creating Your Minimum Viable Brand”.  This was given by Jeremiah Gardner, author of The Lean Brand (coming out next month).  His message was simple: what you need for a minimum viable brand is a story, “artefacts” (noteworthy events/experiences/ memories that form part of the story) and invitations (to the artefacts).

Jeremiah set us an exercise: to come up with our own story, artefacts and invitations.  My table worked together, and we decided to invent a made-up business, and work out our minimum viable brand for that business.  “What shall we call it? I asked. One of the team said “the Happy Helicopter”  Great. “And what does the Happy Helicopter do?”  “The Happy Helicopter rescues people, and makes them happy.

We invented a story about how we had been climbing in the mountains, broken a leg, and been rescued by a helicopter… and how this had given us the idea of rescuing people with the Happy Helicopter.  The Happy Helicopter would turn up unannounced at someone’s workplace, school, office or even their home, and whisk them away to a happy place, to do something fun, or simply escape from the humdrum of their everyday life and relax with a loved one.

We thought this would be especially nice for people who’d had a tough week, some bad news, or just needed a lift.  The Happy Helicopter would rescue them and make them happy. Our first artefact would be a random swoop on an individual who’d been nominated by a friend, colleague or family member, and we would invite people to nominate their friends by email and social media.  We would then choose the most worthy candidate, and, with help from the person who nominated them, book something special for them.

As our idea progressed, I started thinking to myself “What a minute…!” and at the end of the session I told the group that I liked the idea so much that I’d like to run with it… with one small change: the helicopter would be replaced by a bus.  And so the Happy Bus was born.

Happy Bus

Jeremiah Gardner paying homage to the Happy Bus

On Sunday I left Happy Camp early to do our Sunday Walk.  We walked from Sheffield Park to Chelwood Common, and finished up at the Coach & Horses pub.  While the walkers were enjoying Sunday Lunch I hot-footed it back to the bus, and headed back to Happy Camp to take the happy campers back to East Grinstead station and Brighton.

Happy Campers hop on the Happy Bus

Happy Campers on the Happy Bus

After dropping the majority off at East Grinstead Station, the Brighton crowd and I  continued towards Chelwood Common, to pick up the walkers from the Coach & Horses on our way back to Brighton.  And then a funny thing happened.

As we drove across Ashdown Forest I spotted four lads hitch-hiking at the side of the road. In the happy spirit we were all in, we decided to stop and see where they were going.  They said they’d wanted to catch a bus from Forest Row to Lewes, but there wasn’t one… so they’d started walking.  They had already walked about 3 miles across the forest, and had tried (unsuccessfully till now) to thumb a lift.  In the spirit of Happy Bus, we rescued them from the forest, and took them to a happy place – in this case Lewes (not forgetting to pick up the walkers from the pub on the way!)

So Happy Bus is happening!  Watch this space for more details of Happy antics…

And big thanks to Jeremiah, the Happy Startup team and all at Happy Startup Summer Camp… and of course the walkers and hitch-hikers too!

Happy Bus tea monster 2

Update – February 2015:


2 thoughts on “The Happy Bus

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