A general tour of Generalism…

When you’re setting up an Actionplanning session, and you want to draw people away from their day-to-day thinking so the brainstorming is more productive, I’ve always found it helps if you have lots of interesting distractions from other places to show people.

So, for instance, I’ll point you now in the direction of the ongoing Generalist vs. Specialist debate.

Essentially, if you’re a ‘Generalist’, you have an understanding across many areas, picking up and fusing inspirations from these places to help frame a specific strategy or problem.  You’re ‘well-rounded’, you define the goal.

A ‘Specialist’ is someone who works exclusively in one area with advanced understanding and capabilities in that area, and delivers a solution to the goal.  You’re an expert, you solve the problem.

Anyway, this image from Dave Gray, of visual thinking company XPLANE, perfectly describes the issue (and I found it first on Mark McGuinness’s brilliant synopsis of the Generalist/Specialist debate)


Thinking about the two stages of Actionplanning, you are seeking to get people acting as both Generalists AND Specialists. 

So, for the divergent thinking section, when you want people to stretch their brains as far as possible to explore pioneering solutions, you want people to be Generalists… “tap into lots of potentially exciting, different areas, but not in great depth.”

Then, once you’ve identified the most fertile areas, you get people to start working up more thorough, descriptive, fleshed out versions of what the solutions would be; they’re being Specialists… “design a precise solution based on this defined territory”.

It naturally follows that if you need people to be Generalists and Specialists in Actionplanning sessions, the best sessions you run will have a mix of Generalists and Specialists from around your agency.  Just like the best parties, you’ve got to invite the right mix of different people…


Current TV / Not so current poster

Now, take a look at the poster below for Current TV from the underground at <st1:street w:st=”on”><st1:address w:st=”on”></st1:address></st1:street>Old Street…




Looks fine at first glance, images of stories that Current TV obviously has playing, and pictures of the people who produced the films beside them. Grand, nice.

But if you’re there, and keep looking, you notice something amiss… I’ve highlighted it here in ‘lightsabre red’…


They’ve painted over some of the poster with black paint, it would seem. Some of the programs they had on the poster are no longer relevant however many days later.

‘Not so Current TV’… or something equally pithy.  But a serious point to make – if you put communications out there that you can’t change, you’d better make sure that they’ll still be true a few weeks later…



Yes, moofing. Really. Because despite the naming which imbues it with all sorts of euphemistic possibilities, it stands for Mobile Out of Office… essentially people who’re working somewhere other than the office. <o:p> </o:p>

I believe, if there were a dictionary definition, that it would refer to activities that you do with equal ability and speed when you’re away from the office, so I don’t think it refers so much to spending three hours typing emails on a Crackberry, but rather using a laptop to write documents, access your desktop remotely, and the like.<o:p></o:p>

In further research it appears that it’s a term coined by Microsoft, who built a tree-office in Pimlico to launch it…


…I’d like working in a tree, that’d be great. Maybe the squirrels would help out, bringing energy-boosting tasty nut snacks every so often.

<o:p></o:p>Anyway, I guess if moofing really is taking off (the prevalence of mobile broadband and wi-fi offerings suggests it is) then if you’re trying to target business people, they’re not going to be chained to desks in big office blocks anymore, they could well be hanging out somewhere they’re much more available to engage in conversation…

What else do they need when they’re out and about?  Free coffee vouchers?  IT support & tips?  Someone else to bounce ideas off?  Something a brand you work on can provide?

For now, though, I’m off moofing (nope, it still sounds weird…)



What is a Geek? (please answer in binary)

I was in an focus group yesterday for a certain science-fiction based TV channel yesterday (yes, that’s right, aren’t you the regular little Sherlock Holmes…), and we were debating how you might define a viewer of said TV channel.

I wish I’d seen this from Jack Schofield on The Guardian’s technology section beforehand, we’d have cracked it in seconds…


(click it to enlarge, non-geeks…)


Stop! (hammertime)

I first saw this on the excellent PSFK site… it’s a group called improv anywhere, who gathered a group of 200 or so folk, took them down to Grand Central station in NYC, and froze

<embed src=”http://www.youtube.com/v/jwMj3PJDxuo&amp;rel=1&amp;border=0″ type=”transparent” wmode=”application/x-shockwave-flash” height=”355″ width=”425″/>

What I love about this is if you did in ten years ago, then about 1000 people at the station would see it, and maybe tell a few of their friends (telling someone about it isn’t the same as seeing it of course)… and that would be it.

At the time of writing, over 8.3 million people have watched this on youtube.

Which just goes to show, if you’re going to do experiential stuff in the real world, create a film of it, and it (can) reach millions… and if you’re talking those sorts of numbers, the budget for doing it gets proportionally smaller and smaller.   It’s got to be better than handing out a few free samples at a train station.

Anyway, Emma and I are thinking of using a follow-up thing they did as ‘feeding’ for an actionplanning session… how could the following not prompt some interesting ideas…


Making music a 'commercial proposition'

I was listening to an interview on the Guardian Technology podcast between Charles Arthur of the Guardian and Matt Phillips of the BPI, about the new file sharing legislation, and (inevitably) it became a conversation about the music industry’s pricing of downloads…

CA: But it’s not [about music being] freely available… if all the albums on itunes cost three pounds rather than eight pounds, [consumers] would be much happier about buying them, because the incremental cost is so much less?

MP: If every album on iTunes was available for 50p that would be very attractive, but that doesn’t necessarily make for a commercial model that can encourage future investment in music and pay all the people involved in the creation and investment in that product, so while I can understand that consumers would want everything for free, that clearly isn’t a commercial proposition.

Surely if ‘all the people involved in’ making music can’t be funded from £8 per album on iTunes, then the answer isn’t to keep charging £8 to fund them all… surely it’s to get less people involved, or pay them less, and charge a price that consumers feel happy to pay?

A successful ‘commercial proposition’  works two ways; it’s not just what the producer is willing to sell at, but what people are willing to buy at too…


"Battle Actionplanning"

Here’s something I tried this morning for the first time when running an actionplanning session, which I’m going to dub ‘battle actionplanning’ for the immediate future.  Essentially, it’s a bit like this:

Remember “War Games” with Matthew Broderick?  No, OK – the plot was thus: in the early eighties, the US have a computer system which plays out ‘scenarios’ of nuclear war – who launches first, where they strike and so on – in order to perfect their defence systems.  Matthew Broderick, in best Bueller guise as anti-establishment kid, hacks the system, makes them think there’s a nuclear war on (by accident, of course, and bleak hilarity ensues…).

Anyway, the premise is essentially ‘take two teams, and have them ‘battle’ each other, striking and counter-striking, around a common theme’. 

Firstly, set up the scenario for them, and split them into two factions (a ‘pro’ and an ‘anti’, or two competitors, or whatever).

Then get them to go away, come up with ideas for five minutes, and come back and present those first ideas and positioning.

Then, once they’ve learned what the opposition is doing, get them to go away again, and come up with new ideas in light of the knowledge they just gained about the opposition.  Then they come back and present those, and you can repeat this as often as you like.

The result?  It worked pretty well for a first time, people got into it (the competitive element helps, I reckon), and it gave us lots of interesting areas to work up ideas around for a real campaign.  It’s also quite a high energy, and really rips people out of the ‘day-to-day’ and into the space you want them to be thinking in.  To be repeated, methinks…


Running better brainstorms…

When you’re running an Actionplanning session, how much do you think about how you personally are in charge of the session?  You really can make the difference to the ideas that come out of the room by the way you behave.

Have a read of this article by Mitch Ditkoff at the Ideas Champions – it’ll make you think about how you behave as the facilitator in your Actionplanning sessions, not just what subject preparation you do.