This week, I gave a talk (with a little bit of workshopping) as part of the third module of IPA Excellence Diploma. This was a course I did back in 2007/8, and without doing it, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do now, and definitely wouldn’t be thinking about things in the way I do.
It’s never a substitute, but people have asked if I’d be sharing the slides, so here you go. Just imagine that when you get to the ones that make no sense, I am in front of you saying something really profound. Ignore that pesky internal voice of yours that questions that how likely that would be, and just go with it…
It was an honour to be invited back by Amelia and Sera from The Fawnbrake Collective, who have taken over and reimagine dates course for the 2020s. Yet it feels like a gift, because being asked to reflect on 12 years of making / thinking and spot patterns in your own process has given me a view of my own work I’d never have seen otherwise. We alway look at the mountains ahead, rather than the hills behind.
I did a wee talk at the fabulous IAM 2016 conference in Barcelona. In it’s second year, and conceived and run by Andres & Lucy of Wabisabi Lab, it’s the kind of weird experimental conference that London was great at a few years back, but seems less so, now, I think? Something something gentrification something something.
(actually, maybe that’s another blog post for another day – the lack of joy in NeuLondon, in all forms of work and play)
I spoke about Metamechanics, and working out how the internet works. Or, indeed, not, because that isn’t the point.
There will be a video some time soon I believe, and at the time, I did a simultaneous Periscope of it (but ‘you had to be there’ as they say, given how Periscope streams expire after 24 hours or something…)
….but until then here are the slides, and two pics Scott sent me afterwards where it looks like I’m showing people who big the internet a) was and b) is now.
I’ve been retelling an anecdote from IBM’s speech-to-text experiments recently, and couldn’t remember where I’d got it… and indeed, I couldn’t remember if it was even true, as happens when you retell teh same story again and again…
Searching for combinations of things like “speech-recognition”, “IBM”, “faked test” and so on wasn’t getting me anywhere. But I’ve finally found a source: Jeremy Clark’s Pretotyping@Work eBook.
I’m posting the main bit of the anecdote here for two reasons. Firstly, I think you might find it interesting, and perhaps useful. Secondly, now that I’ve put it on my own site, using the aforementioned search terms which are the ones I clearly use to look for it, I’ll find it easier to find in future, hopefully…
“In the 1980’s, IBM was in discussions with several important customers about a radical product idea: hardware and software that could turn spoken words into a text on a screen. The fundamentals of the technology were still years away, yet customers seemed very enthusiastic: many declared they would pay generously for such a solution.
Traditionally, IBM would have launched an R&D effort to develop the algorithms and electronics necessary to demonstrate a prototype. In the case of the Speech-To-Text idea, however, a team member had an intriguing alternative suggestion: they should pretend to have the solution, to see how customers actually reacted to the capability.
What the team did was to create a movie-set like testing lab, in the form of a typical office space of the day. Customer subjects would be briefed on the Speech-to-Text solution, then seated in the space. The subject would speak into a microphone, dictating a variety of office correspondence, and would almost immediately see their words appear on the screen on the desk in front of them. What the subjects didn’t know was that the electronic output was being produced by a typist in a nearby room, listening to the dictation through headphones.
What the IBM team learned was that, in practice, customers didn’t like the solution, not because of flaws in the product (the transcribed text) but because of a host of hitherto-unseen environmental challenges: speaking taxed the subject’s throat, there was concern for privacy surrounding confidential material that the speaker would not
wish to be overhead, and so on.
Actual exposure to the essence of the proposed solution completely reversed the earlier customer enthusiasm.”
I’m hooked on the new Sleater-Kinney album, “No Cities To Love”. If you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably guessed that this week. Sorry. You’ve probably unfollowed me already.
I’m calling it as the album of 2015. Already. Really.
I mean, listen to this:
I started wondering why this album has made such a deep impact on me, like no other has in years. This is a band who’ve not done anything for ten years, but who I loved and followed back then. But it’s not a nostalgia thing. Because they’ve not done that terrible thing of playing 157 gigs playing ‘the hits’, before going in to the studio to strangle their muse one last time.
If you watch this interview (and you should, the whole thing), you’ll get an idea of the craft, dedication and vision that they put into the process of making this album:
They started it in May 2012… that’s nearly three years ago. They canned loads of earlier songs… they just weren’t good enough. It’s almost as if the process of going through those songs were more about discovering how to work, rather than being about the work itself. They didn’t tell people. It was so secret that the first anyone really knew about it was when a track was released in the box set remasters of previous albums in October 2014. That’s two and a half years of quiet, committed, focussed creation.
It seems quite counter to how a lot of records, no, a lot of projects of any type, are created now. Maybe this is what it takes in some cases. There’s no one right way to make the best work. There’s just the best way for you.
This is fascinating, from change.org… sign a campaign, then you’re asked if you want to donate money to place an ad to show to it to more people (and a very specific amount of people) who might also then sign it.
How long until there’s a “design your ad” feature on there too?
I ran an innovation session yesterday for The Network One, to a group of owners and CEOs of various nimble, independent agencies. I was going to just explore some of the ideas in Fracking The Social Web, but given it was an afternoon session I tried something new.
(Also, as a rule of thumb, just talking in an afternoon slot isn’t as good as getting people to do things. I can’t remember where I first heard this theory, but it’s always worked for me. Mornings are for heads, afternoons are for hands.)
By using the Flow Engine approach to set up ‘different ways of working’, and using Artefact Cards as went, we moved through three steps.
Firstly, I asked people to write on a card the biggest issue for them in bridging the gap between traditional marketing structures and the more fluid, granular approach needed for working on the social web. In their groups, they then shared these in the centre of the table; some would be similar, some different, but what was interesting was the conversation betwen the teams about the different issues.
Secondly, we then used the Fracking themes to think about why agencies need to work differently; as I went through the themes and examples, the participants in groups would be noting down things on cards (either direct points, or ideas set-off by the thinking), so that in small groups they could start addressing the points in the centre of the table, building out a map of the territory.
Finally, I asked people to looking at the map and just write down a final card for themselves on what they would change tomorrow when they got back to the office, taking inspiration from the map they’d created together.
The slides are up here, so you can get an idea of the session. In hindsight, I think I tried to do slightly too much in the allocated time, it’d have been nicer to have some extra reflection time. Apart from that though, it seemed to work pretty well – thanks to everyone there for throwing themselves in, and thanks again to Paul, Victoria and Doug from The Network One.
In reflecting on what had happened before, during and after the programme, we realised that so much of the project wasn’t a simple, straightforward interpretation of what we did at the time. When you look at it from distance, and the effect it’s had on other parts of the organisation, it’s something that had a set of a series of brilliant, if somewhat unintended, consequences.
It made us realise that innovation isn’t what you bring, it’s what you leave behind.
It’s the changes and differences you make to an organisation when you’re no longer there. The stuff that keeps creating value in your absence. The big things, yes, but also (and more importantly, perhaps) the little things. The things people will pick up and run with every day as they work on new things.
Our last point was that this makes innovation hard for traditional agency models to find a viable role for. If you’re there to deliver continued value over time (“we are here to do this for you”), as if it was an advertising campaign, then you’re not really leaving anything in the client organisation to make it stronger. Perhaps successful innovation demands a generousity of spirit, leaving as much as it can as continued catalyst, if it is to stick from the outside.
Anyway, here are our slides (with some added narration) if you want a little look. We had a tremendous time, thamks to Nadya Powell of Innovation Social for the invitation, and the rest of the brilliant speakers from whom we learned loads of things today too.
As promised, my slides from the IAPI talk I gave yesterday in Dublin. I’d like to thank my hosts, Tania Banotti and Ken McKenzie, for a wonderful excursion, a great crowd, and some really thought provoking discussion whilst I was there. It was deadly, as one might say in Dublin.
If you want some quickfire synopsis pieces on it, try Paul Krugman in the New York Review of Books, or the Economist’s ‘Capital summarised in four paragraphs‘. The book is changing the way that everyone is having to think about capital, wealth, and the widening inequality gap between richest & poorest.
Largely, of course, because it’s based on a lot of hard-graft data work, rather than messing about with theoretical models; as Piketty puts it, “the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for the purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences… this obsession with mathematics is an easy way of acquiring the appearence of scientificity without having to answer the far more complex questions posed by the world we live in”.
There’s a lesson in that alone for planners and strategists of any discipline.
Rather than get into the economic and politics of the book though, I’ve been thinking about the main assertion that Piketty puts in the book, and wondering how it plays out in the media world.
Piketty’s point is neatly summed up by a very simple equation: r>g, where r is the rate of return on capital across the system, and g is the rate of economic growth. The data suggests, say Piketty and team, that having money is greater than earning money. You can make more money just by having a big pile of it than you can by starting from scratch and trying to earn it, taken across the board at the macro level.
This is the status quo of the capitalist system; through the twentieth century, there are decade long shocks (The two World Wars, with the great depression in between for instance), but we’re now return to the ‘norm’ of this system, and in some countries Voctorian-era levels of inequality.
What I’ve been wondering is if the same pattern plays out at the media level, with attention.
These aren’t answers, of course, but questions. They’re probably questions that could be answered with data, too, but consider this a formative post to start thinking about the area.
In short, is the best way to grow attention to have lots of attention in the first place?
By having a big pot of users that people will hand over money in advertising money to access, do have ready access to capital that allows you to acquire more users more quickly than if you were starting from scratch?
This could either be in the form of spinoffs (unbundling one big service in to more smaller services), or just simply buying the rapidly growing competition. The arms race between the technological giants to buy services which will now never grow to rival them; if they continue to be successful, great, more money for the pot. If they stagnate, shrink, or even disappear, then fine, there’s one less gunslinger in town.
In the same way that the events of the mid-twentieth disrupted Piketty’s r>g, did the internet disrupt the media only in the short term, when the previous media giants suddenly found themselves exposed to the rapid growth of competitors. In the medium and long term, are we settling back down into the previous pattern; the only way to get significant attention is to have significant attention? Are these media giants the ones we’re now stuck with?
I picked up a bag of coffee beans whilst we were on holiday, roasted by Skye Roastery and sold out of the Skye Farm Shop (“Local Produce for Local People”). The coffee is especially interesting for me personally because I’ve been using coffee as a proxy for how MTPW>MPWT can play in even existing, seemingly saturated markets, but I was fascinated to find both the roastery and the shop on Skye, because it shows again just how quickly (and far) ideas can spread through culture.
Let’s think about two waves of coffee culture in the UK (and other countries too, but I know the UK best), assuming year zero as the time when coffee was either being a poor italian imitation in restaurants or instant out of a jar in a cafe.
The first wave is the chains, which revolutionised the experience around buying coffee (Starbucks, Nero, Costa et al), though arguably their coffee isn’t that much better than what you could expect at the end of your meal in a decent restaurant. But it wasn’t so much about the coffee as the thing that connected people, but the places they drank it in. The second wave is the Artisan Coffee movement, where the quality, provenance, style, technique and other factors about the coffee itself very much is the thing the connects people.
The first wave has not reached Skye. There are, as far as I can see, no coffee chain shops on Skye (the nearest Starbucks, for instance, is 113 miles away). But, interestingly, the second wave has taken hold, and is evident in a lot of the places you can buy coffee, before the first has.
It’s kind of simple when you think about the differences between the two. The first wave needs things like:
– physical bricks & mortar stores
– a consolidated, consistent approach (or ‘brand’ if you will)
– centrally owned entities
– a minimum level of market size and opportunity in a certain location order to bother setting up there
The second wave, as evidenced by the Skye Roastery packaging, instead needs:
– the idea that there is one place things are done (the ‘roastery’ itself)
– the right cues that lots of other similar roasteries use as a brand (“Artisan”, Provenance notes, Black & White hand stamped labels)
– a loose affiliation of ‘people like us’ (the other shops who sell and serve the coffee)
– a much smaller, yet simultaneously less geographically specific market opportunity
The second wave coffee shops share an unoffical, decentralised brand. Swedish wood counters, slate & chalk pricing boards, bearded folksy looking baristas. It isn’t an official thing, there isn’t a formal checklist, it’s just people looking, thinking ‘I could do that’, and copying in their own way. As a crude shorthand, knowledge is faster than mortar.
And not just the physical mortar of having to build and fit out locations. The slow, leaden process of sticking organisations, brands and markets together in one place means that the first wave is always going to take longer to put together than the second wave. But they become bigger entities as a result, surely?
Whilst the first wave chains are invariably worth more money (and I’d guess a lot more), it’s very hard to judge how much the second wave is worth because, well, they’re all independent of each other. Every time I find a long list of ‘independent coffee shops’ like this one, invariably it’s more notable for the omissions.
It’s invariably really hard to keep track of all of the independent coffee shops and roasteries (not forgetting the mail order coffee start-ups like Pact or Eight Point Nine). In his chapter in Brand New Brand Thinking (2002) John Cronk talked about how Marketing was like yacht racing – there’s a start line, a finish line, but in-between you’d invariably postion yourselves by what the other yachts were doing, accoerding to who was finding a good line. Yet by and large the instruments available to us are set up to look at other ‘yachts’. How do you set yourself up to look at all the canoes, speedboats, jet-skis and other small nimble craft at the same time?
It’s largely impossible to set a value on what this market is worth, because of the speed with which they will set-up (and sometimes disappear again). In some ways, the independents are to coffee what Anonymous is to politics.
They’re not one entity, there is no consistency, there is camaraderie and occasional fractious rifts between members (if indeed, membership is a thing that can be defined). There are a loose set of cues that anyone can pick up and run with, yet it’s hard to fake – the community is pretty good on vetting anyone who doesn’t ‘fit’ – Tesco’s 49% ownership of Harris + Hoole, for instance, was jumped upon rather quickly, which will likely force it into competing with the first wave chains as a proposition, rather than a halfway house between the two.
What’s also interesting is how neither fits with the old model which they rail against. You can’t vote for Anonymous, or form a coalition with them, or even sit down with the leadership and talk about doing things together. Because they’re not built like that. The old mechanisms don’t fit the new social structure.
Equally, if one of the established first wave chains decided that the second wave was worth investing in… where would they start? Despite the success of the emergent second wave, there’s not an entity there to acquire, as such. And even if Starbucks did buy one or two of the independents… what would they do with them?
As always, coffee is my chosen sector to use as a proxy for what might be at play in other sectors. Something that caught my eye whilst thinking about this was the latest focus is on the falling sales for the big four supermarkets, and the implied answer from centralised measurement tools is that it’s being stolen away by the other challenger ‘yachts’.
Nowadays, we have to keep in mind that the money in peoples’ pockets isn’t just going to one of the other competitors on the research list.
Just because you can’t see it, or measure it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there, growing, and significant.