Whilst the speed of the earth’s rotation hasn’t changed, it feels like we have less and less time in everything we do.
The half-life of messages or attention spans of audiences seems to have fractured, and the pace of responding to briefs has rocketed. Real-time media and always on strategies have forced the creative mind to work at breakneck speed.
Physiologically speaking, the faster we think, the more basic and animal it gets. We have two modes of thought: System 1 and System 2. Those of you who’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow or Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink will recognise these two brain states.
System 1 is the lizard brain, our quick reactive brain, fight or flight, unconsciously acting and reacting in gaps of time too small to perceive. Reliant on existing pathways in the mind, it’s the quick snap judgment tool we rely upon to keep us safe.
System 2 is the conscious mind, thinking and considering, taking in many more inputs and possibilities and coming to much slower, more open conclusions.
Creatively speaking, I think the same is true.
We have two modes of creative thought, Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 creative thought are snap judgements, the immediate idea you get, the gut feeling of what is right, the quick ideas which build upon existing things we’ve seen or spotted, sometimes sparks of genius, often obvious (but possibly perfect) ideas. They’re ‘one step’ thoughts. It takes one logical step from the problem to solve it. It is assumption based, it is the shortest distance between two points. It might be wildly off the wall, it might be a lateral leap, but its starting point and its end point are close together. Even if you have days (or weeks) to respond to a brief, if you’re asked to generate an idea – this is Type 1 creative thinking.
Type 2 creative thought is long, slow burning, considering, absorbent, combinatorial, connective, marinating, surprising and uncontrolled.
It’s the idea which develops whilst you’re standing in the shower, or doing your laundry. It’s the nagging thought which forces you to find a piece of anything to scratch it down upon for later rumination. It’s every start-up idea you had in your day job, and every brilliant concept you had whilst you were meant to be thinking about something else. It’s what Steven Johnson coined as ‘the slow hunch’, connections which form slowly over time, collecting mental crumbs, until it resembles something with tangible shape.
These two forms differ from the classic definitions of thinking: Type 1 creative thinking is forced, it is on demand, generally instigated by a brief, and Type 2 creative thinking is the unconscious form.
Type 2 creative thinking is a task running in the background constantly, like an itinerant iOS application, collecting location data, recording sound and images without our knowledge, until one day, at some point in the future, it generates a notification, a mental pop-up window which says “Hey! Check me out!”
And, we all know how good slow cooked meat tastes.
In our jobs, generally, we’re asked to generate thinking quickly and on demand. We do everything we can to lengthen the time we have for ourselves to think, to hope for that Type 2 thinking to kick in, but frequently, there will be a deadline. You have to ‘be creative’ between 9-5, and deliver that creativity by the date on the brief.
We rely on established pathways in the mind, existing thoughts and inspiration, augmented by lots of reading, discussion, exploration of context and insights, data, sketching, brainstorming, whatever techniques are available to us, but ultimately, we’re calling upon the brain to use the existing connections to generate a thought.
And existing connections are blinding.
In Frank Partnoy’s brilliant book on procrastination ‘Wait’, he describes an experiment which demonstrates the brain’s ability to mask new ideas behind established thinking, with a game of chess. He recounts a research project at Oxford university which gathered a range of chess players, from grandmasters to novices, and asked them to look at a chessboard, arranged three moves away from checkmate. The three moves were not obvious, and would require a keen and innovative mind to spot, which the most expert players in the group did. A new group of players was then assembled, of the same expertise, but this time the board was arranged with a five-move checkmate and the three-move checkmate. The five-move checkmate was a more obvious and commonly played gambit.
Once the obvious move was spotted, the board was rearranged, leaving only the three-move checkmate. This time, the group was asked to find the three-move checkmate, and took a substantially longer period of time (if at all) to find the move than the first control group. The five move established combination was blinding them to the shorter checkmate. Upon reviewing video of the players looking at the board, the subjects eyes didn’t even look at the squares in which the three-move pieces were sitting, but kept returning to the squares from the five-move combination which had been removed. Their brain was falling into the known, established route subconsciously.
This effect is called Einstellung, the tendancy to act how we’ve always acted, even if easier or better options are presented to us. The five move, well known checkmate was immediately visible because it was instinctive to those expert players, almost like a daily task which is completed without thought.
Naturally, established pathways and established existing thoughts are going to present themselves when our minds are asked upon to generate new thought.
If we’re to try to bring Type 2 creative thought to bear on a Type 1 request, we need to encourage the brief to be a filter on all of the slow hunches in our minds, to show us the most relevant existing pathways and bubble them up in to a neat package to be used.
To be blunt, and to steal from ‘Steal like an Artist’ – Garbage In, Garbage Out.
If you’re only filling your head with a single source of inspiration, sitting in a single environment, thinking about a single topic, you’ll only ever have a single output. We are the sum of our experiences, so when asked to generate new thought, we’ll be calling upon the existing thought in our heads, breaking it down and recombining it.
This is why side projects are the single most important tools in the creative process.
To spend time thinking about unrelated things, not because you need to find inspiration to solve a task, but simply for the sake of surrounding yourself with new hooks to make connections to at a later date, is the only way of encouraging Type 2 thought. You might be able to simulate Type 2 creative thinking by immersive creative exercise, lots of research and reading around a brief, but you’d still be trying, your mind would be actively looking for a solution, rather than being open to things which aren’t needed immediately.
Do some work for charity. Pick a charity, learn about what they do, why they do it, help them out. Go volunteer somewhere. Learn from others about they work they do. Read a magazine you have no existing interest in. Teach yourself a new skill. Read a text book from a career you don’t have. Go gatecrash a lecture on a course you’ve never heard of. Read more. Read even more than that. Read long form things. Read short stories. Watch old films, and then the DVD extras of making of old films. Go to a niche museum. Read children’s books. Listen to children reading children’s books. Release 500 disposable cameras across the planet and see what happens (actually I tried this one already… I don’t recommend it).
Then, in three, six, nine, twelve months time, perhaps even later, you’ll be working on a brief about local communities sharing stories, and you’ll recall an anecdote from when you released those cameras that allows you to skip the first idea, and move on to something much smarter. You’ll be working on a brief about broken families and you’ll remember the technology which helps parents read their children bedtime stories from the other side of the planet. You’ll be asked to solve a problem of brand engagement, and you’ll remember a lecture on community dynamics and connect the two.
It’s not about being more intelligent, it’s about setting up as many open conversations and thoughts in your mind as possible, which can collide, serendipitously with other conversations at the right time, when needed. It’s about creating the environment which encourages coincidences to happen.
The other way to make the most of Type 2 thinking is demand a different type of brief from your clients. Rather than a ‘brief’, demand a ‘lengthy’.
If a brief is to respond within a defined time to specific question, a lengthy is to think over a long period of time about a general question, and respond if and when something feels right.
Design procrastination into your process, put things off as long as you can, because for every delay, you’ll gather a little more to work with. What client wouldn’t want to receive a stream of ideas when they pop into their team’s head, rather than forced thinking in pockets? (Well, most of them actually, but that’s a different blog post).
This is what start-ups are. In the main, most start-ups are a slow hunch towards an idea which, once formed in the head of the founders, feel important or valuable enough to demand leaving a job and committing to making the idea a reality. They’re not responses to a brief of ‘what company should we start’ (although those do happen, in fact, more and more agencies are chasing this model), but a tipping point reached where the slow hunch turns into a tangible concept worth exploring in detail.
This is what the best community management and social engagement strategies are. The recent Bodyform response video wasn’t a proposed solution to a brief, but the right thing to do in reaction to an opportunity, and having the right environment to connect the bravery of the client and the smarts of the agency team, and the brilliant writing and timing of the content. (A disclaimer, Carat, my employer, created the Bodyform video. I had nothing do with it, and it’s brilliant no matter who I work for).
“Chance favours the connected mind” says Steven Johnson, speaking about the benefits of a networked society in driving innovation. Creating more opportunities for connections to be made within your own mind will only ever increase the odds of you generating a brilliant thought, on demand, because actually, it will have been there for months already.
This isn’t a complaint about the nature of real-time technology. The multi-tasking, always on environment we now inhabit somewhat improves our chances of randomly discovering pieces of inspiration which are begging to be connected up in some way. The cost of being connected to others with diverse interests is practically zero, and it is more and more easier to be constantly putting yourself at risk of colliding with someone else’s thinking that might trigger a connection in your own mind.
The risk is, however, that the demand of fast output overshadows the value of slow input, and if we’re only ever supported to deliver reactively, rather than proactively – the rich, combinatorial goodness from Type 2 creative thinking will be reserved for start-ups and personal projects, rather than in our agencies and creative businesses.
(This is the extended version of a thought piece I wrote for the IAB, which you can see here).
So, despite the myth that new parents have no time, I built a thing last night.
… I built this last night:
(it works best on a smartphone, like iOS)
It’s a meeting challenge app – open it during a meeting, and at random times, you’ll get presented with a challenge, for instance, drop a completely made up abbreviation and use it like everyone should know it, or hum for longer than 30 seconds. You only get points if you don’t get called out on it.
There aren’t many challenges in there yet, let me know if you’d like any particular ones adding.
You can add the app to your home screen on iOS in case you need quick access to it.
Have fun, but don’t blame me if you lose your clients’ confidence.
Branch, the new discussion platform from the company behind Twitter, has come out of private beta, allowing anyone to create their own conversations.
The platform has been open to selected individuals for a while, and I blogged about it back in late August with a distinctly ‘not quite sure about this thing yet’ take on the site which allows groups of individuals to talk around topics, but four months on, the service has developed dramatically.
Demonstrating a dedication to listening to its early adopters and involving them in the discussion of new functionality, paired with rapidly rolling out new features, the branch.com platform has already become a really valuable mine of discussion and tool for facilitating conversation where twitter is simply too brief.
Three key features really stand out for me.
Invite only branches – I was initially sceptical about the idea of allowing only those who you hand-pick to be part of a branch, but after continued use, I’ve realised its strength is in holding a salon, rather than a free-for-all shouting match. The ability to ask to be added allows outside voices if the moderator approves the input, based upon their ‘pitch’ to join in.
Highlighting – taking ‘likes’ or ‘favourites’ on to the next level, rather than liking an entire post, you can highlight specific comments or statements within a post, to really zero in on aspects of the conversation you appreciated. This gets around the ‘Curate’s Egg’ of many blog posts or random musings.
Branches – the eponymous feature, being able to fork off a conversation into a separate branch allows you to take discussions off at a tangent without diluting the main flow. This directly supports the disparate thinking that often leads to really interesting debate and thought, without leading others away from the theme at hand.
They’re also integrating Spotify/Soundcloud, grouping of conversations (and people), actively working with early adopters which they call ‘Friends of Branch’ to develop the platform further and have placed a real emphasis on design and user experience.
For publishers, the immediate value and opportunity will be around offering discussion salon content quickly and easily, almost like a written panel debate, easily instigated and rolling, and will no doubt offer new forms of content and structured debate beyond its current format.
For brands, the opportunities are less clear yet – perhaps the facilitation of conversations, inviting key figures or remarkable minds to talk around topics close their heart, perhaps open consumer panels around product development, perhaps collaborative democracy tools to make decisions in the open.
From a data perspective, being able to see which users are commonly highlighted and respected against particular topics will offer some real insight and quantifiable metric of authority and respect, which goes way beyond tools like Klout to identify and understand influencers.
For something that launched publicly this week, there is already a fantastic wealth of value to be explored, and I’m going to keep a keen interest in how publishers and brands start to use Branch within their own activity.
This is a thought that’d been rattling around in my head for a few years, which I want to try and crack this year.
Each agency I’ve worked in, there has been some form of tea making culture. Every day, at varying times during the day, someone will offer to make a brew.
Small teams of good friends know how to make each others drinks, but larger teams struggle to remember, and if you’re offering to make a large round, you have to remember quite a few permutations of the basic bases: Drink Type, Sugar Count, Strength/Milk Ratio, Foam, Steep Time, and so on.
At de-construct, we had a number of solutions to remind brewers how the team liked their drink. These were pieces of beautiful design which presented the instructions to make the drink in a graphical format, printed as a large poster in the kitchen area. The first one, I think was done by Alex Griffin, mostly in response to me accidentally putting salt in a cup of tea instead of sugar (they look the same, it wasn’t my fault).
There are so many combinations though, and people change their desires frequently – I’m drinking more tea than I used to for instance, and some times I need sugar, other times I don’t. If you’re making me coffee though, its simple – freshly ground black filter coffee please.
So posters only work so far, and don’t solve the problem of remember who wanted a drink either.
How often have you scribbled down some hieroglyphs like MK: T2S, SB: C1SB, KL: C2 to keep track of who asked for what?
So the idea of a DR code came to me a few years back when looking to create a new poster for a space: A graphical marker which explains how someone wants their drink, that can be read by both humans and machines. A QR code for drinks.
A human looking at the code could easily see the drink’s make up: drink type, sugars, milk, etc. A computer could read even more information, and build that into applications. A mobile app could easily capture what drinks people wanted, and who wanted them – perhaps the DR codes are stored against the address book entry, and the app logs the ratio of making the drink to receiving the drink (to catch out people who never step up to the kettle), and that data could be aggregated to show the consumption habits of a business, and improve stock ordering accordingly.
So I’ve started work on creating the code itself, a human and machine readable visual device which holds information on a drink’s make up.
There are TR Codes (Tea Requirement codes) and CR Codes (Coffee Requirement) so far, and I’m still tweaking the meanings (for instance, subtleties between ristrettos and espressos, or milk/foam ratios for drinks like a latte vs a capp’).
There’s potentially colour to explore too, to expand the drink types. I’m pretty sure it could extend to drinks beyond the office, cocktails for instance might work based upon ratios.
I’d also love to look at non square / non digital looking versions, using perhaps pie chart type visuals and colour.
I’m a firm believer in not attempting to predict the future, I’d far rather try and make it happen through exploration, prototyping and invention – yet it is still useful to understand the trends and opportunities which seem to be approaching. Here are 8 things that I’m excited about exploring in 2013:
We’ve been through generations of personal digital publishing starting with websites and blogs offering longform posts about opinion and experience (“what have you done?”) to realtime short-form content like twitter and facebook (“what are you doing?”). With a multitude of social discovery tools like Foursquare Explore, the next phase of publishing may be “what are you going to do?”, or intention casting. The combination of diary planning, discovery, serendipity and social data allows interesting tools to plan what you’ll be doing next week, rather than just telling people what you’re doing right now. Dopplr was ahead of its time.
Quantified Self and Portfolio Platforms:
The continued growth in tools which log our every activity, whether it be food, sleep or exercise will continue to expand laterally, and we’ll start to see more portfolio platforms, with a more holistic view on our lives, rather than vertical attention to just one aspect. We’re already starting to see this with platforms like Fitbit and Withings, but it won’t be long until there is a platform which attempts to offer the single platform for managing your personal data streams, including your home’s energy efficiency, the number of rubbish bags you’ve thrown out, your shopping basket and exercise plan connected to work together and beyond.
Internet of everythings:
We’ll continue to see a wireless or Ethernet connection being added to more and more objects, allowing both remote connection but also more clever combination of content and data collected by these sensors, and output of smarter more ambiently useful data outputted through them. LittlePrinter is a great example of personal content through an IOT device, but their BERGCloud platform is the really interesting piece. Embedding a little bit of smart connectivity into the every-day device really excites me, and the connected home and ‘smart environments’ will have a significant impact upon how we interact with media and services.
Post Personal Computing:
This expansion of the Internet of Things will inevitably lead to ‘post personal computing’. As more and more devices and surfaces become connected, we will have dedicated interfaces to specific tasks available all around us, rather than generic and often skeuomorphic interfaces forced into an app. Logging into these public devices will be through a phone or ‘token’ which identifies us, and more and more of our content will live wholly in the cloud rather than on devices alone, making the phone and computer empty and easily shareable between users, with a personal experience delivered by ‘logging in’ with your mobile or identity device (like an oyster card). Google Chromebook is an early example of this.
Reinvention of money:
We’ve already started seeing heavy disruption in the US around the reinvention of money, but it seems to be slower on the uptake in the UK. 2013 feels like the platforms are moving into place in order to make more of an impact on the market – more retailers are supporting NFC payment, more brands are accepting mobile payments, more devices are integrating transactional capabilities. Across virtual currency, mobile payments, micropayments, cashless transaction, barter models, co-funding, gift economies and beyond, there’s a great deal of activity starting to rear its head.
Both organisationally and culturally, rapid, reactive and proactive invention is gaining traction, whether it be 3D printing or new agencies and start-ups prototyping in order to build upon opportunities and create new spaces for existing brands to move into. This will lead to more and more clients creating products and services which laterally extend their brand. Businesses like Deutsch LA’s new Inventioni.st team, R/GA’s move into services over campaigns and Carat’s own Craft team are helping businesses understand and explore media’s role as a service, not just a communication channel. Brands like Evian, exploring direct to consumer delivery and on-fridge ordering tools show how invention allows even a simple product to extend horizontally.
Further wisdom of crowds:
Invention with others through platforms like Kickstarter shows demand before supply, helping to test ideas and fund them with lower risk. Starbuck’s My Starbucks Idea is an early example of using customer input to change business output, but getting consumers to fund products and services before they exist might be a logical step for businesses, and help brands to create things that are actively desired or needed.
Bet on the future:
I’ve built a ‘bet on the future’ tool which allows anyone to make a prediction, and come back next year to see how accurate their predictions were. Sign up to make a prediction at predictabot.thinkplaymake.co and we’ll see who is the most on the money this time next year.
(I actually wrote this about six weeks ago, and my opinions have changed a fair bit. It just goes to show, you should probably focus on what’s right in-front of you and make things happen, rather than gazing too far into the future and waiting for others to do something which gets you excited).
APIs are the next generation’s cardboard box.
Give a child a cardboard box, and she’ll make a house, a rocket, a horse, a fort, a car, a cave, an oven, a container, a hat, and eventually a crumpled mess.
Give a developer an API, and she’ll make untold numbers of new forms of the functionality and content you’ve provided.
An API allows others to project their thoughts upon your platform, and realise the version they need to fit their problem. It allows your audience to make the product relevant for them, beyond the scenarios you’d already dreamt up.
Not providing an API (or a poor one) means your users can only use it in the way you deem suitable.
What about all of the people who could think of another use for your platform? Do you not want to talk to them? Why not? Are you really that elitist? Do you really want to ignore the offers of people’s time to help make your product more relevant to more people?
API’s create adaptability, and adaptability creates longevity, allowing something to develop and change over time according to its users needs.
An API doesn’t need to be a webservice either, it could be great customer service, it could be new product development with your community, it could be simply listening to people and reacting quickly.
If you’re not a digital product, how can you create the benefits of an API for your audience? What tools and mechanisms could you put in place to create an API for your brand? How can you create a Product Reimagining Interface?
What’s an API? It stands for ‘Application Programming Interface’. It’s the ‘backdoor’ into someone else’s system or software, a collection of tools and feeds which allows you to use their functionality, in your own product. For instance, you could pull a tweet from twitter and display it on your website using Twitter’s API. You could see how many of your friends have the letter “A” through using the Facebook API. You could send a text message on your phone using an Android API. It allows you to create and extend existing platforms with uses that perhaps are not ‘official’.
As an ex-developer, I love that techniques from the world of coding are seeping into the rest of the world, particularly the advertising and creative industries.
The concept of prototyping, creating something rapidly and often using makeshift materials and tools, allows us to test an idea cheaply, kill it if it fails, or scale it if it works.
The concept of ‘beta’ gives us permission to constantly build upon something, and it be okay if we make mistakes (providing we listen when we get it wrong).
The concept of ‘agile’ allows us to ‘test and learn’, whether it is using data, prototypes, or strategy, and get to something right through a series of steps, rather than planning every last detail in advance.
I’d like to see our industry go further, and embrace more concepts – distributed working, open source, forking, and most importantly user centric design.
User centric design is the process of understanding and building systems around how people function, not expecting people to function within a system. Human first, technology second.
This means examining and embracing the complex ecosystem of decisions, influences, behaviours and spaces that a person flows through, not just focussing on specific devices or channels.
Thinking about the human first, and the technology second demands that we explore a consumer’s touchpoints across the entire day, not just media, but every interaction and environment they may experience – transport, transaction, friends, workplaces, and more.
Thinking holistically about a person and their actions demands that we stop thinking about individual channels, but instead behaviours and narratives. What happens when someone goes to sleep? What happens when they wake up? What happens when they get lost? What happens when they arrive?
Thinking about these narratives allows you to solve a brief with any number of platforms, tools, channels, devices and interactions; it allows you to solve an actual challenge, rather than just answering how a predefined solution could be applied to a challenge.
We become anthropologists and discover a dozen potential new channels which are relevant to use. Perhaps some of your owned assets are already part of the story, and you¹re not using the m. Maybe there is a frustration that a customer frequently faces, and you can provide a solution, not just a message.
We can continue thinking about platform strategies and channels, but we need to start looking at the human first and the technology second, to understand all of the other opportunities around the behaviour in question, rather than just the channels we already know exist.
NB. I wrote this article for the IAB, and you can see the original posting at http://www.iabuk.net/blog/human-first-technology-second-user-centric-strategy
Playing around with Google Apps Scripts again today.
In theory, the image above is a live* representation of my inbox: the number of emails, the age of the oldest response, and the average age of the oldest response.
I tend to leave emails in my inbox until dealt with, so they’re either responded to immediately and archived, or left until I’ve done the task.
I know its not a good GTD technique, but it might create something interesting visually.
I expect to see:
- Email dips on Fridays (as I’m not at Carat on Fridays so can get through my personal tasks)
- Steady growth throughout the day, and dips at the end of the day
- Average durations of response only display things that linger, not things that are immediately dealt with
* live = updated every hour
As some of you might know, I like my coffee.
As more of you probably know, I’m also very lazy.
Combine these two facts, and you arrive at the need for hyperlocal quality coffee, and what better way of doing this than starting your own Coffee Club at work? Rather than leaving the office to get a fix, I’ve brought a hand-grinder and bag of beans from Kopi into work, and left them in a public space within my team.
The plan is to let people drink the decent coffee, give them some lessons on how to use an aeropress, and the importance of good quality beans being ground just before you make the drink – and we have a nice little social movement.
If it works within my team, I’m planning on rolling it out across my whole floor. Hopefully ‘donations’ towards each cup will make it self-sustaining, and each month, we’ll aim to have a different coffee from a range of suppliers like Hasbean, Kopi, Monmouth and beyond.
musing: amazon’s push to lower the cost of ebooks is counterproductive, because the vast majority of readers are limited by time, not cost.
— Alex Hern (@alexhern) October 12, 2012
the issue with ebook pricing is perception.
The general population think that ebooks should cost less because of the reduced distribution costs – there’s no paper, no shipping, no manufacturing. Once you’ve made one copy of an ebook, you can just copy paste, copy paste, copy paste all the way to the bank. This is probably built upon the assumption that a healthy chunk of the cover price of a standard printed book is the hard material cost.
The publishers and content creators suggest that the lion’s share of the price is you paying for quality of content, and paying pennies (like we do for apps) for books is frankly offensive to the author.
In part I agree. It’s a value exchange, and I’m always willing to pay in thanks for great content. I frequently ‘tip’ authors who I read and appreciate online, if there’s a mechanic. Vimeo have just launched their ‘tipjar’ mechanic to do similar for video.
However, unless publishers have been making a loss on the manufacturing and passing the majority of that price on to the authors, shifting from physical books to ebooks is actually a cost reduction exercise for publishers. Yes, ebooks offer greater value, usefulness, features and functionality, they’re not just digital versions of books, and can be so much more, but at the heart of the majority of titles in ebook format today, they are cheaper to distribute, delivering higher profit margins for publishers.
What publisher would not want a reader to choose the digital version over a paper version, when the distribution costs are so wildly different? Business is business, not altruism.
And this is the problem for the general majority when it comes to ebook pricing – whether the above is true or not, this is the perception. “I’m paying for pixels, which are free to send to me, and free to duplicate, why should I pay the same amount as atoms?” (possibly expressed in less nerdy terms).
So price is important when it comes to ebooks, regardless of margin.
British Gas this week are suffering from the same issue – they’re putting prices up, and reporting £345m in half-year profits. That doesn’t stack up from a perception point of view.
If the perception is to change, there has to be an understanding of where that money goes, and once you’ve removed manufacturing costs, surely, more money can go to the author. I don’t take any offense to paying £10 for a book in any format, providing the right people get the money from that exchange.
I’d love to know if any publishers are changing their royalty models so that the revenues to authors increases pro-rata against the cost saving of non-paper books, as then, perception might start to shift from ‘profit margin’ to ‘value of content’.
So to build upon my initial response to @alexhern, Amazon’s drive to lower prices is to shift perception and adoption of a higher profit margin format, rather than to encourage more people to read. It’s a format drive, rather than a category drive.
Definition is not always a benefit, it stops you from being something you’re not defined to be.
Doing work you’re proud of doesn’t require definition.
Doing work you’re proud of demonstrates what you’re good at, rather than what you ‘should’ be doing.
If you believe something is right, do it, whether it’s part of your job title/agency vision/remit, or not.
People will define you, in their own minds, based upon your work, not your mission statement.
Quantative measures are so easy to optimize around that they’re the lazy yard stick to measure against.
Chasing after mechanisms to influence the number, rather than doing your level best to be a good citizen on the platform (which would in turn be rewarded with a higher number) just leads to people gaming the system.
The best systems are those where a win-win situation applies. We built a quant measure into a platform I helped design last year for micro-volunteering. There was concern that people would “just volunteer in order to get their score higher”, but frankly – who cares? More people taking part in the desired behaviour? Game away.
So, what is a platform’s desired behaviour? Is it to help people optimise around a number?
Or something else?
Branch is a conversation platform. Each branch is a conversation. An invited group of individuals discussing a specific topic. Not the troll-heavy, signal-to-noise-ratio light world of Youtube (and increasingly Facebook), but a quieter (perhaps more informed) place where intelligent conversation and debate sparkles.
But I don’t get it.
First of all, I don’t understand how this is any different to a commenting platform, beyond the invite-only mechanic. One has to ask to join in a conversation rather than just posting. If you’ve started a branch, you can either invite others to join in, or accept requests to join in (basing that acceptance upon either knowing the individual, or if their ‘pitch’ to get involved has merit. Whilst I’m no fan of trolling, this seems to immediately reduce the opportunity to have valuably open debate. Serendipity seems to be firmly designed out. As a conversation moderator – if I don’t like the sound of someone’s opinion, refusing them entry to the debate seems at odds with what the web is great at doing – allowing everyone a voice. Perhaps it will teach us to be better moderators, to welcome opposing thought.
Secondly, it isn’t real-time, yet conversations kinda are. If you’ve asked to join a conversation, it could take some time before you’re invited, after which time, your thoughts have been posted by another, leaving your invite unused, perhaps leading to an odd “every time I invite him, he never posts” feeling, or worse “now I feel I have to say something” leading just less valuable input. The conversation feels stilted, and notifications are either thick and fast for every post or non-existent.
Finally, I’m not really sure what it offers beyond a platform like Quora – which seems to have far richer and intriguing conversation than Branch right now. Many branches seem to start with a blogpost which is then discussed (like, er… disqus). Quora starts with an open question – enforced as a question. Perhaps this is the differentiation – a recent branch by Libby Brittain (one of the platform’s team) called Iteratative GIF Branch shows a varying use, like Photoshop Tennis – but this is not a new model either. Just look at most forums for similar ideas.
This might read like I don’t like Branch. I actually love it.
I love the conversations which are forming, I love the selection of interesting discussions. I like they can be ended. I like the structures around ‘branching’ a conversation into another thread (which is of course the eponymous action, and could in time be the most interesting aspect, in attempting to map divergence of thought).
But I just don’t get it yet. I don’t think I’ve found its applicable use for me.
And that’s okay.
I’ve long been confused by people’s frustration (often anger) at platforms or devices which they don’t have a need for. That’s okay! You’re not obligated to use this!
It happened recently with Little Printer, I heard several people say ‘Pfft.. £200?! What’s the point? Why would I want that?’. That’s okay, don’t buy one. No-one will think any less or more of you.
You don’t hear this same sort of hufflepuff about films – “Pfft! The Avengers?! Why did they make that? I don’t read comics…”.
It was the same with Twitter. Many people said “I don’t get it” or “Why?” – and actually, that isn’t a valuable question. Not every platform needs a purpose, and not every platform finds its true purpose in first months of life. Twitter now has a real and valuable place in the world, (it has many in fact), it has changed the face of journalism, citizen action and put both ‘real time’ and ‘the stream’ firmly in to the mainstream. If Twitter had drowned in people saying “Why bother”, the world would be a very different place.
It is the same for many technologies, they’re re-appropriated for other uses which are more valuable. SMS the often cited example of a technology which was adopted for uses far beyond its original intention, everything from group messaging to mobile banking.
Use of platforms can be a very personal and individual thing. The best platforms offer you an insight or a mechanism which scratches an itch you have (and to be successful, that many others have too).
I hope the same is true for Branch – it is too early to tell what its true purpose or value to me is yet, but that’s okay, and it is just worth keeping an eye on, and playing around with it as it develops, until its audience project on to it the true value of the platform.
Long live not having a clue what something is for.
Update: I’ve been actively playing with Branch over the past week to try and see what content and use cases work best. I posited a question, I started a work discussion thread, I started a co-authored story, and the most fun yet – I formed a hive mind (which got featured on the homepage). Interestingly, they all feel like they need curation and ‘hosting’ to keep the conversation alive.
There’s been a lot of writing recently (it seems, although I’m sure there’s been a steady current of articles about this for many years) about switching off. The overload of social media, streams of content over pages, notifications, alerts, snackable content leading to continuous partial attention is encouraging many to resort to disconnecting. Turning off their devices and going dark.
The idea is laudable, getting away from the constant babble of our networks, a ‘digital sabbath’ where we haul ourselves back to a better time where we’re not bombarded with messages and pings, so we can spend time enjoying our family, friends and surroundings, perhaps even pick up a good book, cook a good meal or just have a well-deserved nap – but I think disconnection is a dangerous idea.
Disconnection suggests that it is connection which is the problem. Connection is not the problem, but rather our lack of useful tools or abilities to create boundaries and filters for what information we’re allowing to reach us at any one time.
The line drawn between work and play has blurred so significantly that it is not uncommon to read work emails on a Sunday morning over the newspapers. I have absolutely no problem with this – as a freelancer, I never stuck to the traditional Mon-Fri 9-5 concept. As a creative, idea generation never respected the office hours template, so I’d frequently relax on a Monday if I wasn’t in the zone, and work on a Sunday if I was inspired or late night coding sessions, and day time napping.
The more these traditional working hours collapse, the more peoples phases will shift in relation to one-another and the less reliable it becomes to expect some sort of downtime during 5-9 or weekends.
Disconnection is the easiest answer – turn off all communication, however this means you’ll not receive ANY prompts to switch into another thought mode (perhaps from play to work, or broad absorption vs. focussed attention), no matter how important – the death of a relative, an urgent opportunity for new business, a last minute invite to a party. From FOMO (fear of missing out) to just MO.
And we don’t actually want to be disconnected – maps, calendars, read it later applications, television – they’re all really useful and likely desired connected tools which we’d want to use, but come with the fear of accidental leaking in of messages from an undesired source, perhaps work email. Despite many of these being binary driven tools, this is not a binary state. We should not be ON or OFF.
We’ve been talking about a connected/convergent world for years. The line between online and offline is behind us. I called someone out in a meeting this week suggesting discussion of something ‘in real life’ was different to discussing it online, because digital conversations are just as commonplace as phone calls or physical meetings. They’re the same thing.
What digital frequently lacks, however, is context. Context or suggested appropriateness of conversation topic.
In a meeting room, it’s less appropriate to talk about your plans this weekend than in the pub.
In a pub, it’s less appropriate to talk about your pitch preparation than in the meeting room.
We need better ways of a) letting others know our readiness to receive information and b) filtering information which needs to get through versus information which is just noise or distraction. The simple ‘online/busy/away’ traffic lights of instant messenger aren’t sufficient any more.
We need to develop better context/desire/willingness filters to allow the right sort of content in, rather than shutting the curtains and letting in nothing at all.
It means applying meaningful values to content, and mapping it to context.
It means extending the half-life of real-time content, so it’s still visible after the fact.
It means extending the social graph model to include human information on relationships, not just semantic information (who says I want to hear from my mother?).
It feels like mobile is the best place to start – as it is increasingly the context setter (voice and data, location, integration with calendar, always with you). Products like AwayFind and Google Priority Inbox are already starting to suggest routes – but there is a vast amount of worthwhile exploration in this space.
So, (in reverse order) after four years of consulting, eight years of running my own agency, two years of internship in agencies and two years of doing freelance stuff whilst I was at college, I decided to get my first job.
As of August 2012, I’m now Strategic Technologies Director for Carat UK.
What on earth does that job title mean?
First of all, lets start with saying I hate job titles. To sum up the breadth of one’s responsibility in a two or three word phrase is simplification beyond usefulness.
But let’s break it down:
Director: This just means I sit in a chair with my name on it.
Technologies: Technology has not been the T in IT for a long time. Technology is all encompassing, and should live in the same category of words which mean very little any more, like creative, digital or electronic. However, its useful as a signpost to my background, passion and focus in this role. We pluralised it because Technology Director suggests something I’m not. Technologies suggests the broader ecosystem, culture and society of technology – in fact, I think Kevin Kelly’s “Technium” describes that best. It is probably shorthand for 90% of the products, platforms, services and channels which have appeared in the last ten years. Technology is the connecting thread between many things, and those are the points I like working in, the intersection between things.
Strategic: I’m not sure how people classically define strategy, but personally I define it to mean exploring potential destinations and how to get there, rather than reacting to something in a kneejerk fashion. It’s also about sustainability and constant course correction.
Strategic technology: Like creative technology, but taking a broader view on the impact which emergent technology and new behaviours have on business, and helping to apply it when it is commercially relevant or progressive.
Lots of waffle, but my main aim is to help my clients and agency understand, explore and realise the steady flow of the new, through demonstration and play.
Kinda what I did already, but without having to chase invoices, right?
There were lots of reasons for taking a job, but the two that stand out are:
1. Being able to work in a team, within which I can learn from others, and collaborate better – and the Strategy and Innovation team at Carat is full of really smart people who believe the same.
2. Being able to focus on better work, and scaling the size of work I can do – through working in a single organisation, it means I can dedicate my time and energy to that organisation.
I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into some fantastic projects.
I had this slide in a presentation to a client about six months ago.
They’d asked me to come in and tell them what social media might mean for their business.
I introduced the presentation with some basic creds, how I’ve been doing this ‘digital’ thing since 1995, and how the question has rarely changed since then:
90s – What might the web mean for our business?
00s – What might mobile mean for our business?
2007 – What might digital mean for our business?
2009 – What might social mean for our business?
2010 – What might apps mean for our business?
2011 – What might social mean for our business?
2012 – What might …
and here’s my punt, What might venturing mean for our business?
(Excuse the order and timestamps, its just to illustrate a point).
By venturing, I mean creating new businesses, new products and new services, or investing in the process which allows them to be created.
Rapid product and brand creation. Applying startup and incubator models to agencies, and seeing what happens.
In its poorest form, it looks like agencies setting up hack days and not paying its developers, using the results and saying ‘look what we made’.
Slightly higher (or lower) on the scale is networks pouring cash into incubators like Wayra.
Venturing is the new new. That comes with bad and good, but will undoubtedly be interesting to see what is created/coerced.
Update: Just stumbled across this link which explains some of the problems with venturing and generally issues with working in startup modes. When campaigns fail, no-one dies. When businesses/products/ventures fail, jobs and people’s careers can be on the line.
An advert at the start of ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ by Rick Astley kinda kills the whole rickroll thing..
I had this idea about three years ago, but only just got around to building it.
My twitter avatar now reflects the current size of my inbox.
Using a combination of Google Scripts to read my gmail account, and a custom PHP script to send data to the Twitter API, the script reads my inbox status every two hours or so, and updates the image accordingly.
I want to extend this to something more visual in my office, something physical, well crafted, nice to look at, and providing ambient information.
But for now, you can tell how likely I am to tweet based upon my twitter avatar.
Update: Some people mentioned that its confusing not having a single avatar to recognise me by, which is a very fair and valid point. When I get some time, I’ll develop another icon set which primarily has my face, and then some numbers too, not dissimilar to twibbon I guess, or perhaps just standard type with changing colour backgrounds (although I’m red/green colour blind, so wouldn’t be much use for me!). For now, though, I like the simplicity of the type and colour.
Update 2: I’ve written a tutorial on how to replicate this functionality, which has been posted on .net magazine.
Watching Taken. I reckon I’ve got about 16 years to train in black ops / navy seals before I’m a proper dad.
I’ve been thinking recently about obsolescence, and whether we sometimes throw the baby out with the bathwater when jumping from one platform to another.
The Yellow Pages, for instance, has been practically destroyed and made irrelevant by Google, yet Google doesn’t allow you to browse in categories, as the Yellow Pages did, nor see an unrated/unfiltered/uneditorialised list of everyone in your local area – just those who have good page rank (and how many plumbers do you know that understand the importance of semantically structured content?).
The newspaper, although far from dead, is a snapshot of moment in time, and not just a single article but a massive slice through a single day, curating news, opinion, advertising, economics, literary style, design influence, and many other socially and culturally interesting aspects beyond just a specific piece of copy. Yes, the Wayback Machine exists, but it gives you little context.
Are there unique elements we lose, which still have value, as we progress to the next stage of an object or medium? How can they be amplified and either pivoted around or reborn to maintain relevance, rather than simply nostalgia?
Perhaps looking backwards is a good way of spotting valuable things we’ve lost and deserve to be remembered, or at the very least explored.
You know you’re on to something when everyone you email says ‘yes! how can I help?’… next step, email more people then arrange beerstorm.
A couple of weeks ago, Child’s i Foundation were honoured with two awards from the Technology 4 Good Awards, organised by Abilitynet.
I was dragged on to camera to talk about how technology helps our charity, and why the award is actually recognition for all of the community who put the effort in.
cargiant is basically a physically browsable website.
I think not being able to easily answer ‘what do you do?’ is a good thing.
(Image courtesy of the US Patent Office. Thanks guys, you’re legends)
Unnovation – the digitisation of a non-digital experience without additional thought around whether simple transfer from physical to digital really works. Using new technology either for the sake of technology or not using the technology to any potential..
Digital fridges are unnovation. Putting a screen on the fridge to display a to-do list, digitally replicating the photos, magnets and notes.
Digital signage is unnovation. Being able to replace paper with screens that do nothing more than being able to swap the bit of paper slightly faster.
It sits within the ‘Adjacent Possible’ concept that Steven B Johnson eloquently describes, where ideas are only possible by taking the next logical step from the current behaviours and technologies we have.
Unnovation, however, is fascinating for me.
In a recent research project for a client, I was exploring current and upcoming techniques in retail (offline and online) especially around new technology and emergent behaviours. What was striking was the amount of duplication and replication of ideas. Square, for instance, has inspired a dozen other mobile POS devices, and I lost count of the number of Shopping List applications for smart phones.
The shopping list apps are generally unnovation – digital versions of scraps of paper. Sure, you might be able share your list (although who cares that I need a can of tomatoes and a new bra?), you might want to find them for the cheapest price, but they’re all the same model: find a scrap of paper, itemise your list, purchase your items. Disconnected, and not smart.
Yet, the vast number of apps which display Shopping List functionality is encouraging.
We still need to remember stuff to purchase, and purchase it.
Innovation can often focus too much on external directions, moving from your passion centre and exploring new spaces for your business, when sometimes it can be far better to look inwards and identify the problems and opportunities right in front of you or that people are demanding. Asking people what they want can lead to a recommendation of a faster horse, but as Russell Davies puts it:
“Imagine what horses might be like now if science/industry had devoted as much attention to improving them as we’ve devoted to the internal combustion engine and industrial production. Horses would be INCREDIBLE.”
That there are many many many clones and examples of unnovation suggests there is an itch which is not being adequately scratched. It suggests no-one has provided a strong enough solution to address the process. When looking at a busy area of supposed innovation, such as retail, disregarding ideas like Shopping Apps simply because there are already 100 in the app store is not always a good idea. Sure, you need to do more to stand out, but that’s the opportunity, asking why a shopping list on a digital device needs to replicate its physical counterpart.
Understanding users’ demands, existing behaviours and looking at popular areas of development are massively valuable to innovation.
You might not start with a radically different product, but if there is a demand for something, it could help you fund the more visionary work you hope to continue investing in.
Update: There’s a really great article at Fast Co which expands upon the idea of spotting the value in popular suggestions.
Can someone invent refrigerated pillows please. Thanks.