Category Archives: Projects

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Exercises for the curious.

At Carat, “More Curious” is a key behaviour of our internal culture: Make Brave Happen, and in a recent ‘Tea With…’ session, the most common question I was asked is ‘where do you get your ideas from? how do you fuel your creativity?’.

I don’t think i had a good answer, as I don’t actively or consciously fuel myself, other than simply being curious.

Being interested in stuff that is happening around me, and wanting to know more about. Not focused reading up on a particular topic, but rather just a sort of ‘huh, that’s interesting’. More like being a child asking ‘why?’ than an adult asking ‘how?’.

It’s a key part of the way to feed Slow Creativity (which seems to be a common topic recently), filling yourself up with new and different stimulus and things, and over time, they’ll reconnect in unusual ways and form different thinking.

The conversations with folk made me realise though, curiosity is a muscle – something which can be developed, not a skill that one has or doesn’t have.

It’s something which weakens as we grow older, because our existing knowledge and assumptions get stronger and stronger as we experience more of life. It can be hard to maintain a child-like state of not knowing why, and having to ask – so you have to work at it, until it becomes again second nature.

I thought I’d start work on developing a tool which helps me continue to develop that muscle, but do it in the open, so anyone can benefit from it too.

I’m creating it primarily for my friends at Carat, and much of its content will be designed to point people in the direction of interesting stuff which is happening within our agency and network, but you only see Carat specific suggestions if you’re logged in as a Carat employee. If you aren’t, the activities are general and applicable to all.

So, introducing OneDayCurious (http://onedaycurious.thinkplaymake.co/)

Every day, a new suggestion for a simple 15 minute activity which helps you exercise your curiosity.

They’re weekly suggestions if you’re a guest, or daily if you’re logged in along with the ability to track your activities and see how others are getting on too.

I’m in the process of writing 365 small tasks (about 40 done so far…), and would gladly hear your suggestions for things which help you keep stay curious – comment below, and let me know, as its something which I’d love to see what techniques others use.

It’s the first of a series of hacks I’m planning this year for exploring and making better use of Slow Creativity. Let me know what you think.

 

Make Brave Happen presents C The World

This month, we held our second annual Make Brave Happen pitch event. At the start of each year, we ask the agency for ideas of how we can be more connected, more curious and more confident – to enable our cultural mission – to Make Brave Happen. Anyone in the agency can pitch an idea – 60 seconds, one slide, and everyone gets to vote on the ideas which will be realised.

This year – the winner was a concept called “Day in the Life…” and revolved around spending time in our client’s businesses, in consumer facing roles, to understand the reality of the product we create strategies for – and the team are now developing a plan of rolling this out across the business, with complete support from leadership.

Last year – one of the winners was “C The World”, developed by Ella Sy in the comms planning team. I sat with Ella to talk about her idea, and how it is developing since she pitched it to the agency.

MK: Ella, can you explain to us what “C The World” is?
Ella: C the World is an exchange program within Carat worldwide network entering into the ‘Make Brave Happen’ cultural initiative. The aim of this exchange program is to help Carat offices create stronger, better & more fluid live connections regarding intelligence sharing whether it is at an account, opcos, department, culture, process level. Anybody at Carat can pitch an idea to help add value within the network. The candidates have 6 weeks to start implementing their plans & get first results thanks to connections made across the world. At the term of these first 6 weeks of implementation, they will have to deliver a written presentation & as well as pitch their project’s progression to a panel of jury that will enable a handful of them to develop their project further by sending them in the market of their choice & ensure the longevity of their initiative.

MK: Why did you pitch this idea? Why do you think it’s important?
Ella: We are lucky to be part of a wide & sprawling organisation gathering various expertise. Communicating these expertise, sharing them & make them visible & accessible is less easily done than it would appear – all the less within a media / comms agency actually – a poorly shod shoemaker :P
We have so many insightful resources of all sorts… but I felt they were not exploited or simply considered to their full potential. All of this is all the more important, as it is not only putting systems & tools are the core of our daily business deliveries, but also People, empowering & harnessing their relationships among one another, their idea & their impact on the business.

MK: Since pitching the idea, how have you turned it from one slide into what it is now, and what support has the agency provided?
Ella: The Make Brave Happen team has been really supportive while still enabling me to remain the lead on my project. Good advice, insights & organisational tips have been shared to help me start in the best conditions. Since my project is APAC related, I have been able to deal directly with Vanessa Cox (HRD at Carat), but also Fiona Lloyd (Head of Carat Global Network) and Clay Schouest (CSO of APAC) to start more concrete discussions to progress.

MK: What stage is the project now? What is happening currently?
Ella: First contacts via email & Skype have been established to first present my project and give my interlocutors the context & my vision for the future – though it is still a bit blurry and will be reshaped as we move forward. Now, with Clay we have decided to start very simply yet fundamentally auditing on both an EMEA & APAC scope the tools, departments & types of intel & platforms currently at our disposal & how they are being used. Any duplication or gaps will be identified, helping us to get to the root of the issues / challenges we are facing & try to find solutions.
Also, from a very regional approach, we decided to make it more concrete & helpful by using my project to help on the LEGO pitch, currently undergoing. I believe this will be exciting & really concrete to see how making better connections can elevate our services & products for our Client, especially in times of pitches, where resources & enthusiasm are all the more amplified. My next step is to get closer to the New Biz team & see how I can densify their battle plan.

MK: What do you think the benefits of the programme will be, beyond someone getting to fly to another office?
Ella: Of course, being able to be sent in another market by Carat is a great thing, but this is clearly not a tourist trip – hence the 6 weeks of preliminary work we ask our candidates. Getting to know another Carat / market culture, ways of doing and above all meeting people face to face are game changers to really established strong relationships. As part of the MBH culture, the benefits are clearly to push one’s & also the company’s boundaries, think out of the box, enable to quench curiosity, gain confidence and be stronger as a whole than the sum of its part. Once there, the candidates will have to report in a blog, report or Yammer style their daily progressions.

MK: Because this is your idea, does that mean you aren’t eligible to be picked?
Ella: Well J I negotiated with the Team to actually develop my project, be sent to Singapore & be used as a guinea-pig! Just a simple reward after all to have shown bravery, especially in the first edition of MBH J

MK: How do you think Make Brave Happen helps Carat and our people?
Ella: We are working for a great company that employs hundreds of people in the UK, thousands all over the world. I do believe that MBH will help employees to shine where they are not expected, nudge more shy or quieter people to stand up & raise their voice – which will create a virtuous circle as we will feel listened, taken into consideration & given the resources to achieve a project that is out of our daily job scope. Because MBH is based on a vote system, some ideas that were great, didn’t make it to the podium, however, the board still decided to make them happen to some extent. I think it’s great.
In a Carat perspective, calling out to any level of employees, and not only leadership / senior teams, is refreshing, put things in perspective and this is definitely an edge to put Human first.

Each week, over the next six weeks, we’ll be catching up with people who are running their C The World projects, to understand their ambition and see how they are getting on, and when the judging has taken place – we’ll follow the winner to the market they choose, to see their plan unfold further.

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Project: Yesterday – a call for early supporters

if you’ve been following any of the world’s geopolitical events this year, you’ll have heard a great deal about the filter bubble – the notion that we only see a small fraction of the world around us, exacerbated by digital platforms like Facebook and Google ‘personalising’ our news feed. These platforms use interest data to select content they think we would find relevant or useful to us – but create a focussing effect, the more you like something, the more of that you will see, and the less other things you’ll be exposed to.

Project: Yesterday* is designed to combat this.

every day, you post content you’ve discovered to yesterday. content you find interesting, new, exciting, different.

at the end of every week, you’ll get back a report on your content – scoring the width of your world view, along with a digest of content you haven’t seen from the rest of the community.

content which is interesting and insightful scores well, content which has already been seen by others scores badly.

there are no points for speed or quantity, only quality and diversity.

over time, you’ll build up a wider range of places to read and deeper content to consider, and yesterday will benefit everyone who takes part.

for the first prototype, we want a small community of collectors, to commit to a month of submissions.

the reporting and scoring will be done manually, it won’t be elegant or some clever system, but we do want to test the approach.

and you’ll be a critical part to this.

all we need from you is a commitment to post at least one piece of content every day, before midnight, and for you to review what others have posted at the end of the week. in the fullness of time, members will pay to be part of the community by submitting content regularly. they will be able to ‘skip’ days or ‘take a holiday’, but the entry cost is feeding the machine. you guys will need to, however, be on it for a month, to make sure the system works.

if you’re interested in being part of the early test group – please, leave your email address below:

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*Yesterday is a working title. Name TBC!

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LoveThink – a new project for 2015

You may have already seen a few tweets and posts about my new project for 2015 – lovethink.

It was sparked by a few recent conversations about the rise of Tinder and similar apps, and during exploration of the explosive category of connection platforms, from match.com to OKCupid, from Happn to Cuddlr – it struck me that they all start with one thing – physical attraction.

Clearly, this is a fairly fundamental biological drive, and years of evolution demand that physical attraction has purpose way beyond just wanting to be with someone ‘nice looking’, but I think we’d all agree that it isn’t the most important dimension, and certainly not the only one.

Fast forward to today – and I’ve been developing a platform to test a question: can you create romantic connections without physical appearance being the first filter?

In all honesty, it’s developed from a thought/concept design to talk around into a quick wordpress hack to see if something was possible, and now I’m interested in whether people will take part, and what might happen.

As with most of my projects, I’ve not really thought this through, or am too worried about what might happen and how – I’m more interested in just seeing what happens. I’d be keen for as many people to just take part, whether they’re single or not, whether they’re looking to meet collaborators, friends or something more.

You can register for an account at http://lovethinkapp.thinkplaymake.co and we’ll be posting regular updates here on the project as it develops, as well as what I discover or start to think about the concept as it unfolds.

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Timesheets

Many businesses struggle to encourage teams to keep their timesheets up to date – which leads to frequent emails chasing to complete them, and lack of up to date data on client resourcing – and ultimately profitability. I’d also wager that the longer from the moment of doing the work that it is captured and reported, the less accurate it becomes.

Our CSO (and my boss) sent a few folk internally an email about how we could encourage positive behaviours around timesheets. We have a specialist team with decades of experience in behaviour change within our Insight team, so it felt like a natural brief to include them in – but being a contrary type, my immediate response was: the question is wrong.

The challenge isn’t “how can we encourage people to keep their timesheets up to date”, but rather “how can we reliably and accurately report upon what people are doing with their time”.

Without doubt, timesheets are universally loathed. They are painful to complete, they are rarely accurate, and they take time to complete, creating a meta-loop of logging time on your timesheets for completing timesheets. They are a relic of an old way of doing reporting and data collection – and are completely out of step with how modern data collection works.

If you had a blank sheet of paper, and you were designing a process which allowed you to capture what people were working on, you wouldn’t end up with timesheets as the answer.

Automation. Ambient sensors. Big data. Natural language processing. Location data. Apps. Calendar data. Emails. Texts. Instant Messenger. Card entry systems. Intention casting. Predictive analyis. Pattern recognition. We are practically drowning in new forms of interface and data analysis which shift the very way in which we design systems for understanding systems.

But what do you end up with?

That’s my question, and that’s what I’ll be exploring over the coming months before Xmas.

Now, what job code should I put this under?

One Year of Junk Mail

I’ve just moved into a new flat, and it has prompted me to think about projects which last 12 months, the length of my contract in this place. The first project was waiting on my doorstep before I even moved in.

Junk Mail.

I’m going to capture the entire body of direct mail which I’m sent whilst I’m in this place.

Stuff which is anonymously door dropped, stuff which is marketed directly at me. Stuff which is incorrectly sent to me. I’m interested in seeing how long it takes for my details to appear on marketing lists, how targeted and relevant the content is, and the sheer volume of paper pushed through my door.

I’m not sure how interesting it will be to follow, but there might be some interesting data from the back of it.

You can follow the project at its tumblr, http://oneyearofjunkmail.tumblr.com and I’ll be tweeting project related tweets via #1yearofJunkMail

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Probonobo

About two years ago, I wrote this proposal – a concept for a marketplace which matches charities with talent, to support them with their digital and communication needs. I called it Probonobo, a dirty portmanteau of Pro-Bono and a joke about an infinite number of monkeys.

Apart from the fact that most of my ideas are based upon puns, the infinite monkeys aspect is really important – an infinite number of monkeys may well produce Shakespeare at some point, but charities cannot afford the (infinity-1) failed iterations until success appears – it cannot be random, it has to be well directed, because people’s free time is valuable, and charity’s work is important.

I’m posting the idea here for two reasons:

a) All good ideas which have sat in a drawer for longer than six months should be free and public, so a busy originator doesn’t become a reason for the idea to not be realised

b) Re-airing the idea gives me some focus and reflection upon what was good about it, and what was too complex. I’m learning in recent years that simplicity over all else is critical. If you’re trying to get across three points, reduce it to one, and start from there.

The idea is great, but it takes too much to get off the ground. The initial idea could be as simple as “create a place where briefs can be shared and improved”. The delivery piece can come later, the heart of the idea is about getting to better briefs (or rather the right objectives).

So, inspired by a conversation over dinner on Thursday night, I’m airing the idea publicly, and this might lead to something happening.

An image from my new project - Edges of London.

Take a look at http://edgesoflondon.tumblr.com/

Edges of London

My new project “Edges of London” launches today.

I’m building a slowly growing photographic collection of visits to the end of every tube line.

Over the course of the next 12 months or so, I’ll be travelling to the 35 stations on the London tube network which are the end of a line, and capturing the conversations I have with folk, as well as anything interesting I spot visually.

The first station was Amersham.

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Twitter for Strangers

I have a growing sense of unease about what I do and who I follow.

Reading introspectively about what our industry does, new technology, new applications of that technology, new behaviours – it all feels like a meta-exercise.

I don’t want to read about what my peers are doing.

I want to read about what people I don’t know are doing.

I need a type of twitter for people who I don’t follow.

Every day, my feed would be created of new, interesting, passionate folk, who I’ve not met and don’t know what they do, talking about their day, and their work, in every field of life.

Imagine it like a magazine or podcast, with that wonderful editorial curation that brings you new ideas, but rather than long form articles, just their passing thoughts and whimsy.

An exercise in serendipity perhaps.

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A week without Facebook

It’s been about one week since I deleted all my friends on Facebook. And I’m still here.

(Read my original post about the reason behind leaving facebook)

I wasn’t able to delete my account. For a number of reasons, I manage a handful of pages or communities on Facebook, like Disposable Memory Project and The 100, and deleting the account would have meant I had to hand over control to another user, which isn’t the right thing to do right now. Additionally, I use Facebook Authentication for SO MANY services that deleting my account would have been painfully disruptive.

So, I removed all of the friends.

What is left behind? Nothing but page likes and advertising. Facebook without people is sad place.

It is a really poor portal with streams of content from brands that you once had a passing engagement with.

As a result, I haven’t checked Facebook once this week.

So the immediate result is that I have freed up a great deal of time which I spent browsing through updates and social content. I mostly miss this on train journeys or whilst waiting for things. I have seemingly replaced it with increased use of:

a) Podcasts – I am now listening to more content
b) Feedly – I am reading content and articles, rather than updates and comments
c) Messaging – I’m responding to more emails and sending more WhatsApp and SMS
d) Music – listening to more music
e) Nothing – I seem to look out of the window more often

As far as connecting to my friends in a more meaningful way, I’m not sure that has happened yet.

Why? Because Facebook teaches us to interact with our social network in a frictionless way.

In two forms:

1. Post to your network, and see who is interested.
2. See what your network is posting and react to what is interesting.

It feels like the lowest effort possible, you’re throwing out something that MIGHT interest SOMEONE, and you’ll get a response.

Rather than thinking about who might be interested in the specific thing you’re doing, and telling them.

It also makes me think more about what i am doing that I would share.

“i’m making cheese on toast” – i would happily post that on twitter/facebook/instagram, but would I write to a friend and tell them that? No, probably not.

“i’m thinking about you” – i would happily send a message to someone about that, but would I write it publicly on a wall? No, probably not.

And finally, I’m only making cheese on toast. I have very little interesting content to truly interest my friends. So I need to do two things:

1. Ask my friends what they are up to (because I don’t know ambiently any more)
2. Do more things that are interesting in order to have things to talk about

Also, I got sick, and I lost my voice this week.

I don’t know if that is related, but losing my voice seems apt.

I hope I will get it back next week.

Happy Easter.

On the meaning of friendship…

I’ve been thinking a great deal about friendship recently.
And how it is defined in a world where online and offline blur.

So I’m about to start an experiment in Facebook.
Where I delete my account.

Not because I disagree with Facebook, but because I need to get better at staying in touch with people.

For someone like me (introvert, struggles with face to face interaction with people, brilliant at creating loose networks but bad at building real relationships), Facebook creates the illusion of connectivity without actual connection.

This isn’t about social isolation, but meaningful social interaction.

Let’s see what happens.
I’ll share my discoveries here.
Or with you, face to face, over a cup of coffee.

Discoveries:
April 18, 2014: One week after leaving Facebook

#NicerTuesdays

Last night, I spoke at It’s Nice That’s #NicerTuesdays.


Photography courtesy of GT / Its Nice That

It’s their monthly creative talks event, and I stood alongside three other brilliant speakers, photographer Spike Visser, Kevin Haley of aberrant architecture and Hector Harkness from immersive theatre company Punchdrunk, all on the topic of participation.

My talk talked about a couple of projects I’ve run where participation is key, and generally focused on the importance of the role of Curator, someone who is responsible for guiding and directing effort and talent, into the best possible shape; the importance of ensuring that your community is looked after and feels a sense of co-ownership; and that participative projects which include collaboration with a wide group of people are sustainable, so that no-one person can decide they’re bored and give up on a collective group’s input.

All of the talks revolved around the role of the audience in a piece of work, and reminds us that everything we do, ultimately, is for an audience – and without understanding how they fit into ecosystem and the role they play, ideas can be disconnected and inauthentic. Without putting a person and their needs and interests at the heart of an idea, it falls flat.

There’s a larger description of the evening over at It’s Nice That’s blog: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/nicer-tuesdays-participation-write-up

The 100 (+2)

Almost 2 years ago, I started a project called The 100.

I dreamt up the idea on Jan 1st 2012 to send 100 cameras to 100 people aged between 1 and 100, one camera per age, in order to capture a week in the lives of 100 different ages.

I intended to complete the project within twelve months, as a quicker project in comparison to the long running Disposable Memory Project (which is five years and counting), and wrap the project up on Jan 1st 2013.

Boy, was that an underestimate. In reality, I’ve effectively finished the project today, with the very last roll of film being published on the site. Whilst there will still be a bit of actively over the coming months, the project in its first state is complete with 100 (actually 102) rolls of film developed and shared, in addition to two special ages 0 and 101.

Why did it take longer than expected? I’ll write a longer blog post over on the project to explain, but in short:

1. Major Life Events. Not least of all, my wife got pregnant and we had a second child in 2012, I moved jobs, and a handful of other significant personal events took place which immediately consumed all of my emotional and cognitive energy.

2. The Post. It doesn’t work. Sending physical things all around the world is costly, hard work and unreliable.

3. Crowdsourcing. It takes a long time to find 100 people. It’s sort of chicken and egg. If people aren’t visiting your website, no-one will apply. No-one will visit your website until you have images online. If no-one visits your website, there are no images. And so on.

4. Major Life Events. This is worth posting for both 2012 and 2013. This year has been even more unsettled, with yet another new job, and a host of other challenges.

Needless to say, its great when a project concludes, and to see the complete set of images is really special.

Check out the complete project at http://the100.thinkplaymake.co/