Coke’s alt accelerator

untitledThe Coca-Cola Founders Program is an interesting proposition: bring disruptive thinking into the heart of a giant business by letting serial-start up entrepreneurs have the run of the place and find problems they want to solve and turn into businesses.

Coke streses that this is more than your average accelerator:

Most accelerators conduct three to six month programs and focus on financial investment and mentoring. Our model is very different. We invest in founders first, before they have a startup or even an idea. We don’t dictate the problem they should solve and we give them the time and attention required to truly validate the problem, design the best product/market fit and find a business model to create a sustainable company.

A process of radical change around digital began at Coca-Cola four years ago – the 2020 Vision, the switching of 20% of its ad budget into earned media, the new emphasis on stories and co-creation over the traditional ad.

Coke’s new approach to marketing investment grew out of the need to explore digital media. They  use a 70:20:10 ratio of investment – 70% “now” (tried and tested methods), 20% “new” (experimental new media and formats) and 10% next (edge ideas and innovations). This model has seeped into the culture beyond marketing, it seems and into other areas of the business .

With companies this vast and interesting, though – you need to keep a close eye on developments. Look at them, come back three months and look again – there’s always more to see.

Coke vs. Pepsi on social media and disruption

Coke’s rival, Pepsico, was apparently “all in” on social media and digital media a few years ago – why aren’t we seeing anything as radical or interesting as the Coca Cola Founders Programme there?

It could well be that there are fascinating things happening behind closed doors, or that its PR and comms just aren’t making as much of it as Coca-Cola – but I don’t think that’s the case. There have been high profile heads of digital, accelerators, sponsorships of SXSW and technically brilliant website revamps, but not the depth and ambition of change we see at Coke.

Pepsico has approached digital as a brand marketing challenge. Social as a disruption to advertising – an important trend in advertising that needed a response from a brand built on ads. The company has recently hired a new global head of innovation with a brief to look at innovation in a “more holistic” way.

Coca-Cola’s marketing shift has been huge, but it has coupled this with  parallel commercial and operational change. The 70-20-10 model of investment and taking risks has spread far beyond marketing into how the whole business thinks about innovation and change.

This is no coincidence – Coke’s leadership came not just from a strong marketing vision but from the top – the CEO told the business what change in the digital age was going to look like. The money moved and the operations, culture and suppliers followed suit – rewarding incumbent agencies that upped their digital and earned media game or bringing in new players like Zone, as its UK content agency (which pioneered the editorial style of corporate home for Coke’s UK home page).

Coca-Cola has seen and treated digital as a strategic challenge – and that’s why we’ll keep seeing it produce inspiring innovations like the Founders Program.

Another writing app

Stephen Fry once said, I’ve never seen a smartphone I haven’t bought. My vice is writing apps. Actually it’s all writing technologies – I’m the same about notebooks, pens, typewriters, pencils, writing slopes, dictionaries and style guides. Always have been – but apps most of all, because it is on screens that most of my writing happens.

If I were being kind, I would say that this about a love of the craft, of prose, copy, the act and process of the written word. Being more critical, I would say it is a proxy for getting with it, for the real secret of the professional writer – getting on with it. If I could just find the perfect app, the perfect pen, the perfect machine, then the words will flow uninterrupted – I will find the magic combination of place, tools and thoughts to write the twenty blog posts, five medium articles, seven essays and a novel currently knocking about in the creative holding area of my subconscious.

The latest is Desk. I knew I would buy it the moment I read about it because… because… it is a minimalist writing app. Because I use Byword for work, IAWriter Pro for fiction, Google Docs for collaborative writing, Evernote for lists, Curio for outlining-mindmapping-whiteboarding-in-one-app and Scrivener if I ever think there is a danger of a book emerging.

It’s a great app for me, as it seems to have everything I love about all my other apps rolled into one –

  • minimalist writing layout (fewer distractions)
  • connects to blogging services
  • the first blog editor on the Mac that seems to make image editing really fast and easy (look – you can adjust the size and format)
  • one of those nice “night mode” things for when the glare of the screen gets too much.

All of these things add up to an app for blogging – and perhaps other writing – that helps close the gap between the intention to write a blog post and getting it published, a tip from Adam Tinworth, someone who  is without parallel in their understanding and adept use of that form.

One last thing – a thread I will pick up again later – trying out new apps for working is a worthwhile thing to do to help keep you thinking critically about workflow and how tools shape the way you think and work.

Dots, as told in Artefact Cards

Things are moving pretty quickly at work at the moment, so I’ve not had much of a chance to reflect or mention things that are going on there – but I can’t let the year slip by without mentioning one really cool thing…

Just over a month ago Brilliant Noise held its first conference, Dots: Connecting Ideas, part of the amazing Brighton Digital Festival.

Like Matt Locke says about The Story conference – a big inspiration to us in all sorts of ways – the joy of holding your own conference is that you get to choose the people you want to hear from. With the curatorial genius of Neil Perkin, it was my dream conference – a relentless series of very different but always inspiring points of view.

Adam Tinworth, the best live-blogger in the business, created posts about all of the talks, which you can read by clicking on the speaker biographies on the Dots website.

We had a limited edition set of Artefact Cards – which I love, and have blogged about before – for everyone who attended. On the way out everyone handed in one of their cards with the one most memorable or important thing they would take away from the day. We’ve made that into a poster, so you can view the crowd-sourced notes of dots that were connected on the day – there’s a higher resolution version of this here.


Business model design trumps product design for value creation


At the Dots conference last month, Mark Earls gave some fresh takes on his favourite theme – humans-as-copying-machines. The best way to come up with something new, he showed, was to copy someone else, or something else. You come up with something new because, in the process of copying, you make errors.

He went further, arguing that one of the best things to do was “copy from far away” – from another field of endeavour, another country, another industry.

On the FT a week later there was an article about how new business models disrupt industries

…Apple became the biggest music retail seller without selling one CD; Netflix reinvented the video business without operating a single video store. Google continues to attack new industries with its data-based services and devices; Google’s products from glasses, to self-driving cars to smart thermostats are just a means for increasing and leveraging Google’s data-based consumer insights.

Of course, none of the business models are new, they are just copied from other industries. Copied from far away. Like Nestlé copying the Gilette razor-blade business model to sell Nespresso pods (pricing coffee at £60 a kilo).

Here’s a video of the whole interview…


Medium well done

I tried writing an article on Medium publishing platform for the first time this week. It was a post about values and how we use them at Brilliant Noise. It felt more like an article than a post, and it felt like it neither belonged here nor the Brilliant Noise blog in the first instance. I’m not sure why, but it felt a little more like nailing something to the cathedral door – and that was right for this piece in particular.

I really enjoyed using the Medium platform for writing. The font’s lovely and – a little monkeying around with the image for the header aside – it was elegant and simple to write in (I particularly like the long hyphens for some reason).

If you’d like to read the article, it’s called Why Values are Valuable. Let me know what you think…


$100 campaigns


I love this  “ship early, ship often” approach social content from Lars Silberbauer, head of social media and search at Lego, shared at Social Media Week London

Describing how Lego created its social marketing campaigns, he said: “We start out by creating $100 campaigns. We of course do TV ads and have a lot of budget but I want people to think differently about social.”

The idea of the $100 spend came about as Silberbauer wanted his team to think more about the dynamic of the content and not just the spend available. The number was decided as he asked his team to empty their pockets, and the value of change held by the group was almost $100.

“Pilot and scale” is a planning mantra at Brilliant Noise. I’d like to try out a few $100 campaigns – it’s a neat way to constrain and get you trying out ideas.

From the mind of Tom Peters

Sometimes a slide deck gives you clues to how the author’s mind works, but the latest “Master Presentation” from management thinker Tom Peters gives you almost everything. Huge knowledge, experience, exuberance and insight at one-hundred miles a second. 

I picked out a few of my fabourite quotes he uses in his 567-slide – that’s not a typo, I said five hundred and sixty seven - state-of-the-nation-that-is-his-brain document. Be aware, the empahsis is on content over style in the deck – the colours are vivid

Gorgeously, he implores you, Faris-like to: “steal me blind”… Will do, Tom. 

If you want to be wrong, the internet will never let you down

On the subject of connectedness and anxiety, I really loved this article by Megan Garber in The Atlantic – Everything: Your’re Doing It Wrong.

“You’re doing it wrong” started as a meme and became a journalistic cliché, she says:

We should probably stop with all this. The headlines are cheeky, sure, but in the aggregate, they are simply sad. In the name of helping people out, we have become a group of wanton, finger-wagging judgers. Which, no matter the particular moral or ethical code you subscribe to, is probably doing it wrong.

As well as being a bit of cliché headlinese and a meme, it reinforces a law of expressing opinion online – there will always be someone who thinks you’re wrong. You need to be ready for that – “get a thicker skin”, was one of the rules in my book. If you’re in a particularly self-critical mode or feeling vulnerable and unsure, maybe don’t go looking for it. If you want to be wrong, the web will always help you out.

Hat tip: Raju Narisetti

Doomed to deride the language of the next generation


Image: Instruments of literacy – never what they used to be…

Tucking into the delights of Steven Pinker’s book about writing, The Sense of Style, I fixed on this note about the glum, cyclical outrage we’re all doomed to serve up about a younger generation’s inability to use their language well:

According to the English scholar Richard Lloyd-Jones, some of the clay tablets deciphered from ancient Sumerian include complaints about the deteriorating writing skills of the young.

Reminds me of the opening of Tom Standage’s Writing on the Wall, when he noted that the Greek philosophers were a bit worried about the effect the new technology of reading and writing would have on young minds. Standage relates how, in the Seventh Letter and the Phaedrus, Plato argued against the written word…

writing undermines the need to remember things and weakens the mind, creating “forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.”

I remember hearing the same sort of nonsense about calculators when I was at school and, Standage says, we see it again in popular criticisms of the internet, Google and social media…


Blah, blah… meh.

Language and media evolve always and affect one another in turn. As I get older I want to remember this, and not waste any breath talking about how the next generations are clueless.

Neuroscience bringing work culture to its senses

Interesting video from the Financial Times – an interview with Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and coach who teaches at business schools.

For those who care to pay attention, neuroscience has been able to back up a great deal of common sense in the workplace, and may even begin to counter the ridiculous long-hours-as-status-sginifier that began in the 1980s and plagues us still.

What sort of common sense? Well, that we are none of us superhumans. That we can’t work 80 hour weeks and not suffer a lot of ill consequences, many of them in the quality of the work we do. That we are unable to multi-task without making lots of errors, unable to make high quality decisions if we don’t sleep enough, get nutrition, hydration and, you know, have a life…

On the sleep point, Ms Swart remarks in the video: “A lot of lawyers are very surprised when I tell them that.”

All so obvious, but without some data, some science to back it up, we’ve suffered stupid-work and presenteeism as defaults in the workplace for too long.

I also like the emphasis Ms Swart puts on the importance of  habits and growing new ones. You need structure to help you grow new habits, a professional coach or an app connected to wearable devices can help with this. I’ve found reading, talking better working habits openly with colleagues, peers and coaches have all worked well. For getting more sleep and not being so sedentary – a wearable device has indeed been very useful.