Category: Public notebook

R/GA’s disruptive trends

Most predictions and trends articles are glib headline-grabbers that cue clueless nodding, but no real grasp of what they mean (variations of “digital is over” or “Snapchat is the new Facebook”) or shallow and obvious (“wearables will be big” or “mobile is getting bigger”) – but Bob Greenberg of R/GA gets down to disruptive trends and what they will mean for the agency business in an piece for Campaign Brief Asia.

Here’s my re-mix/commentary on the five trends he mentions.

Clients will change their businesses to be less reliant on advertising. This is the crumbling of the pack ice beneath the feet of the old-model advertising. The more customer and innovation focused you are, the less important advertising becomes. The more you have in-house teams and tech for media buying, or put them under the supervision of editors, the less you need an ad agency.

Wearables (and other devices) have engagement built in… This is a much more useful train of thought than “how do I build me some wearables” (successor to the “how doI build me some apps/websites/microsites” impulses of old. What will be possible – not in the sense of Groupon tattoos that vibrate when there’s a two-for-one offer on in a nearby shop – in terms of how you engage with the customer.

Ember

Greenberg uses the example of R/GA client Nike’s Fuelband. I don’t have one, but I do sport a Jawbone Up and I can say that I check in and engage with that brand at least a few times a day as I log calories and check on progress. Up have earned (see below) my attention by being useful again and again. It’s an excellent app.

A much more expensive, advanced and yet less connected device – my DSLR camera – might get used a lot, but I never interact with that brand other than to subject myself to ten minutes painful form-filling to try and get the cash-back I was promised at point of sale. (The sales promotion is actually damaging my perception of the brand, feeling as I do now, a little bit conned.)

Similarly awful is the Blu-Ray Disc player and indeed disc, which every time I try to access services online with (say downloading the movie I have paid for as part of a triple-play offer disc from the company). I resent each poorly designed stage of the experience and each grubby grab for my personal data that is requested for the thing I have already paid for.

Both of the latter brands – Sony and Nikon, since you ask – appear to see digital, online, as a bit of promotion on top of their product. Jawbone and Nike see the digital experience as part of their product and an opportunity to bond with their customer.

Agencies will get into the transformation business. Yep. “Transformative digital” is one of the three key elements of our strategy – the others being “customer first” and “earn advocacy”. If you put the customer first and commit to earning their advocacy in your marketing and your business, the result is transformative.

Big data = earned data. Earned data is a lovely thought – you earn the right to gather customer data, both by implicitly by earning their attention and engagement and – esepcially as people begin to control more of their personal data – explicitly by asking for their trust both in your organisation and that giving you data will give them some value in return. Brilliant Noise’s second strategic pillar is “earn advocacy”.

Sustainability is growth. At Brilliant Noise we talk about long-term value as the focus for our work with clients. Sustainability isn’t something we have talked about in this context, but at a strategic and practical level, it needs to be part of the conversation. In fact, if it absent we aren’t really talking long-term at all.

Greenberg mentions the rejection of non-sustainable brands by millennial consumers. I’m not sure this is true, however much we wish it to be the case. Sustainability needs business leadership as much as it does consumer pressure on governments and corporations.

“Viral”

Nice idea from AXAPPP – Twitchoo – a map of how colds and other ailments are spreading across the UK.

A much more basic variation on the insight that Google had a few years ago – that the number of people searching for certain terms can predict where cold and flu outbreaks are about to occur. You can see that data at Google Flu Trends – although weirdly there is no UK data specifically available. Could this be because it has more commercial value there – advertisers willing to pay to know where they should be targeting their advertising and supply chains?

Although, given how many colleagues have been buffeted by colds over the past week, I’m surprised that East Sussex has “No Tweets” on their map today…

Ember

:: Also trying out embedding a Getty Images pic at the head of this post, since the firm launched this feature this week. Nice idea, although I do share the concerns of some about “link rot” that can happen when embedded content is changed or pulled.

Blogging on Ghost

So after failing completely to set up a Ghost blog on a server (not very technical, me) the hosted version is now available. Hurrah!

I’ve tried it out and set up a blog. It will be about running and will hopefully let me try out the platform and spare readers of this one endless details of training regimes, long runs in the rain etc.

Ember

Learning how to use Autographer

I’ve been trying out Autographer, the clip on, wearable camera that automatically takes pictures as you are walking around. Here’s an effort from the other morning – walking to a meeting from Fiveways to the Lanes in Brighton.

It’s taking time to get to grips with using the camera well – as you can see, I’m not quite there yet. The trickiest thing seems to be getting it clipped on to clothes so that it has a good angle.

The videos knitting together images are fun, but there are few individual shots that are really nice.

It’s not really effortless – you have to download, edit etc. – and a lot of shots are poor, you need to take them out.

Also interesting is the perspective it gives you on privacy. Wearing an Autographer, you become a surveillance camera of sorts, mindful that you are recording, you turn for interesting views to capture them and feel awkward when you are around people. They may not know they are being photographed – in fact, they probably don’t. Does this matter in a public place, or are is it invasive?

Pilot and scale?

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An important part of the way we work at Brilliant Noise is “pilot and scale”. Find the best solution and then help grow it, spread its use.

Seems like common sense. Interesting, then, to read Johnnie Moore’s thoughts on an article about whether “scaling” is appropriate in some types of organisation, specifically NGOs involved in development.

A quote from Anna Young at the Young Foundation stands out:

… the concept of scaling has strong connotations of standardization. It has its origins in manufacturing, where the aim is to achieve economies of scale, by spreading fixed costs across more units of output. But in the messy social field, the potential for standardization is more limited. Here, concepts of reinvention and adaptation will be at least as important, if not more so, than standardization. Social outcomes are not products that can be easily made to formula and packaged. This is especially clear in the context of innovation in public services.

Could it also be the case for all kinds of organisations? Is this the kind issue that new “scaling” approaches like holacracy can avoid?

Certainly in a creative or ideas-based organisation, standardisation would be death. A successful project cannot be replicated, issued as a facsimile for all future challenges. Processes and principles and support systems can be, but using the “product” as a synonym for “service” is perhaps a symptom of a dangerous fantasy of standardising something of which you would never want a standard version.

Pilot and scale, prototyping and shipping – these are very useful ideas, but we should also consider their limits.

Meeting-less leadership

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Creative leaders can struggle with the limiting effects of seniority. They are expected at more meetings. Less of their time is their own. Everything is scheduled and less  spontaneous – it seems frivolous to have diary time that is not spoken for by one plan or priority.

I was inspired to read about IDEO’s chief creative officer, Paul Bennett’s radical response to this challenge in a New York Times article. He has a Sunday night ritual of deleting meetings from his diary – as many as he can, and then sets up a desk in the middle of the office where he can be found, interrupted and bumped into serendipitously:

I bucked our internal trend of “hot desking,” where people don’t have a permanent desk. Most of our employees sign up for a desk when they come in for the day — that helps keep everyone flexible and fluid. But I wanted to be an anchor in all that fluidity. So I sat myself permanently and resolutely with our I.T. team at its help desk, which is the most visible and central spot in our San Francisco office.

I think of the help desk as an overlap between a coffee bar and a hacked-together technological lifeguard station. The people there are full of energy and fun. Sitting high up on a stool with them has encouraged people to approach me spontaneously. This lets conversations and interactions happen naturally over the course of the workday. I try to spend about half my day at the help desk and the other half doing what I call “doctor’s rounds,” when I walk through the office and talk to people if they request it or if I feel that they are receptive to it.

I now allow myself to be pulled, to drift in and out, and to be available for five-minute or two-hour interactions depending on what’s needed. Because of that, I feel as if I am part of a living, breathing organism, and responding to its needs rather than simply running from place to place with a calendar in my hand.

Of all of this – and a strange thins about a lamp made of a desiccated cod – it’s the first bit I like most. Making saying “no” part of the planning routine, creating space for unplanned things to happen. I think I will try that out…

 

Big data in a historical context

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Excellent stuff from Alan Patrick on his Broadstuff blog, talking about the 70s, 80s and 90s versions of big data – or “data”, they were calling it back then…

And you know what – you just cannot simulate the minute operation laden details of a shop floor or logistics network reliably. No matter how big your dataset, or your computers, or your machine tool onboard intelligence, there is just too much variability. Which is why the Just In Time/Lean movement came about as the better approach – the aim was to simplify the problem, rather than hit it with huge algorithm models and simulations so complex no one fully understood what they were doing anymore (just ask the banks what happens going down that route) – the aim of JiT/Lean was to actually reduce the problem variability, to get back to Small Data if you like.

Alan discusses the way that despite fascination with new technology and algorithms, the drumbeat that industry marches to is that of economics – in this case the pendulum swing of offshoring and onshoring, powered by the temporary advantage of emerging economies’ lower labour costs.

[....] It’s back to the future….I suspect they are now using bigger and bigger number crunching to eke the last 20% of improvements from the various kaizen projects ongoing, trying to keep the factories in situ as the Big Economics shift yet again

The rate of change today often feels bewildering at ground level, but keeping one eye on the forces of history and economics, we see ourselves in the context of slower moving, but more significant trends. In The Second Machine Age – which I’ve been fixated with over the last week (I even look dangerously close to finishing it) – the authors point out that

  • productivity gains from electric motors took about 30 years to emerge in manufacturing.
  • steam engines unlocked 100 years of productivity gains (and an exponential growth in human population).
  • microprocessors and the IT revolution unlocked meagre productivity gains until the late 1990s

What drove productivity in these instances was innovation that used the technology better – innovation in products, processes, organisation and management. When we’re looking at new technologies in our lives and workplaces like social computing, big data etc. it could be decades before their actual potential is felt by all bar the early adopters that are able to see their potential and change their mindsets and ways of working fastest.

A useful IFTTT recipe for blogging

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A really useful piece of advice from Adam Tinworth about blogging is this: bring the inspiration or desire to blog as close as possible to actually blogging.

This sounds obvious, but over time all sorts of tools and steps in the process can get added. Consequently, I have an Evernote notebook full of links to blog about, and a Byword folder stacked with ideas and links I’ve not got round to writing up.

This IFTTT recipe is one attempt to overcome this. I’ve created it so that every time I bookmark on my Diigo with the tag “to_blog“, a draft post is created on my personal blog.

If you think it could work for you too, create an IFTTT.com account and give it a go.

Threshold concepts

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Threshold concepts” is a term from higher education theory, meaning an idea or a piece of knowledge which, once understood, is transformative – it changes how you look at a subject, what you think is possible.

My friend Jim Byford introduced me to the idea of threshold concepts and I’ve been using it ever since (neatly, it is of course, in its own way, a threshold concept).

Taking a look at some information about the idea, I came across a summary of a conference on threshold concepts in New Zealand, which called out the following characteristics:

• transformative but also potentially troublesome,
• irreversible, that is, difficult to unlearn,
• Integrative – revealing previously hidden knowledge,
• Re-constitutive – effecting a change in the learner’s subjectivity,
• Bounded – leading to new conceptual terrain,
• Discursive – changed, and
• possessing liminality – a space to be crossed, a shift in identity, that may be uncomfortable.

Powerful, dangerous things these threshold concepts, aren’t they?

Part of digital transformation is crossing through difficult terrain – personally and as organisations. Transformation’s not something you simply decide to do and flip a switch – it is a period when we realise that you what we do not understand and are struggling to understand. You decide to make yourself confused and uncomfortable for a while, effectively, as it is the only way to get to the breakthroughs you need. 

A related concept is “liminality”, which I’ve discussed here before. Liminality is something that needs to be explained before you can start to learn. The same conference paper discusses it like this: 

Unsettling the learning takes students, once they have penetrated the boundaries of former thinking and practices, to a new space, the liminal space where new ways of speaking can be manifest. Recognising and re-naming ideas in relation to the new space can be transformative and moves the learning forward, “it makes the theory ‘sticky’”. All the same, as Erik cautioned, there needs to be an awareness of the range of participants “being squeezed into the liminal space” and what this can mean.

I find this description reassuring. Talking about some threshold concepts – for instance exponential growth – evokes really strange responses from people sometimes – defensive, aggressive and essentially grief-like at times.

On a lighter note, it’s not all journeys through the valley of darkness and confusion – playfulness has a role too…

It was suggested that playfulness can allow a retreat from the perceived constraints of the given discipline and that “playing on the thresholds of the discipline can be a way of escaping the discipline” or as a way of navigating a changing world.

But working with these concepts is not easy, they say, and possibly not for everyone:

Unsettling ideas can result in a form of disequilibrium. While there was some advocacy for “being comfortable in one’s own skin” it was also clear that adopting TCs was not for the faint-hearted.

The area I’ve been working with threshold concepts on is a kind of digital literacy for leaders – the skills, knowledge, models and threshold concepts that leaders need to gain in order to be successful, by leading organisations in a digital age (acknowledging that some schools of thought say that organisations will need to be leaderless or full of leaders). Call it digital leadership. I’ll write more about that soon, here and on the Brilliant Noise blog - for now I just wanted to think out loud about threshold concepts.

Threshold concepts offer advanced ideas and tools for those with resilience and leadership potential. There is also a requirement for us to understand what digital literacy will look like for people with other needs and capabilities in organisations, but leaders are a good place to start.