Category: Public notebook

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.



The fact that Ad Blocker and similar plug-ins have long been top of the charts for browser extensions gave us a clue to what people like online: an absence of advertising.

What then, to make of the Red Onion Tor Browser – a web browser that makes it hard for digital eavesdroppers to see what you are doing online – being number 11 in the iOS App Store paid chart?


Probably that people don’t like being spied on by Big Brother’n’Big Brands. Another signal – along with things like the Cryptoparty movement that increasing numbers of people are looking at how to take personal privacy more seriously. Here’s some excerpts from a piece I wrote a couple of months ago for the IAB Future Trends report on The Future of Data (and also blogged about at Brilliant Noise):

Ain’t no party like a cryptoparty

Last month I saw a warning from the near future for brands. I was at something called a Cryptoparty, one of hundreds happening every month around the world where activists teach ordinary people how to lock down their personal data online and avoid the perceived twin evils of Big Brother and big brands.

A nice man called Chris quickly taught me how to encrypt my email, web browsing and instant messaging. In 2008 the founder of Facebook predicted that the amount of information people shared online would double every year. Zuckerberg’s Law as it was inevitably named, was part of the spirit of openness and increasing transparency that had been sweeping through the web and our personal lives since the first glimmerings of social media as mass media took hold in the early Noughties.

That wave may now be breaking with some violence on the rocks of the Snowden revelations of mass surveillance by the US and its allies, along with the clumsy efforts of governments and corporations to take advantage of the big data bonanza to peer into the lives of citizens and consumers.

Marketers have been lazy and clumsy in their use of customer data to date. Even floating the idea for this article met with indifference and denial from my peers – consumers couldn’t give a fig about privacy, is the gist of some individuals’ feelings on the matter.

Things move fast on the web, however, and soon enough Martin Sorrell was telling Ad Week Europe that the Snowden scandal was going to hit brands harder than they thought and that “people are underestimating its significance among consumers.”

At the Cryptoparty, I learned that there are a mass of apps and services you can use securely, but as soon as I try them a big downside becomes clear. They are slow, clunky and lack the features of free services like those from Google, Microsoft and Apple, for instance.

I point this out to Chris. “People think my machine is broken when try it,” he admits cheerfully, “But it’s just very secure.”[…]

Last word to Sir Martin: “We want to be more respectful of privacy and also want to monetise our audiences our way. Being more focused on privacy is not bad for business, it can be good.”

We may not reach a stage where everyone cares about online privacy enough to download a Tor browser or a VPN like Cloak to their smartphone, but the number of people who do is likely to grow, even become a significant minority.

Things I learned from The Checklist Manifesto


This post is a summary of things I’ve learned and thought about after reading The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande. The book was given to me by my father following a conversation we had about how to develop effective operational systems that don’t get in the way of people’s creative, strategic and innovative flow. As you can imagine – we’re the life and soul of any family get together.

Everyone, as we know in the age of Buzzfeed, loves a list (there are some lovely musings that Brainpickings about why we love them so much).  But The Checklist Manifesto advocates using lists as teams in our professional lives. It begins with aircraft crews and surgical teams, types of work where overlooking details can be fatal and yet check-lists haven’t always been, and sometimes –  surprisingly – still aren’t universal.

The three most important things I took away from reading the book were:

  1. The use of checklists dramatically raises effectiveness and reduces errors. This is true even when experts are in charge. This has been proven in surgical medicine and commercial airlines. Mainly this is because of “necessary fallibility” in our complex age – no one person can always remember all the essential steps to do something well. We expect the impossible from ourselves
  2. Checklists are not just lists. They become a way of doing things: an organisational habit. Everyone needs to understand and accept them – including, in some cases partners and contractors (this was stressed in some interesting case studies about communication checklists on large-scale construction projects).
  3. To be effective, checklists need to fulfil a few key criteria. They must be:
    • Concise. Five to nine points per section is recommended in the airline industry.
    • Clear. They need to address a few key points – not every step in the process.
    • Collaborative. Anyone in the team can pause a project/procedure if one is not completed, regardless of seniority. Also, checklists can be improved and iterated after use.

There’s a lot more to the theme – examples from Atul Gawande’s work with the World Health Organisation, the idea’s use in healthcare systems around the world, including the NHS, with the data to back it up – and this is not a book that felt padded out, as many management works do.

It shows how checklists were first used in complex systems during the Second World War, when the first B17 bombers crashed in test-runs, not because they were faulty designs but because in the four or five decades since the invention of flight, these were the first airplanes that were too complex for one person to fly. Essential tasks during take-off would be missed and cause sometimes fatal problems later on.

Gawande says this level complexity is widespread:

Much of our work today has entered its B17 phase. Substantial parts of what software designers, financial managers, fire-fighters, police-officers, lawyers, and most certainly clinicians do are now too complex for them to carry out reliably from memory alone. Multiple fields, in other words, have become too much airplane for one person to fly.

Checklists act as guards against our cognitive biases, he continues:

Four generations after the first aviation checklists went into use, a lesson is emerging: checklists seem to be able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realised. They provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws inherent in all of us – flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness. And because they do, they raise wide, unexpected possibilities.

It’s an idea we’re using at Brilliant Noise as we develop our operational systems and ways of working. This book is about meeting complex challenges, but it is interesting how everyday processes can be made much more effective with the use of brief checklists – for instance, simple team or project meetings.

Some of us have been experimenting with a checklist to start and end each meeting – purpose, how we’ll be working, how notes and actions will be taken, that sort of thing. It sounds so simple, but when you’re working at pace, it’s easy to start a meeting by diving in to whatever seems most important, rather than checking some essentials – like who is there and why, how we will work and what we want to achieve. These things can seem self-evident and obvious to everyone present – and in fact they are, just in subtly different ways for everyone present. Those subtle differences of perception can lead to avoidable errors and misunderstandings if we don’t catch ourselves early on – hence check-lists.

Checklists are being worked into our emerging processes as the company grows quickly (we’ve doubled each year for the past couple of years) and demands effective ways of working as a larger group. They seem to fit really well – not as prescriptive as heavy-duty ISO-style quality systems that I’ve worked with in the past. Much clearer, lightweight and easy to use.

Balance is a dynamic activity

ZZ10C5F218Sometimes when I read or hear a useful insight, I remember to squirrel it away (on my Tumblr, and  – via IFTTT – under quotes on Diigo). This one, from Ed Catmull’s superb book Creativity, Inc., has been in my head a lot recently.

Our mental image of balance is somewhat distorted because we tend to equate it with stillness – the calm repose of a yogi balancing on one leg, a state without apparent motion. To my mind, the more accurate examples of balance come from sports, such as when a basketball player spins around a defender, a running back bursts through the line of scrimmage, or a surfer catches a wave. All of these are extremely dynamic responses to rapidly changing environments.

Balance is a dynamic act.

How wonderful and how true. It’s liberating to realise that all that wobbling you’re doing could just be quick movements you make in staying balanced rather than some impossible dream of achieving balance.

It reminds me of a question a colleague asked me: Do you think the company is heading in the right direction? The instinctive, reassuring answer is “yes”. The more accurate answer is “sometimes and mostly”.

If there’s a direction we should be heading in then, on aggregate we’re going that way. As with all start-up companies – or I suppose on a grander scale, all companies – heading in the right direction is a series of course corrections.