Category: Public notebook

Against mass surveillance – what will you do today?

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Today is a day of action and protest against mass surveillance by our governments: The Day We Fight Back.

Aptly, the first thing in my Twitter stream when I opened my laptop this morning  was the inventor of the Web re-tweeting the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s message…

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Things move quickly, our lives are busy. Today, though, take the opportunity of The Day We Fight Back to stop and ask – what kind of a world do you want to live in? What future do we want to choose? What kind of Web do we want to live with around us?

Then do one thing – or a few things – to mark your intent, to take small steps toward the future you want.

Here’s what I’m doing:

  • Adding my voice to the chorus of dissent –  by signing the EFF petition and adding their banner to my website.
  • Supporting those who are fighting for our online freedom every day – by  re-joining the Open Rights Group in the UK, that campaigns for internet freedom and making a donation.
  • Learning more about how to take control of my data and security personally – by attending a Cryptoparty this evening where people will be learning how to lock down their devices and manage their online data. I’m hoping to help hold more of these for friends, colleagues and clients in the future.

Spread the word. Tell others what today means and what you are doing to support it…

One of Microsoft’s new CEO’s strengths? He doesn’t finish business books…

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When Microsoft’s new CEO was announced last week, there was a great deal of commentary about his  - doubtless very carefully crafted – introductory email to the company.

Part of Satya Nadella‘s description of himself made me immediately empathetic:

Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me.

There are two things that make me like Mr Nadella a bit from reading that quote. First: I do that too. Last night I flicked through the books on my Kindle – there are  so many interesting ones there that I’ve barely started or not started at all. It’s a teetering, digital monument to curiosity and to having an appetite for learning that is beyond my current means (in terms of time, mainly) to support. 

The second thing that warms me to his statement is its echo of what I was talking about in my post last week, Finishedness - realising that you can’t, and often shouldn’t, finish everything that you start. This ability is strength, contrary to the puritan work ethic/completer-finisher fallacy.

Mr Nadella’s email  was a positioning exercise – mainly in distancing himself from the style of his predecessor, the bombastic Steve Ballmer. The latter didn’t talk much about his reading habits – and would be more likely to reel off the number of books completed – a PB roll-call of reading velocity.

In the age of digital superabundance of information, leaders must be curious and hungry to learn, but also mindful that they cannot hope to read everything, to learn everything that they would like to. It’s the larger scale version of FOMO (fear of missing out) - applied to thinking and knowledge rather than social network updates, but the same in essence.

Mr Nadella’s statement shows self-awareness, acceptance of his limitations and a desire for continual learning. Whatever he does with Microsoft in the next few years, in this aspect he has the right stuff to be a digital leader.

Image credit: (cc) Official Le Web photos

New technology boosts the old

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As cheerleaders for incumbent media often point out, the old is rarely replaced by the new. Newspapers weren’t killed by radio, radio wasn’t killed by TV, TV wasn’t killed by online video – etc., etc.

Sometimes new technology boosts the old.

Dipping in again to the excellent Writing on the Wall: Social Media, the First 2,000 Years, I read:

Printing pushed up demand for paper throughout Europe, encouraging production and making it cheaper (its price fell by 40 percent during the fifteenth century) and more widely available. Printed books promoted literacy and writing manuals could be produced in quantity.

We can see a similar effect today with writing and books. Earlier in Writing on the Wall, Tom Standage notes that book writing was a serious undertaking in Roman times. You had to be literate, rich enough to have a dedicated cohort of slaves for scribing and couriering purposes during the research, notable enough to throw a top-notch launch party and – by some advice of the time – spend about nine years perfecting your manuscript before releasing it into the network of copyists (all reproduction was by hand, of course).

Now writing – and publishing – books is within the grasp of anyone. A cynic would say that you don’t even need that high a degree of literacy.

In the US, 391,000 books were self-published, only about a third of these were e-book only titles. In fact, an article in the Guardian notes, this figure is conservative:

The exclusion of hundreds of thousands of titles published without an ISBN, including many titles on Amazon’s Kindle store, means that the increase of 422% since 2007 this represents is likely to be an underestimate of the size of the self-publishing sector.

Rather than reach for the pessimist’s fall-back of the monkey-typewriter paradigm, recognise this for what it is – a golden age of reading and – even more – writing. New forms of media are making old forms easier for everyone to access and work with, once again.

The market with no name (yet)

ZZ649F5EFBThere’s a gap in the market for agencies and management consultancies. Or rather, there’s a gap between their two markets which is growing.

Last year I talked about the need for marketing agencies to “become McKinsey faster than McKinsey can become us”. Since then we’ve seen both industries begin to encroach on one another’s territories.

Witness the big management consultancies efforts to win in digital:

Is there any action in  the other direction? Well, we’ve not seen WPP or Omnicom buying management consultancies just yet, but there are plenty of people who would have been seen as belonging to the marketing-advertising complex taking up positions in management consultancy-land:

  • Econsultancy offers training and consultancy on digital transformation.
  • Fluxx’s positioning as a “product and innovation agency” is also interesting. Formed of people from a digital agency background, and EMC’s consulting wing, it appears to be a management consultancy that works with a tech-savvy, agile method.
  • Brilliant new ideas like Adaptive Lab’s positioning as “start-up as a service” or a “skunworks-for-hire”. This can be used to develop apps and experiences for marketing – but products are about more than shiny-thing to grab the consumer’s attention – they can be businesses in their own right.

And, of course, Brilliant Noise, my own agency, with our “Customer First, Earn Advocacy, Transformative Digital” mantra – a year ago we saw ourselves as marketing spilling out into the rest of the organisation, an outcome of the need for marketing to be more connected to succeed, and of the disruption of ideas about how organisations work that the web is causing.

Digital transformation

Let’s take a closer look at this phrase – arguably a re-badging of the clumsy “social business” tag, following on from whatever it was before. A bit clue-trainy, very tech-savvy.

Poor old advertising

 

Nationwide

Image: Are brands are looking tatty?

The Economist asks us to “spare a thought for the poor admen”, whose industry is suffering “a difficult time”:

Not only are they confronting a proliferation of new “channels” through which to pump their messages; they are also having to puzzle out how to craft them in an age of mass scepticism. Consumers are bombarded with brands wherever they look—the average Westerner sees a logo (sometimes the same one repeatedly) perhaps 3,000 times each day—and thus are becoming jaded. They are also increasingly familiar with the tricks of the marketing trade and determined to cut through the clutter to get a bargain. Scepticism and sophistication are especially pronounced among those born since the early 1980s. A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that 46% of American “millennials” use their smartphones to check prices and online comments when they visit a shop.

None of this will be news to readers of this blog. The article is a collection of more or less accepted insights about the way that marketing is working.

A shift from promotion to product.

A focus on “what you do” as the best way to influence “what others say” (as opposed to the advertising-first way of “what you say you do”.

The opportunity lies somewhere between the agency and the management consultancy in all of this – both are moving into the other’s turf. More on that later…

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Just do. The couple I’ve read so far have been really good.

A sample from today’s, kicking around things like “Just Good Enough” and digital-as-other…

Siloed organisations, where digital is “over there”, aren’t going to succeed. At the very least, they’re only going to unlock a fraction of the opportunity that’s available to them. At the very worst, they’ll find themselves both slowly (“oh, they’ve only got a few tens of thousands of users”) and quickly (Blackberry, Nokia) disrupted. Runkeeper will come and eat their lunch. Netflix will become the next video network. Uber, much as I hate them for being Uber, will come along and work out that hey, digital actually can make your business of cars that move things from one place to another better for the end user.

 

They’re just not.

 

It’s just a question of how fast we get there.

Subscribe to Things That Have Caught My Attention, by Dan Hon.

Finishedness

“Why you can never finish anything and how to finally change it” is the un-unclickable headline on a Fast Company article I saw today.

You would not believe the lengths I go to to try and get things finished. Sometimes the pain of not finishing and still not getting on with it doubles me up with psychological pain.

I shout. I swear. I sulk. But I do not finish…

Some have their ways of deflecting criticism about their procrastination. They make themselves look incredibly busy (which is such hard work that of course they are incredibly busy).

You used to have to be very creative to do this once upon a time, but these days technology has solved the problem – email, Facebook or even Google will create enough busy-ness to keep you from being idle, or actually achieving anything you were supposed to.

So. This post.

This post, I am going to finish. Or now, even start… The article says:

Nearly a quarter of adults around the world are chronic procrastinators, according to research conducted by Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of the book Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done.

Read the article. Read the book. Or just start either and then get distracted by..

…and I’m back. Here’s the summary – these things stop you…

  • Fear of getting anything done.
  • Fear of setting the bar too high.
  • Not wanting to end the fun.

The curatives are all obvious and basically of the “grow up and get on with it” variety  - but it’s nice to hear how many others share my completer-finisher-aversion.

That Belbin team personality test has a lot to answer for by the way (that’s where “completer finisher” was first offered as a personality type). Tell someone they are in that category and not will they not gratefully, they will then go around invoking it as if it were some cross between a doctor’s note and a odd species of superpower. Yes, it was in my profile, and yes it has given me permission to leave all sorts of things unfinished for years.

On reflection, the solution is one-part habit forming and one stuff-it-all-and-remember-what’s-really-important.

I should forming a habit of finishing things to a certain stage – declare a state of acceptable “finishedness”, while remembering that nothing is ever nearly finished. Some stuff – books, emails, plans – don’t deserve to be finished – but rather than soldiering on with some Puritan work ethic nonsense, we should positively abandon them. Declare – that’s not worth my precious time, and drop it.

There. Finished.

Zipcar – idealism and the realpolitik of scaling a business

Very interesting article about Zipcar’s turnaround strategy on Inc. Worth reading for the insights on growing a business by the numbers, but also the story of a company founded on strong ideals, that had to change leadership to get beyond being a good concept with laudable values.

Zipcar was one a pioneer in what some now call “collaborative consumption”, started by a pair of idealists who wanted to cut carbon emissions through car sharing.

Now Zipcar is fulfilling the dream of the founders to the tune of US$100 million dollars a year. The cost to them – only one member of the original team still works with the company, and itsn’t either of them. The hard-nosed, metrics-focused CEO who took over the company when it was making a a loss, took up the challenge from one of the board members to “turn a political movement into a business”. He succeeded.

The article emphasises the things the founders got right (a lot, especially branding and positioning). But they couldn’t turn it into a profitable, fast-growing company. Scaling Zipcar required someone with more of an operational view of how the world works.

Sometimes activists make good entrepreneurs. They get things started, they have same will to power and vision that drives good entrepreneurs. To truly scale sometimes takes the business equivalent of engineers, though – business-first people.

We don’t just read novels, we live them

A neuroscience research project suggests that when we read novels we create a connection with the protagonist, a change that is visible in fMRI brain scans and that persists for five days.

“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study.

“We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

Read with all the usual caveats – a single study, filtered by journalists etc. – but I like the idea, any reader would agree: a good book changes your mind, puts you in an altered state. What's interesting about the study of course, is how long the effects seem to last.

I'd love to see a similar study for watching a good film.

Image: A profile of Jack Reacher by Lee Child, his creator, on the Mysterious Bookshop imprint.

 

Change: we’ve been here before

In his book about the start of the First World War, Max Hastings discusses the incredible rate of change – new technologies, ideas, social forces – that were in play in the opening decades of the last century. Reflecting, in 1930, on how dramatic the changes in the world were Winston Churchill said:

Scarcely anything material or established which I was brought up to believe was permanent or vital has lasted. Everything I was sure – or taught to be sure – was impossible, has happened.

Whether for useful perspective or rhetorical symmetry, many are drawing parallels between 2014 and 1914 – rising superpowers, faltering hegemonies, world order in flux, communications technology muddling old certainties about the relationships between creaking elites and restless populaces.

Regardless of how similar today is to that terrible year, it is clear that there’s nothing very new about rapid, disruptive, global change. We need to be looking back as well as forward as we face our own challenges and opportunities.