Weblog Entries for January 2005
January 28, 2005
Greetings from Heathrow Terminal 3. I'm on my way over to New York for a week. Looking forward to some good converstions there. Not sure how much blogging you'll get out of me though!
By the way, I'm flying United. They've been having a hard time for years now, but this morning they've been nice as pie. So far anyway. All that flying down under on Star Alliance means I've clambered onto the first rung of the loyalty ladder here. But it's the friendliness of the people, not the minor perks, that matters to me.
I guess it's a typo, but the screens at check-in upgraded "Premier" to "Premiere" status. Much more glamorous to be associated with movie stardom than Tony Blair.
January 27, 2005
Patti Digh's weblog, 37 days, has caught my imagination. Experiencing the death of her stepfather over the course of 37 days has prompted some deep reflection, manifested in this blog, but also in her other new and inspring site, InclusiveAshville. Here's a sample:
Many discoveries were accidental, and came from being lost: the Big Bang, post-it notes, Jovian Moons, even GPS systems that help us get found--they were all accidental discoveries. This week, ask yourself what ship you're staying on and what you might be losing out on by not venturing out. One day this week, be an accidental explorer: get lost, take a wrong turn, veer off the path you always take, read a magazine you would not otherwise read, connect with someone you perceive to be quite different from yourself. Take the trail rather than just read about the royal road. Get off the ship.
Open Sauce update
James and I held a strategic overview and implentation meeting in the C-Suite this week. Nah, we had a couple of pints of Guinness in the Slug and Lettuce actually.
We're making headway putting together our Open Sauce workshop. I think I've persuaded a (very discerning) PR agency to act as hosts for a beta version next month.
We kicked around how much emphasis to put on blogging. James wants to cover RSS feeds and stuff, and I'm eager to go about the big picture. We're both right, probably.
I'm definitely gonna do some Improv activities as part of it. I don't want us just to theorise about what it's like to control less and engage more; Improv lets folks experience this in the moment. We'll keep you posted.
The LA Times reports that "With DVR use expected to grow tenfold over the next five years, the devices are threatening to bring the $60-billion-a-year TV advertising business to its knees." Hat tip: Alan Moore.
Language to put you in your place
Good post by Cathy Moore (such a talented family, don't you think?)
Have you forgotten your place? Just read some Corporate Drone. "Oh, I remember now," you'll say. "My place is below this exalted writer. I am but a peon."Especially good on the subject of lawyers.
Kathy Sierra writes
I worked for a guy who ran an exclusive, foofy, insanely expensive health club. He took 100% of what should have been (back then, when Ads were King) his advertising budget, and instead put ALL of it into a monthly "member surprise" budget. Nobody ever knew what was going to happen. You'd be in an aerobics class with 100 people (it was a big place), and as you walked out, suddenly there were carts loaded up with bowls of frozen yogurt and a toppings bar. You're in the weight room when the employees start walking through handing out exclusive t-shirts, always with his logo, and always with a fun quote, that you knew would never appear on a t-shirt again. Members collected these things like rare beanie babies. The late-night exercise classes were the hardest to fill, but he would take the worst time slot and make it interesting... the 9 PM folks might walk out of class only to be handed a wine cooler or even a relaxation CD.I'll have whatever she's having.
January 26, 2005
Nick is impressed with Simon's argument that "Brand America" is in decline but is more sceptical about the proposed solution. I find that a common feature of many business books; I feel quite forgiving because the problem is not simple.
I wonder though if the whole concept of America as a brand is itself the problem. Branding is a school of thought hitherto largely dominated by Americans, and with it goes the idea that a few people can somehow determine how a thing is seen. In the end, they lapse into thinking they determine how it is.
So when Simon proposes a
"single Brand American working group” with government, NGO, entertainment, media, business, foreign service, education, religious and other representatives with “real influence, real budgets and a direct reporting line to the president"I start to feel queasy. That smacks of the command-and-control thinking that may be part of the problem. Call me a rebel, but I'm also very wary of large committees of very important sounding people.
January 25, 2005
The joy of polarity
Another great post from Kathy Sierra: Be brave or go home.
Aleah is a smart cookie. Or to own that statement: I agree with Aleah about a lot of things, including her latest post.
We are expected to form our own opinions, outlooks, stances to things, to a considerable degree through solitary reflection. But this is not how things work with important issues, such as the definition of our identity. We define this always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the identities our significant others want to recognize in us. And even when we outgrow some of the latter - our parents, for instance - and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues as long as we live. - Charles Taylor, The Malaise of Modernity
I love this quote. Especially now, in the age of "authenticity."
The author challenges us to redefine our narrow, narcissistic vision of authenticity, understanding that identity is not created in a vacuum - but rather is molded and shaped by the forces of our self in relationship with others.
There is no true self devoid of others. No internal conversation free from the external pedagogy.
In the same way, businesses cannot impose an identity through one solitary voice, but rather should nurture identity through the encouragement of diverse and independent conversations.
January 24, 2005
Suppose people in future refuse to do work that doesn't really excite them. What would be the future of organisations, asks Michael Herman
So given that some things really do require large corporate-type orgs to deliver, might we end up with delicious, fantastic, sexy corporations? Or perhaps a lifelong string of on again, off again, one-year stands?
Olaf Brugman has tried Open Office for 60 days, and he's not going back to Microsoft Office. Seems he's happy with replacements for Word, Excel and Powerpoint.
This is something I'm going to bear in mind when I'm next invited to upgrade. Especially as Microsoft expect me to buy a separate copy for my Tablet PC. [UPDATE: Apparently I got this wrong. Marc Orchant comments below that I can have 2 installs. Apologies.]
If/when that happens, I might feel free to leave MS Office behind.
By the way, it's annoying that it's easy to synch Outlook with my phone but a pain in the butt to synch it between PC and Tablet. I don't feel like paying for a separate program to do it, on top of having to buy the program twice in the first place.
Random acts of madness (2)
The other day I said "Small boys like to put spiders in jam jars and poke them with sticks. It's not very nice, but as a metaphor, don't we all occasionally want to poke the spider in the jamjar, just to see what happens? To introduce randomness into our lives."
The African Job is a good example, picked up by Mike at Londonist. Three blokes in a pub decide to go to Africa for Six Months... travelling in a 1961 London Bus. They convert it to a home on wheels, and donate the vehicle to an AIDS charity on completion.
Of course this kind of "madness" often turns out to have a very good point... we just don't need to see the whole purpose at the outset...
Bar as stock market
Shannon Cooper has found a bar that's like a stock market.
Here's another one for the "I wish I had thought of that" file...I once thought of selling my consultancy services a bit like this. Or like easyjet... you know, the first booking for August is £50 a day but the last one is £5000!
I read today about a new bar in Melbourne that works just like a stock exchange; the drink prices fluctuate with demand. Yep, really! The prices of popular beers, wines and spirits are inflated, and those of less popular drinks (which means XXXX) drop.
They have a computer system that tracks drink sales and updates the "market" prices every ten minutes, with monitors around the bar keeping the patrons up to date with current prices and trends. So astute and savvy market players can pick up fancy imported brews, trendy cocktails or their favorite wine nice and cheap, but at peak times they might have to fork out twice as much for the same pleasure (or drink a XXXX, which would always be cheap).
The place is apparently a hit, with patrons trying to outsmart the market, and holding out on thier shout until a market crash. The key to playing the market is to keep changing drinks, work your way through the bar, 'cause if everyone is drinking the same imported beer, the price remains high.
They even allow "insider trading" for their regulars; the staff will tell them to hold off if the price is going to go down. Now that's what I call a loyalty program!
Plans are afoot to introduce a "futures" system, whereby market players can buy up big when the price is low, and exercise their option later, even if the price sky rockets.
Cool idea, huh!
So here's what I'm planning to say in my pages of the 100 bloggers project. (A book showcasing 100 bloggers. 25 bloggers each open a chapter and then hand over to three more to carry on.)
I've taken the easy option of using a blog post to consume most of my allocated 1000 words.
"My name is Johnnie Moore and I’m a blogger.
I started a couple of years ago, prompted by Tony Goodson who comes next in this chapter.
I’ve worked in marketing here in London for about 20 years, and spent many of them frustrated at the drabness of the business. Blogging feels like at least part of the antidote to some of its awfulness.
Why? Because it seems to promote conversations with more of a human voice. Because a lot of what gets said is scrutinised and kicked about in public by at least a few motivated and opinionated people. Bullshit in ads rarely gets challenged that way. Bullshit in blogs has a shorter half-life.
Anyhow, I’ve chosen this post from September 2004 to fill out most of my allocated 1,000 words. It only drew one comment at the time. But hey I liked it so I thought I’d give it a second chance. I also like that it draws together a few strands and quotes other people a lot.
It also includes a diagram. I hate diagrams in business… this one gets in here only because I get to say what’s wrong with it.
So here’s what I posted…
[This is where I quote this post verbatim: Pitfalls of Explicit Learning]
Thanks for listening. And now it’s with great pleasure and a bit of pommie trepidation that I send you down under to Tony and his Aussie mates."
January 23, 2005
Hard to believe
I'll quote Tom verbatim.
You know, there's stupid, and then there's stupid. But the decision-makers at Clear Channel owned Hot 97 have committed the year's first Mega-Stupid Act (a new award we'll be presenting at year end), by broadcasting a "parody" of the tsunami victims singing to the tune of "We Are The World" (see here for link). Their "apology" and MP3 removal aside, this is one of those moments that stops you in your tracks and forces you to think about what might be "too much?" Apparently, in the age of attention-gathering, when no publicity is bad publicity, folks lose their way.It's great that someone preserved the MP3 evidence. I don't know about people losing jobs. I'd prefer them to replace normal programming with a phone-in, [UPDATE: independently moderated], about what happened. I wonder about the thousands who listened to this each morning and didn't think it mattered very much.
Now, some of them should lose their jobs.
Creating in the moment
Chris Corrigan writes about Passion, patience and action as enlightenment. It's a very good read but if you're in a hurry, I guess this is the nub:
Glassman argues that in terms of "doing" that we do what we can with what we have. To work on a problem you just begin to attack what is immediately in front of you. If you want to reduce greenhouse gases, start by driving less. Then find other things you can do, like inviting others to do the same. By assuming that the problem is too big for one person to solve, you abdicate your responsibility for being a part of the solution. Problems that are too big need multiple actors to contribute to emergent solutions. There is no top down way to solve world hunger or climate change or the perils of colonization. By being patient though, and directed to the work at hand, you add to what becomes the emergent solution.After reading this, I picked up The 8th Habit, and found the story of Grameen Bank. A great example of what Chris talks about. The founder didn't set out to build a bank, but to see if he could do something useful in the village next to his university; he went from the world of grand theory to that of small practice. He realised how lending a few pennies to one woman could make a real change in her life, and then that lending a few dollars could change a village. From this humble start, a bank grew that changed the lives of thousands and inpired thousands more. (There's an account of it here.)
There seems a profound truth here. We can tell the story of organisations as if they result from grand strategy or we can see how they grow from the moment-to-moment choices of individuals.
I know which stories I find easier to believe. I know which ones allow me to feel I can be useful in the world. I know which ones have more life.
Going off topic
This prompted various thoughts, here are some of them:
1. Whenever I meet people I know from blogging, I have a great time. These connections have a power and energy that excites me. They are one of the biggest benefits of blogging.
2. We'd never met before. We met for the fun of it. After 4 hours, we'd agreed to create a project together, invented a domain name, bought it and we'll be announcing it any day now. I can't wait.
3. We discussed bloggers who keep to a topic and those who don't. I have both sorts in my feedreader. I find both interesting. I am definitely in the second camp. I don't stick to the point here.
4.Sometime's I'm surprised to be identified as a marketing or branding blogger because a lot of what I say doesn't fit that stereotype. Then again, the stereotype of branding and marketing sucks, doesn't it?
5 We talked about Myers Briggs and other ways to sort people into boxes. I quite enjoy such things but I don't follow them as a script. For instance, in one of them (Belbin?) I come out as either a Plant (troublemaker/questioner/disrupter) or Facilitator (peacemaker/integrator). You'll find both personalities manifested here.
I sometimes think, oh but if I want to get business as a facilitator, I should stop ranting. And then I think, sod that for a game of soldiers. And that's partly why my blog is a hodge-podge; it's so boring to create a pretend persona to get business.
6. I could say more but this post is already way too long.
7. No wonder I find the idea of producing a coherent essay for More Space daunting as well as inspiring.
Random Acts of Madness
NumanumaI followed the link, was puzzled and then started laughing.
I just got this in my email.
I have no explanation.
It's fascinating. If there's a point, I don't get it. You decide.
I guess I just enjoy absurdity. It reminds me of leaning out of an office window a few years ago and shouting to a traffic warden. The warden was sticking a parking ticket on someone's car (not mine or anyone's I knew). I just yelled "It's not my car!". It made me laugh. It just did.
Small boys like to put spiders in jam jars and poke them with sticks. It's not very nice, but as a metaphor, don't we all occasionally want to poke the spider in the jamjar, just to see what happens? To introduce randomness into our lives.
January 22, 2005
I loved "London Underground", a hilarious protest song, provoked by a tube drivers' strike here in the Smoke. Using the tune from Going Underground. Talk about customers biting back!
WARNING: Lots - and I mean LOTS - of OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE. Actually, OFFENSIVE IDEAS too, especially if you're a tube driver. But hey, it's art, baby!
Another plea for full Feeds
If you think a summary feed will boost site traffic, I'd suggest you think again. The real thing most bloggers want is connections. The easier you make it for people to engage with your thoughts, the more likely you are to get connected. A summary feed doesn't do that as well as a full feed.
What about folks who only want a summary? My experience is there aren't many of them. But for the minority who prefer to read summaries, you could always provide a summary as an option.
Will a full feed suck up bandwidth? I doubt it, but I'd be interested to hear the experience of others. From my stats, I reckon that my full feeds account for only one-third of my bandwidth use this month. I don't know what deal you're on, I'm running way below the 5MB ICDSoft give me. So I could stand a heck of a lot more visitors before worrying about it.
[UPDATE]Mark at CSR China says he likes this blog even though I'm "another that can post endlessly on RSS feeds and excerpts and stuff". Ok, Mark, point taken. I won't turn this into an obsession.
January 21, 2005
PR man wrings hands
I will do almost anything to avoid admitting that I'm in public relationsAnd adds some ideas on how he can square it with his conscience/ego (delete as appropriate)
More Space - update
10,000 words drafted by mid-February is starting to feel daunting! It's one thing to bash out a blog entry, but an essay.. that will need organising, won't it? How can I frame this so that it's fun to write, not the increasingly gutwrenching prospect that it is this Friday night?
[UPDATE] Todd says it's 5,000 to 10,000 words. Wow, the problem halved overnight without me doing a thing. Which, by the way, might be a good story with which to open the book. In the comments, Tom Guarriello contrasts a guy who seems to write 10,000 words a day
Not getting it
James Cherkoff points to a webinar (hate that word) on blogging.
Sometimes you come across corporate communication that makes parody redundant. I think this offering from Delahaye (a division of the surreal sounding Bacon's Information Inc) just about fits that bill. It's a webinar entitled:I dunno, but I wonder how many of the millions of bloggers out there already needed a seminar to get started?
"Surviving Blogs: Monitoring and Analyzing Blogs to Protect and Direct Public Relations Strategy."
So blogs are a disease...that requires survival strategies. The website also includes this gem:
'With measurable feedback, many public relations professionals have learned to accept and embrace participatory journalism as a powerful and credible communication tool.'
Is it me or does that actually mean nothing at all ? The site then goes onto explain that the webinar will allow attendants to...
'Manage the discussion in ways that raise awareness and ultimately change consumer behaviour through monitoring online news groups.'
January 20, 2005
I offer readers a choice of full RSS feeds or excerpts. A quick look at my stats suggests (drumroll...)
88% of readers prefer a full feed.I'm curious about the 12% who prefer excerpts - what is it they prefer?
Answers on a ping or comment please...
We have asked people to send us examples of dead, silly or deceitful language. View their contributions in the Language Crimes section (and on this page). There are separate pages for Government, Education and Training and Job Ads.Here's a snippet of the author's life story
One day, at a team strategy meeting, I noticed that all my staff appeared more attentive than usual and were making notes on pieces of paper in front of them. Some broke out into broad smiles as I spoke of our future directions. Then one shouted “Bingo” and held aloft his piece of paper. When they explained the way that “Wank Words Bingo” worked, I knew I had a problem.
I had a complete breakdown shortly after this and I was taken from my office babbling “I need to migrate from this model of challenging behaviour but I can’t leverage a sustainable exit strategy”. After many months of intensive therapy, which was largely free of negative patient outcomes, (other than the day the psychologist pulled a gun on me), I was able to rejoin society and begin to rebuild my life.
Thanks to Tom Guarriello for this
I dont' mean to get all political here, especially on Inauguration Day, but doesn't this title answer it's own question? And then I'm thinkin' maybe the CNN headline writer got a degree in irony?...pointing to this headline at CNN
Poll: Nation split on Bush as uniter or divider
Evelyn Rodriguez puts it eloquently:
In additional to journalism, any perceptive business person can surmise my point is also that the best marketing, the best products, or the best _____ most often emerges if we drop our agendas for a moment and allow ourselves and our companies to be simply a conduit that welcomes our customers with a space to speak and be listened to.And there is more, much more in her post.
Feed me again
Chris Corrigan is another full feed reader
Also, partial feeds just don't work for me. The only site that manages to pull me with a partial feed is defective yeti. Everyone else usually gets a miss. I know this is not a quirk specific to me either. My advice to any blogger is turn on your feed and make it a full feed. Then you show up on your readers' radar in all your glory!And I see why Chris makes an exception for defective yeti.
On some promotional blurb I heard about yesterday: the suggestion that companies can use blogs to "reinforce brands".
I ignored it at the time, but it stuck in my mind.
I think that blogs are better used to soften brands. To move away from shouting at people and towards conversation. From saying, "this is who we are and this is our big idea", towards "what do you think of this?".
Reinforcing also seems to belong to a worldview that treats brands as solid things, to be controlled. Just like "brand building" and "brand architecture". I think it's more interesting to see them as organic, to be influenced.
[AFTERTHOUGHT]Maybe even talk of "softening" a brand is the same mistake in new clothes. More on this later.
[UPDATE]As I say in below in response to Aleah, I think using blogs in a calculated to change the brand sounds like barking up the wrong tree.
January 19, 2005
It won't come as a big surprise that I'm not a big fan of heavy duty intellectual property protection. The idea of owning ideas just doesn't do it for me.
So I had a good laugh at Tony Goodson's analogy for the likes of the recording industry.
The image that comes to mind is of a drowning man on a life raft, in a storm, holding on to a massive chunk of gold, next to a rescue ship.
"Sir, please let go of the gold."
"No, the gold is mine."
"Sir, I know the gold is yours, but you're sinking in the life raft."
"The gold is all mine, I tell you."
"Sir, I know the gold is all yours, but you have to let go of it, either hand it to us and we can help you, or you'll have to toss it off the life raft."
"Well if I can't have it then no one can have it.........Bwahahahaha!"
Secrecy, surprise and seduction
Prompted by the surprise launch of the latest Apple gizmo, Kathy Sierra has a characteristically well-written post saying you can take transparency too far.
What do you risk when you put up video of your meetings, project notes, discussion transcripts, product development process details, or even just photos or a webcam of your "team at work"?I see what she means, after all who wants a life with no surprises?
Do I really want to know what's behind the curtain?
What if it sucks the suspense out of the whole thing? What if surprise and delight are intimately connected, and that removing all the surprise takes away much of the delight?
Still, it did remind me of a point someone made about the difference between Improv Comedy and Stand Up comedy. Stick around, I'll connect all this up eventually.
So in a stand up show, the comedian tells a joke. Let's say he's a great comedian and it's a great joke with a terrific, unexpected punchline. The audience roars... because the audience has been surprised. The comedian, on the other hand, isn't surprised.
In Improv, the most delightful moments are when a player says or does something spontaneously, not actually trying to be funny, but suddenly everyone laughs. A connection has been made, some unintended meaning inferred, whatever. Now everyone gets a surprise, both audience and comedian. In that moment, it's no longer him and us, it's just us.
Now that's a kind of surprise you don't get by keeping secrets. You get it by being spontaneous, open and willing to play and willing to hand over control.
When I'm facilitating, these are the best moments... when I get surprised, when people surprise themselves.
I suspect something of this sort is what happens for the open source, let-it-all-hang out brigade. It's not necessarily superior, but it's different.
And I have to say, for every Apple-esque surprise from brands, I think there are a lot more anti-climaxes from marketeers who clumsily tease us, like they have a big treat in store, and then deliver something clunky becuase they haven't really connected with us.
A bit more Sauce
James has posted a bit more info about our planned workshop
Johnnie Moore and I are holding Open Sauce workshops in London for companies interested in exploring marketing in a networked world.We've pencilled in the first for 17 February in the morning but we'll take reservations once we've finalised a few details. And we'll both be blogging our experience of creating and running it.
We will clear the mists surrounding the world of blogs and consumer generated media (which I know many UK marketeers find completely bemusing) and tackle some of the bigger issues involved in the growing world of open source marketing, which you can read about here, here and here.
The sessions will be fun, practical and easy going. There will be lots of case studies from the US (where even the head of GM writes a blog) and some exercises designed to help you add a little bit of Open Sauce to your next marketing plan or brief.
I'm a Maven
Christopher Carfi says I'm a Maven, alongside some other rather more illustrious examples. Thanks Christopher!
[AFTERTHOUGHT]Now if Christopher could just sort me out with the Connector and Salesman, a la tipping point, that would be nice.
For those reading this blog thru a newsreader... I've been revising the templates for feeds and this has led to posts being renewed unnecessarily. Apologies if that's been a nuisance; things should be back to normal with the next post. I hope.
January 18, 2005
Eyes off the prize?
I think what Doc Searls says here about the price of copyright is pretty damn important.
Evelyn reflects on the books that people are buying, and aren't.
It makes you wonder doesn't it, if marketers - heck, businesspeople altogether - are altogether in left field and totally missing out on engaging and connecting with each and every one of their constituents by cautiously tiptoeing on the surface of life. Hmmm...This strikes a chord with me. I sometimes find the mundanity of business-speak quite at odds with what I know of the deeper
[UPDATE] I suppose terrible spelling is part of that humanity...
I've never met Chris Corrigan and he lives 5000 miles away. And sometimes what he says touches me deeply. Today, he talks about patience.
If you have some, you can read the whole thing. If you don't, here's a snippet
Patience is an absolutely required leadership skill. Things take time to happen, this is obvious, but more than that, if you are truly leading from a position where you are giving away your power to people, patience allows both for people to take hold of it and for collective intelligence to come into play.
Determinedly Detracting Delta
Katherine Stone does some determined detracting of Delta Airlines.
Delta's new full-page ad campaign for its launch of Simplifares really grates on my nerves. The ad features the headline "How one airline is changing everything," as well as the company's new slogan "Good goes around." Are you kidding me?!
As a Delta Medallion member and resident of Atlanta, I feel I can discuss Delta with a fair amount of authority. Firstly, on the headline "How one airline is changing everything", Delta clearly was not the airline that changed everything. Have they never heard of Southwest Airlines or JetBlue? If we were being perfectly honest here, the ad might have read "How one airline finally got the picture" or "How one airline eventually got a clue before going completely bankrupt".
Here's a fascinating insight, gleaned by Beth at Headrush from Mind Wide Open.
Whenever you remember something, you are actually changing the memory of it. When you remember something by thinking about it or reliving the event, you're essentially creating a whole new memory based on the old one, plus everything that's happened in between that has shaped you and new associations that may happen since you're remembering the event in a different context: All of our remembered pasts are transformed by the present.Whoa. I think that's an argument for paying attention to the present and not living in the past!
A new twist on transparency
Adam Curry is in mortal combat with his would-be broadband provider. After being in telephone-tennis with them for weeks now, he proposes a new tactic. Record the conversations and podcast them.
What a great idea.
Marketing Week’s ‘2005 Forecast’ features a lovely piece of marketing astrology byA bit more:
Sian Davies of the Henley Centre.
She tells me that I am experiencing a ‘duty to transform’, to evolve, to nip and tuck and preen. In short, to find myself. I am also now seeking not just ‘time’ but also ‘energy control’ – valuing the quality of my experiences, just as much as the quantity. And to enable these two to happen, I am seeking out ‘domestic professionals’ - tapping the expertise as well as the efficiency of others...
In short, according to my astrologer, I am becoming a mini business. Self-obsessed, and with a ruthless focus on the bottom line. Some days I even feel like this.
If my suppliers aren’t up to scratch, they get very short shrift.
The only trouble is…once I’ve outsourced everything…what will actually be left?
Wife? Family? Friends? In short just a few supplier relationships.
Even as we become more discerning, so the organizations which exist to serve us are accelerating away, becoming less and less humane.
Automating, aligning, optimising and offshoring. Wrong-sizing themselves into a virtual oblivion.
In the absence of real engagement, by way of an apology, they leave behind a few crumbs of consolation.
To appease our ‘duty to transform’, the sell us emotive dreams and ethical aspirations.
“Use this extract of endangered orchid shampoo; feel 30 years younger.”
To fulfil our need for more ‘energy’, they offer us pre-packaged fun.
“Tired of take-away; try our dinner party in a box, complete with ginseng and guarana.”
To meet our need for ‘domestic professionals’, they offer us bejewelled subservience, at a price.
“Bored of tying your own shoelaces; try our new ‘ultrabow’ service, staffed exclusively by ex-royal marines – at your bed-side by 7.30 sharp.”
These insubstantial crumbs don’t make a satisfying meal.
The more elaborate their promises, the more their vaporous reality falls short...
Engage the resistance
That's often the best way to deal with bloggers who criticise you.
Talk to them.
I just commented to Hugh, sometimes rudeness is just an angry person's way of saying hello...
I like this line of thought. I'd add that another dodgy idea is stereotyping. You could make the mistake of saying customers are other-than-us; or you could think the customers-are-always-right. Nah. Just watch the TV programme Airline; some of the customers on that show are just as outrageous as the dodgy plumbers they like to nail on consumer TV shows.
More on BzzAgent
I met Dave Balter, the founder of BzzAgent here in London yesterday.
I liked Dave in person, and I give him a lot of credit for his willingness to converse with his critics ("engaging the resistance" is what I call that). We swapped stories and reflected on the way of the world, and I found out a bit more about his business.
I still have my doubts about some aspects, but I was impressed by the thoroughness with which Dave has implemented the idea. He's got 75,000 people signed up, and I was interested that he finds most of them are not taking up the reward points they get for their work. He's obviously doing something that appeals to intrinsic motivation. He's thinking of stopping the reward system, or swapping to making charitable donations which I think is a smart idea.
What Tom criticises is the motivation of Bzzagents in promoting products, especially if they don't declare their interests. I guess that remains in question.
But if I were a middle ranking marketing guy trying to get my head over the corporate parapet, I'd give serious thought to pruning my market research budget and/or my ad budget and trying out one of Dave's campaigns. Oh, and Dave produces more metrics than you could shake a stick at, for those who have a secret altar on which to worship the Lord of Measurability...
And yes, it would be better for a business to create products that generate their own buzz without having to "rent" their boosters. Then again, I get the feeling that you couldn't really get many of these folks to promote stuff they actually don't like (except for the odd nutter demonstrating "loyalty beyond reason").
And compare this to boring old market research, where you can spend thousands for some theoretical information.. whereas this way you actually get a ton of feedback and get to sell some stuff in the process.
Whether the world needs to sell more stuff... well that's a whole different question.
Dave's thinking of setting up in the UK, and wonders if it would work here.
January 17, 2005
Knowing the Psalm
Here's a great story from Terry Pearce's Leading out Loud. Actor Charles Laughton was attending a large family Christmas party. The host asks each guest in turn to recite a favourite passage they associate with Christmas.
Laughton's turn came near the end, and he recited, in his beatifully trained voice, the Twenty-third Psalm. Everyone applauded his effort, and the process continued. Within a few minutes, everyone had participated apart from an elderly aunt, who had dozed off in a corner of the room. The family gently woke her, explained what was going on , and asked her to take part. She thought for a moment, and then began in her shaky voice, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want..." The room hushed as she continued, and when she finished, tears were dripping down every face.
Upon leaving, one of the younger members of the family thanked Laughton for coming and remarked on the difference in the response of the family to the two recitations - in one case, appreciation; in the other, deep connection and involvement. "How do you account for it?" asked the young man, shaking his head. Laughton looked at him and remarked simply, "I know the psalm; she knows the Shepherd."
Worst idea ever?
...asks The Londonist, reporting Benylin's campaign to have us download different sorts of coughs as ringtones. Their website emits coughing noises too.
The PR spin is that they're trying to educate us about choosing the right treatment for different coughs. I wonder how much Benylin you need to drink to think this way?
Benylin advise us it's good to treat coughs so we don't irritate people. As Londonist comments, "oh the irony".
The always interesting ecustomerserviceworld newsletter (I think that link is valid for two weeks) talks about Gallup's survey methods.
One Gallup study demonstrated that a mid-sized bank could add $256 million to its total of customer balances on deposit by drawing higher (emotional) attachment scores from 50,000 customers.Reading this reminds me of Denis Healey's comment about watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff... in your new car.
Should I be glad that here is some ammunition to show companies that emotions matter?
Or frustrated, because this is such a specious figure?
I tend to the latter. I question the idea that intangibles can be measured in this way. In life, much is unknowable and we must continuously use judgement and intution to progress. We don't really need statistics to be good at dealing with people. Instead of spending a lot of money on measurements like this, I'd suggest a company spend more time really talking to its customers. Not "surveying" them.
Some will say, ah yes, but these figures are useful for dealing with hard-nosed businessmen who only value things with a price on them. That's a classic shadow conversation. To the extent I want to engage with this, my guess is this: a businessman who doesn't believe in valuing feelings isn't going to look at this figure, having a damascene conversion and suddenly decide to be emotionally intelligent.
[UPDATE] Tom Guarriello expands on this theme with his usual eloquence:
Not that these experiences can't be described empirically, just that they can't be reduced to numbers and still retain their human qualities, which is, after all, what all of us are interested in learning about.
Life unfolds wonder
Sun-caressed Hugh berates God:
Where’s the big idea?
January 16, 2005
What is the sound of one Romanian clapping?
Good comment from Stefan Liute in Romania:
AT&T, in conduct highly becoming a lumbering corporate giant, once again proves one can never be too bland when it comes to verbal identity: they seem to be trademarking "It’s Not Just VoIP. It’s AT&T VoIP" as a slogan for their, well, VoIP services.Well whatever the quality of their phone lines, it doesn't sound like they're having one of Hugh's Smarter Conversations.
Clap-clap-clap-clap... Wonderful work of consensus-driven branding.
I had a great meeting in the Organic Pub with James Cherkoff. We're pressing ahead with our idea of running a workshop for clients. It's to explore how to make the most of Open Source marketing. (Marketing that breaks the traditional barriers which used to keep stakeholders in organisations apart).
Perhaps it was the beer, but we've decided to call this event Open Sauce. A foolish pun but it amused us both and will make for a nice logo - we still have a bit of old-style marketing about us. I quite like the second meaning of sauce - as in cheeky, irreverent.. I think that's part of the mix for success.
We're going to do a first run in the next few weeks and see how it goes from there.
I'm looking forward to working with James and I hope for more collaborations with fellow bloggers in future.
I find it very hard to make sense of my site statistics, but I usually find the list of popular search phrases contains suprises. Here are the top phrases that led searchers to this site so far in January. I can't begin to speculate if they liked what they found, especially those searching for the sixth item.
7.5% supersize me
2.7% sunny delight
2.0% john moore
1.8% expanding breasts
1.8% johnnie moore
1.6% fosbury flop
I wonder what other bloggers have in their Top Ten?
Submarine warfare and flow vs obsession...
I have spent much of the last couple of days roving the oceans of the world in a submarine. I confess to sinking a great many ships and submarines as well as shooting down a variety of aircraft and several Zeppelin-like dirigibles. I'd like a number of factories, houses, power generators and one medium-sized dam to be taken into account. In mitigation, I would only say that I have, in the process, experienced a number of sinkings and died many times.
I mention this not with pride but in the hope that by socialising this neurotic behaviour, I might stop myself from spending another minute doing it. Yes, I suppose rambling in a blog is a questionable example of socialising, but there it is.
I realise that computer games are highly addictive and on the whole I keep away. But periodically, I have to indulge and the pattern is familiar. It starts out as fun, and remains so for a while... and then I realise it's 2 in the morning, I've not actually eaten for 8 hours... and I'm not really enjoying myself any more.
Computer games do create a kind of flow state... you get immediate feedback and the level of challenge easily adjusts to the point where it's neither to easy nor too hard. At some point, however, this satisfying experience crosses over into obsession - and I don't always notice that happening!
Market research: a waste of talent?
I took part in a market research street interview on Friday. I was ushered into a room over a pub and was sat in front of a Tablet PC.
It seems these days, after you've been recruited, they don't even interview you. You have to sit and answer multiple choice questions on a PC. The process is pretty dull, and the questions reflect the clumsy mindset of brand management: "is such-and-such a brand for people like you?" Of course, soon I'm ticking answers without much care as I want to get finished, collect my free Mars bar, and leave!
I always feel a bit sorry for the people (mostly women) who do this work, I got the feeling they were bright people doing a boring job. Not the execs who do the powerpoint at the end of it all, but the street interviewers. The ground troops.
In fact, I always have this feeling about the folks at the sharp end of doing research - friendly, persistent, capable people doing work of little real value. Just how excited can someone get asking people to sit at a computer and say if they've seen ads of a tortoise with a diet coke on its back? OK, you could treat it as a zen exercise in attention I suppose, but apart from that?
Of course, the end product of all this effort are some crisp looking numbers. I can see the Powerpoint now: Fantastic! Another 3% slightly agree that the Ford Focus is a car!
Sure companies want, maybe need, to track awareness yadda yadda. But it all seems a bit of a waste to talent to me.
What would I do instead? I think someone at GM has a few thoughts.
January 14, 2005
the current New Yorker has a brilliantly reported, eye-popping piece, "Battle Lessons: What the Generals Don't Know." It's a report on the way in which junior officers in Iraq are using the Web to teach each other—in real time—the tricks of survival in modern urban warfare. The boomer senior leaders are not the Web fiends the Gen-X junior officers are; moreover the claim is made (accurately, I think) that Gen-X officers are directionally less hierarchical than their boomer bosses—and more inclined to figure things out for themselves regardless of received doctrine.
More space deadline looms
Now that I've finished my tax return, the next deadline looms: sending in my proposal to Todd for my More Space essay/chapter/thinkpiece thingy. I'm definitely more of a starter than a finisher so the fact that Todd's cracking the whip a bit is probably a good thing.
I'm quite sure that what I eventually write, and what I propose now, will be at variance with each other. This is, incidentally, one of the points I'll be making in the piece.
My working title is going to be, as already hinted, Simple principles, lightly held. This will be a licence for me to enthuse about Improv and the virtues of living in the present whilst providing an excellent excuse for the many ways in which my blog demonstrates my inconsistency in living up to these ideals.
One of the more serious points will be to highlight the difference between things that are complicated and things that are complex. This will owe a lot to the megabrain that is Dave Snowden. He wrote this heavy essay on the topic, and here's what I blogged in response earlier this year
Far too many people don't get this, and waffle about metrics, obsessing with narrow measures and making dubious correlations to "prove" their latest ideas "work", without looking at the broader context. In Britain, our Health Service and education system have been plagued with the very worst kind of shallow target setting and performance measurement. Marketing is awash with dreary mechanistic models that reduce the subtle wonders of human relationships to things like "value drivers" (they sound pretty horrid, don't they!). This - to my mind - is part of a desperate effort to run away from the complex by treating it as merely complicated, coralling it into the familiar domain of the knowable, the safe hunting ground of the Experts who Know What To Do who delight in its complications as it allows them to seem so clever.I shall no doubt detour to nail some examples of how the world of branding is awash with these complicated models.
I'm sure that whatever Malcolm Gladwell is saying in his new book will have to be factored in.
I'm going to talk a lot about Improv because this is what most excites me in all the work I do. Improv is a good example of simple principles, lightly held generating wonderfully rich drama.
The title is a nod to David Weinberger's Small Pieces, Loosely Joined, though I imply no endorsement on his part. I think the approach will fit well into his wonderful evocation of how a networked world actually operates best.
I'm going to want to use some lovely pictures, and I think I'll ask my good pal Julian Burton to help out with this. I hope Todd's budget will run to colour reproduction...
I've not got my head around how I'm going to write, but I would like to try to embody the principles of Improv and collaboration whilst still taking personal responsibility for the end product.
And I want it to be fun to read.
Comments, brickbats, wild projections of your neuroses onto my personality all welcomed. I'm quite partial to chocolate cake, too.
Blink is clearly a must-read. But until I get round to it, thanks to Paul Goodison for this snippet.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his new book Blink, takes a look at how people make snap decisions.Ain't that the truth. Far too much effort goes into unravelling the reasons for a person's success on the highly dubious assumption that the person concerned actually knows the reasons.
"We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We're a bit to quick to come up with explanations for things we don't really have an explanation for."
This becomes quite apparent when we interview experts... When we interview them, we are asking them to peep into their subconscious (their "locked door") and to come up with explanations for their actions. But its difficult for experts to figure out why they do what they do -- they can't open their "locked door" -- so they end up telling us only the most plausible story, which as Gladwell describes, can be far from the truth.
More grist to my simple principles, lightly held mill.
Seth Godin has a typically pithy post about mob justice in blogs.
1. controversy is fun to writeYes, I guess blogs can work that way. In groups, I call it ratpacking. It's not fun to be on the end of it.
2. controversy is fun to read
3. piling on is safe and fun
4. undoing 1, 2 and 3 is no fun, hard work and easy to avoid.
When I was a kid, there was a fair amount of mob justice. A bunch of kids would spread a rumour, a posse would appear, ask no questions, beat the crap out of you and move on.
A friend of mine is now in a similar situation (and, as Arlo Guthrie famously said, "you may find yourself in a similar situation..."). And the question is, what should he do.
If he takes the time to point out to those bloggers that they're wrong, that they've taken one data point and blown it out of proportion while ignoring the facts (and there are many facts that they've ignored) he's just adding fuel to the fire. "Of course you'll deny it," they've said to him on the phone, "that just proves we're right".
Bloggers love a good fight. They love the give and take and the comments and the links. So my friend keeps his mouth shut and waits for it to blow over.
And it will blow over. Blogging is about speed, and no news is bad news if you're in the hunt for an easy score.
So that's the right way to deal with the mob, but it's not fair. It sucks, actually. The mob wins and nobody learns anything.
I'm curious to know what specific incident Seth's talking about. Without that information, I don't see how to offer a useful response to the story... expect to say, that specifically identifying a ratpack and stating your own objections to it, may be the only thing any one of us can do to stop it.
And yes, maybe it will just blow over.
January 13, 2005
I seem to be provoking more comments these days. So for the real enthusiasts, I've added an RSS feed of comments.
(RSS feeds are a way of getting the content of this and many other sites into a thing called an aggregator. If you read many sites, especially weblogs, this can save you a lot of time. The aggregator I use is Sharpreader. This post by Elise explains this more.)
This amount of geeky fiddling usually means only one thing: I've got a dreary task looming and I'm engaging in all sorts of distractions instead of biting the bullet. In this case, it's my annual income tax return.
The origin of potato chips
I've just received a delightful gift from my friends at On Your Feet.
A tiny box is wrapped in a strip of paper, bearing four stories. Here's one
One day in 1853, a diner at Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, New York, refused to eat an order of french fries because they were too thick. The chef, George Crum, fried a thinner batch. But the customer also rejected these. Crum decided to teach the diner a lesson. He sliced a potato paper-thin and fried it so heavily that it could not be cut with a fork. But the customer loved them. Soon other customers were asking for potato chips.(That's crisps for us limeys, of course) The other tales give the origins of band aid, velcro and tea, in simlar tone and fashion.
I opened the little box and inside was an eraser, bearing the motto "Make Mistakes".
Brands, dominance and, er, tragedy
As soon as we write up a great case history of how a brand narrowed its focus, owns a word in the mind and dominates a market, the brand’s managers go out and expand the brand which greatly weakens its power and many times destroys it. Great brands like Toys R Us, Mercedes-Benz, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have all fallen victim to this tragedy.Dang those brands, for not behaving according to the brand experts' idealised models. How dare they succumb to the inevitable trials of life by having a few hiccups instead of following the doctor's orders?
After all, there are so many words in my mind - and many of them still aren't owned by corporations.
And I'm experiencing choice and variety in far too many markets these days. Why can't someone come and dominate them? I'm sure they'd also make the trains run on time.
Good heavens, instead of dominating me, BMW is trying new things. And some of them aren't working perfectly.
Laura calls this a tragedy. And who am I to disagree?
Money and happiness
Curt Rosengren has a nice post summarising some more research suggesting money and happiness don't go hand-in-hand. Makes sense to me.
January 12, 2005
A life well led, a lead well followed
There's something about the Blog of Death's short obituary on Ed Earnest that touched me.
Edward Earnest believed in giving people second chances. Forty years ago, a prison warden and a mental health specialist gave him one that changed his life.
I'm not backing the bid
May I place on record my thanks to the powers-that-be here in London for the constant advertising instructions to Back the Bid (for the 2012 Olympics). Thanks also for spending my transport pounds on incredibly lurid yellow seat covers on tube trains reminding me of their wise orders.
Apparently, spending money on yellow seat covers is justified because if London hosts the Olympics, it will have to improve transport. Obviously the powers-that-be understand why it makes more sense to spend my money hosting the fat cats of the IOC instead of er... just spending it on better transport.
I have thought very carefully about these well-intentioned instructions. And call me a troublemaker but I am politely declining to do as I'm told. I'm not backing the bid. Nor linking to their site since it will only encourage them.
If others want to back the bid that's fine. They may be right and I may be wrong about the value of it. But can we please acknowledge that there's an argument about this. I don't like public money being spent to put one side of the debate and not the other.
Thanks to Hugh for this.
Tom Guarriello has been posting some good thinking about rules. Here's a bite but try the whole steak if you can.
At first blush, we think that rules are designed to exercise control over the actions of those subject to them. And, that's certainly true. But think about rules in games. While they're established to control behavior, at a deeper level they're designed to create a world, a place within which the game can be played...Yes, people sometimes make up rules as if they will automatically generate that which they prescribe. Actually, I think we could think of them as - in Improv lingo - an offer. Which others will accept or block in a whole variety of ways.
So, if you were setting out to develop a set of rules, one of the keys would be to determine what kind of world you're trying to design; what "game" you're playing...
Tom continues that businesses want to create profits and that
Maybe, the better question might be, "how do you want your system to behave in order to maximize the prospects of it producing profit? What must it be able to do well to deliver profit in your business?"And then suggests
what are the characteristics of the best such systems? How about these?I enjoyed this, simple principles for a complex world.
I'm sure there are more, but let's start with those.
(And if I could persuade Tom to put out a full RSS feed, my cup would overflow.)
Creative approach to patents
Michael Herman blogs about IBM's decision to waive enforcement on 500 patents, making a useful distinction between patent right and patent enforcement. His summary:
Patents and open source, profit and commons. Ownership and self-interest are maintained, boundaries and body intact. AND... value, profit and well-being are maximized by offering, sharing and taking credit in commons, communities and markets. This is exactly the kind of mutuality that we must and will be developing more and more, as businesses feed communities for profit and community activists come together in markets like the small Change News Network.
Gun for hire; only slightly used...
Paul Goodison is looking for work.
So, I am looking, ideally a strategic role, in either marketing or knowledge management and possibly with connections to Internet technologies (websites, software, hardware) but defintely something that allows me to use my considerable experience of taking ideas / products from inception through business case, design (particularly customer experience and process) and implementation. Ideally based within less than an hour of Farnborough in Hampshire, UK although willing to relocate if the right role is available.As Paul points out, it might have generated more PR if he could have got himself sacked for blogging. But perhaps it would be even better to get hired for blogging. He certainly deserves to be.
The value of my blog
Declan heard about me from my blog, and decided on the basis of the ramblings here - especially the more passionate ones about Lovemarks - that we should meet. And what a great conversation we've just had. Lots of common threads and the prospect of some interesting work together. Declan is keen on faciliation too and it would be fun to see what we can develop between us.
He also left me thinking about what he calls The Art of Abandonment. A great theme, not a million miles apart from the idea that The Moose Will Provide. In order to change, we sometimes have to let go of our certainty and be in chaos before a new certainty comes along.
Feeds, revenue, and paying attention.
David and Shawn at adpulp got stuck in to my comment about RSS Feeds. (RSS is a way of sharing the content of a blog or other webspace without folks having to visit the site - see Elise's summary here for more.) Shawn makes some interesting points in this comment, which looks at the issues of satisfying readers whilst generating some kind of payback.
I don't have any magic answers to the questions... please treat this as a rambling semi-response.
I know I far prefer a full feed if I can get one. Figuring out how to generate revenue from advertising is not easy, and I'm not thinking about it for my own site.
I wonder if this is the trend we're dealing with: It's getting harder to persuade people to pay for good content, either with their money or with their time for going through the clicks/subscriptions etc. Not impossible, but harder.
The way I use the web, I'm fairly focussed on a kind of dialogue with other bloggers where we're all sharing on a like-for-like basis. I engage with their content because I'm interested and we pay each other not money but attention. Sometimes that attention is not made manifest in comments or clickthroughs, but it's there. We're getting/giving a lot of attention and no money is changing hands. We each bear the (for me anyway) relatively small cost of our own bandwidth as the admission price to this talkfest.
For David and Shawn, maybe a different set of criteria apply because AdPulp sounds like more than a blogger, though not on the scale of a major business (not yet, anyway!).
I'll add that for me, my blog has actually "monetised" but in a quite unexpected way. In the form of a well-paid international research project, courtesy of a fellow blogger, Jennifer Rice. I'd never have known Jennifer but for our casual swapping of ideas and comments in blogs.
Advertising seems like a very transactional way to monetise a form that can be so powerful for creating relationship: and relationships have value beyond money - but in my case they've included it too.
and i thought thank god my readers dont give a shit about ads on the busblog - and they probably would prefer them to me asking them for their hard earned cash.
let the corporations pay, they'd probably say.
January 11, 2005
Scoble vs PR firms
Interesting, if mischievous, comparison of Scoble's web presence vs large PR firms, in which Scoble wins, hands down. Yeah I know we could write lots of caveats and we're not comparling like with like. But it's food for thought.
(Via Scoble's blog)
(Of course it's ironic me pointing to this on a day I'm spewing out entries like a mad thing)
I just wanted to say, and I know this thought is not original
If you're doing an RSS/Atom feed, I'm way more likely to read, comment, ping and in all other ways engage with you, if you offer me the choice of a full feed instead of extracts.
No names, no pack drill.
Blogging and truth
In her post Authenticity and all costs?, Aleah asks
As freelancers or business owners, our "boss" is our client base. With every blog post, we take the chance that what we say may not be well received. Some of us have stepped lightly or taken the high road by keeping our thoughts benign. Some have opted to speak openly about numerous smoking barrels - nevermind the aftermath.I make this stuff up as I go along. No seriously, I do. I edit my posts, I tend to tone the language down a bit, I don't set out to offend (ok, there may be one or two exceptions to that). And... I don't think placating imagined potential clients makes for fun writing or reading.
I'd like to think in the quest for wisdom and enlightenment, truth shall prevail. Problem is, everyone has his / her own version of that truth.
Will you take the chance just to speak from the heart, or are you confidently rail sitting to avoid ostracizing clients or being fired?
As a sweeping generalisation, I prefer to think people are more tolerant than we give them credit for. And when dogs greet each other by barking furiously, only to end up sniffing bottoms, they're doing what humans do too - though we might use words to achieve the same goal.
But I'm a free agent. I'm sure it may not be so easy for employees.
New York bound
I'll be in New York at the end of the month, for one week. Anyone interested in connecting there, let me know. I'm hoping to do some Improv whilst in town. Also available for speeches, bar mitzvahs etc.
Isn't that the point of (traditional) branding i.e. to provide a shortcut to decision making for consumers of products? If we had to take into account such context wouldn't it completely slow down all our decision making processes?Yes, brands can be shortcuts. If I buy a designer label jacket, I guess I'm saving myself the bother of learning some fashion sense. And of course, we need shortcuts, generalisations etc to get through life. As Paul says, we can't spend our lives testing the context for all the actions we take. That's why my mantra is simple principles, lightly held.
I am not agreeing its correct to do this BTW rather suggesting that most people don't actively think about context but rather respond almost instictively based upon previous experience and that this is what 'branding' exploits?
Of course, lies are often a shortcut too. So a person might decide he won't open the whole can of worms about how tired he is of a friend's company, he'll make up some excuse about being busy tonight. I don't know about you, but I find over time that lying gets to be hard work. Systemically and longer term, I think the truth is a better shortcut.
What's happening to brands is that transparency means that if your shortcut is baloney, it's highly likely that someone, somewhere is going to spot it and say so. Hopefully that will means brands will adapt to be more reliable shortcuts than they have in the past.
Of course truth is relative blah blah, not everyone shares opinions yadda yadda, but you get my drift right?
As well as More Space, I'm a participant in Jon Strande's 100 Bloggers. 25 of us write a couple of pages for a book, then invite a friend to do the same in sequence. Repeat twice to generate 100 bloggers. That should be simple enough!
First refusal to be my compadre in this has to be Tony Goodson. Tony was the one who introduced me to blogging, god bless him. And it'll be fun to send the chain down under.
UPDATE: Skyped Tony. He's in. And he's got a great idea for who to invite next... a friend he doesn't know yet.
January 10, 2005
Future of agencies
Hugh's been writing about the business model of ad agencies and how it's becoming defunct.
Partly, this is about revenue being based on promotional activity; meaning agencies get rewarded for making noise rather than supporting innovation; for dressing things up rather than seeing the potential of the gaps.
The other part, I think, is that agencies are stuck thinking: we're the smart ones, let us come and put some of our ideas into your business.
I don't think either part will work so well in a conversational economy. There, great ideas will probably evolve from the lively, smart conversations companies have - directly - with their customers.
For me, smart conversations require a certain amount of courage, taking risks to speak uncomfortable truths. That's not a strong suit for many agencies, stuck in the wishful thinking business of dressing mutton as lamb.
I also think smart conversations allow us to explore with others the things we don't know. Stepping into the unknown is not second nature to a business that likes to bluff...
Fundamental Attribution Error
I do try quite hard to avoid jargon but I'll make an exception for the "Fundamental Attribution Error". Because it's just so interesting.
I've been reading Crucial Confrontations. Based on oodles of research in field, the authors explain how to confront promise-breakers without the ground swallowing us all up. I'm not a fan of how-to books in general, but I thought this had a lot going for it.
It's particularly good on the Fundamental Attribution Error - a basic flaw in human thinking that means we ascribe the behaviour of others to their personality rather than examining the context. Which generally causes grief in difficult conflicts.
Example: We think, so-and-so is late for a meeting because he's a lazy good-for-nothing who doesn't respect me... rather than noticing it's snowing outside. Well that's a crude example but you get my drift.
As the authors point out, we're good at blaming other people's behaviour on their character, whilst excusing our own faults because of the difficult circumstances we work in.
I guess this partly explains our celebrity-obsessed culture. And the fascination of the business media with hero-CEOs, interestingly challenged by Jim Collins in Good to Great.
In Britain, consider the hoohah surrounding football managers. It fascinates me that a Manager is a great success with one team for a season or two, and gets lauded to the skies. Then he gets poached at great expense by a second team, where he's a flop. That's the Error at work; we think the success of a team is down to a genius manager and ignore all the complex context in which he operates.
Of course, this also works for organisations/brands. (As reflected in Cliff Allen's comment on my recent post about Southwest, filling in the complex context that's easily ignored.)
A lot of branding is an effort to exploit the Fundamental Attribution Error - to support the idea that if we just have faith in the brand, we don't have to worry about all the detail.
And this cuts both ways. Watching the TV show Airline, either the UK or US version, is a pretty convincing lesson in how manipulative customers are. They ascribe their flight difficulties to the wicked airline banning them from flying rather than accept the context: for example, that they were late checking in because the roads were congested.
It's interesting that Crucial Conversations has the usual list of celebrity endorsements on its back cover. So they don't mind using the FAE in some cases either. And who can blame them.
Perhaps calling it an Error is a bit loaded. Evolutionists might argue that there's a very good reason we think this way. Certainly, we do need mental shortcuts to navigate life.
Simple ideas then. But lightly held, please...
January 8, 2005
How does branding really happen (2)
Well its taken me a while to get to part 2 of this. But then I suppose part of my point here is that not much in life unfolds neatly according to a plan. This series of posts may end with this one or it may continue. I don't know.
Anyway, I wanted to pick on another daft aspect of the advertising/branding business: the pitch. Typically, the troubled brand briefs four or five agencies to solve their problem. Those five sweat buckets to create a perfect answer. There is huge pressure to frame the problem as one for which a Big Idea is the solution.
Of course, that flies in the face of the point that life is complex, emergent and unpredictable. And instead of opening a debate, the agencies and client buy into a simplistic notion that some creative masterstroke will transform the brand.
The end result is the sort of trivial nonsense we find in most commercial breaks. That has little to do with reality.
And the idea of a brand developing as a journey, in which a myriad of interactions with customers gradually shape the organisation... well that idea doesn't really fit with the pitch mentality. (Brand as Journey is a metaphor which my good friend Stanley Moss first came up with)
So a bunch of folks get hyped up over a big idea, instead of savouring the challenge of attending to all the little ways in which a brand creates value or meaning for stakeholders...
(I wrote more on pitching here.)
Southwest paradox (2)
A couple more thoughts on The Southwest Paradox I blogged yesterday.
When we chatted, Michael Herman pointed out that the unsuccessful airlines can't be separated clinically from Southwest. They're the context in which Southwest is successful. You could say their failure is a key part of Southwest's success. And simply replicating Southwest will change the context and make the model invalid. (Does this make sense?)
I suppose it's like a phenomenon I've seen in groups. One person in the group takes the role of, say, troublemaker. And often gets scapegoated for it. But if he stops, or becomes compliant, after a while someone else starts causing trouble... as if there is a systemic need for troublemaking, it's not down to one person just being difficult.
If everyone in the group pursued some daft "best practice" for group behaviour, the trouble doesn't get made. But eventually, the system demands some trouble. The model fails.
"How-to" modelling always strips bits of a complex system of some part of their context, rendering the model questionable at best.
This is one reason I dislike all these complicated diagrams that are used to "explain" how to run companies. It seems to me that parts of the puzzle of organisations get modelled in labourious detail and then cut away from all the complex things that feed them. You get clever, complicated, intimidating diagrams that are - quite literally - removed from reality.
Another fragment for my emerging preference for...Simple Ideas, Lightly Held, Joyfully Practised.
January 7, 2005
When you lecture or write using conversational language, your user's brain thinks it's in a REAL conversation!
In other words, if you use conversational language, the listener/reader's brain still thinks it has to hold up its end, so it pays more attention. It really is that simple, and that powerful (at least if you really want to help users pay attention and remember your message)...
If you're using formal language in a lecture, learning book (or marketing message, for that matter), you're worrying about how people perceive YOU. If you're thinking only about the USERS, on the other hand, you're probably using more conversational language.
Customer service improv
Since my return to London, I've reactivated my Google Adwords experiment. Adwords really play to my inner geek, and I enjoy tweaking the ads, the words, the links and the bids to see what works best. As I said before, it seems a really cheap way to learn "phrases that pay".
Anyhow, as a result of recent playing around, I've been moved to quickly put up a page on "Better Customer Service through Improvisation". Essentially, its selling my services in that area, in the hopes of converting some of those clicks.
I'd be interested in any thoughts on how it might be improved...
Pea Soup Wisdom
From Michael Herman's Pea Soup blog under the title Recently Observed:
Under-resting and over-vigilance have a way of getting in the way. Showing up early enough to sit and do nothing before a meeting feels surprisingly kind to self. It really doesn't take long at all, in a genuinely quiet moment, to come back to self, stability and sensation. Life is incredibly resilient, even and especially in the face of the unimaginable and inescapable. It seems more important to be able to pulse between knowing and not knowing than to master either one of them on its own. More and more it seems that the most important leadership act is simply participating in the flow. Elevated subway trains run past Royal Festival Hall. Sitting there in the cafe feels like home sweet chicago.
And not just cos I was sitting there while he made some of these observations.
The Southwest Paradox
I think it was Rob Paterson who first got me thinking about what I now call the Southwest Paradox.
There's Southwest Airlines, very successful as an airline for a very long time. Surrounded for quite a lot of that time by a large number of very unsuccessful airlines.
Southwest does not come across as a secretive company. There's a whole reality TV show showing it warts and all. There's not much about the way it functions that hasn't been examined and described. I'd venture that most of what could be made explicit about how Southwest works has been made explicit.
So it's very interesting that almost no other airline comes anywhere close to Southwest in terms of success.
There seems to be a basic assumption, from B Schools to bookstores, that success is only a matter of modelling something that works, making the process explicit, and copying it. The Southwest Paradox suggests there's something fundamentally faulty in that assumption.
I might also speculate that the quantity of diet books in shops, and levels of obesity, are positively correlated. And the plethora of books on how to be happy may be an indicator of how unhappy we are - despite there being no shortage of advice on the subject.
For my More Space chapter, I think I may kick off with the Southwest Paradox. Whether I go down the "Simple Ideas, Lightly Held" route or the "Organic Branding" route, I think it's a good set up.
And comments, questions and sarcastic remarks are welcome...
January 6, 2005
The idea: 10 bloggers each contribute a chapter to a book. We get 10,000 words to play with, more space than would be normal for a blog. As you'll see from Todd's FAQs, the finished product will be available in html, pdf, mp3 and good old-fashioned-print. The online versions will be free, with some kind of Creative Commons Licence.
I'm looking forward to the challenge.
I've not resolved the exact topic for my own chapter. Possibly I'll write about branding as an organic, co-creative process.
Another idea is to pick up a theme of "Simple Ideas, Loosely Held" (with acknowledgements to Small Pieces, Loosely Joined). This would be in part a counter to the excessive number of how-to books out there, looking at engaging with a complex world without having to generate complicated, over-theoretical solutions. Or having to learn long lists. Or study lots of matrices.
I'll probably kick these ideas around more in the blog over the next few weeks.
And there's a slot for one more blogger to contribute to More Space.
Had a good meeting today with Michael Herman who's in London for a few months. We kicked around thoughts about what makes for good conversations in organisations, the role of improv, presence... that kind of stuff. Michael's the inspiration behind the Small Change News Network - a pretty timely idea for bloggers to chew on:
This site wants to be an online clearinghouse for news and information, connections and contributions -- for ordinary, but passionate, individuals who are starting and running extraordinary community projects. The sCNN wants to connect committed people improving their communities with funding and all kinds of other support. This is about small change that really adds up.
I've recently upgraded to Movable Type 3.14 and made some other changes "under the bonnet" (US:hood). If you run into any problems commenting or tracking back, I'd appreciate an email...
January 5, 2005
Occupational adventure ebooks
I've not linked to Curt Rosengren for ages. Meanwhile, he's been very busy. He now offers two ebooks, one reasonably priced and the other completely free. Well worth a closer look!
Harry Potter and the Mandrake of Doom
I also liked
Not getting it
Mark at fouroboros writes ( And now, The American Marketing Association misses the point)about an email he received from the AMA.
Highlight of said email:
Weblogs, commonly know as blogs, are rapidly gaining momentum and acceptance as credible marketing strategies. Companies are using blogs as customer relationship tools, branding reinforcement, product ideology testing and for creating public relations buzz. However, as blogs enter the mainstream business world, marketers are faced with how to impose a formal structure on blogs including format/strategy, metrics/goals and ROI. If blogging is a legitimate strategy for your company, do you know how to leverage this new media to complement your existing online and offline marketing strategies? What will success mean to your organization?Oh dear, I'm lost for words. At least for any polite ones. Fortunately Mark has found some and here are a few of them
Deafness to tone. The illusion of control. The semblance of feeling. The kabuki of powerpoint. The dragon of ROI. Versus the self-organizing nature of useful, meaningful, sustainable things. Versus the self-organizing nature of, well, of our nature.
Smart conversation: speak for yourself
Another element of smart conversation is that people speak for themselves. I have learnt to be wary of "second-hand" conversations, where person A tells me that person B thinks about me or something I did. Especially when it's a second-hand complaint. I find that families can be particularly skilful at this.
Now here's the thing: most ad agencies are almost by definition masters of the second-hand conversation. They speak on behalf of their clients who, it appears, can't be trusted to speak for themselves. They often hire celebs to speak for their clients to make it even more removed from reality.
And we get the Jamie Oliver nonsense from Sainsbury's that I took a pot at yesterday.
And the same operates in reverse. The agency gathers our response via focus groups to pass on to the client.
So corporations become more cut off from their customers. The agencies get in the way of real conversations.
Compare and contrast weblogs.
January 4, 2005
The Nub passes
Sainsbury's changes tack
The latest TV ad (clip at David Reviews) for Sainsbury's features Jamie Oliver as usual, only there's a distinct change in tone.
Instead of our Jamie doing a pseudo-report on the quality of the food, we now have a psuedo-investigation of Sainsbury's claim to have lowered 6000 prices from last year.
Somehow Jamie's glottal stops (quali'y) and use of f instead of th (fink) don't really convince me of his journalistic credentials.
Oh dear. I've always found celebrity endorsement a weary branding strategy. An admission that the brand itself just isn't interesting enough. This new version compounds the problem by the awkward hitching of an old strategy onto a new one. We've gone from quality-led (sorry, quali'y-led) to price-led and the cracks are showing.
I was quite surprised to find the store manager being interviewed by Jamie conceding that the place might have been too expensive in the past. Whoa there. I suppose I could approve of the honesty of this statement, but you know it doesn't feel very honest to me.
If Sainsbury's really want to admit to having been too pricey in the past I'd like a bit of emotional collatarel. Like an apology for instance. Instead, we get the usual trick of the lover-caught-in-an-affair, a hasty claim to have changed for the better. It's the haste and clumsiness of the whole thing that stands out.
I really doubt anyone at either the agency or Sainsbury's take any pride at all in this ad. Jamie himself looks like a man with a troubled stomach too.
I would hazard that this is the sort of clumsy tactic that the company is having to resort to in an effort to keep the City boys at bay. And we know how impatient those guys are for easy solutions.
It's a shame, I always liked Sainsburys. Used to work for them in fact. There's something a bit undignfied about their current plight and advertising fluff is no solution. In fact, it's a pretty clear sign that the conversations inside Sainsbury's are not very smart at the moment.
Here's what David has to say
The language is deliberately soft but the implication is loud and clear: Sainsbury's has been charging you too much. A quite astounding admission. And it's an approach that may backfire if consumers come to the perfectly reasonable conclusion that Sainsbury's previous message that they had to charge a little more than their rivals in order to achieve better quality was fundamentally false.
Sainsbury's is in danger of becoming the supermarket equivalent of the Conservative Party - willing to say just about anything they think the punters want to hear in a desperate bid to restore their fortunes. And, as with the hapless Tories, it may end in tears.
A bit more on smarter conversations
Hugh's post (see below) prompts me to suggest the following:
Focus groups are rarely, if ever, a way to have a smart conversation with customers.
Showpiece ads about how clever your product is... mostly conversation killers.
90% of all mission statements, and all similar "defintitive" statements idealising a business... about as good for conversation as bad breath.
90% of all books telling you "how to" do things as if life is really just about following instructions... conversational cyanide.
Of course, if you want a conversation, any statement, however simplisitic or provocative, can be treated as an offer. And as some advertisers are learning, the conversation may come to you regardless of your efforts...
Two days ago I said
I yearn for simpler ideas, more lightly held.Well, I wouldn't call Hugh's cartoon poetry exactly, but it comes close. Here's the Extended Edition of Hugh's argument:
Or some nice poetry maybe.
If you're in the advertising/marketing business, the issue isn't about blogs or the internet, or all the "marketing is dead" rants you may hear in the blogosphere.For me, there's no perhaps.
Sure, blogs make markets smarter, the internet makes markets smarter, but so do a lot of other things.
The issue is about how smarter your market is becoming, and how well you are able you to adapt. More importantly, it's how well you can help your clients to adapt. Succeed and thrive. Fail and die. Again, it isn't rocket science.
[PERHAPS:] "Smarter Conversations" is a big piece of the puzzle...
As I said in a comment to Hugh, "YES, Smarter Conversations. I like this idea because it addresses the quality of the conversation. And it relates to all the conversations inside an organisation as well as those with customers.
For me, smarter would have to mean more assertive, direct, honest, heartfelt etc. Not smart as in smart-alec.
On days when I'm feeling more than usually bored of branding and all the branding books and models, I think getting people to talk better (I won't dare say authentically to you) is what needs to happen."
Is this absolutely true? No, of course not; I'm remembering what I said about lightly held, too.
So near, yet so far
James Cherkoff is, thankfully, safe in Sri Lanka.
Liz and I are in Sri Lanka. We arrived in this beautiful country ten minutes before the tsunami did. We watched the waves come in from a restaurant high above the beach. Lucky for us. We haven't seen the news in the last week and are only starting to appreciate the scale of the disaster now. The Sri Lankan people are in a state of shock but are clearly very touched by the support they are receiving from around the world. We are back next week.Evelyn Rodriguez comments there
Yes, when you are there you see a local microcosm and don't realize the global scale of the tragedy
January 3, 2005
Brands... with a conscience?
"Brands with a conscience" may sound like an oxymoron, but bear with me.
This is the title the Medinge Group brand think-tank has given to a selection of organisations that seem to reach beyond the mediocre standards of too many brands these days. (I'm part of the group so partly responsible for this listing).
Here are the brands that have been given this accolade for 2005, with a quick bio lifted from the Medinge press release.
Dilmah Teas Headquartered in Colombo, Sri Lanka. A genuine charitable model has founder Merrill J. Fernando leaving all his money to a foundation governed by a group of trustees and dedicated to serving those most in need. A culture of helping community and workers is a cornerstone of the business philosophy.Of course, these lists are fraught with problems and I don't expect everyone to agree with who's included and who isn't. But I like the diversity of the organisations; I'm a little tired of the America-centric nature of most brand discussions. And it's no co-incidence either that this list is not dominated by stock market giants.
Flexcar Founded in 1999 as a public/private partnership supported by King County, Washington and the City of Seattle, Flexcar provides members with access to a fleet of more than 300 vehicles located throughout major metropolitan areas. It is now the nation's oldest and largest car-sharing company, operating in over 20 cities. A nationwide membership of 20,000 subscribe to the program which reduces, air pollution and energy consumption, and encourages use of public transit as it contributes to sustainable communities.
GrameenPhone GrameenPhone is the largest telecommunications operator in Bangladesh with some 2.1 million subscribers (October 2004), over 90% of subscribers using mobile to mobile services. The company has worked to improve the infrastructure of Bangladesh both in terms of social construction projects and also through helping UNICEF in the development of primary education. However, it is the Village Phone Program which has been most significant, originaed in 1997 by Grameen Telecom and Grameen Bank, which is a micro-credit lending institution. The success of Village Phone has served as a template for developing countries in Africa.
John Lewis Partnership The John Lewis Partnership is not a Limited Company. It is a partnership among 60,000 employees who are far more involved in decision making and benefit sharing than other organisations in the same markets. The company, a major retailer in the UK, has department stores operating under the value proposition of ‘Never Knowlingly Undersold’ as well as a second sub-brand named the Waitrose grocery retail chain. The partnership’s constitution says that they ‘…must take all reasonable steps to minimise any detrimental effect our operations may have on the environment, and to promote good environmental practice.'
Paolo Soleri/Arcosanti Arcosanti is a prototype community in Arizona, just north of Phoenix, founded in 1970 by Paolo Soleri. It posits a broadly-based solution to environmentally appropriate living, encompassing frugality, miniaturization, population growth, efficiency, urban evolution, pollution, conservation, transportation, net energy utilization, social interchange, privacy, food production, preservation of natural habitats, aesthetics, affordable housing, global warming, ultimate recycling, education and world awareness. The community is supported by Soleri’s consulting, a bakery, manufacture and sale of unique metal bells and ceramics, and a performing arts center.
ROMP ROMP is a growing UK fashion label laying bare its entire value-chain, sharing ethical responsibility with its customers. “We actively seek to make elegant clothes beautifully and thereby to enhance and then protect the values of good animal husbandry, environmental respect, and civilised labour law. We wish to reward at source... to open up our systems of production to full traceability so that no practice is hidden from our customers...” By deconstructing every business process, ROMP achieved the first Soil Association certification for Organic Leather, at the same time redefining ‘Organic’ as being about selfless enactment of change in the world.
Semco is really the story of Ricardo Semler, who inherited control of his family’s Brazil-based business, and set about changing every element of the operation to incorporate worker participation. His recent book, Maverick, describes how he shared all information, including all salaries, enabled employees to choose their own wages and bosses, set their own hours, even choose their own IT. He eliminated the role of CEO, and made other innovations. For nearly 25 years, Sr. Semler’s leadership has generated increased productivity, long-term loyalty and phenomenal growth.
Working Assets Working Assets was established in 1985 to help people make a difference through everyday activities like talking on the phone. When customers use one of Working Assets' donation-linked services (Long Distance, Wireless, Credit Card or Online), the company donates a portion of the customer's bill to nonprofit groups. The objective is to build a world that is more just, humane, and environmentally sustainable. In 2003 over $3 million was donated after evaluating hundreds of nominees.
In fact, I think far too little attention is given to successful brands outside the conventional stock-market sector. So that's one up to Medinge, if I say so myself.
Flamingos and tipping points
An ecologist studying flamingos on Kenya ’s Lake Nakuru has noticed an interesting phenomenon. Every year, when the time comes for migration, a few flamingos start the process by taking off from the lake. Since none of the others take any notice, they soon turn round and come back.The author, Chris Johnstone, comments
The next day they try again. This time a few others straggle along with them but, again, the vast majority just carry on with business as usual, so the pioneers return to the lake. This trend continues for a few days. Each time a few more birds join in but, since the thousands of others still take no notice, the migration plan is aborted.
Finally, one day, the same few birds take off again. This time however, the tiny increment to their number - maybe just one extra flamingo - is enough to tip the balance. The whole flock takes flight. The migration begins.
If we apply this concept to our current predicament, it gives rise to an immediate sense of empowerment. Rather than dismissing a small action - ‘what difference will it make?’ - or the role of the individual - ‘what can I do about it?’ - we see that change is actually always propelled by the individual, or that a small action can be an instrumental part of the significant changes that arise through complex processes.I'd not heard of Project Flamingo before - the site will take time to digest.
Seen from that perspective, we are the ones with the power - the power to cast ripples into the pond and become active nodes within a global network; the power to make positive change into a contagious impulse; the power to help build the sort of world we want for our children.
January 2, 2005
Needy Love Marketing
A good post by Tom on dysfunctional relationships in marketing. He asks and answers:
OK. So, if markets are relationships, the question we have to ask is, "Can business relationships be something other than imbalanced, one-way, power-based, and pathetically needy? Can they be some or all of that stuff we talked about a couple of lines ago?" And, by the way, can the conversations that take place in those relationships please sound like something other than a freakin' Ovaltine commercial? Please?
Of course they can. That's what people want. Shit, they'll even pay extra to get it.
Blogs: connection or just "loneliness lite"
What are television, email, chat rooms and blogs if not our lonely selves reaching out for comfort, approval, feedback and distracting noise?It's a good argument. Perhaps this is part of what Stuart Henshall is responding to as he thinks of giving up traditional blogging. Stuart's post has been rattling round in my brain for a couple of days and I think there's something in it.
The lie of each is that we can somehow feel connected by engaging in activities that are, at their heart, isolating. All the page hits, crowded in-boxes and voice mails cannot disguise the fact that when the power is off, we are alone.
Blogging is cool and I enjoy doing it.
And I also want a way to get more of a dialogue (a la David Bohm). This blog, like many others, easily slides into conversations which are talking or reloading. It's harder to get that spirit of thinking together. Stuart is a big fan of Skype and talks a lot about presence which has much to do with what makes dialogue work. Something beyond the bits and bytes on the page. I wonder if I can get more of that sense of deep connection with blogging... let's hope Stuart helps us come up with something.
Manifesto for Growth?
I probably agree with all 43 points here and I appreciate the intention. But I fear that manifestos don't work. At least, not half as well as their authors hope.
It seems to me that children know how to play and how to grow, without resort to 43 injunctions. Do we as adults need a long checklist to do it?
I yearn for simpler ideas, more lightly held.
Or some nice poetry maybe.