Weblog Entries for April 2007
April 30, 2007
I think of Velcro as an analogy for how Web 2.0 works by allowing for lots of little connections. Viewed one way, it's messy. Viewed another it's rather beautiful. And offers the possibility of a lot of grip...
Jack/Zen makes a good point:
In many of the organizations I work in, the overperforming criticize the underperforming and ultimately call for what’s considered the ultimate cure: “holding people accountable.” Just saying the words in a pathetically stern tone warms the hearts of vindicators. What’s curious is how the question is never, “How can we get better at helping these people succeed?”
It takes a comedian...
I'm watching Jon Stewart on Bill Moyers. It's pretty compulsive viewing. It's very rare for a comedian to do serious without it feeling all wrong. Not this guy.
I had a lovely lunch today with Russell "Interesting" Davies. Something he said made me wonder if there was a special word to describe the phenomenon where someone says something which starts to reveal a subtext saying a lot about their world view. Like a subset of irony.
Russell's instance was a guy who complained that Russell didn't really have any ideas but was just lucky enough always to be present when good ideas happen.
I come home to find that Jimmy Cherkoff is back from hols with two quite delightful examples from the world of marketing, as follows:
From Claire Beale in the Independent
There's no doubt that for most big brands, advertising's still the cake. Have you seen the full-length version of Carlsberg's Old Lions TV ad, featuring the best crusty former footballers playing in a pub team? Check it out on YouTube.
From Naresh Ramchamdani in The Grauniad
There are tech-heads who criticise Google as offering an incoherent ragbag of cobbled-together products. I don't know if that's right or not; what I do know is that, sonically, Google joins so nicely to words like "images" and "video" and "maps" and "earth" that its products sound like a family even if they're not.
News Anchor? or Millstone?
Today, he has a great post saying TV news is about to sink under its own infrastructure. He looks at the $14m cost of a network news anchor and makes it sound like a millstone.
I'm repressing a snicker at a different interpretation of the term. Slightly more seriously, I dislike the term tools used to refer to a way of working with human beings. I think it perpetuates the mechanistic myth of organisations.
Anyway, having cleared my throat, it's interesting that newcomers to the survey are corporate blogs and collaborative innovation (oh and consumer ethnography).
I read the Bain description of blogs which was reasonable enough though tinged with a command-and-control sensibility (Ensure consistency with corporate image and product branding; Establish the blog's focus and mission; blogs can strengthen relationships with targeted customer groups and position CEOs and other employees as industry experts).
Social marketing 101
Want to understand the new marketing? Here's the iPod page from amazon, brilliantly analysed by Joshua Porter, showing 16 - count 'em - social features.
Hat tips: Brian Oberkirch, Debbie Weil and Katie Ledger. Katie adds a final point: Of course - lets not forget its about creating great products or services that people actually WANT to talk about.. Yay.
There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.
Hat tip: Dave Snowden
April 29, 2007
Ton Zjilstra reports: Katrina: Foreign Aid 95% Unclaimed
Ton makes a great point here:
The Washington Post uses the word 'allies' where I would write neighbours, friends and/or empathizing and sympathetic strangers. Allies to my mind is war rethoric: it divides the world in allies and enemies, which is a rather simplistic picture of the world. It also feels as if it obscures the reason and motive behind the offered aid. Allies are/feel duty-bound to give it, friends and neighbours help because they want it, because they're human.
Is it just me...
...or is anyone else getting p****d off with the Captcha check on Typepad blogs? It never seems to recognise my first effort.
I'm glad that my friend, Matt Moore, has resumed blogging. Here's his take on control:
There are two lies. One that we are not in control of our own destiny - what happens to us is the responsibility of others. Now this can be true - if you are a new-born infant. The other is that we are solely responsible for the outcomes of our lives. And this is true for no one - unless you gave birth to yourself (which I know to be physically impossible - I have diagrams). The truth is that whilst we are not wholly in control of our lives, no one else is either and we have the biggest stake in looking after ourselves. And the other thing to remember is that everyone else is in this position as well. So welcome to the club - treat the other members nice.Well said. I think a lot of trouble gets caused when we slide to an either/or position on this!
April 28, 2007
I got home this afternoon to find a little envelope. It looked like a greeting card from someone, but closer examination revealed the address was printed - although it was stamped not franked. My original little excitement was immediately replaced by caution.
Inside was a card. The front is shown at the top of this post. "Happy Retirement". Hmmm, that's planning ahead a little, I thought.
Then I opened it, to find this cheery greeting:
Well, thanks a lot Fidelity (for that's the company behind this nasty piece of work). Maybe it's time for someone in your marketing department to take early retirement. (That's a slightly politer version of my original, two word, response.)
April 27, 2007
Just discovered Tom Tomorrow. I'm laughing, but I could be crying.
Must resist, must resist
My name is Johnnie, and I am a Warcraft-aholic.
I've been sobre (US readers: sober) for 4 months, 2 weeks and 3 days. I have not set foot in Azeroth. My Mage remains a mere, pre-extension level 60. My guild has probably forgotten me.
But now this has just arrived in my email:
I am trusting in a higher power. And I don't mean a level 70 Warrior.
Stumbling on happiness
I've just finished Dan Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness. It's chockful of psychological experiments, wittily narrated, with a general message that things are not quite what they seem. When we remember things, apparently only part of our memories are real, and our brains make the rest up. The way we feel at the moment hugely colours how we expect the future to turn out. There are a variety of other ways in which we confuse ourselves about the utility of various choices before us.
I quite like that Gilbert doesn't have the almost-obligatory list of what you should do as a result of his insights. I think that's because his research suggests very strongly that we're just not well equipped to rationally manage ourselves for happiness.
It left me with the comforting thought that I could be wrong about an awful lot of things... so why get into a state about stuff over which I don't have that much control anyway?
April 25, 2007
Fairness and monkey business
The Frontal Cortex: Inequality and the Perception of Fairness. I love the experiments psychologists come up with.
One of the more powerful examples of this behavior comes from Franz Waals and Sarah Brosnan, who trained brown capuchin monkeys to give them pebbles in exchange for cucumbers. Almost overnight, a capuchin economy developed, with hungry monkeys harvesting small stones. But the marketplace was disrupted when the scientists got mischievous: instead of giving every monkey a cucumber in exchange for pebbles, they started giving some monkeys a tasty grape instead. (Monkeys prefer grapes to cucumbers.) After witnessing this injustice, the monkeys earning cucumbers went on strike. Some started throwing their cucumbers at the scientists; the vast majority just stopped collecting pebbles. The capuchin economy ground to a halt. The monkeys were willing to forfeit cheap food simply to register their anger at the arbitrary pay scale.
Creativity and straining
Mark McGuiness has a good post about what poetry illuminates about creativity. (The title of the post refers to advertising, but don't let that put you off.)
I get tired of hearing creativity equated simply with idea generation, when that’s often the easiest and least interesting part of the creative process. Shakespeare wasn’t interested in creating ‘original’ plots, but his execution was pretty good - he was so intent on “getting every detail right, getting the structure and rhythm and balance right” that the originality took care of itself.I'm not a poet myself, but I resonate with this. Creativity is constantly associated with the generation of novelty and I've long felt uncomfortable with that. It seems to go with a mindset that suggests it can run to a timetable, and all we need to do is get ourselves sufficiently stimulated and brainstorm.
In my own humble way, I know that when I’ve made a conscious effort to write an original or new kind of poem, the strain shows in the writing - the most interesting things happen when I’m focused on something else, on trying to capture something accurately or tease out the little animating goblin in a word or phrase.
Trying to be different usually leads to stuff that is rarely engaging. Brainstorming often leaves me feeling strained rather than inspired. So many efforts to support innovation end up feeling like a kind of Victorian potty training.
We use the word "original" to mean novel but what if we think of it as meaning "from the origin" - being true to ourselves rather than trying to be different. In improvisation, the truly inspiring moments are often the connecton of ordinary ideas, where the comedy is not apparent to the actors as they speak. It's not effortful or contrived, but feels natural and spontaneous.
Update: Synchronicity? I just spotted this in Paul Robinson's blog Vagueware:
The problem with innovation in this field, is it tends to not look very interesting at first glance - it might be the smallest of changes in a UI, or a weird library that re-implements something interesting discussed in an academic paper a couple of decades ago.
Earl Mardle takes a swipe at the notion of innovation strategy. I tend to agree.
April 23, 2007
"Who's your market", "how will you enter the market?", "how will you reach the decision makers?", "what's your go-to-market strategy?" and "what's the value proposition for your target market?"Here's how he visualises his experience of this approach...
... before giving some pithy alternatives which I recommend reading in full. For me, the best insight was this:
Neither I nor you is the market!I think that captures lots of wisdom about how marketing really works in a networked economy. What if we're all tiny pieces of a bigger picture? Not the masterful geniuses tasked with finding the lever to make everyone else bend to our purpose.
There will be someEverything about this event makes it seem like the anti-conference: lack of hype, lack of absurd pricing, lack of dismal underground windowless meeting space in velvet-wallpaper hotel... I'm gonna be there, but don't let that put you off.
Update: All tickets sold now
April 22, 2007
A deeper hum..
There is a kind of deeper hum within every organization - call it the culture if you like - that supports the work, generates the working environement and connects to the purpose of each person. People who are highly satisfied with their jobs and organization will often feel connected to this deeper field. They resonate with the bass note, the fundamental note of the chord. When this note isn’t present, it feels like work is not connected into a deeper pattern. Understand here that I am talking not about organizational purpose - it runs below that.I wonder how many organisations manage to be silent for long enough to hear it ?
April 20, 2007
Since installing Twitteroo, I've started to enjoy Twitter a lot more. I only spend a few moments updating Twitter or reading it, but I like the sense of connection it gives me to my circle of friends there. It's nano-blogging.
Here's Rob Paterson's take:
I can see what is going on in my Twitter world and yet it takes no effort to be there or to participate... It's like being in a local cafe that has many of your friends in it and you can hear snatches of what they say and vice versa.
So I can work and yet be wrapped in a very supportive social environment that I can drop into or out of any any time at no ebergetic cost.
As David Weinberger says, Twitter sounds like it must be dumb but it isn't. Those who sneer at the triviality of its content are missing something important about the significance of small connections. Think Velcro.
(Here's my twitter account.)
Burst or busy?
Excellent piece by Anne Zelenka in Web Worker Daily.
The busyness economy works on face time, incremental improvement, strategic long-term planning, return on investment, and hierarchical control. The burst economy, enabled by the Web, works on innovation, flat knowledge networks, and discontinuous productivity.Here are some of the polarities she suggests:
Busy: Immediate response to email required.As Anne says at the end, we need both busy and burst approaches - and many of us will work somewhere in-between.
Burst: Use better ways to communicate when available including blogs, wikis, IM, chat rooms, SMS, and RSS.
Busy: Always available during working hours.
Burst: Declarative availability.
Busy: Long-term planning rules.
Burst: Try agile experimentation and fast failure instead.
April 19, 2007
I'll simply quote Karl Fisch and recommend his advice:
First, please download and watch this movie (18.4 MB, 11:36).
Then think about how often we stamp "can't" on somebody's forehead.
Is Justin Timberlake a Product of Cumulative Advantage?, asks Duncan Watts in the New York Times magazine. His research suggests that market success is hugely affected by a network effect, where people's preferences are a product of the preferences of others rather than being independent.
He did an experiment in which people were asked to evaluate unknown music tracks under different conditions. Some did this without any information about their peers' choices. The rest were told what tracks other people were downloading. In the latter circumstances, songs polarised more strongly into popular and unpopular than in the first group. More intriguingly, the second group was subdivided into eight subgroups and each subgroup had quite different favourite songs. Here's some of Watts' analysis of this:
The impact of a listener’s own reactions is easily overwhelmed by his or her reactions to others. The song “Lockdown,” by 52metro, for example, ranked 26th out of 48 in quality; yet it was the No. 1 song in one social-influence world, and 40th in another. Overall, a song in the Top 5 in terms of quality had only a 50 percent chance of finishing in the Top 5 of success.I was intrigued by Scott Karp's interpretation of this:
In our artificial market, therefore, social influence played as large a role in determining the market share of successful songs as differences in quality. It’s a simple result to state, but it has a surprisingly deep consequence. Because the long-run success of a song depends so sensitively on the decisions of a few early-arriving individuals, whose choices are subsequently amplified and eventually locked in by the cumulative-advantage process, and because the particular individuals who play this important role are chosen randomly and may make different decisions from one moment to the next, the resulting unpredictably is inherent to the nature of the market. It cannot be eliminated either by accumulating more information — about people or songs — or by developing fancier prediction algorithms, any more than you can repeatedly roll sixes no matter how carefully you try to throw the die.
All of a sudden it’s crystal clear what Web 2.0 really is — the greatest platform ever for harnessing randomly imitative social behavior. Before Web 2.0, achieving utterly arbitrary results took time and effort. Now, with platforms like Digg, we can get nowhere in a fraction of the time it used to take.I don't agree with that interpretation. I think it rests on a certain assumption that our intelligence is individual and not social. Karp appears to regard imitation as a mark of dumbness.
WOW — I am humbled and awestruck by the power of technology, and the power of randomly socialized human beings to snuff out each others’ critical faculties and personal tastes.
But if you think of the eight sub-communities as forms of collective intelligence, they each come up with distinctive preferences from each other: so at that level, they do not imitate each other... so I wonder if Karp would then admit that these subgroups demonstrate a kind of collective intelligence?
I also suspect there's a distinction to be drawn between unpredictable and random but my brain hurts too much this morning to try and explore that one. If Dave Snowden's listening, maybe he could help?
Big Hat tip to AdPulp for spotting both items.
(There's lots of interesting comments on Scott's blog... pity the NYT has missed the chance to host any kind of online discussion, though it does flag an item about colourful men's underwear)
April 18, 2007
Not trying too hard
James Governor and Euan have both picked up on this post by Andrew McAfee, generally challenging the protestant work ethic and busyness. Euan's anecdote captures the potential blindness that an obsession with efficiency brings.
Everyone likes to bemoan the uselessness of most meetings. I wonder what it would be like if we really embraced the likely uselessness of a meeting, right at the start. If we could then let go of agendas and the pursuit of action points. Just relax and see what happens, without expectation.
Often, our efforts to make meetings effective make them ineffective... usually because the call for efficiency is actually a demand for obedience. And obedience is a bit 20th century.
April 17, 2007
Happiness and stumbling
Browsing the new TED website, I was led to this video of a 20 minute talk by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert. He explains some fascinating insights into happiness and what he calls "synthetic happiness". That's basically shorthand for the happiness we generate when we don't get what we want. Apparently, we're surprsingly good at making it, so that both getting big things we want, or big things we don't, have much less impact on our lives than we expect.
He also describes an experiment where subjects are given a choice of two pictures. In one group, they're told they can change their minds over four days. The other group are told their choice is irreversible. Guess what: the one's who don't get the flexibility end up liking their pictures a lot more. An interesting sidebar on the value of freedom of choice.
For me, this supports the idea of obliquity: getting things in indirect ways. We seem to be less-than-expert at predicting what will make us happy... and probably therefore put ourselves through too many false hoops trying to bring it about. This thought has now triggered me to order Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness to find out more.
Now I'm off to the pub for a drink with Alex Kjerulf who I dare say will have views on all this...
April 16, 2007
A tale of two CEOs
The egonomics blog contrasts two responses by CEOs to the question: what did you first do on getting to the Executive Suite?
First, Mulally (Ford): “I always keep a camera around. So I had someone take my picture against one window where you could see GM headquarters in the distance, and out another window where Chrysler’s headquarter is in the distance. And then I e-mailed them to my family.”Egonomics concludes
By the way, Mulally’s compensation for his first four months of work in 2006 was$39.1 million, a year whenFord posted a $12.7 billion loss.
Next, Kindler: “I promptly agreed to meet with everyone who has Outlook calendar capabilities–most of the free world, it seemed–but more to the point, I ate lunch in the cafeteria with employees and met with people in their offices instead of having them come to my office.”
Who would you bet will be the CEO that leads their company from good to great? My money’s on Kindler.
A week in the spotlight
Tom Guarriello has a fascinating post on his week in the YouTube spotlight (after being chosen as the featured video). Some of his reflections:
The experience of being featured is not unlike that of being in a car wreck, as depicted in recent ads. You're driving along chit-chatting and are suddenly blindsided by something you absolutely don't see coming. All I can say is, thank goodness for "airbags," in this case, the ability to shut down the hate speech in comments.
If this is the reaction one gets from an inconsequential two-minute YouTube video, I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a celebrity, routinely in the public eye. There is no substitute for experience in creating understanding and empathy.
And here's his YouTube update with more reflections.
I'm going to attend the Blogwalk Amsterdam on
17 18 May. The theme is Digital Bohemians, which sounds like fun. I like the format which is very informal. It's also my policy to support events which are cheap and self-organised. And it's been too long since I caught up with Ton Zjilstra, who's helping organise it.
I had dinner with Nancy White and some friends on Saturday. I picked up a nice bit of jargon from Nancy, who (like me) is a big practitioner of Open Space facilitation. Open Space is an approach to meetings that puts the agenda firmly in the hands of participants on an equal basis.
This concept freaks some people out. Often in the run-up to an Open Space, these folks try to suggest little "improvements" to the process (eg "to make sure actions happen") which nearly always are ways to remove time from participants and replace openness with predicatability. They claim they are introducing more structure, but really they are preventing the emergence of organic structure. This is usually on the unconscious assumption that they know better than everyone else what should happen.
Nancy's term for these folks is "space invaders". Having a name for them feels like a good thing.
What do they know of England, who only England know? Kipling
My friend, Steve Moore, is fond of this quote, and so am I now.
I thought of it reading Twitter at the weekend and seeing Russell Davies say he was deleting marketing blogs from his aggregator. Russell's post today puts that in context.
I'm not reading many marketing blogs these days because I find the undiluted diet of marketing analysis boring. I think if we spend too much time talking marketing, we probably become less and less good at engaging with the rest of the world... and thus worse at marketing.
April 15, 2007
links for 2007-04-15
Fuzzmail lets you send a "live action" of your email, showing all the corrections you make as you type it. Found via Stumbleupon
There's something strangely grounding about "disovering" a certain day when you're going to die!
April 14, 2007
The gamers love song
For game obsessives and their enablers.... This made me laugh. From Google Video (be patient for the first minute...)
links for 2007-04-14
New Jersey teacher wonders about teachers "not having enough time"; asks how many days are wasted (via Karl Fisch
"Positioning is a marketing facade that paints a picture idealized by the marketer, not necessarily the customer." Jackie Huba on how a B School gets promoted by its students
Scoble has the details
Shel Israel takes note
Freakonomics reviews "Cooked" - sounds a good read
Londonist on an inventive challenge to a stupid law requiring protests near Parliament to be approved in advance.
See if you can do better than the man himself
The best toilet humour, ever
On this YouTube:
Friction is a good thing
... when you consider the consequences of losing it...
Hat tip: Stumbleupon, where I've spent hours today seeing all manner of great stuff.
Branding: time for a bit of rough trade
Branding used to be about polishing and smoothing, to make shiny images of products and services that we'd all admire.
These shiny things would have USPs, propositions and such. There'd be manuals to try and make sure everyone kept to the script, to achieve perfection.
But shiny things have a problem: they don't generate much friction. They're hard to hold onto. And you don't want people's fingerprints to spoil the look. The laminate on the glossy brochure is like a glass case at the museum: look, but don't touch.
Now branding needs to celebrate the rough... the inconsistent... different people saying different things about different bits of you.
It's not as pretty and easy to control... but it's how you create friction, how you create more and more places where your product or service can get a bit of traction with the rest of us.
Quotes for the day
Both of these are lifted from Dave Snowden's presentation on contextual complexity.
Nasrudin found a weary falcon sitting one day on his window-sill. He had never seen a bird like this before. "You poor thing", he said, "how ever were you to allowed to get into this state?" He clipped the falcon’s talons and cut its beak straight, and trimmed its feathers. "Now you look more like a bird", said Nasrudin Shah, Idries (1985) The exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin
It is now impossible for the third and youngest son of any king, if he should embark on a quest which has so far claimed his older brothers, not to succeed. Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself.Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad
Enough moralising, already
In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland says
The revolutionary public space that online debate represents is in danger of becoming stale and claustrophobicIt's a longish piece that is a bit like one of my terrible college essays, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand, but the overall message comes out, sort of, at the end:
Right now, the internet is too often like a stuffy meeting room on a bad night. It needs to change if it's to live up to its democratic potential.
Oh for crying out loud.
This seems a ludicrous generalisation that bears no relationship at all to the extraordinary diversity of material available to me online.
But this kind of vapid generalisation provides the step for others to clamber onto the moral high horse, and say that "something must be done". To which I say (not to Freedland but to the code-of-conduct bores generally), bollocks. If you want to indulge in control freakery, go cover up some piano legs with doilies.
If you want to change the way you manage your own tiny piece of the wonderfully vast net, go right ahead. If you want to host a party for all the other neurotic control freaks who share your dismal view I can't stop you. You know what? After a while, even your polite civility-fest will break down into disorder, thank God.
It's like watching the feeblest presentations to the Dragons Den. I hate that show, but on this occasion, I'll pinch their catchphrase and offer it to the code-of-conduct brigade: I'm out.
I'm still playing with Twitter to see if I like it. I've installed Twitteroo which certainly makes a difference. So far, I'm quite enjoying the little connections to people I know. Small pieces, loosely joined etc.
Here's my twitter page if you want to add me.
Compare and contrast
As the internet distributes information and intelligence, it gets easier and easier to do a bit of pattern spotting and identify mismatches... and then share them with the world. Jeff Jarvis recently highlighted this example of it being done to John McCain:
Two facts. Number one: The latest Airline Quality Rating (PDF download) finds that US Airways ranks dead last, when it comes to customer service. No surprise, considering the tumultuous past year in which it was assimilated into America West as it withered away on life support.If you google "US air sucks", you'll get a pretty interesting perspective on that airline.
Number two: US Airways Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker's compensation package totaled $5.68 million last year (in fairness, he did turn down a $770,000 bonus). That's more than four times the $1.25 million total he earned in 2004, according to reports.
April 13, 2007
The power of a smile?
Dave at Cognitive Daily reports on a new scheme to deter bank robberies.
Instead of responding passively to suspicious individuals, bank staff are being encouraged to walk right up to them and shake their hands. The theory is that overtly friendly behavior will disorient potential robbers before they become aggressive.Apparently, Apple store employees are trained in similar tactics for dealing with shoplifters.
April 12, 2007
I see that two weeks today, on the 26 April, we'll have a chance to celebrate World Intellectual Property Day.
WIPO, the inventors of this, says this year's theme is encoraging creativity. So I'm disappointed by the lack of it in their list of proposed celebrations. In the UK these are the publication of a survey (sigh), two information booklets (yawn), a teach-yourself intellectual property book (enough books, ed) and an e-newsletter (zzzz). Oh and a propaganda site for kids, which is "coming soon".
Oh dear how dull.
How come Woolworth aren't stocking TM bunting? Where are the greeting cards with silly rhymes like "An Intellectual Property Day wish for you, You stole my ideas so I'm going to sue")? Where are the jolly Santa-like characters going round cheerfully slapping copyright stickers on stuff?
Why do I have a sneaking feeling that the real celebrations will be among wealthy lawyers in exclusive restaurants?
I'm free that evening and I'd like to find a fitting way to mark the day. Something jolly. All suggestions welcome.
April 11, 2007
A few startling facts in this little video:
UPDATE: I like Earl's comment re the Shift video: 'm a bit cautious of predicting exponential change in the same direction, I have this nasty feeling that just when we think we are about to go through the roof, chaos has a way of opening up the floor. Discontinuity is nature's way of saying "Gotcha"
UPDATE 2: I've revised the link to the YouTube created by Scott McLeod - there are some interesting comments there. The original presentation was created by Karl Fisch. A further hat tip to Ryan Lanham whose comment below revealed the the ancestry of this video. All three have gone into my feedreader.
April 10, 2007
Tim O'Reilly's proposal for a bloggers code of conduct is looking increasingly forlorn. Over at gapingvoid, Kathy Sierra rejects it. And Tristan Louis gives it a well-deserved fisking (hat tip: Andrew Sullivan).
Podcast: The impact of images
Last week, I recorded an interview with Tom Guarriello in Connecticut and Thomas Madsen-Mygdal in Copenhagen. We were talking about the impact of the rise of digital imagery on society and organisations. Tom's been following YouTube with close interest since it started and is a regular video blogger. Thomas is a serial entrepreneur as well as the founder of Reboot. His latest business is photo sharing service, 23.
Download the Podcast - 24m - MP3 (8.3 MB)
Podcast RSS feed for iPodder etc.
It was a suitably non-linear conversation. Here are some notes. Not a transcript but a rough idea of the content.
0:00 Introductions Theme: images, especially digital, are becoming more important - what's the impact on how we think and how society works. I reference Alan Moore's post about the book, The Alphabet versus The Goddess. This contends that the arrival of the alphabet led to the demise of the feminine in society... but that the revival of image-based thinking, first with television and then online, is leading to a resurgence of feminine values and changes to the way we think. I ask Tom and Thomas to share their experiences.
1:22 Thomas talks about 23 and how it has grown. He's started to see weird photosharing accounts, for example of lettuceheads, suggesting more was going on than just people sharing private photos. Images and photos are undervalued as a communication tool in our culture, and we're now seeing an explosion in direct, authentic, visual communication.
2:40 Tom talks about how he got into video blogging and how he finds it more interactive than text blogging.
4.15 Tom talks about the organisational use of images. Organisational speech is often devoid of emotion; images allow people in organisations to bring emotional power to the stories they tell. Designers have always worked this way but found the rest of the organisation speaks in words and numbers devoid of emotion ("powerpoint hypnosis")
5.30 Thomas: we shape our tools and our tools shape us. The possible impact of image sharing on product development. How a CEO blog photo page changes how people see the organisation. Could visual blogging overtake text blogging?
7.20 Johnnie: opening the visual channel adds texture and bandwidth in our relationships with each other, getting away from the dessicated way businesses communicate. Using "animal bandwidth" that would never appear in a transcript.
8.34 Thomas tells about the impact of a CEO photoblog on a potential employee's understanding of how the company worked - how she deconstructed the culture from about 500 photos. Making meaning from the weak signals in the pictures. Small signals set the context for understanding organisations.
10:24 Tom thinks a whole new set of skills are needed to cope with these trends. Johnnie says most people already have the skills to understand images - are organisations ready to cope with the impact?
12:00 Thomas: (as a species, historically) we communicated visuallly before having text. We experienced the world visually on a daily basis. In that sense, this is nothing new. What is new is the distribution and ability to capture images.
12:54 Tom: while the everyday use of these skills is natural to us, legitimising them in business is a whole other matter. Johnnie: if businesses don't embrace the conversation, it will carry on around them.
13:40 Johnnie gets into the iconography of events in Iran/Iraq. Compare orange jumpsuits vs business suits for prisioners. Tom/Thomas/Johnnie: what the conflict shows about the US's skill in communicating with images outside the commercial sphere.
16:19 Johnnie: production values are being turned on their head, so that lower production values are more synonymous with authenticity. Tom gives an example of a client he's advising not to overdo the slickness of imagery.
17:25 Johnnie references Hugh Macleod on Dinosaurspeak - there's an equivalent "dinosaur look". Corporate imagery has been a bit like the underwear models in old-fashioned mail order catalogues. We can spot the fakeness at a hundred paces.
18:15 Thomas talks about how excessive editing contributes to the sense of fakeness of corporate imagery. Also, he notes how we can process a great quantity of visual imagery. Ensuing discussion of how massive sharing opens up businesses to stakeholders.
21.25 Tom talks about the impact of user-generated images on US presidential politics - how it has disadvantaged Hillary Clinton.
22:07 Thomas explains about the lettuceheads...
World of Warcraft meets Python.
You may have spotted the gratuitous Monty Python references in this blog lately, as I spent part of the Easter weekend watching Holy Grail / Life of Brian / Meaning of Life.
Couldn't resist passing on this very silly YouTube mashup: World of Warcraft meets Monty Python.
April 9, 2007
More code of conduct news
Jeff Jarvis gives a superb, detailed pushback against codes of conduct for blogs.
I am tangentially reminded of this splendid Python sketch. Moral: try to not to get too upset about tinny words.
Phil Dourado has a good post on the pitfalls of management-by-metrics, including the absurdity of ambulances waiting outside hospitals with their patients. (Because A&E have a target, set by goverment, for processing patients and the clock starts when they come in through the door)
The future of marketing
Bob is scathing about the optimism (read denial) of big media owners:
Balding's set of facts comes courtesy of the proliferation of skimpy freebies, such as Metro, which are to newspapers what Skittles are to cuisine.I also liked this:
When (P&G) Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley says, "We need to reinvent the way we market to consumers," he doesn't mean, "We need to find a place to amass 30 million people at a time so we can tell them not to squeeze the Charmin."
Now marketers and customers can have their transactions and conversations directly. That is to say, we the customers can get the information we want about products straight from sellers and the more that happens, the less those sellers need to waste money on giving us messages we did not ask for and do not want (aka, advertising). The more that happens, the less money they will spend on ads. Total ad spending will, indeed, decline.
That horrible crashing sound you hear is a gravy train derailing
Tips for satirists
I'm not a huge fan of moral codes but I thought the tips for satirists at Wealth Bondage was very engaging. Here's one of the 15 points:
7. Often the strongest and best satire isolates in the "Other" the writer's own faults. We overcome ourselves by wounding our own sinful nature. But remember that the boil that most needs lancing is on your own laughing face.Hat tip: Jon Husband
April 7, 2007
No surprise there
Of course, it's the way Powerpoint is used that's the real culprit.
(Hat tip: Adriana)
April 6, 2007
Actions and words...
I'd love to run a management course based entirely on lessons from Monty Python.
The subject of meetings could probably be covered simply with scenes from the Life of Brian. For example, to cover the topic of action theatre (lectures on the importance of action that don't really support action) I'd have to use this clip:
Thoughts for the day
Dave Snowden mentions two good aphorisms to guide vigorous debate
argue as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong (from Karl Weick)These are both interesting articulations to support some vigor in debate and avoid watered-down consensus. They're not universal truths and are surely subject to what Dave calls bounded applicability.
strong opinions, weakly held
They do remind me of a chat I had with Matt Moore earlier this week, where he said that you don't get many "warrior facilitators". Dave's post makes me wonder about adding a bit of fierceness to the process...
It's the engagement, stupid
Dept of straws-in-the wind.
Flattery is starting to look so twentieth-century, don't you think?
(And judging by this from Lloyd, they do need Hugh's help)
April 5, 2007
My first cringe came about 20 seconds into this. See how long you can endure.
Update: Over time, I've trained myself to watch the whole thing. It is truly hilarious. Highlights for me are the repeated reappearances of the mysterious bearded man with questionable sense of rhythm and the bizarre showing of soup being served in a canteen.
Update 2: The best comment so far is the ersatz-Google-translated version of Armin Karge's post on this, which goes: Here are Ernst & Young to to the extreme (Latin: last day of the month) gone and reached gaaanz deeply into the motivation crate. Just love the idea of gaanz in the motivation crate!
April 4, 2007
Jeff Jarvis on how organisations can engage with the rest of us:
This is about turning around the usual media equation: Instead of asking the outsiders in, you turn things inside-out and go to them.
Well, I'm glad he soldiers on. I liked what he says here about the value of reading blogs that are not about PR and marketing.
My RSS habit started off with mainly reading blogs about PR and marketing, but the real excitement for me has been learning from people's thinking and innovation in other fields. On my reading list now are blogs by artists, educators, political hacks, economists and business thinkers.I agree. Most of my favourite blogs are not disciplined about their theme. I don't read many marketing blogs because I find more stimulus elsewhere.
And every time they look at the changes happening in their field it's a short intellectual hop to apply their insights to my own field. Beats getting stuck in a rut...
Dept of no shit, Sherlock
It's mean to quote McKinsey in this sort of out-of-context way, but I can't resist. Apparently (registration required),
there is a business case against tolerating nasty and demeaning peopleThanks goodness for that.
Article spotted by Adriana.
You may have come across the term security theatre, to describe, as Bruce Schneier puts it, "countermeasures that provide the feeling of security while doing little or nothing actually to improve security."
In similar vein, at meetings, could we draw a distinction betwen action theatre and action?
I'm very familiar with participants expressing concern that there are actions, with several (but not all) heads nodding. There are rounds of calls for everyone to agree action points. And facilitators often end up standing by a flip chart scribbling them up and allocating them to participants. There's no hard and fast rule, but all this often feels like action theatre to me. It gives an impression that lots of action is happening... but it turns out that a lot of the plans don't seem to get beyond ideas on a flipchart.
(There's also "priority theatre", the variation around the theme of "we need to set some priorities here")
I'm more excited when people talk about stuff that they want to do and offer to get started, without any prompting by the chairman/facilitator. In Open Space, you'll often see ginger groups forming that start projects in the meeting itself and seem much more likely to continue outside. So when people call for "action" in the abstract, or for a process to make actions happen, I tend to ask them: what action do you personally want to see happen? Is there something you need to do yourself to make it happen?
I'm also quite content for meetings to engage in fierce arguments about what to do, and for those arguments to continue long enough for some new insights to emerge for participants - insights that might provide the ground for some wiser action in future. I'd also rather those arguments go unresolved than see foks grudgingly agreeing to "action points" where their agreement only really means, "I'm tired and I want to go home now" and not "Yes, that's something I want to make happen".
Afterthought. The term action theatre means something quite different in other contexts, such as these guys who would have a lot to share about what it is to embody action.
April 3, 2007
Whatever next? Will I a co-author a book with Kevin?
Cancel or allow
I don't know about giant killing, but I'm a longstanding PC user and I'm still not feeling any enthusiasm for upgrading to Vista.
April 1, 2007
Geeks only update: I've installed the Ccode plugin to frustrate comment spam. It seems to work a treat; not one spam comment reached my filters since installation and it's more user friendly than a captcha.
I've also fiddled with tags. The new Movable Type tags don't seem to register with Technorati so following a discussion on Elise's blog I've created a work around. (Creating some additional technorati friendly iterations of tags, set as invisible text to avoid repetition)
Code of conduct
Oh dear, I'm still feeling a bit ranty this morning. Perhaps this will exorcise my demons?
Here is a draft code of conduct for this blog.
1 If you look
thatat the entire content of this blog, you'll get some notion of how I conduct myself. It varies a bit.
2 You'll also see how visitors conduct themselves. It, too, seems to vary.
3 The past is not necessarily a guide to the future.
Frankly, I find this too long and detailed so I don't think I'll bother. Especially, as I'm sure that potentially "disruptive" elements will have have even less interest than I do in idealised prescriptions for behaviour.
An exception and not the rule
I've been resisting commenting on the recent furore about bullying in the blogosphere for at least three reasons.
1 I don't want to add any fuel to the flames
2 I'm making an effort not to rant as much here
3 I try very hard not to blog about how I blog.
But as I type this, I see that I've not quite succeeded. Please don't confuse the exception with the rule. Which is all I want to say about the bullying furore.
Phew, no need to put this in the Dr Rant category.
In my previous post, I briefly referenced this transcript of a talk at Harvard by Alfie Kohn: The Deadly Effects of Tougher Standards. I'm a big fan of Kohn and thought this piece was superb, a powerful counterblast to the sheer idiocy of the so-called "standards raising" that has been promulgated in the education sector. And I see the same toxic thinking undermining intelligent learning in corporates too.
Kohn kicks off by describing this experiment.
The teachers were divided into two groups. Those in the first were told, "You are going to be held accountable for raising standards; specifically, we expect that your students will be able to do well on a test on this material." And the second group of teachers were told, "See if you can facilitate your kids' understanding of this task." The task was identical in both. All the teachers were then "set free" to teach the kids, and then all the kids were tested.He goes on to explore a series of reasons: how standardised testing emasculates teachers, turning them into drill-sergeants; how it destroys the most powerful motivator for students; and how it binds students' egos to performance instead of learning. Kohn suggests that falling standards in education are the result of the standards-raising bandwagon. The cure is worse than the disease!
It was a fairly conventional task test. Nevertheless, the results showed markedly inferior performance for the kids who had been taught under the standards and accountability condition. On bottom line measures of quality, standards and accountability, as a framework in which to teach, led to learning that was not as effective. Why?
He makes an elegant contrast between what he calls horizontal and vertical standards. Horizontal standards are about encouraging curiosity about, and engagement with (not obedience to!) leading edge thinking about the learning process. Vertical standards are basically command-and-control:
The notion of accountability, in theory, doesn't disturb me. But these days, accountability has come to be a code word for more control over what happens in classrooms by people who are not in classrooms. And it has approximately the same effect on learning that a noose has on breathing. Not just because of the content of the reform, but the way it's done. It's based on a psychologically naive set of assumptions about human motivation and psychology, and the assumption that some combination of carrots and sticks, incentives and threats, will simply compel people to do what is right, despite the fact that an enormous collection of evidence suggests that people do not tend to respond well, especially on meaningful tasks, to threats and fear.
Ah, that's what I wanted to say
The value of what students do resides in its connection with a stimulation of greater thoughtfulness, not in the greater strain it imposes.John Dewey, quoted here by Alfie Kohn. That's why I don't like to summarise Carol Dweck's research as being about making more effort.
Self or self-esteem?
Here is one of the experiments reported. Kids at the same school are split into two groups.
The control group was taught study skills, and the others got study skills and a special module on how intelligence is not innate. These students took turns reading aloud an essay on how the brain grows new neurons when challenged. They saw slides of the brain and acted out skits.Those in the second group subsequently significantly outperformed their peers. Based on a 50 minute lesson. It's part of the evidence that it's smart not to label people as smart. Instead of treating intelligence as innate, it's better to value the level of engagement with a challenge. (I'm avoiding the use of the word effort here for reasons I noted in my earlier post.)
The magazine report goes on to challenge the evidence that high performance is correlated with high self-esteem. Indeed, I found this via Andrew Sullivan, who frames this as a counterblast to "self-esteem hooey".
Certainly, the research does challenge the value of indiscrimate praise to buld self-esteem. It seems to me that Dweck is suggesting it's useful to separate our sense of self from the moment-by-moment success or failure we experience in the world.
Perhaps this is about the value of having a strong sense of self rather than a need to keep thinking "I'm great, I really am!" (self-esteem).
Bonus link: Here's a podcast of Carol Dweck herself, in ITConversations.