Creativity at Play #5

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

Batteries Not Included

It seems everything has a starter kit. From poker to guitars to video games, if you’re just starting out and you want all the necessary things you’ll need to begin, there’s a starter kit available. Too bad someone couldn’t have left us a creative starter kit when we first started our jobs. It’s time to become that someone. Your challenge is to create a starter kit for your job. Create something to give to anyone starting in your occupation or a starter kit for someone just beginning at your place of employment. Include a “Quick Glance” instruction sheet, something to give them the essential advice to succeed right away. What would you want to have known when you started?

This is a bit more real for me, as I took on a new role in February and I had a new colleague join me in April, which has made me think about what a new person needs to know. Here’s my first pass at a secret guide for a digital team member.

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Did this exercise break out the creativity? Yes, it was fun to think about the REAL content you need, as opposed to the usual official HR-approved list. Will I really produce this as a guide? not alone – it could be a fun collaboration project. Going through this and playing with how information is presented has inspired me to think about a project I’m working on a little differently though, we’re creating some SharePoint training, most of it will be connecting to existing Microsoft content, but some is company specific. It might be more fun to present it like this than as a pdf, let’s check with end users first.

iPad Revisited

The iPad was announced in January of 2010, and launched in April. I was scathing. I couldn’t see what it was for, there was a lot it couldn’t do and I thought the name was terrible. Six months later I bought one, and I still have it. It’s still limited, but as a portable home entertainment centre it works well.

But it’s funny to read how negative I was about it. Mind you I wasn’t alone, Gizmodo, NY Times and Jezabel also saw the same issues.

Here’s the original post.

So the iPad was finally announced after a run of rumours over the last month or two. It won’t be launched until March/April, but there’s already a fever of anticipation on twitter, with about 1000 tweets per minute.

As far as I can tell from the launch video the iPad = kindle + iTouch – iTunes wrapped up in Apple’s high design ethic.

There are already big theories about what it will do, including making higher education irrelevant. The scenario described is more or less using iPad as a tool for eLearning – but eLearning is already used in masses of university and executive education that I don’t see having a new tool as an obvious game changer. If Apple can get enough of the educational material online then perhaps it will transform educational publishing – that is not the same thing as higher education.

So what will it transform? It’s finally a competitor for Amazon’s best selling Kindle, and it’s priced to compete with Kindle, sort of. Kindle is at 259USD and the iPad starts at 499USD, there’s a quality difference and then there is the usual “apple premium”. So although Kindle has already developed a market share, and developed agreements with publishers to ensure a steady stream of new content, they might be pushed to improve the reading experience.

I suspect the transformation will hit the publishing industry and the web/design industries. Both will push the boundaries of current web design to create content – including video and apps – that will be worthy of the iPad – because it is a thing of beauty. The flow of content might follow the example I wrote about earlier this month regarding Digital Magazines.

There are issues, lots of them; some, like the lack of Flash and limited browser, can change relatively easily. But the biggest we-are-all-12-years-old-again issue is the name, calling this iPad just shows they have too many boys in their marketing department. Women immediately connect the name to menstrual pads (see list of twitter trending topics above). Ignominious start for something billed as “the best web surfing experience”.


CM2016_10_externalities.pngI did just one university course in economics and learning about externalities was pretty much my favourite thing. Suddenly it explained a bunch of things that are wrong with how consumerism works. I still see externalities behind a number of environmental, business and humanitarian issues. In fact globalisation and our use of digital make things worse rather than better.

A quick definition; an externality is a consequence of an economic activity experienced by someone else. The consequence could be positive or negative.

The most common example of a positive externality is the beekeeper who benefits from the neighbouring orchard. Since both parties need each other this seems closer to a symbiosis in biological terms but for the economists it counts as a positive externality.

A common example of negative externality is rubbish; in the above picture the rubbish has a negative impact on the environment, on any business relying on the environment. However the neither the producer of the containers, the restaurant packaging it’s food, nor the consumer making the purchase and dumping the packaging take responsibility for disposing of the rubbish and the cost of clearing it will probably fall to a government entity.

We, as a society, try to limit externalities by putting rules in place to limit the effect, and by providing services – well placed rubbish bins on a beach for example. All of which is funded by taxpayers. This more or less works on a local level.


On a global level it doesn’t work out so well.

My mobile phone was probably manufactured in China and used components or elements extracted in a dozen other countries. Some research indicates that up to 50% of the pollution from a phone production occurs at the first step. There’s a long and complicated chain of manufacture but I’m pretty sure zero eurocent of the amount I paid for the phone made its way back to the mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo where coltan.  (Oh wait, I paid nothing for my phone.)

Digital World

Our digital world is creating brand new externalities we haven’t thought about.

Yep, the Pokemon craze is laden with externalities, that’s why museums, locations, city councils, traffic controllershealthcare officials and governments are making a fuss.

In the Netherlands one tiny town, Kijkduin, has been somewhat over-run by Pokemon players, they’re trying to get Niantic to change the game to reduce the number of Pokemon in the town, they’ve found the numbers overwhelming, and there’s a risk to a neighbouring nature area. The town has already put up more toilets and rubbish bins to cope with the crowds. The cost of that is an externality. It’s a cost the small town is paying for the consequences of Niantic’s popular game.

If I were organising events in the town with such a large attendance I’d need a permit, there’d be a fee, and I’d be the one paying for security and clean up.

So when globalisation and digital collide the potential externalities grow, and right now we don’t seem to have a good way of handling them.
Image: Pollution 2  |  Kim Etherington  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Web Summit Highlights; Day Two

I headed to the marketing stage this morning, and ended up spending most of the day there.

Content is King

A discussion with Adam Singolda (Taboola) Ian White (Sailthru) Sean Moriarty (Demand Media) Michael Learmonth (IBT)

Brands are more important in digital; as the due to noise:signal ratio grows, branded content helps viewers/customers find quality.

Brands need a content strategy, it’s not enough to just push content out there. Need a strategy behind it, and to measure the value to readers. Keep the ROI high, this allows you to keep building quality content.

In conversation with Clara Shih

This was the most relevant to me today, and I found myself agreeing with everything Clara Shih said.

Social is normal for people in their personal lives, it will become the standard operating procedure for companies. It always takes a decade or more to operationalise these things for enterprise, it seems to take a while for the change management to kick in.

Must understand social throughout the company – it can’t just be a team sitting in marketing – but through the company including the C-suite.

Shih sees 3 trends for social;

  • social becomes a service layer on top of everything; IoT, wearables
  • more data, meta data = shift towards hyper targeted “segment of one”
  • customer will expect exchange of data to give them something in return

Connected World

Raced over to the Machine Summit to hear a colleague talk about the Connected World. There was a queue to enter to prevent overcrowding, I was about the last person they let in.

There was some discussion on the opportunities of a future connected world. More features on devices came up as one option, for example adding a camera to a Roomba so that you can document what happens if your house floods – all I could think of was put a camera on it and film your pets. I guess that’s why I’m not working in connected devices.

One of the biggest challenges in this area was data standards and privacy questions. If you extract data from a device how do you protect that?

  • Explain what you do with the data in a way people can understand
  • Do a better job of always making it “opt in”
  • Define and share best practices around privacy and security on collection, anonymising, use and re-use of data
  • Privacy and security seen as a base layer – beyond that let people choose what to share

The future of connected – in the next five years?

Move from thinking about discrete devices to infrastructure and embedding connection into our homes and workplaces.Move to network of devices, and move to connected services. Move to configuration of homes for different purposes, eg; your home office disappears when guests visits.

Joanne Bradford from Pinterest

Introduces Pinterest as “inspiration plus action”, people use it to design their homes, think about their wardrobe, get inspired about exercise, collect recipes. The engagement is high because people use their boards. (OK, I’m the exception).

It was a platform created as a series of communities, starting with mum bloggers, and that meant it was under the radar in Silicon valley to start with.

They still see that community matters and arrange events for pinners, and invite them to press events.

Some stats;

  • 750M boards
  • 300B items
  • best pins have great image + useful link + good description
  • #1 category = comedy

Future of Media with John Ridding (Financial Times)

Always believed in the value of quality journalism, even when others saw a crisis of print media and declared that no-one wanted to pay for content. The mantra was “internet wants to be free”, but the internet is a channel so has no desires of it’s own.

More than half of their revenue now comes from Digital, and it’s the subscription model, not the ad revenue that’s winning it for them.

Innovation Divide

The challenge of getting some “start up” innovation fire into large enterprises, and an inside peek into the fantastic Unilever Foundry, which is great way of bringing fresh ideas and working them into something practical.

Pointing out the dangers of perfection mindset this presentation gave me the quote of the day

every day that a good idea sits in a powerpoint presentation is another day that the idea dies.

Keith Weed, CMO, Unilever

They’re one of the world’s big spenders when it comes to marketing, and they continued spending through the crisis although the breakdown of where that spend goes is shifting.

Marketing spend winners in general are social, search and increasingly mobile. But in terms of social media spend there isn’t a “winner takes all” platform as it makes sense to use multiple platforms depending on your purpose.

For consumers in social there are ongoing privacy and trust issues, right now technology is ahead of regulation, there are things being developed in technology that legislators don’t understand. I’d add that customers understanding is also often behind – even as their expectations grow.

As the Dutch saying goes “trust arrives on foot and leaves on a horse”

Brands have an opportunity to solve this ahead of regulation, and build trust with customers.

It was another packed day – lots of great speakers. The agenda on the marketing stage was rather random, as adjustments had to be made for speaker availability. So it was a bit of a surprising day, the other – less happy – surprise was the wifi. It wasn’t keeping up with demand, so my “life tweeting” was all over the place. OK, for an attendance of 20,000 people I guess it’s a challenge.

I’d still like an answer to my sheep tweet though.

Growth Hacker

At first glance this seems a crazy term, but the more I read about it the more it makes sense. Most commentators define it as a role existing on the overlap between technology/development and marketing. Two things that traditionally don’t go together, but that’s because traditionally we have thought in silos. The product development team used their expertise to create something, and then passed it on to marketing to sell. A poor process often mocked, most famously in the tree swing cartoons.

But things in both areas have changed; user feedback as part of the development process, so the development teams are collecting user input online, and using this phase to build an audience prior to launch.

Meanwhile marketing has become an increasingly data-based occupation. That’s the dirty little secret about marketing, there’s a perception that it’s a creative discipline but in fact marketing teams are constantly looking at data on sales, results of surveys, focus group outcomes and customer feedback to find the best ways to communicate the product. As products and communication have moved online so has the data.

Development has become closer to the user, and marketing has become closer to the data and to product development. In fact the two have come to overlap, and the professionals operating in that hybrid space are calling themselves “growth hackers“. They’re either marketers who can code or geeks who get marketing, depending on your point of view. It’s on the way to becoming a recognised profession, last year saw the first official Growth Hackers Conference.

This slideshare presentation points to another driver for growth-hacking; start-ups do not have the budget for full blown marketing campaigns. Plus it offers some good examples, some of which pre-date the term growth-hacker.

This hybrid role represents a breakdown in the old silo’d world of Development vs Marketing, the two disciplines are now  using the same resources and have the same goals. I think the mentality of testing and trying new things usually considered the preserve of geeks is shared in the role of growth-hacker. I’ve tried to represent that new inter-relationship. (I should have given them both happier faces – and shoes for the dev guy).

Not everyone sees this as a new legitimate role, there are those who consider it “just marketing” I can understand that point of view, and perhaps in a few years the people now calling themselves growth hackers will call themselves marketers. Perhaps the the allergy that (some) development and tech people feel for marketing means that they need a new title when they begin taking on marketing tasks. Perhaps marketing departments will be renamed as growth hack centres.

Or the name might turn out to be a fad – and we’ll have a new term for high level innovation in building sales for a company.

Lessons from Science – Ecosystem

My first qualification was in science, so long ago that if I wanted to work in that field again I’d have to re-do my degree. Not just for all I have forgotten, but also for the advances in chemistry, biochemistry and medical science. However there are a number of principles I learnt during my science degree which turn out to have business equivalents.

You’ve probably heard people talk about “Your IT ecosystem” or “social media ecosystem“. You may have wondered what a biological system, made up of cells and organism has in common with an IT system made up of bytes and cables?

The analogy turns out to be a good one, particularly in thinking about the interdependence of IT components in your organisation. In the arctic ecosystem for example it’s easy to see that a drop in the phytoplankton bloom will have an impact on the food supply for other animals for at least a season, and any loss of the multi-year ice will take longer to recover from.

Earlier this year I was asked to take our site off-line for six hours, so that another site could be edited and re-launched. The sites are hosted in the same place, use separate instances of the same content management system, but happen to share a database in a way that meant taking down my colleagues’ site would also mean taking down ours. It was an unexpected interdependence that we’ve now removed.

Sometimes the impact of a change is small, and if the population is resiliant – has alternative food sources for example – the effect may be minor. In an IT sense systems often have built in redundancy so that change will not have an impact.

Some impacts are epic scale and very difficult to recover from; eg destruction of ice at the north pole – loss of “multi-year” ice zone vs a successful hack on your site, which may be recovered easily from a technical perspective but the loss of data or reputation have a more sustained impact on the company.

You might use this model to understand IT or social media better, but remember – no ecosystem is closed. A small pond is affected by upstream events and so is your ecosystem. A change in process or conditions, a change in funding, an external impact all require fine adjustments within your ecosystem to withstand the impact.

Image ecosystem

When Fixing it is the Wrong Answer


Most of the time when stuff goes wrong our natural reaction is to try to fix it. Especially when we know how, or when there are people relying on whatever is broken or when the need is urgent.

Well, sometimes that’s the wrong answer.

Years ago, when it became fashionable to put big images into powerpoint and possible to use video in a presentation, we had a server capacity issue.  Our department was the last one left in a building and we’d be moving in six months time so our company’s IT felt it wasn’t a priority to install more server space for us.

The result was that every few weeks we’d get panicked calls from colleagues who could no longer save documents, and when we checked we see the disk space properties screen like the one shown above for the shared drive. “Free Space: 0 bytes”.We’d call IT and their solution was to suggest that we remove old or unused files (not a bad idea in itself). So my colleague and I would spend hours putting old files onto DVDs and clearing up enough space so people could work again. We were heroes.

The first couple of times it was pretty easy, but as the rate of content creation increased pretty soon we were struggling to find “old” files. With the result that more than once we removed something that turned out to be needed. We were demoted from heroes to demons pretty quickly.

One weekend the department head came into the office to work on a Presentation of Great Importance. He managed to crash the server, and then could get nothing done. He was furious. His fury only grew when he found out that we’d been limping along with insufficient server space for months. A new server was installed at unheard of speed; days rather than weeks.

He pointed out, quite rightly, that people’s time is worth more than the cost of moving a server.

I thought then that I should have let the server fall over the second time IT declined to help. Sometimes fixing it is the wrong answer.

image problem