• Copycat Camera Communities

    On: May 11, 2015
    In: marketing
    Views: 574

    I was out and about at Borough Market last week, spending an hour people-watching after one meeting and before another. Amongst the things I saw was a lot of photographers hanging around outside Monmouth Coffee. All with one thing in common…


    They all had Leicas. They were there on a meetup with The Leica Meet, a series of regular meetups that’s nothing officially to do with the brand, but run by the Leica owners themselves. The sort of thing that the internet has made a lot easier to think about doing over the last couple of decades. “Come and meet other people like you”.

    It made me think of the illustrations I’ve done recently for Mark Earls’ new book, Copy Copy Copy, as amongst other things, he talked about how the camera market works in terms of visibility:

    P1030175 P1030179

    Luckily for me, I got to work on the book and read it early – it’s a phenomenally useful toolbox of a book, and I’m honoured to have played a wee part. Go and get it here, folks.

    Everyone else is, because that’s HOW COPYING WORKS….

    …ha, yes, sorry, couldn’t resist.



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  • Many Is Greater Than One

    On: May 5, 2015
    In: marketing, technology
    Views: 485

    Many > One.

    Yep, of course it is. And no, I’m not just trolling maths geeks.

    Last week I delivered an updated version of my new talk for this year on the Google Squared talent accelerator programme. The train of thought is still called “Fanfare For The Common Brand”, but the lead principle is now that Many > One.

    Have a read of it here, and thanks to Brad Berens and David Wilding for their invaluable input on version 1. And as always, all thoughts welcome…

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  • Slap Dash: quick reactions to the Amazon Button

    On: April 1, 2015
    In: marketing, technology
    Views: 1787

    There are many better places to read about the new Amazon Dash button, launched yesterday. One such place is Matt Webb’s excellent (and as he calls them) ‘raw’ thoughts on what it means from an IoT perspective. And he should know.

    Amazon Dash Button

    One sentence in Matt’s piece made me sit up though… “You’re a loyal Tide customer, but you’ve run out“…

    Loyalty does seem to be the presumption in the launch campaign for Dash; that people have a firm favourite (not even just a fixed repertoire) amongst the countless toilet rolls, washing up liquids, soaps and cereals they stock their homes with.

    Loyalty. A big word, with an ironically fickle fan base.

    What I perceive to be the general wind direction in the realms of best brand practice is that ‘loyalty’ might just be a largely fictitious beast, especially in the realms of FMCG.

    A quick blast through the main points of Byron Sharp’s excellent How Brands Grow will give you an idea of why…

    And there’s a longer list of other brilliant viewpoints on it (read Martin Weigel on it, perhaps, over here).
    Yet the launch of Amazon Dash seems predicated on the existence of brand loyalty.
    So here’s an open question:
    How many brands are you certain enough about to stick a button to your wall for? Think about the last shopping basket you filled, or Ocado order you received. What in there is a permanent fixture? What will you always buy to the exclusion of anything else?
    What brand would you nail to a wall with the same conviction that you’d put up a picture in your house?
    Dash makes a lot of sense from Amazon’s point of view, clearly. Whooo, go supply-chain monopoly!
    And it may even make sense to FMCG marketers who believe they have a hard-core of “brand loyalists” out there, somewhere, who’ll choose their Dash button over a rivals.
    (There’s actually a whole other conversation to have on whether you need an Ariel button by the washing machine, or a P&G button, but that’s for another day).
    But with what the evidence and understanding of how it seems now that brands have worked, that doesn’t seem like the Amazon Dash idea of ‘loyalty’ is all they make it out to be.
    It does give rise to an interesting set of questions though.
    If we suppose for a minute that brand loyalty isn’t a thing, could we also argue that it’s because the infrastructure hasn’t existed to make it a thing.
    After all, building loyalty in supermarket aisles by running TV ads and putting up posters is doomed to failure becuase of all the stoopid consumers who always forget what craft and joy you put into your ad, right?
    Loyalty would probably be a brilliant strategy if everyone used shopping algorithms.
    However, is it possible that things like Amazon Dash will create a world where brand loyalty actually means something, because the infrastructure connecting people to needs is so different?
    Or, alternatively, are we going to see a short-term future in which people stick three Dash buttons on the washing machine, and use the website to check prices on the cheapest before pressing?
    Oh, and those brand stickers – they’re crying out to be screens in two years time. Which could mean adverts, and competition for space, and doom for FMCG brands.
    Reckon, reckon, reckon… and relax.
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  • Time And Relative Dimensions Of Desks

    On: March 17, 2015
    In: making, work
    Views: 816

    I’ve just taken delivery of two desks; one for me, and one for Carlo. The desks are from the recently closed Birmingham Central Library (which is sadly being demolished), and were designed by the architect, John Madin. They’re pretty big. They’re taking up a fair bit of our garage now:

    IMG_2730 JMD-BIRM-0022

    One of them has the light fixtures control in the middle, as you’ll see, and one doesn’t. Carlo’s having the non-light fitting one, to work upon the black linoleum without interruption. I have plans for the one with the light fitting, you see.

    We could just put it back together as was, with the light switches and fittings making a great desk for working with Artefact Cards, models, sketches, whatever. And the plug socket would be handy to charge phones on and the like.

    As an aside, I think it’s very interesting that desks designed over forty years ago have power sockets right in the middle of them there; back then, what would have they been for? Did Madin foresee the use of smaller electrical devices that you might have on a desk (electronic typewriters? Laptops?).

    Anyway, now given the cavity in which the light/plug switches is there, it will be relatively easy to pop that out, and put something else in… a little time device.


    I sort of mean a clock, but not just a clock. Something that can be flipped through various modes; clock, to pomodoro timer, to project time-counter, to… well, whatever. Being able to switch between time modes will let us investigate what different types of timing do in a work environment.

    I use a pomodoro app on my phone at the moment; cycles of 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off. It helps me focus on things that I need to get done (and allow myself time for messing about every so often). It’ll be interesting to see how to replicate that effect on something that’s not a screen.


    Stealing the mechanism from a flip clock to do that would be good to look at too, I think… it’s not just about the movement, it’s about the sound of the clock ticking away on the desk that might be useful.

    flip clock

    Anyway, that’s the plan. Drop an Arduino in underneath, have a clock that you can reprogram easily on top, play around with a new sort of desk.

    First of all, though, find a room big enough to do that in…


    If you’re interested in the desks, there’s a few left on eBay here, and large ones too.


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  • The Duplicity Of Data

    On: March 10, 2015
    In: rivetings
    Views: 1049

    I stopped wearing my FuelBand last week. It had stopped being for anything beyond telling me I expend a lot more energy when I manage to get out for a run. I’m no fitness expert, but I knew that.

    (Oh, and sometimes I used it as a torch when I’d switched off all the lights before bed.)

    Anyway, it’s on my desk now, from where it will disappear into a drawer, then start a little friends group with the various minidiscs and iPods and things that live in there too. They’re probably all on ‘device Friendster’. Or attending IoT Anonymous meetings.


    I was also having a chat with Paul earlier, about the sort of days we’d had.

    My day was very productive, thinking about it; great chats with various folks, working through ideas, reflecting on things… just a good day.

    Except the data, and by the data I mostly mean the email numbers, doesn’t say that. It says I ended up being unproductive, as the numbers stacked up on flagged emails I’ve to do something about.


    We’re using data systems in our lives that other people, or cultures, design to tell us how we’re doing. We don’t know if we should measure ourselves by these things, but don’t know what else we would measure ourselves by, so those measures suffice. But maybe we’re forgetting how to evaluate good days just by the feeling that they are good days?

    When people ask you if you’ve had a good day, you don’t run a stream of numbers past them, do you?

    Some things shouldn’t have a number on them. Just because we can count, doesn’t mean we should.


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  • A Sonic Screwdriver For Thinking

    On: March 5, 2015
    In: culture, design, making, people, work
    Views: 1135

    Tools are becoming the theme of the year for me.

    From Dan Dennett’s “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking“, to the rediscovery (via Faris) of the McLuhan idea that “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us”, it seems in reflection that the work Smithery is doing has a universal tool to start applying at the beginning of any process rather than the end.

    We’ve used it on everything from the Future of the Workplace studies with Konica Minolta, which is about the slower layers of technological and cultural change, to sector-specific trend analysis for Gravity Road, which is by nature fast and fluid. And it seems to work across all sorts of different things because it’s a tool, not a technique.

    It’s a sonic screwdriver of thinking kit; something to point at the unfamiliar, the unknown, and try to reckon something out of it or make something happen.

    Sonic Screwdriver

    I thought I’d explore it a little on here, partly as it’s part of the first of the Smithery 2015 projects, but also partly as a prompt to tease out any go-to thinking tools you lot might have, or indeed questions you can see around this one.

    First of all, having a general tool to start with feels very useful, and perhaps more important than I’d realised before.

    Arguably, you could say that the idea of Making Things People Want > Making People Want Things is a thinking tool, as it draws you in to a way of establishing about what you’re doing and where it sits across that divide. But I think that beyond initial divination it’s not that useful in a work context, and of course it’s open to the abuse of people think it has to be either one or the other.

    There’s more value in finding a thinking tool that acts as the primary device you pick up to assess a territory, but one that doesn’t dictate taking the same path every single time no matter what the problem is. It’s a tool, not a technique.

    Of course, repeatable techniques are great in times of certainty, but I’d argue that tools are better when you have to do something you’re not quite sure about, and need a way to attack it. It allows you more fluidity than being the person who says “computer says no…”

    Here’s two stories to illustrate this.

    A year or so ago, a client friend told me they were judging between two agencies who’d reached the final round. The first agency came in with a very proper, prepared walk through of their clever process. Essentially, they were saying “…put anything in this machine, and it’ll give you the right answer”. The second agency came in a lot less prepared, but with a team who teased out the right thing to do by asking questions in the meeting itself, reacting to conversation and aligning the strategy & tactics to fit. The second agency won because, as my friend put it, “that’s what they’re going to have to do on a daily basis anyway, so it’s nice to see them in action”.

    The second story; I spoke to another client friend who’d been through a massive pitch process with multiple agencies, who all had very precise, complex techniques that they presented at length. Each agency thought their clever technique would differentiate from the others. All that happened was the client team couldn’t tell the agencies apart. The proprietory techniques just served to make their proposals more similar than different, hid the teams and how they actually thought, and made the decision even more of a price-based one.

    Both illustrate The Law of the Instrument, of course: if all you have is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail. And nowadays, a lot of companies are rolling out the Hammermatic 9000 in a bid to differentiate themselves.

    Instead of techniques, then, what do I mean by tools?

    The following model is our basic tool, based on the X and Y axes (of Descartes’ Cartesian Coordinates, as Dennett reminds us).

    We’re now using as a starting point for everything, like you would a compass for a map. If you understand direction, it helps you determine the correct course of action.

    Fraser and I have taken to calling this “The Axes of Praxis“, with tongues firmly in cheek, but there’s something important in the name which I’ll explain more about at the end.

    If you want (and I can really recommend doing this) you could grab a pen & paper and draw it out yourself as we go…

    *waits for you to get paper*

    On the X axis, we have “People”, and on the Y axis, we have “Things”.


    Eh? Things?

    Well, from last year’s thesis work, which was all about People & Space, “things” has now replaced “space” as a more useful descriptor.

    I wrote a bit about it too about in Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief:

    “When I say ‘Things’, it is a purposefully fuzzy description of potential outputs in this strange future. Not products, not services, not brands, not adverts. Things are something that all different parts of an organisation come together to realise.  Things are remarkable, in the sense that people bother to pass a remark about them. Things could mean, well, just about anything. Which is very useful, because in disruptive times established companies are often too caught up in the specifics of what they currently do to grasp and utilise the generalities of what they could do.”

    So yes, People and Things. That’s all there is in anything.

    On the diagram, both axes start at zero, and then increase in scale, according to each definition.

    As with all good Economics graphs, these are pretty rough rules of thumb; don’t get hung up on the exact numbers here. It’s just a little mental doohickey which allows you to quickly create a version on paper of the world in which you’re working. It’s a ready reckoner.

    Firstly, People (P) is determined by thinking about n (% of population) x m (magnitude).


    The population is all about the whole group you’re thinking of in the project in front of you.

    If you’re working within a business unit on culture change, then it is everyone who works in that business unit. It could be across an industry, if you’re in lobbying. And if you’re in marketing, you’re probably thinking about your target audience. Magnitude is about the size of the impact you think you’ll have on people. A light nudge? A life changing experience? This gives you a quick way to think about where you might be working along the People axis.

    If you’re creating powerful experiences that only touch a small percentage of the population, you’re still pretty small-scale in terms of the whole picture. Likewise, if it’s a lightweight advertising message, even though the reach is great, the impact might not be as great as you imagine.

    Secondly, on the Y axis, Things (T) is determined by i (instances) x d (detail).


    Thinking about Things in terms of instances (i) means that you can quickly work out what sort of change you’re going to suggest to a business.

    Does it change all of the output, a fundamental change to everything shipped? Or are you making a little standalone beta, or new product, that doesn’t change everything all at once. Using instances as a proxy for ‘% of output’ it helps you think of the scale you’re operating at within the business. We refine this by thinking about detail, the degree to which you’re creating a change in the output; is it a small tweak? A fundamental rewrite? Different packaging?

    Now you can do the same quick reckoning trick you pulled with the People axis on the Things axis. If you’re just working on a small public Beta of something that isn’t that radical a change, it’s probably not that high up the Things axis. Or if it’s a minor tweak to a service process that every customer goes through, it’s hard to see it creating a radical change.

    That’s the lay of the land, then, our thinking tool for whatever passes our noses. It can lend itself to different sorts of descriptive structures, question frameworks, job estimation, and so on and so forth. Like a sonic screwdriver, it doesn’t work that well on wood though. But we’re working on that.

    To give you an idea of how to apply it, here are some examples to bring that to life; two bigger ones, and a series of little ones…


    A. What sort of job is this?

    Firstly, we define the four areas of studio practice using it.


    Bottom left, where you’re working with smaller groups of people and early stages of work, you’re basically Prototyping. That’s not just to mean the prototyping of products and services, of course, but the prototyping of any sort of idea. (Now, having been chatting about it with David over coffee yesterday morning, I’m wondering if there’s a different word for this quadrant… Action, perhaps, or Habit? But for now, Prototyping will serve.)

    Bottom right, as you start increasing in scale along the People axis, it’s about Culture (and communications, and communities, and collaboration, and lots of other words that begin with c…). In short, it’s when the ‘people thing‘ is more important than the ‘thing thing’ (which as Mark will tell you is more often than you might think).

    Top left, where the priority is the things you’re working on, it’s about Design. Working out how the thing works, and how people react to it by putting it in front of small groups of users to improve and iterate. An important clarification; it’s low on the People axis not because people aren’t important, but just that compared to percentage of the population you’re thinking of, more often than not you’ll be testing with small groups.

    Top right, then, is about Strategy. How to think about whole outputs and whole populations at the same time, and setting new direction as a result of the needs you discover.

    All in all, thinking across these four quadrants has helped us see what jobs look like, but also what they might benefit from being connected to. For instance, we’ve recently been included on the GOV.UK Digital Marketplace for services, and we created a version of what we call Strategic Prototyping – if you have a strategy you think is formed, how can you make the first version implication of what it would look like, and then predict the likely consequences of what would happen as it scaled (basically drawing a line from top right to bottom left on the model).

    It’s also a way of thinking about project balance, client case studies, preferred operating quadrants, and more besides.


    B. What sort of thing are we looking for?

    I was doing some research work with the Gravity Road guys on a premium brand, and looking for concrete examples of different emergent trends across multiple sectors. Rather than ask for general “what’s happening in your sector?” questions, we used the chart to think about the extremes of each corner.


    Thinking about what might characterise each part of the map (Did lots of people use something? Was it beautifully designed but still largely a secret?) helped us create a simple set of four questions to ask various experts some precise questions:

    What’s New? – You’ve just seen something that’s made you stop, drop everything and focus in a way you haven’t in months. It isn’t finished, there’s still work to do, but it could change everything. What is it? Who made it? What recent development has helped it emerge?

    What’s Popular? – There’s something you’ve noticed that everyone who matters has. It’s become unremarkable to them, yet outside ‘the bubble’ it’s unknown. Describe it. Who’s behind it? What part does it play in peoples’ lives? Who will pick it up next?

    What’s Great? – It’s the most wonderfully designed, highly detailed, beautifully put together production you’ve seen in a year. But it’s curiously niche, as if nobody is looking properly at it. What is it? Why is it still to find its audience? What have its makers done previously?

    What’s Successful? – A year ago, nobody really knew about it, but now X is the go-to-example on everyone’s lips. “Oh, it’ll be X for this…” everyone says, a comparison point for success at scale. Who’s responsible for X? Where did it come from? Is it here to stay?

    So as opposed to the first example, where we’re using the map as a lens to see what we do, here we were using it as a lens on each of those different worlds, and then working out how each overlapped with the other worlds (for instance, do the same sorts of things appear top left in music and fashion? If not, why not?).

    In hindsight, what’s interesting about the tool in this respect is that it makes you think there are other areas you haven’t explored. It’s a little like in games like Age of Empires, where you don’t know what’s hidden in the unexplored areas of the map, but you do know that there’s going to be something out there.



    C. Some other quick examples

    – We’ve used it to map out personal development needs for Fraser and I – what are we good at across each part of the map, where do we need to improve? To do that we split each axis into three, and worked out which skills were most appropriate where

    – It’s the framework for the board game version of product development we’re playing with. This aspect, particularly stealing from rules of games like snakes and ladders where you traverse the board in different ways, helps you explore unexpected corners.

    – It’s been used with a client to compare with their corporate innovation stage-gate process. We realised that a linear stage-gate process wasn’t as linear as it first appeared, because the stages could be crossed in various alternative ways, which helped introduce better flexibility.

    – It’s good for drawing out typical workflow journeys, like the one for test & learn below, where you keep circling in loops between the team and small user tests until you’re ready to properly launch.


    So, PHEW. That wasn’t meant to be as long, but it’s only just a partial exploration of where we are with it at the moment. I’d love to hear from people who have different thinking tools they use in similar scenarios, to see what those are and compare, and of course if you have any thoughts on how else the tool could be applied or improved, then do drop them in the comments section below. If it’s of interest, we might even put on a workshop or two on some of the things we’re discovering.

    Above all though, I’d encourage you to make your own tools, or at least codify the loose ones you might use already. Everyone could use a sonic screwdriver in their head.



    I forgot to mention why we’re calling it The Axes Of Praxis, didn’t I? Three reasons:

    1. It Rhymes.

    2. Praxis means “the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas“. This tool gives us a way to do that.

    3. See reason 3.


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  • How To Start Being A Common Brand

    On: February 19, 2015
    In: making, marketing, technology
    Views: 2109

    I finished and presented the “Fanfare for the Common Brand” presentation yesterday, about 150 yards out from the train station. I presented it 45 minutes later. Afterwards, Fraser and I talked about it, what needed to build on, what more should be in there. More examples, suggested Fraser, wisely.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 09.34.27

    Brad similarly challenged me this morning… “the one question I have — and I suspect that you talk about it in the narration — is how companies can do what you want them to do with their products, brands and their customers at scale?”. It echoed something the audience yesterday at Squared asked to… “but, how…?”. And Peter on Twitter asked similar.

    So, with that in mind, and without taking an age, here’s a brain dump on how you can start being a Common Brand, using the three working principles from the end of the presentation:

    Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 09.34.44

    Keep Talking

    – Invite three customers in once a week for lunch with your team
    – Find the earliest customer you can, talk to them about why they believed in you then
    – Find three simple questions about your thing – ask them to everyone
    – Hang out where customers hang out, just watch people using your thing
    – Make everyone in the company meet a customer once a month. Minimum.
    – Solve tricky customer questions face to face. Go and see them. Understand what went wrong.

    Share Everything

    – Write the story of your thing, as reflection. Share with the team. Then make it public.
    – Show things early. Make pictures of your process public.
    – If you can’t do that in your publics comms stream, make up another one.
    – Be interested in other people working in similar space. Say hello. Be nice.
    – Show your working. Some people are interested in how you got there.
    – Show your mistakes. Some people are interested in how you got there too.

    Make It Together

    – Watch people using your thing. Hands tell more stories than mouths.
    – Don’t show them ‘how’. They didn’t use it wrong, you made it wrong.
    – Bring people together to play with your things. Ask them to improve them. Record it publicly.
    – Give credit where credit’s due. More people will come and play.
    – Let people steer your choices, not your existing processes.
    – Prototype the thing that people say “well, you probably wouldn’t do that…” about.


    *Bear in mind, this is a first version of a list written in 20 minutes. I don’t think it’s particularly new or ground-breaking stuff in terms of suggestions, but if you’re asking the question you may not be doing any of it.

    **Some people asked yesterday “have you got any examples of people doing it well?“. Which sometimes annoys me as a question, because it means organisations are making people too afraid to try anything without a precedent. Well, there are loads of easy, quick stuff on the list above that you can try really quickly. Pick one, and do it. Then the example of someone doing this stuff is you.

    ***Here’s the full presentation again, if you want a flick through and the chance to discover the answer to what the true weight of the internet is… (it’s not what you expect…)

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  • Fanfare For The Common Brand

    On: February 18, 2015
    In: marketing, people, technology
    Views: 1215

    I’m fresh out of presenting the below for the first time at the latest intake of Squared. For the last two years, I’ve presented various iterations of ‘Are Brands Fracking The Social Web?’, but over the last month or so, I realised that there’s something in the water around the relationship between the brand idea, the execution of it in practice, and what’s happening to the social web.

    So, here we are. A first version of a new thing…

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  • The Intention Gap

    On: February 16, 2015
    In: marketing
    Views: 1204

    This morning, I read a great post from Asbury & Asbury on “brand conversations”, which is here.

    Here’s a key excerpt:

    “Brands have been talking about having conversations for years, mainly since social media came along and made such a two-way exchange theoretically possible. No longer would marketing be about shouting to the masses through 48-sheets and big TV spots. Now it would be about hosting a conversation, with everyone passionately acting as your brand advocate through the simple process of joining and sharing the conversation.

    Of course, nowhere on the planet has this happened. For a taste of true brand conversations, look at the Twitter feed of any major service brand – a never-ending stream of apologetic answers to customer complaints, punctuated by the odd, hopeful brand message from central marketing.”

    Whilst I have to disagree with a statement such as “nowhere on the planet has this happened“, we can probably use invoke one of the tools from Dan Dennett’s book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking, Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.

    As such, the main thrust of the A&A post still stands; the majority of social media activity is terrible. Phil points out as much here, too.

    I wondered if, rather than looking at this on a micro level, we should look at it on the macro level.

    What the sheer volume of social media activity from all brands is perhaps doing is turn the ‘two-way exchange’ into an expectation for people. We are now so used to being encouraged and asked into conversations that we’re reaching the conclusion that the way to talk to any brand is through a public social network.

    Which is full of difficulties, which I’ll get into later, but overall, social media has been a Pandora’s Box for the idea of two-way communication.

    Once people have it in their head that you can talk back to some brands, the expectation is that it should be true for all brands. There’s no going back now. The people view the products and services around them, and what to do when they fail expectations, has changed permanently.


    A short diversion, to look at this from anther angle.

    This is a quick test of an idea, in preparation for my rewrite* of the “Are Brands Fracking The Social Web?” presentation I’m giving on Wednesday for the first time at Squared. This particular element is still forming, so YMMV.

    As I mentioned, I’ve been reading Dan Dennett’s aforementioned Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking.

    One of the tools he describes is something called The Intentional Stance, which is one of three stances a person can take when predicting the performance of the thing in front of them.

    In ascending order…

    1. The Physical Stance is the one you take when predicting the behaviour of things that are “neither alive nor artefacts” – we use only our understanding of the natural physical world and how things behave accordingly in contemplating them. How gravity works upon a stone, or how wind works upon the surface of water.

    2. The Design Stance is when you take an object and predict what it does by the cues that it contains. Dennett’s example is an alarm clock. If you see something that fits into the category ‘alarm clock’ in your head, you can reason that there’s a few buttons you can push on the back to make it ring at a certain time (this made me think of the ‘archetypes’ than Dejan Sudjic talked about in The Language of Things). The object itself (if well designed) helps us predict how to use it.

    3. The Intentional Stance, which Dennett references as a subspecies of The Design Stance, means that you treat the thing as an agent of sorts, “with beliefs and desires and enough rationality to do what it ought to do given those beliefs and desires” – “The intentional stance is the strategy of interpreting the behaviour of an entity (person, animal, artifact or whatever) by treating it as if it were a rational agent who governed its “choice” of “action” by a “consideration” of its “beliefs” and “desires”.”

    These stances are a good user-centric way of imagining who people see your brand.

    My own working shorthand for the three is…

    The Physical Stance – Basic Things Should Act As Expected.

    The Design Stance – Designed Things Should Act As Created.

    The Intentional Stance – Representative Things Should Act As Instructed.

    I’m still playing with language, but the space between the last two is the interesting bit for me here when unpicking some of the implications that social has for brands.


    If you take the general brand proposition at face value, it’s always seen itself as delivering value at the level of The Intentional Stance. These were not just mere products cranked out of a factory, these were the representatives of the “beliefs and desires” of the company who made them, with “enough rationality to do what it ought to do given those beliefs and desires“.

    That’s why brands were seen as valuable things; they differentiated you from every other product which people would interpret at The Design Stance level, where everything did the same thing for people (a chocolate bar would work like a chocolate bar, but a Cadbury’s bar was a bit more special; an alarm clock would work like an alarm clock, though a Braun one would work and look better than others).

    However, whereas once having people evaluate your thing using The Intentional Stance meant just broadcasting adverts at them, it now means something different.

    If this thing in front of me is an agent of your beliefs and desires, then it’s now an offer to engage with you on those terms. It’s not a one-way transmission of what you consider your brand to be. You’ve sold me a living, breathing emissary of your beliefs, with a walkie-talkie built-in so that we can talk about it. You instructed it (and indeed, may still instruct it**) to act like this. So we should talk.

    The great social media promise was, of course, that I’d love your product, and would want to share, publicly, in my support of those beliefs and desires. Yet much more often, the product realty fails to live up to the brand promise.

    If you really believe that personal banking is so important, then why does your system fail so spectacularly in delivering personal banking? Why are your burgers not even the third best on the high street? Why doesn’t your beer taste of anything? Why did you change the chocolate in the eggs we all liked? 

    Social media has increasingly become the space to resolve contradictions between the claimed beliefs of a brand, and the functional reality of using its products and services. It is the space between how you’re judged from The Design Stance and The Intentional Stance.

    As a working title, I’ve called it The Intention Gap – the distance between the promise and the reality

    Intention Gap

    And whereas once upon a time, it wasn’t really that much of a problem (as Russell pointed out last year when talking about parity products), it now matters a lot more, because the gap is a black hole, with a gravitation pull for social commentary.

    The bigger the gap, the greater the gravity, and the more it will pull in comments saying “wait, no, this is a rubbish thing, don’t waste your time”. The more your product or service fails in meeting inflated expectations, the more you can expect “a never-ending stream of apologetic answers to customer complaints, punctuated by the odd, hopeful brand message from central marketing”.

    I’ll keep nudging and prodding this idea, obviously, but it already raises interesting questions to ask. What happens to brands who can’t afford to bring the product quality up to the general expectation at the same price point? Are they happy to trade current margin for future existence? How easy is it for new market entrants, who’re setting the running on product quality, to scale up to rival existing brands? And what sort of questions must you ask to establish what sort of Intention Gap you might be looking at?

    There’s one thing worth trying to establish a firmer viewpoint on for Wednesday though; with mainstream social networks erring towards becoming platforms for brand broadcast, will the social activity which seems so tricky for many brands disappear? Or is it just going to shift elsewhere less visible and manageable spaces for brands to see?



    * I’ve given the talk eight times across the last two years, each with gradual updates and evidence plucked from the maelstrom as it passes by. This is the first time I’ve fundamentally rewritten it, because of two things.

    Firstly, one of the participants said at the end of the course in November something interesting – “When you gave the talk in the first week, I thought it was the worst we’d had. By the end of the course, I thought it was the best.” User feedback like that is really useful – it made me think about what I was trying to achieve across the six weeks, rather than just in the ninety minutes.

    Secondly, it feels like we’re getting close to an answer: Are Brands Fracking The Social Web? Yes, quite possibly

    **This idea of products as agents gets really interesting when we start seeing more and more things that arrive in our homes that are constantly instructed on how to behave, be it intentionally or unintentionally. Samsung’s TVs that are listening to you, for instance…


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  • The Certainty of Delivery

    On: February 12, 2015
    In: rivetings
    Views: 1238

    Notes from the anecdata – posting things is getting bigger this year.

    For instance, recently I’ve had three brilliant, lovely, thoughtful things in the post, from Hugh, Anj and Curtis & Emily at Fieldwork respectively.

    P1010239 P1010241 P1010240

    Friends reaching out to connect, to say hi, yes, but also with a thing to do.

    The old Royal Mail slogan… I Saw This, And Thought Of You.

    Well, actually, all three are a bit more “I Made This, And Wanted You To Have One”. The point stands though.

    For a while, perhaps we all stopped sending either of the two. Because we could grab pictures and videos and snippets of conversation of whatever it was we saw, and drop them in to the mighty social stream, where we knew everyone would see them… “I’ve Found This, And Thought Of You All”.

    There was a promise of delivery from our social networks. Post this up here, and your friends will see it. That’s kind of fallen by the wayside. You post things up, and people might see them, maybe, if you’re lucky. Or if they really, really look. Though that wasn’t the promise when we signed up.


    When we find things, or make things, and send those things somewhere, there’s an expectation of delivery. An expectation that someone at the other end would want to receive it, so we should be able to make sure they get it.

    Maybe that’s why we’ve seen a return to email newsletters and podcasts, to posting letters and making things. There’s a certainty of delivery about them. People will get what we send. We’re not really sure whether the social network stuff we post is going to go any more, whether it’ll reach any of the people we want it to reach. Listen to conversations nowadays; there’s invariably an exchange where people ask “did you see the thing I posted..?”

    People always thought it would be the social bit that broke first. It turns out that they might fail as networks first.


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