Every so often, I find myself mucking about in Illustrator, playing with a new something or other for a piece of work, and it’ll just make me think ‘oh, that’s good, that could be a new Smithery thing’. For a company that’s been running for three and a half years, to have had three different logos and styles is good going. Perhaps it’s a bit like a Doctor Who regeneration. Looks different, acts different, yet is the same thing.
Anyway, I haven’t decided if this is defintely one yet. But it’s work in progress. It’s always good to share work in progress. It’s based on the series of tools and models that have popped out of the People & Space project, we’ll see if it sticks.
Interesting: what sort of things would fictional characters recommend if they watched Netflix? Only probably doable if you own the IP to the characters… Which of course in this case, Netflix do.
I started reading The Death of Drawing; Architecture in the Age of Simulation by David Ross Scheer today on a plane. I’m only a fifth of the way in, but already I’m hooked. It’s about how as the practice of drawing disappears from architecture, replaced by BIM (Building Information Modeling), a way of pulling together lots and lots of data to describe how it might interact, and therefore how a building should be designed. Scheer describes this as “representation” (drawing) versus “simulation” (BIM systems).
For Scheer, representations are loose, free. One drawing is one possible version of reality, but no more. A selection of drawings begins to build up a picture, but still, the viewer is left to fill in the gaps. Representations here allow space for creativity, not just of the drawer, but of all who look upon the drawings. We fill all the gaps in between the glimpses of reality we see.
Simulations, on the other hand, are “an artificial environment that creates an artificial experience that is felt to be reality”. They want the viewer to believe that they are real, because if they don’t, then they have failed in their task of simulation. Which means in turn there’s less space for creativity, for interpretation of meaning. If the simulation is not real, then the task is not to solve the problems, but to find a better simulation.
Scheer starts to ask some very interesting questions early on about Architecture (“When designs are evaluated in simulations, will the buildings themselves become simulations of the simulations? If architecture loses the idea of representation, how will buildings acquire meaning?“), and of course it’ll be fascinating to see where he goes in answer the three core questions he’s asking (my interpretations – i) What does it mean for the profession of an Architect? ii) What will become the nature of creativity in Architecture? iii) What role will Architecture play in culture in this world?).
For me, broadly thinking about the roles of representations and simulations in other spheres becomes really interesting. What if advertising agencies created ‘representations’, and media agencies ‘simulations’? How does data-driven product design fit in? What does it not leave space for? Where in organisations would we benefit from more representations, and less simulations? And how do we recognise what is representation, and what is simulation? More soon.
Two really interesting posts were written in close proximity recently, about Planning.
NB – By which is meant Account Planning, an advertising term for a specific role in an agency. If you want to know what it used to mean, before the jump, then read this APG definition introduced by Merry Baskin from 2001. I have never been an Account Planner, but reading that definition back realise my work comprised a lot of the skills and activities listed whilst in Adland. So, you know, these are my thoughts, YMMV.
There, that’s the small print, up front, in bold.
Firstly, there’s Heidi Hackemer’s post on Planning’s Lost Generation. It points out that, through that perfect storm of increased complexity, not enough time, reduced tenure in the labour market, and so on and so forth, agencies aren’t really training the next generation of planners anymore. Which causes even bigger future problems, as how do expect a geneation who hasn’t been trained to do any training themselves when the time comes. As Heidi says:
Secondly, there’s Richard Huntington’s Can Any Planners Still Plan? He questions whether this younger generation even want to plan anymore, to understand what that is:
“I have long argued that while there are many ways strategists add value to their agencies and the business of their clients, the greatest contribution that we make is taking those brands to new places in the lives and minds of their customers. It is our ability to help brands and businesses re-invent the future that makes us most useful.
And yet I am beginning to lose count of the number of planners I come across in my wanderings that don’t want to do that. That either are not interested at all or who have little idea that this is what they are supposed capable of doing.
These planners seem to want to do one thing and one thing alone, something that they call making things.”
In short, the two posts together suggest a generation who Can’t Plan, Won’t Plan.
Of course, there followed a massive twitter exchange as happens in Planning when anyone mentions Planning and its inevitable worth/decline/reinvention/hopelessness.
But I thought I’d just stretch out a couple of points that can’t be made on twitter.
Firstly, if there’s no time and resource to teach a new generation what Planning is, there’s undoubtedly a complex variety of reasons, all of which are at odds with each other yet all true.
But reading back on that APG list of what roles a planner should play, you realise that so much of what actual Planning consisted of is now being done elsewhere:
- market researcher
- data analyst
- qualitative focus group moderator
- information centre
- bad cop (to account management’s/client service’s good cop)
- NPD consultant
- brainstorming facilitator
- target audience representative/voice of the consumer
- media/communications planner
- strategic thinker/strategy developer
- writer of the creative brief
In a way, perhaps Planning won. It raised the importance of all of these requirements for companies, and so now there a multitude of specialists that do them instead. Planning happens everywhere, just not by “Planners”.
Secondly, on Making as Thinking.
For the last three years at Smithery, and for several years before that at PHD, I’ve been using making as a way to explore things, to find things out. It’s a different sort of learning approach, one that helps you bridge the gap between ‘novice’ and ‘expert’ by playing with and creating different things in the spaces you find to aid understanding of the spaces themselves.
For the ongoing background research for Artefact Cards, I’ve recently fallen down the rabbit hole of “Constructionism”, a brilliant learning theory. If you want a useful place to start with this stuff, this post by Steve Wheeler is the shorthand version, then this talk by Edith Ackermann from MIT will give you some ideas of how you might set up learning structures like that:
However, it seems a bit disingenuous to talk about the value on “Constructionism” vs “Instructionism” by writing blog posts, debating on twitter, and largely doing nothing but talking lots. This is a part of Planning’s problem, perhaps.
It all made me think of a talk I did years ago at an IPA course, which I called The Planner’s Book of Things To Make.
It was an exhortation for young planners to make more things; not because these would be the things that would become a central campaign idea, or sell a million units, but because they would inform thinking, draw in users, reach out to niche interest groups, create feedback loops to steer brands and so on.
But, in hindsight, it was a talk, and talk is cheap.
So as I wind my way up to London on a train towards Playful at the Conway Hall, I’m wondering if it would be more useful to put on The Planner’s Day of Things To Make sometime in the New Year.
It would be an exploration of how to use making as a route into a lot of the things that Planners need to be doing to Plan properly.
Sounds niche, huh? Well, yeah, maybe. So here’s how I’m going to gauge demand.
And when you sign up, sign up to “yes, I will buy a ticket to this woolly sounding nondescript event and not show up”.
Price wise: no idea. We will pay all people running sessions, and the required materials, and refreshments, and lunch. So whatever that’s going to cost.
Anyway, that’s it at the moment. Let’s see what people make of that, and we’ll go from there.
This is fascinating, from change.org… sign a campaign, then you’re asked if you want to donate money to place an ad to show to it to more people (and a very specific amount of people) who might also then sign it.
How long until there’s a “design your ad” feature on there too?
“I’d pay £5 a month for Twitter, for instance” said Neil. “Nobody does that though. Well, apart from app.net. But why not?“
What followed from me is an 88mph reckon, which I’ll repeat here.
(YMPHMV, of course.)
It’s easier to get investment for a business built on rapid user growth. It’s easier to get rapid user growth if your product is free. It’s easier to make a product free if, when people ask “but how do you make money..?”, your answer is “advertising, my friend”.
We all know this, no news here.
What matters here, I think, is market perception of the potential revenue per user.
Nobody knows what the maximum revenue figure for a social network user is in the advertising model.
Yet potential revenue per user for a paid-for network model, is a relatively easy to guess at.
With good research, to establish how much people would be willing to pay for a social network. It might be £5 per month, it might be £10 a year, whatever. You can find out. You’d even get a good sense just by thinking ‘oh, I’d pay that’ or ‘oh, that’s too much’.
But if you’re working in an advertising revenue model, there’s much more potential.
Recently, Facebook’s ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) was $6.44 in the US & Canada, and $2.24 Worldwide.
The key point is that this figure isn’t static; it’s growing. People start thinking “if it can make an ARPU of $6 per year, then it can probably do $8. Then $10. Then…”
Nobody knows where that stops. We have a good feel for how much is too much to charge for a service, but not for how much can be potentially made through advertising… but when Google can make $45 ARPU, then people suppose that everyone else, if they find a secret sauce, can at least make half that, right?
Where does that leave us? What about Neil’s question? Will we see a paid-for social network as a service?
I wouldn’t have thought so, as long as most social networks are taking investment from people who want to turn their capital into more capital quickly.
To explain why, we started talking about Back To The Future III.
Quick plot reminder. The Doc and Marty are stuck in the ‘Old West’ in 1885, with a DeLorean time machine they must get up to 88mph in order for it to take them back to 1985. To do this, they steal a train to push the car on rails in front of the train past the necessary speed.
This involves doing it on the ‘only piece of track suitable’, meaning they must reach the speed before hitting the as-yet-unbuilt rail bridge where the train will plunge into the canyon below.
This last bit is just a plot device to introduce a bit of jeopardy, obviously. You can tell when there’s jeapordy involved in films when they must build a small scale model of it beforehand, and write things like “Point Of No Return” on it…
The plan is to do whatever it takes to push the train faster and faster, so as to push the DeLorean past escape velocity out of grubby, dangerous, Real Cowboy America and into the bright, shiny future of Actor-Cowboy Ronald Reagan’s America.
In this analogy, there are two things that matter.
If you’re using the service, then you’re sitting in the train.
You’d be quite happy if it just pootled around various stations, doing train things, forever. Phenomenal, abnormal speed isn’t an issue. When you got on, the train was standing on a platform, heading to a place you wanted to go to, with some people on it who were a bit like you. You’d like the train to be a train,
If you’ve got shares you’d like to cash in, you’re sitting in the DeLorean.
You don’t really care about what happens to the engine behind, because you have a clearly defined point at which you want to get out (perhaps, even, at $88 dollars per share). It’s in your interest to push the engine as hard as you can, so that you get to that escape velocity.
You’re probably inventing all sorts of fancy coloured fuel-logs to make the engine run hotter. More ads, more formats, different sales approaches, research studies… anything that makes the business make more money more quickly, so the share price goes up, and people start thinking that the potential revenue per user might just keep growing and growing.
The trick is making the share price go as high as it can before the train tumbles down into the canyon.
The thing is, I’m not sure there’s a way to make the people in the train and the people in the DeLorean both benefit. As soon as you start going at a certain speed, and pushing the ad revenue model in a way that starts to annoy people, you pass the fabled point of no return.
Here, when you get past it, you can’t go back to the previous model. You know that the network you’ve created is heading down the canyon. So you just have to push it fast enough to hit 88mph.
I’m going to think a bit more about this, obviously, and so would welcome other perspectives. If anything, I think the digital-bubble fuss around the Ello signup T&Cs at least shows people are now considering carefully which trains they get on in the first place.
In the meantime… some mild jeopardy:
I ran an innovation session yesterday for The Network One, to a group of owners and CEOs of various nimble, independent agencies. I was going to just explore some of the ideas in Fracking The Social Web, but given it was an afternoon session I tried something new.
(Also, as a rule of thumb, just talking in an afternoon slot isn’t as good as getting people to do things. I can’t remember where I first heard this theory, but it’s always worked for me. Mornings are for heads, afternoons are for hands.)
By using the Flow Engine approach to set up ‘different ways of working’, and using Artefact Cards as went, we moved through three steps.
Firstly, I asked people to write on a card the biggest issue for them in bridging the gap between traditional marketing structures and the more fluid, granular approach needed for working on the social web. In their groups, they then shared these in the centre of the table; some would be similar, some different, but what was interesting was the conversation betwen the teams about the different issues.
Secondly, we then used the Fracking themes to think about why agencies need to work differently; as I went through the themes and examples, the participants in groups would be noting down things on cards (either direct points, or ideas set-off by the thinking), so that in small groups they could start addressing the points in the centre of the table, building out a map of the territory.
Finally, I asked people to looking at the map and just write down a final card for themselves on what they would change tomorrow when they got back to the office, taking inspiration from the map they’d created together.
The slides are up here, so you can get an idea of the session. In hindsight, I think I tried to do slightly too much in the allocated time, it’d have been nicer to have some extra reflection time. Apart from that though, it seemed to work pretty well – thanks to everyone there for throwing themselves in, and thanks again to Paul, Victoria and Doug from The Network One.
I’ve been using the Flow Engines principles a lot since late August, when it arose from the Culture Mapping blog project. It’s certainly the most developed, fully realised tool that came out of that burst of work.
Anyway, I used it last week to write a general guide for people to run field trips. I’m not going to detail out below the stuff under the bonnet, as that’d be a bit dull, but save to say it uses the three steps (Consequences, Environment, Embodiment) reinforced inside each other as before.
Why share it? Well, I love a good field trip. But I don’t think people do them enough. So I thought it’d be good to put it up here, as it might be useful to others, but also so that people can add thoughts and ideas on how to improve it.
FIELD TRIPS: GETTING OUT, LOOKING AROUND, WRAPPING UP
A good field trip is something that everyone in any sort of business can get a lot from. Think of yourselves as giant, rechargeable ideas batteries; a field trip provides more good input to replace the output of looking down and typing (which, let’s be honest, we all do too much of).
A field trip doesn’t need to be planned meticulously (though you can if you wish), but you should have a plan in mind to at least give yourself something to deviate from should you need to.
This quick guide will help you write out a plan, and make sure the people you’re leading out have an interesting, useful time.
Step 1 – Getting out
When you have a location in mind to go to, don’t just say “we’re going to xxxx…”, make sure you have a short, focussed explanation in mind of what you want people to learn from going out.
“We’re going to the Science Museum, to learn more about how scientists and inventors discover new ideas.”
“We’re going to Trafalgar Square, to see what happens when you take people out of their natural environments”
To get people to come along, make an invitation that has the location and the reason clearly explained. You can just send an email, or you can be more creative if you wish. What often works well is setting up a little fiction for the trip out; let’s pretend we’re another group of people, or let’s assume that the world is different in this particular way.
Step 2 – Looking around
You don’t have to have been to the location before yourself, but it’s useful. If you haven’t, you should make it clear to the people you’re taking; “we” are going on an exploration. Invite them to be complicit in the discovery of what’s there.
But you should definitely have a good idea of what might be there, from using the internet, or intel from other people who have been.
Once you’re all there, you’re playing two roles.
Firstly, you’re scouting around, looking for the sorts of things that you suspected may be useful. If you spot things, invite others over to see, and think back to the reason you outlined for coming in the first place in order to ask questions?
“What’s interesting about the way Watt discovered a new idea here?”
“How can we tell who are the tourists here? What are they doing that others aren’t?”
Secondly, you’re bringing up the rear, just checking around to make sure that people are happy and comfortable discovering new things for themselves. As you have different conversations with different people who’re on the field trip, try to cross-pollinate thoughts and discoveries – “oh, David was just talking about that with Gillian, you should catch up with them and talk about it”.
Step 3 – Wrapping up
Finally, at the end of the trip, make sure you have time to all sit together and discuss what you’ve all found, in relation to what you set up to explore.
Having a way to write a communal set of notes around the table is really useful; it locks in the learning of the trip, and will help people remember for future use. I usually use Artefact Cards for this, of course, but whatever you want to use is fine. It needs to be in the middle of the table between you all though, to prompt discussion.
If you go somewhere with a gift shop, for instance, you can get everyone to buy a thing that represents what you’ve learned from the trip, and get everyone to explain their object.
There you go then, hope it’s useful. As always, builds and critiques most welcome.