Simplexity Analytics Framework

Simplexity Analytics Framework

In 1985, Neil Postman published a book ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ which provided an interesting juxtaposition between two authors who predicted dystopian futures, George Orwell (with Nineteen-Eighty Four) and Aldus Huxley (with Brave New World).

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”

This juxtaposition provides the perfect metaphor for the debate about data in the world right now. Data is being influenced by ‘the three V’s’:

  1. Volume: the sheer amount of data that is being generated digitally at exponential rates
  2. Velocity: the unprecedented rate at which data is moving and being collected
  3. Variety: the vast and diverse types of data that are being generated from different sources

On each succeeding year, we create more data than all of the preceding years of humanity combined. With the growth of global online access, and new networked channels like social media, this data is also becoming a technologists nightmare - unstructured, complex and variable.

You can’t read any sort of marketing prediction article without stumbling upon the apparent holy grail of “Big Data” - a concept that inevitably touches on the fears of Orwell. On the other side is “Small Data”, or the conventional data that every organization should be focused on. Invariably this suffers from the Huxley metaphor, and the threat of drowning in the sea of irrelevance or egoism.

In this essay, I’ll examine some of the defining factors of big and small data, and run through a simple framework to build a digital data ecosystem that can actually deliver actionable results for organizations.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix

Dwight D. Eisenhower was considered to be a superb task master and time manager during his illustrious career. This included tenures as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and finally President of the United States.

His success in this field was often attributed to the practice of what is now known as the Eisenhower Matrix, a very simple mental model designed to sharpen your ability to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

To quote Eisenhower,

“The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones”.

Supreme decision making and task management strategy is therefore predicated on learning to distinguish between importance and urgency balanced between short and long term goals.

The Eisenhower Matrix is expressed as the following diagram.

The Science of Flow: Unlocking Better Creativity and Happiness (Part 2)

The Science of Flow: Unlocking Better Creativity and Happiness (Part 2)

The world needs a lot more creativity, both in coming up with ideas, as well as ensuring their execution. In Part 1 of this series, I outlined a deep dive into the science of the state of Flow derived from Steven Kotler’s book 'The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance'. Part 2 is a more practical examination of how to introduce flow into our everyday lives.

While there is a solid argument that flow is the secret sauce behind the rapid development of adventure sports, it also plays a huge part in normal mental activities. Writers, poets, painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians composers and film-makers all leverage peak performance in pursuit of their craft.

It also plays an important part in creative industries like marketing, advertising, and within startups. New campaign ideas are born from flow states. Developers writing code have heavy zone triggers. Flow is also thought to be secret ingredient in a lot of online ideas that stick - things like website stickiness, customer attraction, mitigation of price sensitivity, and influence on buying behaviors.

Below I have outlined some starters gleaned from a wide variety of sources that touch on techniques to maximize the potential for flow. A lot of these may sound new age or esoteric in nature; what’s required is an open mindset and the desire to experiment with the different applications to stick with what works for you.

A Flow Refresher

Before we jump into techniques, let’s do a quick refresher on flow - happiness defined by peak creative performance.  

Flow is best expressed as a four part ‘flow cycle’. Note, interestingly a lot of this theory echoes the model ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’ by James Webb Young.

Step 1: Struggle

Our first step is a loading phase. We need to overload the brain with information (novel stimuli) from our baseline state.

In the business world, this will kick start with the creative problem we need to solve, or an issue that has emerged. We begin to soak up inputs like research, analysis, analytics, briefings - in other words, fact finding.

As we focus on the task, we create tension, which often leads to frustration. The problem seems unsolvable, our efforts feel like they are unsustainable, and the destination cloudy - the little voice in your head might be telling you that the solution is impossible.

Our brains begin to engage in pattern recognition. We repeat our analysis over and over again until they become chunks. This process may feel quite awkward and uncomfortable. We must move through this struggle phase and have faith in our ability to deliver a creative outcome.

Step 2: Release

This step involves taking your mind off the problem, and severing prior thought and emotional patterns. Triggering flow can only come from relaxation, so maintaining high stress levels will not allow you to unleash creative outcomes. We need to let things percolate, and let the body and mind relax.

Step 3: Flow Action

Struggle gives way to release, which triggers our flow action state. We may start to experience some of the flow elements, spiking our high speed problem solving, deep insight and perfect decision making capabilities.

Step 4: Recovery

A final often overlooked stage. Flow requires a lot of exertion on the body, draining energy and playing with powerful neurochemistry. We need to rest, allowing the brain to consolidate new patterns and memories, and a ‘level up’ to a new and improved baseline state.

Increasing Flow

We want more flow in our lives. The following techniques provide some experiments to try and maximize our abilities to move into flow, divided into Personal, Environmental, and Social.

The Lean Startup Methodology

The Lean Startup Methodology

The Lean Startup is a business approach coined by Eric Ries that fundamentally aims to change the way that new companies are built and new products are shipped.

At its core it is built upon three key areas:

  1. Iterative product releases with extremely fast cycle times
  2. Validated learning to focus on what customers want
  3. A scientific approach to decision making

This allows the output of shortened product development cycles, measured progress, and input of valuable customer feedback (observing behaviour, not directly asking).

Organizations can design their products and services to directly meet the demands of their customer base without requiring large amounts of initial funding or expensive product launches that may fail. Waste spending and risk are massively reduced.

Originally designed for high-tech companies, the philosophy has now expanded out to include any individual, team, agency or company looking to introduce new products or services into the market.


Ries developed the Lean Startup methodology through his direct experiences as a startup employee, founder and advisor. Through success and failure (and especially failure), he began to highlighted the biggest mistakes made by these emerging organizations.

In the twentieth century, a good plan, a solid strategy and thorough market research were often indicators of likely success. The problem with a startup (and indeed a lot of businesses right now) is that they do not yet know who their customers are or what their products should be - as startups are essentially a search for a viable business model there is too much uncertainty for accurate forecasting.  

Failure then was the result of having too concrete a vision. It did not accurately represent consumer demand, and assumptions were not validated. When a product finally launched after a huge amount of investment, it ended up being something customers either didn’t want or wouldn’t pay for.

Ries calls this “achieving failure” - successfully, faithfully, and rigorously executing a plan that turned out to be utterly flawed.

A new methodology was required to address this.

Kotter 8 Step Process for Change

Kotter 8 Step Process for Change

I have written previously about the challenges of adjusting organizations to our rapidly changing environment in my Slideshare “Digital Transformation and the Customer Experience: Overcoming Barriers and a Framework for Success”. The reality is that over 70% of all major change efforts in organizations fail, so any sort of strategies to help mitigate this and achieve success are welcome additions to this framework.

One of the most referenced change strategies comes via John Kotter and his Kotter International Consulting Firm. Kotter’s 8 Step Process for Leading Change offers a great starting blueprint for organizational adaptation, and will be explored in this essay.

Defining the Problem

Kotter offers a fantastic overview of the problem at hand via this short video (see full post).

The rate of change in both markets and our lives is creating unprecedented uncertainty. Between new software platforms underpinning new and existing business models, and the growth of interconnection and complex adaptive systems, digital disruption is an ever present threat.

Members of the S&P500’s lifespan has dropped to just 15 years. Billion dollar businesses can now be built by a few entrepreneurs in a few years, often rising and falling just as quickly. With entire entrenched industries being threatened by much nimbler competition, the need to rethink bloated middle management, global divisional structures lacking connectivity, siloed departments operating as fiefdoms and toxic internal politics is an ever present reality.

Organizations facing this challenge without a plan often fall back on reflex behavior like outsourcing perceived problems to overpriced business consultants which often just repeats the cycle in the long term. Worse, when faced with the need to make decisions when facing this complexity, organizations let paralysis take over moving into a slow decline.

Reorganizing to be more nimble, intelligent and reactive to ever present change (especially from the influence of digital) requires a lot of hard work and diligence. Kotter outlines a great framework to hopefully drive greater success in these efforts.

Defining Success Goals

Before we jump into the process itself, it’s good to understand three categorizations of urgency where organizations are on the spectrum of change - Complacency, False Urgency and True Urgency. By defining a successful mindset first, we can get a better handle of what we are aiming for when we initially begin change efforts.

The AARRR Framework: Metrics for Pirates

The AARRR Framework: Metrics for Pirates

I am always on the lookout for good digital frameworks, especially when it comes to metrics, as they really help simplify the complexity of our modern business environment. Complexity can lead to infinite choice, which often leads to paralysis.

Dave McClure’s AARRR framework (or Startup Metrics for Pirates) is an excellent antidote to this situation. The following essay outlines it in detail.

This framework was originally created for startups. A startup is essentially a search for a repeatable and scalable business model, so testing a series of hypotheses about the various parts of the business. It needs to adapt over time, and tell if the business model is worth scaling into a company.

Established organisations already have a repeatable and profitable business model. Any business school will tell you that the numbers to track are Income Statements, Balance Sheets and Cash Flow Statements, however more and more as platforms are becoming the backbone of these organisations, adopting the startup mentality to product is increasingly worth paying attention to.

An example would be a large organisation switching to offer their product through a managed e-commerce website. Traditional activity switches from broad scale mass marketing to targeted and measurable activity on the platform, with new tactics required to evolve to shifting customer needs.

To this end, I’ll phrase this essay to be inclusive of both startups and established businesses who are managing a product - as a definition product will refer to any sort of digital platform (e.g e-commerce website, widget or service or sharing based platform).

The Science of Flow: Unlocking Better Creativity and Happiness (Part 1)

The Science of Flow: Unlocking Better Creativity and Happiness (Part 1)

The following essay started out as my own attempt to try and codify strategies to improve my creative output. Advertising & Marketing are industries that feed on new ideas, so any strategies to improve ideation are always important. 

It has ended up being a much larger two part deep dive into the theory of flow, one of the more interesting recent scientific theories on where creativity comes from.

Part 1 will outline some of the problems we are currently facing, and introduce a crash course into the theory and science behind flow. Part 2 will be a much more grounded and practical framework for introducing more flow into our lives, hopefully maximising creativity as well as happiness in the process.

The Theory of Flow

There is no doubt that humans have made extraordinary leaps in the time we have been on our planet. Right now, we live in an era defined by huge advances in medicine, quality of life, longevity, resource acquisition and abundance. We also have some ongoing and upcoming thorny problems that we still need to address.

The purpose of this essay is to explore two elements of this equation;

  1. The need to drive greater happiness
  2. The desire to spark deeper creativity.

Present Problems

Right now, we have some deep systemic cultural problems manifesting in our workforce. Shifting values from Generation X to Z and increased technological disruption have not meshed well - instead they are leading to greater levels of uncertainty and unhappiness.

A 2013 Gallup report ‘State of the Global Workplace’ reveals that the bulk of the workers worldwide (63% or 900 million people) are “not engaged” at work, with a further 24% stating they are “actively disengaged”. This means over 3/4 of workers worldwide are unhappy, unproductive, lack motivation, and are unlikely to invest in discretionary effort in organizational goals and outcomes. This has a massive impact on creativity and output.

It gets worse when you take into account Deloitte’s 2014 Global Human Capital Trends report. Some of their findings include:

  • 86% of business and HR leaders believe they do not have an adequate leadership pipeline
  • 79% believe they have a significant retention and engagement problem
  • 77% do not feel they have the right HR skills to address the issue
  • 75% are struggling to attract and recruit the top people they need
  • Only 17% feel they have a compelling and engaging employment brand

This is creating a sense of operational paralysis. Traditional organizations are struggling to attract workers, and when they do, they can’t seem to create happy work environments to support them. Out of all of the skills valued most by business leaders, creativity continues to be highlighted as the number one attribute we need to foster in employees and leaders to meet new and emerging challenges.

The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons (or the Tragedy of the Unregulated Commons) is a mental model developed by Garrett Hardin, rooted in economic theory. The "tragedy" refers to a set of individuals who, acting rationally, independently and in their own self-interest can create a situation where they destroy the collective's long-term viability by depleting a common resource. 

The original example referred to individuals sharing a 'common' parcel of land for herding or fishing. If an individual utilised the common area more than their fair share, they may receive an individual benefit (a few more fatter animals or a larger catch), but if all individuals made this decision, the common land would be overgrazed or overfished ultimately leading to it's destruction.

The theory is often seen as an example of emergent behaviour, or the outcomes of individual interactions in complex adaptive systems.

In essence then, there is a failure to think long-term in favour of quick and immediate gains.

So what are some examples in Marketing & Advertising?

The Pareto Principle and the 1% Rule of Internet Culture

The Pareto Principle and the 1% Rule of Internet Culture

The following article outlines two interesting mental models - the Pareto Principle and the 1% Rule of Internet Culture. Both of these have connections with each other, and are of interest to anyone in Marketing & Advertising.

The Pareto Principle 

This model (often called the 80/20 rule) is designed to help you realise that the majority of results come from a minority of inputs. In other words, most things in life are not distributed evenly.

It's called the 80/20 for that specific reason - 80% of the effects of something come from 20% of the inputs or causes. 

For a business manager or entrepreneur, this principle can appear in a range of forms. Examples include:

  • 80% of a companies profits come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of complaints come from 20% of the customers 
  • 80% of crashes come from 20% of bugs
  • 80% of results are contributed by 20% of workers

Adapting to this knowledge involves uncovering this 20% and focusing on it. For example, if 20% or workers contribute 80% of results, focus on rewarding these employees. Or if 20% of customers contribute 80% of revenue, focus on satisfying their needs.

The Two Pizza Team Rule

The Two Pizza Team Rule

When you need to come up with a big idea or address a critical problem, the more people you can throw at it the better, right? More brains must equal more ideas - although there is a big case to say that this mindset is very wrong.

The problem with groupthink approaches is that they very rarely deliver better ideas. The more people involved in the project or meeting, the more complicated briefings become, and the more hand holding is required to get people up to speed. In turn, more time is required to review the output from each individual, and you can get bogged down providing additional feedback.

The small group principle is based on a simple insight - everyone in the room should be there for a reason. Either you are critical to the meeting, or you should be off doing other work as opposed to wasting time and slowing down the project. The key here is simplicity.

Steve Jobs was famous for ruthlessly surveying a room before he began any meeting and throwing anyone out he felt shouldn't be there. He believed the key to Apple's success was to have small groups of smart and highly creative people working together, and based on the organisations success he was probably on to something.