Weekly Roundup: 8 Mar 2015

The world keeps moving faster and faster. It’s increasingly hard to filter out the most important 'signals from the noise' with the time we have available. Below is a summary of the most interesting and relevant topics that have passed through my signal filter over the past week.

"All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy of which victory is evolved."

- Sun Tzu

We are on the eve of the Apple Watch launch, a time where we are increasingly integrating computing into every aspect of our lives, and augmenting ourselves with technology. 

The buzz words of right now are terms like wearables, beacons, nearables, haptic triggers, and virtual & augmented reality. Our devices are proliferating and connecting in new and unforeseen ways, which is driving increasingly complex interactions.

John Borthwick, CEO of Betaworks has written a fantastic article unraveling several aspects of our ongoing self augmentation, covering the areas of our Prosthetic Self, our Data Skin, our Present Self, and the Dreams of AI.

As technology augments the things we do, we must always remember the fable of Icarus. This was about the twin perils of complacency and hubris - flying too low or too high. John provides an interesting list of thorny questions that we need to keep in mind to ensure we don't crash into the sea.

As part of the above article, John linked to a data visualization by app Human. It is amazing to see how data being collected by organizations is being used to create amazing things. See how some of the most famous cities across the world come to life through their citizens running, biking and driving.

Speaking of technology augmenting our lives, there is an interesting bias called "algorithm aversion". If we see an algorithm fail (even if it is very small), we tend not to trust it - even when we are shown it is vastly superior to human judgement. Be careful about trusting your gut.

Some of the smartest marketers in the world right now weigh in on what marketing & advertising will look like in 2020. A quote that really stuck out for me - "Good agencies will act like product companies, not service companies".

It might be time to start thinking like an Essentialist - that you will produce more by removing more, not doing more. This very much feels like the model of First Principles and the Eisenhower Matrix. Be ruthless with your time, and always have a strong North Star.

Have you ever heard of the Monty Hall problem? It's a logic puzzle that still does my head in. Zachary Crockett writes a fantastic article about Marilyn vos Savant, and the "nightmarish journey, rife with name-calling, gender-based assumptions, and academic persecution" that came with getting the puzzle right.

Speaking of a nightmarish journey of name-calling, persecution and gender-based assumptions, Jon Ronson writes a great piece in the Times from the forthcoming book "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" on Justine Sacco. If you remember Sacco, she wrote a racist tweet that went viral and basically ruined her life. An interesting take on the modern phenomenon of witch trials, shaming people in stocks int he public square, and our obsession with trying to amuse the people we can't see.

Hire good people. Treat them well. Help them succeed. Compensate them fairly. Let them go home. An essay in praise for meaningless work, and escaping cupidity and the Peter Principle.

The startup world is full of new and interesting concepts - things like fail fast and pivot. The fundamental thing we all need to remember however is that the ultimate goal of a startup is to build a business, not inflate the ego of the founders. Some great lessons on the stunning failure of Fab.com, and how it went from raising $325 million dollars to going bust.  

I have very mixed feelings about Buzzfeed, and the world of click bait they have invariably helped create. Rohin Dhar shows that the Internet publishing powerhouse actually sources 62% of its content from just 25 sources - and surprisingly a huge amount comes straight from Tumblr. It seems stealing from other publishing platforms (who's users no doubt stole it from somewhere else) is really good business.

Summarizing just how incredible Netflix is - the company earns $2.4 million per employee. But the real dangers are looming with the incredible land grab kicking off with everyone trying their hand at content. And it's forcing Netflix to risk everything.

Could McDonald's current woes be directly linked to them being a bad corporate citizen? The world of business and corporate responsibility is changing, and organizations that fail to see the writing on the wall are in real danger of being wiped out.

Two interesting articles on gambling. First, can you manufacture luck? It turns out, luck might actually be the result of how you behave, and not just the odds.

Second, a beautifully written long form essay by Jay Kang on his gambling addiction. The high is always the pain, and the pain is always the high.

To finish up, an oneiric video experience I stumbled upon, An Embroidery of Voids. Haunting. Enjoy.

Weekly Roundup: 1 March 2015

The world keeps moving faster and faster. It’s increasingly hard to filter out the most important 'signals from the noise' with the time we have available. Below is a summary of the most interesting and relevant topics that have passed through my signal filter over the past week.

"In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it's the fast fish which eats the slow fish."

- Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

This week two primary topics sparked my interest - and it wasn't just the color of a dress. Organizational Responsiveness is again a focus this week, as well as a look at some of the interesting impacts within the world of photography due to the introduction of technology. Let's get to it.

There are a huge amount of disruptive factors impacting work today, and organizations of all sizes are striving to not only cope but thrive in this environment. In an effort to create a common framework and language to allow discussion on this topic, a range of forward thinking companies and consultants have banded together to form Responsive.org.

The Responsive Organization Manifesto outlines some of the key tenants of this philosophy: Purpose over Profit, Empowering over Controlling, Emergence over Planning, Networks over Hierarchies, Adaptivity over Efficiency and Transparency over Privacy. Check out the site and join up to see how this evolves over time.

Want a quick bootcamp on making a startup? Sam Altman distills a huge amount of information and learnings into a simple step by step framework to structure your thinking. This is great for anyone looking to start a new venture, but also works for existing business leaders to check against their own efforts. 

One of the most sobering statistics in business is that nearly all the companies our grandparents admired have disappeared. From a quote from 2011, of the top 25 companies on the Fortune 500 in 1961, only six remain today.

Mark Leslie via First Round has a great article on the concept of the Arc of Company Life, and some strategies to try and prolong it. A big focus - ensuring that you are Opportunity-Driven versus Operationally-Driven, and searching for the sweet-spot of optionality.

A fairly new form of language in the tech startup world is the concept of a "Unicorn", a company valued at more than a billion dollars, or a "deca-Unicorn", with a value over $10 billion. Marc Andreessen has taken to Twitter in another tweet storm to outline a plan to help foster more of these Unicorns, and the big advantages to society as a result.

In last weeks roundup I talked about the Impact Trap, or the idea of getting stuck on a smaller peak when there are much higher peaks to be conquered. An interesting strategy put forward to help tackle this is applying Google's 70/20/10 investment process into your own life. If you spend all of your time be reactive as opposed to thinking about the long term, you could just be slowly sinking into quicksand.

Walmart just announced it was actively raising its minimum wage for workers. While some may chalk this up to a publicity stunt, analysis has shown that organizations (and especially retail ones) can benefit from greater investment in their workforces. Workers are the lifeblood of any organization, so if you focus on making them happy, you can thrive.

On to photography.

Now that smartphones are becoming ubiquitous, and we now have access to high definition cameras at all times in our pockets, we are seeing some fascinating cultural and societal shifts.

First up is the concept of Vemödalen - the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist - which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself. 

Are we doomed to become a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy...

Like the music industry, the world of professional photography is beginning to suffer the effects of the 'boiling frog' phenomenon. Simon Moss, CEO of startup ImageBrief outlines the challenges facing photographers and delivers a rallying cry to try and stop the frog from being completely cooked.

National Parks often require permits to allow people to commercially shoot footage or take photos within their borders. Where things get really murky is how this applies to amateur photographers with big social media followings. This fascinating article from Outside magazine explores how camera ubiquity is blurring the lines between commercial, personal and editorial photography, the dangers to national parks, and the need to rethink laws and regulations.

To finish up, some fun. What is Seinfeld was the podcast Serial by Seinfeld2000.

Weekly Roundup: 22 Feb 2015

The world keeps moving faster and faster. It’s increasingly hard to filter out the most important 'signals from the noise' with the time we have available. Below is a summary of the most interesting and relevant topics that have passed through my signal filter over the past week.

Do you know what a Product Manager is, and how they operate in a technology business? Product Management sits at the intersection of engineering, marketing, research and project management, with the goal of creating great, habitual products that people love to use. 

The team at Intercom have created a fantastic e-Book that dives deep into this role, showcasing their development frameworks, and adding in a bunch of learnings and ideas to apply to your own product or platform. Even if you are not currently a product person or in a startup or tech business, this is a great read on explaining how technology is re-inventing the way we create things.

Right now we have a pretty clear definition of what strategy is - but one of the biggest hurdles still remains translating a strategy into results through execution. Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull outline some of the biggest myths about executing strategy, and how to solve this problem by fostering coordination across units and building the agility to adapt to changing conditions.

Tech can get pretty messy, especially if you want to see how current technologies have evolved over time. Quartz have created a great interactive map of the most influential products in the fields of electronics and communications, and how they have intersected and adapted over time.

With the Apple Watch launch on the horizon, press coverage is about to hit a frenzied pace as pundits race to make predictions around this potentially revolutionary product.

Firstly, if you want to understand how the watch will work, the best place to start might be with the people making the apps. Fast Company interview some of the developers and showcase some of the more interesting features.

Next, with the launch of any new platform, the race is on to create the first killer app. Andrew Chen explains this concept through the lens of 'The Law of Shitty Clickthroughs' - that the aggregate performance of any channel goes down over time due to increased competition, spam and customer fatigue. First movers to shiny new channels often get big advantages.

The New Yorker have written a very detailed piece on Jonathan Ive, and how he has led the development of Apple's intuitive and beautiful product design. Some great insights into the decisions around the Apple Watch, and what other innovations may be on the horizon. 

Lastly, Apple have in some ways proven that Clayton Christiensen's theory of low-end disruption may be flawed. A key to this has been the focus on making products that are modular, competing in huge markets, and creating an entirely new class of services that mix integration and modularization. With the watch on the horizon, this article explains the entire Apple ecosystem in detail, and just how big this thing can get.

The narrative around being data focused versus design focused tends to pit these views as two black or white extremes. The reality is, there is a lot of grey in the middle. Mike Greenfield has a great article 'Design vs Darwinism. Data vs Darkness' that explores this topic, with a great framework for thinking about being data and design led.

Sometimes you have to go down before you go back up. The Impact Trap, and how to avoid it so you can unleash your full potential.

Some fun to finish. Saturday Night Live had their 40th Anniversary Special. By far the best sketch over the years was Celebrity Jeopardy - the cast get back together to give it one last spin. 

Weekly Roundup: 15 Feb 2015

The world keeps moving faster and faster. It’s increasingly hard to filter out the most important 'signals from the noise' with the time we have available. Below is a summary of the most interesting and relevant topics that have passed through my signal filter over the past week.

Fast Company have released their 'World's 50 Most Innovative Companies 2015' list. I highly recommend reading each of the case studies featured, it provides an amazing insight into business model innovation, and the ways new and established businesses are disrupting themselves to create new value. 

Warby Parker take the top spot for their efforts building the first made-on-the-internet brand. I really love this quote from founder Neil Blumenthal on why the company has been so successful - "If we sum it up in one word, it's deliberate". 

Check out the list for some serious inspiration.

Jon Stewart made the sad announcement that he would be giving up the Daily Show chair after 17 years of bringing a little bit of sanity to the news. Fast Company pay tribute by outlining some of the key lessons from his career - especially why it's alright to be a late bloomer.

There is a huge amount of evidence that using perception-based data for HR decision making is fundamentally flawed. If you are doing end of year reviews, 360's or nine-box grids, it might be time to rethink your processes in case you are doing more harm than good. 

Speaking of HR and promotions, one mental model to get your head around is the Peter Principle, or The Law of Crappy People. Hierarchies can produce some dangerous, systemic problems, so use this advice to rethink the way you level people up.

"Plan vs Build. Where do you stand?" Planning is an important part of running a business, but the reality is you can't truly learn by planning alone. An interesting debate on when you should ditch the plans in favour of shipping.

Netflix are showing just how competitive the entertainment industry is becoming. They are raising $1 billion in debt to fund and acquire new content in order to compete with big guns like HBO. A big growing problem - content deals are becoming increasingly costly and complex.

Have you ever wondered how a Freemium app can afford to hire Kate Upton to appear in their ads, and then pretty much put them everywhere on television? Maybe because, as of writing this article they are making over $1.5 million A DAY from in app purchases. The awe inspiring power of app entertainment.

Sneakerheads are a case study in super loyal fans who are not afraid to spend a serious amount of money on products. Adidas are trying to tackle the problems associated with the release of limited edition, high value shoes with a new app called Confirmed. Forget long lines and no guarantees - the app will alert you when a shoe drops in your area, allowing you to reserve a pair in your size.

If you have ever worked in advertising, you will laugh at this. And then cry. And then laugh again. Who said it - Kanye West or your Creative Director?

A bit of fun to finish up. If you were a child of the 80's, you probably remember all of the (looking back) terrible ads aimed at kids in the 90's. This homage to the ads of this era provides a bit of nostalgia - with a very big twist.

I present 'Every 90's Commercial Ever'.

Weekly Roundup: 31 Jan 2015

The world keeps moving faster and faster. It’s increasingly hard to filter out the most important 'signals from the noise' with the time we have available. Below is a summary of the most interesting and relevant topics that have passed through my signal filter over the past week.

Six of the big tech giants all reported on their fourth quarter earnings this week, and it makes for a fascinating case study on the way consumer behavior is evolving. There are several strong lessons here for businesses of all kinds, so it's worth reading between the lines to see where we are headed.

Firstly, Apple. The company's first quarter was its biggest so far, at $74.6 billion in revenue and $18 billion in profits. And it's continuing to grow. The iPhone is the big cash cow here at 69% of total revenue - they are creating and selling 75 million of them each quarter, bolstered by the introduction of the bigger screen Plus (which turns out to be a very good move).

With the iWatch launching soon, Apple will own screens of every size, and are proving how much the world is shifting to be mobile first.

Microsoft isn't dead yet. It's still huge, growing and profitable. The company is making a slow (and very big) transition to a cloud subscription model, but what's crazy is how profitable the old subscription model remains in the market. Cloud subscription will remain a big deal moving into the future.

Google is massive, but its $18 billion in profits was below analysts expectations. It is interesting to see the core paid click business is faltering a bit due to shifts to mobile, as consumers prefer apps in this space. Search is also being threatened by a lot of new players from all angles. This however is being bolstered in other ways, with YouTube revenue growing by more than 100%. YouTube and video are going to be huge this year. 

Amazon is up a lot more than expected, posting a very rare quarterly profit. The main driver behind this is Amazon Prime, which is providing to be a hugely lucrative 'moat' strategy. Prime users are super loyal, and order twice as much as non-subscribers, and pretty much order everything and anything with the service. A great example of understanding your customers lifetime value, and investing in loyalty.

Yahoo didn't grow, but spun off its very lucrative stake in Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant as a separate entity. They still feel like they have an identity crisis; it will be interesting how they evolve.

Lastly, Facebook. The company has made a phenomenal shift to mobile, understanding consumer behavior perfectly. Mobile now represents 69% of total ad revenue. User growth has slowed, but they are extracting more revenue per user. And it is really emerging as a video streaming platform, with 3 billion videos watched per day - expect the platform to shift in new ways to adapt to this.

As seen in Google's earnings, YouTube is becoming a monster of a platform. Last year the highest paid earner made $4.9 million dollars - and they did it simply unboxing Disney toys.

Last year, iOS app developers earned more than Hollywood did from the box office in the US. Apps are swamping other forms of entertainment in a massive way, and consumer expectations are forever changing.

Interested in the financials around building app games? The team behind the beautiful Monument Valley reveal the cost and reward of creating their hit application. 

Google Ventures have updated their Design Sprint methodology into a handy blueprint. Also, keep an eye out for the upcoming book on the subject.

A great article on the dozen lessons learned from Chris Dixon on Venture Capital and Startups. Great advice for entrepreneurs and savvy business people.

To finish up, Squarespace really won the Internet this week with their new advertising campaign. Sleeping Tapes sees Jeff Bridges release an album designed to help you fall asleep. Not only is it crafted exceptionally well, it does what all brands should be doing - creating a great product, and then selling it by providing real, tangible utility.

Weekly Roundup: 14 Nov 2014

The world keeps moving faster and faster. It’s increasingly hard to filter out the most important signals from the noise with the time we have available.

I'll be creating a post summarizing the most important and relevant topics for marketers, advertisers and business leaders that have passed through my signal filter in the past week. Take a look at what's I've found most interesting, and don’t forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter.

“It’s almost like a prank that was played by the technology industry on the media industry 20 years ago”.

This quote from Chris Dixon perfectly sums up the banner ad, which had its twenty year anniversary on October 27th. Thankfully this web destroyer is on the decline, but what does this mean going forward?

The growth of app unbundling (or in some cases re-bundling) is a potential first step in the death of the traditional web as we know it. What should we start to be thinking about? - Cards (includes a great explanation and some interesting questions).

Des Trainer did one of the best talks on how Product Strategy has evolved in the tech world, and the most important frameworks to think about right now. I’m going to turn this into a mental model at some stage, but for now it is mandatory watching for anyone involved in creating products or strategy.

The Amazon / Hachette war is a lot murkier than it appears on paper. Vanity Fair do a great job of diving deep on the story, exploring both sides. Is Amazon the death of publishing, or are they merely bringing books into the future?

Why does Silicon Valley work so well (but other tech hubs have failed to create the same level of success)? Sam Altman makes a great case for now and the future.

If we want to create big moon shot ideas, we need to stop letting backbenchers and schadenfreude take centre stage. An argument for optimism by Mark Suster.

Marc Andreessen sounds off on diversity in Silicon Valley, and the other side of the coin with the disruption argument (are the robots really coming to take our jobs, and is that really a bad thing?). 

Speaking of robots taking our jobs, Larry Page, the guy helping build them talks about his new role spending time tackling the big issues facing society. We can’t fight the future - but it might not be as bad as a lot of people make out.

Amazon just released Echo, an always-on speaker that is voice activated and answers your questions. With the proliferation of Smart TV’s with always on speakers built in, and the desire of to capture data, are we about to hit a new round of privacy concerns?

Podcasts are so hot right now. What is the secret on their renaissance? It just might be the proliferation of cars connected to the Internet (say goodbye to traditional radio).

Speaking of Podcasts, I highly recommend you check out Serial (it is heavily mentioned in the article above). If you need a true crime fix before the next season of True Detective, this modern day Rashomon is an utterly fascinating and addictive exploration of a murder trial from 1999. Give it a listen.

Finally, the Advertising industry luckily can poke a bit of fun at itself. The Canadian AOTY awards ran recently, and a few agencies made some fantastic parody content. You will laugh (and then cry), and then laugh again.

From Zulu Alpha Kilo, what if a Mad Man was around in today’s ad world?

From Union, it’s important to reward your employees for their hard work.

Lastly, from Rethink Communication, a new award… for the best award videos.