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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Reading the wrong books

Bookshelf at the British Library

Towards the end of his (excellent) presentation at the Google #Firestarters 3 event, Martin Bailie said something along the lines of “It’s not enough to read the right books; you have to go out and do something”.

While I agree with his sentiment, it reminded me that I don’t really read books. In fact, this book is the only one I’ve finished this year. This isn’t a conscious choice; merely a result of prioritising other forms of media during the day, and making very slow progress with a fairly large book on the occasions I do read.

As a child, I was a voracious reader, and fondly remember my weekly trips to Tewkesbury Market to spend my pocket-money on the next Three Investigators book (It wasn’t until years later that, to my horror, I discovered that they weren’t actually written by Alfred Hitchcock). At school I diligently read the set texts in full for my various English assignments, while others were seemingly content to read to watch the film (though now I suspect that less engaged students suffice with reading the Wikipedia synopsis)

I wonder the extent to which I’m missing out by not reading more long-form, particularly when people such as Mitch Joel talk up the benefits of reading multiple books a week.

Because it is not as if I’m missing out on any revolutionary thinking; I’m simply consuming it in a different way.

For instance, I’ve read chapters from both Groundswell and Predictably Irrational this year, only to find that their (original) thinking and findings seem outdated as I’d listened to and read so many different people quote and build upon their arguments in the time since they were published. Even at the Firestarters event, the speakers quoted at length from books such as The Lean Start-Up and Creative Disruption.

Should I still read them? I’m not totally sure (particularly when factoring in opportunity cost) but I suspect I should still try to make the time. A second-hand précis isn’t as powerful as digesting the full, coherent text and experiencing the subsequent inspiration first-hand. While the core arguments of some titles may now be beyond familiar, there would be value in following the author step-by-step through his or her logic, rather than skipping to the end with only a superficial understanding.

Indeed, if anything, my experiences don’t suggest there is no value in reading books. Rather, it seems there is value to be had in reading different books. While I would gain additional understanding through reading a book that I’ve already seen widely quoted; this seems an inefficient means to simply catch-up with my peers. Instead, it would surely be better to augment my second-hand consumption with books that aren’t being regularly quoted elsewhere, so that I can move my thinking in a different direction to the crowd.

One way of doing this would be through “conflict reading” – forcing myself to read books containing ideas I expect to my be contrary to my own thoughts, in a similar way to how I read the Daily Mail as a student to know thy enemy. Rather than engaging in group-think, I would be forced to re-assess my own views in light of opposing theories with their own justifications. When successful, this can help add nuance to ideas since beliefs are placed in the context of what they aren’t, in addition to what they are.

Rather than reading the right books, it might be worth reading the wrong books.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swamibu/2868288357

The Beyond Bullet Points guide to presentations

To ease myself into my goal of doing more stuff, I’ve read my first book for a little while – Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson.

Overview

cover for Beyond Bullet Points, written by Cliff Atkinson and published by MicrosoftThe book’s tagline is Using PowerPoint to Create Presentations that Inform, Motivate, & Inspire. Given that the book’s publisher in Microsoft, it is partly a guide to structuring a presentation and part PowerPoint manual. The book almost explicitly delineates itself into those two sections. Of the two, the latter half is pretty weak – even beginners don’t need a half-dozen pages on the virtues of Clip Art.

Nevertheless, I did pick up some useful PowerPoint tips. Aside from relatively minor things (for instance, I didn’t know that you could hold shift when resizing an image to retain the proportions), the main thing I took was that I should make more of the three separate views in PowerPoint. I normally stick to the normal view, but it is true that the note layout can be used to convert the document to a handout, and the slide sorter layout can equally function as an executive summary.

To be fair, the book was worth me reading for that realisation alone. Furthermore, the first three chapters – on structuring a story – were also very interesting. Atkinson is a big proponent of the rule of three, and thus it is apt that his style has three primary influences.

Influence 1 – Hollywood

The Hollywood influence is that an output requires a process. In this instance the three key milestones all correspond to the three key PowerPoint views..

  1. The script – the script of the piece is written out in long-hand, including stage directions. A presentation is slightly different in that detailed notes aren’t as important as headings. These summarise and navigate the content. The remaining components of a presentation (the flow, notes and graphics) stem from the heading
  2. The storyboard – the scenes are stitched together. Headlines are sorted and resorted to give the optimal flow. A presentation should have consistent pacing – multiple slides rather than builds should be used in order to manage the pace and keep notes distinct.
  3. The production – Only when the individual components are planned, can the production fully commence in its execution. Likewise, the slides and visuals should be the last aspect of a presentation that is completed. Within this, there are three further points to bear in mind
  • If revealing or teasing the answer in the introduction (which Atkinson advocates), then always start with the most important point as cascading conclusions require strong justification
  • Constantly remind the audience of the purpose of the presentation, and use  active and personal language to assist in persuasion
  • Use consistency and repetition throughout the presentation, including variations on a theme

Influence 2 – Aristotle

As part of the power of three, Atkinson obviously refers to Aristotle’s three act structure. He has embellished this slightly, and in fact has created a quite useful template that you can download from his website.

  1. Act 1 is an appeal to emotion whereby the story – the setting, protagonist, imbalance, balance and resolution – are set up
  2. Act 2 turns to reason, and justification for the solution. Within this, there should be three key points of descending importance. The depth and detail of each point depends on the length of the presentation. This section is a dynamic interplay between the questions of “how” and “why”, with one answering the other and vice versa.
  3. Act 3 ties the previous two acts together, framing the reasoning for the reiteration of the crisis, the solution, the climax and resolution

Influence 3 – Mayer

Richard E. Mayer has written extensively on multimedia learning theory, and ten of his principles are outlined in the book to justify why slides should be visuals and headlines, with the spoken details in the notes pages:

  1. Multimedia principle – people learn better with words and pictures than words alone
  2. Redundancy principle – people understand better when words are presented as verbal narration alone, instead of both spoken and on screen
  3. Segmentation principle – people learn better in bite-sized chunks
  4. Signalling principle – people learn better when information is presented using clear outlines and headings
  5. Personalisation principle – people learn better when conversational rather than formal
  6. Spatial contiguity principle – people learn better when words are near pictures
  7. Coherence principle – people learn better when extraneous information is removed
  8. Modality principle – people learn better from animation and voiceover than animation and text
  9. Temporal contiguity principle – people learn better when animation and narration are simultaneous rather than successive
  10. Individual differences principle – people learn better when prior knowledge, visual literacy and spatial aptitude are taken into account
Conclusion

I’d recommend this book with a caveat – understand what it is (and who published it) before deciding whether you want to read it. Around 60% of the book is pretty basic PowerPoint advice, and the style of presentation is much more American than European (I don’t think the sailing motif would work so well in London). However, I found the explanation of Atkinson’s structure to be very clear and useful and the chapters on storytelling are certainly worth reading.

sk

FYI I haven’t applied the principle to this blog post, since this is evidently a different medium.

Launching a publishing career via Tumblr

A lot of ink has been spilt, and even more keys have been bashed, on the topic of the changing publishing industry. A good starting point for those less familiar with the movements would be my review of the “From Hardbacks to Hot Bytes” event, with talks from Gerd Leonhard and Dominic Pride.

It is clear the internet has led to a greater democratisation of the book industry, with new economies and a changing role of publishers.

But it is also interesting to note how people are using the internet to leverage traditional book deals.

This isn’t a new phenomena – Dickens serialised his work before it was published in a single volume, and many a newspaper columnist or cartoonist has subsequently earned a book deal.

The newspaper analogy is pertinent as there are erudite and thoughtful bloggers who use their blogs as a platform to showcase their writing abilities or specialist knowledge, in order to publish a related book. Think Chris Brogan or Cory Doctorow to give but two examples. Similarly, there are comics such as Freakangels and xkcd that have been converted into trade format. (Note all links take to blogs, which in turn have links to the books)

But the nature of the topics mined for the paperbacks appears to have shifted. Simpler, more immediate books. Effectively, web content transferred to paper format.

Again, these types of books aren’t new. Think of books such as “The little book of complete bollocks” – the sort of titles you’d find next the counter at HMV for £2.99. The sort of books that are always bought as gifts for others, never for oneself.

But the balance of power in this genre appears to be shifting to the web. And Tumblr appears to be at the centre of this.

Not all of these books originate on Tumblr (Stuff White People Like didn’t), but the directory of Tumblr books is continuing to expand. Think Garfield Minus Garfield, Look At This Fucking Hipster or This Is Why You’re Fat. Slaughterhouse 90210 can’t be far off.

Why is this? I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect it is because the barriers of entry are now so low.

  • Tumblr is one of the easiest blogging platforms to use (It is effectively an online scrapbook)
  • The content is fairly low involvement – after the initial moment of inspiration, adding content is pretty easy. No long and thought-out blogs; just a picture and a pithy comment
  • While high quality will hopefully, eventually, rise to the top, the nature of distribution is to an extent random. Being reblogged, retweeted or even getting a mainstream media mention is largely uncontrollable – two identical pieces of content could have very different audiences depending on the serendipity of who happened to check their feeds at a certain point in time

I think this randomness is quite important. There is a huge number of blogs of this nature, and thus the quality is of course highly variable. Over the past month, I’ve seen Hungover Owls, Sad Don Draper, Rosa DeLauro is a fucking hipster and Fuck Yeah Prancing Cera. Clearly, not all of these (if any) are aspiring to book deals but the rules of the game appear to be set.

I wonder whether this will be a passing trend, or something that will continue. Good ideas will always come along – whether on Tumblr or in a literary agent’s office – but the economies are changing substantially. For instance, I have no idea how the copyright works on this type of blog; it’s highly unlikely that all images used have received clearance or licence under creative commons

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyi/2369617357

The Brand Gym: A Practical Workout to Gain and Retain Brand Leadership

the brand gym coverI’ve just finished reading the second edition of The Brand Gym: A Practical Workout to Gain and Retail Brand Leadership by David Taylor and David Nichols.

DISCLOSURE: The book was a free copy I received after responding to a request for reviewers on their blog. I have no affiliations to the brand gym, and the below is my honest opinion.

The book positions itself as a guide to brand building, where the ultimate goal should be becoming market leader. Thus the book is a counterpoint to Eating the Big Fish.

However, this goal isn’t as focused or didactic as it might appear – since market leader can refer to audience segment, price point, situation or any other differentiating factor, rather than overall category leader.

The book is structured around eight “workouts”, that flow from one to another. The solutions to branding issues are:

  • Follow the money
  • Use insight as fuel
  • Focus, focus, focus
  • Build big brand ideas
  • Grow the core
  • Stretch your brand muscles
  • Amplify your marketing plan
  • Rally the troops

Overall, I’d recommend the book. It is short but breezy, with the key points well signposted. Being picky, it could have done with having an editor, but the overall content of the book is very strong. It flows very nicely, with headlines, case studies and practical exercises well-integrated alongside the core content.

The messages of the book are common-sensical, but worth re-iterating. The authors warn against preoccupation with fame or awards, and remind that the core objectives of marketing should always be business-based. This, ultimately, comes down to increasing sales.

This book was very relevant to my studies, since my current module focuses heavily on branding. But with a chapter on insight, it also piques my interest as a researcher.

The authors define insight as “the discovery of something enlightening about your customer that leads to action”. It should display the FIRE properties

  • Fresh
  • Inspiring
  • Relevant
  • Enduring

Although there is nothing directly covering uniqueness or competitive advantage, I like this mnemonic.

The authors also list a range of sources that should be used for insight generation across the company. In addition to qualitative and quantitative research, they suggest using the following methods of collection across the different aspects of branding

Competition

  • Landscaping – what do they do and why do consumers choose them. Are their innovations that can be copied?
  • Brand peer group – this is brands outside of the category but appealing to the same target audience e.g. Lynx annual “album launch” of new scents inspired a juice company to change flavours
  • Retail visits – including product siting, new private label offers, point of sale, promotions, packaging, and shopping behaviour

Brand

  • Tracking – consumer panels (which can be large panels or small communities)
  • Fan clubs – to build empathy
  • Customer feedback forms

Culture

  • Semiotics – decoding communications and broader cultural codes e.g. Castrol oil turned away from engine specific comms since people talked about their love for their car, not their engine
  • Trends – trend decks should evolve each time they are presented, otherwise they will inspire only the same ideas

Consumer

  • Ethnography and immersion – first hand experiences as evocation of idea. Following people in situ to see what they do, rather than what they say they do
  • Fringe consumers – get new ideas from people who don’t fit the current target, as this can stretch the appeal
  • Expert interviews

Company

  • Core competences
  • Senior stakeholders – interviewing those that (should) have a nose for what works and doesn’t
  • R&D treasure hunt – crazy ideas can be seeds for innovation. Understand what it is and what it does – don’t use technical terms

This is solid advice. Formal research should only be one element of brand understanding. When undertaken, it should be designed to support and augment other information – not only from the above sources relating to branding but also the other elements of the balanced scorecard.

sk

Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets

homicide a year on the killing streetsI regularly buy books but I rarely read them. I’m making a conscious effort to rectify that – not only because of the expense of purchasing them, but because reading books is (for me at least) a different type of experience to reading online. I read slower and more carefully, thus absorbing the general flow and patter of a writing style in addition to the content.

The most recent book I have read (for recreation) is Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Being an avid viewer of The Wire (but having not seen either The Corner nor Homicide: Life on the Street) a couple of situations and stories were recognisable (see the video at the bottom of the post – no spoilers). However, the book is so well written that it can be enjoyed irrespective of previous viewing.

The book is divided into 12 chapters – one per month. It is written by David Simon, at the time a reporter on the Baltimore Sun, and follows his year working as a police intern alongside the 15 Homicide detectives (and 3 sergeants) in Lieutenant D’Addario’s shift.

Three elements to the book that were particularly well depicted include

1. The problem solving – a crime scene is a mystery with a clock ticking. The officers have to quickly look for evidence and witnesses as, although a person can only be murdered once, a crime scene can be murdered a thousand times. The book depicts the different ways in which people approach the mystery – it can be methodical, lucky or inspired.

2. The humanity – each person has his (and they are nearly all men) own distinct personality and method. These are not always compatible – yet disagreements are shown from both sides and judgements aren’t made. Sometimes these are resolved and sometimes they are not, but motivations and reasoning of each participant have always been considered.

3. The culture – it feels like a real city, with enclaves of different sub-cultures. The police know that some people don’t talk to them about an investigation, while others talk too much. The situations and the people are all well-realised, and fit together into a larger entity.

In many respects, David Simon was an anthropologist or an ethnographer on his assignment. The book is a successful narrative that not only combines the individual case studies and character investigations, but extrapolates them to a functioning interrelated environment.It is much more than a true crime story; it is a story about people.

He doesn’t castigate or sensationalise. It goes beyond reporting. He strives to understand.

That should be the aspiration for any researcher, strategist or marketer that is responsible for understanding a particular segment or sub-group.

sk

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From hardbacks to Hot Bytes

Yesterday, thanks to a prompt from Neil Perkin, I attended Olswang and Rich Futures’ event on the future of books and publishing, entitled From Hardbacks to Hot Bytes.

NB: Original blog post has been updated with slides and AV from the event

Not having much (well, any) experience in books or publishing but having done some work on digital distribution with regards to TV and video, I attended more as an interested observer rather than an active stakeholder.

And I enjoyed it, for what it was. Given the above, Clive Rich’s talk on contractual and legal concerns with the Future of Publishing held little interest for me. But Dominic Pride of The Sound Horizon and, particularly, Gerd Leonhard had some stimulating observations and provocations.

Dominic’s talk was on the near future and so a lot of his material contained things I was already familiar with, though there were some useful nuggets. Gerd took a longer term view and, despite disagreeing with several of his contentions, his points were nevertheless well made and thought-provoking.

Gerd Leonhard’s talk

Gerd’s website contains a lot of his published work and presentations, and this was no exception. The Slideshare embed is:

He started his talk by saying we should beware of toxic assumptions (or mesofacts, to refer to an article I mentioned yesterday). For instance, paid downloads are now declining in number – suggesting they aren’t the future and that people are starting to reach the saturation point where they have “enough” music.

Gerd mentioned that his broad themes are in mobile, social, transparency, real-time and connectivity. But there were a couple of specific themes underlying this presentation

1. The decline of physical

He contended that in future digital copies will be first and physical copies second. He cited Texas Instruments as currently making a third of their income from iPhone apps, and games moving from hardware to software.

In my opinion, this is certainly a trend – though the games manufacturers’ current shift in focus to peripheries (such as Natal or Move) doesn’t rule out a return to hardware in future.

However, I do contend with the notion that “friction is fiction”. It is not certain that, in the long term, all obvious trends are fulfilled. For instance, Gerd suggested that the TV industry is lucky that people still watch TV – it is only because the content is currently good and that people don’t know about internet TV. I would argue – and have done – that the nature of TV means that it will always continue to exist and be paramount in people’s viewing experience. This is because the notion of TV is adaptable – whether satellite, interactive, via a hard disc, 3D or indeed internet-enabled.

People generally like to stick with what they know, and the desire for familiarity can persist. Why else do digital cameras have the superfluous shutter sound, other than to reassure those that the photo was indeed taken?

2. The value is in more than the product

Gerd cited Starbucks as an example of a brand that successful moved from commodity to product to service to experience. Experience and relevance are the keys to future value, not the content itself.

The key to monetizing is to be immersive. The price per unit of content may decrease but content is now a service and can be passed on to a much larger audience. In order to do this, organisations need to find the new generatives (or assets) that people will pay for.

The value of a book is now distributed across

  • Content
  • Context
  • Curation
  • Social
  • Interactive
  • Packaging/format

This means that the role of a publisher – which will still exist due to strengths in scale, access and logistical expertise – becomes one of

  • Curation
  • Collation
  • Culling
  • Contextualising
  • Connecting

Moving away from product to service feeds into the third theme

3. The importance of access

“Making it available is the key to growing your business”. Distribution was missing from the value chain above because it can be bypassed. Any person in the industry – such as Edgar J. Bronfman – who thinks that consumers can be “educated” in the best way to access material will be mistaken

A crucial requirement in this is to trust the users – they cannot be punished into purchasing something. Ubiquity must be assumed, and business models developed from there.

Ubiquity is within the cloud. Gerd made the interesting point that digital rights management is not needed in the cloud, since it effectively has in-built copy protection – we won’t share our mobile, password or profile information.

Again, I’m a little sceptical about this point as it comes back to friction. I agree that incumbents shouldn’t take their position for granted. But the key to distribution isn’t necessarily to be the best. It is to be the easiest. And that benefits the incumbent, since it has already standardised the behaviour – something that is incredibly hard to do.

This is why I think physical books will remain. I can see how all-you-can-eat subscription models with open access can work for TV/video and music/audio – diverse content is consumed in large volumes on a frequent basis. But books tend to be consumed one or two at a time, over a longer period. Indeed, many people will only read the latest bestseller on holiday over the entire year – something they can either borrow from a friend or buy from Tesco for £3.74. Why would they want to invest in digital hardware (such as an iPad) or an open-access subscription?

I suppose, to twist another of Gerd’s points, the answer is that the business model is “they pay”, rather than “I pay” of “we pay”. Books are too low frequency for paid for subscriptions, but services can be funded or subsidised by companies who gain marketing benefits. Though whether they gain enough brand equity or customer information from low-frequency readers is another matter.

Dominic Pride’s talk

What different companies seek to gain from publishing was something that Dominic touched upon

  • Digital retailers want volume and margin
  • Consumer electronic companies want a USP
  • Access partners want retention and ARPU
  • Agencies and brands want advertising inventory and audience engagement

In this, revenue isn’t always the primary return. It could be access or data, for instance.

These feed into Dominic’s ecosystem, in which he argued that the previous linear model is no longer valid due to the proliferation of competition across the distribution and retail aspects. This ecosystem also helps to break out of the notion that the customer is just an end user. Instead, they can add value by recommending, sharing or reviewing. These all feed back into a service model, where value is more long-term than for a mere product.

The crux of Dominic’s talk was that e-readers shouldn’t seek to recreate the book format, since digital is not a format substitution (such as moving from LP to CD). Digital is completely different environment and so companies should look for sustained innovations that improve technologies.

A 3 C framework was proposed, whereby content, context and community help lead onto service and experience. Two potential models for this are;

The Cloud Model – where success factors are

  • Accessibility
  • Value in service/access content
  • Optimisation for device
  • Abundance of content
  • Highly personalised
  • Social elements

The social model – where the characteristics of reading are capitalised upon

  • Personal experience – reading is formative and provides social capital
  • Social – We share and talk about what we read
  • Emotional – we want to share at the point of inspiration

The Slideshare for Dominic’s presentation is

There was a short panel session at the end of the morning where the speakers were asked to name the key challenges to overcome. I think they’re relevant to all industries, not just publishing

  • Discoverability
  • Recommendations
  • Personalisation
  • A quality experience

Audio and video of the event can be found on Gerd’s site here. Each of the talks lasted around 45 minutes, with around 25 minutes of questions at the end.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shifted/3360687477/

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Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

Moneyball by Michael LewisMoneyball, by Michael Lewis, is a book I had on my “to read” list for several years. I really should have read it several years ago. As well as being brilliantly written, its lessons are also highly relevant to the industries I’m interested in

The premise is that the Oakland Athletics – the A’s – are a financially limited team competing in Major League Baseball against much better resourced teams (While draft picks go some way to make smaller teams more competitive, financial  inequalities are much greater than in the NFL, for instance).

With fewer resources, the A’s will lose if they compete on the same terms as their competitors. They therefore need to change the rules of engagement. They are the challenger brand, so to speak.

They succeeded in this by becoming the first team (many subsequently followed) to employ sabermetrics – the analysis of baseball through objective measures. The name derives from the Society of American Baseball (SABR).

First championed by Bill James in the late 1970s, sabermetricians argued that the baseball statistics given most credence to were the wrong ones, and thus the game was inefficient. Baseball statistics had been institutionalised in the 1850s by a Brit raised on cricket. As the game evolved, the flawed measures on which players were assessed become ever more misguided. For instance

  • In the 1850s, amateurs were playing in long grass. Fielding errors weren’t a consideration.
  • Walking a hitter (throwing four balls outside of the strike zone) was considered to be the fault of the pitcher, rather than a ploy to entice swing-happy hitters to chase difficult balls

However, the biggest problem was relying on dependent variables, rather than independent variables

  • For pitchers, earned run average (ERA) was prioritised. But a low ERA needs a good fielding team (explicit errors are counting as unearned, but a fielder needs to be in position to commit an error in the first place)
  • For hitters, the number of home runs is independent but overvalued, due to prominence on highlight reels. Runs Batted In (RBIs) are dependent though. If a home run is scored and the bases are empty, one run is scored. If there is a runner on each of the bases and the same shot is hit, four runs are scored. The second batter is credited with four times as many RBIs for exactly the same shot

Over time, this faulty knowledge became institutionalised. The success of the sabermetricians was in forgetting everything they had been taught to believe. They started afresh to theorise, measure and validate new hypotheses – even going to matches to physically keep scores when the monopoly for recording statistics refused to track more metrics.

In my mind, their most powerful observation was in simply stating how a baseball game is completed. A game is over when teams make 27 outs (3 outs over 9 innings). Therefore, to prolong  a game, a team should avoid getting out.

This is profound in its simplicity. Rather than swinging for the home run, a hitter should protect his strike zone. A walk is as good as a hit to first base.

This ability to walk was vastly undervalued by the market in terms of salaries. Billy Beane and the A’s therefore ignored home run and RBI stats, and focused on the ability to get on base (ie to not get out).

Internally, the scouts and staff were heavily opposed. The opposition regarded it with bemusement – Beane was taking all these out-of-shape nobodies and leaving them with the “athletes”.

Beane fought this, because he was once one of those athletes. He had the “look” and expected to succeed, but his mental strength couldn’t match his physical strength. Because of this, Beane ignored the high-school hot prospects, and instead focused on college players – since these players had a greater chance of making it in the big leagues.

The book follows the 2002 draft and season (where rookies and prospects include Nick Swisher, Prince Fielder and Kevin Youkilis – “Euclis, the Greek God of walks”). While the A’s had a wildly successful season, they dropped out of the playoffs.

This is because Moneyball is ultimately about percentages – the focus on statistics improves your probability over the long-term, over the 162 game season. In the play-offs, luck becomes more important.

Moneyball is principally restricted to baseball due to this and one other factor – being able to divide the game into individual plays, where each person has a defined role and an agreed metric for success or failure. The NFL has this, but only over 16 games a season. NBA teams play 82 games, but in a dynamic environment.

Aidy Boothroyd famously tried, and failed, to use Moneyball principles while managing Watford in the Premier League. But in football Moneyball restricts you to free kicks, corners and throw ins. And a side effect of Moneyball is the play is generally effective but ugly, since the pretty, eyecatching traits are all overvalued. His team won few fans.

As Moneyball caught on, the A’s became less competitive, since they were once again playing the same game as better resourced competitors. I’m sure Billy Beane’s principles will have been widely adopted

  • No matter how successful you are, change is good – so don’t uphold the status quo
  • They day you have to do something you’re screwed – so make your move before you are backed into a corner
  • Know exactly what everyone is worth – so place a monetary value on skills and compare to others
  • Know exactly who you want, and go after them – so you get them while others are still scratching their heads
  • Every deal you make will be scrutinised by the public – so ignore the media

You don’t need to be a baseball ban to enjoy the book. It is exceptionally well-written, and at times even reads like a thriller (Soderbergh and Pitt were at one point attached to a film version). But it is the core precis of the book that resonates with me.

Ensure that the metrics you are tracking are the right ones.

sk

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The Art of Innovation

To commemorate David Kelley (co-founder of IDEO) being awarded the Edison Achievement Award for his “pioneering contributions to the design of breakthrough products, services, and experiences for consumers, as well as his development of an innovative culture that has broad impact”, Fast Company have published a series of articles on the man and his company.

They are well worth reading, particularly the interview with him.

As the article states, IDEO aren’t designers but design thinkers. They use a tested and trusted methodology to redesign customer experience; not only in terms of the product but also in terms of the culture of the companies they work with. By transforming the business environment, the changes are made more sustainable in the long term. This is because the process never completes – there is always room for improvements and new prototypes.

Kelley says that “I can give our methodology away because I know we can come up with a better idea tomorrow.”

The Art of Innovation by Tom KelleyAnd indeed, it has been given away. His brother Tom Kelley published The Art of Innovation: Success through Innovation the IDEO way in 2002.

I’ve read it. And I would recommend that you do to. Below is an outline of the IDEO method, but to appreciate the nuance and to be truly inspired you really do need to read the book.

The core methodology has five steps.

Step 1: Understand the market, client, technology and perceived constraints

Ethnography is now a word overused and misused. But IDEO were pioneers of the anthropological approach and that it has now been so widely adopted speaks volumes. Of course, doing it properly is easier said than done.

Step 2: Observe real people in real-life situations to see what makes them tick

We are all now familiar with the problems of rationalised attitudes or behaviours. But again, IDEO recognised this before many. They believe observation gets to the root of the problem quicker. Small observations lead to small improvements, but over time these build into an impressive body of change. The key to observation is empathy – the observer must strive to infer the motivations and emotions of the participant.

Step 3: Visualise new concepts and the customers that would use them

This is really the power of the brainstorm. Kelley believes brainstorming should be taken seriously, and that there are ways to make them work more effectively. He finds that sixty minutes is the optimum length but within this, there should be a sharp focus. Not all ideas need to be written down but those that are should be numbered, allowing people to build and jump upon them. Although brainstorms shouldn’t be taken too seriously, they should also not be too meritocratic or too hierarchical. Everyone has ideas worth espousing, whether they are an expert or the boss or not, but it doesn’t mean that the group should go around in circles getting the opinions of everyone.

Step 4: Evaluate and refine prototypes in a series of quick iterations

Kelley refers to prototyping as a state of mind. It doesn’t matter if you have failures – you fail often to success sooner and you can often fall forwards. However, there is a balance. Fresh approaches work and rule breakers can change processes, but there needs to be a careful evaluation. Going too far “out of the box” can be counter-productive.

Step 5: Implement the new concept for commercialisation

Concepts should tell stories and make a human connection. Working with verbs and not nouns helps this. Kelley advocates a T-shirt test to ensure that new experiences or designs aren’t complex or difficult – the concept should boil down to a slogan that will fit on a t-shirt. Interestingly, he says that the best designers focus on the parts that are used the most e.g. the Play button on a DVD remote control.

However, these five steps only work because of the way IDEO is structured. Within the company, they cherish two factors above all – people and space.

Kelley says that lone geniuses are myths; you need a good team, and a mixed team, to succeed. He finds that characters build companies – his typology of characters includes visionaries, troubleshooters, iconoclasts, pulse takers, craftsmen, technologists, entrepreneurs and cross-dressers. This team should be dedicated, time-pushed, non-hierarchical, respectful of diversity, open and empowered. The dynamics are vital – camaraderie should be established, achievement celebrated and, importantly, a company shouldn’t be afraid of spending money to build morale.

His seven tips for cross-pollination include:

  • Subscribe and surf as much as possible
  • Play film director
  • Hold an open house to spread best disciplines
  • Inspire advocates
  • Hire outsiders
  • Change hats
  • Cross-train

IDEO look to establish “neighbourhoods” to facilitate team dynamics, and this concept of community and space is integral to fostering innovation. He advocates a blend of openness and privacy, with people having complete autonomy to personalise their space. To quote Kelley, “space is often the least considered, most overlooked tool in innovation toolbox”.

Ultimately, practice makes perfect. But the top tips to take away include:

  • Watch customers and non-customers – especially enthusiasts
  • Play with physical workplace to send positive body language to employees and visitors
  • Think verbs not nouns in products and services to create wonderful experiences
  • Break rules and fail forward so that change is part of culture
  • Stay human and scale organisational element so room for teams to emerge and thrive
  • Build bridges – between departments, to customers and to future

A follow-up book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, has also been published (the website with an overview is here), but for an outlay of less than two pints of lager, I really do recommend reading this book.

sk

Learning from textbooks

Are textbooks valuable?

They encourage rote learning, are open to malignant biases, are frequently tedious and the contents are promptly forgotten about before they can be digested.

So why are they so commonly used? Simplicity? Equality? Continuation?

Personally, I find them useful. Up to a point. I wouldn’t attempt to fly an aeroplane, but I might attempt a few choice words of Cantonese with a native speaker on completion of an instruction guide.

Where do marketing textbooks fit on the scale?

marketing by paul baines, chris fill and kelly page

I wonder because I have recently read one. This one (Marketing by Paul Baines, Chris Fill & Kelly Page), to be precise. My apologies to the folk at Research Talk for leaving it so long, but I am holding true to my word by blogging about it. I did say that it may take a while.

I studied Philosophy, Politics & Economics at university (though it turned out to be more like History & Politics) and so my knowledge of marketing is accumulated from various bits I’ve picked up on the job, through courses, magazines and blogs. However, I wished to know more and so picked up the book.

Because of the chasms in my knowledge, I have appreciated another benefit of textbooks. They offer a logical and consistent guideline to work from. Many elements sounded familiar but I had never fully considered the surrounding context and implications. There is now a degree of coherence unifying my thoughts.

Textbooks should only be the first step in learning, but they provide a base to build upon. A base where thoughts and theories can be evolved through experiences, interactions and feedback. After all, textbooks will expound the prevailing wisdom and as the old aphorism goes; “Conventional wisdom is always conventional, but rarely wisdom.” We can learn from our mistakes and progress (even if the experts are just as wrong as chimpanzees).

And as far as textbooks go, this was a very readable and well-paced example. It gave a decent introduction to topics, which while basic contained thorough references for further reading and plenty of case insights. A broad range of topics were covered and it can equally be studied for 5 minutes or 5 hours at a time.

I would suggest two additions to the book. Firstly, more competing or emerging theories where applicable; alternate theories tended to supersede rather than sit alongside. Secondly, an additional chapter on changes to communications due to the ubiquity of mobiles and computers would have been welcome, but I presume this runs the risk of fast obsolescence.

Unsurprisingly, I learned many things by reading the book – some small nuggets; other major theories. A few of my takeouts include:

  • STP – segmentation, targeting and positioning
  • DMAP targets – distinct, measurable, accessible and profitable (I’m a fan of using acronyms for mnemonics)
  • The difference between opinion leaders and formers is that leaders ar in same social circle
  • The five characteristics of service products are intangibility, inseparability, variability, perishability and non-ownership
  • RATER dimensions of service quality – reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy and reassurance
  • Porter five forces analysis
  • Bettman’s memorisation processes affecting consumer choice include factors affecting recognition and recall, effects of context, form of coding objects in memory, effects of processing load, effects of input and effects of repetition
  • The six types of relationship are partner, advocate, supporter, client, purchaser and prospect

Now the trick is to put them into practice before they’re forgotten

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenliveshere/

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I can now learn all about marketing

marketing by paul baines, chris fill and kelly pageOUP kindly donated a couple of signed copies of their new title “Marketing” to a competition held by Research Talk.

I was fortunate enough to win a copy, which I have just received. It is a large, colourful introduction to marketing, split into bitesize sections and aimed at students and interested parties alike. I definitely fall into the latter category and look forward to reading through the many case studies included.

Ultimately, I will review the book fully on this blog, but as the book is over 700 pages and as I’m going on holiday for a fortnight next week, it may take me a while…

sk