Does technology generate more talk, less conversation?

There’s an interesting article in The Atlantic based on an interview with the publication and Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and a professor at MIT. She recently released the book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other in which she argues that we are losing the art of conversation:

“Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. It gives participants the time—and, just as important, the permission—to think and react and glean insights. “You can’t always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come,” Turkle says. “It’s like dancing: slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden there’s something, and whoa.” Occasional dullness, in other words, is to be not only expected, but celebrated. Some of the best parts of conversation are, as Turkle puts it, “the boring bits.” In software terms, they’re features rather than bugs. The logic of conversation as it plays out across the Internet, however—the into-the-ether observations and the never-ending feeds and the many, many selfies—is fundamentally different, favoring showmanship over exchange, flows over ebbs. The Internet is always on. And it’s always judging you, watching you, goading you. “That’s not conversation,” Turkle says. She wants us to reclaim the permission to be, when we want and need to be, dull.”

I like the idea of the occasional dullness. The idea that breaks or gaps in a conversation is actually help drive the conversation. Check out the whole article.

A lesson from Steve Jobs

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I just finished reading Steve Jobs’ biography. It took me a while to read it but I’m happy I bought it. I wasn’t all that sure in advance, and not because I used to work at Microsoft once, but because I just didn’t want to read a book about how great everything at Apple really is thanks to the genius etc etc.

It’s not at all like that. The book manages to give a very real – at least it feels that way – image of Steve Jobs and very human, much more human than how your regular fanboy will be talking about him. And that made it interesting. You get a better idea of how he really was, about the things that made him great, about the people that have been his mentor, about how he often wasn’t really such a nice person, about the genius, …

I made quite a few notes while reading the book, notes about things and ideas that I recognized or that I should look into a bit more. One of those things was the Apple Marketing Philosophy that was written down by Mike Markkula. Short but crystal clear.

  1. Empathy – that intimate connection with the feelings of the consumer to truly understand their needs better than any other company
  2. Focus – eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities in order to do the best job possible
  3. Impute – a company should convey its values in everything it does, from packaging to marketing because ‘people do judge a book by its cover’

You should read the book. Seriously. Not because you want to find out what an epic genius Steve was or anything like that – but because just like Steve you should steal from the best, see things with new eyes, work hard to make them different and don’t stop until they’re perfect. Respect.

My next book? Indeed – Steal like an artist, by Austin Kleon.

Creativity World Forum 2011: Making ideas happen

The Creativity World Forum 2011 had to live up against high expectations. When the event was organized for the first time in 2008 (in Antwerp) Flanders DC showed all other conference & congress organizers in Belgium what the new benchmark would be. I really enjoyed the 2008 edition and thus was really looking forward to the event. This years program was a good start. With people like Jimmy Wales, Keith Sawyer, Malcolm Gladwell, Scott Belsky, Oliver Stone, … it’s clear that the €300 investment for a packed 2 days would be money well spent.

I think that this years event had an even clearer focus on creativity than the one 3 years ago. With in my opinion 2 big topics related to that: the first one being about ‘how to be creative’ and the second one (maybe biggest one) about ‘making ideas happen’. Often speakers would refer to the fact that coming up with ideas isn’t that difficult but choosing between ideas and making them happen is.

The first day started with failure. Jimmy Wales said “don’t tie your ego to a particular business” referring to the fact that he himself had failed several times before starting with Wikipedia. It’s also the main reason why he likes Silicon Valley so much, in his eyes it has the culture that supports failure – in Silicon Valley one who fails is still better than one that never tried. Peter Hinssen in his talk made similar references to failure, definitely a popular topic. Peter focused even more on speed however, that’s where his famous ‘good enough is great’ reference is coming from. In the context of speed and the examples he gave that makes sense to me, in all other context I find it rubbish (as you could read right here).

“If you freeze an idea too quickly, you fall in love with it. If you refine it too quickly, you become attached to it and it becomes very hard to keep exploring, to keep looking for better. The crudeness of the early models in particular is very deliberate.” (Jim Glymph of Gehry Partners)

It was Alexander Osterwalder – known for his book on Business Model Generation – that used this quote during his talk. I liked the idea of putting even more effort into prototyping, which he sees as having a conversation with an idea. I like that. Another element that helps being better at creativity is collaboration. That’s the main topic Keith Sawyer talked about, debunking again the myth of the Eureka moment from the lone genius. Creativity is a group effort, ideally a cross-group type collaboration effort. See also my presentation on Agile Planning where I talked about this as well. Last speaker of the first day Malcolm Gladwell. In a sense he talked about the opposite of Jimmy & Peter earlier that day. Why is it that we tend to reward creativity/innovation so much on being the first to do something? History has proven that it almost never is the first to come up with an idea to be the one to market it. In his opinion the innovation strikes hardest when the tweakers come in. Really interesting but although being the first is definitely not enough, this talk almost sounded like a plea to be the third in all that you do… I don’t think that’s supposed to be the truth. I did remind me of a quote Tom Kelley from IDEO used during the first Creativity World Forum:

“The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes” (Marcel Proust)

Presentations linked to a book always tend to be hyper structured. I like that. Scott Belsky’s presentation was one of those clear and structured talks. Probably no coincidence that he sees structure as a key element in making ideas happen, next to collaboration and leadership. Interesting thought on that last topic by the way – silence the visionary. Anyway, I’m a fan, make sure you check out the man’s work. Good start of the day as well, later on there was Jamie Anderson who kinda confirmed what we had heard before and then Garr Reynolds came to talk about Presentation Zen. Good presentation as to be expected, but maybe just a bit too many quotes and also it was great to see him stick to the timing, but still weird for a presentation guru to have to skip like so many slides to make that happen.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” (Shunryu Suzuki)

Probably the quote I liked most from all the ones Garr used in his talk. It is indeed of great importance to try and “unlearn what you have learned” as Yoda would say, to be really creative. How can you look at things in a really new way when your expertise makes it so that you automatically scope out what in your mind is not possible? You can’t.

Last but not least, final speaker of the 2 days, was Oliver Stone. He did a panel conversation with some Belgian movie director who’s name I’d happily forget, and I think we all just listened. Just think about all the movies this man has created, you can only respect that. One of the things he said that resonated most with me, something that I’ve been thinking about actively since then was the following question: “what’s the narrative of your life”? Something we should all ask ourselves from time to time. On being creative, Stone urged us all to think about the time we create for ourselves to be creative, because we’re not making enough time for it in general mostly because of the loads of distractions we have these days.

Key take aways from these 2 days:

How to be creative:

  • Create time – there’s no flash of insight, eureka moment but it’s more like an emergence of time. So create that time needed.
  • Prototype – have that conversation with an idea
  • Collaborate – get people together, cross-group preferably and share ideas liberally

Making ideas happen:

  • Choose between ideas – it’s more important to realize a few ideas, than to have created many
  • Organize yourself – creativity x organization = impact (dixit Scott Belsky)
  • Progress begets progress – show progress, surround yourself with it as it’s important to keep going that you see the results during the process
  • Share ownership of ideas

Make change happen:

  • The flip, the shift, … – it doesn’t really matter what you call it, when change really happens, it happens big time. This means that is impossible to stick with the things you know if you want real change to happen.

Thanks again Flanders DC and everyone involved for making this event happen. See you again in 3 years.

Reading white papers on the iPad

I have this habit of downloading pretty much every white paper, research, … that I come across online. I then put them in a Dropbox folder so it’s shared with colleagues and they’re easy to access from multiple devices. They’re also mostly in PDF format for easy reading so sounds like I’ve got it all figured out don’t you think?

Problem is I never get to ready any of it. I don’t like reading them on screen of my PC and it’s not worth printing them all out either, that would be a lot of paper wasted especially since some stuff isn’t worth reading anyway… but that you only find out once you start reading them. This week I found the ideal solution though. Since they’re already all on Dropbox and I got Dropbox on the iPad, I opened all the files in iBooks and now I have a gigantic (will that’s probably a bit exaggerated) collection of white papers, presentations, research, … to read when I have the time.

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With another week in the hospital ahead of me (routine stuff, no worries) this is just going to be perfect reading :)

Most Contagious 2009

Every year at the end of year there are 2 reports worth looking out for, one is FEED from Razorfish that came out a few weeks ago and the other one is Most Contagious from Contagious Magazine which was released this Friday. Make sure you get them both.

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And while you’re at it, take a look at the new Contagious Magazine website as well.

Going vertical

A couple of days ago I read this article about a new book format called ‘Dwarsligger’ (Dutch) which is supposed to make it easier to read in bed or on a plane… Not only is the book’s size adapted but more importantly you have to read from top to bottom instead of left to right.

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Interesting thought, I’m almost amazed nobody else thought of this before. Funny enough, only a couple of days later, I noticed the following video in which another Dutchman presents a new invention at the INMA Outlook 2010 Conference: the vertical newspaper. I smell a trend :)

Who’s next?

Ignore everybody!

One of the perks of being unemployed is that you actually have time for a few things that you didn`t really have time for before… like reading books for instance, so that`s what I`m doing… well one of the things I`m doing – looking for work is another one ;) One book I read a couple of days ago was Hugh MacLeod`s upcoming “Ignore Everybody” of which I had received an advance copy thanks to Hugh and the fine people at Penguin Group.

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Long time ago – while reading something on Hugh`s blog – I stumbled onto a series of posts/writings that were all tagged with “How to be creative”. It was a good read, so finding out it the content was also available on a free PDF on changethis.com made it even better. More than 1 million downloads don`t lie of course, I still have a printed copy of that PDF right here. When Hugh mentioned he got a book deal on this which involved writing some extra chapters I was a bit sceptical though. I totally loved the series but all of that stuff had come about quite organically, there`s a difference when you write things when you think about them basically whenever you feel like it… or when you have to write chapters for a book. Hugh proved me wrong about being sceptical, there`s now way you could tell which chapters where there first or which ones are new, the book is rock solid. It`s an easy read in the typical style of Hugh MacLeod – unique, smart and funny – and with a good dose of cartoons in them. My favorite one in the book? Especially while jobhunting… is this one (from 2006):

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So pre-order the book now, you won`t regret.

Marketer’s view on 2009

Mid December last year Peter Kim released his Social Media Predictions for 2009, for which he collected the thoughts of some 14 thought leaders in one nice little document. There’s a lot of good ideas and feedback in there, although I cannot resist thinking some of it is wishful thinking, hoping that some things will change or improve which probably won’t happen. Anyway, worth checking out.

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Charlene Li (who was part of the people inputting in Peter’s document) added some extra thoughts on it later on her own blog and also ReadWriteWeb weighted in on the predictions.

More recently Valeria Maltoni asked a dozen marketing bloggers about their thoughts for 2009, and as Valeria puts it: “More than predictions, which is hard to do, we focused on direction. This eBook is the result of our collective energy and execution experience”.

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Both documents collect the thoughts of marketing professionals in the field and are definitely worth reading so download the PDFs here: Social Media 2009 (Peter Kim)Marketing 2009 (Valeria Maltoni)

Crowd Surfing

Some 2 months ago David Brain (CEO Edelman Europe) launched his book called ‘Crowd Surfing’ and I was able to get a copy for review. One of the biggest reasons I wanted to check out this book was that my buddy Steve Clayton was mentioned in it together with the Blue Monster story (just like in PNI, only David did get Steve’s name right ;))

David (and Martin Thomas) write about this age of new consumer empowerment with a bit of a corporate focus, which is something I’m interested in most given my role at Microsoft. In an interview Hugh Macleod did with David, here’s what was said about this corporate angle:

“Sometimes it is easy for an entrepreneur or small business to be in tune with their customers or stakeholders, because their scale (or lack of it) means everyone is close to the customer (an obvious point I know, but size does sometimes matter). The bigger a firm gets the more difficult that becomes . Big companies need robust processes and structures to organize, to do what it is they do, and that can mean that the people inside can sometimes begin to focus on those processes and structures to the exclusion of the customer or the crowd. Dell and Microsoft have both worked really hard to find ways to bring the crowd inside the firm (at the cost of significant disruption) so that they don’t make that mistake. For me, where the crowd meets the organization is where the real action is.”

Crowd Surfing’ has a big piece on Microsoft, not only on the Blue Monster as I mentioned before, but it also features the whole “Successful Blogging at Microsoft: A Best Practice Guide” which is what Microsoft would like its employees to read when they start blogging. Remember I mentioned before that there is no policy re blogging at Microsoft. David and Martin also talk about Apple and the different approach it has taken, still benefitting enormously from this consumer empowerment.

I must admit there is one thing I missed though and that was a more European view on things. I’ve got another post in my drafts on this topic, but the reason this is important is because many of the learnings we have from the US aren’t easily applicable here in Europe. Given David is running the European part of Edelman and hence dealing with similar challenges for his clients I had hoped there would be more on that in the book.

And now, ‘The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR” by Al and Laura Ries, because Frank De Graeve told me to…. and because there’s a piece in it on the Mustang brand.

2nd Edition: Age of Conversation

Some 18 months ago I was part of a project called the “Age of Conversation” and today I’m happy to announce that the second edition of the “Age of Conversation” is a fact. Instead of 100 authors there are over 200 contributors this time (not me anymore) and it’s themed around “Why don’t they get it”. Other than that, all proceeds still go to charity so to encourage you to by the hardcopy this time, John Moore lined up the ‘Money Quotes’ in one little presentation.