ID14. Observations on interactive design.

And not just any designer. Petra Sell is a well known UI/UX designer that has shared her own views on interactive design for a few years now and with success. The 2012 & 2013 editions of her design trends presentations have gathered close to half a million views on Slideshare alone so I don’t think I don’t need to give much more explanation why you should absolutely check out her latest edition: ID14.

You can check it out on here website or in the Slideshare below:

The age of the micro multinational

“If the late 20th Century was the age of the multinational company, the early 21st will be the age of the micro multinational: small companies that operate globally”

I found this great quote on Neil Perkin’s ‘Only Dead Fish’. It’s a statement from Hal Varian, Google Chief Economist and I can only like what I see here. It supports our own opinion (at Duval Guillaume) that you don’t need to be huge or have offices around the whole world to be able to service clients globally. 

A recent Policy Brief from the Lisbon Council states:

“Traditionally, these small, self-starting, service-driven companies would have been described as small- and medium- sized enterprises, or SMEs, but thanks to the Internet, the emergence of new business platforms and the increased openness of the global economy, these companies can enter markets with a minimum of bureaucracy and overhead. Add to that their unparalleled ability to respond promptly to changing market developments, a collaborative DNA that often translates into superior innovation performance and the lack of the institutional inertia and legacy relationships plaguing larger organizations, and one begins to see the transformative and paradigm-changing potential.”

According the brief the big paradigm shifts that are taking place making all this happen are:

  • Most jobs are created by young companies and start-ups
  • Today technology makes it possible for small companies to gain the reach and traction of big companies at very low cost
  • New platforms and online business services are making it easier for small companies to focus on areas where they add value
  • Internationalization – the key to success for almost all contemporary businesses, large and small – is easier to achieve via the Internet
  • Today’s workforce has changing priorities
  • Experienced and highly skilled individuals are setting out in record numbers to work for themselves

Yet another reason why the future looks bright.

Truth is people don’t actually like creativity

There was an interesting article in Slate a few weeks ago about the bias against creativity, about the fact that most people say they like creativity but that the truth is we really don’t. And since I work in a creative agency often presenting creative ideas to clients the theory based on a 2011 study used in this article makes a whole lot of sense to me.

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity. Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.  Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas .

Clients will come to us for creative tasks since that’s what we’re most known for. You can literally witness though how the creative ideas that were presented and liked by the clients will be softened once they start to move through the chain of command. That is if you allow that to happen, we’re quite protective on the essence of an idea to make sure that while we’re very open to tweak it we will make sure that that essential core idea is never lost.

Most people agree that what distinguishes those who become famously creative is their resilience. While creativity at times is very rewarding, it is not about happiness. Staw says a successful creative person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be impervious to social pressure.”

And of course I realize like anyone else that some creative ideas are just not good or are creative but not an answer to the question or briefing at hand. This is purely about ideas that are recognized as good and creative and how they are being judged during the decision process. This is about how people often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal (as the research so eloquently puts it).

In terms of decision style, most people also fall short of the creative ideal. they are satisficers rather than searcher for the optimal or most desirable solution. They follow a number of energy-saving heuristics that generally lead to a set of systematic biases or inaccuracies in processing information. And, unless they are held accountable for their decision-making strategies, they tend to find the easy way out – either by not engaging in very careful thinking or by modeling their choices on the preferences of those who will be evaluating them.

Especially that last sentence is a problem I think. Not only in judging creativity by the way. When people make decision upon what they think someone else will probably think of it instead of what they think themselves sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. There’s a clear link with management style there as well. How much do you empower your own people? It seems that to enable creativity you need to do that.

Instead of issuing directives and policy statements and hoping that they will be obeyed, innovative firms must encourage disobedience. In fact, those in power should go so far as to encourage active opposition. Innovative organizations are those that harbor multiple perspectives and objectives, not simply a variety of views.

Last but not least, it’s also why creativity takes courage – dixit Henri Matisse. Definitely an interesting read, be sure to check the full article.

Creativity is everyone’s responsibility

Coca-Cola’s Jonathan Mildenhall, responsible for global advertising strategy & content excellence, has his part in making sure Coca-Cola became the Cannes Advertiser of the year in 2013. His Content 2020 manifest (part 1 | part 2) which was shared at the Cannes Lions a few years ago inspired more than just the marketers at the Coca-Cola company. He has proven that creativity and commercial success go hand in hand, but also states that creativity belongs to all of us as you can read in this interesting interview:

The key to Coca-Cola’s change, says Mildenhall, was understanding that creativity is everyone’s responsibility and remit, individually and inside the organisation. “To change, Coke had to take creativity in the widest sense back from the agencies. It couldn’t belong only to the hairy elites of agency creative departments.”

In the same interview Mildenhall defines how he thinks of creative leadership, sharing his 9 principles on the topic:

  1. Creative directors are the soul of the company or brand they lead
  2. They amplify the creativity in everyone they work with
  3. They distort reality and make the impossible seem possible
  4. They are relentlessly optimistic, exuding positive, infectious energy
  5. They create a culture of curiosity, never stop asking or learning, and have the best questions
  6. They establish trust, honesty and belief by giving away credit
  7. They make unpopular calls to do the right thing by the work
  8. They inspire risk
  9. They celebrate success and failure.

Read the whole interview on marketingmagazine.co.uk or follow him on Twitter on @mildenhall.

How to make the mobile phone a social object again?

I did a talk about mobile in marketing at the Mobile Convention Brussels today. It’s not the first time I write about social objects or social currency on this blog, but in the case of mobile the device itself is in essence a social object. It allows us to connect with people, remember Nokia’s claim? And going from Dumbphone to Feature Phone to Smartphone (and yes I like these retronyms) the connections have multiplied. More tech, more possibilities and more people to connect to. Fantastic.

But at the same time we disconnect with the people in front of us. Research shows that already 10% of all Smartphone users feel the urge to check their phone every 5 minutes (!) and in another study 33% of parents admit that their phone and/or tablet was a sore point with kids. And yes I think we all recognize the images I used on slide 7. It’s no wonder the term ‘phubbing‘ was invented: the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention. Rings a bell?

Maybe Einstein was right:

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

So the mobile phone is a social object. Literally because it allows us to connect with people around the world. And it isn’t a social object, thinking about the definition we use for that in the conversation economy because it doesn’t trigger conversations, on the contrary. So there’s an opportunity in marketing to make the mobile phone a real social object, to use it to trigger conversation. To use it in a way it’s not the object itself that matters but the conversations around it.

Like we tried to do with “Reborn Apps”, the campaign for organ donation that won a gold Cannes Lions at this year’s festival.

Or also with older cases like “A Blind Call” or “Baby Connection“. These projects are not only there for conversion (which is also an objective of course) but are created mainly to kickstart conversations.

A few things to keep in mind when you want to use mobile to create social objects:

  1. Digital is not about technology. There’s little technology involved in the case of Reborn Apps for instance, it’s not by focusing on the tech that you will find the great ideas. And sometimes technology can spur fantastic ideas obviously and also that can be a good briefing, but in general it’s not where you start to find the answer to your problems.
  2. Context is key. Also here way too often that is immediately translated into technology, into things such as responsive design for instance in which responsive is just a way of saying how the design adapts to ‘every’ screen. I think that’s limiting ourselves, context is about which device, when, for what purpose, by whom, … and responsive design should be about a way of designing experiences that keep all of that into account.
  3. Find a unique (provocative) insight. I’m planning on doing a separate write down on the ‘provocative insight’ and how we defined that at Duval Guillaume Modem. The important thing to remember is that you need an insight that has a bit more edge to it, that people have an opinion on if you want it to generate those kind of creative ideas that will provoke conversations.
  4. Tap into real human emotions. It’s what makes it situations, projects, products, advertising, … recognisable. You can image yourself into a certain situation, you can immediately see how something like that could also happen to you. It makes it all so much more powerful.
  5. Make it irreverent. Challenge the status quo. Don’t accept things to be like everyone says they should be, don’t take things too seriously, think the opposite. When everybody zigs, zag.

Note: http://www.stopphubbing.com is on its own also a social object, the verb phubbing was created by McCann Melbourne (yes the guys from ‘Dumb Ways to Die‘) as a campaign for a dictionary. Great job from my buddy John Mescall and his team!

Sweetie: the 10 year old pedophile hunter

Alright. There’s not much I will say about this, you just have to watch the video. In short, the organisation Terre Des Hommes that fights child exploitation, created a robot that looks like a 10 year old child. This robot, called Sweetie, is operated from Amsterdam and once online engages in chats with pedophiles. Apparently when you go online on popular chat services with the profile of a 10 year old Philippine you attract these sex offenders within seconds so that’s what Sweetie’s for. And since they all ask to put on the webcam, Sweetie activates that webcam without any hesitation… and while the conversation lasts, the specialists in Amsterdam get photo & video evidence of the offenders and they try to find all information that helps identify these men. And it works: 1.000 pedophiles identified in merely 2 months. I don’t say this often but this is just amazing! Watch. And don’t forget to sign the petition.

Automattic and the ‘distributed workforce’, let’s reinvent the way we work

Maybe the company name Automattic doesn’t immediately ring a bell, but I’m sure WordPress does. Automattic is the company behind WordPress and also other web services such as Gravatar, Akismet, Polldaddy, … If you were to look at traffic numbers for all websites running on WordPress combined, they would be the 3rd biggest in the world, right after Google and Facebook. This website represents only a very tiny part of that :-)

It’s not WordPress as a product I wanted to talk about however. During an interview at the Golden Drum Festival about a week ago I was asked about how I saw the evolution of our business and the new challenges that might arise while competing more and more with tech companies, attracting the right talent and everything. I said first of all that I think one of the biggest challenges we face in attracting talent is no so much that we compete with tech companies but that we compete with companies that think very differently about how they are organised and maybe also how they are evaluated. It made me think of a conversation I had with Sara Rosso, responsible for the VIP services at WordPress, at LeWeb last year. She explained me how they are organised as a distributed workforce and I thought that was massively impressive.

Web_AuttomaticMap

Think about it. More than 130 people work at Automattic, spread over 27 countries or 80 different cities. You cannot not be curious on how they make that work. In case you’re a small startup you probably can image something like that for your own business but once you’re talking about several dozens or in this case hundreds of people that’s not so easy to do. Even if I look at myself, when I was still working at Microsoft they launched ‘The new world of work’ and when we moved into the new office around that time proof was there that technology can really help you organise your work in a different way. Since I worked for the London office but out of Belgium I often worked from home and there was nothing holding me back from doing my work just as fine as if I were to spend all that time in the office. And that was really not even that advanced back then compared to Automattic today.

The way they make it work is even more impressive. All internal collaboration is based on WordPress. They make little use of email internally, most of the communication happens on WordPress blogs. A result of that is that they’re also extremely transparent since pretty much everything on those internal WordPress sites can be consulted by everyone (internally). All other communication runs via IRC and on occasion a group conversation via Skype when IRC doesn’t suffice. Very little of the communication happens over the phone. All internal WordPress blogs are based on the P2 WordPress theme, a kind of mix between Twitter and Facebook. The expression “P2 it” is used by everyone, it’s a reminder to put information from a meeting, chat, … on the P2 platform. This way all decisions and information is well documented.

Tasks are organised in so-called ‘fire teams’ of 4-6 people and those teams have their own charter and their own objectives for the given tasks. They don’t work based on time tracking (something that would anyway be difficult based on how they are structured) and evaluation is fully based on reaching the goals that were set. And we all link evaluation based on goals but still how it’s organised here is very different than what’s commonly used. The smaller teams will maybe meet each other in real life maybe 2-3 times a year and once a year the whole company gets together.

The company also has an ‘open vacation policy’. This means there are no pre-defined number of holidays for an employee, they think that everyone should have the possibility to take the time for themselves and family and as a result should be able to plan their own time off.

It’s clear that the model Automattic is using probably is not workable within every industry. Looking at my own industry a lot has been written already about the importance of people sitting in the same space (or not). And I get many of the arguments but a lot of times they also sound very defensive towards the current structures and procedures and we all know you can only start innovating when you challenge that status quo. It does inspire me to think about different ways of working with people and I do see a clear benefit, the world basically opens up when looking for talent in when you could make that work. Location becomes a secondary consideration, whereas today it feels that for many people location is actually becoming more important than it used to be.

Photo credit Automattic.com

You can put a man on the moon

One of the more interesting seminars at the Cannes Lions in June earlier this year was that one of Astro Teller who leads the Google X initiative. You know where the idea for Google Glass or Google’s self driving cars is coming from:

Here is the surprising truth. It’s often easier to make something 10 times better than it is to make it 10 percent better. Because when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Such incremental progress is driven by extra effort, extra money, and extra resources. It’s tempting to feel improving things this way means we’re being good soldiers, with the grit and perseverance to continue where others may have failed — but most of the time we find ourselves stuck in the same old slog. But when you aim for a 10x gain, you lean instead on bravery and creativity — the kind that, literally and metaphorically, can put a man on the moon.

I like that. It’s almost like a scientific explanation of why you have to dream big.

Image credit Pandiyan V

Creative Academy @ Golden Drum: Social Currency fuels Braveness & Creativity

Last week I was in Portorož (Slovenia) to give a presentation at 20th edition of the Golden Drum Awards. To this creative audience I wanted to show that the necessity of building social currency for brands calls for bravery and creativity and as such is a great opportunity for the business that we are in.

We know that we have a lot less control of what is being told about a brand today. In the world where we control messaging we need great storytelling, but that alone isn’t enough anymore. We also need to make sure we try to influence the part where we have no control: “giving people a story to tell to each other”. We believe it’s key for brands to do both.

Web_GoldenDrum

But too often today when you talk about influencing the uncontrolled part we end up quite immediately into social media content. When business discovered social media in 2005-2006 with blogging, it proved an interesting way to share opinion or backstages stories around a brand. In the better examples CEO’s would openly talk about their business once a week in a lengthy blogpost that would allow people to reply to. When LinkedIn but especially Facebook came along, more content (but smaller pieces) was needed for updates several times per week. And with Twitter brands are urged to posts several times a day. At the same time content became more visual, we all know (I hope) the importance of the visual web. This trend however has brands talk to us as we are all ignorant kids and to be honest, most ‘branded content’ is actually worse than the 30″ commercial that so many hate.

Managing the conversation is not the same as provoking the conversation. And we should have the tactical rules of social rule our decisions in developing content to provoke. We no only think you should provoke a conversation, it should result in a conversation worth remembering. As an example I give the campaign we created for ‘Stop The Traffik’. This campaign is approximately 2 years old and yet 1 month ago 2 million views were added to the video when Upworthy discovered it (again). And since the the conversation that came out of it is still as valid for the brand is it was at launch.

That brings us to social currency. You create that when you repeatedly created social objects. And as I’ve written before, with the social object, it’s not so much the object that is important as it is the conversations it triggered around it. My business card is a social object. Almost every time I hand it out people ask me what ‘Change Architect’ (my second role) means and by explaining that I already get a chance to explain why change is important for the agency and how that defines the work that we make.

So why then the necessity for bravery & creativity in building social currency? In my presentation I list 5 points:

  • Provocative insights
  • Surprise & entertain
  • Make it irreverent
  • Make it awesome
  • Let go

But remember, this is not a science so stay agile and adapt constantly while creating.

Photo credit Golden Drum