Pretty big episode of my podcast Attention Surplus this week. As we’re about to enter our second full year of podcasting (and episode 75), we’re launching a revamped format. Would love your thoughts on this.
Note: We ran out of time in our episode and weren’t able to share all of the treatments Byron explored. While connecting with people was the start of his turnaround, he attributes a lot of his recovery to participating in a trial of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. We include this in case any of our listeners are suffering from clinical depression or know someone who is looking for additional therapies to explore.
I’ve been watching with great interest this silly little debate about integrity and journalism between Marco Arment, John Gruber, and Joshua Topolsky, and I couldn’t resist the urge to comment.
First, a quick summary of the issue. A number of prominent tech sites, including The Verge and Engadget, wrote articles about the HP Spectre One all-in-one desktop computer, which looks suspiciously like an Apple product ripoff (think Thunderbolt Display bolted on top of a MacBook Air, with the same wireless keyboard and Magic Trackpad as an iMac). Each of these sites neglected to mention the similarities with said Apple products.
And so Marco noticed and alleged this was due to said tech sites being toothless and wanting to remain chummy with OEMs because their business model depends on it. Gruber chimed in and believes that this has more to do with these sites taking an editorial position that more closely aligns their views with those of certain readers who believe these manufacturers are not copying Apple, are entitled to do so, or one of many other similar positions. Topolsky responded with a pretty emotional and heated post. After that, a bunch of Internet ego dick wagging happened on Twitter.
Egos aside, I’m more interested in discussing what I believe to be the core issue with the business model of sites like The Verge that leave the door open for these types of omissions.
I haven’t worked as a journalist, but I have worked on the other side of the fence, in PR. Tech news sites, like any other news sites, are faced with a few fundamental problems: a high volume of news stories, too few resources to adequately cover them in depth, and fighting the clock to get “breaking” news out the door and on the site. These sites primarily make their money through advertising, which either directly or indirectly pays higher returns for greater pageviews. This means there is an incentive to be the first to break a story, to have an exclusive scoop, or take a controversial position on an issue. With so much competition, if you’re too slow in getting to a story, you’re losing out on potential “eyeballs” from referrals and other sources.
On the flip side, companies like HP and their PR agencies spend a lot of time and money trying to craft compelling pitches and use other tactics to get the interest of journalists. The gold standard for PR is that your press release gets published verbatim in whole or in part. Runner up would be that your messaging and spin is intact, even if the words aren’t. Providing the messaging isn’t totally over-the-top, journalists are happy to do this because they are working on deadline, and need to post a high volume of stories in a timely manner. This means there’s no time for editorializing straight news like a first-look piece. This is how the PR business stays alive and stays successful, and news sites keep costs down and revenue up.
What it comes down to, I think, is not a desire to suck up to OEMs, or to pander to Android and PC loving readers, or willful maliciousness by sites like The Verge, as Marco and Gruber seem to believe, but rather a sort of unintentional journalistic laziness that results from the pressures of the job and these publications’ business models.
About a week and a half ago, the relationship I was in came to an end. She and I lived in a small apartment together, so sticking around didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I’ve been living off my friends’ generosity since then.
I’ve been back to that apartment twice now to pick up some essentials (read: clean clothes) to keep me going for the next little while. My ex wasn’t there. On the second visit, it struck me that both nothing and everything had changed.
On the one hand, it looked as though nobody lived there anymore. The television remote had moved, and her favourite record was now sitting on the turntable. She made the bed for the first time in a long time. But everything else was the same, right down to a few lone beard trimmings around the bathroom sink that always seemed to avoid my attempts at cleaning.
And yet, this isn’t home for me anymore. It doesn’t feel right. It’s no longer the place where I can retreat from the world when I need to switch into Introvert Mode, or simply relax after a long day. That sense of security, familiarity, belonging, love and trust disappeared overnight. It’s just a space like any other. A shell of its former self.
It has never been so powerfully apparent to me that home is a feeling, not a place.
When I was growing up, our neighbours across the street had a dog. He was a beautiful, smart and loving collie. But he had a few behaviour issues.
When the owners were training him, they taught him to give a paw on command. “Give me your left paw,” they would say.
However, the dog was extremely apprehensive about this. When asked to give a paw, the dog would slowly raise the left, then the right, then the left… with incredible hesitation. He was looking for some type of visual or verbal cue that he was doing the right thing.
The problem was that, when he was first being trained, one of the owners would ask for the “right paw,” and that owner meant the dog’s right paw. When the other owner asked for the “right paw,” they meant the owner’s right paw.
Each owner would reward and punish different behaviours in different ways, leading to incredible confusion and a behaviour that was difficult for them to correct. Even if the dog was consistent and rewarded for what he was doing for one owner, the other owner would punish him for the same action.
This is a story about the importance of consistent behaviours and incentives. Think about your life, work, and the people in it. Are you inconsistently rewarding and punishing behaviours because of your lack of clarity?
In a recent article on the Harvard Business Review blog, Karen Freeman, Patrick Spenner and Anna Bird argued that our traditional thinking on customer engagement is dead. A study of more than 7000 consumers indicated that “companies often have dangerously wrong ideas about how best to engage with customers.” They attempt to debunk three marketing myths:
Consumers don’t want to have relationships with your brand. Only 23% of those surveyed said they wanted to have a relationship with brands. Relationships, they said, are reserved for friends and family. So why do brands feel the need to act like a consumer’s best friend? I love this quote from Mike Arauz: “If I tell my Facebook friends about your brand, it’s not because I like your brand, but rather because I like my friends. I want to share something with them, in exchange for their attention and affection.”
Frequent brand interactions over time won’t build relationships with consumers. The authors argue that relationships aren’t built on interactions, but rather on shared values and trust. Simply because a consumer uses a particular product doesn’t mean they’re looking to be bombarded with product offers. Instead, we care about the brands that stand for something that’s equally important to us. I’ll get back to this in a minute.
More interaction isn’t always better. In marketing, increased interactions result in diminishing returns. There’s no correlation between the number of interactions and the likelihood a consumer will be loyal or more likely to recommend or purchase a product.
Instead, the authors make the case that consumer attention and trust are precious resources that must be cherished instead of abused. I want to take this a step further and argue that, as we are increasingly bombarded with media in every area of our life, that disruption marketing is dying.
It’s no longer good enough to tell customers about how great your product is and hope they will rush out and buy it. Especially in the digital space, consumers are increasingly looking for value and utility. Modern brands that truly get it and are succeeding in digital are those who have understood they need to stand for something meaningful and deliver on that purpose at every consumer touchpoint. They do so by creating compelling products, services and experiences that flow from that purpose.
Several years ago, Simon Sinek presented a simple idea called the Golden Circle in his TEDxPuget Sound talk ”How great leaders inspire action.” He argues that the traditional marketing model of What > How > Why is dead.
Here’s how not to inspire: “This is our new widget. We make these widgets using cutting edge technology. They’ll increase your performance by 200% and make unicorns happy. Want to buy one?”
People buy why you do it, not what you do. It’s time to flip the model and change the way we interact with customers.
Here’s how Simon presents Apple’s value proposition:
In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, easy to use, and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?
To truly embrace digital marketing, brands will need to understand that they need to start standing for something meaningful that consumers identify with, and create branded digital experiences that people care about – beyond a one-off contest or microsite. Some brands, like Nike, have shown that they understand this in the digital space far better than others. Brands who don’t get it are leaving themselves open to disruptive innovation from new or unexpected entrants.
Last week’s talk with Lisa Charleyboy inspired us to try an activity she mentioned: making a collage of images representing things we’d like to have or pursue in the future. We spent an hour or so before this week’s show with some good friends, some bristol board and a stack of magazines, cutting and pasting photos to produce a sort of mood board for our lives. On the episode, Sean and Eric discuss what they learned from the process and the end results.
A very special and personal episode of my podcast, Attention Surplus, this week. We did a creative exercise about visually mapping out our goals and feelings about our lives over the next few years. It was incredibly powerful. In the show, we discuss how we approached it and what our initial feelings were.
The author is skeptical that the current system needs replacing, but I strongly disagree. As a new resident of the city, I’ve found the system to be very confusing and frustrating. Anecdotally, observing even seasoned New Yorkers trying to hail a cab has been amusing. They don’t seem to understand the system much, either.
The current system has four states, actuated by two separate sets of lights — the medallion or taxi number, and the two “Off Duty” badges. Those four states are:
Both lights off – The taxi is occupied
Both lights on – The taxi is available at the cab driver’s discretion
Only “Off Duty” lights on – The taxi is not available
Only the medallion light on – The taxi is available
If you’re standing on a busy avenue during rush hour, trying to find an available cab, there’s only one thing you care about: Is this cab available?
Half states or “maybe available” don’t matter to customers. In fact, it promotes poor customer service. Likewise, the difference between a cab that is off duty and a cab that is occupied is completely inconsequential.
This is a system that was designed with the system designer’s needs in mind, as opposed to the end user’s needs. I’m pleased to see that the needlessly confusing system is being replaced by a straightforward system that is used in many other cities around the world. Two states. One light.
“What do I want to be when I grow up?” That’s the question on the cover of the little book that first drew our attention to this week’s guest. Pat Thompson is a leadership consultant, Metcalf Foundation Innovation Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Massey College.
She visited our living room studio to talk about vocation and good work, the value of being stuck, and the vital importance of reflection and good conversation.
The notebook, available at Dark Horse Espresso in Toronto, contains other deep questions and thought-provoking quotes — and, of course, plenty of space to reflect.
This is as close as you’ll get to New Year’s resolutions from us: Eric talks about how he came to write a self-critical personal manifesto for 2012, and Sean offers his theory of a “threshold of distasteful actions” as one of the roots of procrastination.
Simple Computing or: Why Closed Systems Need to Win
Over dinner this evening, my family and I began discussing some issues they’ve been having with their computers. The details of these techincal issues aren’t particularly important, but it’s worth noting that they all stem from multiple devices or components that aren’t playing nice together.
And so, as I tried to explain to my parents what might be causing these problems, my dad began (rightfully) to rant about how complex computers continue to be, and how little they have evolved from the days when he was spending entire nights installing Windows 95 from 13 floppy disks. Most computers still require an incredible amount of technical know-how to operate, and even minor problems are often extremely frustrating to diagnose and resolve.
Novice computer users are often surprised that geeks like myself also get frustrated when computers don’t work the way they should. Why? Because I realized years ago that, although I love learning about and tinkering with the guts of a computer, at the end of the day I just need the tools to work with me instead of against me. I don’t buy computers becasue I want to endlessly tinker with them. I buy them because they’re supposed to solve problems and make my life simpler. And yet, in many cases, they don’t.
My father brought up two interesting analogies — the automobile and the television. In both cases you can go out and purchase a low-end product and it will function in essentially the same way as the high-end product. The car will get you from point A-to-B, and the television will turn on and display video from an input source. Sometimes these devices have issues that require maintenance, but they are generally just as reliable as their high-end counterparts. This makes sense.
In both cases, televisions and automobiles are also not particularly user-servicable. In order to diagnose issues, you need to take them to a trained professional. Yet most of the time, you can get in your car and expect that it will reliably get you to your destination. There’s even complimentary roadside assistance to ensure that any serious issues are resolved with the least amount of discomfort.
What about computers? My parents own a high-end Windows-based laptop that is substantially more powerful than anything they have ever owned before. And yet it doesn’t help them do the things they needs to do any more reliably or frustration-free. Error messages are just as cryptic, they’re still not able to reliably print to a wireless printer, and email server issues are causing real headaches. They are having to compromise and find painful workarounds to these solutions.
The difference between a computer and a car
Traditionally, computers have been open systems in which a vendor licenses an operating system to a company that assembles a computer from various off-the-shelf and custom parts. Both those companies, and the individual component manufacturers, try their best to account for all potential hardware and software variations, but the systems have been fundamentally designed with flexibility in mind.
It should, in theory, be able to support thousands of potential printers, external displays, hard drives, networking components, and other peripherals. It should also support them through third-party software packages that are either installed by the computer vendor or the user. As such, there are likely millions of possible configurations that must be supported — some of which weren’t even on the market at the time th computer and operating system were conceived.
Therefore, we would consider most of the computers ever designed to be open systems. They are made to accept and work adequately with tens of thousands of devices and millions of configurations.
Automobiles are far less complicated. To begin, they are closed systems — meaning that there are only so many different inputs the owner has the capacity to modify. It may be possible to select from a few different packages when purchasing, but it will be almost impossible for the average person to upgrade major components in the car after purchase.
Would we expect a car to be just as reliable if every owner could change the engine, muffler, carburator, or one of the dozens of on-board computers? Would we expect them to be as reliable if Honda, for instance, licensed its designs and components to third-party companies who could then modify them in dozens of ways and sell them directly to consumers?
No. And yet this is the situation most people have been dealing with since the dawn of the personal computer. The sole manufacturer who has been relentlessly pursuing a closed-system approach to computing is Apple, with iOS-powered devices like the iPad and iPhone thus far being the purest expression of that mantra.
Why simple must prevail
Most computer manufacturers have always tried to have it both ways — they want to make the user interface intuitive and powerful while offering consumers choice and flexibility. These are fundamentally opposed concepts. A system cannot be infinitely flexibile and remain reliable and simple.
Closed systems like iOS will prove to be the future of computing. Even Microsoft, historically the greatest champion of open systems, seems to have understood this with the concessions they have made in Windows Phone 7 and the upcoming Metro UI in Windows 8. And consumers have been voting with their wallets, given how quickly the market has embraced Apple’s new breed of mobile devices.
As with cars, there will always be a market of tinkerers who want freedom (as-in free speech), but these should be a small minority of users. Computers must serve their users and become useful but unobtrusive tools. They will only do that if their designers embrace human-centered design, and make hard compromises to ensure those solutions are vertically-integrated and simple from a user’s perspective. Simple means saying no to the realm of unconstrained possibilities, and only closed systems can achieve that goal.
It’s easy to judge ourselves by what we haven’t finished or aren’t getting done. What if we were to look instead at all the things we have accomplished?
Plus: how and when to say no, and the return of Junk Sean.
Announcing our first contest! Leave a comment and guess the name of our special guest (who will join us for next week’s episode) and win not one but three signed photo prints – one each from Sean, Eric and our mystery guest!
Zeus Jones’ Adrian Ho recently blogged about his advice to young planners, and provided this great answer on the future of planning. I couldn’t help but copy it here as it’s so dead-on.
As you know, I believe that marketing is about doing things for people rather than saying things to them. A direct implication of this is that marketing ideas are things we do, not things we say.
I also believe that strategy is about deciding what we will do, not deciding what we will say. And this means that our practice of separating strategy and ideas no longer makes sense. It is a relic which holds us back instead of moving us forwards.
I hope the next generation of young planners will work to redefine the output of their agencies rather than simply trying to redefine their role within the agency.
I hope the next generation of young planners will remember that the role of planning is to move the industry forward, which may require leaving planning behind.
We’re back with another episode of Attention Surplus after taking a week off for Canadian Thanksgiving. For long time listeners of the show, you’ll be interested to know this one includes a special update on my favourite subway musician. ;)