Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Creativity, collaboration and chickens

I went to an interesting talk last night, Creativity and Collaboration, at The Purcell Room in London. It was a discussion, demonstration and performance on the power of collaboration with writer Margaret Heffernan, surgeon Roger Kneebone (what a brilliant name for a surgeon!) and musicians Joanna MacGregor and Andy Sheppard.

Our culture is fixated on winning – whether that’s TV shows turning hobbies into competitive sports (think baking, allotments and dressmaking) or corporate organisations who routinely measure performance to weed out the weakest and focus attention on the strongest or ‘Hi-Per’ as in ‘High Performance’.

During the discussion, each panellist shared their ideas about the value of collaborative working – essentially the antithesis of our current culture of winning – whether that’s a surgeon in the operating theatre, an entrepreneur putting a team together or musicians playing and improvising. The best performing collaborations worked in such a way that mutual understanding becomes instinctive and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Tacit knowledge of each other, built through years of trust, respect, conflict and osmosis, seems to be the key to successful collaborations. But why collaborate at all?

Margaret Heffernan, author of A Bigger Prize: Why Competition isn’t Everything and How We Do Better, explained how competition is actually destructive by relaying the story of an experiment with chickens.

Happy Hens in a FieldWhile studying natural selection, William Muir, a geneticist at Purdue University, ran an experiment measuring the egg-laying productivity of two flocks of chickens. The first group was a free flock, the birds could roam and mingle as they pleased, while the second comprised only the most productive birds who were specially picked for their ability as the best egg-layers. The two flocks of birds were then left alone to their own devices for a few generations. When they looked at the birds again, the free flock birds were laying eggs at a furious pace and were healthy. But for the descendants of the ‘high achievers’, it was a different story. Most had been killed by hens that saw them as rivals, and the few survivors were in a sorry state, harrying and pecking at one another unforgivingly.

Does this sound like your workplace? Margaret alluded to the fact that it does sound like many workplaces. I hope it doesn’t sound like yours, but I fear for many that coming top, being the best, is at great expense both to one’s own health and the health of those around you and the health of the business you’re working in. We talk about pecking order, being hen-pecked, being a chicken (i.e. a wimp), headless chicken, chickens coming home to roost, to chicken out. I’m sure there are more. Maybe there’s something in this…? It certainly resonated with the audience as there were gasps as Margaret relayed the story.

I didn’t take notes during the session (perhaps I should have done), but I came away with some thoughts…

Competition isn’t the be-all and end-all. Collaboration is a much more successful, if more problematic and difficult strategy. Egos get in the way. The chemistry might not be right. Timing might be out of kilter. Life throws a curve ball at you. There are lots of reasons why collaborations fail but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

I’ve always enjoyed collaborative work. Perhaps that’s why I still remember my years at Swan Youth Theatre so fondly – we joined together with a common goal, we had limited resources, but found a way to make a production happen, we fought and we argued, we got tired and fraught, but we helped and supported each other, we learned new things and we had a great time doing it. The majority of my early work experience was in stark contrast to this and was much more dog eat dog and much of it was very unpleasant as a result. And pretty much all my schooling from the age of 9 upwards was about ranking in class and being in the top stream. I’m not sure what good it did any of us. I’m quite sure I learned much more during my time at youth theatre.

The panel were also supportive of failure. Our culture hasn’t given much credence to failure, yet we learn most from our failures. All the panellists reiterated that failures (things not going as expected, bum notes, things not going to plan) gave them more agility to deal with change and difficulties in the future. It strengthened the bond of the collaboration in many instances. Margaret explained that failures should be more than tolerated and that we need to learn from them. She said the only failure that she would reject in the workplace is repetition of the same mistake which shows a lack of attention.

The other key thought I had coming away from the talk was about the length of time needed to forge strong working relationships in teams – whether those teams work together from time to time or more frequently. A lot of time needs to be spent in each others’ company in order to build up the trust, respect and knowledge of each other in order to work well together. You have to find ways to overcome conflict too and in doing all of that, you’ll be able to work in harmony – the kind of harmony Roger Kneebone described when sharing a story about the surgical team who had worked for decades together. He brought the team back together for a surgical simulation to try to get to the bottom of how surgical teams work. The simulation was filmed and when you slowed the film right down to see the interaction between the nurse and the surgeon, you could see that the nurse actually passed the instrument to the surgeon before he actually asked for it. That’s tacit knowledge at play. And takes years of practice.

Yet in our current work culture, it’s very common for employees to change jobs every year or two. Research in the US suggests that the average number of jobs an individual will have between the ages of 18 and 44 is 11. That’s a lot of job changes. And that means that these strong working relationships don’t have time to be fostered. Very often when I work with a client from a large company, I’ll know more people at that company than they do. People simply don’t have the time or don’t take the time to get to know their work neighbours. I wonder what we’re missing out on because we’re not forging strong enough connections with each other?

I’ll be adding Margaret’s book to my reading list.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Plus ça change…

change next exit croppedI’m lucky to be born with a curious mind and to have plenty of opportunity to exercise that curiosity as part and parcel of the consultancy work I do. And because of that curiosity, I tend to notice more of the new stuff and because of my experience over 25 years in sectors ranging from retail, the arts, construction, public transport, media, advertising and mobile, I can put some of this into context for my clients when it comes to working with them on their mobile strategies and planning.

Last week, I was thinking about insurance and financial services and mobile. This week, I’m back at one of my regular stomping grounds of news media and mobile.

Both sectors are rooted in their ways of doing things. Neither has adapted that well to the digital world. Both sectors are aware that change is happening, but neither seem to be aware as to how fast that actually is (hint – it’s faster than any of us can imagine). Neither sector are clued up about technology beyond what they already know and use – in insurance and backing there are legacy systems from the early days of computing and in newspapers, it’s about print production and the technologies around that. And neither sector consider technology to be core of what they do. Maybe they’re right, but my hunch is that that may be holding them back as they’re not able to attract the right people to their organisations.

Interestingly, both sectors now seem to be embracing some developer culture in organising hackathons, opening up APIs for those hackathons and wanting to engage more with the start-up and tech community. It’s tricky though. When you’re not used to sharing, when you’re not used to open dialogue with external parties and telling them what’s actually going on rather than what you want them to know, it’s difficult to start doing that now. And there are so many hackathons going on in London right now, it may well be too late to join that bandwagon and a new format or approach may be required. Nevertheless, I’m pleased to be seeing collaboration activities happening.

I’ll be honest. I was disappointed last week at the FinTech event I attended last week. Nothing wrong with the event per se, but I didn’t see anything new or exciting or noteworthy. The discussions were sensible in many respects and the Aviva CIO was very interesting to listen to. But there was no leadership or real vision for what the future holds in how our daily lives are changing, especially in relation to the internet of things, big data, privacy and therefore what that might mean for the future of insurance or banking for those people.

The global media industry fares a little better although there are glimpses of hope from the UK. Yesterday, I heard some very interesting case studies from Hearst and how it’s tackling new digital properties and how The Times is moving from having readers to having members. And today, the FT.com’s story, as ever, is a strong one when it comes to digital leadership and actually trying new things (car interfaces, smart TV apps) and having its eye on what’s coming next. The majority of media owners I talk to outside the UK are still very wary of making these leaps of faith as they’re not sure what the next thing might be. Most media owners think their competition is other media owners. I imagine it’s not – look at the rise of The Young Turks, Bleacher Report and Jamal Edwards’ SB:TV empire. Bedroom media moguls all of them. No-one saw them coming (except maybe Google, Twitter and Facebook).

Well, I’d love to be able to tell you what that is. I don’t know what it is. I think it would be fair to say that no-one really does. Not even FT.com, The Times, Hearst et al. None of us are fortune-tellers. All those companies are openly experimenting, investing in systems, people and processes that are adaptable to change. Another thing they all have in common is really understanding their customers – bringing the experience back to humans – what we want, how we use our devices, when we use them, the content we want to read, the content we enjoy and share the most – that data driven insight then drives the thinking behind new products, services and revenue streams.

Ultimately, what needs to happen is culture change. Getting the right technology system or platform in won’t save your business. Rethinking your business in relation to the digital age just might. Will we still need car insurance with driverless cars? And what does the future of news look like? It certainly doesn’t look like a printed newspaper.

I’m going to leave you with some quotes that have kept popping up on my radar in the last few days:

Jack Welch — 'If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.'

John Kotter – ‘The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon’

and finally

Karen Lamb – ‘A year from now, you may wish you’d started today’

I don’t need to give you more stats on how mobile is eating the world or the exponential growth of mobile media and advertising. You can use a familiar search engine to find that out. Hey they even have a whole section dedicated to telling about that with Our Mobile Planet. What I would urge you to do is to do *something*.It may not be the right thing and it won’t be the last thing you do either. Don’t be afraid to experiment, to fail, to learn and to start again. Don’t be left behind though. Create a future you, your family, your friends and your customers will want to be part of.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Swedish Beers–Barcelona Edition 2014 are Go!

swedish beers 2014

I must be a glutton for punishment or something! It’s almost 13 years since the first ever Swedish Beers party in London and this will the eighth party in Barcelona… Oh my goodness, doesn't time fly?

Here we are again in February which means only one thing - it's time for Swedish Beers! It’s all systems go for Mobile World Congress and Heroes of the Mobile Fringe. And as part of that, your favourite networking party is back to bring you more beer and more chat.

We do have some lovely sponsors lined up for you but there's room for one or two more if you fancy getting involved. Get in touch with Helen to discuss. More will be announced over the coming days and weeks.

Like our previous events, this is a relaxed evening, no formalities, no presentations, no business cards thrust in your face as soon as you arrive. Just come with an open mind, be prepared to see friends old and new, talk nonsense, enjoy a drink or five and have yourself a good time. Oh, and leave the ties, the corporate personas and the sales spiel at the door please. The Swedish Beers crew will be on hand to welcome you as well as the friendliest bar staff in town.

No need to RSVP unless you want to. There's no guest list, no tickets and there's no guaranteed entry. Just come and go as you please. If you do register, it does mean that you can add the event to your calendar and search for it in your email and easily share with friends. Fill in the form below or go direct to the eventbrite page.

It is likely to get a bit busy at times. But don't worry, people will be coming in and out all evening. That’s kind of the point as we know there’s always a lot going on and you might want to check out more than one party. If it's very busy, there's no need to queue to get in. Just check out one of the other bars nearby and come back a little later when it's a bit less frantic.

There is a small cloakroom area at the bar, but it's not secure so leave the laptops in your hotel room or apartment where they will be safe and won't get in anyone's way.

The venue is our favourite haunt with the friendliest bar staff in town, Dos Trece -http://dostrece.net/
We'll be open from 7pm through until the early hours.

AQL is our first confirmed sponsor - more tbc. I’ll introduce all our sponsors over the coming days and weeks.

See you in Barcelona!

This is a Heroes of the Mobile Fringe Festival Event http://mobileheroes.net/

Skål

Helen

Like us on Facebook http://facebook.com/swedishbeers

Follow us on Twitter http://twitter.com/swedishbeers

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Top Tips for Public Speaking

I do a lot of public speaking. I always have done. At primary school, I was given the good speaking parts because I had a clear voice and a good memory. As a teenager, I acted my socks off at my local theatre and as an adult, I’ve been speaking in public in every job I’ve had – whether it was running a training course, hosting a fashion show or giving the keynote at an international conference. It’s very much second nature to me and something I enjoy doing. Don’t get me wrong, despite years of practice, I still have to prepare – including rehearsing out loud. But I don’t have stage-fright or nerves in the same way that others have it. That element of stage-fright for me is excitement rather than fear and the cue to go on with the show. And I see public speaking as being a very important way to communicate your story and market yourself or your business, whether you’re in a panel discussion or on stage showcasing your latest wares.

It doesn’t always go right though, as this video shows. It’s from CES just a couple of weeks ago and it’s Michael Bay talking up Samsung on the main stage.

It looks like he’s under-prepared and under-rehearsed. I expect Samsung paid him a lot of money to come up on stage and say nice things about their kit, but without the teleprompter, he had nothing to say. I guess that’s also why he’s a movie director rather than an actor.

Don’t let this happen to you. And don’t let this put you off either!

Here are some resources I’ve come across recently which may help you if lack of preparedness, stage-fright or just sheer dread thwart you.

Zach Holman has put together a lovely website with everything you need to know about preparing and delivering a conference talk. You can find it here http://speaking.io/. I don’t have much to add to his advice as it’s great except that it’s well worth watching and listening to other speakers. Sometimes it’s hard to take an objective view as you’re listening to them for the content and in a different context. But if you can, also check out their performance and see what you like or don’t like about how they’ve done it and have a think about how you could improve on that yourself. I find listening to panel discussions on Radio 4 quite helpful for this too as you’re not distracted by any slides or visuals and you can really tune into someone’s personal style.

Mary Portas tweeted this link the other day. It’s a short article about the one phrase you ought not to say. I concur and I’ve been guilty of this one in the past. You have been warned…

Of course, in order to do any public speaking, you need the chance to speak. Most commonly, this is about being accepted to speak at a conference. Here’s a link to some sound advice about putting that conference proposal together. It has a technical bent, but the advice is valid regardless of topic. There’s some more advice here too.

Public speaking is not rocket science. I’m glad that it’s not something that everyone’s good at as it leaves plenty of openings for me to do my thing. But it’s also clear to me it’s the sort of thing that you get better at the more practice you have. So don’t be shy. Have a go.

Good luck.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Celebrate!

This is a lovely example of well-designed HTML for email marketing. I receive too many emails that are completely blank and just show placeholders for images, especially on my mobile phone or tablet. This is what you can do with a bit more thought.

What I don’t know of course, is how it does or doesn’t work on mobile…

pizza express

Hat tip to @ChrisMear for sharing.

Friday, January 17, 2014

SMS is dead. Long live messaging.

You may be forgiven for thinking mobile marketing is all about adverts on web pages seen on a mobile device or in-app advertising or sponsorship. For those of us who’ve been in the game for longer than we care to remember, SMS started the whole mobile marketing sector off back in 1999 yet it is often overlooked for newer ways to use mobile (i.e. mobile adverts) or for older formats (email, print, TV).

But it isn’t quite dead yet. I still use it – although not nearly as much as I used to. My sister is an avid texter and my nieces are still at it. However, for the first time, there has been a downturn in text messaging in the UK.

sms graphThe main culprits for the downturn is the rise of messaging services like WhatsApp. It makes sense. As we find other, cheaper, more convenient ways to chat to each other, SMS services will get replaced. Why pay for SMS when you can have WhatsApp for free and you’re paying for mobile data anyway? I suspect Facebook messenger and email also have a part to play in this picture.

Let’s look at this growth with a bit of historical context… According to the Mobile Data Association (and they got their figures direct from the network operators), annual consumer usage 1999-2009 was as follows:

1999 - 1 billion; 2000 - 6.2 billion; 2001 - 12.2 billion; 2002 - 16.8 billion; 2003 - 20.5 billion; 2004 - 26 billion; 2005 - 32 billion; 2006 - 41 billion; 2007 - 56.9 billion; 2008 - 78.9 billion; 2009 96.8 billion

As you can see from the graph, SMS was still growing, year-on-year, at a healthy pace in 2010 and 2011. And even though there has been a drop-off, we’re still looking at about 120 billion SMS every year in the UK or thereabouts. That’s 4.5 times more than what we were using 10 years ago. That’s a lot of SMS.

So let’s not dismiss SMS quite yet. When you look at the annual figures, they’re still very healthy so I encourage you to think about SMS as part of your marcomms effort. After all, plenty of your customers are still using it and there may still be value in connecting with them via SMS – especially for customer service – another area often overlooked.

What is particularly exciting for us mobile marketers though, is how much activity is happening on mobile devices. Check out that email figure – 65% of us are accessing email on our smartphones. It really is huge. So if you haven’t ‘gone mobile’ yet, I really think it might be time for you to do so.

I was asked a few years ago what my advice would be to the first time mobile-marketer in terms of ‘going mobile’ and I said to make sure their email marketing was mobile friendly. I think the advice still stands. If you do nothing else in mobile, please make sure your email works on handsets – and test for lower end devices. Not everyone has the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy!