A few things from January and February

A few things from January and February:


As an advisor to Angel Academe, I attended their most recent board meeting, followed by pitch practice for companies that were going to present to angel investors, and finally 2 weeks after that, I attended the actual presentations to investors by Frugl, Resatech, Vitalfootprint and Abundance Generation. It is amazing how much presentations can improve with the right input; 2 weeks of tweaking and rehearsals following feedback really made a difference. On that, Angel Academe has opened applications for the second cohort of Entrepreneur Academe which is a 9-month programme that gives female entrepreneurs access to experts on business and financial planning, technology and product development, PR/sales/marketing/social media, and investment readiness. If you’re a female founder looking for mentorship, guidance and a peer group, you should apply – the deadline is March 31st. They’re also looking for (male and female) mentors – I am one and fully recommend it. You can apply to be a mentor here.

I went to The Story last week, notes of which I’ve already written up on this blog. Hack Circus had a copy of their magazine there for attendees. I’m already a subscriber so if you’d like to have a taste of what Hack Circus is like, I’d like to offer anyone who’d like it my copy of Hack Circus Issue 5: Life for free. The first person to comment on this post telling me about a project they think represents ‘fantasy technology and everyday magic’ gets it (please mention a Twitter ID so we can liaise for the address).

I’m a trustee of Photoworks, a photography non-profit that examines the role of photos in a modern world. They are currently hiring a Head of Development, to be based in Brighton, UK. If you have any networks or email groups that might have potential candidates, it would be lovely if you could share the job posting. The application deadline is March 19th.

I was lucky enough to be able to go to the home of Index Ventures’ Saul Klein for an intimate Sofar Sounds gig by Bastille, To Kill a King and Suli Breaks this week. Read my piece in the Huffington Post here.

I was at the opening of the London Stock Exchange a few weeks ago (picture above). The trading floor as pictured in the Wall Street films doesn’t exist, people! There’s a countdown to 8am and the market is declared ‘open’ on a big screen, that’s about it. No yelling, shouting, phones ringing. As you were, then.

Thought-provoking post on media, time, technology from @chrbutler

What’s troubling is the way that time interferes with gaining any insight from our media-making. As it was for Henry Bemis, time is the ultimate factor. It’s the thing that obliges us to let people know how long it will take them to read the thing we wrote. It’s why we make fancy status bars to show them how far along they are in the slog of reading the things we write. It’s why we tag things #longreads, as if to say both, “I am of the literati that reads Moby Dick more than once” and “Warning! Timesuck ahead.” It’s why it has become a legitimate critique to say, “tl;dr.” I used to take pride in my wordcount; as it climbed so did my confidence that I was more clearly communicating myself to the outside world. Now, I fear that with every additional word, I’m less likely to be read. Lost in a sea of words. And as that sea-level rises, what right to I have to expect anyone to read what I write?

Christopher Butler: Everyone is someone else’s marketer.

Wrote up my notes from #story2015 @thestory2015, thanks for an excellent day


Matt Locke and the Storythings team are making things difficult for themselves with each year that they organise The Story. This year’s conference, on Friday, was the best yet, so I can only wonder how they can improve on the line-up next year.

Television executive Gary Carter made me think about how the internet is impacting his industry with his tales of Big Brother Africa, but his remarks on the changing times stuck with me: a decade or so ago, TV broadcasting depended on shooting as little as you could to get a good quality product, but the advent of digital technology meant dramatically reduced costs, leading to reality shows like Big Brother with their 24/7 cameras actually being possible. Obviously it took off and people started becoming famous as the spotlight could shine on stories most of us had only heard of and not seen till then. It’s almost closed the loop now – the quality of reality TV is compromised because of the ease with which anyone anywhere can and often is filmed (even if there is no point to it). He ended on an encouraging note about what else might be possible if we choose to exploit the medium intelligently again – Woody Allen doesn’t need to be constrained by the boundaries of traditional broadcast TV when he makes the series Amazon has just commissioned him for, for example.

Having just watched both series of Orange Is The New Black, being introduced to Clean Break’s work was particularly interesting for me. They are a theatre company set up in 1979 by women prisoners that not only brings female prisoners’ stories to the stage but provides them training and education to develop their personal, social and professional skills. What the group is doing is very inspiring – the ‘redemptive power of storytelling’ isn’t often discussed in this literal a manner and it was worth listening to.

Kati London’s work was both amusing and made it evident how data and play can make interacting with our urban environment easier. Here are some of the projects she talked about: HereHereNYC (cartoons created from actual data about the city), Botanicalls (plants getting an amusing personality and talking through a robotic voice, this project was in 2011 or so but reminded me immediately of the Parrot Pot covered at CES this year), Code of Everand (teaching 9-13 year olds about traffic rules through an MMOG) and Sharkrunners (an online role-playing game incorporating actual shark movement data).

Alexa Clay spoke about her upcoming book with Kyra Maya Phillips, the Misfit Economy. It speaks to the work of intrapreneurs, jugaad and the informal economy, and I’ll look out for it when it’s published. It’s also being made into a film – watch the trailer here. And in one of the most amusing and yet thought-provoking actions I’ve seen lately, she dressed as an Amish woman and went to tech conferences as the Amish Futurist.

One of the best phrases I heard on Friday was by Matthew Plummer-Fernandez as he described the philosophical nature of his work: ‘future finds of a bygone era’. His Tumblr Algopop is very New Aesthetique (New Aesthetic-ic?). And the Disarming Corruptor project he won a Prix Arts Electronica Award of Distinction for is so meta it kind of blew my mind: it is a free software application that helps people to circumvent file-sharing restrictions. More from the project page: ‘Inspired by encryption rotor machines such as the infamous Enigma Machine, the application runs an algorithm that is used to both corrupt STL files into a visually-illegible state by glitching and rotating the 3D mesh, and to allow a recipient to reverse the effect to restore it back to its original form.’

Simon Munnery‘s was the talk I laughed most at, fully living up to his reputation as a comedian. His use of existing technology (linking back in a way to what Gary Carter referred to) was quite smart: he wasn’t on stage, instead projecting his face on to a screen using his laptop camera.

I can still hear Nelly Ben Hayoun’s wonderful French accent ringing in my ears. Her film Disaster Playground, based on re-enactments of crisis situations for the public, is set to premiere at SXSW 2015. But also: the International Space Orchestra! Her work is a mix of film and critical thinking, and she minced no words when she said ‘LA (Hollywood) producers don’t really get critical thinking.’

Philip Hunt’s narration of the creative process behind Lost and Found and the challenges in its production conveyed the sense that the journey to making it was the journey of the maturity of filmmaking itself.

George Oates re-engineered Grimm’s Fairy Tales by replacing the male characters with female (I think she called it the ‘gender flip zeitgeist’). I also learnt about seejane.org, which is a good tool for my Ada’s List toolkit. Loved the passion with which she asked everyone to rally around and support female gamers who are having a tough time with the vile residuals of the internet right now.

Like many others no doubt, I find James Bridle‘s work incredibly inspiring. He spoke about his Render Search project, where he is seeking to identify people who appear in stock images used (mostly) by real estate developers – it took him all the way to Albuquerque, New Mexico! Lots of things to think about but I noted down one particular thing he said: ‘when you want to understand the internet, you don’t do it to understand complex systems, you do it to understand politics and history.’

Which is really what events like The Story are all about, in a sense.

Anna Rafferty, the MC for the day, summed it up well:

Behaviour, Experience and the new world of business

I read a bit about two fairly new C-suite roles this week: the Chief Experience Officer and the Chief Behavioural Officer. The former gets the company more heavily invested in thinking about the whole customer experience process, with a focus on design and development, and the latter does a similar role but with a focus on the psychology of the customer at the time of her experience with the brand.

The one thing I took from both pieces is that though both roles are more or less new to the industry, the best indication of their success will be when the entire leadership of a company is able to see these as crucial to day-to-day and not worthy of a callout. It’s the same thing with innovation today in businesses – I notice that companies that see it as a natural part of what they do are more likely to go through with it versus discuss and debate endlessly.

At the end of the day, a clear focus on the two key audiences for a company – customers and employees – are what will see businesses grow. It’s important to note how linked the entire team (CMO, CIO, CXO, CTO, CFO…) needs to be aligned to execute these well enough. If the people in charge of internal comms, both design & deployment, aren’t in tune with what’s going on in the market, then “if they have a choice, [employees] will go work someplace where the systems are easy, useful and allow them to be productive,” as Greg Petroff, CXO at GE, says. If the team isn’t in tune with with customers’ true feelings and behaviour, then those customers will not “get more of what they want” and, in turn, they will not “reward those companies with their business and trust”.

It’s always, ALWAYS, a team effort. As the Re/code article says, researching insights, scoping projects, engaging clients (and employees – my addition), building technology, designing tests and measuring results is rarely done by one person.

On sunshine and advertising in China

I’d bookmarked this documentary on Aeon a few weeks ago and finally got down to watching it. 15 minutes, and a beautiful film on advertising in the modern world, especially the philosophical questions that come with working in this field in a developing nation like China. You’ll also learn why the Chinese in the film insist on having people who represent ‘sunshine’ in their ads. I recommend it.

An endearing portrait of a conflicted modern-day ‘Mad Man’, Sunshine explores the world of advertising from an insider’s perspective. Drawing connections between cultural tropes from Mao’s era and China’s current push into consumerism, the film offers an interesting insight into both changes and constants in Chinese society.

Sunshine from American Buffalo on Vimeo.

Brief thoughts after listening to @kevin_ashton speak about flying horses


I went to listen to Kevin Ashton speak about his new book ‘How To Fly A Horse‘ earlier this week. It sounds like an interesting book full of anecdotes of people building on the inventions of others to ultimately create something noteworthy. Some were flops; the ill-fated jump of Franz Reichelt from the Eiffel Tower in 1912 for example, in the belief that his birdsuit would be enough to help him fly, long before the success of the patient Wright Brothers (whose activities were inspiration for the title of the book, by the way).

Or Watson & Crick’s ultimate award of the Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA – which they only really got because Maurice Wilkins, co-awardee of the Nobel with Crick and Watson, passed on to them the work of his colleague Rosalind Franklin, the crystallographer whose diffraction images of DNA led to the actual discovery, without her knowledge.

But most intriguing was learning about the first instance of the word ‘creativity’ as a noun, that misused word of today, in 1926 by Alfred North Whitehead:

The reason for the temporal character of the actual world can now be given by reference to the creativity and the creatures.

‘The creativity’. We’re the creatures, what is our creativity? What is yours, or mine?