Increase Your Options: A talk at Digibury Weekender 2015

Last month, I was invited by Deeson to speak at the Digibury Weekender in Canterbury, Kent. I thought it was an interesting premise – the theme for the talk was ‘technology for good’ – and I really enjoyed the day – thanks to the organisers. I’ve been meaning to upload my talk here for a while, so here it finally is.

I spoke about the contrast between my role at a media agency, working with startups focussed on making advertising money, to what I do with the Other Valleys and Ada’s List.

By and large, I believe that technology can be absolutely a force for good, depending on the people who put it to use. By itself, technology isn’t good or bad – it is the people who use it who make it so. Let’s say Facebook is good, because it helps families and friends connect across geographies, it helps build relationships – social capital, in essence, which for anyone who has Robert Putnam’s seminal work in the 70’s ‘Bowling Alone’, is crucial to maintaining a society. So let’s say Facebook is good. But Facebook, as a result of being heavily invested in its business model, which relates to advertising money, has its dark patches. The research project they conducted last year, that manipulated people’s feeds to test how negative status updates affect people’s tendency to use Facebook was a case in point. 

“Ultimately, we’re just providing a layer of technology that helps people get what they want,” Chris Cox, chief product officer of Facebook, said during an interview in February about changes made to the news feed to show more news articles and fewer viral videos. “That’s the master we serve at the end of the day.”

…which to me sounds a lot, and I’m pretty sure Chris Cox said this completely unwittingly – it sounds a lot like what Kevin Kelly says in his book ‘What Technology Wants’:

As a practical matter I’ve learned to seek the minimum amount of technology for myself that will create the maximum amount of choices for myself and others. The cybernetician Heinz von Foerster called this approach the Ethical Imperative, and he put it this way: “Always act to increase the number of choices.” The way we can use technologies to increase choices for others is by encouraging science, innovation, education, literacies, and pluralism. In my own experience this principle has never failed: In any game, increase your options.”

(Emphasis in both quotes above is mine).

Except for one key problem: the Facebook tweaks were not done to increase the number of choices for Facebook users. It was out of a concern that ‘that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook’.

Every single decision that a person makes while creating technology has to be a considered one, because of the impact that it could have on thousands, even millions of people. Even design decisions.

So, then, how is technology actually being a force for good in parts of the world that perhaps many of us are not familiar with? Some of my favourites include Project Mudra, Gravity Light, Literacy Bridge and Nextdrop.

These are all examples of technology being used in a very considered manner, to ‘increase the number of choices for people’ as Kevin Kelly says.

Technology also connects people in ways that I find it very difficult to put a value on. Ada’s List started 2 years ago as an online space for women to ask questions, hire other women, get advice – things that many of us in an industry dominated by men don’t always have access to. And it is making a difference. To many of our members, it helps them stay connected to a larger community they didn’t have access to before. 

I’m particularly glad that this conference is examining technology as a force for good because we’re doing so in an environment where billions of dollars in venture capital investment is being poured into startups every single day, many of them not really acting as a force for good – or positive action in any way. Instead it’s become all about the money. A couple of months ago, a VC called Maciej Ceglowski wrote an excellent thesis on why this might be, and these words in particular are really relevant to this conference. He said:

Investing has become the genteel occupation of our gentry, like having a country estate used to be in England. It’s a class marker and a socially acceptable way for rich techies to pass their time.

Gentlemen investors decide what ideas are worth pursuing, and the people pitching to them tailor their proposals accordingly.

The companies that come out of this are no longer pursuing profit, or even revenue. Instead, the measure of their success is valuation—how much money they’ve convinced people to tell them they’re worth.

There’s an element of fantasy to the whole enterprise that even the tech elite is starting to find unsettling.

That’s pretty worrisome. And it means that all of us sitting here today, as men and women working in technology, need to think about this seriously. If it is so easy to make unmindful things, we need to commit – strongly – to using technology as a force for good. To ask for this from the people around us, the people we work for and with. And ultimately, to help create a society that works better for us, and for our future generations.

Thank you.

Beach, sun, technology and philosophy

Matthew Desmier, host of Silicon Beach. Image credit: Paul Clarke Photography
Matthew Desmier, host of Silicon Beach. Image credit: Paul Clarke Photography

Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking at Silicon Beach 2015, a conference for curious people in marketing and advertising, that took place in the lovely seaside town of Bournemouth. I hadn’t been there before and with the sun making a welcome appearance along with some very thought-provoking talks, it was a good 2 days indeed.

Chris Thorpe, who used to the CTO of Moshi Monsters and is now the founder of I Can Make, a 3D printing education startup, gave a really inspiring talk about how they are looking to engage with schools across the UK. They have done a lot of beta testing and are launching a subscription service where schools get monthly lessons on how to engage their students with 3D printing, later this month – so keep an eye out for it!

Tracey Follows, ex-Chief Strategy Officer of JWT and founder of the futurism consultancy Any Day Now gave a really eloquent talk on why technology isn’t the future; it’s going to be important but it’s not the whole of what we should be thinking about. Also interesting was her point that instead of focussing on one ‘probable’ future (usually science fiction-oriented), we should be talking about the many ‘possible’ futures, in the multiple.

Mark Adams, Head of Innovation at Vice, showcased the breadth of what Vice do. I loved what he said about cat videos: ‘making cat videos is not a business, it’s a hobby’. He also made a useful point about the importance of brands earning the trust of their audience, by having a strong point of view that isn’t just about the latest, newest thing. His parting message focussed on the importance of finding interesting ways of telling human stories; brand messages aren’t always interesting but people will always have time to read about stories that feature people or things they can relate to as humans.

Venture capitalist Niklas Bergman honestly admitted to passing on Spotify as an investment opportunity as he talked about his vision for the future (yes they involved robots).

Dan Machen, Director of Innovation at HeyHuman, reprised the talk he did with colleague Felix Morgan at both Cannes and SXSW earlier this year to much acclaim. It was about an experiment they conducted that wanted to see how the brain’s shape and attention changed as a result of the constant attack of media, steadily increasing over the last few years. I liked what he said about multi-tasking, a term that has origins in computers being able to do parallel processing; however humans are not computers and yet we insist on saying we can multi-task as if it’s something to be proud of. It really made me think – there’s a tremendous cost to switching our attention from our phone to our laptop and back to our phone, for example, and yet people do that as a matter of course these days, hundreds of times a day in some cases. There is a cost to this, with our brains less and less able to adjust to the task at hand the more we are distracted.

Louisa Heinrich, founder of Superhuman, gave a talk that combined religion and technology in an unusual analogy. She mentioned atheists and agnostics, and their attitude towards religion on the one hand, and humans’ blind faith in computers in the other. We need to think about the impact of our choices in our lives, she said, and not leave everything to computers. ‘Computer doesn’t always know best’.

Rina Atienza is moving to the Philippines in a couple of months, and her talk wove the popular boardgame Settlers of Catan into a journey through her life, to where she is today and what has motivated her to want to move abroad and try and make a difference there. Very inspiring – I’m sure more than one person started examining their own lives after that!

Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director at BBH, listed nine No’s of Innovation. He mentioned how too often innovation is about saying yes to everything, but some things you really need to avoid.

Amy Kean, Head of Futures at Havas, gave a very future-facing talk about ‘dreamvertising’ – she postulated that there might be a time when people will choose to access advertising in their dreams, which, if we go by what we know of how the brain works during sleep, might actually be more impactful for brands. This is in return for not being shoved ads when we are awake, of course! Disturbing and yet I strangely enjoyed it – I don’t know what that says about me!

James Caig, Head of Strategy at True Digital, ended the conference (‘I’m the headliner’, he said tongue-in-cheek) as he compared his life in London to his new life in Bristol, where he now lives.

The talks I haven’t mentioned were all equally entertaining to listen to (I just don’t have good enough notes for them!). There were lessons for us advertising people in every session – life lessons, work lessons, humanity lessons. Hats off to Matthew Desmier and the team at Silicon Beach for pulling such a good event off – and drawing people to sunny Bournemouth. I highly recommend it for next year!

Here’s my talk, on personalisation in media:

Notes from @adaslist @undercurrent evening with @lucyblair @clayparkerjones @merici @ideo

Clay, Lucy and Merici at the Ada's List-Undercurrent discussion on responsive organisations
Clay, Lucy and Merici at the Ada’s List-Undercurrent discussion on responsive organisations

This evening Ada’s List got together with Undercurrent, visiting from New York, to stage a conversation about future-facing organisations. I will probably sound biased but whether or not I was part of the organizing team, it was one of the most inspiring evenings I have been to in a while. I have long paid attention to Undercurrent’s work in re-defining what businesses are and should be paying attention to in the digital age. But beyond this, I am also fascinated by how they have been using Holacracy and other tools to create an organization that is truly of the 21st century in the way precious few are today, as one of the attendees said.

On the responsive OS

Clay Parker Jones began by speaking about the responsive organization (well worth subscribing to their blog on the subject). Businesses today in any industry have more or less similar concerns and problems as their competitors, so it is important to think about how they can distinguish themselves in a fairly uniform scenario. All supermarkets have similar challenges for example, whether it’s Walmart,  Wegman’s, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose or Reliance Fresh. OK, so different market factors in each part of the world will push and pull those in the same market in slightly different ways, but by and large, supermarkets all struggle with standard things like selling more product, proving they care for the environment, making sure they take care of their employees and customers and so on.  So how do they equip themselves with competitive advantage? By thinking unlike a supermarket, and paying attention to market shifting opportunities the way Uber or Airbnb did.

On inclusion health

The second thing, mentioned by Lucy Chung, also a Partner at Undercurrent, was how they pay attention to ‘inclusion health’ or how their work environment values diverse individuals and gives them an opportunity to thrive. Not only does this just make sense from a culture perspective, it makes them more valuable to clients by walking the talk of a responsive, open company themselves. This attention to the company’s culture is greatly aided by Holacracy, a platform which, for those not familiar with it, is about distributed teams that are given complete autonomy within each small group. Individuals from different business disciplines come together to work on issues concerning the business, such as, for example, talent acquisition, clients, reputation and so on. Make no mistake – this isn’t something that is easy for just anyone to do – it is extremely unlikely, as Clay said, that an organization bigger than 500 employees will be able to practice this right off the bat in a meaningful way. This is because in traditional companies, managers have been trained to think and act a certain way over many years, a mindset that is extremely difficult to get rid of in favour of a fairly new and very flexible way of work.

On recruitment and ‘fit vs. add’

This led to a discussion on recruitment and how to hire the right kind of people. Lucy mentioned how they follow a 7-day hiring policy: they meet a candidate on Day 1, and progress them through meetings with other team members, at the end of which on Day 7 a definitive decision has to be made. A match in values is a key part of this. The host for the evening, Sue Siddall from Ideo, mentioned how they’ve moved from talking about ‘cultural fit’ to asking what ‘cultural add’ a potential employee would bring to the team. Audience members piped up with a viewpoint from the other side; that HR people in today’s big corporates have no idea what a good candidate is because they go purely by job spec and box-ticking, that’s what they are trained to do. Someone mentioned how long interview processes would result in getting ‘privileged candidates’ who could afford the luxury of multiple meetings for free, and how one approach was potentially paying people to be interviewed. Lucy said that that was exactly what they did by bringing in freelancers for paid work to assess fit for a permanent role.

Back to the responsive OS

The discussion then moved back to how Undercurrent works in a responsive way, paying attention to 6 key tenets:

–       decentralizing activity, rather than concentrating decisions in the hands of a few (autonomous teams do not need to wait for management approval to do something as long as the whole team is in)

–       simplifying work, as opposed to making it complex

–       pushing for transparency, by allowing anyone to sit in on team meetings

–       generating variety, to avoid stagnation and uniformity of thinking

–       encouraging divergent thinking, rather than convergent

–       replicating what works

The acronym they used, which they admitted was a work in progress, was ‘SLAM’: Self-organising, Lean, Autonomous, Multi-disciplinary.

On salary negotiation

Negotiation of salary was something a lot of people were naturally interested in. It’s been mentioned time and time again that women are bad negotiators and in general men are paid more for doing the same level of work. Undercurrent are working to eliminate this imbalance through a quarterly salary review process that involves each team member working through objectives and key results that they set with their mentor (who they pick) and getting some form of a salary increase commensurate with what they’ve achieved every single time. I loved what Lucy and Clay said: “we assume that the more you stay at UC, the better you’re getting – or else why are you still here?”. Pretty enlightened way of thinking I wish more companies took on board. This also helps to make sure that it isn’t only men who get the raises, just because they’re more likely to ask as a rule.

Women and diversity

The group also discussed how businesses needed to hire more women, especially at senior levels. An Ada’s Lister who said that her company had achieved the rare goal of having more women than men even at a senior level asked how they could move the discussion on from there. In response was another nice viewpoint: that all of us owe it to each other to look at how other types of diversity can be addressed so that at some point it becomes normal for everyone. Sue (Ideo) added another point of view: when they talked about maternity policies, they realized that they needed to also think of people who had other pressing life issues, such as having to care for elderly family.

Work-life blend

‘Blend’ is the term UC prefer using to ‘balance’, but as Ada’s Lister Suki Fuller said, it’s all just life, there is no such thing as ‘work-life balance’, something I’ve heard pop up in a few places over the last couple of months. Another question was about how to encourage employees to pursue projects outside of work such that they stayed engaged with the company. Lucy mentioned some ways they do it at Undercurrent: investing in such side projects for one, or even, where it’s requested, allowing people to take a sabbatical to work on their project and then return.

Network reach vs. size

The reach of the network as opposed to just the size of the organization was something else Clay mentioned that stayed with me. Undercurrent have alumni, friends, partners and collaborators all over the world who they tap into for thoughts and ideas, which allows them to scale and be much more responsive than if they kept their ideas just to themselves; the point being that being a large organization isn’t much use today if you limit what you do with the resources you have.

There was a lot more food for thought over the span of close to two hours. It’s clear that this way of operating a business isn’t going to be common soon, but I really really hope it does. Also, it’s worth re-reading Undercurrent’s Responsive OS thinking and actions from the recent past: this post by Lucy, this one from Clay, and this one from Mike Arauz, as well as going through these short presentations:

A huge thanks to Clay and Lucy for opening up the UC world to us on this side of the pond. At Ada’s List we’re pretty sure there’ll be more to come out of it, so we’ll stay tuned.

Here’s a Storify of the event too.


15 cool things (thanks @aligoldsworthy for inviting me to talk at your away day)

Last week, Alison Goldworthy, Head of Supporter Strategy & Engagement at Which? invited me to talk at their team away day on my thoughts on interesting technology from the recent past, and some predictions, if you will, on things that will be worth keeping an eye on in the future. I am usually quite loath to do these as someone will no doubt come back in a few months’ time and say how wrong I was, but I figure that’s the situation with every single thing related to technology these days! It was also a useful exercise for me personally, to be able to look back and put down in one place things that I realised resonated with me.


My talk at Google Firestarters yesterday. Thanks again @neilperkin for inviting me to speak!

Yesterday I was one of 8 speakers at the latest event in the Google Firestarters series, curated by Neil Perkin. It was wonderful to be able to share the stage with some very smart people, who all brought interesting approaches to the ‘agency innovation conundrum‘, as it was billed.

My slides and what I said (more or less) are below.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Museo del Prado in Madrid. It’s an impressive place, but what really enthralled me was the work of the Caravaggisti, the group of painters influenced by the works of the Baroque artist Caravaggio. Caravaggio, as most of you probably know, was the leading proponent of chiaroscuro in the 16th century, a form of art that focussed light and shadows around key characters to make them stand out.

To me this is similar to the role of innovation specialists in agencies. As a race, we now produce over 800 exabytes of information a year. To put that in perspective, and I always find it fascinating when I see this bit of information, we created only 5 exabytes of information between the dawn of civilization and 2003. We are now a data-obese generation, as Google’s chief economist Hal Varian says. To make sense of all this data, we need filters in agencies as much as we do in our daily lives – and that information needs to be distilled and translated into a usable form.

I also like to think of people who have innovation as a key part of their role as in-house creativity defenders.  I came across some research on the impact of client relationships, agency culture and structure on creativity recently. There were a few interesting things in the report but a couple of things stood out for me. One was the impact of the agency’s willingness and ability defend creative ideas on creativity itself. In a typical agency structure, there are multiple specialists – digital, SEO, social, client services, planning, art direction – who are extremely talented at their specific roles. Planners especially need to have the breadth of interest and knowledge that the others often don’t. But it isn’t their day job to have multiple fingers in multiple pies, to know at a given time what is going on with almost all agency clients. It’d be great if they could do that, don’t get me wrong – but it means stretching them too thin. That, again, is where innovation heads come in.

‘Innovation’ has today become a catch-all phrase that almost means nothing. It’s reached the point of semantic satiation for me at least, where a word is repeated so often that it loses meaning.

I think it’s useful and important to step out of the agency bubble to get perspective. Many years ago I was working on a strategy for implementing a system of accountability in government schools in Bangalore in India. It was something that was being done for the first time to shake up a system that was completely inefficient and worse, irresponsible. We used guidelines that were based on the US Government’s Accounting Standards Board to evaluate a set of schools as part of a pilot programme. It was very successful, with learning rates going up from 20 to 50% in the schools surveyed. There were multiple stakeholders in the process: government bodies, the non-profit that I was part of, a policy institute, and a citizen’s collective. Each funded their bit of the project. The majority of the employees in the non-profit I was working at, who were all very talented educationists, had crucial roles in keeping the charity’s other education initiatives going. They simply got on with what they did best. We couldn’t have achieved what we did without them, but we were the only ones who had the bandwidth to work on this wide-ranging project. I see a parallel in what the small group of us did – it wasn’t called innovation but that’s pretty much what it was, process innovation – and what I do now.

When someone mentions the phrase ‘agencies and innovation’, the first thing I’d like to know is what’s the context? Are we talking about a market-facing issue or an internal one? A process or a product? The second thing I’d like to know is what the frame of reference is – what kind of agency are we talking about? Capabilities are very different depending on whether we are talking about a traditional group agency or a small design agency, which means what they can achieve will be different. PHD is part of Omnicom, so we are able to leverage the size of the network to forge relationships with startups and technology companies across the world on behalf of clients – that would fall within our definition of innovation. A small design agency might be much more adept at creating, say, a game-changing mobile service, which is a different kind of innovation altogether. Both are innovative, it’s just that one is process innovation and the other, product.

A couple of researchers at Copenhagen Business School said something about product, process and organizational innovation that I thought made a lot of sense for agencies too: that it is a reductive exercise to talk about innovation at the expense of how it was done in the first place.

The last thing I’d like to mention is this phenomenon of agency innovation snobbery. (I wished I invented the phrase but it already exists with regards to business innovation!). What is important is that agencies keep pace with the thinking that underlies the creating – they should design an agile, sustainable product, campaign, business or strategy that makes a difference to people, and therefore to the client and the agency. Joseph Schumpeter is known to have said that whether it’s product or process innovation, what matters is whether you can bring an innovation to market.

Michael Schrage, a researcher at MIT Sloan’s Centre for Digital Business and the author of a book on business innovation called ‘Serious Play’, builds on this and puts innovation snobs in their place.

At PHD, earlier this year we launched our proprietary planning system called Source. It pulls in research and trend documents from multiple sources, helps planners brainstorm on creative briefs with a global hive mind, and even helps calculate media spend by channel. We’re pretty proud of it as both a product and process innovation.

Thank you.

My @metaphwoar talk: Why popular Indian culture is like a successful startup

[UPDATED 23rd February 2013 with video below]

Last week I spoke at Metaphwoar, organised by Andy Whitlock, as part of Internet Week Europe. It was an absolute blast.

I’d been to Metaphwoar in 2010 and knew the format: entertain and educate people through metaphors (broadly, that is. As Andy said in his introduction to the evening, nitpickers who pointed out the difference between similes, metaphors and analogies weren’t welcome!), but wasn’t quite sure how my talk would go down with the audience. In the end I think it went off well. Whew!

I decided to compare popular Indian culture to successful startups, in the following ways:

1. They are both all about personality

In India, filmstars are a huge part of modern culture (always have been). Rajnikant is a Tamil film actor who does inexplicable things like stopping bullets mid-air:

….and the audience just laps it up. One of the many websites built for him actually runs without the internet. I tried it and it really doesn’t need a working internet connection to be used!!!

The masses in India also identify themselves with filmstars to the extent that they have fan clubs that wield a lot of power politically. Early in my career, I was working on a development research project that assessed the link between social groups and associations with politics and I had to interview people who ran the most influential social groups in different urban and rural areas in the South. Unsurprisingly a lot of them were filmstar fan clubs. That’s another reason so many filmstars enter politics, they sort of come with a readymade vote bank. Their opinions are so revered that people build temples and worship them in some cases. I’m not kidding. Look at this, this or this.

Similarly, good startups have founders with personality. One of the most well-known examples is the Y-Combinator programme in the US, where founder Paul Graham is widely known to favour startups whose founders’ personalities shine through even if they have ideas that aren’t quite there yet, the logic being that an idea can be changed but you can’t really change someone’s personality that easily. As this article says,

Graham is much more interested in the founders than in the proposed business idea. When he sees a strong team of founders with the qualities that he believes favor success, he will overlook a weak idea.

The philosophy of good startups having strong personalities extends to the whole company as well as the founders. Mailchimp is a service that I think really brings this to life – the monkey’s messages always make me laugh.

2. Both give people their money’s worth

The best example of people admitting they got their money’s worth is after they watch a Bollywood blockbuster. When news crews talk to audiences in India outside theatres after a blockbuster film, more often than not you’ll hear the term ‘paisa vasool’, which essentially means that the audience felt they got their money’s worth. These are typically films with lavish song-and-dance routines that make people feel 100% entertained.

Truly successful startups also give investors and users their money’s worth, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter. Whether it’s Series A or B or further, investors want to see whether a startup is worth investing in: what’s its potential, what kind of audience growth is it looking at, and so on. This is even truer when it comes to users of a startup’s service: you’re not going to get millions of users with an offering that doesn’t add value to their lives. The productivity app Things for the iPhone and iPad costs $9.99 while Things 2 for the Mac costs $50, but people see value in it. Angry Birds was entertaining enough for people to buy enough paid versions of the app to contribute  to 70% of Rovio’s revenue by the end of their 2011-2012 financial year, with 648 million downloads. And then there’s Kickstarter, where people only really back projects if they think the resulting product will be worth it.

3. They step in when the system fails

In India, causes like fighting corruption are taking up the imagination of millions of people – is a site where people report encounters with corrupt government officials, which at a very grassroots level affects people day in and day out.

The Ugly Indian similarly, is another campaign run by citizens where they take pictures of dumps in public areas and take it upon themselves to clean it up.

We all know about the pretty involved debates and discussions that happen in the US around healthcare – and over here in the UK about the NHS as well, for that matter. Startups like Sherpaa in the US, which allow people to get access to qualified doctors round-the-clock by phone or email, save them time and effort because they can’t get that access with government services. Similarly, Mint enables Americans to track their expenses online and identify where their biggest spends are. Ideally you’d think all banks should do this for their customers – some, like Lloyd’s Money Manager, actually do this now – but I’d argue that it’s startups like Mint that made them sit up and take notice.

4. They both understand their audience so they can fit into their lives

The Indian campaign I showed resonated with me a lot: as a high school student in Tamilnadu, I actually taught myself Tamil by reading the titles on local film posters. Doorstep is an NGO in India that achieved stupendous results by using a similar insight to solve a huge social problem. It won a Silver Media Lion at Cannes.

Startups have to similarly understand what need they fulfil in their audience’s lives if they are to be successful. If they don’t, then they pivot. With agile and lean startups, continuous user-testing will show this up. started out as a community for gay people, it’s now an incredibly successful flash sales site for design-lovers. Color started off as a closed photo-sharing community, it’s now a video-sharing site for Facebook users.

5. They know the difference between growing their audience by adding value, and by pandering to the base

In India, in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, there were a lot of pulp fiction magazines in local languages that were incredibly popular. These tales of vampires and sirens, villains and detectives, could get quite lurid – sex always sells. A couple of years ago, a small publishing house in India took it upon themselves to translate some of those short stories into English so they could reach a new generation of audience – like me. And typically you always lose something in translation but I think they did a great job of keeping the cultural sentiment intact and picking exactly the right stories, as one Amazon reviewer of the book said ‘It’s heartening to see that the remarkably prodigious authors of the stories (some of whom have written thousands of tales and novellas) are often capable of superb and sophisticated imagination, refusing to pander to the base…’

Outbrain is a content marketing startups whose plug-in is used by publishers the world over, from CNN and the Guardian to Forbes and Fast Company. What they do is based on what you read, they throw up other articles you might like, but it could include those from other advertisers as well. I recently met them as part of my work at PHD, and one of the things my colleagues and I were concerned about was how they were going to control spammy text marketers. And lo and behold, recently I heard that they’re sacrificing revenue for quality. Which is a no-brainer really if you want to build a company with any integrity.

All in all, a great event and a really fun evening!


@antimega on authenticity and trust on the web

I found this talk of Chris Heathcote’s at NEXT Berlin recently rather timely because it mentions an issue I’ve been thinking about lately: how some sites look inherently untrustworthy and others much more convincing. On the web, what you see is what people think you are – and so looking unprofessional will simply lead to less business. Also how *showing* what you’re doing as you’re working on something shows proof of action and therefore engenders trust – Kickstarter is a great example of this, as he says.

The future of work cc @juzmcmuz @namelyinc @gap_jumpers @sandoz @armano @fredwilson

As part of what I do at work, I’ve been observing a rise in the number of startups that are trying to tackle some aspect of organisational productivity in some way or the other. I thought it would be useful to put all these linked things I’ve noticed in a presentation, which I’ve made to people within PHD a few times internally lately. So I thought I’d share it here too.

The siloed way of working is obviously no longer relevant – the web has rendered the flow of information not just between teams in one company but also across domains of expertise and borders pretty much seamless. Whether it’s Skype, Yammer or Google Talk, people within an organisation have access to resources within and outside their company like never before. This impacts the way we work, but also how we think: collaborative working is more important than ever before, not least because there’s a business case for it.

Technology is also impacting how people recruit and retain employees, how they are evaluated and rewarded. I used to work with Somewhere’s co-founder Justin McMurray and I think it’s revolutionising the usual CV-interview application process. I’m also keen to see how Namely plays out, and continue to be amused and impressed at how agencies like Work Club are using platforms like Pinterest. I don’t think reality shows like The Pitch or this one in China are really going to yield much more than mild entertainment (or boredom, as the case may be!), but it demonstrates one thing for sure: technology’s only going to make the race to be more productive and produce better work more interesting than ever.

.@google’s Squared 2012 State of the Industry report

Recently, Google launched an initiative called Squared in partnership with Hyper Island and the IPA, which aims to train young graduates in the digital media industry to become tomorrow’s leaders.

The first batch of students, which included people from a range of creative, media and digital agencies as well as brands, has just finished the course. They’ve produced a report titled the State of the Industry 2012, which you can read here. I was interviewed by a couple of young people from PHD who went on the course, so there’s a bit from me in there as well, specifically about how the industry can best capitalise on youth and give opportunities to young talent in the industry.

There is a clear gap in progression from entry level to more senior level; people are becoming disconnected as the hierarchical structure becomes harder to navigate. Employees do not necessarily want to job-hop, but in order to avoid the best talent getting enticed by higher pay and more satisfying roles elsewhere, agencies need to make roles more engaging and more of an enriching experience. Arena Media recognise that new starters should be exposed to the business much more broadly and can build relationships across the agency as they progress. This will also avoid young people developing a myopic view of the business. Taking this a step further, Jody Shilliday, Associate Director of Social Ads, Starcom MediaVest Group says that ‘agencies need to be willing to invest in youth, not just financially, but with time and trust’. From PHD’s perspective, Anjali Ramachandran, Head of Innovation suggests that this can be achieved by allocating  ‘mentors who take the time to sit down and chat with them regularly…providing feedback on their work so they can learn and grow’.

Neil’s written about the report here, so go there for some background on the kind of questions it tackles before you read the report itself.