Feed on
Posts
Comments

To say that I’m fascinated by how things work is a huge understatement.

If something piques my interest I CAN’T STAND not knowing how it works.

Is that down to nature, nurture or both?

In the early 70′s, as I approached the ripe old age of 10, I read exclusively non fiction. And, egged on by my scientist dad, I read, read and re-read dozens of these How And Why Wonder Books.

There must be a stack of these somewhere in the loft at my parents’ house.

The content will be ridiculously dated for things like Robots And Electronic Brains.

Less so for Dinosaurs (a childhood obsession of mine) or Lost Cities.

But all perfectly pitched at the inquiring young mind full of How? and Why? questions.

It was probably inevitable that I would study engineering at university. It is the ultimate how-things-work discipline. It is also a creative discipline. Engineering is as much about elegant solutions as architecture or product design.

I never worked as an engineer.

Almost by accident I fell into advertising instead.

I think a Chemical Engineering degree from London was more interesting to BBH than a History degree from Oxford. And all credit to them if that was indeed the case.

I’ve loved just about every day of my advertising career.

But my biggest frustration has always been the lack of rigorous, scientific attention to how our ideas actually work.

We can intuitively recognise what is a good idea. We can explain why an idea is on strategy. But our understanding of how ideas work is flimsy.

Our explanation of how ideas work tends to default to correlation rather than causation – if people like your ads they will like your brand, and if they like your brand they will buy your brand.

That sort of thing.

Unfortunately explanations like this are never going to stand up to Five Why (or Five How) style interrogation.

Things have got better in recent years.

Healthy attention is being given to behavioural economics and neuroscience, not just by enlightened individuals within the planning community, but by the industry as a whole.

Indeed the most intellectually satisfying campaign I ever worked on was “I Like Standard Life“. Not the most “creative” advertising by any stretch of the imagination but intensely rewarding because the brief was based on how we wanted the ads to work rather than what we wanted them to say.

The brief was underpinned not by a brand or audience insight but by neuroscience.

Robert Heath worked with us on the brief and we deliberately set out to develop a campaign that would work through Low Involvement (Low Attention) Processing. And, to cut a long story short, it did (work) (as intended).

Why? and How? are powerful questions because they are fundamental questions. They are, or at least they should be, the first principles underpinning everything we do.

Owning the Why? and How? thinking should be the aspiration of every planner. That is our role in quality control.

What is the purpose? (Why?)

What is the model? (How?)

Our job is to get these things right and then let the creative guys deliver the Wonder.

I know these are the days of “great ideas can come from anywhere”, and I want to believe it. But I’ve been lucky to work with enough truly outstanding creative teams to have my doubts.

In the process of generating commercial ideas I see planners as Sherpas. Supremely competent, trustworthy and inspirational. We establish strategic basecamps, plan routes of ascent, and lead on the way up. But the summit push for creative excellence is made by the creative team.

This train of thought was prompted by a ten minute speaking gig for Google Firestarters last week.

Seven other speakers and I each had to say something provocative about innovation in agencies.

I chose to speak about innovating on purpose rather than for the sake of it.

The slides are embedded below, with extra text to make them easy to follow.

I was speaking in the context of innovation but I don’t think enough attention is paid to the definition of purpose generally.

We should always be looking to get well beyond first base with how we define and frame commercial purpose to make the problem “juicy” and appetising for creative teams.

(Like the Airbus example in the slides.)

It is really satisfying for a planner when the creative idea that “cracks it” falls straight out of how the planning problem was shared, and we should pay at least as much attention to how we share the problem as we do to suggesting possible solutions elsewhere in the brief.

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Protected: Test post

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Social capacitance

In the world of physics electrical capacitance is the ability of a body to store an electrical charge.

You can see capacitance in action when, for instance, LED lights take a while to fade after the power supply has been turned off.

These days locations have a social capacitance. Through applications like Foursquare they are able to store “personal charge”.

And this personal charge, generated by the dynamo of multiple check-ins, takes a while to fade after you move on to pastures new.

You are physically there today and physically gone tomorrow.

But your social media presence in an area has a half life and decays over time.

We moved office in Edinburgh in the middle of December.

But my social capacitance in EH3 is such that I’ve been losing Foursquare mayorships around the old office right up until last week.

Electrical capacitance is measured in Farads.

Social capacitance is evidently measured in Egads.

 

Tags: , , ,

Watch this very funny Blackadder film clip.

But watch it with these rules in mind.

Imagine the action is taking place not in a Royal Palace but in an unbranded headquarters building in Covent Garden.

Imagine that the heavily powdered thespians are actually senior Facebook executives.

And imagine that Blackadder is saying “Twitter” rather than “Macbeth”.

Do all those things and you’ll have a pretty good impression of last week’s Facebook FMCG Marketing summit.

Actors don’t say “Macbeth”, they say “the Scottish play”.

And Facebook execs don’t say “Twitter”, they say “other platforms”.

To the point where it becomes a “thing”. The audience nudges each other every the phrase “other platforms” is used. There may even be giggles. Little pockets of amused people all of which have independently arrived at the same private joke.

It’s a shame, because the Facebook people were all impressive.

Especially Paul Adams and Rob Newlan.

Also Luc Delany who was a fellow speaker at the Institute of Promotional Marketing’s social media conference earlier in the day.

All smart, articulate, approachable people.

But not allowed to say “Twitter”.

I obviously can’t prove that this is Facebook policy.

I can say that it is palpable when you see several Facebook people speak on the same day.

Some of Luc’s slides and case studies from the the IPM conference in the morning were used by other speakers at the FMCG summit in the afternoon.

So Facebook’s internal comms systems appear to work better than those of most agencies when it comes to sharing knowledge, sharing IP and making it easy to make one’s colleagues look smart.

And I bet that cultural norms spread just as easily. Whether it is a conscious policy decision or whether it is an unwritten ground rule (culture is observed, not laminated) it is the cultural norm at Facebook not to say the T word.

This is mildly amusing for an audience member at an FMCG summit.

It is also mildly frustrating.

If they don’t say Twitter they sure as hell don’t have summit hashtags.

(I tweeted on #FacebookSummitWithNoTwitterHashtag at one point.)

(To make a point.)

A summit hashtag would have made sense.

It would have allowed for curation of summit content in one place.

It would have allowed delegates (it was a big audience) to say hi to each other, converse and maybe begin useful business relationships.

And we would have been grateful to Facebook for making it happen.

Facebook should be big enough and self-confident enough to acknowledge that Twitter does that conference comment curation job better than their own platform.

Failure to do so raises awkward questions about their culture and erodes credibility.

And their people deserve better.

Paul Adams - you can say "social" but you can't say "Twitter".

 

Tags: ,

A friend of mine asked me to start an agency with him last week.

Drink was involved.

So it wasn’t a serious conversation in terms of real intent.

But it did get quite serious in terms of terms. Under what terms would we seriously consider it?

Here are mine.

  • Not with close friends. I’m the kind of person who has a few deep friendships. No way would I risk one of those by starting a business together.
  • The right people. So obvious I deleted it, rewrote it, and deleted it again before deciding to leave it in. A group where the whole is considerably greater than the sum of the parts, but where each part pinches itself every day about how lucky it is to be involved with the others. The collective reputation of the group would raise eyebrows.
  • A lead generator. I’m not cut out for making a nuisance of myself and cold prospecting. I’m good at converting leads but pretty crap at generating them. I’d want someone on the team from day one who was completely on board with the agency’s purpose and vision, and who was getting us meetings with the right kind of clients with the right kind of problems. Too few agencies get the sales end of their operation right. I wouldn’t start without it.
  • Sustainable, scalable ownership structure. I’m not greedy with money. I’d want an ownership structure such that amazing people would be attracted to join not just for the fun but also because they wouldn’t feel like second class citizens compared with the founders. Haven’t and probably never will think this one through to a conclusion. But something with a partnership vibe maybe.
  • A good answer to the question “why?” (Part 1). Personal motivation. Starting up would have to afford me an outlet to do and learn things that, for whatever reason, I don’t feel able to do or learn in an existing agency. Right now I don’t have that good answer.
  • A good answer to the question “why?” (Part 2). A point. What would be the point of yet another agency in an already oversupplied market? I don’t really have a good answer to this question either. Other than a loose thought about being a commercial problem solving agency rather than a communications agency. Not a marketing services business. More an upstream consultancy that makes stuff when the need arises.  (I don’t think I could be happy in a business whose only product was advice). We’d solve strategic problems to whose solutions clients could accurately attribute a high value. And the value of the solution would be significantly higher than the time costs associated with it. The client would gladly pay more than the agency’s time to have the problem solved. High margin, intellectually rewarding and fun. Likely to include a fair degree of b2b work. (If you work in an ad agency the b2b thing is most likely a turn-off. If you work in a digital or social environment it will sound sexy.)
  • Minimum 25% margin. Repeat, minimum. I’m not going to make the sacrifices required of a start up to scrabble around for 10-15%. If the proposition (see above) is right, this should be achievable for a small, lean outfit.
  • Engineered for collaboration. Collaboration works best when the skills of the collaborating parties offer maximum complement and minimum conflict. The digital *thing* and the social *thing* have greatly increased the potential for conflict between erstwhile collaborative disciplines. I see border skirmishes between advertising, media, PR and digital *friends* most days. But there would be opportunities aplenty for maximum-complement collaboration for a small, problem solving business that makes stuff as the need arises. The secret would be in the variety of the stuff and in not having too many maker skills in house. The more skills you have in house the more time you spend trying to find an outlet for them, rather than having an output-neutral approach to problem solving. One of the potential attractions to starting up would be the opportunity to work with brilliant specialists to make a more eclectic mix of stuff than just “content” in its various forms.
  • Inherently social. Social in the proper, human sense of the word. Getting out and about. Meeting people. Putting together that network of maker-collaborators. Being seen. And, yes, joining the dots and staying in touch via social media platforms.
  • A significant anchor client. Significant in two ways. 1) Just big enough to keep the business running at breakeven in the early days. This is important. Partly because it would negate the need for debt finance and all the additional stress that brings. But mainly because it would allow the agency to politely decline the wrong kind of work from the outset. Compromised principles is the price some agencies feel they have to pay in order to survive into a second year. But those compromises are cultural poison and a bad habit of saying yes to the wrong things can be hard to shake. 2) Providing an opportunity to do the kind of work for which the agency wants to be known. The sooner we had work to point to rather than just credentials the better. When I was at BBH the agency shut once a year for the Audi Day Out – a day of fun to remember and celebrate the vital importance of the agency’s first client. I’d want to start up with that kind of client signed up.
  • A potentially charismatic brand. Definitely not names above the door – a) Yawn! b) It would run counter to the vision for ownership structure and partnership vibe above.
  • No timesheets. For anyone. Ever.

This really is a Fantasy Island post.

Frankly I think an agency is the last kind of business I’d want to start up.

Equally frankly I’m not sure I’m a start-up kind of person per se.

Planning Director is a great job. There’s no such thing as a shit-free role in an agency, but this one is probably as close as it gets.

And the conditions under which I’d consider starting an agency double as reasons why I almost certainly never will.

 

Tags: ,

George, Lynne and Eddie.

The Imperial College football team coach that took us to Wednesday afternoon games wasn’t the most politically correct environment.

Even our collective superstitions were highly suspect.

The fortunes of the team were not written in the stars, we believed, but in the pages of The Sun newspaper.

More specifically on the page that housed the George And Lynne comic strip.

Our tradition had it that we would win our game if, in that day’s episode, Lynne found reason to have her chest exposed.

Anyone who is familiar with the stories, which apparently ran from 1976 to 2010, will have guessed that we had a pretty successful team! She was not a shy girl!

Anyway, by complete accident when looking for an image to illustrate this post, I found this…

A whole single-topic blog devoted to this “institution”.

This is the kind of thing that makes me love the internet. It provides an outlet for hyper-niche labours of love like this one.

Spending time on the blog, the wiki and this fan site that appears to be making decent money out of selling original George And Lynne artwork, was a nostalgia trip and and an education.

Now that’s what I call e-commerce website selling copy.

And talking of collective superstition…

Back in the day at The Leith Agency the fortunes of our pitch teams were not written in the stars, we believed, but on the side of a lorry.

More specifically on the side of an Eddie Stobart lorry.

Now this is a brand with some stories to tell.

Our tradition had it that we would win the pitch if we saw an Eddie Stobart truck on the way to the client’s office.

That team was pretty successful too, which is hardly surprising given the size of the fleet and that many of our pitch journeys had us driving down the M6 past one of their depots.

You make your own luck by choosing your collective superstitions carefully.

Tags: , ,

Futility hoops.

 

The show was green-lit and I was like ‘fuck, what do we do now?’ We really hadn’t thought it through.

That is Ben Bocquelet, Creator of The Amazing World Of Gumball, talking about the moment when the show was commissioned by Cartoon Network.

One assumes that Cartoon Network don’t make that kind of decision without thinking it through.

So how does an idea come to pass in a situation where its patron has thought it through but its creator hasn’t?

Just seconds before he said those words Ben shared with the audience of The Story 2013 some slides of the beautifully produced “Show Bible” that had been part of the commissioning process.

The Show Bible looked to be about 30 pages long.

It contained polished illustrations of the characters, along with detailed descriptions of personality traits, motivations and relationships.

(Gumball personas.)

It contained sketches and storyboards.

It went to great, highly rendered lengths to demonstrate the vision for the show’s aesthetic.

It evidently gave Cartoon Network enough detail and confidence to back the idea.

And yet it (evidently) wasn’t enough for Ben to know how to make it.

Somehow the process by which an idea was defined, packaged and sold was, shall we say, less than 100% helpful to the process of making the idea happen.

Hoops were jumped through.

And a sale was made.

(The hoop jumping was a fruitful exercise in that respect).

But the hoop jumping was a futile exercise in terms of actually moving the idea forward. There was little synergy between the commissioning process and the production process.

Heaven forbid that the process by which agency ideas are defined, packaged and sold should be similarly inefficient.

Unfortunately agency life does include more than its fair share of futile hoop jumping.

The processes we put in place (the games we play) in response to client demands for frameworks, structure, risk management and rigour are inefficient.

The rigour is well intentioned but misdirected.

A lot of  intellectual horsepower is wasted by a transmission system that doesn’t actually turn the wheels of the end product.

Anyway, here is Ben’s end product. An episode he used at The Story to demonstrate the 100% directed rigour applied to writing and animating his stories.

The Amazing World of Gumball: The Job by fecth

Tags: , , ,

Client tussles and partying for your right to fight.

If you only make one major ad a year the maximum number of major fights with your client is also one.

Fights can be avoided but they are not necessarily a bad thing if you’re fighting for the right thing, for the right reasons, in the right way, and in the context of the right kind of relationship.

It’s a major ad for Christ’s sake and it has to be perfect. It’s worth fighting for if necessary. A good client wouldn’t expect anything else.

And you have a whole year to rebuild bridges. To paraphrase The Beastie Boys, you can party for your right to fight.

This, for instance, would never have seen the light of day without a bit of a tussle.

 

Advertising and branded content. From major to minor?

But what if you’re making 52 or 104 or 156 or 208 pieces of branded content for social media every year?

The maximum number of major fights starts to get out of hand.

I don’t know many relationships that can withstand 52 major fights in a 12 month period, let alone 208.

So do you downgrade the status of your creative work from major to minor and not bother fighting for it?

Or does the client downgrade the status of your creative work from major to minor, not bother fighting you over it, and just let everything go?

One of these options is highly undesirable and the other is highly desirable but highly unlikely.

Let’s say you’re running a Facebook page with somewhere between 500k and 1 million likes.

And let’s say it’s an earned media play with maximum weekly organic reach as its main objective.

(With three or four posts a week based on original branded content.)

That’s somewhere between 150 and 200 pieces of “lightweight” content in a year.

The content is “lightweight” because it is quick and relatively cheap to produce.

But it can’t afford to lack weight creatively.

If earned media is your business then content shares are your currency.

And thus your competitive set is not the brands against which you measure market share.

It’s every other piece of content that might get shared instead of yours.

You’re competing against The Internet when you get into people’s news feeds.

And you’re competing against Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm to get into those news feeds in the first place.

 

You have two reputations to manage on Facebook.

Reputation management on Facebook has two audiences. The people who like your page, and the algorithm that decides how much of your stuff those people get the opportunity to see.

Edgerank rewards content that stimulates reaction. And it rewards brands that continually stimulate. It also punishes content and brands that don’t.

And, as this data analysis by We Are Social in collaboration with SocialBakers shows, Edgerank is getting more punitive in its outlook. It is reducing the proportion of people who like your page that is organically reached by each of your posts.

Edgerank gets tougher on brand pages

Average organic reach per post as % of page likes

Facebook is perhaps the toughest mainstream earned media platform on the Internet.

You not only have to be subjectively relevant enough for people to share your stuff with friends. You also have to be objectively relevant enough in the eyes of a fearsome gatekeeper to reach those people in the first place.

 

Operating Between The Lines

The only viable content strategy in this environment is what I call a “Between The Lines” strategy.

The first line is The Line That Must Be Crossed.

The Line that must be crossed.

This is the invisible line which determines whether you are relevant enough to get a reaction, ideally a share. You have to cross the Line as defined by Edgerank. And you have to cross the Line in the eyes of the people you want to reach. You have to be funny enough, informative enough, original enough, topical enough etc.

You won’t know by looking at a piece of content before publication whether it crosses the Line, but will you will know pretty soon after you post it.

Any edges that are taken off the content before publication will more than likely stop it crossing the Line. As they say, the biggest risk you can take with social content is to not take risks.

The second line is The Mark That Must Not Be Overstepped.

The Mark that must not be overstepped.

The Mark That Must Not Be Overstepped is not invisible. But exactly where it lies is usually open to interpretation.

For some brands the Mark will be determined by the regulatory environment in which they operate. Any financial services content will need to be FSA compliant. But no two compliance officers will interpret the same piece of content in exactly the same way.

For most brands the Mark will be mainly determined by brand values. This again will be open to interpretation. It should also be open to discussion and negotiation. The definition of brand in social spaces should be different, in my view, to that which governs the creation and assessment of traditional advertising. And it should definitely include guidelines as to where the Line and the Mark lie.

Sometimes the Mark will be determined by the subject matter of the content. If you’ve ever watched a comment thread on a piece of football-related content rapidly descend into a moderation nightmare you’ll know what I mean.

So…

 

When nothing matters but everything counts.

How do you ensure that 52 or 104 or 156 pieces of content a year will cross the Line but not overstep the Mark?

The brand’s social media reputation (particularly as defined by Edgerank) means that every post counts.

But each piece of content viewed in isolation is but a small fraction of the total output for the year. It doesn’t matter that much does it? Is it worth getting into a tussle over? Especially when you tussled just last week?

Operating between the lines effectively and consistently across a twelve month period is challenging even if agency and client have a shared vision for where the Line and the Mark lie. Without that shared vision you’re entering either a world of tussle-filled pain or a world of anodyne content that earns very little media.

Any social media content strategy should include some kind of structured, up-front discussion of what “Between The Lines” looks like for Brand X, from Corporate Culture Y, in Market Environment Z.

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , ,

How Music Works is an exercise in infectiously enthusiastic geekery.

It reads more like a blog than a book. And, like all the best blogs, it is candid, thought provoking, biographical in parts, well researched throughout, and chock-full of unique content.

The Talking Heads frontman knows and loves his stuff.

You should read this book if you’re into music.

You should read this book if you have eclectic geeky tastes.

You should definitely read this book if you, like me, are a communications planner seeking left field ideas, reference material and inspiration. So many of the themes explored by the book are of general relevance to anyone working with any kind of creative product.

Here are some of those themes and a taster of how they are addressed by Mr Byrne.

The importance of context to an idea. (Kindle search tells me that there are 41 references to “context” in the book)

How music works, or doesn’t work, is determined not just by what it is in isolation (if such a condition can ever be said to exist) but in large part by what surrounds it, where you hear it and when you hear it. How it’s performed, how it’s sold and distributed, how it’s recorded, who performs it, whom you hear it with, and, of course, finally, what it sounds like: these are the things that determine not only if a piece of music works – if it successfully achieves what it sets out to accomplish – but what it is.

The adaptive nature of creativity. (95 references to “creative” or “creativity”.)

It seems that creativity, whether birdsong, painting, or songwriting, is as adaptive as anything else. Genius – the emergence of a truly remarkable and memorable work – seems to appear when a thing is perfectly suited  to its context. When something works, it strikes us as not just being a clever adaptation, but as emotionally resonant as well. When the right thing is in the right place, we are moved.

The importance of quirks, imperfections and human character to emotional engagement.  (79 references to “emotion” or “emotional”.)

What does being tight mean? It’s hard to define now, in an age where instrumental performances and even vocals can be digitally quantified and made to perfectly fit the beat. I realize now that it doesn’t actually mean that everyone plays to the beat; it means that everyone plays together. Sometimes a band that has played together a lot will evolve to where they play some parts ahead of the beat and some slightly behind, and singers do the same thing. A good singer will often use the “grid” of the rhythm as something to play with – never landing exactly on the beat, but pushing and pulling around and against it in ways that we read, when it’s well done, as being emotional. It turns out that not being perfectly aligned with a grid is okay; in fact, sometimes it feels better than a perfectly metric fixed-up version. When Willie Nelson or George Jones sing way off the beat, it somehow increases the sense that they’re telling you the story, conveying it to you, one person to another. The lurches and hesitations are internalized through performance, and after a while everyone knows when they’ll happen. The performers don’t have to think about them, and at some point that becomes part of the band’s sound. Those agreed-upon imperfections are what give a performance character, and eventually the listener recognizes that it’s the very thing that makes a band or singer distinctive.

The importance of performance to presentation. (294 references to variations of the word “perform”.)

PowerPoint presentations are a kind of theater, a kind of augmented stand-up. Too often it’s a boring and tedious genre, and audiences are subjected to the bad as well as the good. Failing to acknowledge that these are performances is to assume that anyone could and should be able to do it. You wouldn’t expect anyone who can simply sing to get up on stage, so why expect everyone with a laptop to be competent in this new theatrical form? Performers try harder.

The ephemeral nature of intellectual property. (9 references to “copyright”, 20 references to variations of “author”.)

Significantly, rhythm and texture are the two most difficult aspects of music to express in conventional Western musical notation. These qualities, some of the most resonant and important in contemporary popular music, and in some ways the most “African”, were excluded from, or maybe simply outside of, the system by which music was traditionally taught, passed on, notated, discussed, criticized, and – very important – copyrighted. The copyright of a musical composition is based on the top-line melody, the specific harmonies that support it, and , in the case of a song or opera, the lyrics. There is no acknowledgement of groove, sound, texture, or arrangement – all of which are features of the recorded music of our era that we listeners have come to savor and identify as integral to an artist’s work.

The importance of collaboration to creativity. (55 references to variations on the word “collaborate”).

I’ll risk disaster because the creative rewards of a successful collaboration are great. I’ve been doing it my whole life. I discovered early on that collaborating is a vital part of music’s essence and an aid to creativity.

The value in making. (99 references to “making” or “maker”.)

Most arts grants focus on the work, rather than on the process that the work comes out of. The product seems to be more important than the effect its production process has.

You get the picture. How Music Works is a veritable treasure trove of planner reference material.

Here are the book’s chapter headings:

Creation in Reverse.

My Life in Performance.

Technology Shapes Music: Analog.

Technology Shapes Music: Digital

In The Recording Studio.

Collaborations.

Business and Finances.

How to Make a Scene.

Amateurs!

Harmonia Mundi.

And, in addition to the themes and excerpts above, there are:

93 references to “technology”.

48 references to variations on “human”.

92 references to variations on “culture”.

77 references to “business”.

74 references to “money”.

10 references to “insight” or “insights”.

63 references to variations on “social”.

61 references to “digital” or “digitally”.

117 references to “idea” or “ideas”.

And, for me, a book-defining 56 references to “groove” or “grooves”.

It is a groovy book in that Byrne explores and plays with his topics in much the same way that I envisage him experimenting with riffs on his guitar.

He talks often and revealingly about first hand experiences and learning from Talking Heads and collaborations with many other artists. Some of this semi-autobiographical content can occasionally become slightly self-indulgent (IMHO), but that is more than compensated for by lots of rich behind the scenes content and making of anecdotes. He talks in detail about where his inspiration came/comes from and how ideas moved from concept to execution. It is usually fascinating and often riveting.

In many ways it also a “how to” book for aspiring musicians.

Not so much how to play as how to “be”.

As I mentioned above the book has much in common with great blogging.

It is often the case that the secret to good blogging is good doing. “I did that, and I learned this” is a proven formula for success.

Byrne has done and learned in spades, and he is generous in the extent to which he shares that learning.

For example in the chapter about business and finance he dissects in detail the expenses and revenue figures associated with some of his projects as in the pie chart shown below.

Image borrowed from Cool Hunting - click image for the link.

 

It should be obvious that I like this book a lot.

But, reading between the lines, there is also a lot to admire about Byrne himself.

He is neither arrogant nor falsely modest. The book is perfectly pitched in terms of his sense of perspective on his achievements.

And he exhibits little or no nostalgia. His overriding vibe is optimistic.

He comes across as an active artist. His desire to create remains strong. And, rather than clinging wistfully to the past, he is naturally inclined to view change as an opportunity rather than a threat. As a 46 year old in an allegedly young person’s creative industry, I draw inspiration and encouragement from that.

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Once upon a time my taxi was overtaken by an ambulance. There was an emergency in Welwyn Garden City.

The thing with ambulances and police cars and fire engines is that you see the lights and you hear the sirens, but the data from your senses usually triggers only a motor response (get out of the way) from your brain. If no evasive action is required it’s most likely that no response is triggered at all. Certainly not an emotional one.

But on this occasion my colleague said “That’s somebody’s life taking a turn for the worse”.

I was on the way to a client meeting, whilst somebody else was on the way to hospital.

Every ambulance ever since has triggered a conscious replay of that casual statement – “That’s somebody’s life taking a turn for the worse.” I can’t filter ambulances out anymore. I always take a second to pay my mental respects.

This visualisation/simulation of births and deaths in the United States has much the same effect as that throwaway remark about ambulances.

It forces you to think about the circle of other people’s lives.

Births and deaths appear out of the map as shown above at a disconcerting frequency. They appear in centre screen for a few seconds before taking their place in the birth or death column at either side of the screen.

It is done so well that you have to keep reminding yourself that it is a simulation, based on official data, rather than a real time visualisation of real life (and death) events. It is hypnotic.

Full details on the data and technology used to create the simulation are contained in this post.

If you let the application run in the background the births and deaths stack up and quickly cover the entire map as seen below.

61,000 events in a little over three days.

Assuming a Dunbar number of connections for each deceased person and for each pair of parents of each newborn, and no overlap between these networks, that’s at least 9.1 million people touched by grief or joy in half a week. That’s roughly 3% of the entire US population as at July 2012.

This is digital technology used to compelling storytelling effect.

It is evocative on a nationwide, macro scale.

And it is evocative at a local level.

Bowling Green, Kentucky is apparently in Warren County and has a population of 58,066. I wonder who the John or Jane Doe that gave this post its title might have been. How did they die? What proportion of this smallish community was touched by their death?

Emergency in Welwyn Garden City.

Death in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Casual remarks and data visualisations make you think eh?

 

 

P.S. America has some brilliantly quirky place names.

Bowling Green is one. But I have also “seen” deaths in Pleasantville, Ohio; Satsuma, Alabama; Defiance, Ohio (Ohio is obviously long on quirky place names); Cloverleaf, Texas; and my favourite Truth Or Consequences (I kid you not), New Mexico.

Tags: , , ,

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »