More than Reality; Augmented Reality

Remember when swarms of people were rushing through parks, causing traffic accidents, invading museums in a quest to capture invisible creatures? That was Pokemon Go,  an augmented-reality game that used your mobile phone to superimpose a layer of visible monsters on your smart phone. If you were under 30 it was a fun way to get out side with a bunch of people, if you were over 30 it was an incredible waste of time, and if you were over 60 (hi Mum!) you couldn’t understand it at all. Pokemon Go turned 1 year old last month.

So far Augmented Reality, and it’s big sister Virtual Reality, seem to be technologies looking for a purpose. But what if you could find a good use for them?

Social Issues

The BBC radio programme Click report on the use of Virtual and Augmented reality in the world of art and social conscious raising, it’s worth listening to, although not all that easy to imagine the art under discussion – it’s challenging our knowledge of history, relationships and empathy. They talk about some of the technical challenges of making the experiences work for international audiences.

Clouds over Sidra, is a Virtual reality film that aims to transport you to the experience of a refugee camp, and it was created by the UN to highlight the plight of refugees, now more numerous than ever.

There’s a an old adage that history is written by the victors, as a result the statues of the good and the great tend to be of white men. There are no statues of real women in New York’s central park – but 26 of men, and it’s the same pattern across the world. It will take generations to change this. In the meantime Y&R is bringing women into the landscape in an augmented reality app called “The Whole Story“. It’s a great way to be more aware of who is missing from the landscape, this is focused on the missing women of history, but the same technology could be used for unrecognised men. It could also be used to update the history of those great men who, in current times, aren’t viewed in quite the same light.

Medical Uses of Augmented Reality

(1) Training doctors on anatomy,  Microsoft has worked with their HoloLens product and medical experts to build a 3D interactive anatomically correct model to train students.

(2) Headsets using virtual reality could help visually-impaired people have independence, helping them navigate their way around cities even in low lighting.

(3) Using wearables to train surgeons in remote locations

(4) Performing surgery – remotely – already exists, but it’s only a matter of time before the surgeon’s experience becomes more virtual.

Advertising/Entertainment

There will be lots more  experimentation with advertising and entertainment uses of virtual or augmented reality, my favourite so far is this, from Pepsi. How freaked out would you have been if this had happened at your bus stop.

The equipment for virtual reality is expensive and clunky which keeps it in the realms of specialists for now, but augmented reality via your phone represents a real opportunity beyond catching Charmeleons and Venusaurs.

Book of the Month: Weird Ideas That Work

Weird Ideas That Work: How To Build a Creative Company

By Robert I. Sutton

Book cover; weird ideas that workThis book is packed full of ideas and examples, Sutton often gives the chapters or the ideas thought-provoking titles – chapter 10 is “Decide to Do Something That Will Probably Fail, Then Convince Yourself and Everyone Else That Success is Certain” for example, this chapter could be summarised without persistence great ideas fail; persistence requires belief. It’s worth reading on. I thought back to a project I managed about 5 years ago, one of the team came to me telling me we’d hit a “showstopper”, my only question was a mild “which one is it today?” and he later told me that gave him hope – the fact that I clearly saw it as another setback and not stopping us.

Most of the ideas sound counter-intuitive, but Sutton provides evidence and examples to show that they work. He also makes a clear distinction between the needs of an organisation (or department) that needs to do what it does consistently and repeatedly and one that needs to innovate, the practices in this book are for the latter.

For a long time I’ve held the belief that people who are new to your organisation are a valuable source of critical information, they haven’t bought into the company’s branding and processes and have fresh ideas on how to improve things. I value their input, and have coached new arrivals to contribute. Sutton codifies this as “Hire People Who Are Slow Learners (of the Organizational Code)”. Such slow learners retain their ability to think critically and independently, as an example of this Sutton uses Richard Feynman’s role in the Challenger investigation.

This idea is taken one step further and labelled as “Weird Idea #1½”, and contrary to the fashion for hiring for cultural fit the advice is to hire people who make you feel uncomfortable, even those you dislike. We know that as hiring managers have a bias towards hiring people just like us, so this really goes against our instincts. But a company full of creatives misses the business needs and a company full of engineers misses creative opportunities.

Of course there’s more to this idea, once you’ve bought the person into your company you need to find ways to make any resulting tension into something productive; one suggestion from the book is deceptively simple; you need to listen to their ideas and and insist others do so as well.

Perhaps my favourite weird idea is #5

I was brought up to avoid conflict and confrontation, but it can be productive. When people fight about ideas it shows they care about their work, the project and the company. If people fight respecting the perspectives of the others the results can be a better process or product. It’s the opposite of group think.  The word “happy” is key to the idea working; this limits the risk of discussions falling into destructive personal attacks, they’re more likely to use humour to diffuse any situation that becomes heated and the conflict stays productive.

This isn’t a new book – I have had it on my bookshelf for years, I guess I picked it up after reading “The No Asshole Rule” by the same author but published later. Some of the ideas I have come across in other places, but it’s still interesting to see them backed up by evidence and examples.  Throughout the book I had moments of recognition, sometimes happy that I had stumbled on the right approach to foster innovation, and sometimes rueful as it cast previous events in a different light. It’s a quick read, and the examples help and point to further reading.

I think this is a good book for any manager looking to make their team more creative and more energised about innovation. I’ll be keeping it on my shelf for future reference. (And I’ll keep an eye out for his next book coming out in September).

Bizmeth buzzword

It sounds like a chemical, but that’s bismuth. (It’s bismuth in the image above).

Bizmeth is a portmanteau word made up of “business” and “method”. And although Collins dictionary didn’t think it was much in use in 2014 it’s now the name of a web design company, a consultant company and training company.

I heard it used by a consultant recently, I suspect it might be a part of consultant’s vocabulary since it saves a whole two syllables.

The definitions I’ve found of ‘business method’ as a term are very high level.

One site redirects to business process and cites ‘The series of activities undertaken to create a product or deliver a service.’

Wiki gives “A business method may be defined as a method of operating any aspect of an economic enterprise”. (And they’re quoting a paper from the Advisory Council on Intellectual Property).

So far so general as to be useless.

But there’s a difference in patent law, in the US it is possible to patent a business method, that is a process, rather than a tangible invention. In Europe it’s not possible unless the business method includes some technical element.  Which is why the patent troll industry is mostly in the US.

From now on when I hear “bizmeth” from a consultant I’m going to translate it as “process”.

Image:  Bismuth  |  Mathias Appel  |  CC 0 1.0

Great Summer Reading List 2017

Hurrah for summer! You’ll pack up your swimsuit, sunblock and sunglasses but what will you take to read? Here are my picks.

Leadership

(1) Weird Ideas that Work, I love the title, and I’m enjoying the combination of counter-intuitive ideas that turn out to be practical.  One chapter is devoted to “find some happy people and get them to fight”, which sounds like a recipe for disaster but it’s about building creative conflict – which is positive and useful. (This is not a new book, and the edition I have has been sitting on my bookshelf for years. )

Sustainability

(2) The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert, is a frightening look at the real changes happening in our environment, from a fungus that is killing off frogs, to a decline in bat numbers, and our warming oceans. You can whet your appetite with an article in the New Yorker from the writer.

Business

(3) Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, explores just how well Google knows us, and is written by an ex-GooglerSeth Stephens-Davidowitz. While we might post a lot to social media we post the good news, the real story of our lives is revealed in our searches.

(4) Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, looks at why one artist (Monet) becomes famous, and another (Caillebotte) didn’t. Apparently luck has something to do with it.

(5) The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change, Bharat Anand examines the different strategic approaches taken by publishers in the digital world. 

Biography

(6) Not exactly a biography, but certainly a hero’s tale The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts , by Joshua Hammer, tells the story of smuggling ancient books and texts out of Timbuktu after the Al Qaeda took control.  I haven’t read it yet but the National Geographic article about it makes me hope someone’s bought the movie rights and plans to star Mahershala Ali.

(7) Part memoir, part self-help guide; I am looking forward to Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. She is someone to admire, who has managed to not only be her own person but to put roles on screen that reflect ourselves.

(8) One of my favourite reads in the last year was Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble which tells the harrowing story of Dan Lyons’ year in a startup in an amusing way while explaining what might be wrong with the startup and VC ecosystem.  

Personal Effectiveness

(9) Insight by Tasha Eurich, a psychologist, who looks at whether we’re self-aware or deluding ourselves, and what we can do about it. Sounds interesting in a slightly scary way.

Fiction

Summer should be all about the serious things so here’s a fiction option to consider;

(10) I am so happy that Arundhati Roy has returned to writing with the The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and I can’t wait to read it.

Don’t like my recommendations? Try Bill Gates’s.

Image: Summer Read  |  LWYang  |  CC BY 2.0

Leading a (Virtual) Team

Leading a team has been the most challenging, and the most fun, part of my job. At times I’ve had team members not actually in the same room as me – or even the same country, that makes it more challenging but the principles of managing a team remain the same. Here’s my take on it.

There’s a lot of discussion about working remotely particularly as Yahoo and IBM removed that option for their employees, however there’s research out there indicating that remote teams can be as productive or even more productive than co-located workers.

I’ve had remote workers in three different set-ups;

  •  remote, working from another location including one in another country (with a different time zone)
  • regular, working from home 1-2 days per week
  • occasional, working from a different location for an occasional short period, for one colleague it allowed him to be in Spain for the bachelor party and the wedding of his closest friend.

In all three cases there were good business reasons for the person’s choice of work pattern, and I always had a team who were mostly in the office together. In the case of the person working at home 1-2 days per week it saved a rather long commute.

In leading my teams I’ve always tried to provide; a clear purpose, clear work assignments, regular progress evaluations, a good relationship with me as the manager and a connection to the rest of the team.

Team in the Room Remote Team
A Clear Purpose -annual/quarterly conversation for whole team to discuss team purpose -annual/quarterly conversation for whole team to discuss team purpose
Clear Work Assignments -annual performance review sets high level deliverables
-project design sets short term deliverables
-annual performance review sets high level deliverables
-project design sets short term deliverables
-rolling email tally of tasks and progress
Evaluate Progress -1 on 1 meetings each week (or two weeks)
-publish project progress
-1 on 1 calls each week (or two weeks)
-publish project progress
Relationship with a Manager -1 on 1 meetings each week (or two weeks)  -1 on 1 call
-daily chat on messenger
Connection to Team -Bad music Friday
-Friday team lunch
-Team events
-virtual “watercooler”
-project with team
-bring remote worker into team events

As you can see it’s not much different to manage a remote worker, but as a manager, I needed to document things in more detail because I wasn’t seeing them each day, and I had to make a specific effort to have a chat for a social purpose, the chat could go into work territory but typically began with a mention of coffee.

HBR did some research into how to make virtual teams work that backs up my empirical conclusions, particularly the idea of having regular contact across the team and between team the manager and the remote colleague. Unsurprisingly communication is the key to making it work.

Personally, I like having the option of working remotely, it allows me to really focus on an assignment. It can also be convenient if I have a mid-day appointment. I know that the flexibility is appreciated by team members. I haven’t seen any change in the productivity of any individual.  As a manager I wouldn’t want to manage a team where everyone worked remotely all of the time. At some point it would be hard to maintain the connection with each team member and across the team. But with a team of motivated professionals the option to work remotely is positive for the team members and the team.

Image:  Teamwork  |  ThoroughlyReviewed  |   CC BY 2.0

Boil the Frog

boil the frog

“Poor frog” is what I always think when I hear this expression.

The theory behind it is that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water it will jump out immediately, reacting to the heat. But if you put a frog into tepid water and then heat the water very gradually the frog won’t react to the increased temperature.

I don’t know who is boiling all all these frogs but the metaphor works; people will stay in unpleasant or unhealthy situations despite warning signs because they rationalise the warning signs or convince themselves that things will get better -somehow. It’s often used to remind you to take action when you sense things are not going well; as Henna Inam wrote in a Forbes article “Do something about it when something smells funny.  Even if it’s not on your job description, it’s your job.”

But scientists who study frogs (without boiling them I trust) say that it’s a myth.

So the science is off, but the metaphor works.

Image: Frog  | Nèg Foto  |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

User Generated Content

User generated content

In my last post I wrote about the Engagement Ladder, the top rung of which is user-generated content, I’ve been thinking more about this form of content and looking for some positive examples, here’s what I’ve come up with.

User generated content can be a great loyalty builder for brands, but there are some things to consider before you launch your campaign.

Is your brand ready? You’ll be giving up some control of your brand, if your marketing, legal, risk teams aren’t ready for that reality you’ll need to do more work internally.

Is your brand positively viewed? If you open up your brand for user input while your brand is in a crisis the blowback will be swift. Starbucks famously started a Christmas campaign in 2012 with the hashtag #SpreadTheCheer, a nice idea, and large screens were installed to display the messages in stores. Unfortunately the company was in the middle of a crisis around paying tax in the UK and the tweets focussed on that rather than the festive season.

Does your brand have a tribe? You need a group of your customers/clients to be engaged enough to want to build content for your brand, otherwise there’ll be no response.

Can you create a fair process? You need to respect the rights of the content creators, which may include offering fair payment, and you need to be clear on what you are promising to do with the work created.

There are three ways to elicit content from your customer groups.

Open Call

Publish a request for customers to submit content, sometimes this is done as part of a competition. It sounds generous, giving all customers a chance to contribute, and it can work, but your brand needs to be positively regarded and you need to be clear about what you’re planning to do with the work. One example of a celebrity crowdsourcing a design did generate a concept book cover, but also generated plenty of criticism from the designer community. The more open your make the call and selection process the more likely you are to get the backlash. However this may still be a good option for a shorter or local campaign. There are a number of companies using hashtag based selection on Instagram to share themed posts (#ThankYouAmsterdam for example), and the results are positive for both parties.

Selective Approach

Research who of your customers is already creating great content, or look for social media influencers whose work matches your brand. Invite them to contribute content.

Spotify are using some of their subscribers’ lists in ads, building on their existing fanbase, I’m sure they’ve researched the lists and contacted the subscriber before building the ad.

Existing Community

Your brand already has a group of committed fans, who are independently building content.

One of the best examples out there, demonstrating the loyalty and ingenuity of customers, is IKEA Hackers. Although at one point IKEA tried to close the site.  The site showcases ways that IKEA products have been repurposed; cabinets become a  bed base, vases become a bathroom wall, and a folding desk saves space. A smarter approach might have been to engage the IKEA Hackers and look for ways to support their activities to enhance the IKEA brand.

Lego have successfully built a community of super loyal fans,  their brand is based on the human needs of playing/building together and the pride of creation so their online platform Lego Ideas ties into the brand and gives their fans a chance to develop new lego sets – the best of which go into production.  They also support the robot building lego league, although it was not started by the company.

One of my favourite example of a personality doing this is the wonderful, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o who uses #FanArtFriday on her Instagram account, the images are beautiful and reflect her career. She’s genuinely excited to share them.

user generated content

Three things to think about before you start;

  • company readiness
  • process including legal rights and payments
  • your commitment to using the final work.

Spotify and Lego show us that user-generated content can work for a company, but it takes brand commitment and a tribe.

Image:  Artist   |   M McIntyre   |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Engagement Ladder

Engagement Ladder

There’s a figure that gets quoted about engagement; 1, 9, 90. Which is a ratio representation of engagement.  For everyone person who contributes content, 9 might like it and 90 will see it. It’s a little simplistic, and there are more forms of engagement now so it’s helpful to think of the engagement ladder.

Engagement Ladder

Starting from the lowest rung of the ladder

Seen / Read

How many people saw your image, watched your video, read your content. This is the lowest level of engagement as it requires the least amount of effort from your visitor. It’s roughly equivalent to reach, although you might want to consider how much of your content was viewed or read.

It doesn’t tell you much about the person’s attitude to your brand, or their likelihood to purchase. We’ve all read stuff we don’t agree with, sometimes because we don’t agree with it. To compare this to a classic sales funnel it’s at least awareness.

Liked / Facebook Reaction

The next rung on the engagement ladder is a like, a G+, a Facebook reaction. It’s low commitment, a one click easy reaction, Facebook reactions tell you a more. Personally I’m pretty quick to like posts on Facebook or Instagram, much less likely to do so on Twitter.  As likes are visible to others this level of engagement does indicate that the visitor has a possible interest in your brand – but be careful. Facebook rates all reactions the same, but a thousand “angry” reactions won’t translate to sales for your company.

Commented

The third rung is comments, or reactions to your posts. If you’re posting on social issues, as Banana Republic did in the screenshot below, you’re likely to attract a lot of comments.

It takes more effort to comment on a post, positive comments are a public endorsement of your brand. It’s going to take some effort on your part to analyse the comments, or to parse the sentiment analysis provided by social listening tools.

facebook comments

Shared

If a person shares a post, retweets, embeds your video, they’re increasing your reach as your content is now (potentially) reaching a new audience.  They’ve also added your brand to their online reputation, this doesn’t map easily to a step in the sales process, but sits between evaluation and decision. They’ve added your company to a mental list for possible future purchases.

CTA

Some of your content might included a specific Call To Action, or CTA. For many companies this is exactly how they sign up more customers or subscribers, you can see some examples of great CTAs in this article from HubSpot. (And I’ve just shared content from a brand I have never been a customer of, but I’m aware of them, and they remain a potential supplier if I’m ever in a purchase decision for their services in the future).

Your CTA might be a subscribe, follow, download, or purchase option.

Created Content

The ultimate brand accolade, when users generate their own content related to your brand. But it’s a tricky area, with brands needing to pay attention to copyright and privacy issues.

Spotify have taken the step of using the real titles of subscribers’ lists in their own ads, it’s a campaign strategy that is infinite since their users will always be creating new lists. It resonates with their audience really well – seeing your own list picked up for an ad is cool, or whatever the kids are calling it these days.

When your customers take the step of creating content around your brand and sharing it you can bet you’ve got the ultimate level of engagement.

Image: Ladder | Rich Bowen  |  CC BY 2.0

World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day
Warsan Shire wrote a poem about the refugee experience which includes the frightening image

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark

The sentiment throughout her poem reflects the words of another great poet, Shakespeare, although he wrote from the perspective of the residents and calls on the to empathise with the refugees

Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,

The UNHCR provides data on the current refugee numbers, there are an estimated 65 million displaced people, that is people unable to live in their own homes due to war, conflict or persecution.  This is higher than it has ever been.

refugee data

Refugee Data from the UNHCR

Please note which are the top hosting countries. Around half of the world’s refugees are hosted by ten nations, of those ten nations just one, Turkey, is an OECD nation. Much of the rhetoric in the west is fear-based, the reasons for not taking refugees is that they pose a danger to us. However, as the Huffington Post pointed out, there are a bunch of things more dangerous than a Syrian refugee.

So have the courage to support your country’s initiatives to grant refugees the right to live in your country.  Write to your MP, senator, President, King.

Donate to charities that support refugees;

There are also local ways to help refugees settle, here in the Netherlands there is an award winning volunteer organisation called Refugee Start Force , which began with the idea of connecting locals and new arrivals for a cup of coffee, but it’s led to much more, helping refugees learn Dutch, find their way around the Dutch system, furnish their homes and find work.

Search for the hash tag #refugeeswelcome to find local initiatives you can support.

Next time you hear people reacting to the settlement of refugees in fear, anger or hate recite “no one leaves home unless, home is the mouth of a shark” to yourself and be brave enough to speak up for the millions of people forced to leave their homes through war, conflict, persecution.

Image: Refugees Welcome on Seawatch 2  |  Brainbitch  |   CC BY-NC 2.0