Tag Archives: clarity

Content, Form, Fantasy

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Picture credit: John Holcroft Art

There is no content without form.

Neither is there form without content.

Neither one is greater than the other. As both have their unique roles. And as creators, we must take care to ensure that they play their parts to create the world that we’re aiming to create.

As creators, our job is in fact to conduct two equally capable musicians coming together to create a single piece of music coherent to the ear.

We must take care to not present content with no form whatsoever. For form helps content by making it more easy, interesting and appeasing to absorb. Most philosophy is guilty of a lack of form. So is most theoretical physics.

But bring together a fair balance of form and content, and you have the opportunity to bring to the world things that are normally difficult to digest.

Alain de Botton does this with Philosophy. Or Jason Silva.

Carl Sagan did this with Physics. So does Stephen Hawking.

On the other end, we must take care not to glorify form at the cost of content. For we can build several empty things on form, but they shall be just that: empty. Fads are guilty of a lack of true content. So is most pop music.

This is when any creation enters the realm of fantasy. It is when you see that metaphor is greater than meaning itself. Or showmanship, greater than the show.

In a culture that encourages and propagates this, real content is either non-existent or completely forgotten.

And any culture with empty form, is just that. Empty.

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OK Google, welcome home!

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I have become increasingly interested in the world of new technologies entering our homes. Particularly in the influx of voice based AI technology such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa.

I guess voice based AIs bring together a subtle mix of things that interest me: humanness, linguistics and communication. It’s perhaps for this reason I’ve been more curious about it than past technologies. Needless to say, my curiosity is further fuelled by the fact that it is also the next big step for us in the brand building space.

It brings to light one tough question for advertisers: With the Amazon Dash button, and perhaps even Alexa and Home stripping brand purchases and brand roles in consumers’ lives down to the bare minimum, what is our role as brand builders now?

But perhaps more interestingly: What does it entail for creators, as they bring these technologies into consumers’ homes? And this is the question I’d like to address in this post.

While I certainly believe that the potential human voice AI presents to creators is interesting, I also believe it is very easy for us to get lost in the what. It is easy to focus on what problems it solves and what users can do with it. And later, what opportunities it presents for businesses and brands.

But, the key to success for any voice based AI would be the how. The key to making one voice based product more successful than the other will really come down to the personality of the assistant.

Developers must be conscious of how they approach the voice AI. We must treat it not as an ‘opportunity’ for tech companies to enter the home in a new way, but as a guest who has been ‘invited’ to the home. And we all know what makes a good house guest. Following these unwritten norms will be key to engaging well with consumers.

Furthermore, there is a fundamental difference between other technologies and the voice technology. Other technologies (decreasingly so) are quite removed from us in the way we interact with them. There is ‘friction’. Voice; is naturally closer to the human interaction than a device that is alien, cold to touch and has perfect design. While the mobile phone is drastically reducing the friction between humans and tech, it’s more from its ubiquity than its ability to lend itself to being so.

Voice; on the other hand, is naturally more familiar and hence more permissive. But we’d have to use this power carefully, and any personality that sounds either like a ‘robot’ or an ‘advertiser’ (in the stereotypical sense of the words) in the near future are bound to fail.

The key to success lies in being human.

Speak, beautifully

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“And a poet said. Speak to us of Beauty. 
And he answered:
Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?”

– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Whatever happened to saying things beautifully?

It doesn’t appear that language alone, has taken a turn for the worse. Rather, communication as a whole.

We don’t believe in people being gorgeous or beautiful anymore. They’ve been reduced to ten point scales.

Nobody is exhaustedThey are very tired. 

Poetry has made way for the bullet point.

While penmanship has made way for words on a jpeg.

Beliefs and fortitudes have been bastardised to hashtags.

Truth be told, the things we express, and how we choose to express them are no less than art.

In each note, stroke and syllable, lies the power to transmit beauty, pain, wisdom and emotion from one soul to another.

No, not just one man to another. Rather, a truly metaphysical transfer of intangible concepts from one transient mind to another. Wherein lies the capacity for so many things to be said, simply by being unsaid.

Yes, that power. To change minds. Change perceptions. Even time.

Whatever happened to using that power, wisely?

Illustration by Kahlil Gibran Source

Why I ask people “Are you happy?”

The other day at a party I met an acquaintance after a long time. Since our last meeting, she had started in a new job and about it, I asked her “So, are you happy?”.

It was pointed out to me as being a rather unusual question, and I realised that it was something I asked most people when we spoke about their jobs. Or lives in general. (I also found it interesting that perhaps the most important question has been deemed unusual)

Nonetheless, I asked myself why I do it, and I realised that very often we tend to make small problems worse than they are. We always start with a “Yeah it’s great ..” and we trail off toward the ominous “but …”

“.. the hours are really bad”, “.. the pay could be better”, “.. I am not sure how much longer I would stick around”

Asking what appears to be the most overarching question, simplifies it. A question that is perhaps, too simplified, that forces anyone to distill their thoughts down to the essence. Not only that, it also makes people think about what they actually like about their reality. It reframes the question from “What’s not working?”, to “So, what’s working?”

And what I have discovered, interestingly enough is that most people will say “Yes, I am happy”. Perhaps it is because when we are asked to think about our own happiness, from the larger perspective, we conclude that the smaller problems aren’t so bad after all.

The problems are more discomforts, than challenges. Or they rank lower in the priorities as to actually disturb happiness.

Furthermore, the few people who say “No”, aren’t bogged down by the little discomforts, rather by real personal challenges: their health, careers (not ‘jobs’) their relationships, or their spiritual and mental well-being.

Perhaps then, we should spend our time focusing on those important things.

The Importance Of Experimentation

 

I was just leafing through the book ‘Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It’ by Chris Voss, and an excerpt from this book has an interesting learning for us all:

‘For more than three decades, Harvard had been the world epicenter of negotiating theory and practice. All I knew about the techniques we used at the FBI was that they worked. In the twenty years I spent at the Bureau we’d designed a system that had successfully resolved almost every kidnapping we applied it to. But we didn’t have grand theories.

Our techniques were the products of experiential learning; they were developed by agents in the field, negotiating through crisis and sharing stories of what succeeded and what failed. It was an iterative process, not an intellectual one, as we refined the tools we used day after day. And it was urgent. Our tools had to work, because if they didn’t someone died’

Needless to say, theoretical discussions come from a fear of getting actions wrong and having to face consequences – an irrationality that is a fundamentally human desire of minimising risk.

And while it is easy to highlight the importance of action and experimentation over theoretical discussions, I’d rather share with you my little system of how to get to it!

  1. Do, don’t discuss: Experiment. Instead of discussing what could work, just run with one of the plans.
  2. Take notes: Note down what you did, the results and your inferences.
  3. Find out what works: Best practices are more relevant and practical than theoretical discussions. Keep them handy.
  4. Change what’s working: This bit is hard when we usually have a ‘Don’t fix what’s not broken’ mentality. I think its easy to settle in a routine that is working. But there might be a better one, who knows? You might as well look for it.
  5. Repeat

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Before that, Step 0: Get rid of fear

Happy experimenting!

 

On Celestial Navigation and Creation

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Picture Courtesy: Kristofer Williams

In another interesting chat with a creator, I noticed a recurring problem that most creators have: They want to do a bit of everything.

Let me elaborate. This creator, is a technologist looking to create a new service which addresses a specific need identified by a specific audience.

We’ve heard this story before.

And if history is anything to go by, creators who go about creating in a focussed manner are more likely to succeed than those who run amock and try to do a bit of everything. In fact, we are at an age of shedding excessive fat and moving toward an idea of lean in everything we do: in billion dollar conglomerates and young startups alike! It is then, vital, for any new creator to be conscious of this too.

In order to do this, one must first know not only what you are, but also what you are not. Consider two runners. A long distance runner, aims to build slow twitch muscles that enable his objective: longer distances. On the other hand, a sprinter aims to build fast twitch muscles and lose fat, to enable his objective: explosive speeds. In order to build the right muscle, the most important thing to know is what you’re going to use them for.

Similarly, it is vital for a creator to ask himself why he is setting out to make what he is making. This is the answer to the question, “What need am I addressing?” The answer can be your value proposition, concept, or core idea – but it serves a strong internal purpose too.

It is your north star. It is the thing you turn to when you have an idea and you want to ask yourself: Is this us?

The north star is not up for change. Rather, everything you do must now align with the core idea you are setting out to create. If you pivot, it becomes interesting to look at the north star again.

From there on, it’s (relatively) smooth sailing. Or at least, directed sailing.