Tag Archives: simplicity

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.

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!

 

Stop Talking about ‘Storytelling’

And start telling stories instead.

What’s the difference?

‘Storytelling’ is a noun. Or an adjective. It’s not something you do.

It’s a word you put up to describe something that is done. Or is simply something that’s done. You can say “This brand uses storytelling”. But you would never say “I will storytell“. That makes no sense.

That; to me, is the key difference.

Instead, you could tell a story. And a story is narrated in a context. It has a protagonist. An antithesis. It has ups and downs, climaxes, crescendoes and pitfalls. Stories impact us because we see a transition of emotions and we relate to that. Not to the occurrence itself, but to how the occurrence is relevant to us:

A tortoise racing a hare is not a story. A protagonist racing his antithesis and winning when nobody expects him to: that’s a story. That’s a story of getting something the world thinks you can’t have. And we all relate to that.

Here’s Kurt Vonnegut’s hilarious story models:

So, how is this relevant to your brand / start-up / company / you?

  1. You are not the protagonist. You are a character, perhaps an agent of change. The fairy god mother, if you’re lucky.
  2. Recognise the point in which you fit in the story of the protagonist. Where are they now?
  3. Become a part of their story, and help them write it. Be relevant to the story. But don’t be the story.

And finally, you might even be a storyteller. If that is the case, then start telling your story. Because when you do, people listen.

 

Picture Courtesy: jerry8448

Demystifying Strategy

In all my interactions with mangers, consultants and a whole lot of other folk in the field of business, I find a common problem: We love using big words. It appears as though each specialisation has made a gentleman’s club of sorts, to which you can gain entry only by using the right language. The problem with this is that it alienates what we do from each other, and doesn’t really help direct business collectively: simply because we don’t speak the same language. As service providers, it often makes it hard for clients to understand the value of what we do, particularly startups and non-profits who aren’t accustomed to corporate language.

One of the most loaded words I have heard repeatedly; and often needlessly, used is: “strategy” or “strategic”If we really break down “strategy” it is simply the shortest line between where we are and where we want to go. “Tactics”as we like to differentiate in jargon is what we should do to get there. 

A mentor of mine taught me well when he said: “There are only two kinds of strategy in the world: audit and directional” I’m going to use this idea to bring to light what “strategy” really is, which I hope unburdens the word:

1. Audit: Facts. Analysis. Information. Data. “What’s the situation?”, “What’s good, and bad?”, “Who’s strong, who’s weak?” The stuff we learn in B-School: SWOT, PESTLE, Porter’s Five Forces and all the other models: these are simply audit. These only tell you where you are today, and give you an indication of where you should be going. This is not difficult to do, and don’t really help any organisation figure out how to get anywhere. This is never enough, and therefore it is not strategic. The key to doing this right is to be relevant to decision making.

2. Directional: Insights. Recommendations. Decisions. Plans. “We need to gain new competencies if we want to achieve this end. Do we develop them, or acquire them?”, “We need a new product in our portfolio, priced at a point that makes our star product more appealing”, “We need to do something interesting, or risk being forgotten”. These give an indication of where we should be headed, and by nature give clarity to steps on what we should do.

One last thing. My mentor always followed his line with: “Don’t give me an audit. I want direction”.