February 21, 2018

The internet is awesome!

I know that the online world is no longer new but I recently had an experience which reminded me of how *cool* some of the things you can do online are.

I should point out that my relationship with online ‘stuff’ is incredibly functionally driven. I have been an early and committed adopter of some internet possibilities – for example I started banking online twenty years ago, I have been regularly ordering all my groceries online for 12 years and now probably make over three-quarters of my other purchases online too. However, I haven’t been a major social media user (my life is too boring to describe to others) and still do very little on my phone (I just really prefer a proper keyboard and bigger screen).

So what are my internet ‘wow’ moments?

Well, the most recent one was when I finally decided to do something about getting rid of the two rabbit hutches that have been littering our garden unnecessarily for several months. The hutches are not in good condition and so not appropriate for selling on eBay. I just wanted to get rid of them but wasn’t sure they would fit in the boot of my rather small car to take to the tip. So after a quick search on Google, I found Freelywheely, which seemed much more friendly and easy to use than Freecyle, and within 15 minutes of the hutches being posted on their site, I was amazed to find I had requesters. By the end of the day, I had eight interested people, ready to drive almost an hour to pick up these rather battered hutches! And now they are gone, which is amazing. But perhaps I was just lucky and rabbit hutches are actually the most sought after freecycle item!

Rabbit hutch

Whilst I am at it, here are two other internet ‘wows’.

Second on my list is Airbnb, which I first starting using four years ago and now have clocked up 11 trips. I just really like the fact we can rent out something for the number of days we want and not stick to the old limited arrangement of a week and Saturday to Saturday or equivalent.

My third item is not so much an internet business but picks up on the transparency that the internet allows. I am someone who gets frustrated with waiting for things and I also like to know as much as possible about how long things might take. So the opportunity to track – in absurd detail – where your packages are is brilliant as far as I am concerned.

Delivery details

However, it does set expectations rather high. I have recently ordered items off Amazon which I think are being shipped directly from China, rather than coming from a reseller based in the UK. These items have what now seems like remarkably long delivery times of four weeks. In addition, once they are dispatched, there is no further information about the item until it appears in your letter box, more often than not several months late, by which time I have already complained and been reimbursed for said item! I’m waiting for everything to be RFID tagged so I track its global journey. That would definitely be awesome.


January 20, 2018

Sea blindness

This is the term that the chief of the Royal Navy has used to describe our attitude towards the great expanses of water that cover our planet. “We travel by cheap flights, not liners. The sea is the distance to be flown over, a downward backdrop between take-off and landing, a blue expanse that soothes on the moving map as the plane jerks over it. It is for leisure and beaches and fish and chips, not for use or work.”

Not so – this is the driving force behind a recent read Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George, a comprehensive investigation into the world of container shipping. I have long had an unrequited respect and interest in shipping – it is one of the topics which can be endless source of fascination once you actually open your eyes to its importance. At the start of her book, George describes playing a numbers game on the train – you think through what goods will have been transported by sea and the answer is nearly everything : that man’s iPhone and headphones, his book printed in China, the fabric of the seats people are sitting on, the coffee the author is drinking, the fruit they are carrying in the bag and so forth.

The book itself is centred around a journey George made from Felixstowe to Singapore on a huge container ship – if the ship discharged its containers onto lorries, the line of traffic would be 50 miles long. However, the book is more than simply a description of this voyage- the author effectively uses it as a springboard to investigate many other weird and wonderful places, people and phenomena that connect into shipping. This takes her into spending a week on board an EU warship part of the international effort to counteract piracy off the Somali coast, accompanying the chaplain at the Seafarers’ Centre in Immingham, a port on the north-eastern coast of England, and even ringing up one of the ladies who knits the woolly hats that are distributed to sailors.

Despite this breadth of detail, I must confess that I finished the book with my curiosity not completely satisfied. I wanted more depth – to connect with what it really feels like to spend a month on one of these ships. What did she do each day, given that internet connection was sporadic, some of the crew didn’t talk much English and they weren’t really many of them? Come the end of her journey, George seems to be loath to leave the ship but I haven’t got enough of the experience to understand why this can be, given the potential for boredom hinted at earlier, coupled with the fact that she describes how vibrations from the ship’s engine (aside from any weather-related pitching and rolling) make sleep difficult, and she is vegetarian on a boat where the cook seems to struggle to understand what this means and there is very little fresh fruit and veg.

Perhaps what I was after was more poeticism. Just after finishing the book, I read a review of a more recent contribution which describes ten winter days on a Finnish icebreaker. According to the review, Horatio Clare, the author, writes “seeing silence”, and the ship itself seems to him no more than “the tip of a pencil line trailing off into empty space”. He is intoxicated by elemental extremes, dizzied, brought close to laughter. His dead mineral world—all crystalline ice and hard metal—stirs and quickens. Ice “sidles aboard, rinds the rails with icicles…is all but alive”. While down below, in the engine room, there grow “vines of copper piping and sprouting thermometers, the fuel pumps budded with bolts and flowering stopcocks”. There isn’t anything really like this in Deep Sea and Foreign Going. Perhaps just a few more pictures, and of better quality than the almost grainy, soul-dead black and white ones currently included, would have helped.


Griping aside – I must make clear that the book is definitely worth reading, incredibly interesting and well written. There are a couple of stand-out bits and pieces.

The first is the little discussed but very real issue of noise pollution. This is discussed in a chapter George devotes to investigating whales and their interaction with all those ships trekking back and forth across the oceans. Rose goes to visit a laboratory in Cape Cod whose scientists aim to better understand how to protect the declining North Atlantic right whale population. We know that whales have been affected by hunting as well as chemical and material pollution. Well, it seems that the additional sounds we humans create will have noxious effects too. This is not just from the incredibly noisy engines of huge ships, but also from laying out cables on the sea bed, firing airguns for seismic surveys, fishermen sending out pings for echolocation to find fish, whilst the military deploy sonar. Sometimes the effect of all this is tangible: forced change of habit to flee the sound, whilst military sonar induces the bends in dolphins and whales so that they arrive on the beach with blood on their brains. Sometimes, it is hard to work out what the impact might be, but one researcher found that a quiet and still sea resulted in much lower levels of stress hormones present in whales compared to days of noise.

The second picks up on the harsh and potentially dangerous livelihoods of those who work on container ships. There are the obvious negatives, such as being away from loved ones for long stretches of time, but this is exacerbated by the fact financial pressure often forces these individuals to all too swiftly sign up for another passage. In addition, a large proportion of those who make up crews come from parts of Asia and get their work through middle men whom they don’t want to annoy by refusing jobs. Then you have to factor in the risk of accidents from storms and the bigger worry of piracy, which becomes particularly challenging when it is not clear who has responsibility for looking after the workers when these problems arise. Is it their own country? But their own country would argue it is the company employing them, coming from another country? Or is it the flag under which they are flying, or the territory in whose water the incident took place? It isn’t clear and that’s why it is often takes a long time to get kidnaps resolved. Despite this, and the fact conditions all round can be compared to a sweatshop, the Fair Trade Association’s comment is of one defeat: “Incorporating shipping requirements into our standards and certification processes would add to auditing costs.”

The third and final point is that there is no mention of the possibility that the flows of good might possibly start to change. In the general media, there has been much hype around the potential for 3D manufacturing to make near-shoring a real possibility, whilst a shift to services as well as intangibles (think of streamed media replacing DVDs and CDs) means that less ‘stuff’ needs to be shunted around the world. But given the volumes currently involved, I am not sure a marked shift will happen any time soon. Until then, we need to remember to be less sea blind.

September 18, 2017

A duo of posts on physiological introspection – Part II

In the second part of these two posts on health/science books I have recently read, I will focus on Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee.  I was particularly interested in getting to grips with this book as there is lots of chatter about genes. I have become aware of the fact that it is all too easy to merrily throw on some bullet points about genome testing, personalised health plans and diets etc, but what does this actually mean?

In reading Gene, I was struck by the fact that in order to understand how our thinking about genes has developed over time, we need to go back and look at how science explains differences between and among ourselves and also other living organisms. Perhaps, therefore not surprisingly, we spend some time with Darwin, as well as looking back at Greek philosophers/scientists, whose perspectives were always, surprisingly insightful/provocative, despite they effectively ‘knew’ less than we do now.

There was a section on the interest in eugenics in the US in the 1920s. Reading this made me realise how, when we look back in time, we often make simplistic assumptions about what ideas to associate with particular eras. Eugenics – that was obviously the handiwork of those nasty Nazis – well, not just them it seems. A number of medical professionals and politicians in the US were determined to stop ‘bad heredity’ and to set up ‘eugenic sterilizations of the feeble-minded’. In 1927, the state of Indiana passed a law to sterilize ‘confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists’ and other states followed with even stricter laws to sterilize men and women judged to be genetically inferior. This preoccupation with the right heredity was reflected in popular culture at the time, for example, by the late 1920’s, premarital genetic-fitness tests were being widely advertised to the American public. However, it is important to remember DNA testing, as we know it, had not yet been uncovered. Instead, they consisted of assessments of family histories to pick up on incidences of mental retardation, epilepsy, deafness, dwarfism, blindness etc.

It was not until the 1950’s that the chemical structure of the gene was uncovered. I find it fascinating that so much had already happened, eg laws instituted, as described above, around a part of ourselves – the genome – which we had not really ‘seen’ as such and did not know really how it worked. As a child of the modern era, I have the naïve and simplistic assumption that we know everything before we decide to ‘use’ it!

Reading Gene made me realise that there in fact is much more uncertainty around the impact genes have than perhaps comes across in popular media and culture. One aspect to this is that there still seems to be much life in the nature versus nurture debate. This is down to the fairly new area within gene studies of epigenetics. As explained here, “Epigenetics is essentially additional information layered on top of the sequence of letters (strings of molecules called A, C, G, and T) that makes up DNA. If you consider a DNA sequence as the text of an instruction manual that explains how to make a human body, epigenetics is as if someone’s taken a pack of highlighters and used different colours to mark up different parts of the text in different ways. For example, someone might use a pink highlighter to mark parts of the text that need to be read the most carefully, and a blue highlighter to mark parts that aren’t as important….But the really interesting thing about epigenetics is that the marks aren’t fixed in the same way the DNA sequence is: some of them can change throughout your lifetime, and in response to outside influences. Some can even be inherited, just like some highlighting still shows up when text is photocopied.” So it seems looking at what it’s in your genome will only tell you so much; the messiness of real life has an important impact.

Another angle is the fact that only about 1 percent of our genome encodes proteins. The rest is DNA dark matter. It is still incompletely understood, but some of it involves regulation of the genome itself. As a reviewer observed, “Ironically, the more we study the genome, the more “the gene” recedes. … Some scientists are even moving away from the gene as a physical thing. They think of it as a “higher-order concept” or a “framework” that shifts with the needs of the cell. The old genome was a linear set of instructions, interspersed with junk; the new genome is a dynamic, three-dimensional body. The gene is not a Platonic ideal. It is a human idea, ever changing and always rooted in time and place.”

It makes me wonder what Gene – An Intimate History would include if it was written a hundred years from now?


June 16, 2017

Through the keyhole

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Technology,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 8:04 pm
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Time for another photo essay. This time I have some images from a visit to Eltham Palace. Eltham has a fascinating history: in its original incarnation, it was a place where royalty resided, from Edward III at the start of the 14th century to being where Henry VIII spent his childhood. However, it fell into disrepair during the Civil War and then rumbled on as a farm. Like a phoenix that rises from the ashes, Eltham Palace’s new heyday came when wealthy socialites Stephen and Ginnie Courtauld gave the house and gardens a lot of TLC. The Courtaulds restored the medieval Great Hall and then added in a splash of modernity: Art Deco extensions and cutting edge innovations from that time. It was this angle – the latest technology from eight decades ago – that most intrigued me.

Time for the first photo: an image which shows how the building combines old and new. Here we can see the medieval Great Hall on the left, and then the new extension on the right.


And what about these new technologies? Well, there are some similarities in the approach taken to integrating tech then and how it is done today. One is the desire to make technology invisible: lights were put in alcoves out of sight but with their glow would spread out over the ceiling, often made to ‘go further’ with carefully positioned mirrors. Music would float dreamily throughout the room from hidden speakers – obviously not really visible in this picture!


Now, how does that compare to these speakers from today disguised as anodyne wall decorations?

Another quirky feature was the centralised vacuum cleaner, powered by a motor in the basement. Better than a robot cleaner surely?


And there were plenty of other features, such as electrical clocks built into the walls, phones (very new then), underfloor heating, and more. These features were reflective of owners’ concern to make sure that everything was just right. Apparently Ginnie chose the colour of the leather on the seats in the dining room (a soft pink) as this set off ladies’ evening wear best…

The central hall was the most stunning space – Art Deco with lots of lovely warm wood (for both furniture as well as wall decoration). The design here, as in much of the rest of the Palace, was reminiscent of the décor for luxury liners with furniture integrated into the walls and circular shapes (think port hole windows and curving walls).




I have included a set of final pictures to show another surprising aspect to Eltham Palace. Though the Palace is in London (zone 4), it is surrounded by gardens and fields, and thus walking round outside feels surprisingly green and non-urban.


The towers and spires of London can be spied as a distant memory on the horizon.



May 17, 2017

Homo Deus

Filed under: Business,Futures,Innovation,Technology,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 9:32 pm
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In an earlier post, I gave some thoughts on Yuval Noah Harari’s first book Sapiens. Though I don’t normally like to read books by the same author, preferring to endlessly taste the new and different, I had the opportunity to get to grips with his follow-up tome, Homo Deus, as I received it as a gift.

As with Sapiens, it is an intoxicating read, with grand sweeping ideas set to make you think differently and challenge your assumptions about how you think things are progressing. In Homo Deus, the Big Idea is that now Man has learnt how to conquer famine and horrible diseases that used to wipe out whole populations, he can think about higher objectives. We can focus on achieving immortality and eternal happiness, making use of the latest technological innovations to reach this goal. Our brains and bodies will be re-engineered by algorithms with those controlling these algorithms becoming the elite and the rest rendered useless from a societal perspective.

Harari puts forward all too convincing evidence and examples of how the steps leading to this are already taking place. Whilst I agree with his prognosis of increasing and insidious inequality spreading beyond basic wealth status to social mental and physical wellbeing, I am not so convinced that the conversion to a technologically determined utopia (for some) will be that straightforward.

These ideas make sense when taking a macro, more ‘godlike’ top down perspective, but less so when going bottom up and thinking about how individuals think and act. For a start, people have become more wary about how their personal data is used. 84% of US consumers are worried about the security of their personally identifiable information.

And there are signs that people simply can’t bothered to keep collecting personal data if it is left up to them. Research among those who have invested in wearables, still very much at the early adopter stage, reveals that barely a third of them continue to gather information about personal performance. This is surprising low for what would otherwise be assumed to be the keenest part of the market.

In addition, I am not sure that people will necessarily be that keen on options which have been designed as perfect for them. Instead, realistically, they are more likely to go to opt for what is most satisfying. Food is the most obvious example here. Though vitamin pills have been around for a long time, we still bother to prepare food. Soylent is still has pretty niche appeal, despite its recent efforts to go mainstream. And I haven’t even touched upon resistance to genetically modified and other forms of manipulated food.

My final quick challenge is about something completely different and only an aside, albeit an interesting one. In chapter one, Harari uses lawns as a way to illustrate how many of our preferences and aspirations connect back to earlier dynamics in society, though we are often now oblivious. Lawns were the preserve of the rich and thus associated with political power.

But I would argue that the ‘smart set’ are now increasingly opting for astro turf.  In fact, this is actually another demonstration of how the elite are using better technology to improve their lives. But it could be done better: surely the super elite would have grass personalised to match their wellbeing needs, being in the right shade and right texture to deliver optimal stress release. Perhaps I should try that on Kickstarter…..

October 18, 2015

A bus man’s holiday – if you work in marketing

My last summer holidays were enjoyable as well as being fascinating. In this post, I would like to take to share three observations inspired by this time away.

1. We talk lots about happiness, but what about fun? This realisation struck me as I spend two weeks in environments carefully designed to deliver optimum levels of fun. Yes, I am talking about our visit to the Orlando theme parks. What was particularly interesting was the fact that it soon became apparent that not all fun is equal, or more precisely, equivalent. Visiting one park after another allowed me to see that the delivery of fun can be differentiated.

  • Disney, as one might expect, excelled at a magical fun which warms the hearts of the whole family. It offers rides, shows and experiences which don’t exclude and cater to our desire for nostalgia (if we are older), or dreams and fantasies (if we are younger).
  • Universal is more thrilling and will instead get hearts beating faster. The rides and experiences are more intense, attacking all our senses with great energy. And they are not for everyone: it has been calculated that a total of 21 attractions at Universal Orlando have height requirements, for an average of 10.5 per park, whilst at Walt Disney World, the average is 4.75 per park.

2. Visiting Orlando also brought home the power of brands. Whilst the parks themselves are effectively brands in their own right, they also encapsulate a maelstrom of other brands. In fact, I think it would be more appropriate to use the analogy of a galaxy (that’s the park) which contains many different stars, some of which are fading, and some of which are burning bright and very strong. It’s doesn’t take long to think of some examples.

  • At Universal, there is an ET ride, which is certainly charming, but will be lost on anyone born after 1990. Over the past couple of years there have been rumours brewing that the ride will be placed.
  • A star of a very different nature, also at Universal, is Harry Potter. Now this has proved to be a winning addition, glowing bright and strong, drawing people in. According to a piece in the New York Times, “When Universal Orlando opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter four years ago, that resort went from an also-ran to a must-visit almost overnight. Year-on-year attendance shot up 30 percent as families swarmed the snow-capped shops of Hogsmeade and rode three Potter-themed rides.”

3. My final observation relates to the role of technology in the whole experience. Technology is clearly a very broad term and gives me licence to touch upon a variety of different angles.

  • There is the technology that is involved in the delivery of experiences themselves. I wasn’t so interested in what makes the rides so whizzy and fast, though the use of electro-magnetic propulsion on Cheetah Hunt (at Busch Gardens) was a particular highlight.
  • What was more noteworthy was the use of media to enhance rides, something which Universal has been accused of relying on to excess. Rather than be physically transported to different scenes, you are thrown about in your ‘carriage’ with 3D film visuals and sound bouncing around you. It worked to wonderful effect in the Simpsons ride (which was refreshingly humorous – most rides tend to be either scary, sweet or awe-inspiring).
  • There is also more ancillary technology which acts as a facilitator to make visiting parks easier and more convenient. Here I am thinking of the park apps, of which my husband became very fond, so much so that he still continues to check them now periodically some two months after our trip! Planning a trip to minimise queueing and wasted time becomes a form of entertainment in its own right. Having chatted with other families who have done this kind of holiday, print-outs with highlighted sections and spread sheets become de rigeur.
  • Though we personally did not use this, I should also mention the Disney MagicBands. These are equipped with radio frequency identification chips that interact with scanners throughout the park. These MagicBands allow guests to gain access to everything from their hotel rooms to rides and attractions. Though it was not straightforward to get these off the ground , they represent the ultimate in terms of CRM. Interestingly, Disney itself now prefers to talk about Customer Managed Relationships, claiming that it is putting into place initiatives that put the guests in control, despite the fact that the bands are collecting endless amounts of data for Disney about each little thing the customer does, when and where.

I’ll end with a bonus photo of the cleaning staff at Disney. They are in immaculate white uniforms and in constant contact with the Powers That Be to ensure they focus their efforts on where it is most needed. Disney is proud of the fact that it overmanages. When it comes to clean toilets with lots of loo roll, that’s fine by me!

Disney cleaner uniform

September 9, 2013

Don’t forget Small Data

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Marketing,Technology — by xrematon @ 7:42 pm
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There is lots of chatter about Big Data and how it has the potential to transform many aspects of our daily lives, whether it’s in terms of improving our bodies or what we buy. As a counterpoint, I want to highlight three examples which would be regarded as rather ‘data-lite’ and distinctly low tech, but which are still very powerful.

My first example is the instruction/care leaflet that came with a new fridge. As fridge manufacturers now sell their products across the globe, they need to make sure that any documentation given to customers is available in many different languages. This means you can often end up with those rather annoyingly bulky booklets with 90% of the content redundant to you. Or else you can have what I found – which is a completely visual leaflet telling you everything without any words. It is a neat solution and I think it just about works.

Look - no words!

My second examples is from an article in The Economist, which describes an invention by Mohammad Abdul Quaiyum of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Dhaka. The invention is a standardised birth mat, which helps reduce the risk of women bleeding to death after having given birth.

Losing more than half a litre of blood after childbirth is a sign of trouble. Dr Quaiyum’s mat, a 50cm square made of cotton and tissue paper, is therefore designed to absorb just over 400 millilitres. If it gets saturated, the midwife should seek medical help for the mother immediately. Of those 77,000 new mothers who had given birth using kits updated with the new mats, 37 fewer than expected died.

My final example also happens to be from an article in the same edition of The Economist describing the ‘humble hero’ that is the shipping container. According to new research, the container has been more of a driver of globalisation than all trade agreements in the past 50 years taken together. Though it is essentially just a big metal box, its introduction in the 1950’s brought many advantages over the existing system (men would try to squeeze as much cargo in as possible, taking up valuable time and often siphoning off a small part of the cargo off for themselves). With the containers, things improved across many different areas.

In 1965, dock labour could move only 1.7 tonnes per hour onto a cargo ship; five years later a container crew could load 30 tonnes per hour. This allowed freight lines to use bigger ships and still slash the time spent in port. The journey time from door to door fell by half and became more consistent. The container also upended a rigid labour force. Falling labour demand reduced dockworkers’ bargaining power and cut the number of strikes. And because containers could be packed and sealed at the factory, losses to theft (and insurance rates) plummeted.

So it seems it is possible to receive information without written instructions, save lives with a bit of cotton and tissue paper, and stimulate global prosperity with big metal boxes.

August 12, 2013

Where do good ideas come from? Part 2

Filed under: Business,Consumer Trends,Marketing,Technology — by xrematon @ 9:12 pm
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I had the opportunity to share some of the ideas captured in my earlier blog post with Stephen Wise, the founder of Bright Young Minds , a crowdsourcing and co-creation agency. I was interested to get his perspective as someone who has clients knocking on his door for ways to get those good ideas.

To begin with, Stephen made some interesting observations about Big Data.

  • Regardless of what we might find out from playing around with Big Data, it already has an upfront advantage in that it removes the need to talk to consumers directly, saving time and money.
  • It can be more representative than qualitative research. Whilst it is possible to observe customers to find out how they really engage with a product or service, the numbers involved will always be fairly limited. Big Data means it is possible to survey the behaviours of vast swatches of the customer base.
  • It’s worth thinking about where Big Analysis lives within an organisation and how this affects how it will be approached. More traditional research will be the remit of the marketing team, who will be looking to learn as much as possible from any research; Big Data is often from the social team who may be mining it in order to find the answer to a specific question and put the findings in a different context. As is raised in this piece from the New York Times, it is important to recognise that Big Data is not neutral – those who work with it will feed in their own assumptions and biases.
  • However, ultimately, it’s important to recognise that Big Data is only a starting point. Big Data is a useful platform – but it needs to be surrounded by great consumer connectivity and co-creation (more on this below), and not just traditional qualitative research to make the most of it.

So – next to co-creation – Stephen explained how the whole space has evolved.

  • Initially business embraced co-creation in a fairly crude way – the aim of the game was to get consumer involvement and input in any way possible.
  • The next stage involved a slightly more discerning use of co-creation in which only the best ideas were taken.
  • We are now at co-creation 3.0 – this is when the consumers involved in co-creation are used selectively – those with appropriate skill-sets are invited to participate on a particular problem. (This is the core principle behind Bright Young Minds).

In terms of thinking about creativity and sourcing good ideas, I was particularly struck by Stephen’s point that, regardless of what the ideas themselves are, often what is more important is the process by which these ideas are brought to the organisation. From my own experience of innovation, I can vouch for this too – all too often end outputs are received as an anti-climax as the client is less than enthusiastic, feeling that the ideas can’t be acted upon or have already been tried but failed. This means that in addition to thinking about where good ideas might come from, you really need to think about how to manage the whole process so that the client is aligned and ready to embrace what is being proposed.

And what might good ideas look like? We talked about the idea of good ideas clustering in a bell curve – that magic diagram which can be used to capture so many different concepts. However simplistic this may seem, it is reasonable to assume that most people’s ideas will cluster. The question then becomes about how to get to those ‘outlier ideas’ – the more radical/fresh concepts that no one else will have thought of. It’s clear that’s where getting the right people will make a difference – find those who are the best lateral thinkers.

Finally, we turned to the future. Here, Stephen is optimistic that as businesses get more open and keen to embrace these kinds of techniques, they will be ready to use skill sets which are not only outside their organisation, but also outside their sector.

To me, that sounds like more than co-creation – how inspiration extraction?


July 24, 2012

Being too good just isn’t sporting

Filed under: Marketing,Technology — by xrematon @ 7:34 pm
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I have recently been involved in a report looking at the future of golf – and must confess to having found it all far more engrossing than I expected. That having been said, let me take the opportunity to plug the report written by The Futures Company for HSBC.

One theme that intrigued me was the impact of technological advances in improving player performances. There are a variety of different ways in which technology is used.

Some players are using their own IT to improve their game – players take their iPads out on the course to film themselves taking their shots, and then carefully analyse their strokes using video analysis software.

Then there are changes in the equipment directly used to play the game. In writing the report, we deliberately didn’t go into this area, but there was one development which cropped up.  A number of people we spoke to brought up the fact that changes modern balls can travel increasing distances. This is a source of concern to those in the industry as the below quote from Gary Player (interviewed for the report) illustrates.

“The golf equipment and ball have completely changed. One of my main concerns at the moment is how far the ball travels.  With the advances in golf ball technology, courses now have to be needlessly lengthened.  These costs are hurting the game because courses will have to recoup the costs somewhere.  The expense to scale back the ball would be miniscule compared to the money being spent around the world modifying golf courses.”

The third area I would like to bring up is technology being used to replicate the whole game experience, whether this is through video games, or golf simulation. One of the hypotheses posited in the report is the idea that virtual golfers become real world golfers. Indeed, comments from Urban Golf founder, James Day, who has set up three golf simulation experiences, suggest that virtual is very much about encouraging interest in the ‘real thing’, not a replacement.

‘I think the simulator model is going to be the best way to keep players hungry to play outdoors.’

Obviously, golf is not alone amongst sports in being impacted, in both desirable and undesirable ways, by developments in technology. Similar to the issue presented by golf balls which travel too far, so too the distance reached by javelin throwers became a source of concern.

It was whilst mulling over these issues that an article in The Economist caught my eye – it’s about how high tech is causing ripples in the angling world too.

“It is really getting kind of unfair,” says Macquarie’s Dr Brown. “If you are going to use GPS to take you to a location, sonar to identify the fish and a lure which reflects light that humans can’t even see, you may as well just go to McDonald’s and order a fish sandwich.’


June 1, 2012

Modern malaise – glass half full or empty?

I trained as a life coach five years or so ago and remain interested in seeing what write-up coaching gets in the media.  Before the bust, it was all glossy and glamorous. Now, according to a recent piece in the New York Times, life coaching is a symptom of what is Going Very Wrong With Our Society Today.

The article highlights how there now seems to be a market for anything you might need, including the services of a ‘wantologist’ (a type of life coach) to help you work out what it is you might want in the first place. The author, Arlie Russell Hochschild, a professor of sociology at the University of California, is particularly disturbed by the fact that

‘It is increasingly possible to outsource emotional attachment. A busy executive, for example, focuses on efficiency; his assistant tells me, “My boss outsources patience to me.’

Now, having invested time and money in training to be a life coach, I do feel coaching has a lot to offer, and that it is about positivity and progress. However, I am not sure that I agree with the rebuttal made in The Atlantic to Hochschild’s article. In crude terms, the argument here is that not knowing what we want and feeling anxiety is the sign of a successful society as we have moved from answering our basic needs to thinking about our higher purpose. (Yes – a diagram of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is included as part of the article.)

Perhaps the author of the Atlantic article needs to read The Spirit Level. This shows there is another way. We can be prosperous without having to go through a phase of being miserable. We just all need to be equally prosperous, which is admittedly, easier said than done.

I came across another pair of articles presenting opposing points of view about the state of modern life. One piece was from Sherry Turkle of ‘Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other’ fame. Her article described the sad state of affairs we are in: we don’t seem to be going through the effort of talking properly to each other any more; we have lost the patience this requires; we expect faster responses; we ask simpler questions; and find it’s easier just to turn to some form of technology instead.

Again, there is a rebuttal from the Atlantic.  Here, Alexandra Samuel points out that many face to face conversations are in fact pretty inane, and we should recognise that these technologies can enhance, rather than replace, communication, in whatever form it might take place.

Once more, there is another reference I want to bring to the table. Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts’  makes the case for people whose natural preference is to flee big social gatherings. This suggests there is another aspect to the debate to take into account: people might not be talking so much as they tend to respond to the world around them in a different way – namely by reading and writing and listening. And that should be just fine.

Glass half full or empty?

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