xrematon

March 14, 2019

Data-rich in the analogue world – challenging grey-tinted glasses perspectives on the times gone by

It is all too easy to slip into lazy thinking and simplistically assume that pre-internet, Big Data, cookies, mobile phones and so forth, it was like the Dark Ages and that options in terms of tracking and surveillance were limited. Well, think again. My own such assumptions were challenged from an unlikely source: a detective novel written in 1929 (“The Man in the Queue” by Josephine Tey).

Instead, the enterprising, thoughtful and rather dapper detective (Inspector Alan Grant) was able to get hold of many little elements of data, all of which provided valuable clues. This was possible because he was operating in the smaller scale, slow, pre-globalised and pre-AI world where people still wrote things down by hand and carried out many transactions in person.

Here are some examples to bring life what I mean:

Critical to uncovering to the identity of the murder victim was his tie. As things still got made in the UK at this time, the Inspector and his team went off to the tie manufacturer for some insights. The manufacturer checked their books and found out to which shop this tie with a more unusual design had been sent off. The next stop for the team was the identified department store on Nottingham. The Inspector spoke to the young man who worked on the tie counter, who was able to recall what the gentleman who had bought the tie looked like. There was no need to spool through hours of CCTV footage, hoping to find the right moment, which would have no doubt been caught only in limited grainy detail and at an odd angle. People remember people and, more importantly, are able to describe a person not just in terms of appearance but what ‘they were like’, giving valuable clues as to their character and state of mind.

In the 1930’s there was no digital social media but instead real-life community networks. And this turned out to be very useful for finding out where the suspect might have gone off to hide holed up by their family or friends. One of the Inspector’s team pretended to be a struggling soldier looking for some odd jobs to do in the neighbourhood and deliberately targeted the vicar. It was a smart choice as the vicar’s household knew all about their congregation and their backgrounds – a little flattery to some gossiping servants went a long way. No misleading fake posts here.

Another important point to note is that the analogue world still ‘did’ data but in different forms. Fingers prints abound, used left right and centre, whilst more ingenious and interesting, was making use of the serial numbers on bank notes. The suspect left a significant wedge of cash in their room and the Inspector took these notes to the bank. The bank tellers were able to look back at their ledgers and check who had actually withdrawn this money. This turned out not to be the suspect, thus providing another valuable clue.

But you know what – at the end of the day, none of this data was actually useful and more of a distraction or red herring! The guilty party turned out to be someone not caught up in this trail of records, files, community chat and so forth – but that kind of surprise twist is what you expect from a detective novel. Some things don’t change.

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July 1, 2016

Disrupt Yourself

Filed under: Business,Coaching,Innovation,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 9:48 pm
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Disrupt yourself

I have some confessions to make: in my first year of work, I often went to the library as an important way to get information and new ideas; and on one occasion I had to catch a late afternoon flight from Paris to take a VHS tape of an ad mock-up to the co-ordinating agency in London as the last Fedex delivery had been missed. There was no other way to get the creative work over. This was an analogue world and created tasks that now seem more than faintly ridiculous.

So it was with interest that I picked up my latest ‘worthy tome’ (part of my ongoing effort to broaden my reading matter beyond ‘story books’) had the catchy title of “Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work – Disrupt Yourself” by Whitney Johnson.

Sadly, the book disappointed. Though my opening anecdotes highlights I am only too deeply aware of the changing context in which we lead our working lives, none of this came through. It was a rather one-dimensional self-help book giving lots on the ‘how’ to bring changing into one’s professional life, but with little sense of the burning platform of ‘why’. To me, it would have been more compelling to also highlight the risk of redundancy of opting for stasis and certainty.

The introduction presents an interesting challenge – that of applying what is traditionally regarded as a business concept – the S curve – to individual experience. I have already read a book which used this ‘conceit’ of using business practices for personal problems to good effect (futures techniques to navigate personal life choices).  In ‘Disrupt Yourself’, there was less of a single-minded approach and more of a ‘pick and mix’ one to referencing examples/analogies from the business world as well as individual experiences. This links to another shortcoming – it suggests that personal disruption is more relevant for the more entrepreneurial, ie those who naturally conflate their professional development with the development of a business. What of those who those who aim to operate within the system? Or are they just redundant anyway?!

In a similar vein, I also would have liked examples of people who tried to change and it didn’t work; is disruption really for everyone? And what about negotiating forced disruption that is thrust upon you rather than proactively seeking it? Clearly, the latter sounds ‘better’ (more aspirational/what we know we should be doing), but there may be valuing in taking a softer approach to help others cope with unsought change.

Finally, I would like to highlight the connection between ‘Disrupt Yourself and another book I recently read about growth mind sets. Both present the importance and value to be gained from challenging oneself to continue to learn and make progress, but there are interesting differences of approach. Whilst the Dweck book is a eulogy to redefining failure as an important to step to improvement, Johnson gives more space to acknowledging how rubbish failure can actually feel in reality and that it can be worthwhile accepting this. In the chapter entitled ‘Give Failure Its Due’, she writes, “When I fail, I am mortified, but I am also heartbroken. I have envisioned a future in which I would achieve a goal, and perhaps be hailed as the conquering hero. And then I didn’t and I wasn’t. I have learnt it is important to grieve….We often think of loss of a marriage or a loved one, but there is also the loss we feel when a professional dream – even a small one – is dashed.” Thoughtful and though-provoking.

As a floating freelancer who has never bothered to set up their own company, I constantly need to reinvent myself as I chase after the latest opportunity/hot prospect, whether it is a project about shopper trends, international development or cancer care. Disrupt myself – indeed I must.

August 22, 2011

Could houses of the future be empty?

Filed under: Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 7:43 pm
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We still have lots of stuff in our house

Moving house makes you aware of stuff. As I packed up into the early hours of the morning before our move, two things crossed my mind:

Firstly, the obvious: it is all too easy to amass sickening amounts of stuff, some of which you realise you fail to use enough. Perhaps the 80/20 rule applies to possessions too: you use 20% of them 80% of the time.

Secondly, a lot of the stuff, certainly that which creates the most bulk, could be avoided if we so chose. We have boxes and boxes of books, which could all disappear on an e-reader, and we have towers of CDs and DVDs, which could go on MP3 players or get to us streamed on demand. Though we are relatively young household – we started ‘creating’ it some ten to fifteen years ago – we have items which now appear like relics of a bygone age: VHS videos and cassette tapes. We are just missing vinyl to complete our analogue media collection.

Given that all this content could be digital, and thus invisible, why is it that consumers still feel they don’t have enough space and that storage items such as the ubitiquous Billy bookcase and Ival storage system are global best sellers at Ikea? Maybe the answer is quite simple – a lot of us do just like stuff!

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