Author: Heidi Hackemer (@uberblond), Planning Director, BBH New York
What do our clothes say about us? Why do spend so much time on what we wear? What happens when we don’t?
Starting Monday, June 21st, a group of people from California to Dubai are going to take part in a little experiment: each participant gets to choose six (and only six) items of clothing and pledge to wear only these six items of clothing for a month. They’ll share their experiences via a group blog throughout the course of the month.
People have asked what the philosophy is behind the experiment and most assume it’s a statement about consumerism. In reality, we haven’t dictated a driving thought. Rather it’s about putting a challenge out there and seeing what people bring to it and do with it. Even in this pre-experiment era it’s turning out to be a nice brief: tight enough that there are walls and consistency, loose enough that the output will be varied and ripe for discussion.
To understand what people are bringing to the table, the one question we ask at sign up is “why”? So far, the primary motivation falls into one of four camps:
2) the mental freedom that comes with a uniform
3) creativity (“let’s see how inventive I can be with this limitation”)
There are a few things that we’re really liking about this experiment that will hopefully make us smarter about people and communities down the road:
1) The experiment itself. We’re deadly curious to see how the month will go and what it will unveil about the participants and their relationship to their clothes.
2) The speed at which it went from a little idea amongst two friends (myself and my former colleague at Fallon London, Tamsin Davies) to an idea that has been embraced by people globally and how digital tools are allowing to manage and keep pace with the spread.
3) The fact that this isn’t about an agency or a brand, but rather it’s first and foremost about collaboration with a community of curious people. The experiment has grown and breathes with that community and if we can help it continue to do so, should be quite interesting. That being said, in true spirit of BETA we’re the midst of updating the blog so it can handle a larger community (should be ready by Saturday) and also looking to add in some data capture and perhaps a sponsorship mechanism into the site experience.
It starts Monday the 21st – brave enough to give it a shot? You have until Sunday to sign up, details are here.
This week is Internet Week in New York.
On Tuesday, Boulder Digital Works (I’m lucky enough to be on the Advisory Board there) hosted an evening at the Art Director’s Club called ‘Evolve!’ at which they launched their neat new website (created by Modernista!) – take a look at: http://bdw.colorado.edu/, it’s very cool. There were a number of short presentations from some BDW board members, including Scott Witt (just recently moved to a new role as Creative Director at Apple), Shane Steele (just recently moved to be be VP Global B2B Marketing at Yahoo!) & Scott Prindle, Technical Director at CPB in Boulder. I tagged along and got my ten minute slot.
I thought I’d use it to highlight why we need places like Boulder Digital Works in the first place. In short, to produce a new breed of hybrid creative; what we call ‘T-shaped people’ – awesome in (at least) one area, plus highly collaborative and at least literate in many other things. So blending both the right skills and the right attitude. Far too often the latter – an appetite for all things open and collaborative, a readiness to leave ego at the door – is sacrificed at the expense (frequently, the *great* expense) of simply importing people with new skills.
In addition to sketching out why these hybrid people are so important in creating new forms of creative product, I briefly touch upon the importance of the agency implementing the right kind of ’operating system’ (the processes, values and culture within a company) if the fancy new ’software’ is going to run smoothly. If the operating system is outdated, even the most impressive software is redundant. I show, in one slide, an overview of how BBH in New York is approaching the re-engineering of it’s OS.
Would love to know what you think, and what your experiences are of finding, working with, managing and retaining T-shaped people. The future surely belongs to them.
For best viewing view on slideshare (this link takes you right there), where you can see embedded film & speaker notes; I have added the latter into the first comment there.
Are You Ready to Form Voltron? (June 2010)
Footnote: Coincidentally, Mattel announced this week that Voltron is going to be relaunched, with a new TV series and toy line planned. Here’s the opening of Voltron, which gives newbies a little background.
The thing we like most about Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends presentation is it’s just packed with data. The charts are sometimes *too* intense, in fact, carrying too much data. But it’s always revealing, and usually inspiring. Because it’s fact, not fiction.
Slide 7 is especially impactful. I was born on the left hand side of the chart, probably around when there were 5 million computing-capable units globally. On the right, just ten years from today, the forecast is for 10 billion+ units. Extraordinary.
View more presentations from CM Summit: Marketing in Real Time.
As many of you know, I’m involved with a mass collaboration effort (more on collaboration vs. crowd sourcing here) to rethink the portable / disposable coffee drinking experience. You see, the vast majority of to-go coffee cups aren’t recyclable, and it turns out we really like our coffee. Tens of billions of energy-inefficient cups end up in landfills every year. This post isn’t about the issue, but if you’re interested, please visit thebetacup.com (there’s still time to vote, rate, and improve upon on the ideas submitted, which is critical to identifying a solution).
This post is about 3 key lessons I’ve learned regarding the engagement of crowds over the course of this process.
1. Money is … well, money.
Money is a wonderful incentive. We heard from a number of people solely motivated by cash. It broadened the audience beyond the group that would have turned up only for the purpose of environmental altruism. However, when money’s at stake, the group is broader, but less collaborative. Some people would accuse others of stealing their ideas; others would respond within minutes to a new idea posted claiming it was too similar to something they’d submitted. I’ve been a part of a number of efforts like this now and money has always been a core incentive. But tying it to a cause illustrated how it can actually work against collaboration on occasion. Specifically, it undermined the bucket brigade reward system we hoped would occur through our community management.
I’m not saying money always has a negative impact, but understanding its limitations is critical in retrospect. It was great for the first part of the process (number of ideas, effort put into submissions, pass-along), but it was potentially detrimental to the second half (refining unpopular but high potential ideas, collaboration across related ideas, gaming of the system).
2. Employ a boring governing body.
Our friend @faris has regularly made the comment that crowds aren’t inherently wise regardless of book titles that have infiltrated innovations culture, which I couldn’t agree with more. In fact, as someone who has tried to wrangle a crowd on multiple occasions, I’ve always assumed there was a dangerous herd mentality I had to police against. In the case of Betacup, I was determined to not let the crowd’s opinion keep me from reading every single submission as a jury member. However, the crowd actually did an incredible job bubbling up the best / freshest / most effective ideas. Startlingly so, in fact. However, the few times I deviated in opinion from the crowd’s most influential members were on ideas that were, well, boring.
Crowds tend to collectively take a “wow me” approach (explains the current state of news media, no?). That works really well at encouraging new types of thought on an ongoing issue like this one, but it actually does some ideas a disservice. Some simple, boring ideas were actually very effective at solving parts of this complex issue (for example, a collection bin shaped like a tube to reduce the probability that other junk or recyclables would be placed in it). Yet these boring ideas were ignored, generating few views, comments, or ratings. My lesson here was of the importance of bringing in a governing group that has a bias of their own, in the other direction. People who value simplicity and boring effectiveness. That combination can yield powerful results to solve problems.
3. Don’t prescribe formats.
We made a bold choice when deciding what form Betacup submissions should take: any. It was why the highly flexible and open Jovoto platform worked beautifully for the type of problem-solving we needed. The coffee cup issue sounds like a design one on the surface: invent a design that’s recyclable but still fits in a cup holder, is cheap, can handle heat, and feels natural on the lips. But it’s actually quite layered. This problem is as much about human behavior and access to manufacturing and disposal resources as it is about engineering. By opening up the submission format, Betacup became accessible to people of all disciplines. When the problem is as ubiquitous yet unknown as disposable cups, it’s critical we have experts from diverse fields weigh in. Without it, we wouldn’t have had any intersectional innovation, and this problem demands it.
What’s impressive about crowds when they’re given opportunities like this is that individuals don’t introduce themselves as engineers, or designers, or marketers. They just solve a problem. And when you look at what they accomplished, you know different disciplines had to be involved, but the lines are too blurry to see where or how.
As I look back on the submission and collaboration process, I think we got a lot of things right, and certainly some things wrong. The lessons above were the most valuable for me as someone interested in such things. They may apply to a very specific collaboration environment: problem solving & innovation (not necessarily design or creative services), but they’ve changed the way I think about crowds. Now I just hope the 300+ ideas change the way we collectively think about our coffee habits.
To see, rate and comment on the submissions, visit the contest page. To follow our journey toward a solution, follow @thebetacup.
In a recent BBH Labs post (Wind Tunnel Marketing, The Sequel: On the Need for Divergent Insight) that talked about the need for divergent thinking and stimulus in approaching problem solving (& creative ideation), Chaz Wigley, the Chairman of BBH in Asia Pacific, mentioned how the CIA‘s (I’ve always wanted to link to the CIA) Problem Definition Checklist provoked precisely this kind of approach; rounded, many-faceted, flexible.
These questions are known as “context-free questions” and are designed “to encourage agents to look at a challenge from many different angles. Using Phoenix is like holding your challenge in your hand. You can turn it, look at it from underneath, see it from one view, hold it up to another position, imagine solutions, and really be in control of it” (see the excellent, if chewy, paper on Exploring Exploratory Testing, for more here).
We now have from Chaz not only the list of questions the CIA use to define problems, but also (thanks to Iqbal Mohammed) the follow-up list they use to develop the plan. Which seems kind of important too.
My personal favourite question in the problem definition list is the somewhat open-ended: ‘what isn’t the problem?’.
Why is it necessary to solve the problem?
What benefits will you receive by solving the problem?
What is the unknown?
What is it you don’t yet understand?
What is the information you have?
What isn’t the problem?
Is the information sufficient? Or is it insufficient? Or redundant? Or contradictory?
Should you draw a diagram of the problem? A figure?
Where are the boundaries of the problem?
Can you separate the various parts of the problem? Can you write them down? What are the relationships of the parts of the problem? What are the constants of the problem?
Have you seen this problem before?
Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form? Do you know a related problem?
Try to think of a familiar problem having the same or a similar unknown
Suppose you find a problem related to yours that has already been solved. Can you use it? Can you use its method?
Can you restate your problem? How many different ways can you restate it? More general? More specific? Can the rules be changed?
What are the best, worst and most probable cases you can imagine?
Can you solve the whole problem? Part of the problem?
What would you like the resolution to be? Can you picture it?
How much of the unknown can you determine?
Can you derive something useful from the information you have?
Have you used all the information?
Have you taken into account all essential notions in the problem?
Can you separate the steps in the problem-solving process? Can you determine the correctness of each step?
What creative thinking techniques can you use to generate ideas? How many different techniques?
Can you see the result? How many different kinds of results can you see?
How many different ways have you tried to solve the problem?
What have others done?
Can you intuit the solution? Can you check the result?
What should be done? How should it be done?
Where should it be done?
When should it be done?
Who should do it?
What do you need to do at this time?
Who will be responsible for what?
Can you use this problem to solve some other problem?
What is the unique set of qualities that makes this problem what it is and none other?
What milestones can best mark your progress?
How will you know when you are successful?