Archive for February, 2013
26th February 13
Posted in Insight
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
I recently saw the Bob Marley documentary that came out last year. Insightful, inspirational, touching stuff.
I was quite struck by a story relating to The Wailers’ early career in Kingston. Their manager would take them to rehearse late at night in the local cemetery. He believed that if they could conquer their fear of ‘duppies’ (spirits), they could also conquer any stage fright.
We often talk of advertising as a business fuelled by confidence. And it’s true. Confidence gives you the courage to be honest, to be different, to challenge conventions. Confidence is the foundation of sustained success.
But I have also found that the reverse is true: agencies run on fear.
Fear of corporate change, competitive threat and Client whim. Fear of forgetting, of fluffing one’s lines. Fear of fashion, of falling behind and falling apart. Fear of failure. Fear that the latest success may be the last. Fear of complacency, of hubris. Fear of lost relevance. Fear of irrelevance. Fear of redundancy. Not just losing your job, but losing your utility. Fear that your best years are behind you. And your worst meeting is in front of you.
As Nigel Bogle has been wont to warn, even in the good years, ‘We’re three phone calls away from disaster’.
I still go into every presentation with an awkward feeling in the pit of my stomach. And under sustained pressure I develop painfully itchy shins. Hardly the romance of a saint’s stigmata. Faintly ridiculous really. But nonetheless a physical manifestation of stress, anxiety, doubt.
John Hegarty once bumped into our Levi’s Client in Reception. The Client said he was worried because the proposed print route was a bit risky. Rather than reassure him that it wasn’t at all dangerous, John said, ‘You’re right. It is risky. I’m worried it might even be a mistake, possibly a disaster.’ And then he marched briskly on to his next meeting.
I think a successful business should be fuelled by confidence, but oiled by fear. The one delivers ambition, the other insures against complacency. I’m drawn to the same qualities in people too: I like enthusiasm, appetite ,optimism; tempered by a little self doubt, angst and humility. (‘Once a Catholic…’, I guess…)
“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
But whilst fear in moderation may be useful, attractive even, fear in excess is paralysing, corrosive. You see it in the eyes of the team whose competence has been questioned, whose business has been put up for pitch, whose job is on the line.
So I suspect we could still do with a little singing in the cemetery. We still need a means to confront our darkest paranoias, to defeat our deepest doubts. Of course in a modern, sanitised age we don’t have ‘duppies’, ghosts and ghouls. Maybe, post Freud, just articulating our misgivings is healthy. Maybe we ought to give more time to sharing our angst, anxieties, apprehensions.
Maybe I’m just singing in the cemetery right now…
16th February 13
Posted in People
“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
I remember extremely well how I felt when Ben told me BBH were hiring Griffin. A mixture of ‘Bam! Yes!’ delight and excitement, with a small sliver of anxiety thrown in. I really hoped we would be worthy of him.
At the time, Griffin already had a thoroughly interesting and useful model for modern planning that he’d explored in public on his own blog. He called it Propagation Planning – “plan not for the people you reach, but the people they reach” – and it made a ton of sense. He practised and preached it with an elegant simplicity. He wrote beautifully. He wore a cool hat in his Twitter avatar photo. He had a name that sounded like it belonged to a mythical, dragon-fighting Knight. So far, so intimidating.
Of course it turned out Griffin was all of these things – incredibly smart, ahead of his time, thoughtful and wise beyond his years. But, miraculously, not in the slightest bit intimidating. Rather, he was the most generous of men; kind and good-hearted. He also immediately made himself indispensable. I’m not sure anyone else can claim to have played a major role simultaneously in the main agency, BBH Labs and BBH Zag. Griffin got everywhere… he made a difference to everyone.
It’s a rare thing, knowing someone who is truly talented and truly generous in equal measure. Very clever and very kind. Some people can pull that perfect balance off every now and then. Griffin was like that every single day. When I think about him in the weeks and years to come, it’s this that I will not forget.
As the e-book below (made for Griffin in the midst of his fight against cancer) attests, everyone at BBH – particularly all his close colleagues and friends at BBH New York, plus a lucky few of us in London – will remember Griffin for the great work he did, his absolute commitment right to the very end, his gentle optimism and his courage in the face of such adversity. But mostly, like everyone who was lucky enough to know him, we will remember the overflowing love he had for his family and his huge capacity for friendship.
RIP, Griffin. It’s an honour to say we knew you.
Super Griffin eBook by Dean Woodhouse & Hugo Bierschenk, with the involvement of everyone at BBH New York.
5th February 13
Posted in collaboration
One of the most amazing things about the internet era is people coming together in unique and scalable combinations. Yet organizing crowds is much more difficult than most organizations imagine.
Few people know more about facilitating mass collaboration than Shaun Abrahamson, the CEO of Mutopo. When Shaun talks, we listen. In fact, sometimeswe even ride his coattails on the subject. Shaun recently co-authored a book called Crowdstorm. It was released yesterday, so we invited him to sit down for a Q&A.
You can purchase Crowdstorm here.
Q. Crowdsourcing is used as a label for an ever increasing universe. Where does crowdstorming fit in?
The best way to think about all the facets of crowdsourcing is in terms of what we’re asking participants to do. For example, in microwork, like mechanical turk, we’re asking people to do small things like, tell us if this is porn (to create content filters) or verify a business listing. In crowdfunding, like Kickstarter, we’re asking people for cash and influence (when they announce their support via the social webs). In collaborative consumption, like AirBnB, we’re often asking people to provide assets to be shared, and often their networks and reputation so that we may build trust.
In crowdstorming, we focus on actions that crowds can take in relation to ideas: finding ideas, finding people or organizations to come up with ideas, offering feedback and rating/ranking ideas. Crowdstorming can include ideas through a range of maturity, from the napkin stage through to early stage companies. While writing the book, we realized that some of the basic patterns were pretty old. They had been described by Alex Osborne (the “O” in BBDO) when he introduced the world to brainstorming just after WWII. Osborne was mostly concerned with small groups of people coming up with and evaluating ideas. We just see networked crowds where he saw folks in a conference room.
Q. So is crowdstorming a fancy name for idea contests?
I see contests as a subset of crowdstorming. Crowdstorming tends to fall into 3 broad buckets: search, collaborative, integrated. We think contests fall into the search bucket because they are mainly focused on searching for the best ideas (or candidates, partners, etc). Often the search process is desirable because we have something we can test. Think of XPrize or DARPA Grand Challenges – there are spaceships and robot cars that can compete to see who wins.
Other crowdstorms are more collaborative. This is often true when there aren’t prototypes to race through the desert or fire into space. The key is deciding as early as possible which concepts are worthy of additional time and investment. Following the 1-9-90 rule, think of this collaborative approach as benefiting from the 9 – the “editors” so to speak. Thus while the 1 may submit ideas, the 9 are engaged to provide feedback. And this feedback is used to refine and select ideas. LEGO Cuusoo is good example of a collaborative crowdstorm. It is not so much a contest, as it is a filter. People or teams pitch new LEGO product ideas. The Cuusoo community needs to give the idea 10,000 votes before an idea will be reviewed by the LEGO team. This is where LEGO Minecraft came from.
I use the word “community” quite deliberately here, because when you add feedback, you drastically increase the number of participants and interactions. And if you invite the same group back to pitch and evaluate multiple ideas, you see relationships form. Yes, you see a competitive dynamic, but also a lot more collaboration. And increasingly we see participants being rewarded for more than just their ideas. Just look at the payouts from Giffgaff, which cover a broad range of contribution types, like sales, support and unique participation in the idea processes.
Q. One of the most interesting themes in the book is how innovative organizations scale talent via non-employees. This is a major discussion topic amongst agencies and clients. What companies are doing this best that we can learn from?
I really think this is a question of what patterns you adopt and where in the process you look to outsiders. One of the best illustrations of this type of thinking comes from Quirky. They literally remapped the consumer product development process around where outside talent can provide the most value.
If we look at the process above, Quirky smartly and explicitly positions themselves as the support system for inventors. They know there are lots of difficult steps like industrial design, quality control and distribution negotiations that require their leadership and control. They can manage the risks and quality in these steps. But Quirky also figures out how to measure and reward participation in some specific roles where it knows the crowd can help. Interestingly, measurement and reward systems inside firms are starting to show similar elements – just take a look at Salesforce’s Work.com. I think as we get better at measurement, it will get easier to bring in outside talent to add value to any creative process.
In terms of the ad business, the process below shows Amazon’s approach to the production of filmed content at Amazon Studios. They are taking their expertise from ratings and reviews, and applying it to content development. And if you look at the role of crowdfunding in areas like film development, you can see another voting style. We tend to focus on the finance, but pre-selling also provides a strong indication of the potential of an idea.
Most of the crowdstorm processes we have discussed have focused on finding and evaluating ideas. This is useful, but we forget that behind the ideas are talented individuals. Startup accelerators like Techstars are running idea contests – this is how teams make it into their programs. But they are focused on the ideas as well as the talent. And they offer a different set of incentives to work together; unlike Quirky and Amazon, who own the resulting IP, accelerators just want a small share. They want the teams to take the ideas forward. Techstars recently teamed up with Nike+. Why? Yes, Nike needs developers for their Nike+ platform, but they need a different type of talent, too. In this case it’s talent that is willing to share risks. As a side benefit, Nike will be pitched loads of ideas, so they get to validate their own understanding of the space. And while they might give away ownership, they have tapped into talent that might never have considered working for Nike.
Q. Now a question every author should have to go on the record with…. Who’s your favorite Transformer?
I think I risk being redacted by not saying Optimus, right? But I always liked Wheeljack because he invented stuff, even it mostly didn’t work. But this wasn’t an obvious choice, so I poked around a bit and realized that his first incarnation was a Lancia Stratos Turbo. That car is the embodiment of taking risks and it mostly worked. And it still looks like it might turn into something else. So Wheeljack wins.
Special thanks to Shaun for sharing his thinking with us. If the above is of interest, consider downloading Crowdstorm here. (And thanks BBH Labs for already letting me come back and “guest blog”).