28th July 14
Posted in leadership
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman BBH London
I am not a leader.
It took me many years to realise it. Indeed I was in a position of some responsibility when the truth dawned. I finally understood that I am in a relationship business, but I’m uncomfortable with relationships; that I shrink from delivering bad news, when I should be characterising it as good; that I am emotionally squeamish, when leadership requires psychological strength. I was a disappointment to myself.
Despite, or perhaps because of, this revelation, I have remained interested in the art of leadership. What defines a great leader? How do you spot leadership potential? Can you train it, learn it, define it? I’m aware that a wealth of airport management books endeavour to answer these questions, but I confess I’ve never felt compelled to read them. Let me offer my own, admittedly simple, perspective on the subject.
In the course of my career I’ve been fortunate to have worked with quite a few great leaders. And I have to say that, on the face of it, they have little in common. Some were passionate and visionary, others were practical and pragmatic; some were sensitive and personal, others were pugnacious and combative. None was in any way a perfect paradigm. Indeed all have been flawed, often in very engaging ways.
But there was one particular thing they all shared. Their leadership style was consistently an extension of their own strong personalities. They were authentic, but they were also larger than life. Their very real virtues had found a louder voice, a bigger stage. They were hyperboles of themselves if you like.
Leadership in my experience is The Amplified Self.
This analysis has led me to a relatively straightforward piece of advice for the aspirant leader: establish what you’re good at and do it in a bigger, bolder way.
And yet this is easier said than done. ‘Know thyself’ was inscribed above the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It was a resonant maxim precisely because self knowledge is so difficult to achieve.
I probably spent the first ten years of my career working out what I had to offer professionally. However much my appraisals identified the occasional virtue, I couldn’t help concentrating on the cited shortcomings. Because they were the same shortcomings year after year: a sluggishness with spreadsheets and Harvard Graphics, a lack of commercial rigour in my arguments, a failure to make eye contact in meetings. Like a diligent student I would concentrate on addressing my weaknesses. But however hard I tried, with every passing year my appraisal changed very little. And I never did win that IPA Effectiveness Award…
I think there comes a point in everyone’s career when we give up addressing the faults we cannot correct, the blemishes we cannot wipe clean. The point in one’s career when one focuses on building on strengths and virtues, accentuating the positives rather than eliminating the negatives. And I think that’s the point that one finally gets to discover one’s true leadership potential.
If you think you have the charisma, stamina, vision and appetite to lead, don’t spend your time reading the text books, mimicking your predecessor, emulating your hero. Don’t be someone else’s shadow, their pale imitation. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.
Look in the mirror. Isolate your truest strengths, the ones that set you apart, that make you unique. And turn those strengths up to eleven.
Be your own Amplified Self.
30th May 14
Posted in strategy
Author, Jim Carroll, Chairman BBH London
First published in Advertising Week Europe supplement
I knew a man who never blinked. It was quite discomfiting. I’d not considered blinking that important until confronted with its absence. This chap just seemed a bit odd, a little lacking in emotion. Was he perhaps an android? When talking to him I couldn’t avoid the impression that he was unnaturally certain of his own opinions. And that that blind certainty was what I was finding unattractive. I realised that, whilst I like the self-assured, absolute certainty can be troubling, alienating, disturbing.
I guess that’s why I’ve always responded better to leaders who, though boundlessly confident, exhibit a sensitivity to risk and doubt, a consciousness of paths not taken. I’m rarely convinced by absolute conviction.
For similar reasons I feel certainty in advertising has always been fool’s gold. Claude Hopkins wrote Advertising Science back in the 1920s. And science has given us analytical tools and techniques that have dramatically enhanced our understanding of consumers and our ability to communicate effectively. But, however much we may wish it, science has never given us certainty.
I recently attended a stage adaptation of the great Henry Fonda movie, 12 Angry Men. At its heart it’s a celebration of reasonable doubt, and an indictment of the unreasonable certainty that so many people carry around with them. I was struck by the idea that reasonable doubt is a force for good in society. Because life is an ongoing navigation of trade-offs, dilemmas and contrary preferences. Life isn’t about certainty.
In our business I’ve seen how, many a time and oft’, the quest for unreasonable certainty has actually fostered doubt and indecision. The pursuit of total proof can close windows of opportunity and analysis paralysis can inhibit bold leaps forward.
Recently we have all been redesigning the marketing model. We have embraced the vision of a customer engagement system that is more connected, more targeted, more knowing and less wasteful. Something that learns, creates, adapts and distributes in real time. But we should not imagine that any new model will deliver unreasonable certainty. All models need ideas to animate them. And the best ideas occur at the intersection of logic and magic, at the meeting point of rationality and emotion.
What is exciting about the modern age of marketing is the opportunity it affords us to explore this happy interaction between art and science. At BBH we’ve been talking a lot about High Performance Creativity. We believe that technology enables a more intimate relationship between creativity and performance, and that that intimacy will generate better, more effective work. We believe that data should not just be big; it should be strategically insightful and creatively inspiring. We believe that performance measures should not be backward looking proofs, but live, forward-facing guides. We believe that, while High Performance Creativity cannot promise certainty, it can deliver incredible potency.
I’m reasonably certain about this.
10th March 14
Posted in Experiments
We’ve closed the garage door on our first experiment of 2014 over at thinky.do and there’s a post about what we learnt about bitcoin from our Open Wallet Experiment there. A few weeks ago we went public about our rebooted approach to experimentation, so what have we learnt about learning one month on?
First off, constraints are both good and bad, or, more accurately, helpful and limiting. We set ourselves the goal of thinking up and launching an experiment, in public, in a 4 week period. And, Yay us, we got it out of the door. Just. We might have had a better conceived, better executed experiment if we’d given ourselves more time, but we might also still be in idea generation phase, filling up whiteboards with hypotheticals and possibilities instead of results and learnings. We did it, it’s done, onto the next doing.
Second, the subject of the experiment. The extended Labs team were absolutely certain that Bitcoin was the right subject for our first foray. Everyone was talking about it, none of us understood it properly, this was our chance to learn. And learn we did. We now know how to buy it, look after it and spend it. We’ve also learnt that bitcoin is a hard thing to think about and a difficult tool to use for experimental purposes. Getting to grips with bitcoin took time and the technical restraints meant several ‘pivots’ before the Open Wallet Experiment got out there. And while we’re not bitcoin billionaires, we’re in a better position to talk to clients about the benefits and drawbacks of cryptocurrencies than we were in January.
And lastly, how we work. We couldn’t have done anything without help from a number of people. Colleagues in BBH, partners outside (particular thanks to the guys at MediaMonks for talking us through bitcoin practicalities), people who emailed and commented on the blog and our G+ page, all helped tremendously.
And so, on to Experiment No2. Trying to remember what we’ve learnt already, and not forget that each month we’re starting over, all over again.
10th March 14
Posted in Start ups
In his new book on creativity Sir John Hegarty cautions the creative industry to not become enthralled with technology, but instead allow technology to liberate great ideas. This is the idea behind Pie, a tool for modern teams to save and share inspiring finds and ideas.
Pie originated in the BBH ZAG bakery and we spoke with Pieter Walraven, formerly Product Director of BBH ZAG Asia, about the things he learned during his journey from an idea to a funded startup.
So what is Pie and how did you get the idea?
Pie is a link-sharing tool that helps teams share and organize the zillion things they see at work every day. At BBH me and Thijs Jacobs (former BBH Asia Pacific Head of Creative Technology) noticed that people are constantly sharing and discussing inspiring things over email. We loved the culture of sharing, but we saw that sharing ideas over email is broken. It clutters inboxes and relevant finds easily get buried. After talking to other companies and clients about this issue we learned that they have the same problem. This is when started thinking about a technology enabling an open culture of sharing with the bigger vision of liberating great ideas.
When you say you ‘started thinking about a technology’ what does that mean, how did you translate your idea into an actual product?
What we did early on was look at the current relevant software offerings out there such as Yammer and Sharepoint and didn’t really like what we saw – who decided that enterprise software has to be dull?! So we shifted our focus to consumer apps as they’re much better at creating a great user experience.
Obviously, we liked the visual aspect of Pinterest and found that boards are a great way to organize things. We’ve used elements from Pinterest and other popular consumer applications to design our first MVP and tested 2 hypotheses: ‘do people want to use this?’ and ‘will people be drawn in by the visual consumer-like design?’.
(An early iteration of the Pie MVP)
So you tested your assumptions, what was the next step? When did you actually set up Pie as a company?
To maximise our chances of building a successful global SaaS company we knew we had to raise external funding and attract top talent. Most high-profile strategic investors only invest in strong and autonomous founding teams so shortly after we’ve completed testing our MVP we set up Pie as a separate company with myself and Thijs as founders and major shareholders.
As we both have prior experience of tech startups our pitch deck was mainly focused on the founding team. It also included the positive market outlook – “Adoption of Social Enterprise is Booming” – and the findings of our MVP which consisted of both usage data and the interest of potential clients.
(Pie pitch deck: market opportunity slide)
For structuring our financing we used a model called convertible notes. A convertible note is basically a loan that converts into shares of preferred stock upon the closing of a the next round – Series A – round of financing. Here’s a great TechCrunch article on convertible notes with all the pros and cons.
After a few hectic and uncertain months we managed to raise our target of $800K from a list of notable investors including BBH Asia Pacific’s former ECD, Steve Elrick, a U.S.-based VC, Siemer Ventures, and Peng Tsin Ong, founder of Match.com and widely considered one of Asia’s most successful tech entrepreneurs.
So tell us a bit about your daily routine at Pie, what keeps you busy?
It might sound obvious, but I underestimated the amount of time I have to spend on hiring. Our culture is our most valuable asset and it takes time to carefully select people that match the rest of the team. Of course it doesn’t help that these kind of people already have a great job! Basically hiring great people takes time, but luckily it gets easier as Pie’s exposure grows and we gain more international traction.
(Pie’s stream where you can see what coworkers are collecting and sharing)
Other than hiring me and the rest of the Pie team are 100% focused on growth. Everything we do is directly or indirectly related to growing our user base. We’re constantly iterating on Pie to improve either the user engagement or the virality. We’ve also been writing and seeding content for our target audience to attract users and have had some success with this – we’ve been live for 1.5 months and over 700 companies are on Pie ranging from Spotify to Shell. We’re seeing companies saving and sharing industry news, innovations, market data, trends, but also funny videos. Companies such as Edelman and IDEO use Pie to keep track of market trends and collaborate around certain topics. Besides internal sharing they also use Pie to share inspiration and links to relevant articles with clients.
Proximity (BBDO) uses Pie to collect and organize UX best practices. They create boards with finds that can be used for later use. Before Pie was introduced people were storing things in email drafts or spreadsheets invisible for their coworkers to see. By collecting things on boards knowledge that was previously hidden in silos now gets exposed to the rest of the team.
(A library of posts collected by a team on a ‘collaborative board’)
26th February 14
Posted in Experiments
A few weeks ago we blogged about our recommitment to Labs experiments and our new ‘hit-and-run’ approach to experimentation. And now we’re pleased to say that our first experiment is now live, though there were, of course, some hurdles and hiccups on the way.
If you’ve been following the progress of this experiment on thinky.do you’ll know that we decided to make bitcoin the subject of our first field test. This subject came with certain technical and epistemological issues – it’s not all that easy to get hold of bitcoins even assuming you’ve understood what they are for and what you can do with them.
But we are interested in whether the very nature of cryptocurrency transactions – anonymous, underground, based on algorithmic trust rather than human relationships – leads to behaviours that can be best described as, er, shady. Or whether given the chance, perhaps the bitcoin community will prove itself as wholesome as a troop of Boy Scouts.
So we’ve set up bitcoin wallet (address and QR code below) into which anyone can make a payment.. We’re going to leave this wallet up and open until midday on sunday (assuming that all goes well!) and at the end of that time, everything in the wallet will be converted into ‘real money’ and donated to the Disaster Emergency Committee.
Wallet address - 19xnfvdAHitNErAGEhVnfkeBSTL8VVv8yV
But we’re also going to do something possibly very ill advised and release the key for this wallet into the wild, meaning that anyone with the wallet address (ie anyone) and the key (ie anyone!) can both donate and withdraw money to and from the wallet. No-one should try this at home!
We’ll be posting frequent stats on activity in the wallet and while we can’t identify individuals, we can identify wallet addresses. So we’ll see how many donations are coming in, how many are leaving and we’ll be able to hero addresses giving generously and identify those wallet addresses taking advantage of this open experiment.
Bitcoin wallet key - 2G6uK7QwKRPntaS7drFSUVsUf24ZVmEaK8gET2K2Uj4w
So, let’s go – the wallet is open and so is the key. We’re not sure what’s going to happen next, but we’re looking forward to finding out.
UPDATE: This post went live at 16.24 and we tweeted about it at 16.27. It took less than 30mins for the 0.01 bitcoin (just over $5) to be withdrawn by a user with the wallet address 1NYR7RF4pdc1i923qGhnkkakCqDLL9dd45. Thanks for taking part :-/
7th February 14
Posted in robotify.me
Tyrell: Would you … like to be upgraded?
Batty: I had in mind something a little more radical.
Tyrell: What … what seems to be the problem?
Blade Runner, 1982
Robotify.me – what we did, what we learned and what we’re doing now
In December 2012 we launched robotify.me, an experiment to test our hypothesis that seeing social media behaviour visualized could actually influence and change those behaviours. Perhaps, we asked ourselves, data visualisation might reveal surprising nuances of social media behaviour which might otherwise be overlooked?
How would it feel to compare activity – likes, links, retweets, checkins, photos – with the rest of the group’s data? Would the transparency of the visualisation cause any changes in social behaviour? Would inveterate retweeters be shamed into posting more original content? Could we encourage more checking in, more posting of photographs, more liking by visualising the effect that it had on the robot?
Robotify.me was also another opportunity to learn and experiment with process. Could we create a service rather than a campaign? Could we work fast and lean and create a mvp? Could we create a product without a brief, without a client?
A little over a year on, the answers to some of these questions are in. The first thing to say is thanks. Thanks to the team who worked so hard (and gave their time so generously) on robotify.me and thanks to everyone who took part in this project. Thousands of you created robots and we loved seeing the project come to life, reading the tweets, hearing your thoughts and feedback on this thing we’d made.
Much of what we learned is displayed in the infographics accompanying this post and some of our early learnings were incorporated into changes we made live on the robotify site in the early go-live days and weeks. Perhaps our major learning was to do with storytelling – if we wanted people to learn a little about themselves we should, perhaps, have shown more, and told more explicitly. Knowing when to intrigue and when to explain is something we will take with us in the future.
We also learned that when you have a team with demanding day jobs it’s impossible to schedule daily scrums and the focus and scheduling required for an iterative workflow are not easily applied to side projects. When we plan future Labs experiments (and more on that very, very soon) we’ll definitely be thinking about the sorts of projects that lend themselves to a leaner approach. Stretch is good, but restraints will help define scope from the very beginning.
So, we’re going to be pulling down the shutters on this particular garage and disassembling the robotifier, cleaning down the work surfaces and wiping down the whiteboard in preparation for a new swathe of Labs experiments, robotify learnings fresh in our minds. We’ll be keeping the service up in it’s current form for another month, so you can still create a new robot, revisit your robot mirror-self or download and print out your robots for your digital files.
Finally, thanks again for supporting our Robotify.me experiment.
Bleep. And out.