technology

Dreams from the land of Geektopia

or

How I went to Austin expecting to learn about browsers and came back wanting to change the world.

Author: Agathe Guerrier, Strategy Director, BBH & BBH Labs


I went to SXSW for the first time this year, with the firm intention to learn about UX, data visualization trends, and new, exciting browser features. As I landed in Austin, I couldn’t wait to find out more about the native vs. web-based apps debate.

In reality, although clearly there WAS a lot of talk of browsers and coding languages and apps, I  found myself confronted with a much more fundamental subject: that of meaning and purpose. More than acquire new knowledge, I was filled with new enthusiasm (and a little bit of concern) about the task that lies at hand – basically, redefining the rules of our economic, political and societal framework. Rethinking the world. Yup. Something that we need (the creative and tech community) need to take part in for two reasons: because the last 10 years have demonstrated the need for a new paradigm, and because the growing importance of technology in our world, means it now intersects significantly with world views, beliefs, and ethics.

Take the “Skynet vs. Mad Max: Battle for the Future” dual session (by our very own Mel and Jeremy). It drew a parallel between the small, apparently benign technology choices we make today as consumers, and the future of the human species. Who imagined that buying an iPhone represented a leap towards a world where individual identity would be reduced to one login, one identity, one self, the scary simplicity of this system ultimately leading to totalitarianism? It’s removed, but not far-fetched.

Tim O’Reilly, in his fantastic “Create More Value than you Capture” discussion with Andrew Mcafee, made a powerful case for embedding social good and genuine value(s) in all businesses. He pointed to a brilliantly obvious truth: it’s enthusiasm and passion that fuel creativity, not greed. For the sake of the social equilibrium that it depends upon, the objective of a business can not simply be profit, it has to create value for society at large, as well as for itself.

Ben Silbermann (CEO and co-founder of Pinterest) took part in a Q&A session with Christopher Dixon and kept surprising us with disarmingly candid answers to “hard-nosed” questions. When asked what product feature he was most excited about developing, he answered it was his team, because “your team should be the most interesting product you’re building”. A few minutes later, brushing away a question about whether he was concerned by the various attempts to copy or rip off Pinterest, he explained that their effort went into improving the product and making it the best it could be, not preventing others to imitate it. In his eyes, success comes from putting all your efforts into making your product and experience brilliant, and if others copy you, it probably means you’ve got it right.

And finally, against a backdrop of high risk, economic worries and general breakdown, I was surprised at how optimistically confused Bruce Sterling’s Ultimate talk left us all.  He forecasted a move away from the chaotic “internet” and towards vertical stacks or platforms like Google, Amazon, or Facebook (more organized, less messy – an echo to the Skynet vs. Mad Max talk and its crowd-sourced prediction of Skynet’s victory)… but also the ulterior demise of stacks.

He didn’t say what they would be replaced with, but this legendary cynic seemed pretty optimistic about the ability of the interactive community to make sense of the “augmented, ubiquitous, post-stack future”.

In building this uncertain “new world”, we might find inspiration in community-based, generous value creation models like Kickstarter, Airbnb, or Task Rabbit (which were unanimously praised as the most inspirational things to have happened in the last 5 years).

But there is still a lot of work at hand, especially for our industry, in translating the inspiration from Geektopia  into actionable ethics for the world of brands…

In the spirit of starting small, here are three things I’m going to start or do more of:

  1. 1. Get rid of any obsession with single-mindedness, and make sure to respect people’s intelligence by recognizing that “There is not one You”, as Christopher Poole pointed out
  2. 2. Broaden the definition  of “Business objective” to entail the creation of value and values for consumers and society at large, not just profit for the company
  3. 3. Behave more generously everyday, by building great teams and empowering them to create and make even greater things

Tech interns, we need you.

Authors: Gabor Szalatnyai (Creative Technology) & James Mitchell (Strategy), BBH London & BBH Labs

Here at Labs, we make a lot of stuff for other people and brands, but, now and then, we like to build experiments – additional stuff we love so much, we take extra time and pull late nights to see it done. We do this because sometimes, we want to test a theory,  because we want to test our capabilities, and because we want to make something cool.

With one very special project, we’re ready to begin the making and we’re going to spend the next three months doing just that.  Which is why we we’d like some inspirational new talent to come and intern with us in London to help out.  We are embarking on a project with Rails and MongoDB on the backend and HTML5 on the front.  We would expect you to have previous projects using these, and if you are confident with CoffeeScript, Sass and Javascript game engines (craftyjs, gameQuery, renderEngine,) you’ll enjoy the coding even more.  We are managing source code with git on GitHub, so prepare your branching and merging skills too!

But this role is about more than the build.  We’ll work iteratively on this, so we’ll be testing and learning as we go.  This means you’ll be working with the team to prototype, test, bend and break – modifying and bettering the experiment at every stage.  We’ll expect you to have a major impact on the idea itself.  You’ll have the freedom to implement any technical solution that solves the problem, to work with the entire team to make sure the thing doesn’t just happen, but happens better.

Why work with us? Because we hope you’ll agree the project is cool, the team is a diverse and interesting one, and the use of data is, as far as we know, something that’s never been tried before.  And, at the end of it all, you’ll get to put your name against something very special.

To apply, please send a nice message (with your GitHub username and/or some work) to **labs.intern@bartleboglehegarty.com**, and we’ll have a chat about what we’re trying to build.  If you have any more questions, drop them in the comments.  Thanks!

Hegarty on Advertising: Turning Intelligence Into Magic

“Do not go gentle into that good night, but rage against the dying of the light”
~ Dylan Thomas, quoted in Hegarty in Advertising

Sir John’s book, “Hegarty on Advertising”, goes on sale on Monday.

He would be first person to say this is no ‘how-to’ manual, but rather his own story: packed with no holds barred opinion, behind the scenes anecdotes and strongly held principles to work by. There’s no crystal ball gazing, instead a distillation of what he’s learned in 45 years in the business. As such we found it a dose in humility for the here and now: a grip on history that, as ever, sets the future in context.

Despite his protestation this isn’t a manual, several ideas and themes emerge that have a hell of a lot to teach the rest of us: what makes a successful start-up, the humanization of the workplace, how to approach technology and stay abreast of innovation, the role of difference and ‘creative destruction’, the impact of globalization, why ideas matter and more.

We asked him to shed a little more light on some of these themes. In doing so, we thought we’d see if we could put one of his most firmly held views to the test; his belief that “words are a barrier to communication”. We have no idea if this is going to work, but here goes – our first interview response without words.

What do you mean by “creative destruction”?

“Creativity isn’t an occupation, it’s a pre-occupation” – can you explain what you mean by this?

If you started an agency today, what would it be like?

Is there a single piece of work you think defines you?

Where do you look for inspiration?

You say the way creative thinking gets deployed “will always be a continually moving target.. to nail your colours to any particular medium or technology will sow the seeds of your destruction”. So how should we engage with technology?

And, finally, you say you can’t name all the people you’d like to thank, but if there had to be one (okay, perhaps a couple), who would it be?

Sketches are by Sir John Hegarty

For more about the book: www.hegartyonadvertising.com