Got an email from Canvas Replicas at work yesterday. I had forgotten these companies existed:
Got an email from Canvas Replicas at work yesterday. I had forgotten these companies existed:
I’m late to the Zappos party. But my aversion, borderline phobia, of shopping in brick and mortar stores (especially for clothes) pushed me there — and now I’m seeing how they infuse a service-y charm to everything they do. I got these two emails in the space of 24 hours:
Way back in the day, when Richard Nixon was president and Timex took a licking and kept on ticking, Don Novello (aka Father Guido Sarducci) created the pen name Lazlo Toth and prank-lettered everyone: Elvis, the KFC Colonel, Sammy Davis Jr, and on and on. He wrote fight songs for Richard Nixon knowing what a football fan he was, he mailed Timex about the commercial where the guy on the beach finds a watch with a metal detector and it’s still working (Lazlo claimed it was his). The letters were published and the book was a days-long laugh track.
There’s a modern equivalent that I didn’t know about until today. Spoof Amazon reviews, featured at buzzfeed. For Tuscan milk, one user wrote:
I’m pretty sure I don’t understand this one, but I had to close the door to my office to keep from embarassing myself with my new co-workers snorting and laughing. The product:
A friend recently pinged me about a tweet of mine highlighting a Read/Write/Web article on a fully automated hotel. Late in the article was a line that kind of creeped her out: “While most will agree that some automation is a boon, the disagreement may lie in what aspects of our interactions should be meat-free.” Meat free, she chatted me, wha?!?!? (Or something like that.)
The idea of characterizing real-life, non-digital, body-based things as meat originates, I think, with William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Case and Molly are talking about SimStim, a rigging that transmits the nervous system sensations of one person to another. Molly asks Case, the hacker, why he’s not flat out fascinated with the stuff and he shrugs, dunno “it’s a meat thing, I guess.”
Yesterday the NY Times had an editorial about Scotland’s opposition to a permanent daylight savings plan in the UK. The whole discussion is a meat thing. The UK proponents think people will be happier and more energy efficient “with lighter afternoons and darker mornings”. The Scot opponents hasten to remind people that for a big chunk of the year, they won’t get the warmth, cheeriness and vitamin D of sunlight until 10.
As Case says later in the book: “It’s the meat talking. Don’t listen to it.”
I do a lot of trainings and workshops for Boulder Digital Works. One of the trademarks of all the BDW programs is immersion and interaction. Every day, we try to have breakout sessions where people work together to solve a problem, figure something out, or brainstorm ideas. Then they report back to the larger group. One of the tricky pieces about breakout sessions and reports is that they can turn into simple reports of what the group talked about, simply capturing all the ideas that came up. That’s great if you’re looking to generate ideas, but if you’re trying to get groups to think differently, or try out new ideas and frameworks for thinking about things, or tee up conversations that help to figure out priorities, this can be a little loose.
I’ve recently started working constraints into breakouts. Remembering the Steve Jobs line about focus:
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done.
In that spirit, a lot of breakouts I do ask groups to “to pick the top 3 things” or “choose one action in each of these three areas”.
Making lists create interesting dynamics that can create self-awareness, force people to expose their logic and thinking, and highlight otherwise overlookable differences between two groups.
The NY Times recently did an exercise in which music critics tried to figure out the 10 most important classical music composers of all time. In an area as snobby as classical music, there was a wonderful self-awareness of how ridiculous these kinds of exercises are, (see Dead Poets Society clip: “I like Byron, I give him a forty-two, but I can’t dance to it.”) while still embracing the fun of the conversation. Sports fans love to do make lists and baseball statistics nuts will argue endlessly about the tenth spot in a top ten list for greatest second basemen. Rob Fleming, owner of Championship Vinyl in High Fidelity has lots of memorable lists — though the nature of the list was usually funnier and more interesting than the list itself.
Still, lists can be fun and useful. Check out the NY Times greatest composer article to see how they can be fun.
First, the self-awareness of the silliness and the value of the exercise:
I began this project with bravado, partly as an intellectual game but also as a real attempt to clarify — for myself, as much as for anyone else — what exactly about the master composers makes them so astonishing. However preposterous the exercise may seem, when I found myself debating whether to push Brahms or Haydn off the list to make a place for Bartok or Monteverdi, it made me think hard about their achievements and greatness.
Wrestling with the difficult choice of numbers 2 and 3, the question was who comes out on top, Mozart or Beethoven?
The obvious candidates for the second and third slots are Mozart and Beethoven. If you were to compare just Mozart’s orchestral and instrumental music to Beethoven’s, that would be a pretty even match. But Mozart had a whole second career as a path-breaking opera composer. Such incredible range should give him the edge.
Still, I’m going with Beethoven for the second slot. Beethoven’s technique was not as facile as Mozart’s. He struggled to compose, and you can sometimes hear that struggle in the music. But however hard wrought, Beethoven’s works are so audacious and indestructible that they survive even poor performances.
This sounds remarkably like the Babe Ruth Barry Bonds debate the SABREMetrics folks did. The numbers for Bonds are ahead of Ruth’s (and longer), but Ruth was a pitcher, and even pitched in the World Series.
An interesting note how even setting the parameters can change the tenor of the discussion:
I’m running out of slots. In some ways, as I wrote to one reader, either a list of 5 or a list of 20 would have been much easier. By keeping it to 10, you are forced to look for reasons to push out, say, Handel or Shostakovich to make a place for someone else.
His top five, in order, were Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Debussy, at which point the next five got tricky.
In ranking the “dynamic duo of 19th century opera”, character came into the equation in terms of who comes out on top:
But who ranks higher? They may be tied as composers but not as people. Though Verdi had an ornery side, he was a decent man, an Italian patriot and the founder of a retirement home for musicians still in operation in Milan. Wagner was an anti-Semitic, egomaniacal jerk who transcended himself in his art. So Verdi is No. 8 and Wagner No. 9.
And when he got to number 10, he faced the problem of all the people who would never make the list: Haydn, Ligeti (I had never heard of him, so there’s another great thing about list-making, even the exclusions help you learn), Messiaen, Shostakovich, Ives, Schoenberg, Prokofiev, Copland, and Monteverdi . . . all in favor of Bartok
Make lists, force priorities and hard choices and get people to explain them. Lots to learn, lots of spirited conversation.
Over the last year, I’ve become a huge fan of Evernote(*). It’s part of my collaborative ecosystem. This video from Aviary.com has a nice scenario for how people are connecting the dots with a cloud-based tool like Evernote pulling it together. Only 0:46. Also, I like how the whiteboard is used as a giant notepad on the table:
(Evernote started as a web clipping service and has evolved into a cloud-based note-taking, image-saving, freemium service. I’ve used it to take notes, save whiteboard image pictures, start drafts of documents. Still missing: blog connection, DevonPro like free associative search.)
“If you can’t give a compelling version of your opponent’s argument, you really haven’t thought through your own position.” – M Gelb
“the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function [is] a sign of a first-rate intelligence” – F Scott Fitzgerald
Two articles come to me today, reminding us that recruiting and hiring is only half (maybe less) of the equation. You need to cultivate talent to win, and A teams often have deep roots with each other and the culture. The first piece is from the Today show of all places and I have no idea why my friend @jpfrenza was there, but he tweeted this piece. It’s a look at where players from the four championship football teams come from — and half of them were drafted (meaning hired right out of college and cultivated, developed, invested in, and trained) as opposed to being traded.
This is hardly scientific (there are no comparisons to the losing teams), there are notable counter-examples (the Yankees, for one (addition: see note below)), and there’s no apparent cause. When @jpfrenza tweeted it, he teed it up as a choice of stealing or growing talent. The author of the article posited that loyalty is what you get out of a draft. There’s also the possibility that teamwork counts for something. (That sheds a light on the Yankee example. They’re pretty successful buying their way into pennant and championship races, but baseball requires less on-field team work than football – maybe.) Unproven, but interesting nevertheless.
But this morning, a news alert at work points me to a Business Week interview with Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP:
When we buy a company, we always think of it as buying the team. Advertising and communications is a people business. Of course, people are cyclical, and partners in a business can change—especially when they become wealthy. We spend about $9 billion annually on people, but we don’t spend enough time evaluating that investment. The conventional wisdom in our business is if you need people, you poach them. The industry will not survive long term unless we change this attitude.
Which reminds me of this from Chairman Jobs, back in 1995 (recently blogged/tweeted/statused from @arainert):
Q. So you think your talent is in recruiting?
SJ. It’s not just recruiting. After recruiting, it’s building an environment that makes people feel they are surrounded by equally talented people and their work is bigger than they are. The feeling that the work will have tremendous influence and is part of a strong, clear vision — all those things.
Recruiting usually requires more than you alone can do, so I’ve found that collaborative recruiting and having a culture that recruits the A players is the best way.
Interesting thought on the Yankees. While their strategy of the last ten years has been to acquire talent and buy their way into a winning team, their strongest, most successful, (and most exciting) years were in the late 90′s – a period when much, much more of their talent came from their farm system.
I work in the corporate headquarters of a network/holding company. So the offices have a lot of heavy wood and serious meeting rooms. As a matter of course, the boardroom always has blotters, notepads, and cups of pencils (points up so as not to blunt them) perfectly sharpened and identical lengths.
In keeping with that serious, weighty tone, we have these water glasses:
The glass, as you might imagine is heavy, very heavy. It’s so heavy, in fact, that the difference between a full glass of water and an empty glass in the hand is imperceptible. Visually, there’s so much refraction and distraction that you can barely tell that that is in fact a full glass of water. This lack of information — the weight in my hand, and the visual cues of water level — has me regularly putting an empty glass of water to my mouth, trying to sip off the top of what turns out to be an empty glass.
Not such a big deal. I guess one of the hazards of ever having been an interaction designer (which for me was about 4 years ago), is that you never stop noticing that kind of stuff.