How I Lost My Reason But Found My Passion

Clearly one and the same thing cannot act or be affected in opposite ways at the same time in the same part of it and in relation to the same object; so if we find these contradictions, we shall know we are dealing with more than one faculty.- Plato’s Republic

When I was at Oxford I was very lucky to be able to take a paper on Plato’s Republic. I didn’t know at the time what a profound impact those two months, punctuated by weekly tutorials with classical philosophy expert Paulo Crivelli would have on me. Oxford tuition is incredibly intense because it asks you to produce two papers a week about a topic that is completely new to you, and defend it with experts on the subject. When I wasn’t in the dusty, and slightly crusty environment of the Oxford Philosophy library, I was in my bedroom, surrounded by dog-eared books. I spent copious amounts of time making notes, notes that I still have today.

I got into Philosophy out of a desire to answer the big questions I had in my life. I was nineteen years ago, I’d come out the year previously, and to be honest, I didn’t really know who I was. I didn’t have a real guiding principle. If I was completely honest, I didn’t know how I had ended up at Oxford and if I really wanted to be there. Yet here I was immersed in studying the translation of a translation of a translation of a philosopher who was alive around 2,500 years. And I was finding it incredibly relevant to my own life.

Through the Republic, Plato was really trying to answer what makes a good and just person. And in that he gets involved in a discussion about the soul. Now, Plato firmly believed that the body and soul were two distinct things, and that the soul existed before the body. This is where a lot of people lose attention and decide that Plato was a bit nuts, usually drawing on a bit of Karl Popper along the way. But Plato didn’t really intend us to get caught up in those kind of distinctions. You can substitute ‘soul’ for ‘person’ and it all works just as well.

Plato argued that there were three parts of the person, each with its own characteristics and with each having its own function. There is a rational part, which is responsible for calculating and ruling the rest of the body. The rational part wants the person to achieve a higher good, and to know what truth is. It’s really the right person to be in charge. It’s your body’s Scrum Leader.

Then there’s an appetitive part – the bit that wants food, drink and sex, and doesn’t do any kind of calculation of its own. Sure, we all need to eat and have sex, but if that part of us was in charge, I think we can all agree that there would be problems.

It’s the third part however that has bewitched philosophers and thinkers over the years, and that’s this idea of Thumos. Thumos is a word without a literal translation, but it’s a feeling we all recognise. Some people have called it “spiritedness” or “anger” but that doesn’t seem to capture it. It’s part of the music of our lives – a feeling within us that defies rational explanation.

It’s a fearless, courageous part of us, defined by its courage and sheer indomitability. And by God, we notice when it has gone. When its gone, we lack purpose and passion. We lack self-esteem direction, vision, concreteness. It’s the continued frustration of this that causes us to be dissatisfied in our personal relationships and our work. It’s the primary cause of both burnout and revolutions.

Like many of you, I’ve worked in jobs where I’ve been aware of my own Thumos – for better of worse. We’ve all experienced the feeling of being really fired up to go to work and solve hard problems, and we’ve all worked in environments where we’ve felt like we’re battling against our own indifference. Often we say that it’s time to get out at that point, but it’s not always that easy.

The modern workplace, with its emphasis on ‘agile’, ‘sprints’ , ‘burndowns’ and ‘deliverables’ (I don’t mean to pick on agile here, really) neglects the importance of Thumos. You may have completed your set amount of ‘Story Points’ for the week, but where is the sense of achievement if you don’t really feel like you’ve accomplished anything?

There’s a real problem with workplace productivity today, yet we have never had so many ways (from tea breaks to music to progressive working policies and working from home) or so much literature written about boosting it. Could it be that in our drive to make people more productive, we’ve actually ended up squashing their passion for doing the job?

Of course, it’s vitally important that we don’t allow our sense of Thumos to wander out of control. We need the rational part of our brain, just as we need to keep ourselves fed and watered. But there are days when I’ve come home and found that my life is lacking a sense of passion and purpose. Maybe you’ve felt the same?

The Biggest Mistake Leaders Make When Listening

Can I ask you a question: how often do you really listen to people?

To be really brief, I’ve worked with many, many business leaders who class themselves as great listeners.

It’s always seems to be in the top five phrases a leader uses to define themselves (along with ‘strong and clear leadership’).

The interesting thing though is that often, when I speak to their employees, they often feel that they aren’t actually connecting that well with their leader. They feel like they haven’t got a voice in company decision-making.

I don’t believe that many leaders mean to come over as insensitive or uncaring when they listen. A lot of the time, I don’t even actually think they know they’re doing it.

There’s just a part of them that hits autopilot about a third of the way through the conversation, where they subconsciously move from listening to preparing the answer in their head.

What they don’t realise a lot of the time is that the person on the other end of the conversation isn’t seeking to be heard, but to be understood.

These are subtly, but critically, different. They’re seeking to feel that they have a level of control. They’re seeking to feel like the leader understands them and their story. They’re trying to find a partner on that journey.

Often, the last thing they’re looking for is advice – or a canned leadership mantra. And when you give that to people, you really are doing them an incredible disservice.

You’re stopping short of throwing yourself fully into the conversation. You think you’re talking to the other person, but you’re subconsciously talking about you.

And neither of you are really getting value out of the exchange.

It’s not difficult to resolve. It begins with a pause before speaking.

A second longer to reflect on what the other person has said and formulating a response.

A deeper understanding of what is required of you out of that exchange.And that’s really it.

Staying Power Is What Counts

It can be difficult to find investors with the right staying power. For us investors, it can be difficult to find entrepreneurs with the right amount of staying power too. We want to see a long term commitment to the industry, to the product. It invariably tends to be the startups that  have set up looking for a rapid exit that have the most trouble getting the exit they want.

Both sides, theoretically, in a venture deal, have a vested interest in a quick exit. The VC gets its investment back, does not have to lower its liquidity for long, and has plenty of cash to put into the next venture along the line.

The entrepreneur wants a rapid exit too – they are aware that the market is looking for signals that their business is viable, that there is a market for it, and that there is a profit to be made from the business. Nothing does that quite as well as having a gaggle of potential suitors hanging around.

But, there is maybe good reason to believe that both sides looking for a rapid exit might be a counterintuitive approach. By looking too hard for an exit too early in the business, it is possible to risk the health of the business and stunt growth.

I’ve always believed in the power of what we call ‘staying power’ – what this in fact refers to is a family of related beliefs about what the role of a VC should be, and how they should be prepared to take a role in safeguarding the health of their investment.

VCs should see their investment as a long term commitment to the health of the business. This support should be given by opening up contact books, providing business advice, providing liquidity when required, and through building a long term relationship with the startup.

The emphasis here is on long term. While quick exits sometimes happen, they are very much the exception, rather than the norm. Both investors and entrepreneurs need to be prepared for a long, hard slog in getting a business to exit.

Although there has been a dramatic improvement in the economic climate in recent times, there is still a feeling that many of the larger problems have been papered over, and that there are still some major challenges ahead.

There is still a distinct lack of IPO opportunities in the venture market, and acquisitions are a lot lower priced than they were. This had led many venture capitalists to reserve money for their later-stage investments. By doing this, venture capitalists are storing up trouble for the future.

Building a world class company and positioning for exit is not something that ever has been, or ever will be, easy. This is particularly the case in difficult economic climates. Organisations need a sustained record of growth and profitability.

None of this comes overnight. This kind of growth and profitability requires more than a few late nights. It requires a company to lay the foundations, through managing their reputation, building traction, and turning this into a serviceable, sustainable, scalable business model. When that scale happens, the truly hard work begins, as organisations are forced to effectively localise to different business ecosystems.

Social Slipstreaming

There has been a lot of talk recently around the idea of ‘Teens Don’t Tweet.’ Fifteen year old Matthew Robson’s Report for Morgan Stanley, How Teenagers Consume Media, which relayed the conversations of the 200 or so people in Robert’s year to the wider investment banking and the world, sent shockwaves through the media community also. One of the key findings of the report was that Twitter, a platfom which has shown explosive growth, and now finds itself increasingly becoming part of the established web infrastructure, is not used by teenagers at all.

This was a key theme which ran through the discussion at the Media140 conference which I attended yesterday. A number of the questions which were being asked referenced the idea that ‘Twitter is not a cool platform,’ or that ‘Twitter is not something which is used by young people.’ A consensus seemed to emerge throughout the day that different social networking platforms were good for targeting certain people.

What did not seem to be answered, however, way why this was the case. No one seems to have attempted to answer in a meaningful way why it is that Twitter is less ‘cool’ for young people. As far as I can see at least, there is no reason to be found in the way Twitter presents itself – Twitter presents itself as quite a ‘young’ looking tool, has a ‘young’ language which surrounds it (think ‘tweets’ and ‘follows’ rather than LinkedIn’s ‘recommendations’ and ‘connections’). Sure, Twitter has older people on it too, and this might lead some people to say that younger people find Twitter ‘irrelevant,’ but Gen Y are capable of moving at such speed that they could easily establish a critical mass of people anywhere if they.

In some senses also, Twitter allows a greater customisation of one’s core profile page than Facebook does – it allows people to change the CSS styles, and background image in a way that bears some relation to MySpace’s offering.

So, on the face of it, Twitter failing to achieve a significant following amongst Gen Y is something of a mystery. Twitter, it seems should have done better. There are plenty of reasons why one might think that Twitter should have taken off amongst Gen Y. Twitter seems to have all the peripheral elements to take off amongst Gen Y, but simply, thus far, hasn’t done so. This has been read as fact by marketing analysts, many of whom have simply given up on Twitter as a platform for engaging with Generation Y on (though many are still trying). When pushed for an explanation, they will tend to say that Twitter isn’t ‘cool,’ although Gen Y’s sense of cool is very fluid, and besides, Twitter seems to have the elements to be cool.

Why then, hasn’t Twitter taken off amongst Gen Y? I think that this is a question which certainly can be answered, and that it answering it, we can help to explain some meaningful concepts which surround Gen Y’s engagement and use of these kinds of platforms.

The main reason why Twitter has not taken off amongst Gen Y actually, in my opinion, cuts at the heart of why Generation Y use social networking. It is not a question of cool at all, but more a question of function. Facebook better provides for the needs of Generation Y, and what they require from the technology than Twitter. Generation Y use social networking for social slipstreaming. They use tools such as Facebook to track what people who they think are influential in terms of their fashion and social life are saying about the latest trends, or the latest party, or why she is wearing that dress, or which band they should like. Crucially also though, they are looking to track the responses to that, which come in Facebook, back and forth, in the form of the comments module. Critically too, Facebook will tell you when you have a response, meaning that valuable seconds are not spent checking for responses to messages, and facilitating live, public, IM-like conversations.

On Facebook, status updates are increasingly being used in the same way as they are on Twitter. They are manifesting themselves less as ‘how am I doing,’ and more ‘this is what I am thinking’ and ‘this is the statement which I would like to make.’ Think about the two different technologies, and the choice architecture which they offer people. Facebook, through its News Feed, offers a quick, easy, and live way in which to see what a circle of peers your age think about something, and the key discussions which are taking place around this. This functionality makes it easy to dive in and comment on just about anything, and people don’t have to worry about the length of their responses. These responses are also instantly public. For Gen Y, this also makes any sort of live event, such as X Factor, an absolute joy, as group dicussions abound.

A similar kind of experience is impossible through Twitter. Twitter offers a very linear stream of activity, and only allows you to send messages back and forth between individuals. Creating and sustaining any kind of group discussion is impossible on Twitter is impossible. Increasingly though, swarm like Gen Y are coming to thrive on, and depend on such discussions to guide their social decision making. The reason why Twitter has not taken off amongst Gen Y is a question of  ‘cool’, but a question of function.



iPad is sui generis

David Pogue, the celebrated technology writer and columnist, wrote two reviews of the iPad for the New York Times ahead of its release in April. One of these reviews he aimed at what he called techies, the other he aimed at everyone else. He famously began both reviews with the words: ‘The iPad is basically a gigantic iPod Touch.’

iPhone developers might be comforted by this interpretation. If the iPad is essentially a scaled up iPod Touch, the design work becomes straightforward. The design ‘transformation’ becomes merely a case of scaling the size of the app up. Apple even seemed to endorse this approach by allowing iPod Touch and iPhone apps to run in double size on iPad. While appealing, designers should resist the temptation to do this.

After a few months of daily usage, I can conclude that iPad needs to be treated as sui generis by developers. The increased screen space, processor power and battery life engenders new functions, capabilities and robustness that would be unachievable on iPhone or iPod Touch.

iPad is also unique because it brings a certain category of computing into situations in our life where there would previously have been no comparable alternative. iPad, lest we forget, is a device which can be pulled out in the doctor’s waiting room, or on the daily commute with a very low transaction cost. It is one of a rare class of devices which change the way you think about how technology forms a part of your day.

In design and marketing, we talk a lot about a concept called usage occasions. A usage occasion is, broadly speaking, a situation when a consumer would be willing and able to use a product. In this sense, the form factor of iPad has opened up a new usage occasion for a more robust kind of mobile computing than would be possible on iPhone or iPod Touch.

But does this mean the design itself should be different, one might ask? Does design for iPad have divergent imperatives from design for iPod touch and iPhone? iPhone apps are designed primarily to make certain that end users never felt limited by a 3.5 inch form factor. iPad apps serve a different purpose – namely to use iPad’s improved screen size and chipset to deliver rich native functionality.

Developers have started to acknowledge that iPad offers a unique set of possibilities and adjust practices accordingly. Admittedly iPad specific apps are few and far between, but there is an abundance of iPad versions of established iPhone apps which tend to offer a richer experience and generally merit their higher price tags

Not that the increased screen real estate and processor power should be an excuse for lazy design and development, of course. Developers should abstain from cluttering the iPad’s screen with content and controls. As iA’s Oliver Reichtenstein points out, iPad’s increased screen size should not make developers liable to explore with putting more content on a screen than is comfortable. Reichtenstein particularly slams what he calls the ‘sentimental’ five column print layout of the new Wired app.

Be that as it may, design for iPad still lacks initiative and enterprise. At Fjord, we try to instill a quality of ‘hustle’ into our designers – we encourage them to look for imaginative solutions to problems. iPad design seemed at its most imaginative when iPad did not exist, and brands such as Sports Illustrated were busy producing concepts for tablet computing. The aforementioned Wired app is merely a PNG slideshow. It feels like the 1990s again.

Fundamentally, this is part of the problem. iPad developers are still too fixated on past reference points. Instead of spending time wondering whether iPad is a small laptop or a large iPod Touch, they should be thinking about what iPad is capable of in its own right. Calling iPad a gigantic iPod Touch is memorable journalistic shorthand, but it does not do justice to iPad’s unique capabilities.


Music Marketing And Gen Y

In some ways, it has been a harrowing few weeks for marketers who see music as a golden ticket which guarantees oodles of Brand Love. The A-list blogger Perez Hilton, fresh off the back of a trip to the Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo announced in mid-August that he was set to launch a tour. It was an interesting package of hip, up-and-coming acts – Ladyhawke and Little Boots were set to feature.

However, ticket sales for the tour have been so poor that prices have had to be slashed, in some cases to nothing, for the remaining dates. In the 1980’s, it is just possible that Perez’s business model would have worked. He had big artists, a big endorsement, big exposure – all that you theoretically needed for music marketing at the top level. This situation has now changed drastically.

So, what made Perez’s tour problematic?  The first problem is, fairly obviously, Perez himself. Perez Hilton, unless you happen to be an A-list star (and sometimes even then – ask Lily Allen), is brand poison. People go to Perez Hilton’s blog to read gossip, primarily, not because they like Perez Hilton as a person, or because they would want to be associated with him.  The idea of spending time hanging out with Perez Hilton, or telling your friends that you are busy that evening because you are going to, leaves one feeling actually rather nauseous. I had the misfortune of encountering him and his entourage while I was in Tokyo, and can’t say it left me feeling ‘engaged’ with the Perez brand.

You could also argue that Perez Hilton’s understanding of the music industry is relatively limited. While in the UK live music accounts for 50% of (an albeit declining) spend, this is not the case in the United States, where live music/touring is simply not the goldmine it was. The recession has changed this totally, and it is an incredible complex business to even make 5 or 10% on a tour now, particularly amongst the mid-sized shows which Perez is looking to break into.  Mid-sized shows are liable to be dwarfed by larger shows, which will always have the propensity to get the big names, but overheads remain high in relative terms. People do not rate Perez as an entrepreneur, as a tour promoter, or someone that understands music that well.

Perez’s celebrity endorsement, as well as being downright crass, is also, in marketing terms pretty old school. It is classic badging. It is a celebrity attaching their name to something with which they have little connection, and believing that the consumer will buy it on the strength of that endorsement. While Perez Hilton and musical credibility is never likely to be a match made in heaven – there are ways in which music and brands can be made to work. It does require, however, doing something which is a little more credible.

What lessons can we learn then? First off, it seems sensible to say that it is still okay to work with artists. Coca Cola’s “Open Happiness,” campaign, a collaborative song featuring Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo Green, Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, Gym Class Heroes’ Travis McCoy, Panic at the Disco’s Brendon Urie and Janelle Monae was produced to help promote Coca-Cola’s new marketing campaign with a message that, according to a press release, “reflected the spirit of positivity, optimism and fun.”

The track was available for streaming on MySpace, and a remix was also available on iTunes. A Making of Video was also available, and a percentage of the sales was be donated to charitable causes through Coke’s Live Positively platform. Did it work? It depends on your metric of success. It did not achieve the mainstream awareness of McDonalds ‘I’m Lovin It’ campaign, and the campaign was moved on after a year, but the video picked up several hundred thousand views on YouTube.

It also established credibility for Coca Cola, and enabled them to move into a space in which they may not otherwise have been welcome. Instead of paying an agency a large amount of money to come up with the lyrics, they had handed over control to the artist, and told them to pass on the Coke message of optimism. This creates a vibe around the whole thing which is far less about a brand imposing itself on a situation, than merely encouraging artists to do what they do best. It is sometimes a big step for the big-ego marketing manager to take – but the brand equity matters more than bruised egos.

In the UK, we have seen the example of Topman CTRL, which follows the lead of Open Happiness by establishing links with artists. Topman is a unique concept in UK Music, inviting a different act each month to ‘take charge’. There is a gig, each month, curated by the controller, a format Topman retained for their curation of the Underage Festival. The curator also  personally selects the music that plays in store. People are given the option to buy tickets for the gig online, or through in-store kiosks.

It is key to note, however, the way in which the relationship is managed. The format ensures that Topman takes an intermediary role, and gives Topman a role in music discovery, and minimises the risk across multiple genres as opposed to a particular audience. Gen Y audiences are very fickle, and can have different interests within groups. Therefore, enabling them to find music across groups is a better way of building the brand. This creates a win win situation for the brand, the music, and the label.

If relationships are badly managed, it is still possible, however, for music to do brand damage. Paul Griffiths from Babycakes has reported turning down a brand ambassadorship for Nike and a deal to brand PSP’s. Namalee Bolle told me that if there was any hint of Reebok trying to control her recent efforts to style the Reebok Freestyler Series, she would have walked away. Marketers must be aware of the need to match what the brand stands for.

Of course, the right kind of relationship is not all there is too it. Marketing with music with Gen Y, ideally, should not be about one or two big tracks, because  ‘big tracks’ carry less personality for Gen Y than something with more of an alternative vibe.  Therefore, variety should be a key element of any offering. Let’s take, for example, the case of XBox Live’s music activations.

XBox have been broadly successful in this space. Recently we saw XBox Reverb, an event which promised to ‘get the fans and the bands talking.’  – Now, XBox know their demographic pretty well, and that is of a 99% male demographic. That being the case, their strategy is to provide engaging experiences which feed the core as well as stretch. If you go on XBox Live you will see artists outside the mainstream, and the early choices of artists for Reverb (artists such as Dananananaykroyd, known for ‘jangly emo-pop’) back up this sensibility.

XBox’s success in this field has generated further opportunities to win with music further along the line. Their ‘Game with Fame’ service has proven a cost effective way of building brand love. Through the Game with Fame service, music artists will get to play a game with fans. There are two things that come out of this. For the consumers who get to play their favourite artist, they will go back into the community, and they talk about this experience that they had that XBox get to facilitate.

This is great word of mouth marketing for XBox. On the business side, they get a ton of awareness, and the artists enable them to reach beyond core gamers. Artists help them do that, because when they raise awareness, they will go into online music communities, and online game communities and talk about these sessions. And so, that is how they get credible and authentic. It is not a case of the artist saying ‘Hey, we’re here,’ so much as XBox actually doing something with the artist.

Such is XBox’s reach and brand love, they do not have to even pay artists to be on the service. Although XBox Live goes out to eighteen million people globally, they still recognise the need to be authentic in what they do. Their approach tries to be fundamentally different from badging at all times, and although XBox do concert activations, this is always married to something to do with the product.

XBox, Topman and others have shown that the relationship between brands and music is getting ever stronger all the time. Specialist consultancies have been set up to examine the relationship between the two, and to help brands to leverage the connection. There are, of course, other factors which matter in the choice of artist and promotion for brands, such as specificity, but what I wanted to do here was give a quick primer on the notion of credibility.


Does Creating Culture For Gen Y Have To Be Expensive?

There has been a topic which has been bugging me for the past few days. When I saw the presentation of John Beasley (Head of Brand at Red Bull) at Media140, I was massively impressed by the way in which the brand was communicated through a variety of media, and of the depth of the knowledge of and insight into the target market involved. They had clearly gone to phenomenal lengths to understand the pastimes, habits, preferences, and outlooks of their core users, and had designed an experience specifically to excite them.

Red Bull clearly are a brand that get that in order to appeal to Generation Y, you have to go beyond creating advertising – you need to create culture. You need to create experiences that allow individuals to feel in control of and manipulate their environments, experiences that augment and include existing scenes, and experiences which offer the chance for individuals to change lives. They need to place themselves between touchpoints in pop culture, and explore the tensions between them. They need to become a part of culture, augmenting and creating it.

The core argument which John Beasley made was that ‘social media is just the sandbox, it needs something else to make it fun.’ While much of the morning’s discussion had been around the mechanics of social media conversation, and how brands can have authentic conversations through Twitter, John argued that actually the conversation itself was not that interesting. Not everyone is going to get a huge kick from having discussions directly with brand representatives, even if platforms such as Twitter do open up new platforms for customer service. Does everyone want a conversation with Daz Automatic, regardless of how sincere they seem? While the chap at the Tate Modern may seem lovely – am I, with the best will in the world, going to want to be tweeting about Jackson Pollock all day?

Actually, far better, John argued, if the brand creates something interesting in the real world, which people can then go and talk about online amongst themselves. Then there will be a very clear association with the brand, and the brand values, but it will not feel like the brand is intruding on people’s social interactions. People will not feel like their reactions are being guided in any way. There will be a sense of spontaneity about the engagement, and people will feel more comfortable passing it on to their friends. Plus, in a world too often obsessed with navel-gazing, it will actually encourage people to go out and do things.

Of course, this also has the benefit of not tying your brand to an individual personality. One of the issues which was raised during the brand personalities discussion was ‘What happens when your brand personality, whom you have had tweeting on your behalf, leaves your company, taking their brand equity with them?’  If your focus as a brand has gone into creating experiences which people will then go and talk about online, rather than merely providing a personality online for people to talk to, this will not be a problem. You as a brand will go on creating experiences, and consumers will go on talking about them.

The problem with Red Bull as a case study is that they spent a phenomenal amount of money to create this culture. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with this – if you have the money to spend, there are clearly no limits to the culture that you can create. You can afford to play with aeroplanes, bombing mountains, and putting the faces of thousands of people on a Formula One car. You can create incredible videos which document the experiences, and hire the biggest and best names in a field to promote your brand and align with your idea.

The general feeling seemed to be – leaving that room, was that ‘creating culture is all well, if you have the money, but the rest of us are just stuck with talking to people.’ There seemed to be a sense that only brands with the wherewithal and resources that Red Bull have can afford to create culture. The rest of us were stuck with boring linear interactions on Twitter, and while Red Bull had given us all a nice twenty minutes entertainment and white knuckle thrills, it was now back to client budgets and ROI land.

Need that be the case though? Intuitively, it seems that there is no necessary connection between spending vast sums of money and creating interesting and engaging experiences for people. Flashmob’s are fun, spontaneous, random, and interesting, and create a cultural event out of nowhere, with very little budget. Volkswagen’s ‘Fun Theory’ project most likely did not require a large scale budget. Vinspired’s Voicebot, delivering the opinions of young people to politicians via a robot, would not have cost any more than a conventional marketing campaign, and quite probably cost a great deal less. Paul Griffiths’ Babycakes parties are run on a relatively low budget, but are hardwired for social interaction.

What seems to be important here is not the budget, but the core principles at work. Of course a large budget is going to help matters, as it widens options. But, in order to appeal to Generation Y, brands can, and indeed, will have to find ways of creating culture and injecting themselves into social slipstreams.


Why ‘Flick’ Will Redefine Connectivity

We are moving towards an era in which devices are interconnected – and we are using natural touch metaphors to swap data between them. It’s interesting that the starting point for this is the game of Scrabble.

It’s hard to imagine that Scrabble, a game invented in 1938 to pass idle time in the Depression by an unemployed architect by the name of Alfred Mosher Butts, would now be talked about as a case study for potential future evolution of the iPad.

Scrabble is an elegantly simple game, with elegantly simple rules. Butts reportedly studied the front page of the New York Times to find out how frequently each letter was used, with only four S’s included so that the simple move of making each word plural would not overemployed.

The elegant simplicity of the idea means that the basic premise of the game has been reproduced many times over, even on technology which would have been beyond the comprehension of many of the people who were alive at the time. It has been rewritten in many programming languages for the desktop, web, and mobile platforms.

Such is the enduring popularity of the Scrabble platform that, when, for a time, it looked like the Scrabble game was failing to keep up with modern times, enthusiasts stepped in and developed their own version.

Hasbro own the online rights to Scrabble and the US in Canada, and they were keen to capitalise on this popularity by building an version of Scrabble which would be able to leverage the multi-player capability of the Facebook platform.

However, the game was buggy and, as a result was slow to build a user-base when it launched, causing developers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla to build a clone of the game, which they called Scrabulous.

This attracted the attention of Hasbro’s legal team, who issued a claim of intellectual property infringement against Scrabulous, forcing Scrabulous offline in North America, and, eventually, in the rest of the world too.

While this was an interesting moment in the history of the Facebook platform, as it was one of the first times which people began to take Facebook games seriously, it was also significant in demonstrating the ongoing affinity and affection for the Scrabble game.

Scrabble is now driving innovation again.  The iPad version of the game introduces users to a new ‘flick’ metaphor, which iPad users will no doubt learn, adapt too, and, more importantly, expect from other Apple devices.

While the iPad gives enough screen space for a game of Scrabble to be played, the fact that all of the game must be played on one screen presents a design challenge.

A key part of the Scrabble game is that one player cannot see the tiles of another player, and if both sets of tiles are visible on the game board, this presents a problem.

The novel solution which Hasbro developed to this problem was to distribute a free iPhone app called Tile Rack, which functions in tandem with the iPad game, and allows players to store their tiles on iPhone or iPod Touch, and then ‘flick’ them to the board.

The flick metaphor is not a new concept, having featured on the Microsoft Surface devices, but appears for the first time on a broadly consumer device with the iPad, and specifically within the context of the iPad Scrabble game.

I have watched with interest as metaphors such as pinch, swipe, and point have permeated the public consciousness, and now it looks like, with the flick metaphor, that another is about to be added.

We often talk about the interconnectivity of devices, and how devices are set for a future where they can talk to each other, and communicate with each other. With the flick metaphor, we seem to have arrived upon a natural, organic UX metaphor which can facilitate this interconnectivity.

There seems to be no other metaphor capable of expressing this interconnectivity, and this sense of apps spanning screens better than flick. Pointing, swiping, and swiping are all about getting more clarity or detail on a device that you are using, not focusing on another device.

Yet we know from the success of cloud computing, and cloud services, that we are increasingly dissatisfied with devices which share a lot in common, but are unable to communicate with each other. The rise of cloud computing services has demonstrated a desire on the part of the public to access their information any time, and in any place.

At the moment, Apple TV seems like little more than an experiment. With a natural touch metaphor such as flick, it suddenly begins to look like a real product line.

How Can Employers Make Themselves Relevant To Gen Y

Employers need to think big about how they are going to showcase their organisational culture and people to draw in, attract, and retain the next wave of high potential talent. While baby boomers still firmly rule the roost in the workplace, a new generation of graduates are emerging with a different set of influences and cultural reference points.

These graduates have grown up with technology around them, and thus have a different set of expectations from the world they interact with. They can also be highly frustrating for employers to deal with, as many Gen Y want to push to the next stages of their careers without regard for ‘paying their dues’ as their forbears did.

For Gen Y, Social and Digital Media is the nucleus of their operations, and they expect their potential employers to be visible there too. It has always been about speaking the language of, and being visible to the candidates whom you are trying to attract. Today, that means businesses of all shapes and sizes  having to get to grips with the use of Social and Digital Media channels to engage with candidates, and draw the best talent to the company.

Employers need to think about how they can offer the most in depth view of their organisational culture to help them decide whether to apply. People are at the heart of any organisation – using social media channels, employers can bring people and recruits together. This enables a relationship that goes beyond the email address of the HR department, and which will have a positive impact on recruiting.

This requires an imaginative, cross-channel mentality from employers, and above all, a willingness to experiment and branch out. Some initiatives may work – some may not, but in order to truly capture the imagination, they will need to be truly original. Employers also need to think about how they are going to make themselves relevant in the mobile space – set to become bigger globally than the desktop internet in the next five years.

What, then, are the practical steps that employers take to make themselves relevant to Gen Y? Employers, for one, should definitely be considering the usage of highly targeted micro-sites to engage with employees. It is not enough to try to shoehorn a graduate and middle management employee through the same recruitment process as someone older.

Candidates will want employers to embrace technology to demonstrate the kind of experience people their age have at the organisation. What is the life of a Gen Y individual at your organisation like? How can you demonstrate this to them?

How about using a platform such as Twitter to provide daily updates from a different business leader to provide recruits with a real insight into what life at your organisation is going to be like. This needn’t involve a massive investment in time on the part of your staff – but it will go a long way to opening up the organisation to the outside world. It will also provide a way of differentiating between the candidates who have merely applied, and those who have really gone the extra mile to understand the internal culture of your organisation.

There are over 350m people on Facebook, and the number is growing fast. Not only is that too many users for your organisation to ignore, but the social web is becoming an integral part of how we use the internet. It’s natural that some of the people on Facebook, given the site’s tight hold over youth demographics, are going to be interested in a new job. Facebook is becoming ever more friendly for organisations, and innovations such as FBML landing pages make it ever easier to customise your offering. Think about how you can set your Facebook presence up as a go-to-source for the latest information on initiatives and developments underway at your company.

YouTube is a great channel for sharing content – particularly as they will handle the distribution for you, saving you on expensive bandwidth. Think about your organisation can utilise YouTube to offer individual video testimonies as to why an individual should work at your organisation, and what the organisation means to the people that work for it. It can be a powerful exposition of your internal culture, using new technologies to deliver a different take on your companies.

Above all, your organisation will get credit for making an effort with these technologies. Candidates will see that your organisation has gone the extra mile in trying to understand and grapple with a space in which, after all, they spend a lot of time. Effective usage of social media provides a bold demonstration on your commitment to innovation in talent sourcing.