Mar 13, 2013

J.Crew goes Italian

This is a beautiful example of what I'd called "borrowed legitimacy." With a wonderful video, J. Crew aligns itself with fine Italian tailoring.

SXSW Interactive 2013: five key themes

I just got back from SXSW Interactive. Five main themes bubbled up from the sessions I attended:

1) How to make "big data" more relevant and more useful for companies and consumers from a product/service, communications and experience standpoint...and the growth of data that's user-generated vs. collected (the "self-trackers" or "quantified self).

2) The movement of "computing" from a fixed device (desktop, laptop, phone) to something you wear or interact in physical space: Leap Motion, Basis/Fitbit, smart appliances, sensors, 3D projections, augmented reality, machines the communicate to you or other machines.

3) Profound changes to what constitutes the "network": a) device to device communication (Tesco's ordering billboard in South Korea, smart appliances), 2) ambient/background presence that's always on and working...connected to your life vs. just your devices, 3) expansion to home appliances (Nest thermostat, iGrill, Withings scale), and 4) the network that travels with you, wherever you go.

4) Huge movement toward making services/devices that help us change ourselves and our care, personal finance specifically. This includes both smart product design and behavioral systems design (many PHds work on these projects as consultants) to make change possible via small steps, appropriate triggers and contextual reminders.

5) Responsive design, meaning platform-agnostic content delivery that's dynamic and predictive. Also a lot of chatter about behavioral design...which seems to involve greater integration into a person's lifestyle, habits and activities.

More to come.

Feb 9, 2013

Signal vs. Noise: swimming in the Sea of Randomness

Last summer, after realizing it's a professional necessity to share and express ideas beyond my daily human interactions, I decided (yet again) to reapply myself to this blog. I developed a nice general content strategy, managed to slot 20 mins or so each week, started jotting down notes more regularly, etc. Truly, I really meant it.

Then something odd happened: I started reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Fooled by Randomness".

Of the many interesting topics he discusses with regard to chance and randomness in the financial markets, one specific idea broke through and effectively froze me in my tracks: most of the information coursing through our lives is effectively meaningless, "noise" vs. "signal," and we're better off reading nothing at all. Taleb actively discourages himself from consuming media because so much of it is detrimental to his investing goals. He derides the common person who pores over the Wall Street Journal each morning trying to decipher the current market patterns as akin to reading the remains of a cup of strong coffee; you will see what you want to see and miss what's actually happening.

Faced with that, I begin to doubt my own ability to add something useful to the info stream. Basically, I got discouraged by thinking that I'd just be adding more noise, and as I searched and consumed information on a daily basis, the hopeless ubiquity of the Internet overwhelmed me. It's the most amazing noise generator of all time, a timesuck of epic proportions if you're not careful about how you search and which threads you follow.

Back in the early 2000's, lots of people, myself included, we're saying, "This is fantastic! ANYONE can share their ideas!" But change the inflection on "anyone" just a bit, and you can see my point. Unlimited access to publishing and accessing information is a beautiful thing, yet it also creates a messy jumble, for which search algorithms and human aggregators only provide a partial fix. Did I really want to add to the cacophony?

Over the summer and fall I finished "Randomness" and read it again in short sessions each evening before bed. And finally, the book provided a clear way out of my content generation cul de sac: signal isn't hierarchical or pre-ordained, it actually lies in the eye of the beholder, or as Taleb might say, in the eye of the person analyzing the right data in the right time series. In fact, perhaps the Internet actually provides more signal because it generates that much more noise. If you buy into randomness, it's not a leap to see it as the source of all signal, since you can't sift for gold w/out a stream.

There's much, much more to think about in Taleb's book, and I have his second and third ones waiting for me. But with regard to this forum, I'm keeping one idea firmly in mind:

"Go forth and generate content with abandon! With any luck, someone, somewhere, will find some signal in it, and you'll contribute to the beautiful, random jumble of human understanding. If not, don't worry, there's virtually no expiration date on ideas."

Jul 21, 2012

We will try this yet again.

I've been thinking these past few months about putting together a business-related blog or tumblr, a place that would force me to take the pinball machine of ideas out of my head and put it down on paper (so to speak). While charting out this effort, I noticed an assumption that I needed something "new" to get started, that this old blog was insufficiently populated with interesting thoughts, dated in its design, and just not cool enough for what I had in mind.

That all may be true, but I also recognized a familiar thought pattern: let us imagine perfection rather than move forward with what we have. A mentor of mine puts it this way: "Better to be directionally correct vs. precisely wrong."

So the goal here is to, on a regular basis, describe seemingly random connections, share (supposedly) interesting impressions, and piece together patterns...relating in some way to communications, products, marketing, and anything else that catches my attention. I make no promises about quality or quantity, but I'm positive that if you come repeatedly, something interesting will pop up.

Oh, and yes, I'll install some sort of spam filter for the comments...viagra and mail-order brides indeed.

Oct 11, 2010

Time to start dressing the part.

Ten months ago, I decided to start dressing like a grown-up, you know, suit jackets, tailored trousers, leather-soled shoes, ties, etc. It just hit me one day. I was tired of the never ending "jeans + something" look, and my job had moved from the cloistered world of creative professional to the business and strategy side of things.

Anyway, in addition to the numerous personal changes this effort has entailed, which could be the subject of other posts, I have discovered much of interest on the business side of things, such as:
  • We are in the groundswell of an "authenticity and tradition" trend in clothes, the importance of which extends beyond lapel widths and country of origin concerns. Craftsmanship and micro-merchandising are in full swing.
  • The polo/khaki and T-shirt/denim movements have peaked and are ripe for replacement.
  • Online communities and self-publishing make it easy for people to find mentors, which in turn can have significant impact in a small group of devotees. This points to a failure of mass merchants and provides an interesting opportunity for them.
  • From a brand perspective, spend your time with the few than trying to convert the many.
  • Print/Traditional media is not dead. Not by a long shot.

More to come.

Put This On
Mistah Wong's Brog
A Continuous Lean
Custom shirts from J. Hillburn
Esquire's Handbook of Style
Details' Men's Style Guide
The Suit
Howard Yount
Kent Wang

Mar 24, 2010

A primer for all product design from a supposedly passe industry.

Adrian von Hooydonk, BMWs design director, discussing the new 5 series Gran Turismo.

Replace BMW and cars with any other product or service category, and you have a succinct list of guidelines for today's world.

Marketing is more about story telling, because Life has become more about experiences than collecting objects or things.

People are treating themselves in more private, internal ways.

A vehicle that encourages social interactions and provides luxury...without screaming it.

Storytelling and narrative a bigger part of the marketing for all BMW models.

People like to surround themselves with distinct, individual choices.

Speed of change is greater in Asia, and it deserves greater focus.

Despite the global reach of the brand, the BMW customer is motivated by the same core desires and values.

Regarding global competition, you're only as good as your last product or design. But reaching BMW's level of expertise and quality takes many years. Heritage of quality is a key ingredient.

Feb 6, 2010

From the archives: Too many notes, Mozart.

[Written 10/05]

Too much information, running through my brain.
Too much information, driving me insane.
--The Police, 1982

A close friend of mine emailed me recently:
I have 5 email addresses. As of today I have 5,140 songs on my iPod, and I'm considering purchasing a second one. I have Tivo, which is now stacked with shows that I consider interesting and worth watching. I subscribe to 4 podcasts, 3 magazines and 2 newspapers. I send and receive a minimum of 80 work related emails per day--often more than 100. I have voicemail at work, on my mobile and at home.

Your blog is a current of wind in the hurricane that is media in my (and your readers’) lives. Of course it's important to me, but how can we get it noticed above the din of the everyday?

Admittedly, my buddy is a little obsessive/compulsive and suffers from a seriously short attention span. But he's also a prototypical media connoisseur and gadget hound who is drowning under the wave of writing and music available to us all.

Now the blog-savvy smart ass will simply smirk and say, “Dude. RSS. Bloglines.” True enough, But I think he brings up something larger:

We're choking on information.

It’s one of those subversive facts about the Internet: we all supposed to feel so “empowered” because we have all these facts at our disposal. Because we can make our voice heard. And don’t get me wrong, it’s great, the most important invention since the printing press.

But at the same time, my resources far outstrip my time. Sure I can check seven to ten websites and blogs to de-spin something, but it's not practical. Instead, this gnawing doubt that I'm missing out follows me around like a stray dog. And I find myself diving deeper into the Long Tail, mostly discovering new things that match my current tastes and beliefs.

(Fortuntely, Long Tail filters like Amazon, CDBaby and Technorati present the staggering wealth of information in small, suggested chunks. Otherwise I'd go completely bonkers.)

Here's the thing: There are thousands of whip-smart people out there writing blogs that I’d love to read, that I "need" to read, even. But I choose not to sacrifice that much of my time. I’m not a superhero like Mr. Scoble, nor did I buy a ticket on the Cardboard Spaceship.

Marketers and pundits keep telling us that this smorgasbord of choice is a great thing. I'm not so sure. The other day at the grocery store I counted 23 different flavors of single-serving Odwalla juice. 23! And not one of them was what I wanted— plain old apple. As I write this, Technorati is watching 8,479,411 blogs and tracking 1,019,959,253 links. It boggles the mind.

Studies have shown that when confronted with too many choices, we’re apt to do nothing. Or if we do make a decision, we wonder if it was the “best” choice and feel less satisfied about the whole damn thing. Seth Godin talks a little about it here .

I don’t have a specific solution, except what I described in The wisdom of las ondas. Hugh MacLeod over at Gaping Void once blogged something to the effect of “Stop worrying about the technology. Concentrate on trust instead.”

He was talking about marketer anxiety, but I think it applies to dealing with our mega-networked life as well. Let's stop worrying so much about all the information we're missing. Let's concentrate on what we choose to enjoy instead.

Sep 6, 2009

Web goodies: Monocle, Instapaper and Quirky

Interesting finds from this week:

Wondering about the nature of what you do for money? Become a member of Fora.TV and hear what Alain de Botton has to say.

I spent 30 minutes at Monocle and barely scratched the surface. Amazing. Check out this bit on a new shop called The School of Life. (Thank you Poppa L.)

Instapaper may help solve the whole "too many bookmarks, too many computers" problem by just taking the bookmark out of the equation (Thank you, Noah Brier...via Twitter, no less!)

If you've ever wanted to become an inventor but were too afraid to take the leap, or if you think you'd be a product development genius but don't work for Ideo, head to Quirky. It only costs $99 to submit an idea. Giving prod dev and naming feedback is free. (Thank you, Rob Walker.)

Maybe I'm just iltwitterate?

My last post has been bugging me all week? Why don't I "get it" with regard to Twitter?

How I use the technology constitutes part of the problem. I only used my cell phone to post and track others, and now that seems woefully inadequate if you want to really get the most of Twitter. The typing interface along slows the whole process down, especially since you need to use other people's handles, TinyURLs and tags to mine the tweetstream.

When I started using the service a couple of years ago it was mostly a way to trade small remarks and jokes between a group of friends. I also loved how I could create my own stream and to track the various goings on of people who didn't even know each other. The communication could get so personal and subtle. A lot of fun. Seems very parochial viewed what folks are doing now.

What's really funny to me is that I argued about its value from the beginning and have defended it several times around the dinner table as extended family expressed uncomphrension, disgust and even fear about "this Twitter thing." And now I'm the one who can't seem to change my lens. Twitter must be a great way to find out more about your interests and "meet" people who hold the same, but at this point, getting more information is hardly what I need--I can barely deal with the infostream I've got.

Anyway, plenty of companies are using it to market, sell and develop brands. I'm sure at some point the light bulb will go off for me, too.