Kate Silver

Google’s 20% Time and Creative Freedom

In the new book The 20% Doctrine: How Tinkering, Goofing Off, and Breaking the Rules at Work Drive Success in Business, tech reporter Ryan Tate investigates Google’s practice of “20-percent time“ for engineers. According to the behemoth, giving employees one day a week to explore ideas and develop personal projects keeps them passionate and motivated, their creative muscles limber. It puts a silicon gloss on the old “what’s good for the goose” adage.

While flexible time policies at Google and Hewlett-Packard are well publicized, it was 3M that pioneered the practice. In 1948 the Minnesota manufacturer implemented the “15 percent rule” — which, years later, birthed the Post-it Note. While daydreaming about a bookmark that would stay in place in his church hymnal, scientist Art Fry recalled a light adhesive developed by his colleague, Dr. Spencer Silver. We can thank Dr. Fry’s creative epiphany every time we write a to-do list.

As author Martin Lindstrom recently suggested in Fast Company: embrace boredom; let your mind wander. Maybe you do your best thinking at the gym, or in line at Starbucks, or at happy hour. (Pre-Siri, cocktail napkins did more than protect the bar.) While it’s easy to think that Steve Jobs worked nonstop, he made the most of Zen moments, and engaged in a little goofing off like everyone else.

So how does this translate to the agency environment? While caricatured as a place where employees sit on yoga balls and play with their dogs (see the Portlandia sketch below, filmed in Wieden+Kennedy’s mazelike Portland office), the freeform workspace encourages employees to congregate and collaborate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGPt5P3CYY4

Creative breaks make us more efficient, whether they’re spent in a cubicle, or lying in bed. Heck, increased leisure time might decrease energy consumption and solve the credit crisis, according to an English think tank. Who knows? If a daydream gave us the Post-it, the door is open.

Laura St. Marie

The Social Bucket List

Applications and social startups are born at a faster rate than babies in the boomer generation by hopeful entrepreneurs anxious to be the next Mark Zuckerberg and Biz Stone. The majority of these startups never get off the ground, but a tiny fraction of them have the formidable combination of – a smart idea, unmet need, monetary support and most importantly, the agility and wherewithal to adapt and evolve – that ultimately launches them into the arms of Early Adopters.

One startup that’s caught my attention is the freshly released social start up, WhereBerry. The brainchild of Nick Baum and Bill Ferrell, former Google techies, seems like it could have a fighting chance.

Most social networks capitalize on what we’ve done in the past or what we’re doing now. The logical next step is for people to share what they want to do in the future. WhereBerry, which opened to the public last week, allows people to post activities they want to do… someday – from restaurants they want to eat at, to movies they want to see, to places they want to visit – people can organize and store their desires in one convenient place, turning the familiar “bucket list” virtual, and most importantly, social.

As a society of “dreamers” it is in our nature to make plans and set goals. As a rising society of “sharers” it is in our nature to broadcast these plans to friends. WhereBerry seems to have what it takes to capitalize on these popular behaviors. But it is at a fragile and vulnerable state in its growth, where important decisions can either make or break its success. I believe that if they can successfully accomplish the following, they could in fact be the next big thing:

  1. Community & Groups: With the rising popularity of social networks, we not only want to share, we want to be part of a community or group. What users of WhereBerry are going to want next is the ability to join together with others around entertaining, thrilling, educational and delicious activities. Providing users the ability to share plans with smaller, private groups will not only be a feature users are interested in using, but will allow the application to spread virally as friends plan together.
  2. Sharing on Steroids: The sharing is currently very straightforward: add to your list, post to your wall, see your friends’ to-dos in your feed, etc. WhereBerry should evolve the “share factor” by using a more complex formula – connecting people who have similar interests, presenting users with to-dos that seem to match with their trends (and location), suggesting plans their friends have, and more. The key is, users want the service to do the work for them and provide them with value they wouldn’t have on their own.
  3. Competition and Achievements: Based on your bucket list and the items you accomplish, users should be able to achieve recognition or status for their completed tasks (e.g. Advanced Foodie, Dare Devil, Movie Buff, etc.). This brings a level of competition to the utility and drives participation, stretching users to try more and more – and therefore use the social network more.
  4. Businesses & Brands: Selling this idea to brands by presenting the benefits to their business and getting them involved will provide substance to network by providing users with recommendations, deals and rewards, and will be the push to eventually turning this start-up into a money maker.
  5. Continuous Evolution: WhereBerry needs to pay close attention to analytics, use, feedback, and the industry as a whole to learn what users want. They need to quickly evolve, adapt, grow, simplify, and integrate in order to meet users’ rising expectations.

The tech world today is a rough one to survive in, and the get-rich-quick theory very rarely applies. In 3-5 years we may see WhereBerry checking “10 Million Users” off their bucket list. Or we may be asking, “What’s WhereBerry? A new BlackBerry device?”

Steve Laughlin

Brand Narcissism

Many years ago there was a wonderful New Yorker cartoon of two advertising types standing in an aisle of the grocery store. It was so many years ago they were both guys and both wearing coats and ties. You could tell the account guy because his hair was parted and he wore a striped tie. The creative guy had a curly hippie ʻfro and huge flowery tie. They were looking at a large woman in a house dress with her hair in
curlers who was staring at the choices in a frozen food case. The caption read, “Thatʼs your target audience.” Times have changed, but some things havenʼt.

Weʼve gotten better at getting closer to our target audience. Social media will bring us even closer as we get better at taking advantage of the immediacy and intimacy it gives us. But thereʼs a dark side to knowing our customer too well, too.

Itʼs true that if you lose your brand loyalists you lose your brand. In a tough economy thereʼs more interest and effort at zeroing in on our best customers. But itʼs also true that brand loyalists may be the least likely to want to see their brands change. Learning and listening should not about eliminating risk. It should be about reducing the odds of getting it wrong. Steve Jobs has pointed out that the trouble with asking the consumer
what they want is that by the time you can give it to them they want something else. One of the most exciting things about the chaotic media landscape is that we can get to know our customers better. But, letʼs not ever be afraid to surprise them with what weʼve learned. And letʼs also push ourselves to talk to somebody new. And donʼt forget to stick your nose in the store to see whoʼs buying it.

Joyce O'Brien

The Job Search Has Come Full Circle

Long ago when my dad entered the job market, things were tough.  The country was in the midst of a depression and there weren’t many jobs available.  It didn’t take long before he realized he needed to tap into family, friends and trusted professionals, in order to get his foot in the door and gain employment.  He needed to network to stand out amongst the masses.

As time passed and I grew older, I soon found myself looking for employment as well.  It was time for me to begin supporting myself and I needed to see what was available in the marketplace.  So I ran to the corner gas station, picked up a copy of the local newspaper, circled a few jobs and sent my resume to 10 or 20 companies through snail mail.  Since I had never met the recipients of my resumes, I did my best to highlight my work history and achievements in a concise single page, hoping to catch their attention.

Years went by and soon my kids needed a job.  They searched the big job boards.  Within minutes, they could copy and paste their resumes into the online submission portal, sometimes with only a simple change to the subject line.  Off it went and within minutes they got an automated response from the HR department, thanking them for their patience as all the applicants were screened.  It was a cold and impersonal way for them to get their personal information out there, but it was quick and efficient for them and the HR people.

Come into the present and we find we’ve come full circle.  As in the days of my dad’s job search, jobs are few, times are tough, and we find that one of the best ways to land a job may be through a “connection.”  So I thought we’d put together a few ideas that might help you with your own job search.  Things that may help you get “connected.”

Know your target company. Research them, friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter.  I know this sounds weird, but if you get to meet this special person (HR rep or company rep), you might want to treat it like a first date.  Listen intently, show an interest, bring your best attributes to the table and, most importantly, know something about them so you can talk about them too.  Make a connection.

Set up a LinkedIn page and make sure it’s up to date. This way you’re linked or can become connected.  Plus, once set up, recruiters can find you too.  (Yes, we search LinkedIn to stay on top of our industries and follow talent.  We also use it to research you.  And you can research us too!)  Use LinkedIn for networking purposes, joining groups and organizations, and positioning yourself as an expert on a certain topic.  Answer group questions and participate in discussions.  Again, get connected.

And, if possible, set up a website for yourself. Include samples of your work, creative pieces and writing, as it pertains to your profession.  When you write or talk with a recruiter, include your link.  It’s another way to be connected.  Remember, HR people and recruiters are digital creatures too.  We’re out there sharing your social space, looking for a few good people.

Steve Laughlin

Death Where is Thy Sting?

Dark thoughts started with e-mail from our executive producer in Chicago. He sent a link to a podcast called What’s Next for Advertising from National Public Radio (an ad free medium ironically).

Catching up after three days in the Chequamegon National Forest, this e-mail found me receptive to primal concerns. It was a slight adjustment from questions like, “Is that wolf poop?” to being in the right frame of mind to think about professional survival.

I just knew a show about the future of advertising had to have a Shakespearean plot to it. The final scene of Act III would end with the stage littered with bodies.

I listened and I wasn’t disappointed.

Mass media dies. The big agencies are next to go. After all, why would a consumer listen to an ad when a blogger can tell them what to buy? The podcast goes way beyond the killing of Madmen, too. It also predicts the end of mass marketing. Not even Proctor & Gamble comes out this story alive.

The argument goes that without mass media, mass-market brands can’t do the volume they require. Something about efficiencies getting lost. It’s hard to survive inefficiency. There is no known cure.

But then things get brighter. There are some Utopian speculations about how more “backyard” brands will pop-up and inherit the earth. I hear birds chirping and butterflies fluttering. As the media fragments, it gets more specialized, actually helping niche brands find niche markets.

For big brands life just gets a little more complicated. The challenge will be to partner with the media and create big audiences – more like the old days than the nowadays really.

What will remain a challenge for both large brands and small is to have ideas. They’ll need concepts around which to organize their marketing. They’ll need us.

Things aren’t as scary as they seem. Yes, it was wolf poop. Yes, my dog and I are still here.

Steve Laughlin

Take my brand, please.

But first, take a look at Ogilvy’s and Crispin’s new web-sites.

These are new designs that position both agencies as leading edge by using aggregated media stories about them and their clients as an opening screen.

I love the urgency and energy.  In both cases, the clutter that I’ve been fighting professionally all these years has become the organizing concept.  In a weird twist on Marshall Mcluhan’s insight of the medium becoming the message, we’ve seen the Bauhaus movement toward white space and simplicity yield to a supernova of design.  These sites are like trying to read the Congressional Record on acid.   Yet they work.

There’s a wonderful irony at work here.  Agencies are using clutter to demonstrate their ability to cut through it.  These sites serve as a vivid demonstration that the loss of control a lot of marketers are experiencing puts an even greater emphasis on ideas that elbow their way into our consciousness.

Maybe what we’re seeing is the transitional period from white space to white noise as a design maxim.

Casey Flanagan

The Trouble With The Truth

I was recently pointed in the direction of gapminder.org (thanks Brian). What an incredible idea. Their vision is to “unveil the beauty of statistics for a factbased world view.” So, um, no small feat.

Hans Rosling, a site co-founder and multiple-time contributer to TED – the Technology Entertainment and Design conference – has a video on the site titled “Chimpanzees Know Better.” In it, he explains why his highly-educated
students are less successful at identifying countries with higher child mortality rates than a chimpanzee faced with the same task. He says:

Itʼs much tougher to teach facts about the world because we already think we know about the world.

He then goes on to show how his studentsʼ worldview is stuck in the reality of the year that he was born.

Hans Rosling is a professor of global health. But his is an approach we can all learn from. Too often, truth is accepted as truth. The way it is becomes the way it will be. Iʼm looking at you, music industry.

And thatʼs the trouble with truth. It can become too permanent. In a world thatʼs changing quickly, itʼs not just unknowns that need to be explored.

Casey Flanagan

Taking the Unthinkable for Granted.

A great tweet earlier this week from @davidwain re-focused me on just how much I take for granted.

This is insane – type in literally anything and hit return – watch what happens http://tinyurl.com/1c2 7:14 PM Aug 24th from Tweetie

And then I saw this video. Itʼs about the future of newspapers on your home computer. And itʼs absolutely surreal. There are ideas that are surprisingly right and so much that is really wrong. But it made me think. As we look out to the horizon, what inconceivable concepts (that need to be introduced with the words, “Imagine if you will…”) will we be taking for granted next?

Casey Flanagan

More To The Story (Or: Timing Can – Unfortunately – Be Everything)

The fate of newspapers has been reported on and debated ad nauseam. Time will tell, but itʼs safe to say that in its current form the newspaper model of today faces significant challenges.

And the newspaper industry is, no doubt, to blame. An article by Jack Shafer from earlier this year made a compelling case that newspapers shouldnʼt be surprised by any of this. As early as the 1970s, newspapers “considered themselves vulnerable to new entrants and were worrying aloud to anyone who would listen about falling readership.” That said, once technologies – like long forgotten videotex – were determined to pose no threat to the newsprint model, papers were happy to move on. Too much defense, not enough offense. But thatʼs another subject for another post.

Two interesting perspectives that have seen fewer headlines:

The first is a Malcolm Gladwell thought experiment: “What if we had started with everything online, and paper was only invented five years ago?” Weʼd no longer have to “lug our laptops to the breakfast table every morning.” The new solution would be lighter and more portable. Said another way, being first isnʼt always best.

The second is from a Bill Simmonsʼ podcast on espn.com. I realize that this is not the epicenter of leading business thought. But the observation is insightful. (Side note: Simmons is also responsible for one of my favorite, yet-to-be-established positions: The VP of Common Senselol_newspapers.) At the time that newspapers were trying to figure out how to
monetize the online experience, nobody (not you, not me, not anybody) was comfortable buying things online. If The New York Times was just going online today, the proposition of a daily paid subscription would be *much* more palatable than it was in 1995.

I get my news online. We donʼt subscribe to any papers at my household. So Iʼm no newspaper-apologist. But the easy answer (Newspapers are dumb! The internet is better!) rarely gives the full perspective.

Casey Flanagan

Smart Words From Smart People

I’m on vacation this week. Up north in Wisconsin. In that spirit, I’m letting other people do my work for me. And so I offer a six-pack of quotes I’ve read – or been reminded of – recently. Quotes I really like.

“I check Twitter about 20 times a day to learn what my brand is.” — Jason Kilar, CEO, Hulu

“The top ten ‘in demand jobs’ in 2010 did not exist in 2004. We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist.” — Did You Know 3.0, created by Karl Fisch

“[Social media tools] don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.” — Clay Shirky

“Three ways to add value: IDEAS (create opportunity). INSIGHT (solve problems). INSPIRATION (expand possibilities).” — @sallyhogshead, via Twitter

“The way to be interesting is to be interested.” — Russell Davies

“You do not merely want to be considered the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.” — Jerry Garcia