Life is doing: Remembering Mike Hughes

It's been one year today since Mike Hughes, one of the guys that built The Martin Agency, passed. I didn't know him well. We shared only a few conversations during my time in graduate school at VCU and later when I returned to Richmond to work at Martin. But he nevertheless made a lasting impact on my life.

He was a great many things to an awful lot of people. For me, he was living proof, at a crucial time in my career, that there were people in advertising with integrity. That there were agency executives who value the people in their employ. That there is room for both creativity and humanity in the same person.

We had a small gathering to mark the occassion today. In the announcement, Joe Alexender included an excerpt from a longer piece that Mike had written to him a few months before he died.

I always enjoy his writing. But his perspective on embracing and engaging with life, even while nearing the end, has found itself firmly lodged in my brain ... it's something that I hope to continue drawing from in my own life.

I haven’t yet figured out how to do it, but I want to do something that means something. I want to help society address its big problems. I want to help righteous journalism maintain its integrity and its robustness. I want to figure out how to stop governments and politicians from getting in the way of progress. I want our schools to be better. I want scientists to learn how to talk to the rest of us so that all of us can get a firmer handle on the truth.

I don’t fear death, but I am incredibly frustrated by its prospect. I don’t want to have to stop what I’m doing.

Life is measured only superficially by heartbeats, breaths and brainwaves. Life is doing. It’s learning and it’s engaging and it’s thinking. It’s having at least a minimal capacity for joy.

I want to live forever and then die quickly. I want to learn. I want to be part of stimulating conversations. I want to understand the wisdom that inspires some people to see things differently than I do. My whole life I have felt that I had nothing to teach anyone. Now I think maybe I do.

This is what my life is now. Except maybe to get rid of this damned cancer, I wouldn’t change any of it.

M

The Christmas Catalog — Tools and Toys

It's become a cliche, the whole Christmas is a difficult time of year thing. But while it's mostly full of great moments, it also forces ugly choices:

  • Who gets a Christmas card?
  • Isn't that Christmas card good enough?
  • Do we have to keep discussing Christmas cards?
  • Do we need to send a thank you note for the Christmas cards?

Though gifts give me the most trouble.

When giving, I like to try to find something that people didn't know they wanted, but will be excited about. Something with a tad more meaning than "that sweater that we saw" or an Amazon gift card. That's not always easy. It takes time and gumption and a good deal of luck.

When it comes to receiving, I have an incredibly hard time giving people a good answer when they ask what I want. Partly because I rarely think about it, partly because I really hate to be a bother for people, and partly because everything that I can think of offhand is usually beyond the price point where aspirational meets extraordinarily rude.

Which is where the Tools and Toys 2014 Holiday Gift Guide comes in handy:

We have done our best to avoid listing out a vast array of crap that has found the inferior sweet spot between impractical, unaffordable, and meaningless.

Instead, we have put together a list with short personal reviews of few items which meet certain criteria: they are products we own and use; we personally vouch for their quality; and they are useful and enjoyable.

Also, a portion of anything bought through the Amazon links on the guide will go to one of three charities, including the incredibly cool App Camp for Girls.

Unread: A tale of trying to make a living in the iOS App Store

Unread for iPhone and iPad is one of my favorite apps ... I use it everyday. So I was disappointed to hear that the developer hasn't seen enough sales to continue developing for it. He wrote about his experience in a revealing blog post (that I ironically read from within his app):

Unread for iPhone has earned a total of $32K in App Store sales. Unread for iPad has earned $10K. After subtracting 40 percent in self-employment taxes and $350/month for health care premiums (times 12 months), the actual take-home pay from the combined sales of both apps is:

$21,000, or $1,750/month

Considering the enormous amount of effort I have put into these apps over the past year, that’s a depressing figure.

Voyager’s Vintage Tech is Amazingly Vintage

If Carl Sagan was so smart, why did he send a bunch of technology from the 70s into interstellar space? It's fun to be on this end of such an epic mission. Seeing what is essentially an Atari 2600 with a tape drive escaping the heliosphere while still communicating with the Earth, is amazing. According to Wired:

The computers aboard the Voyager probes each have 69.63 kilobytes of memory, total. That’s about enough to store one average internet jpeg file. The probes’ scientific data is encoded on old-fashioned digital 8-track tape machines rather than whatever solid state drive your high-end laptop is currently using. Once it’s been transmitted to Earth, the spacecraft have to write over old data in order to have enough room for new observations.

The Voyager machines are capable of executing about 81,000 instructions per second. The smart phone that is likely sitting in your pocket is probably about 7,500 times faster than that. They transmit their data back to Earth at 160 bits per second. A slow dial-up connection can deliver at least 20,000 bits per second.

Though technically we're still at the beginning. Expected to last for a few billion years, these two robots and the golden records they carry might be the last evidence that humanity existed at all.

Carl does a better job of illustrating their significance:

Source: http://www.wired.com/2013/09/vintage-voyag...

Social is about behavior, not platforms.

I wrote about the need to unpack "social" a few months ago. Greg Satell at HBR argues the case well:

These days, it’s pretty easy to interact with consumers directly.

Yet that’s exactly the problem. All too often, when marketers talk about their “social strategy,” they really mean a digital marketing strategy implemented on social platforms, rather than using social dynamics to benefit their business.

That’s why many social initiatives fail miserably. Consider Pepsi’s Refresh project, which sought to replace $20 million in Super Bowl spending with a social platform that funded good works. While its social media KPI’s soared, its business suffered. Pepsi actually lost market share and fell to number three in the cola wars for the first time in modern history.

The problem is thinking that "social," whatever it means, has some mandate to replace marketing or communications in general. It's not hard to fall into that line of thought, given the number of people positioning themselves as social media space ninjas or the even more nafarious growth hacker. (Growth hacker should be a term for cancer specialists. Not marketing people that think they aren't marketing people.) It's difficult to look at the internet without being accosted by some sort of social strategy SEO expert ninja warfare nonsense.

Social at it's best is about social mechanics. Behavior. Ideas that people want to share. Not in the bullshitty Ted way, but in the things people talk to each other about way.

And mass media is usually much better spreading ideas than Twitter alone. It's a simple matter of scale.

That's not to say that social networks aren't useful in all of this, it's just to say that "social" isn't a channel, it's a behavior that lives anywhere a good idea can.

And after all is said and done, engagement is not a replacement for ideas that move business.

Source: http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/08/what-great-so...

Build for the Long Web

From Indie Web Camp's Principles of building on the indie web:

If human society is are able to preserve ancient papyrus, Victorian photographs and dinosaur bones, we should be able to build web technology that doesn’t require us to destroy everything we’ve done every few years in the name of progress.

The problem is that out of context, most of it will just seem like noise. Games that were awesome on the Commodore 64 in the 80s will. not. hold. up.

Codename Iceman, which was AMAZING in 3rd grade, will. not. hold. up.

But! it's hard to stand on the shoulders of giants if none of their work is still around.

So let's do it.

Source: http://http://indiewebcamp.com/principles

Systematic #105: Uniform Individuality with Kevin Rothermel

Brett Terpstra was kind enough to have me on Systematic this week. It was the first podcast that I've recorded. And brother, if you think your voice sounds weird on a voice-message, just wait until you hear yourself almost make a point for over an hour.

I had an awesome time, I'm pretty sure I didn't offend anyone, and he taught me how to use the microphone that I bought 6-months ago.

So we'll call it a big-time win.

Shedworking

I thought all I needed was a desk. Maybe a home office. I was wrong.

Via Shedworking

Google Looking for Ways to Get Out of Advertising

Russell Davies, with a refreshing take on Google in Campaign:

Google was invented by engineers. They, typically, hate advertising – but they stumbled on an advertising-based business model so lucrative that it was hard to keep hating it. Even so, they certainly did their best to keep their distance. They made the advertising they carry look as unlike regular advertising as possible and all their rhetoric was about how they would make advertising so relevant and targeted that it would stop actually being advertising and become useful information.

...

That’s why I don’t worry that the self-driving cars are going to take diversions past billboards or the thermostats are going to whisper ads in your ear while you’re sleeping. Google is not looking for new ways to do advertising – it is looking for ways to get out of it.

This would be good news.

They make great services, but trying to figure out whether or not I care about Google's knowledge of me is exhausting.

Lego Fusion Blends Physical and Digital Play

Lego is coming out with a new line, branded as Lego Fusion, that is made to bridge real world creation with digital gameplay.

Announced on Wednesday, and shipping in August and September, Lego Fusion boxes each come with 200 Lego pieces. They let you build and play in app-based virtual worlds that include a tower-defense game called "Battle Towers," a town-building game called "Town Master," a racing game called "Create and Race" and "Resort Designer." What you build in the real world can be captured and used in the iOS and Android tablet apps. Each structure then becomes part of the game, and each game can be a part of your world or the larger Lego social community, where others are using their Fusion sets to build similar worlds. Towers can battle towers, race cars can compete against each other and townspeople can take virtual metros to visit other player’s towns.

As a dad of two boys, I can't even begin to describe the embarrassment of Lego (Lego is the plural of Lego) they are in for when old enough. Though I am trying to figure out how to avoid the movie-theme/franchised Lego sets in favor of things like this that encourage them to make things up on their own.

Then after they've messed around with a bucket of random peices for long enough, we'll build the Death Star. Because we're gentlemen.

Via Mashable

Faking Cultural Literacy

Karl Taro Greenfeld writing in the The New York Times:

We have outsourced our opinions to this loop of data that will allow us to hold steady at a dinner party, though while you and I are ostensibly talking about “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” what we are actually doing, since neither of us has seen it, is comparing social media feeds. Does anyone anywhere ever admit that he or she is completely lost in the conversation? No. We nod and say, “I’ve heard the name,” or “It sounds very familiar,” which usually means we are totally unfamiliar with the subject at hand.

Did you catch the World Cup soccer contests?

Why Smart People Struggle with Strategy

Roger Martin writing in Harvard Business Review:

The problem with smart people is that they are used to seeking and finding the right answer; unfortunately, in strategy there is no single right answer to find. Strategy requires making choices about an uncertain future. It is not possible, no matter how much of the ocean you boil, to discover the one right answer. There isn’t one. In fact, even after the fact, there is no way to determine that one’s strategy choice was “right,” because there is no way to judge the relative quality of any path against all the paths not actually chosen. There are no double-blind experiments in strategy.

Patrick Rhone Doesn't Give a Fudge

Patrick Rhone on being intentional with the ... f-bombs ... that we give:

Most things we encounter in life are not worth our fucks.

Most “news” is designed to trick us into giving our fucks to things that don’t deserve them or where they have no value.

Most “stuff” is designed to trick us into giving a fuck about things that have no true utility.

In fact, many things in our society are purpose build to trick us into giving a fuck where it matters least and serves us even less.

Please pardon his French.

Though he probably doesn't trucking care.

Delighting the Undelightable

Seth Godin:

Do your work, your best work, the work that matters to you. For some people, you can say, "hey, it's not for you." That's okay. If you try to delight the undelightable, you've made yourself miserable for no reason.

Americans and the World Cup

Judging by a shift in how my international friends have been condescending to Americans, the World Cup is once again upon us.

Football. Footie. The Beautful Game. Futbalo. Ball de' Fute. Fut en bol el gato. Das Boot mit dem Moped. Die bad ist gross und hell. En Blob-o micro Acropolistica Yogurt. El queso es viejo y mohoso...

Whatever language you say it in, there's no more exciting time to be a sports fan then the beginning of the World Cup, which is probably called something like a kickoff, or a throw-in. Or a throw-off.

The exception of course, is if you call it soccer. In which case you might also call it boring.

We don't want to be bad soccer fans. We see the rest of the world having a blast, and we really, really want to participate. We're really good at being obsessive and yelling loudly about things. It's a little like being sober in a room full of drunks.

As a people, we band together. TVs are wheeled into conference rooms, we come to terms with the idea that the ball can touch the line without being out of bounds (which in footie is referred to as "pitch adjacence"). But just as we learn the names of the players, we get over the flopping intended to draw some sort of colored card, and start to get a feel for the pace of the game and a sense of the strategy playing out on the field, it ends.

Or the US team loses to a country we've only read about in Rudyard Kipling stories.

And then what are we left with? The MLS isn't quite ready for prime time. Literally. Since it's not on television much. And while sports hipsters claim to follow various European leagues, it's hard to find the motivation to cheer for anything at 9am on Sunday morning besides quite kids and good coffee.

Our best athletes grow up playing basketball and American football. Soccer in America is reserved for lily-white suburbanites that are too young to realize what they are doing. Eventually most of them become interested in other sports, and without any kind of apparent future in soccer to keep them interested, they easily move on. Their collection of soccer trophies eventually going in a box alongside other childhood activities like swim-lesson certificates and field-day ribbons.

But regardless of all of that, now that the World Cup is back, we'll once again bring out our best effort, trying to become proper members of the international sporting community. Hoping that our friends from other countries notice how far we've come. Trying not to get caught looking to see if they approve.

We'll get a little further along as fans than we did the last time. Just as we did the time before that. But it'll be a good long while before soccer takes. Please bear with us in the meantime.

The Search for Better Meetings

Working in a medium sized agency is all fun and games until you find yourself sitting in meetings all day. The person who called the meeting can check something off of their list, but for that one item being checked off, there's an entire room of todo lists that are sitting idle and probably growing.

Meet all day! Work all night!

  • Fantasy AC/DC song celebrating corporate life

Despite knowing that the internet is the playground of the idealized self, my ears still perk up when I see anything about how other businesses are working to create better meetings.

Percolate posted their 6 meeting rules:

  1. Do you really need a meeting? If not, don’t schedule one and just go talk to the person. It’s generally easier, faster and more efficient.
  2. Meetings should be 15 minutes by default. If you need longer, take longer, but most meetings don’t need much longer than that. People will find ways to fill whatever amount of time the meeting was scheduled for, so don’t schedule more time than you need. If you get scheduled in a longer meeting, why don’t you ask why it needs to be so long?
  3. No spectators. If you don’t have any reason to be in the meeting, don’t go. We don’t need spectators at meetings. The corollary of this is that if there are spectators in your meeting, ask them why they’re there and to leave if they don’t have any reason to be there.
  4. Have a purpose, state it upfront. If your meeting doesn’t have a goal than you should probably revisit tip #1. You should have a goal (except for weekly check-in meetings) and everyone should understand that goal. If you are attending a meeting and you don’t know the goal, ask. If the person who set the meeting doesn’t have an answer, suggest the meeting be moved until there is one. This will help A LOT.
  5. Make tasks, assign them to people. Meetings start to suck when everyone walks away and it isn’t clear who is doing what. If you set a goal at the beginning there should be some tasks at the end. Make sure everyone knows who is assigned to those tasks (put them in Asana if applicable). A task isn’t a task if it doesn’t have a person assigned to it.
  6. Don’t bring computers or phones. This is important enough to mention again. If we want to have as few meetings as possible and make them as short as possible it’s important that everyone is focused on the task at hand. That means not doing other stuff during the meeting. If you catch someone doing something else (including James or Noah) call them out and ask them not to. If their computer is open and they’re not presenting or creating tasks/taking notes, ask them to close it. If they need to be checking mail or working on something else, they probably shouldn’t be at the meeting.

Percolate linked to an article at 99u: Run Your Meeting Like a Boss: Lessons from Mayer, Musk, and Jobs.

Some highlights:

Marissa Meyer streamlines decision-making with data:

By making decisions with metrics, she can avoid lengthy debates stemming from opinions and organizational politics.

And she uses micro-meetings:

she allows people to book meetings as short as 10 minutes ... There’s an adage in project management: work expands to the time you schedule for it. By pushing people to say what they need to say in 10 minutes, Mayer was able to meet more people in less time.

Elon Musk prefers arguing with facts vs. prior experiences:

To Musk, decisions should not be based on prior experiences. He encourages thinking based on “first principles” — boiling a situation down to its basic, fundamental truths and then reasoning up from there.

Learning to Program

Casey Liss on learning how to program:

One of the most popular questions that I get asked is “How do I learn to program? Where do I start?“. This actually takes one of many forms:

What resource should I use to learn how to program? How did you learn X? Which language should I learn first? Is it worth learning Y? The best answer I have is not an answer to any of those questions at all:

Find a problem to solve, then solve it using the most appropriate tool(s).

That’s it.

That's what worked for me.

Not that I'm any kind of expert, or even halfway competent. But I did learn more trying to get this website running on Statamic than with any books or learn to code sites. Poking around, seeing what worked and what didn't, made all the difference.

Apple without an Enemy

The illustrious Edward Boches:

After the Wall Street Journal headlined an article with “Apple losing it’s cool to Samsung,” Apple Marketing Chief Phil Schiller ripped the agency in an email. TBWA Media Arts President James Vincent replied that perhaps “Apple needed to make radical changes to the way it did business,” and compared the current stasis to 1997 when Apple had an abysmal product offering and nothing in the pipeline. That sent Schiller over the edge.

Oh well, another day in the life of a client agency relationship.

But let’s cut to the chase. Apple has lost its edge. At least its advertising edge. And it’s for one reason. There’s no enemy anymore. Apple advertising has been great since 1981 because there’s always been someone or something to challenge and confront.

Someone once told me that the secret to Nike's success was their ability to reframe the conversation so that they weren't the category leader anymore.

Challenger brands. Eating big fish. That sort of thing.

How it Works

Last year's WWDC, with its announcement of the redesigned iOS 7, seemed to make a bigger splash with actual humans than this year's announcements of iOS 8 and the new look of OSX. But it's the changes announced this year that really matter.

Dr. Drang says it best:

Oh sure, iOS 7’s appearance was very different from that of iOS 6 or any of its predecessors. And there’s no question that some of those appearance changes affected how we used our iPhones and iPads. But once we figured out what was a button and which way sliders were supposed to be dragged, our devices behaved pretty much as they had before. The biggest change in behavior, I’d say, was the ability of apps to do background downloading.

The infrastructure changes in iOS 8 and Yosemite, though, will make a significant difference in how we use our devices. It’ll take a while for us to get used to them—old dogs, new tricks—and it’ll take a while for the apps we use to adjust themselves to the new possibilities, But Continuity, Extensions, iCloud Drive, the new Spotlight, and the API updates will make how we use our Apple devices next year distinctly different from how we use them this year. This, more than flattening or translucency, is real design.

Design is how it works. Not what it looks like. And for Apple, this couldn't be coming soon enough.

There's been a shift over the past year or two in mobile. Where Apple's iOS was the only serious option for mobile computing for a few years, Android matured and made significant gains in functionality and device appeal. I see it more and more in real life. People getting bored or frustrated with iOS and loudly announcing their move to Android.

Whether there's a legitimate Apple backlash or not, you get the feeling that competitive pressure is inspiring mobile innovation in Cupertino for the first time in a long time. As an iOS user, it feels good to see them not just responding, but pushing to stay on top.