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Posts from August 2007

Stolen Originality


At some point I will tackle the titular thesis of TIGS and attempt to crystalise my belief in the inherently recombinant nature of creativity. Whilst I have little respect for ripping people off, the lens of reconstruction that pulls together different cultural strands into a new new thing is the act of creation.

Entirely original things make no sense - how would we understand them without any referents? 

The internet heralds the end of copyright culture, sealing creations for eternity, and opens them back up to the cut ups of ctrl c and v.

Imitation disguises the debt you owe, stealing takes and re-purposes with the acknowledgment of the source [LINK] being an integral part of the meaning being constructed, a sub layer of the text.

But until I do, it's good to know the kids agree.

[Stolen from Radar Research]

Trendy Insights


Video thumbnail. Click to play Click To Play

A while back I was sitting on a panel, alongside the lovely Beeker, at the PSFK Conference in London.

Whilst I may have rambled on aimlessly, indulging my love of semantic arguments - [see above - I tell a couple of gags towards the end, promise] - the day itself was fantastic.

Not only were there loads of great speakers, but more than that it was the first conference I have ever been to where everyone was hanging out, and you know how much I like hanging out. I got to meet a bunch of bloggers  I've encountered in the Sphere and loads of generally nice people.

PSFK LA is on in a month or so, so I imagine it will be very similar, only with much better weather. They've cued up some great and diverse speakers, including Missy from the Suicide Girls and the creator of The Blair Witch project [So L.A. baby] and George will be there to deflate any pomposity.

As a reader of TIGS, you can get a 50% discount on tickets here.

Just tell them I sent you. 

Oh and enter the code:  bloggerdiscount.

Pimping the Age of Conversation


The Age of Conversation, the collaborative marketing book written by over 100 bloggers, which is being sold for Variety, the Children's Charity, has already brought in more than $5000.

In order to help sell more copies, Sean briefed a brand new ideas company for a big idea. Marcus, the brains behind new venture the ides of march, came back with the very simple idea:

Put naked girls in it

Every little helps, hence the image above, which will hopefully lubricate your purchase decision [see the previous post].

On a more serious note, The Huffington Post has picked it up, kindly mentioning my chapter.

If you've not had a look yet, please do and then buy a copy

It will give you access to some lovely thoughts from 100 different brains and make you more attractive to the opposite sex.

Lubricants of Reason

[Image used without permission because I liked it - please go and buy a print here. Let me know if you want me to take it down.]

I've just finished reading Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb. Hailed by Fortune magazine as one of the 'smartest books of all time', it's an exploration of the huge role of randomness in life.

Taleb is a derivatives trader and his hobby is understanding the stochastic limits of epistemology. His core thesis is that we think we know how things work because our brains like cause and effect so we apply a deterministic model to observations, which in turn leads us to make mistakes and leaves us open to being 'blown up' [trader lingo for losing way beyond what you believed possible] by very rare events of huge magnitude [he argues that in a sufficiently large samples, extraordinary high magnitude events are inevitable - the 'black swan' theory].

The book is consciously iconoclastic but his attacks on the certainties of traders and economists ring true and have interesting implications for the arts and sciences of persuasion.

In passing, Taleb dismisses classical economics as completely pointless and I agree.

Classical economics is a normative science - it describes how things should be in an idealised model, ceteris paribus - which means that it is, basically, science fiction - it simply doesn't describe how things actually are.

The foundation of this fiction is the idea of Homo Economicus - rational man - that makes decisions via a cost benefit analysis of each option and always works towards the highest possible personal utility.

This is clearly rubbish. Unfortunately, we're intellectually wed to binary oppositions, so once we realised that emotions had a role in decision making, an opposition was established between rational and emotional persuasion in communication. Maybe we make some decisions emotionally and some rationally.

Thanks to people like Phineas Gage and others who have had accidents that  messed up their amygdalas, we know this simply isn't true.

When people lose access to their emotions, they are no longer capable of making decisions. This is because if you were literally to try to apply pure logic to every decision, you're brain would freeze up with the limitless amount of data you were trying to process.

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings and we are, to a certain extent, but without the heuristics of emotion to help us, we'd never be able to decide anything. We almost never have the perfect knowledge required to make truly rational decisions. Life just isn't like that. Hence we evolved emotions.

So it's not that there are emotional and rational side pulling us in different directions but that emotions are the "lubricants of reason" - we can't think without them.

This thinking is expressed nicely in a relatively recent theory of decision making known as the somatic marker hypothesis:

Real-life decision making usually involves assessment, by cognitive and emotional processes, of the incentive value of the various actions available in particular situations. However, often situations require decisions between many complex and conflicting alternatives, with a high degree of uncertainty and ambiguity. In such situations, cognitive processes may become overloaded and be unable to provide an informed option.

In these cases (and others), somatic markers can aid the decision process. In the environment, reinforcing stimuli induce an associated physiological affective state. These types of associations are stored as somatic markers.

So decisions / stimuli that have made us feel good in the past become somatic markers that are then employed to covertly bias our own cognitive processes when we face similar decisions in the future. The covert part means people will always under report this fact in research.

This suggests that the role of communication could be simply establishing the somatic markers in association with brands, so that when consumers hit the painful decision of which jam to buy, the markers kick in and lubricate the decision, preventing paralysis and panic attack.

Brands take away the need to choose by covertly biasing cognition, and thus make our lives easier.

A Midsummer Night's BeerSphere with (some) free beer


Oh it's getting hot in here
Must be something in the atmosphere
Oh I could be laughing about it
Making the most of the true British climate

[Athlete - You got the style]

Although the summer has failed to materialise, leading to the re-emergence of the myth of the Indian summer we use to comfort ourselves, I still think it's time for a Midsummer Night's BeerSphere.

In the hope that the middle of August has a glimmer of sunshine, I propose being at The Eagle on Wednesday August 15th from 7pm. It's a great pub with a beer garden, about 2 mins north of Old Street roundabout, and was mentioned in the nursery rhyme Pop Goes the Weasel:

'Up and down the City Road, In and out the Eagle, That's the way the money goes. Pop! goes the weasel'

7pm Wednesday, August 15th
The Eagle
2 Shepherdess Walk
N1 7LB

My beneficent employer Naked Communications has kindly agreed to put some cash up for the first few rounds of beer, because they're nice. On behalf of the sphere, I thank you.

Come one, come all. I'll be in the beer garden if it's warm.

I'll whack this on the Beersphere Facebook group, once Facebook starts working again.



Rid your mind of thoughts of Steve Guttenberg, for I refer not to the classic 80's movie about old people getting their groove back by swimming with alien pupae, but rather to the new handset from O2.

O2 have been the only operator to move along their value chain into handset production and their latest effort is a thing of beauty. I know this because the nice people there have sent me one as part of their research  / seeding efforts. [UPDATE: Tom reminded me that this isn't true - Orange have the SPV for example. My bad.]

I'm a big fan of using research as a seeding programme. In essence, you target a bunch of people who fit your core audience [or, as in the case, a bunch of bloggers] and send them pre-release product for free, asking them only for feedback on the user experience. Obviously you don't ask them to promote your product - this would completely backfire and you really don't need to.

There is a well documented phenomenon in research known as the Hawthorne Effect. When under observation, people change their behaviour or performance. This was first observed in a factory when productivity went up because they were being watched.

But the definition has been broadened to include any effect on behaviour triggered by increased attention. So, to return to our seedingsearch, by giving people free products pre-release and asking their opinion you both flatter their ego and make them predisposed to like whatever it is you're asking about. Although you may try to be objective, you already feel warm towards the brand. Basic politeness dictates you aren't rude about a gift.

Plus, since you've got a new toy, you naturally want to talk about it, which is exactly what I'm doing now.

I've had it for a while and it's cute - all iPod white and soft to the touch clamshell. It probably isn't geeky enough to be my primary phone - I need an HTML browser and I can't find one for it yet - but otherwise I've been pretty impressed.

O2 consulted with some design agencies to build the thing and there is evidence of some well utilised insights. On the outside the white surface can also display blue text - so you can see the time or who is calling without opening it. It has a cradle that turns it into an alarm clock [the most used function on mobiles after voice and text is the alarm clock.]

Oh and last night when I walked into the O2 dome [I saw Prince - he was COMPLETELY AWESOME] the wallpaper changed on the phone to a picture of the O2 and the soft keys changed, allowing me to access maps of the place and get into the O2 areas and that, which was a nice touch.

Would you like to work for Amnesty?

Planning to change the world? 

Amnesty are looking for a planner in London:

Bored of advertising? Want to flex your brainpower across amazing projects like TV programming, documentaries, exhibitions, social networking, and odd web 2.0 stuff? Fancy doing this for one of the world’s most trusted brands? How about for a brand where you make more of a difference than sell a few cans of baked beans? Amnesty International is looking to recruit a brand planner to do all of this and more. It’s a dream job, and if you fancy a whirl, more info here (

Be quick - deadline is 6th August.