Previous month:
January 2008
Next month:
March 2008

Posts from February 2008

Off Road

I've been double-memed - both of which want me to expose myself.

Embarrassing as this virtual flashing may be, I feel like I should do it because, well, I've been tagged by mates and, you know, you do what your friends ask.

["If your friends jump off a cliff, would you?" "Well, no - but if they asked me to I'd have to think about it...."]

So I'll tackle the first one first - it's a 4x4 meme [do you see what I did there with the title of this post? I should be a copywriter.]

So here are four answers to four questions about stuff I've done or like:

4 jobs I've had:

Golf ball collector: Ok so this wasn't actually a job but when I was a kid I'd go and pick up golf balls from the rough ground and sell them back to the pro shop. 50p a pop - it was good money.

Management Consultant: the first job I had out of university was at a strategy consultancy that sprang up on the wave of the first dot com boom - building digital businesses was our thing - I got a stack of share options that were supposed to make me a millionaire. That didn't happen.

Freelance writer: After wearing a suit for a couple of years I realised I couldn't do that anymore and tried to earn a crust doing something I love - writing. So I interned at a few places and ended up writing words for Maxim magazine for actual money, which was really exciting. It was a very small amount of money. I try to keep my hand in.

Media Planner: I was ushered into the world of communications via media planning 101. I learnt about coverage and frequency. I don't really use that part much anymore, but the foundation was crucial.

4 TV shows I would personally digitally video record, if I had such things. Or, shows I download dot com:

Boston Legal: my favourite of the moment. I love Spader and Shatner. I also love that David Kelly, he of LA LAW, waited a decade or two and then put another idea into development - so it's like LA Law - but - it's in BOSTON. With Capt. Kirk and the guy from Sex Lies and Videotape. Trust me. And he was spot on.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The most genuinely surreal show I've ever seen. A band of superhero investigators, made up of a a milkshake, some fries and a wad of meat [called Meatwad], investigate nothing and - well, just go and watch it. They aren't teens and there's no water.

Scrubs: Because it knows exactly how to wring drops of melodramatic emotion out of my cynical heart. Make 'em laugh and then twist.

South Park/Simpsons/Family Guy/: you get the idea.

4 places I've been:

Tuscany: My mate has a place out there - it's just staggeringly beautiful.

Sydney: I worked out there for a while - in fact it's where TIGS was born, 2 years ago this month.

South Africa: Lovely amazing place, with giraffes and fantastic people and that - leaves a slightly weird taste in the mouth when you drive past the townships though.

Boston: I wanted to check out MIT ever since seeing Real Genius with Val Kilmer in the 80s.  It was awesome. So was MIT. Boston was very pretty.

4 music artists I'm listening to right now:

I love jungle. Broken beats are what I have inside my head. Pendulum are an Oz outfit that pulled together some tunes that sound like classic Ram Records from the mid to late 90s, which is how I like it.

Mark Ronson: Here comes the fuzz is just brilliant.

Yelle: crazy French electropopstress I saw play last week

Fratellis: Cheery guitarness

Tag you are it.

Control is Not Control (but it still feels good)


[Ripped from here]

The desire for control seems to be a universal motivator - we are endlessly fascinated by our ability to effect change outside of ourselves.

Our macro ability to modify our environment is one of the defining features of humanity, but at a personal level we love to control the world around us - it's a corollary of our desire for choice, despite the paradoxes that brings.

Babies demonstrate the appeal of control [in controlled experiments].

[Whilst experimenting on babies sounds a bit unpleasant, infant psychology is truly fascinating. Ask yourself, how do babies think, before they can speak?

While you are asking yourself, you are thinking in words - they can't do that.

It must be like accessing the world without the filter of language, before Lacan's Great Other, the language instinct, exerts its desire for control, slicing up the continuum of reality into chunks, things, words... but I digress. Kind of.]

In the Paradox of Choice, Schwartz mentions an experiment where one group of babies - those who had control [but not, paradoxically, the control group] - were put into cribs face up. If they turned their heads they activated some dancing animal lights above them.

They quickly learn that the dancing animals respond to them moving and so they keep doing it again and again and again.

[Babies love repetition - they control basically nothing in their lives, so when they see something "Again! Again!" it's something that isn't new, something therefore they feel control over.]

A second group also get to see the animals, when group one activates them, but has no control. They quickly lose interest.

It's not the light show that is interesting - it's the control:

I did this! Isn't it great. And I can do it again whenever I want.

This feeling of control is rewarding - in fact it may be crucial to remaining chipper. Some believe that one of the triggers of depression is learned helplessness - the feeling that nothing you do can really to alter your situation.

Prior [perhaps repeated] exposure to uncontrollable negative events makes you think that nothing you do makes any difference.

That's what I think Copeland was talking about in Generation X, when he said:

Control is not control.

The illusion of freedom, delivered through the illusion of [too much] consumer choice, ultimately resolves to an understanding that nothing you do [buy] makes any difference, which precipitates slacker ennui.


Anyway, the point being is that we want to have an impact on our environment - it makes us feel good, which perhaps lies at the heart of the appeal of interactive media - by definition it is content which you can influence.

The rise of games and gaming behaviours is undoubtedly a response to our desire to have greater control over content - and it's going to continue to spread into other content forms.

With things like this interactive video trailer for new crystal meth cookery drama Breaking Bad [found via Hyper] - it's ultimately a trailer that you can click on - but that makes it something different, blurring the boundaries between video and website and game.

And, although you know you can't really change the outcome [it really wants you to watch the trailer] - it still feels good to be controlling the experience.

So, if you want people to get involved in your communication, give them something to do.

Who wants an intern?

[Ripped from here]

Recently, a few bright, lovely people have been asking about working in agencies, or asking me to talk about how opportunities might develop in the future, what the right skills are and will be.

I need to think about the latter, but I thought I'd see if I could help with the former here.

Mostly they seem to be plannery types [know your audience] - looking to reintegrate their bicameral brains in business.

Now I have some standard advice about some of the things plannery types should highlight from their experience [plannery things] and some of the things to do - research a bunch of agenices, see which ones look fun to you, send the right person a nice email. Be polite and charming and that. Read lots of stuff.

It's also worth hanging out on the Ning - there's over 800 plannery types on there now, from all over the place - and Plannersphere Facebook group.

But since I'm pretty new to NYC I'm not sure what the score is here, so I thought I'd ask, on behalf of, well, people who want to know - anyone looking for any interns in NYC? Now? For the summer?

Or anywhere I guess.

Happy for people to put stuff in comments, or head over and leave stuff on the Ning.

Brands and the Paradox of Choice

One of the differences I've noted between London and New York is scale.

Everything comes in larger sizes (restaurant meals are best left unfinished unless you also desire to come in a larger size) and there are many more options to chose from - especially on the supermarket shelf, which groan under a bewildering array of alternatives in every product category.

Choice is equated to freedom and freedom is a necessary condition to ensure the unalienable right to pursue your own individual flavour of happiness - more options mean more freedom, which means more happiness.

Except it doesn't work that way.

Barry Schwartz points out in the Paradox of Choice (which you can read most of here thanks to Google Books) having too many options tends to make you unhappy, which is why he argues that hypercapitalist economies, which sanctify individual autonomy and thus force decisions at every possible opportunity, tend to less happier overall.

This insight is incredibly compelling because it feels right and yet wrong - freedom underlies the cultural foundation of western society and has been thoroughly internalised as part of your Freudian superego - so people know that they love choice, but find they hate making decisions.

The book is full of good examples of people doing almost anything to avoid making difficult decisions - ones where there is no clear, obviously better option, but the one that best highlights the conflicted drivers of consumer behaviour, is the jam experiment.

A supermarket experiments with sampling - alternating between offering 6 and 24 different flavours of jam to try. The 24 jam table always attracts more people [we love choice - amongst all those options there must be the right jam for me] but, having been attracted, they were forced to make a difficult decision [arrgh there are too many to choose from, lots of them are good, I just don't care this much about jam] which ultimately led to the 24 jam display selling 1/10 as many jars as the 6 jar table.

Dramatically increasing the number of options dramatically decreases the propensity to purchase.

Decisions with lots of options cause anxiety, paralysis, proleptic regret and a bunch of other negative responses mentioned in the Ted talk above. They increase the effort invested in the decision, the opportunity cost of any choice you make and ultimately can diminish the enjoyment you get from anything you do choose - the book explores these negative psychological effect in detail and suggests a strategy to avoid them, which is essentially lower your expectations and seek to make good enough, rather than the best, possible decision (satisfice don't maximise).

But we've developed another way to help deal with this problem, at least at the supermarket: brands.

We spend a lot of time thinking about what brands are and how they work - I started to wonder what they were for.

Brands are good for companies - they increase frequency of purchase, allow you to charge a price premium, drive loyalty, are a defensible competitive advantage and contribute massively to the intangible asset value of a company.

But what's the function for consumers? What value do they offer to individuals that leads to the non-rational behaviour that drives shareholder value?

The function of brands has evolved as the economy does. In early capitalist economies, economies of scale create large corporations that distribute across massive areas. Brands function as trustmarks, ensuring that you get what you expect.

But in hypercapitalist economies, we achieve functional product parity, which means that every minor purchase decision becomes difficult - there is no clear, obviously better option - which makes a supermarket a very uncomfortable prospect.

Brands come to the rescue: they function like heuristics - the take away the need to make decisions, take away the pressure of pretending to ourselves that we are rational economic agents, prevent us from breaking down every time we want some jam, by providing us with a simple rule of thumb: go with what you know.

Even if you don't choose the market leading brand in the category (although you usually will, by definition) you can anchor the category to it, allowing you to make a decision in relation to it.

So, as emotions are the lubricants of reason, brands are the lubricants of commerce.

Migration Frustration

[From pshab]

This week I've been mostly wrestling with a leopard.

As part of the transatlantic transition, I've also migrated to Macs - the first time I've touched one since Quark Xpress was a hot piece of software.

[I can hear your gasps of shock. That's right - TIGS has been IBM compatible all this time. Now stop being platformist.]

As a geek I'd been looking forward to the chance to become ambidextrous - I had assumed that as Macs are famously intuitive and user friendly and whatnot that I'd pick it up in a few clicks.

The reality has been slightly more painful.

Over many, many years of using Windows the interface metaphor, the translation of desire into action on the screen, becomes internalised. It's like driving - you no longer think about turning the wheel, you think "I want to go left."

Whilst the point and click mechanics of the OS are basically the same, there are enough differences to force me to have to think about it and its slowing me down to a learner's crawl, which has been driving me crazy.

It's perhaps analogous to learning to snowboard when you are already a confident skier. It's familiar but different and you're being forced to re-learn the basics when you want to shoop down the slope.

But I shall persevere, for I have drawn strength from an unlikely source: the sagacity of the Harvard Business Review.

HBR current issue highlights their pick of the breakthrough ideas for 08. It's a good round up, although there's nothing new there if you're a cutting edge blog reader: p2p economy, ARGs, the metaverse, avatars, China and so on.

One of their breakthrough ideas is the fact that gamers are ideal employees: with WOW in mind they point out they thrive on change, are used to working in teams, look for original solutions and think of learning as fun - overcoming obstacles, learning how to master the game engine, is the point of the game - good games are ones that manage this learning curve well.

So, I'm repositioning my with struggle with leopard as a game in the hope that I will trick my brain into a positive hedonic response as I climb the steep face of the curve.

I can't wait to level up.