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Posts from October 2011

Ex Libris...

Ex libris the name of a regular feature in the International Journal Of Advertising

[SIDENOTE: Do you read it? Did you know about it? I'm increasingly keen to try and bridge the gap between the very interesting acadedmic research around advertising and the industry of advertising.

Seems like we could learn a lot from each other.]

They very lovely Professor Stephanie O'Donohoe from The University of Edinburgh reached out and asked me to do one for them and believing as I do that reading is for awesome people, how could I refuse?

The pieces is below in its entirety for convenience - if you grab the pdf you will get a bonus book review by Gareth Kay on Gary V's Thank You Economy. 

Download IJA Book_Reviews September 2011 FY


Polonius: What do you read my lord?

Hamlet: Words, words, words.


I’ve always wanted a library.

[I’m aware that Ex Libris technically means from the book of, but it can also mean from the library of.]


A library with musty leather bound books and one of those ladders on wheels.

Not Borges’ Babel, just a place to house the bodies of the books I have known and loved.

That’s one of the things I love about books in their original conception – they create their own souvenirs, a discarded carapace of content consumed, bones to be picked over and shared, or given away

[because whenever you lend someone a book, no matter how largely you write your name on the frontispiece, you know, deep down, that you have just given that book away].


To bastardize Philip Larkin, books are where we live, where we come from. As a teenager, your record collection was perhaps a more telling indication of who you are, but as an adult, your books define you, or who you want to be.

This is the gist of this column, I imagine: ask about the books to get directional hints at the mind or the man.  Or the practitioner, perhaps more saliently.


What books then would you choose to define you? For the English among you, it’s very like Desert Island Discs; a challenge to represent the inestimable depth and complexity that is you and your subjective aesthetic, in all its glory, in a very small number of cultural referents.

To whit, we should begin, so let’s start with something pretentious.

First up I summon forth what is commonly accepted to be one of most complex of the great works of poetry – The Waste Land by T.S Eliot .

Recently re-released in an excellent iPad edition, Eliot’s post-modern challenge to the reader revels in its obscurity; every line opens up more possibilities and associations, which I have always been smitten by. The idea that a text should create more meanings, not define any absolutely, and allude meta-textually to the culture it grows from, has always been part of how I think about the dense, generative expressions of advertising.

From self-aggrandizing high culture, to high culture wrapped in low: comic books.


So much of my understanding of myth and how myth operates in culture is a function of reading about superheroes.That said, from my bookshelf with delusions of grandeur I offer up the entirety of The Sandman by Neil Gaimen

Widely accepted to be one of the greatest comic book series of all time, and one of the lynchpin works that established literary credibility for the genre, its recombinant intermingling of disparate myth and popular culture, and ability to weave multi-stranded narratives that are both personal and alien, remain unparalleled.

[BONUS: Also read Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott Mcloud , a wonderful exploration of the literary theory of ‘sequential art’ and one of the possible reasons that Scott ended up writing a comic book about the launch of the Google Chrome Browser, which I may have worked on.]

As a literary type person, I also harbored a desire to be great novelist.

Perhaps I still do, but I don’t think I have the right mode for long form fiction, as much as I regard it.

I stand by my favorite novel of all time: Stone Junction by Jim Dodge [Kindle Edition]  ‘alchemical potboiler’, a postmodern psychedelic journey of discovery around the fringes of society, something that inspires the soul to ask questions and peer behind curtains.

[BONUS: Stone Junction also reminds of my favorite novel as a teenager, Lux the Poet by Martin Millar, [Kindle Edition] which I had completely forgotten about until last week, because it is set against a backdrop of the Brixton riots in 1985.]


As I get older I find myself growing into all the clichés and reading more non-fiction, especially popular science. The book that began it all was, I think, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley. [Kindle Edition]

It was this book that reminded me that, at one point, I also wanted to be a geneticist and the legacy of this leaves me very interested in recombinant processes.

Since I have been espousing a combinatorial conception of creativity for some time, I feel I should mention Ideas Are New Combinations by James Webb Young, [Kindle Edition] and then probably Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson [Kindle Edition] for good measure.


My brain has always shunned useful information for trivia, and Bill Bryson’s A Short History of  Nearly Everything [Kindle Edition] is incredibly long AND has so many beautiful bits of trivia crammed into every page it deserves endless re-reading.


A book that had such a great impact on how I think about the brave new digital world and the people in it that I ended up teaching on the author’s postgraduate course and writing the preface to the Brazilian edition mustn’t be ignored: Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins. [Kindle Edition]

Henry is one of the pre-eminent media theorists of our time, both as fan and academic, and his understanding of participatory culture is required reading for anyone hoping to understand behavior and motivation in communities online.

[Bonus: So are Here Comes Everybody [Kindle Edition] and Cognitive Surplus [Kindle Edition] by Clay Shirky. I didn’t write the preface to those though.]


Speaking of behavior, in a business built entirely around the hopeful modification of such, nothing delights me more than our recent adoption of behavioral economics as a cause célèbre. My favorite text is Stumbling on Happiness [Kindle Edition] by Dan Gilbert, which charmingly reminds us how bad we are at predicting anything, especially what will make us happy.

[Bonus: Also do read Predictably Irrational [Kindle Edition] by Dan Ariely, and How We Decide [Kindle Edition] by Jonah Lehrer and my most recent favorite in this general area, Everything is Obvious [Once you Know the Answer] [Kindle Edition] by Duncan Watts]


Whilst we should look outside ourselves for inspiration, we should also be aware of the tradition we operate within.

To that end, the key texts for advertising are numerous but you should be fine with Truth Lies and Advertising by Jon Steel [Kindle Edition], the only planning memoir, and Ubiquitous Persuaders, by George Parker, [Kindle Edition] a proper history of modern advertising which sparkles with love and hatred in equal measure, and the planning blog that started a lot of other planning blogs, Russell Davies’ excellent We Are As Disappointed as You.

[Bonus: Consumer.ology by Philip Graves [Kindle Edition] will help those of you that suspect all market research is wrong with evidence to support your supposition.]


Finally, the book that has touched me most in recent times, the one that I hear in my head most often when dealing with reality, the one I am most often inclined to send to friends, is called This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace, [Kindle Edition] which I genuinely believe everyone would benefit from reading, and the world would benefit if everyone did.

[Bonus: Also attempt the mountain that is his magnum opus Infinite Jest, [Kindle Edition] if only for the gag about sponsoring the years, which leads to dates like The Year of the Whopper and The Tucks Medicated Pad.]



Ariely, D. (2008)  Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, New York: Harper Collins

Bryson, B. (2003) A Short History of Nearly Everything. New York: Broadway Books.

Dodge, J. (1997) Stone Junction, Edinburgh: Rebel Inc.

Eliot, T.S. (1922/2002)  The Waste Land and Other Poems, London: Faber & Faber;   iPad edition available via

Gilbert, D. (2007) Stumbling on Happiness, New York: Vintage

Graves, P. (2010) Consumer.ology: The Market Research Myth, the Truth about Consumer Behaviour and the Psychology of Shopping, London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Jenkins, H. (2006) Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide,  New York: New York University Press

Johnson, S. (2010) Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

Lehrer, J. (2009) How We Decide, New York: Houghton-Mifflin.

McCloud, S. (1994) Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York:  HarperPerennial

Millar, M. (1993) Lux the Poet, London: Fourth Estate 

Parker, G. (2009) The Ubiquitous Persuaders, Booksurge Publishing

Ridley, M. (2000). Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. New York: HarperCollins.

Shirky, C. (2008)  Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing

Without Organizations, New York: Penguin Press, February 2008.

Shirky, C. (2010) Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. New York: Penguin Press

 Steel, J. (1998) Truth Lies and Advertising: The Art of Account Planning, New York: Wiley 

Wallace, D.F.(2009)  This Is Water: Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living a Compassionate Life, New York: Little, Brown and Company

Wallace, D.F. (1996 ) Infinite Jest, Boston: Little Brown

Watts, D. (2011) Everything is Obvious *Once you Know the Answer, New York: Crown Business 

Young, J.W. (1965/2003) A Technique for Producing Ideas, New York: McGrawHill

Creativity 2020


I'm doing a panel Tuesday evening up at BloombergNYC to discuss Creativity [in] 2020.

Now 'creativity' will be exactly the same in 2020.

Because, well, creativity is a process - an approach to the interaction of the world and people's minds.

Creativity is the faculty which performs operations on the inputs - the only thing in your head that you didn't get in there by seeing it. 

[I seem to ascribe to a light tabula rasa theory of consciousness - that is to say I think all the 'knowledge' inside your head probably came from somewhere, even if you aren't conscious of having perceived or retained it, hence any idea is simply a novel combination of things you have experienced in some fashion, but I suspect the faculties, or some aspects of some cognitive faculties, are likely innate - such as the combinatorial faculty of imagination, which seems to be some aspect of how brains work.]

And that won't change because we have faster computers or more awesome fabric softeners or augmented reality contact lenses.

But we have a tendency to conflate creativity - the process - with craft - the execution thereof.

And by 2020 the craft will be very different indeed. 


And by 2020, there will be lots of new combinations to make combinations from. 

Certainly lots more traditional cultural expressions of creativity - but also lots more engineered, software created, bioengineered flesh grown, intelligent agent modelled, robotic combinations. 

This is obviously a speculative excercise - the event horizon is too far for us to really have much of an idea - but it will make for interesting discussion decoupled from the obvious considerations of today. 

But, when speculating on the future, it's worth bearing two things in mind - or one thing in two different articulations.

1. Amara's Law:

"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run."

2. Back to the Future 2:

With the hoverboards, holograms, and awesome sneakers, was set in 2015, which seemed reasonable in 1989. 

Come say hi. 

Anti-Social Net[work]Book


My mate Marc has just released a book called the Anti Social Network Book - a place to store all the thoughts you don't want to share.

In many ways it resembles a note book...

The Anti-Social Network 

A Place For All The Thoughts, Ideas and Plans You Don’t Want to Share

Now there’s a place where people can return to the days of not sharing everything. When thoughts were still private. When immediate attention for every act wasn’t so craved. It’s not online. It’s in this book. Inside are 200 pages waiting to be filled by you. It’s a journal of memories, a sketchbook of ideas, a sanctuary of thought. And privacy is only an issue if you lose it.

The site has a charming embeddable button that you can see at the top - and you can buy it from Amazon in plenty of time for Christmas. 

ETA Toronto

ETA Toronto 

Next Friday - October 14th - I'm speaking at the Emerging Technology in Advertising event in Toronto. 

I'm going to talk about the challenges and opportunities that 'technology' forces on the advertising industry, and media more broadly, and then also some of the things we've learned building Spies&Assassins - the creative technology shop - inside an advertising agency. 

In some ways, technology and advertising are seperated by a common language.

People using the word platform, for example, mean very, very different things, depending on whether they are an advertising person or a technology person.

Plus the usual random thoughts and abstruse concepts as, together, we have a conversation about what's going on in our world in all its glorious complexity.

If you are going to be there - or if you're in Toronto - maybe I'll see you?

Say hi if I do. 

Systems of Systems

This deck from some nice people at Undercurrent highlights some elements of systems thinking that I like.

As I've written before - systems architecture is one of the big challenges we face in an ever more complex world. 

The nature of systems, like the concept that media are/is one system, relies on the parts inter-operating and effecting each other dynamically. 

Changes in any one part of the system don't simply make the system more complex, they change the system itself.

Inherent in the idea of human behaviour is a need to follow relationships and influence and attempt to understand the emergent properties thereof - individual behaviour does not scale in a linear way, due to the dynamic interactions between agents. 

The deck highlights some tools and concepts mapped out at MIT to describe different system structures to help understand them - feedback is an inherent quality, but how that promulgates through the system is crucial and can be distinct. 

"All models are wrong, but some models are useful" - a system approach looks to absorb as many different viewpoints, points and relationships as may have relevancew which seems like a model worth considering.