Beyond Boring Briefs - Deck

The webinar was a hit! We had more than 1500 sign up and the software hit maximum capacity. We've had a lot of requests for the deck.
[Reminder - this deck is a part of our workshop on better briefing called Briefs Against Humanity - you should get in touch if you want us to come help you making briefings less boring to inspire more awesome work]
We normally don't publish our decks. As consultants our IP is part of our product offering, part of how we make a living. But since demand was so high we thought we'd try an experiment. 

A teaser is available above via Slideshare.
For the full deck go to the new Genius Steals website and you can download it with a pay what you wish widget. [The platform charges us per download, hence the 50c minimum.]
All the money received will be used to buy drinks for young[ish] people in the industry - we'll share when and where once we have some funds and set up times for THE RETURN OF BEERSPHERE.
You will also be subscribed to Strands Of Genius but don't worry you can unsubscribe at any time if you don't like it - but people really do! 

"Put together by husband and wife creative duo Faris and Rosie Yakob, this weekly email is a source of interesting and fun links from around the web on a variety of topics. The content is expertly curated, and if you can’t find something inspiring in each edition, it will at least make you a more interesting dinner date."  -Hubspot

How We Work Now

How we work now julia

My mate Julia Roy has a new podcast series called How We Work Now in which we she interviews people about working in new ways and now they get things done. 

The first series is interviewing writers and she kindly asked me to do one about Paid Attention and how we work while living on the road.

You can download it from iTunes or listen to it below. 

She also wrote some fantastic show notes over on Work Hacks, that pulls out the key ideas we discussed and links to the various books and articles we spoke about, which included how we work and write whilst traveling and managing our own attention.

At the end I play some of a track by a drum n bass artist that samples a talk by Alan Watts, something that hits pretty squarely inside my own personal Venn. 

I love words. I love playing with them. I love pulling them apart. I love using ones that are so obnoxiously obscure and large that you have to look them up. I love that. – Faris Yakob

Social Fresh Orlando

Social fresh orlando

I'm giving the closing keynote at the Social Fresh Conference in Orlando - you should come if you do social stuff - ticket sales close August 12th.

If you are coming, come say hello - I'm on right before the cocktail reception on Saturday, which is awesome. 

The opening keynote speaker is the excellent Mitch Joel, and I'm very pleased that the mix of other speakers is about 50/50 male/female, which is how all conferences should be. 

I'm going to talk about attention and anxiety in advertising on social media, and then we head to Disney World because it was awesome last year and we want to go play with the Magic Bands again

Show Me Something New

Show me something new

[from an art curation blog where it was posted without attribution] 

I'm judging the New Category at the London International Awards this year. 

It's always the hardest thing to judge, as everyone who has been on the jury says, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the pieces are all entirely different, in form and scale, making like for like comparisons hard. Secondly, we're looking for pieces of work that can help drive the industry forward, beyond its assumed outputs. It has to factor in not just how good an idea is but whether it provides a useful new direction for brands and agencies. 

This year the president is Emmad Tahtouh, Director, Applied Technology at FINCH and winner of the first D&AD Black Pencil. [Also a former professional poker player].

The jury includes: Lars Bastholm, CCO at Google Zoo; Laura Jordan-BambachCreative Partner at Mr President; Andrew McKechnie, Global Group Creative Director Apple; Joe Sciarrotta CCO Ogilvy & Mather Chicago; Taras Wayner, ECD at RG/A - so we have a good balance of agency profiles, although obviously we need more women. 

We don't want to see something new that is either: a] fake b] a social campaign designed to make the brand seem smart and kind but that makes no sense when you think about it c] a pointless use of technology d] a PR stunt dressed up as innovation. 

We do want to see, reward, celebrate and promote generative mutations that can open up new avenues of thought, new roles for agencies, and for advertising, inside business and culture. 

So please enter yours.

Beyond Boring Briefs

Briefs warc

The lovely people at WARC have asked me to do another webinar and we hatched the idea to do one on briefs.

At Genius Steals, one of the workshops we do is called Briefs Against Humanity, because so many briefs are basically fill-in-the-blanks madlibs and it's cruel and unusual. 

This webinar will be some elements from that, cut for time and styled for the grammar of a one way webinar. 

From my time working at Naked [back when it did neutral communication strategy, often briefing all the roster agencies on an account and holding them to it], through working across agencies and at a holding company, to now working on briefs and briefing processes with advertising, digital, PR and media agencies across three continents in the last three years, it's safe to say we have quite a broad purview and, frankly, most briefs are weirdly formulaic, dull as daguerreotypes and just as modern. 

So we'll have a look at some of the templates and elements from around the world, and consider what a brief actually is, and how to make it more fun [because if it isn't any fun it won't be any good], and then explore the Genius Steal / Paid Attention brief template from my book. 

And, when I say "work", I don't mean, "advertisements" - I mean any kind of work being initiated across different kinds of agencies. 

It's free, it will be fun, and I will only be wearing briefs while I do it [although you won't be able to see me, just my slides.]

If you want to watch, you need to register over at WARC

Templates help guide thinking, but writing a brief is a creative act. How we brief is as important as what we say in the brief. 

In this Warc-Genius Steals webinar you will learn:

  • Why are all briefs the same and what can you do about it?
  • What’s the difference between a client brief, a creative brief, a media brief, a digital brief and a PR brief? Can one integrated marketing brief inform them all? 
  • How do briefs encode beliefs?
  • What tools, beyond the brief itself, can lead to better thinking?

Not able to tune into the live webinar? All registrants will receive a link to the recording of the webinar. 

No Exit Strategy

No exit strategy

We recently published our Genius Steals annual report open letter to everyone over on Medium, because that's the place where you do those things.

It covers a lot of things we've thought about this year.

About how having an exit strategy as an entrepreneur means building a company you don't want to work at. It's mortgaging your present for a possible future. 

How we are conditioned to do this, to be in desperate need of a future to tolerate a present we don't like. 

 About how business is structurally tipped against the little guys, especially in the USA. About how lawyers and legal negotiations and onerous healthcare costs are a tax on entrepreneurship.

About the narrative fallacy, and not taking advice and being grateful not arrogant. About happiness and making your life your life's work. You should go and read it if you are interested in those things.

And we launched a new site about our nomad life, with some writing and other content about that sort of thing and a public calendar so you can see where we might be, should you be interested, or want to book us for a talk or workshop and want to mitigate some of the travel costs. 

See you somewhere out there. 





Campaign asked me to write a piece about the future for a technology supplement.

They didn't say how far....

Cybernetics: the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things’. Faris Yakob imagines a world where science and technology live within you

You wake up with that bleary post-drinking feeling that used to be called a hangover. The Tylenol nanobots from the transdermal patch you applied before going out have already broken down the alcohol in your blood into harmless metabolites, sparing your precious liver cells, but you are still incredibly thirsty.

You reach out and grab the drinking flask off the urine recycler attached to your bed. Pure water is obviously far too expensive to drink. After the global droughts stubbornly refused to be a cyclical thing, it became more of a luxury than the previously most expensive fluid in the world – printer ink.

You lie there, enjoying the silence of your own mind for a second, before grudgingly turning on your implants with a flicker of thought, bracing yourself for the rush. Instantly, various communiques are installed into your operating memory, and you begin to filter them by urgency and importance, just as you were taught during recompression, after you were plugged in.

You still owe money on your student debts, of course, as you always will, and their bots are especially persistent, finding you no matter how many cognitive addresses you abandon. Waking up turns off their app which uses your implants while you sleep as part of a distributed super-computer, making tiny amounts of money to help pay off the compound interest.

Three splinter versions of your consciousness that had been working while you slept re-integrate with your waking mind, updating you on your progress. Things are going well. You are involved in a number of projects with subsidiaries of both the Apple and Samsung empires. There are no conflicts of interest of course, the Chinese Walls inside your mind are secured by unbreakable encryption. You’re working on some fun stuff, new flavour concepts hybridised from Monsanto-owned genes and crowdsourced dreams, some new elements for the ‘Love Immersion’ that is so popular in Apple now.

Here in the unaffiliated interzone, no empire is recognised. Early experiments in nanotech by Rosneft using pirated IP were unfortunately too ambitious. They lost control and grey goo’d most of Eurasia, rendering it uninhabitable. Applemerica and Samsungea were forced, despite decades of enmity, to collaborate on containment, and the surrounding fragments of liveable land became interzone between the empires. No protection here, but a lot less snooping too, which appeals to the nomad class of emogineers you are part of.

Creativity is a combinatorial process, well suited to software that can create billions of combinations and prototype them in the blink of a human eye. But understanding how these combinations, these ideas, will impact humans emotionally is still impossible for the AIs.

The intelligence of software turned out to be nothing like human intelligence, which operates as the slave to lots of messy heuristics called emotions. They are what makes life feel like it has meaning, but the bots find them annoyingly non-obvious. The miracle of subjectivity remains beyond the understanding of intellect. Bots have super intelligence – they learn, performing YottaFLOPS [or one septillion floating point operations per second], seeing all scenarios – but ask them if a joke is funny and they stutter. ‘Does not compute’. “Super smart has always been kind of stupid,” you smile to yourself, grateful that the world still runs on money and that emotions are the engine of commerce.

You get up and access your advertising algos. As the implants came online, as with the emergence of any cultural space, spam became an immediate problem, but now it was forcing itself into your brain. Ad-blockers were developed in the same old advertising arms race, but the immersive navigators and productivity apps and dating environments were expensive.

A truce was developed in the Alter Ego Algo. It dynamically trades your attention with advertising algos, based on your needs, preferences and schedule. “No one knows you better than your Alter Ego!”, as the slogan goes. Slogans are remarkably sticky, outliving the concept of narrative film advertising, for obvious reasons when you think about it. We don’t only think in words but we mostly do. We live in language. Originally the implants tried to move past language but it fried a few heads. Post language humans, it turns out, are no longer really human.

“Clothes,” you think, and a wave of Under Armour nanobots rapidly stitch themselves into a self-cleaning anti-microbial mesh around your genitals, decompiling dead skin cells to use as material. NanoVans build archaic shoes around your feet, the design a protean shimmer of colour and shape, occasionally recognisable as superheroes from your youth.

You activate your Burberry matrix, which flows around you, a skin adapting to the environment, constantly updating its blacklist of new viruses to block, and check the locality for Uber-loop pods. Maglev flight is slightly more expensive, but so much faster, and the pods have network proprioception so there’s never any traffic. You have a lot to do today. No matter how fast technology gets, you think, we always seem to find ways to be busy.

[With apologies to all the science fiction writers I have no doubt unknowingly stolen from to create this, and in honour of Marvin Minsky, the AI pioneer, who died last month]

Berlin School of Creative Leadership Interview

 Last year I was invited to give the President's Lecture for the Berlin School Of Creative Leadership, which I was pretty stoked about because I was following in the footsteps of luminaries including David Droga, Jean Marie Dru, Cindy Gallup, Bob Pittman, Martin Sorrell and John Hegarty. 

Just before my talk, the lovely Faculty Director David Slocum filmed this 5 question interview with me, where we discuss philosophy, content, consumers and the metaphors that bind us, metrics and market research, leadership and being nice, and the differences in English and American modes of expression.  

Would love to know what you think.

The Axes of Attention

Axes of attention

Earlier this month I did a webinar for the lovely people at the World Advertising Research Council about attention, rounding out a half year of touring my book Paid Attention, which has seen the talk I give evolve considerably, as the conversations have evolved around attention and ad blocking. 

You can watch it on the site [it says it's a download but it's not, it goes through to a streaming screen] and I thought I'd pull out one new element I've been thinking about: the axes of attention.

In my book I suggest attention is a resource, and it is traded through what is a kind of derivative or proxy or possibility point called the impression. Since impressions are binary, on or off, they make us think of attention that way, even though we know it isn't. 

Microsoft did some very famous research this year which was reported as

"Humans have shorter attention span than goldfish, thanks to smartphones"

and got a lot of press because it feels like something that is true, that our spans of attention have decreased, that it's harder to focus, because Internet. 

However, this sort of research is somewhat spurious because there is no agreed definition of "attention spans" and because Microsoft created it to sell certain kinds of advertising units - short ones, one assume. 

[Always look to the source of an article or research, because all content is advertising something.] 

Here is the primary research so you can look at it - it has lots of interesting depth to it, but we always look for the super simple "insight" even in areas that are amazing complex, like cognitive research. We are biased towards simplicity because we only ever encounter complexity in the real world.

Hence, stories and myth and how memory works and the oft spouted belief in simplicity, which often masks or distorts instead of reflecting reality. 

Anyway, the major point, made by Microsoft CEO is one I, obviously agree with, hence my book: 


So we live in a world with many more options and distractions, and so we can't focus as much, because they are always alternatives.

Every tiny bit of our attention takes something from us, and we have a limited about of time and cognitive resources each day. 

Povery attention

We trade our attention for content - that's how advertising mostly works -

except for with billboards, which is why David Ogilvy hated them, because there is on consent, no value transferred to the individual. 

Ogilvy billboard

and because attention is much more limited than content now, the price should go up. But the market has incorrectly priced attention because impressions are not quite the same thing. 

So you can understand ad blocking, or TIVO, as the market trying to correct the price of attention.

The attention cost in advertising of an episode of television on broadcast channels feels too high - too many breaks, too many ads, too high a frequency. Hence the practice of recording shows you watch live [one the rare occasions on you do] and starting 2o minutes later to skip past the breaks.  

Adblocking is the same - the price we started to have to pay in attention terms for the content no longer felt right, the price was too high. 

And, like in the tragedy of the commons, when too many bites of the pie are taken, the resource collapses. They take away our access to their attention, as also happened with billboards in Sao Paulo and Chenai. They became too numerous, too intrusive, and then they were banned. Attention collapse can happen.  

That said, somethings are very good at holding our attention.

To give the most extreme example, a man in Taiwan died this year after a 3 day gaming binge. Video games are extremely good at holding attention for very long periods. I don't think World of Warcraft players spending hours or days playing feel like they have short attention spans in that moment. 

So, a more varied understanding of attention is needed. It has 2 axes, not just one: duration and intensity, as in the chart at the top. 

Paul Feldwick reviewed my book [which is awesome and I'm super grateful about] and pointed out that

"So – to take a significant example – although there’s a great deal about the importance of ‘low-attention  processing’ and frequent acknowledgement  that advertising works in complex ways, the theme of ‘attention’ as flagged in the title keeps popping up without qualification as if it were always essential."

And I'd argue that it is, in the sense of duration.

Advertising can work with "low attention" - low intensity - as Professor Heath has well established. But it cannot function with no duration at all, that's just logic, simply because it means you never saw it, at all, anywhere, even in your peripheral vision.

Here we get into a tricky area because "conscious attention" and perception aren't the same thing exactly, inattentional blindness exists for example, which means we may not see things we aren't paying attention to even if we look at them, on the one hand, and you may never pay much conscious attention to a poster or TV spot as you see them. 

So, for posters, low attention processing may happen well below your conscious threshold, but that can't function when you have adblockers online, because the ads never get in front of any sensory organs. 

All of which is perhaps to say that communications need an attention strategy, to understand the attentional quality it is attempting to use in context, to appropriately value the attention is consumes from people, to balance out the attention debts people are feeling, to restore balance to the force. 

[Go watch the webinar over at WARC, which features attention hacks and various other nuggets of stolen genius] 


So, that wraps my year of thinking about attention with a rare but fun rant, to quote Tim Minchin.

I'm going to triple post this to Medium and Linkedin as a little experiment.

We are going offline for a bit to think about something new.

Happy New Year! 

Ex Libris Friends Edition - Win them All!

Strands of Genius

This is a special edition of Ex Libris since it mostly features books we love from friends of ours.

[Previous editions featuring lots of books I think you should read are here, here and here]

They were all featured in our newsletter this week - and if you subscribe THIS WEEK you will be entered to win either one of the books or ALL of them.

Strands of [stolen] Genius features a broad curation of the most interesting things we've consumed from the web this week, from articles, to research, ideas - anything that we think you should add to the lego box in your head from which ideas are made. 

The box below should subscribe you - for more go to



1. The Advertising Effect: How To Change Behavior
Adam Ferrier / @adamferrier

Too often we forget that changing behavior is why advertising exists, and that the assumptions we have, such as the idea that changing minds will change behavior, aren't necessarily true. Adam is a Naked alum, Chief Strategy Officer at new model agency Cummins&Partners, TV and radio pundit, dear friend and super smart individual. You'll likely find yourself re-reading and referencing his book at the start of many new projects.

2. Brain Surfing: The Top Marketing Strategy Minds in the World
Heather LeFevre / @hklefevre

Heather is a great friend to us [she was with us in the mountains this weekend!] and the strategy community: She's been writing, running and publishing the Planner / Strategist Survey for a decade. After a successful agency career, she decided to apprentice herself to some of the top strategy minds all over the world and detailed her journey in this book. She writes not only about what she learns, but the strategists and planners she meets along the way.  

3. A Beautiful Constraint: How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It's Everyone's Business
Adam Morgan & Mark Barden / @eatbigfish & @markcbarden 

Adam Morgan wrote Eating the Big Fish and taught a generation of marketers about challenger brands. In his new book, he and Mark Barden explore an essential aspect of creativity - how it works with constraints, and how constraints can even enhance the response. It's as beautiful as it is practical, filled with interesting anecdotes and solid advice.

4. Copy, Copy, Copy: How to Do Smarter Marketing by Using Other People's Ideas 
Mark Earls & John Willshire /@herdmeister & @willsh

Mark's hugely important Herd paper and book reminded us all that humans are social animals and often make decisions socially. His new book is very aligned to the GeniusSteals philosophy and creative process, and it's illustrated by another dear friend of ours John Willshire. Alongside the theory of looking to others for ideas, the book has a resource workshop section you will most definitely return to. 

5. Disruption Revolution: Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and the New Rules of Leadership
David Passiak / @passiak

David is a former religious scholar, technology entrepreneur and writes eloquently about the intersection of culture, technology, ancient wisdom and innovation [His previous book was Red Bull to Buddha: Innovation and the Search for Wisdom]. In this book he interviewed Seth Godin, Brian Solis, Chris Anderson, Jeremiah Owyang, Robert Scoble, Erik Qualman [and us] to uncover the modern rules of innovation. 

6. Read This Before Our Next Meeting
Al Pittampalli / @Pittampalli

Rosie has sent this book to clients and partners because it seems that everyone is suffering from horrible meetings. With no objective, no thought, it should be no surprise that many meetings are ineffective. Al's book is a quick read (about an hour) and includes some easy actions you can take to quickly improve meetings. Plus, you can discreetly leave it on your colleague's desk when you finish ;) And if you loved what you read, you can look forward to his next book, which is coming out early 2016!
7. Paid Attention 
Our very own Faris

When we asked the Global Marketing Director at Converse what she thought of Paid Attention, she said, 

"We don’t think of it this way, but advertising is an industry with a history of its own, shaped by heroes, epiphanies, disasters and luck. It’s not often analysed like other industries, but in his book, Faris has laid out a rich and intricate landscape that not only frames the state of advertising today, but the events that contributed to it, and how advertising should evolve in the face of that fast-arriving future we’ve heard so much about. Grab a thesaurus and get ready for a Billy Madison-esque learning montage." 

Haven't snagged a copy just yet? Our publisher, Kogan Page, is offering 25% off their entire catalogue with this code: KPXMAS2015


BONUS! We've done a lot of reading this year, and decided we'd each share one of our favorites with you!

8. Faris' Pick: KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money by JMR HIggs

What appears, on the surface, to be a biography of a briefly famous dance music band who went on to film themselves burning one million pounds on an island, is rather a a philosophical exploration into the strands of magic running through human existence and the twentieth century. Thanks to Saul Pee for the tip. 

9. Rosie's Pick: Want Not by Jonathan Miles

You've got "a young freegan couple living off the grid in New York City; a once-prominent linguist, sacked at midlife by the dissolution of his marriage and his father’s losing battle with Alzheimer’s; and a self-made debt-collecting magnate, whose brute talent for squeezing money out of unlikely places has yielded him a royal existence, trophy wife included." And the stories of their overlapping lives. An unlikely combination of thought-provoking, devastating, and funny makes for a perfect page-turner.