Full Stack Strat, Cultural Pendula & Fachidiots

Full stack

I wrote a piece for The Guardian about the fragmentation of strategy problem I explored in my book, and thought I'd coined a new appropriation for the solution, which I called "Full Stack Strategy".

In essence, strategy is perforce holistic, and the communication industry's fragmentation into discipline specific agencies works against that: 

All these agencies created strategist roles to fight their way upstream to the client table, to spawn budget for their ideas, to justify all those ongoing retainers. Managing all these little strategies continues to drive clients to madness.

Then some people pointed me to this great Medium piece by Camilla Gray about "full stack strategy".

She uses it slightly differently - not about agency fragmentation but about the impact of digital and the need to understand brand as prime mover of corporate behavior - but to the same point:

Brand strategy needs to extend all the way from the core of the business to a user or customer and all the way back in again. The need for a Full Stack Strategy is relatively new. Digitisation, user-centricity, and a heightened emphasis on company culture has made corporate agility a must. 

I very much agree - we approached strategy this way at Naked, pulling budget from advertising to training and changing the incentives for staff at the call centre, for example.

As I said here, regarding digital brand strategy:

digital brand strategists need to be hybrid thinkers, concerned with who and what and where and when and why – a complete system approach. Business, brand, behavior, technology, content, channel, social and so on.

I don't remember reading this piece before - it was written in Feb - but realistically I almost certainly have, it's very much the kind of thing I would read. 

So this is probably a case of what's called cryptomnesia which is when you have an idea which is actually a memory that your brain forgets it saw elsewhere.

It's incredibly common, probably because this is how your brain makes ideas, by indexing things it knows against the problem at hand, combining inputs to take advantage of the mathemagic of combinatorics. 

Ideas, as we have discussed before, are new combinations

Brainpicker picks this up

This notion — that “our” ideas are the combinatorial product of all kinds of existing ideas we’ve absorbed in the course of being alive and awake to the world — is something many creators have articulated, perhaps none more succinctly than Paula Scher.

This fusion of existing bits into new combinations is a largely unconscious process, and for all its miraculous machinery, one serious downside is that it often obliterates the traces of the original sources we unconsciously fold into our “new” ideas.

In fact, the words for creating and remembering are strongly linked because memory and creativity are strongly linked:

Inventory and invention[HT my mate Clare, who sent me this, from Moonwalking With Einstein

One cannot invent without proper inventory. 

Then, yesterday I read this piece about how to use our programmatic advertising inventory properly, or at least make it suck less, with creativity.

It mentions an idea called "full stack creativity": 

full stack creativity, by which I mean a person (or small team) that comes up with ideas, makes the stuff, looks at the metrics, and then makes the optimization decisions.

Media people and analytics people can only make programs better through reduction…taking out the things that aren’t working.

But when creative people are involved in optimization they can actually make new things, responding to the feedback the market is giving them, and that’s much more powerful.

which is yet another way thinking about integration and fragmentation problems.

All of which probably just means that the full stack metaphor is one whose time has come, and probably on its way to gone through overuse, as is the way of such things, especially in advertising. 

But, this also feels like part of a larger contraction in culture, a movement, a swing of the pendulum.

Culture seems to work this way, yinning and yanging, swinging hard in one direction, discovering the opposite in its own extreme, swinging back.

Mainstream and counter culture are contrapuntal harmonies. 

The great specialization, of Ford and Taylor, of factories and production lines, of corporations and academia, has begun to struggle beneath its problems.

Its benefits are well known, in production terms thanks to Ford in organizational terms thanks to Coatse, who first explained The Nature of The Firm.

Production lines achieve huge efficiencies by maximizing the fragmentation of jobs to minimize skill requirements and training. 

Firms mitigate transaction costs of the market by housing specialists together to create a larger more efficient machine that solves problems - the company. [See The Org for more on this] 

The downsides for production lines is that it creates mind numbing repetitive jobs ideally suited for robots. 

The downsides for organizations is that communication and collaboration are really hard, especially between different kinds of experts, and create their own costs, which can ultimately overwhelm the gains made in transactions costs [this is when companies because feudal bureaucracies and start to die]. 

Academics require PHDs to push into an unknown domain of knowledge so far that it's hard for anyone who isn't a peer to understand them, and it makes the peer review pool highly competitive, because of the paucity of grants. 

Further, the danger is in creating what the Germans call a "fachidiot" or subject matter idiot, so deeply involved in a topic as to be tunnel blind:

"Fachidiot" which literally, translated into English means "subject idiot" defined by the Institute as: "Someone who knows a lot about a particular field, in a similar way to a one-track specialist.

The difference is that a one-track specialist still notices what is going on around him. A Fachidiot simply doesn't…"

Breakthroughs, especially in areas where experts have been stuck for some time, are often happened upon by scientists of adjacent specialisms, because they know enough, but not too much, about the topic. 

As I've written before, the Western world sees things in separate pieces, in binary logical terms, where as Eastern thinking tends towards the holistic, make me one with everything, as the buddhist monk said to the New York hot dog vendor. 

Rather than thinking of these are different ideas, they are perhaps different mental models, appropriate to different tasks, different ways of thinking about reality and tackling problems. Different models are useful at different junctures, when you have fully explored one model, it makes sense to look at its opposite to continue to explore. 

So you can see this cultural pendulum as swinging from pieces to the whole, back and forward, from components to systems, from l33t specialists to full stack, and back.

Bonnie & Clyde

Back in May we spoke at the HOW DESIGN LIVE conference in Chicago

[which was excellent, btw, you can check out some highlights here and some quotes here

and some lovely people from Webydo asked to interview us. 

We said yes, and the video is above - they call us "The Bonnie & Clyde of the Creative World" which is nice of them. 

They also pulled out seven themes from the interview, talk and the book. 

1. The Myth of Originality

2. Ideas are Networks

3. Copying is Lame

4. How to Come Up With New Ideas

5. In A World of Infinite Content - Focus on Behavior.

6. Visit Disney World ASAP!

7. Design Personalized Experiences Around Behavior

You can read about them in detail on the lovely Webydo

And in my book, natch

Listen to Radiolab


Last night I gave a talk at Google for the APG and, for reasons I can't quite remember, I asked the audience of planners if they listened to Radiolab - and only 2 people raised their hands.

SO - here is a PSA for the UK and especially for planners, because Radiolab is planner crack:

Listen to Radiolab!

To help, here our are few of our favorites

Nazi Summer Camp

In which we learn that Nazi prisoners of war worked at farms in Idaho, set up orchestras, and generally had very nice time. 

60 Words

On the 60 words in USA law that are the ongoing legal justification from drone murders anywhere they feel like it. 

Straight Outta Chevy Chase

A story about a white guy who is the unlikely hip hop expert
On how the right words can have the wrong meaning. 
The history of the phrase, which, especially as a communicator, you'll find interesting.
Searching for happiness, perfection, and ideals. Too many interesting ones in this one.
On just how profoundly unstable memory is.
And I now remember the one I was talking about last night which, it turns out, wasn't Radiolab at all, but This American Life.
[Told you memory was unstable] 
[which has since been retracted because the science paper that inspired it has been challenged as completely false - the interesting story here, the point I was making being that no one ever really changes their mind.] 

Ideas Are Connections Between Bits of Knowlege

Student Design Award Winner - Curiosity: Exploration and Discovery 

Our rather brilliant and lovely mate Scott sent me this delightful little film - it won a student design award and very much aligns with how we think at Genius Steals.

To whit, we are called Genius Steals because it's something we believe and our beliefs define how we work with clients. 

[We also believe that the age of naming your company after your own names is over and a little old school and icky.]

[We make an exception for the gloriously named BartonFGraf9000 because it's Gerry's dad, the story is funny and it explains a lot about the tone of the agency and their work, which doesn't take itself too seriously, because funny.]  

What we believe is that originality is a myth - that nothing comes from nothing - that ideas are new combinations - so that the more diverse stuff you expose yourself to, the more interesting connections you can make.

[PLUG: I map all this out in Paid Attention.]

Our beliefs are printed on our business cards, so we are pretty clear about what they are. 

Genius steals values

 [From our Year One Story

We don't want to be like Groucho Marx:

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." 

This doesn't mean we aren't willing to change our minds - it's a vital skill, especially in a world that changes as fast as ours does. 

It's why we love to work across a vast range of sectors and geographies - we are currently working on a tech start ups, a hospitality brand, several agencies, and our publisher, with collaborators and clients spread across SF, NYC, London, Madrid and wherever we are that week.

The more broadly we work and travel, the more diverse the pool of things to steal and recombine into new solutions and ideas. 

It's also why we partner with Seenapse, because the inspiration engine helps you think with other people's heads, to find connections you don't have. 

It's why we don't have a menu of products because, as the video points out, anything that can be routinized will be automated. 

Processes are great when you have known outcomes, projects are where we don't what the outcome will be at the start.

We like Noah's stuff on this:

Process management is a way to ensure that the same outcome is always delivered, while project management is a structure for supporting activities where the outcome is meant to be different every time.


Some of our projects are strategic, some are rapid turn around ideation, some involve content creation, some involve coming to Mexico [where we are this week] to run brand experience workshops for team members from all over the world for a global brand. 

Not knowing what we'll be doing or where we will be next is pretty exhilarating

[although it does come with a 100x increase in logistics! Imagine planning a trip every single week.

Fortunately Rosie is a business and logistics genius [among many other things] and our assistant is awesome - we're even flying her down to Mexico for these workshops as part of our team.] 

and keeps us inspired. 

We aren't taking on any new clients until Q4, but if this sort of thing makes sense to you like it does to us - get in touch anyway - we like chatting to nice people regardless of business stuff.

You know, like humans. 


So yeah we live in the age where everyone is a brand and branding themselves hard all the time and that.

But just as we try to rehabilitate companies to speak less like jargon infected corporate psychopaths, we have to be careful about not letting vice become verse. 

Or - here's a funny video! 

Here's Part Two, also

[BONUS: the song in the background is Doses & Mimosas by Cherub, from 2012, which is currently one of my favorite tunes, with an awesome NSFW video.] 

Advertising Philosophy With Henry Jenkins

Aca jenkins paid attention

Henry very kindly interviewed me for his blog about Paid Attention.

Part 1 and Part 2 are up so far. 

Here is one question to whet your appetite to click through - I'm really happy with it and people seem to be enjoying it. 

You have a very interesting section in the book about the emergence of street artist Banksy. What can advertisers learn from the Banksy phenomenon?

Banksy is an attention hacker like no one else in this generation, a modern day Warhol.

All of his work is designed to invite debate, to get into the news, to hack culture. Every stunt, every collection, is differently delivered, wrapped in mystery, laughing at and with society, advertising and the art world.

His concerns almost always reflect concerns of the time, he has clear values and well established viewpoints, he appropriates culture as much as creating it, leveraging old schemas to explain new ideas. He utilizes technology but never fetishes it.

He manages the almost impossible balancing act of being one of the world’s most commercially successful artists but without any hint of corporate acquiescence or sense that money is a motivator.

He easily traverses media, from art, to film, through PR, events, carefully curated digital spaces, protecting his brand by being utterly distinguishable in whatever he does.

It’s hard to imagine a better role model for a marketer, but that of course doesn’t mean it’s easy to steal his genius. -

See more at: http://henryjenkins.org/2015/05/advertising-philosopher-an-interview-with-faris-yakob-part-two.html#sthash.wFAb1Lnn.dpuf

Paid Attention Launches in UK

Paid attention grabMy book Paid Attention is now available in the UK!

Exciting. Also it has a new website!

Here are some nice things people have said about. 

"A new marketing philosophy for our time" - Ben Richards, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Ogilvy 

"Paid Attention is a must read for anyone struggling to understand media's changing relationship with consumers in a world being transformed by digital." - Dave Flynn, Chief Creative Officer, Endemol 

"the advertising/communications/ideas book of the year." - Adam Ferrier, Chief Strategy Officer, Cummins & Partners