Category Archives: Creativity

Whoops! New PR, New World

Oh dear. Those nasty activists. It looked at first like PR gone bad. me thinking it was dumb of Shell Oil to send a press release huffing and puffing about “activists” making fun of it. It looked like a press release. Curse you, activists! And like that. Shell is supposedly considering suing. The press release says: 

“These people have gone to great lengths to mislead the public about the age and reliability of our Arctic vessels, and otherwise damage Shell’s credibility,” said Smith. “Shell can obviously not allow this sort of misinformation to proliferate, and we are taking the firmest legal measures against the perpetrators of this campaign.”

It talks about an evil social media campaign using the hashtag #shellfail and other supposed sins. It also links to the offending website, arcticready.com.

So I went to visit the website, which is serious spoof. How clever of these “activists,” I thought, and how dumb of Shell Oil. And a nice spoof, even a collection of funny ads and a make-an-add game going on too. 

But there’s the rub. I went back to the press release to discover that the email with the supposed press release is also a spoof, by the same activists. So Shell’s not as dumb as this campaign makes it look. But, on the other hand, the campaign is smart, clever, and effective. Brave new world. 

Here’s a picture of the email press release supposedly from Shell Oil:

I can’t work up any sympathy at all for an oil company drilling in the arctic. But also, wow, these are very effective tactics. No? 

Could This Be You? One Great YouTube Launches a Startup

CNET’s Rafe Needleman posted about DollarShaveClub.com yesterday and I picked it up this morning. It seems that the key to a successful launch was one extremely-well-done one-minute video on YouTube, which I’ve embedded here:

I find this inspirational. It’s fascinating how this one big hit can be so effective. How much would a couple of million views cost in the open market? I haven’t investigated the back story, but whatever that is, this is still one great piece of marketing.

Notice that, although it may be the work of a startup, there is nothing amateurish about this video. Its production values are very high. It’s funny, it’s engaging, but it’s also very strongly focused on a value proposition. I’d love to know background on how it was produced, and how much it cost. (And I’ll add that in if I get it).

This is great work, and a good reminder of how many new ways there are to package an old product, start a new company, and disrupt a market.

Twitter and Problogger to the Copyright Rescue

OK, this is cool. The web makes copyright stealing so incredibly easy, and it’s extremely annoying when it happens to you. And it happens all the time. So you have to like this example.

Here, to the right, is what Darren Rowse, blogger extraordinaire at problogger.net, @problogger on Twitter, decided to do about it. He posted it on twitter where his 117,809 followers can see it.

No, I don’t know the facts in this case. If it turns out I’ve become a pawn in some foul plot, unwittingly ganging up with Darren against an innocent photo business, I apologize. It sure looks like United Photo Press is linking to Darren’s work and presenting it as theirs. Right?

I’m jealous. I still remember when a competitor took a GIF my son had done, painstakingly combining all the logos of all the magazines that had reviewed our product, and posted it on their website. I would have loved to have been able to publish that on Twitter.

And while that one is old news, all the time now fly-by-night blogs pick up my stuff, often from here, and post it as their own, presumably for spam or SEO gains. That’s happening now, today, often.

In this case, though, the alleged culprit in this case, United Photo Press, isn’t flying by night. It’s been around since 1990, and one can assume it’s staying around.  So maybe this really works. I hope so. If it’s true, I hope Darren’s tweets get it to stop.

Darren, United Photo Press, can we get an update, now that the problem has been published on Twitter? Was the problem solved?

Who Knew? Actions Give Better Data Than Words

At first glance, Paying Star Employees Well is a Good Strategy for Innovation in a Stanford business school newsletter seems like one of those "no-doh" discoveries that happen when academics turn their focus on the real world and end up confirming the obvious. But I clicked, and read, and it turns out to be much more interesting than that. They researched what people and companies actually do, not just what they say.

The article admits that the research conclusion is obvious:

Is there a link between the market strategies of software companies and how much they pay their employees, particularly the best and the brightest? There is. Software firms competing in volatile sectors in which the potential payoff for innovative products is the greatest — and the penalty for failure is severe — pay more to star workers than companies in more stable segments of the industry.

And then gets to the much more interesting topic of how they researched it:

The paper is noteworthy for more than its insight into the software industry. It’s an example of how insider econometrics, the careful analysis of rich, new sources of data, combined with interviews of industry insiders, is leading to a much clearer understanding of the efficacy of management strategies in general, and human resources practices in particular.

Now that’s intriguing. I dislike research that asks people questions and codifies their collective answers. Most of the time the people asked are a skewed list. And then there’s a huge gap between what people say and what they think, and another huge gap between what they think and what they actually do.

In this case, though, they studied what companies actually pay, and to whom. None of this is based on polling people and analyzing answers:

Testing that assumption would have been difficult in the past. Detailed data on a broad sampling of employees was simply not available, which is why most compensation studies until recently have focused on CEO pay. Empirical studies, say the researchers, had yet to establish a link between product market strategy and human resource practices using data covering more than a small number of firms or a select group of employees.

Now, however, much broader and deeper data is available through the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Program of the U.S. Census Bureau. The researchers analyzed salary and revenue data from software firms in 10 states, including exercised stock options and bonuses. Using that data, they were able to calculate the different potential payoffs for various types of software products and how those payoffs related to compensation.

Not only was there more data available for use in this study, it’s of better quality. For example, many studies that use income information derive it from surveys or interviews, while the "Stars" study used unemployment insurance data to find out exactly what people were paid over a period of time, rather than relying on their memories.

The researchers needed to understand the range of payoffs of software projects. To do this, they used firm-specific data for companies in 30 software sectors from the Economic Census. Ultimately, they created a "product payoff dispersion" measure for each company, which in turn created a model of project selection.

The research did eventually get into talking to real people in the field, asking their opinions. But even that phase wasn’t a poll, but rather a series of in-depth interviews, which I think (hope) means that researchers were able to get through the objectivity of simple polling and look into what people really do.

Conclusion: research is good, data is good, but knowing what people actually do is way better than just knowing how a group of people answers a set of questions.

What Does Creativity Have to Do With Business?

What does creativity have to do with business? Business is about dollars and deadlines and suits, while creativity is about nerds and long hair and artsy-fartsy. Or is it?

As the digital technology revolution matures, it is becoming more about creativity and less about engineering.

That’s quoting Fred Wilson, venture capitalist and thought leader, in The Creative Phase last Saturday on his excellent A VC blog. This seems important to me:

Why the distinction between engineering and creativity? Can’t engineers be creative. Of course they can and are. Maybe there is a better word to use. But what I am trying to delineate between is the hard work of designing and building systems and the more abstract efforts to entertain, educate, and emote with these systems.

Looking over New York’s technology scene, he quotes an analysis that notes that New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), a two-year graduate program in technology, is part of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, not the corresponding school of engineering, much less business.

Was it accidental or intentional the ITP was located in an arts school? I don’t know. I should find out. But regardless of why it was done that way, the result has been impactful. ITP churns out talented people who are half engineer, half artist. And the things they build reflect that view of the world.

Of course generalizations are dangerous, Success isn’t creativity vs. engineering; it’s different for every case. There’s also showing up, luck, hard work, and of course marketing and so many other factors. But I think it’s important to jar our assumptions a bit. Fred Wilson’s nod to “abstract efforts to entertain, educate, and emote”  reminds me on my favorite quote about software, from Stuart Alsop: “Good software feels like silk. You know it when you see it.”

And this all reminds me that some serious portion of what we now call the great works of art – all of Shakespeare’s plays, for example – were created by people who were doing it for the money.  It wasn’t the business of art, it was that good art was good business.

I think about some of my favorite tech products: software I use, websites … isn’t Google Earth, for example, more art than engineering? The original Macintosh? Even – and you’ll have to forgive me for this one, but I do love spreadsheets – the first VisiCalc?

Our Children Spread Their Dreams Under Our Feet. We Should Tread Softly.

This less-than-17-minute talk was posted on the TED ideas worth spreading site just a week or so ago. I think every one of us should take 17 minutes off and listen to this, and think about it. It’s funny. It’s interesting. And it’s important.

Sir Ken Robinson starts with a reference to global climate change, a big problem, hard to embrace because there’s so little any individual can do. He jumps to a global education crisis, which strikes me as just as big, and just as hard to embrace. That’s sad. I hope I’m wrong. He implies, at least, that we might be able to change this for the better. I hope he’s right.

Some interesting quotes:

  • A three-year old is not half a six-year old.
  • We have built our education system on the model of fast food.
  • If you’re doing something you love, an hour feels like five minutes. If you’re doing something that doesn’t resonate with your spirit, five minutes feels like an hour.
  • The reason so many people are opting out of education is because it doesn’t feed their spirit. It doesn’t feed their energy or their passion.
  • We have to change metaphors. We have to go from an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people, to a model based more on principals of agriculture. Human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it’s an organic process.

I love his ending. He finishes quoting a William B. Yeats poem, which ends: “Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.”

And he (the speaker, not the poet) concludes:

And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams under our feet. And we should tread softly.

The Curious Paradox of Copying and Creativity

A couple of months ago I picked up this post on TechCrunch, which sort of accuses Apple of copying its iBooks application for the new iPad.

clonesI hate business copycats. Drives me crazy. As Palo Alto Software’s Business Plan Pro grew up, others copied our tag lines, our packaging, and the software. I hated that.

In the retail business you have some companies who live on copying packaging. They put imitation products inside imitation packages to fool people, so they get the wrong thing. I hate that. How do they live with themselves?

But it’s not illegal.

And it’s also the history of innovation. From VisiCalc to SuperCalc to Lotus 1-2-3 to Quattro Pro to Microsoft Excel, copying makes things better. From CP/M to DOS to Windows, copying makes things better. The original Macintosh operating system borrowed from an earlier mouse and window system developed by Xerox. The iPod was not the first MP3 player, nor is the iPad the first tablet computer. These were not new ideas, but they were improvements.

And all the cool new phones now are copying the iPhone.

Do we hate the people who copy ideas? We all do it. Kids learn their moves in sports by copying other kids. We learn to write better by copying writing we like. We learn to get along with people by copying people.

The entire history of human creativity is built on copying. What, if not copying, is the cause of those identifiable periods in music and art and writing, like the Baroque or Renaissance? What except copying makes Gothic cathedrals? Try to name a good movie that didn’t borrow from some earlier movie. Even Shakespeare was often redoing older classical themes.

And yet, when I look at all the stuff in the market that’s copying something else, it makes me mad. Do your own thing. Be original. Make it better. Don’t just copy my thing. Even if it’s barely legal, it’s still sleazy.

A lot of great art starts with copying, borrowing themes, ideas, and so on. But business, starting with one idea and adding to it, making it better, creating new things based on old things, that’s progress. Business copying, looking like somebody else just to steal some respect, is just bad business.

I’m glad cool new innovations based on existing stuff succeed. I hope all sleazy business copies fail.

(Images: galtiero boffi, Konstantin L/Shutterstock)

The Truth in a Graphic About High-Tech Distractions

I just couldn’t resist sharing this. It’s called The Hierarchy of Digital Distractions, and it’s brilliant; and even better in full size, so you should click this link or on the picture to see the original. I got it from Ann Handley, @marketingprofs on Twitter. It’s from a site called Information is Beautiful, by David McCandless.

And it certainly depicts, way too accurately, the way digital distractions stack up for me.

(Image: by David McCandless, via Information is Beautiful)

New World, New Leaders, New Institution

Singularity University, brainchild of Ray Kuzweil and other industry leaders (Nobel physicist George Smoot, for example, and Tom Byers of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, Google leaders Vint Cerf and Chris DiBona, SIM City creator Will Wright; quite an impressive list), is up and running now at the NASA-Ames research center in Moffett Field, CA, tucked away between Mountain View and Sunnyvale, just west of the huge obsolete blimp hangars that have been there for at least 50 years. It’s an amazing venture. From it’s website:

“Singularity University derives its name from Dr. Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity is Near.” The term “Singularity” has been used to refer to a future time of rapid and accelerating development of various sciences and technologies including biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, robotics and genetics. One goal of Singularity University is to [expand / teach / show] how these rapid developments occur today, sometimes so common that we do not see them for what they are, as when a graphics card is faster than any supercomputer of just a decade ago.”

A first lucky group of a few dozen students is there now, taking part in a 9-week program. In the near future they’ll be offering some 10-day programs for middle managers, and 3-day programs for executives. Here’s Ray Kurzweil introducing it earlier this year, as a TED talk:

If for any reason you don’t see the video here, you can click this link to go to the source at ted.com.

I heard about this a couple of weeks ago from David Rose, founder of angelsoft.net, who is also, it turns out, leading the finance and entrepreneurship track. I’ve been meaning to post about it since. What an opportunity!