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It's our view on world business, politics, society, culture, art, branding, design and communications. It's anything that feeds our curiosity, appreciation and imagination or just amazes us, good or bad.

BACK AFTER 4 YEARS!, 24 February 2016

Amazing how time flies!

It seems like we're confronted with the same issues as in my last post, but maybe the next big issue is the faster arrival of intuitive AI than anyone thinks, as  remarks in a recent Observer column.

"Can Google's ApphaGo really feel it in its algorithms. When the game-playing system AlphaGo defeated a master of the Chinese game go five games to nil, its creators could not explain why. Is this a sign of intuitive AI?"






Privacy versus prefacy, 12 February 2012

It's been a while, but I've been immersed in a new project in the world of wine. But Facebook's stock market launch has intensified the debate about privacy and prefacy on the web - and made me rethink the issue. In a recent New York Times article, Somini Sengupta writes that 'Europe's moves to protect Internet privacy have given rise to a thorny question: How do the laws and mores of nations manage, if at all, the multinational companies that now govern our digital lives?'

He cites a 24 year Austrian, Max Schrens, who requested his own Facebook file. It turned out to be 1,222 pages long and included wall posts he had deleted, old messages and information he didn't enter himself.

He asks whether we can we trust companies like Facebook and Google. Do they need to be more carefully regulated? How easy is this to do? Every European country has a privacy law but the USA has no law that spells out the control and use of online data. Then, social mores around privacy vary widely across the globe. But the biggest challenge may be the speed of technological innovation. 'Just as it becomes remarkably easy for us to share our information with others, it also becomes cheaper and easier to crunch and analyse that information - and store it for ever'.

I think we may become increasinlgy guarded about our public profiles, just as we become more open with those we trust. But if those people are your friends and they are on Facebook, how will that work in practice - particularly for today's generation of kids who turn on Facebook and chat the minute they wake up?

Good to know, 14 December 2011

What do you think of Google’s ‘Good to know” campaign? I like it and it makes me trust Google more. It’s informative and balanced. It’s a useful reminder of why it’s important to know how to protect your privacy on the web and the value of Google knowing your preferences. I also like the use of illustration which makes the campaign feel human and unintrusive.

John Naughton who writes about technology for the Observer may disagree. A few weeks ago he wrote a column in which he said we hand over our identities to brands like Facebook, YouTube and Google. He says they intend to intrude ever more deeply into our lives to attract the targeted advertising that will pay for the huge investment in servers, developers and other infrastructure it takes to offer their services.

If Google has made it easy to switch our preferences off, then surely it’s up to us to be responsible for how much we want brands to know about us?


If Steve was still here..., 14 December 2011

...would we get this? Is it me or was this promotion too cluttered? Do we need the tear off movement?

And does anybody think that the tone of organge/red used in the iPad 2 promotion is too garish? Slipping design standards?

The lights are back and so am I, 14 December 2011

My local bridge has been closed for repairs for two years. It's just reopened, the lights are back on and it looks beautiful.

I've shut down for a bit less time but am back with a few observations...

A human technology brand from Portugal, 18 October 2011

I was in Lisbon recently and a newspaper ad of this brand's symbol caught my eye. Novabase is a technology business that was rebranded really well last December by the Portuguese agency Alberque. It's simple, intelligent and inspiring. The main navigation is just the sentence 'We think, do, connect, grow' broken into five bars - very elegant. Check out the launch video, Novabase Motion and read what they say about the brand in the 'think' section. Lovely. I wish I'd done it.

Has BA got it right this time? , 12 October 2011

I like BA's new campaign. It's well written and well crafted. BBH have done it with an eye for detail and integrity.

Better than the launch video is this one of a BA captain kite surfing. It captures the magic of flying.

But I wonder if BA have backed it up by investing in their own people with with another 'Putting People First' internal campaign. That was how they re-launched the brand back in the early 80's when Lord King was in charge and Landor's identity placed the 'To Fly To Serve' crest on the tailfin. I'm flying with BA next week and am going to ask the cabin crew.

What Steve said - cont., 8 October 2011

Four more things Steve said that really count.

"A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences...So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions... (Bill Gates would be) a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger."

At the end of his speech introducing the iPad 2, in March 2011...

"Technology alone is not enough...It's technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields results that make our hearts sing."

And on the importance of detail...

"For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through."

Thanks to this week's Economist for these quotes in their briefing on Jobs. The final line in their leader says it all. 

"The man who said in his youth that he wanted to "put a ding in the universe" did just that."

He did it by sticking to the advice he gave Stanford graduates in 2005. "Stay hungry. Stay Foolish."

Withdrawal symptons, 7 October 2011

Michael Wolff wrote, in a little book about brands, "if Apple left the world stage, would people have withdrawal symtpons? Yes."

I'm having withdrawal symptons about Steve, along with countless millions. Could you ever say that about any other business leader? But would any other business leader say this?

"In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service."

Or this...

"Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realised something that shoots holes in how we've been thinking about a problem. It's ad-hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.

And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We're always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it's only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important

That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."

Or this...

"These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life. I'm not downplaying that. But it's a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light - that it's going to change everything. Things don't have to change the world to be important."

Or this...

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle."

Thanks to the BBC www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-15195448


Touching all the right buttons?, 26 September 2011

Here's an interesting new brand that touches all the current buttons - sustainability, ethics, fair trade, entrepreneurship, social media and participation. 

The manifesto states 'The IOU Project is a study in the creation of a Prosperity Chain; an experiment to rethink how goods are produced and sold in a way that benefits everyone and protects the environment.'
Niche or the future?

Living well for less, 15 September 2011

This looks interesting. More than just launching a new range, 'by Sainsbury's' to compete with Waitrose's Essentials, Sainsbury's have launched a campaign called 'Live Well for Less'. In it they tell us 'Because life isn't simply about making do. It's about making the most of the little things'. Cue photo of father and son on the beach chomping on a sandwich and enjoying just being together. Is this the first attempt by a big brand to suggest the bigger idea that 'enough' can make you happy?

Taking time out, 19 August 2011

Just taking a break from London looting and worldwide financial meltdown. I'm on Long Island, N.Y. for 10 days and this is the view.

The medium is the massage, 27 July 2011

In last week's Observer, John Naughton reminded us how important Marshall Mcluhan was. He foresaw the digital revolution by half a century. Born 100 years ago last Thursday, he coined the phrase “the electronic global village”, 35 years before the internet. But he was probably best known for his phrase the ‘Medium is the Message. It was baffling, but in 1967 a book called “The Medium is the Massage” was published, which synthesised his ideas and gave a clue to what he really meant. Thanks to Brain Pickings, a free weekly newsletter and this article by Maria Popova for bringing this my attention.

McLuhan’s big idea was that the important thing about media is not the information they carry but what they are doing to us in terms of shaping our behaviour. He spotted the different meanings of the word “Medium”. One is a channel for communicating information. The other, familiar to biologists, is an environment containing the nutrients in which tissue cultures – orgnanisms – grow.

More from John Naughton...

“Change the medium and you change the  organisms. Our communications media likewise constitute the environment wjhich sustains, nurtures – or constrains – our culture. And if the medium changes, so does our culture.”

And from McLuhan...

“We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us...All media works us over completely...When information is brushed against information…the results are startling and effective. The perennial quest for involvement, fill-in, takes many forms.”

“Your family…The family circle has widened. The world-pool of information fathered by electric media – movies, Telstar, flight – far surpasses anything mom or dad can bring to bear. Character no longer is shaped by only two earnest, fumbling experts. Now all the world’s a sage.”

His thoughts have been amply brought to life in last week’s parliamentary Murdoch hearings and playwright, Lucy Prebble’s commentary in the Guardian.

Cast and audience are no longer delineated. The form of this is beyond theatre; a new form of glowing screens of varying sizes creates a medium between the audience and its drama. We do not just watch the committee on television, but also have access in real time by computer, to a further host of characters and audience, mingling and responding alongside it. My Twitter feed, for example, featured the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, both audience and major character himself, holding to account the Murdoch’s answers. And then there was my phone, the smallest glowing screen, as my friends commented not just on the televised events, but also the net’s response to them. Never has such an event of complex, institutionally interwoven scandal coincided with a dramatic form that so accurately represents its content: technology, information dissemination, friendship and whispers…If it seems the News of the World has become a stage, then all us men and women have become players."

This made me think of what is really bringing Murdoch down. Again from the Guardian, last week Emily Bell wrote:

“The central impulse of News Corp has always been one of commercial competition; now it must think about citizens and stakeholders.”

Which brings us back to McLuhan.  Exploring the big picture significance of worldwide connectivity, he says:

“The stars are so big,

The Earth is so small

Stay as you are.”

For businesses and the brands they drive, you do have to know who you are and stay true to it, but you can’t ignore the changing world around you. At the outset, News Corp's Sky was not a consumer friendly brand – quite they opposite. But Sky changed because it made commercial sense. Now News Corp needs to change again and run the business in a more professional, less cosy and, perhaps, more generous way. And recognise that Mcluhan's electronic village has come of age - and it's pretty powerful. You can't control the conversation any more - just be a part of it and facilitate it.


Connecting strangers in the Middle East, 18 July 2011

Ethan Bronner in the New York Times writes about a Facebook page where Israelis and Palestinians and other Arabs were talking about everything at once. As Nimrod Ben Ze'v, a 25-year-old Israeli student of Middle Eastern studies at Tel Aviv University said:
"What is great is that the discussions are unmediated - people aged 15 to 30 talking among ourselves...We don't talk about a two-state solution but about being a young person in Israel or Palestine. Our experiences are obviously very different, but we share a frustration about greater powers restricting us. That is very mutual"
The Facebook site has a YL in the name which means "Let's go" in Arabic. If only...

The changing role of multinationals, 12 July 2011

There is a fascinating article, Think Again, by Shawn Doonan in last weekend's FT magazine. It's about Google's new think/do-tank, Google Ideas and the changing role of multinationals - www.ft.com/cms/s/2/b8e8b560-a84a-11e0-9f50-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1RuBpP7Oz. Here are some excerpts and thoughts.

Google Ideas aims to take on the world's biggest problems - 'from exploring how to make fragile states like Somalia function better, to addressing the lack of judicial resources faced by many developing nations' -  and it raises the 'Good versus Evil' debate about companies to a much more interesting level.

Google Ideas is run by Jared Cohen, an ex-state department 'wunderkind'...'best known for convincing Twitter not to shut down for maintenance at a crucial moment during the protests that followed Iran's 2009 elections.'

It exists within Google's business operations and strategy division, not under its philanthropic arm as it might in most companies. This recognises the relevance of technology to most of the world's challenges and Google's business model.

'According to Eric Schmidt, Google's business model remains "to come up with new ideas to make the world a better place. The point is, as a corporation, we're trying to do more than just serve our shareholders. We're also literally trying to serve our citizens, our customers."

I buy that because these people are the customers and citizens of the world, so why wouldn't Google try to solve world-scale problems? Also their people have the collective intelligence and desire to do so - it's one of the reasons they work there. What other company could or would set up something like Google Ideas? 

So Google, rightfully, is at the cutting edge of a bigger transformation about the changing role of the multinational.

'While companies may have been able to resist getting involved in some controversial problems in the past, it is unlikely they will be able to do so for long.

"If you look at the role that companies are playing in the world...these are corporations that have to be part of the solutions of most of the top problems that are on the (US) secretary of state and president's list," says Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was Cohen's last boss at the state department policy planning unit..."Whether that is combatting violent extremism, or climate change, or the development of the global economy broadly, or global pandemics, those are not issues that can be solved only by governments...because they involve changing individual behaviour on the ground. And who is on the ground? Well, foundations, (aid and advocacy groups) and corporations."

...'Slaughter contends that companies will need to re-examine their social responsibility programmes..."This is not just about how companies can give back," she says."This is about how companies can contribute to important policy problems."

'Google Ideas is part of a bigger collaboration between Cohen and Schmidt. The pair have co-authored a book due to be published next year. Entitled Empire of the Mind, it grew out of an essay published in Foreign Affairs magazine last November that predicted technology would rewrite the relationship between states and their citizens, and went some way towards predicting the revolutions a few months later in Tunisia and Egypt. "Governments will be caught off-guard when large numbers of their citizens, armed with virtually nothing but cell phones, take part in mini-rebellions that challenge their authority," reads its second sentence.

Cohen's model for Google Ideas calls for it to bring together the public sector, the private sector, academia and society at large to share ideas and brainstorm solutions.'

Surely this is a much better model than industrial lobbies in government?

A recent summit against violent extremism in Dublin, organised by Google Ideas, comprised former US gang members, 80 former jihadists, neo-Nazi skinheads and one-time Irish extremists and was co-sponsored by the more traditional think-tank, the Council on Foreign Relations. A great example of the power of the new networks.

But as Schmidt says."It's very easy to be a think-tank. it's very hard to do the 'do' part."

If any company can, I think Google can because they know it's the right thing to do. I don't agree with Shawn Donnan's final comment that 'you can also get a sense that Google Ideas may ultimately be another product being deployed by a company used to seeding ideas and walking away if they do not take off.' 

Google is a positive example of the changing role of the multinational.

Chasing wealth, ignoring worth, 12 July 2011

This image of melting Arctic ice from Greenpeace sums up an eloquent article by Damian Carrington in last week's Guardian about the race for the Arctic's natural resources - www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2011/jul/06/norway-arctic-natural-resources?INTCMP=SRCH. Here's an excerpt.

"Taking advantage of the melting ice to unearth oil and gas that will fuel yet further melting is a grotesque irony. But the race into the Arctic is inevitable in a world that prizes mineral wealth but takes the natural world for granted. Until resistance to transformative action on climate change and environmental degradation thaws, the true value of the Arctic will run through our hands like meltwater."

And the debate about combatting global warming is becoming increasingly polarised. In this Sunday's Observer, John Vidal discusses the growth in geo-engineering experiments by big business and entrepreneurs as UN talks fail to cut carbon emissions - www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jul/10/geo-engineering-weather-manipulation?INTCMP=SRCH.  He sees a divide between the scientists, corporates and entrepreneurs on the one hand and environmental groups and developing countries on the other. My question is why are people so inherently suspicious of the motives of big business and scientists - surely these kind of experiments are worth doing and being well resourced? 'Big business' has the resources and the profit motive, yes, but intelligent businesses increasingly have a sense of responsibility too.


The Death of Diplomacy, 27 June 2011

Very interesting piece by Roger Cohen in yesterday’s New York Times on the death of diplomacy. It’s because of the ‘unstoppable connectivity’ of mobile phones and the internet. www.nytimes.com/2011/06/24/opinion/24iht-edcohen24.html?_r=1&ref=global. And the charts show how the growth of smart phones, in particular, will accelerate in emerging markets and above all in China.

Here are some excerpts from the article. 

‘…there are now over 5 billion handsets in the world, compared to 907 million in 2000. The number of users of the internet has grown in the same period from 361 million to over 2 billion. There are now over 100 million mobile phone users in Pakistan alone, compared to 300,000 a decade ago.

…‘Diplomatic cables have been bypassed by networks that observe no borders and respect no hierarchies’.

 …’The distinction between the real and the virtual worlds – one that people over 40 insist on making - is simply non-existent to the 52% of the world’s population that is under 30. They move seamlessly between the two. Any attempt to divide them just seems quaint.

When people live freely online they do not want to live in confinement within their physical borders. That is the first great lesson of the Arab Spring.

…The second great lesson has been that connectivity equals organisation moving at speeds no state apparatus can match.

...The most revolutionary idea of our age is that technology equals empowerment. That empowerment can be used positively or negatively…

Jared Cohen, formerly of the State Department and now heading up Google Ideas wants to ensure that technology is a net positive.

‘…The basic idea is that if you bring together people who understand the tools of our age with people who understand the challenges of our age, the benefits will be large.

It is also clear that diplomats are a very long way behind in understanding how they can build on social networks..

'...At a memorial for Richard Holbrooke in Berlin, the former American ambassador to Germany, John Kornblum, said, “We are coming to a new kind of world. One where networks will be more important than treaties. A new kind of diplomacy will be necessary”.

Defining that new diplomacy is the work of the next decade.  Holbrooke is not a bad example. He never stopped looking forward. And he liked to compare diplomacy to jazz – a constant improvisation on a theme always looking for new harmonies’.

I don't think diplomacy is dead, in fact it is more important that ever. We need diplomats to be more in touch with how people are living and somehow balance the need to be agile with the need to reflect.

But if people are always connected, listen to what they say to each other, and what they say is what people hear, then maybe EM Forster will be right - 'Only Connect'.



A sophisticated Chinese brand, 9 June 2011

This sophisticated and understated brand, Shao Hao, caught my eye at Beijing airport just before I jumped on the Lufthansa airbus home.

There will be more to come...

On the way to Shanghai, 9 June 2011

The high speed train from Hangzhou to Shanghai takes 45 minutes and when you get there it really is stunning, particularly at night. The Blade Runner style metro station and the view of Pudong from the Park Hyatt on the Bund take your breath away. But commerce never stops - I counted 20 barges moving gracefully and steadily up river at 12 pm even while we were sipping mojitos and dipping our feet into an outdoor jacuzzi on the 32nd floor!

This year's world Expo, 9 June 2011

It seems that every Chinese city hosts a world expo of something to put themselves on the world map. This year Xian is hosting the world horticultural expo. The symbol is a pomegrante, a very healthy fruit. And this sign at nearby Mt Hua seemed to capture the beauty and benefit of flowers - not quite the same as horticulture but in the same natural spirit and an expression of the Chinese appreciation of nature.