Post of the Month - September 2015 - Nominations


It's early October which means it's time again to open nominations for Post of the Month. If you've read something particularly good over the past month you can nominate it direct or in the comments below. As usual, I have a short starting list, but please add to these with your own nominations and I'll put the shortlist up for a vote. So my starting three are:

Why Fandoms Make a Difference by Matt Locke

The Organisation is Broken by Clay Parker Jones

A Window into the Future of the Web from Tom Goodwin

Do nominate your own favourites.

Co-Location and Concurrent Working in Agencies

I've just completed a major piece of research recently about the future of agencies - an update on the first report I authored on the subject back in 2012. It's quite amazing the amount of change that seems to have happened in the past few years. Many have talked about the inertia of agencies, and perhaps this is true of some, but whilst there remain plenty of challenges there's no doubt that the focus on customer experience is now driving plenty of change in operating models, the competitive landscape and the way in which agencies are engaging with clients.

One of the areas of change that was most interesting to me was the burgeoning practice of co-located and concurrent working. Some agencies, particularly those that are working beyond comms in broader-based transformation, capability, experience or service design work are usurping the traditional 'waterfall' hand-off processes that have become embedded ways of working, and creating smaller teams of cross-functional specialists that might include design/creative, UX, planning and maybe even the client.

This reminded me of the process that Dave King of The Royals described in his Firestarters Melbourne talk, based on the Google Ventures 5-day sprint methodology. This way of working involved concurrent working over a short sprint and was designed to ensure a more joined up approach between strategy and creative and in the discovery of insights and ideas. Dave talked about how the process leads to fertile discussions and ideas, and naturally puts need at the heart of every challenge. It doesn't feel like writing a brief, he said, it's more like decoding an opportunity. 


The agency people I interviewed for the research described some advantages of this kind of concurrent working - notably speed of delivery, less reliance on a 'big reveal' and less danger of misalignment, less duplication, the chance to show quick wins and create a sense of momentum, and increased client ownership of solutions.  

At the same time, the practice of agency staffers working alongside client staff in co-located teams seems to be becoming more prevalent. There are some interesting challenges around culture here (notably with staff working in unfamiliar or different environments and organisational cultures) but it seems that many agencies have already taken steps to manage this. 

But what's fascinating I think, is that it seems as though some of real fundamentals of the way in which agencies are working with clients really are changing. You can read the full report by downloading it here.

IA vs AI

At the last Performance Firestarters on The Power of Feeds at Google, our speakers talked about the use of client and third party APIs and data feeds to dynamically update advertising messaging (beyond pricing and stock levels) to add new levels of contextual relevance (location, behaviour, weather, exposure to other media and so on).

It was a fascinating session and it seems that we're only scratching the surface of where this might go. Visar Shabi, CTO at the super-smart BrainLabs, spoke about applying a layer of machine learning (or even utilising prediction APIs) to the input of data so that we might develop a model that continuously updates itself. Alistair Dent of iProspect talked about how APIs bring scalability and speed to managing real-time changes in communications, and all the different ways in which we might use structured data to do this in better ways. Kris Tait of digital agency Croud (who themselves have a really interesting operating model) spoke of how they had used data feeds to dynamically update advertising messages for their client Netflix, making 297,000 changes over a six month period (the equivalent of 50,000 changes a month). 

Kris also described the process of using feeds as being one of augmenting human capability. In doing so he mentioned a really interesting delineation between AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IA (Intelligence Augmentation, or Amplification), which led me to this recent Andreessen Horowitz  podcast (embedded above) featuring the NYT's John Markoff who's just written a book, Machines of Loving Grace, about the increasingly complex relationship between humans and machines.

In the interview Markoff talks about how two communities had grown up in Silicon Valley - one focused on Artificial Intelligence and how technology might replicate or replace humans, and the other all about how technology might augment human capability. He talks about the McLuhanism of how we shape our tools and then our tools shape us (but we do shape our tools), why we'll end up talking to machines but not just through a conversational UI, whether robots really will replace human jobs, what’s really happening with Moore’s Law, and why we’re not seeing an equivalent Moore’s Law-type impact on productivity growth. A useful distinction and a fascinating listen.

The Future of Agencies


I've been working on a major new piece of Econsultancy research over the past couple of months, the output of which is a report that I've written on The Future of Agencies. As well as a quant survey, I interviewed a broad range of senior agency-side practitioners around the world to gain a perspective on how agency models were shifting, and their view on the where things are going.

The results were pretty compelling. When I last did a similar piece of research back in 2012, many agency people I interviewed then were talking about change but there was little evidence that the fundamentals were actually evolving. This time felt very different. There was evidence of major shifts underway in the competitive landscape, operating models, development of capability, client engagements and working processes. It was truly fascinating. I'll be picking out a few of the themes to talk about further here but you can access the full report via Econsultancy if you're a member there or if not via the Adobe Partners (who sponsored the research) site. I'll also be doing the second and third (the first was a few weeks back) in a series of webinars on the findings, the next one of which is on Thurs 24th. You can register for that here. Feedback on the findings, as always, is welcome.

Open Office Hours


I like the 'open office hours' idea expounded here. Apparently instituted by Marissa Mayer whilst at Google, she cleared an hour and a half of her diary at the end of each day and staff could reserve a chunk of that time by putting their name on a board outside her office. This enabled her to reportedly fit a large number of very short meetings into a block of time where staff could come and talk to her about anything. Meetings which apparently surfaced interesting product ideas including Google News. A better option perhaps than filling too much time up with the half hour/one hour blocks that managers tend to segment their calendars into, or to keeping an entirely open door policy which might lead to overly frequent interruption.