Workshop Slide Deck (guided): Lifecycles in products, companies, and careers

Introduction

This is a workshop session I designed and facilitated in Summer 2018 (annotated and abbreviated version, with some classroom exercises and notes included for other educators to reference).

Here’s the Slideshare version, although this annotated one is far better of course 😉


I created this as part of the growth & change management module of the AMP NYC accelerator program which ran here in New York City over the summer of 2018. Including the exercises, it was about 40 mins in duration, and can easily run up to 2 hours if you want to dive deeper into certain parts of the content.

Lifecycles

This session is all about lifecycles – mainly in building products, services, and businesses, but also in careers and life.

Let’s jump straight in.

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Navigating Uncertainty: Climbing the Ladder, Going out to Sea

When we are learning something new there are usually some guardrails in place.

We’re learning how to DJ in the safety of our bedroom, not headlining Barclays Center.

We’re committing our code into a test environment, not straight into the App Store.

Our Spanish conversation practice is with a peer in the local coffee shop, not a televised interview with Alfonso Cuaron.

Sure, things can go wrong, but we can fall back onto the patterns and techniques we already know, refer to the guidebook, or ask our teacher.

It’s the Ladder of Certainty.

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Location Arbitrage

Go back 15 years or so and this was only a serious day to day consideration if you were an international trader looking to take advantage of fluctuations in currencies and demand for particular goods.

For the rest of us, it may have come up as something to think about when going on holiday (cheap sneakers! cheap beer! My UK Sterling is worth 1.5 dollars! ah…the good old days…)

Now, millions of us are thinking about it.

And you’ve guessed it, the internet has changed everything: the range of new careers it’s created, the careers it’s changed, and the rapid enablement of true remote work.

One of the reasons to be based in London or New York or Tokyo was because you could earn more there than other places.

If you’re working in a traditional company setup this is generally still the case. Being located in the major metropolises still adds a premium on your salary that generally outstrips the increased living costs.

It’s also true if you’re a freelancer where it’s important to be able to deliver your work in-person, in real time.

You take advantage of being in that location.

But what if it makes no difference where you are located to deliver the work?

For a growing number of people, the upsides of living in an expensive major city are reducing.

They can choose to take advantage of location arbitrage.

If you choose to be a solopreneur, do you need to be in New York or Singapore?

Probably not. You may choose to be there for myriad other reasons (and don’t get me wrong, there are a lot), but unlike before you now don’t have to be.

As this shift gathers pace, a lot of people in major cities are going to start thinking more about location arbitrage.

It could be splitting their time between the city and another place 60-120 mins away (I’m pretty bullish on the growth of this for co-works and other real estate and community-led projects), taking 3-6 month sabbaticals (an evolution of Tim Ferriss’ ‘Mini Retirement’ concept perhaps), or just splitting town completely.

Doing work that is location agnostic suddenly bring a whole bunch of 2nd and 3rd order effects into play.

Here’s one to start: Marc Andreessen recommended getting to the center of an industry as quickly as possible. This still stands to reason – but what if there is no one clear center? What happens then?

Being in a major city may actually feel like a disadvantage.

Bottom Line: It’s worth keeping an eye on location arbitrage, and even more so on its knock-on effects. That’s often where the most exciting stuff starts to happen.

Beyond The Happy Meal: products to transcend generations

Regular readers will know I’m a fan of the author and broadcaster Steven Johnson.

I also admit I’m rarely an early adopter (as frustrating as this can sometimes be), and in Johnson’s case I only discovered his work via his TV series How We Got To Now which was broadcast on BBC2 in the UK a couple of years ago.

As I tweeted from our sofa how much I loved the show, my (now) wife could only look on with bemusement when I gesticulated in wonder 10 seconds later. The show’s host had retweeted me to his 1.5m followers. It was magic, until I sheepishly realised the programme had of course been recorded months before. He was probably at home having a cup of tea.

Something else with a bit of magic is the kids’ version of the How We Got to Now book which launched a few months ago.

It got me thinking about other products, ideas and creations that either transcend age gaps or can be repurposed wonderfully for those much older or younger than the intended audience.

Here are a few of my favourites.


Arts & Raps

This series from Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital takes the TV interview format and flips it into today’s youth culture (hiphop stars, young hosts, and YouTube). 

I like the blend of education and entertainment – the show touches on some tough topics that are important for young people to understand, without feeling like a public service announcement. And watching rappers squirm as they try to explain their lyrics to the young hosts is entertaining for adults too.

This path has been trodden before through shows like Kids Say The Darndest Things (the hook is the “out of the mouths of babes” cliche)  – but as Derek Thompson suggests in his book Hit Makers, a key ingredient to making something popular is often about New Wine aged on Old Oak.


Kano

The London-based computer company ostensibly exist to support kids in becoming developers, but their products are used enthusiastically by people of all ages.

As the company say, billions of us use computers, but only 1% of 1% of us can take them apart and change them. Kano’s mission is to drastically increase that number.

Musicians are creating weird and wonderful new instruments, street artists are creating code-driven installations, and teachers are teaching other teachers how to code.

I interviewed Kano co-founder Alex Klein on the Tickets podcast – check it out:


Netflix’s Sex Education

Netflix snapped up this UK comedy-drama in late 2017, and the first season was made available at the beginning of this year. Its combination of dry British humour, US-style college campus setting and superbly curated cast have made it a sleeper hit. 

I assume the show is aimed at the same demographic as its stars (14-18), but whether you’re going through the tribulations of puberty, have just cleared some of those hurdles, or wince at the memory of your own school days in decades past, Sex Education hits the spot on the number of levels. And it’s binge-worthy: my wife and I watched the whole series over this past weekend.

But the extra element that really makes it really stand out for me is that the unpacking and understanding of difficult topics are woven into the plot in a way that offers a guiding, but still optional, torchlight, rather than feeling like sitting through 6 hours of traditional sex education.


Kids’ fashion styles

Have you ever noticed how stylish some young kids’ clothing lines are? 

Notwithstanding a few premium designer brands, why is it that beyond the age of 8 so much fashion (especially for men) defaults to black, white, grey or a little bit of navy?

I’m constantly astounded at the get-ups my wife and I have bought for our now 3 and a half-year-old nephew.

The search for something suitable in my size continues…


Pornhub’s sex education

From one style of sex education to another.

This one is more strongly aligned to edutainment than necessarily crossing generations, but given Pornhub’s traffic levels it’s fair to assume a few different age groups are using their service.

Note: This Quartz article that delved into Pornhub’s incredible data capabilities is well worth a read.

Partnering with Dr Laurie Betito, Pornhub’s Sexual Wellness Center is a knowledge base of responsible advice, Q&As and other content.

At the time of writing the site has been up for about 18 months. Given Pornhub’s undoubted financial resources it seems a bit of a half-hearted effort thus far, especially as there’s such a big opportunity for brands of all types to create valuable educational content.

Still, it’s a good idea – could Pornhub content even be on the school curriculum one day?

Inclusive Apparel

Sneakers are big business.

NBA star Steph Curry has released a number of signature shoes with sports brand Under Armour. The latest is the Curry 5.

They’ve been a big hit – until one young female fan discovered the shoes weren’t available for girls. She wrote to her hero telling him so.

A little embarrassing for Curry as he’s been outspoken about gender equality in sports, and has hosted a girls’ basketball camp in the past.

His response on Twitter helped clear things up:

There are a couple of things going on here.

First, it turns out sneakers for girls are no different in shape or production than the ones for boys, it’s just design/branding that shifts. This makes the Curry 5 omission even worse.

Second, this episode shines another light on big sports brands still having issues with inclusivity, particularly at a corporate level. Nike and Under Armour have both come under fire on this

This lack of inclusivity is a big missed opportunity for these companies.

It sets them back on attracting great talent, connecting with new audiences, developing a better internal culture, empowering the athlete in everyone (as Nike to like to say), and yes, selling more shoes.

It’ll be interesting to see what the apparel brands do next on this front.


Of course, alternate versions or fully cross-generational products have been around for decades – from the McDonalds Happy Meal to The Simpsons.

What’s so interesting now is the increased generational fluidity across products – and more broadly than just toys, fast food or entertainment.

These are just a few examples of what’s happening.

What else can be taken from adults to kids, or visa versa?


What kind of artist are you?

Finding out with three lines, a few dots, and a long-sleeved shirt

Note: I found this post in my drafts today as I was looking for the shirt diagram. This post originates from May 2015. Even though some of my thinking has evolved since then I’ve decided to publish it in its original form.

Storage Solutions

When I moved into my current flat, clothes storage became a hot topic of conversation (I’m of that age now…).

The bedroom’s long and fairly narrow shape meant we needed to utilise height. We didn’t want to default to Ikea, and a lovely hand-crafted wardrobe was a little out of budget.

After much deliberation, a shopfitters’ storage rack was purchased; floor to ceiling on castors, with three shelves and two rails for jackets, trousers and of course shirts.

Once assembly was complete (slightly quicker than an Ikea nightmare build, but only just), I loaded everything on board only to find I had a surplus.

We’d vowed to keep the new place bereft of clutter, so I started working through everything, culling anything that had been on the substitute’s bench for more than 6 months.

When it came to the pile of shirts I’d rapidly thrown into a bag on moving day, I was shocked to discover that nearly half were either too long, some too wide (the ‘tent’ look), or with sleeves too short.


The Shirt Dilemma

Months later, long after the ill-advised purchases had been given to a better home, I saw this going around on Twitter;

Continue reading “What kind of artist are you?”

Build, Buy, Borrow, or…

A few weeks ago I was teaching a course at the HQ of one of the biggest and well-storied companies in the US. 

During the lunch break I started chatting to one of their senior HR execs. Within a few minutes we’d got into everything from Chinese innovation to the EU working directive and NYC’s freelance scene.

All these subjects touched on the 3 key components he considered when  building and extending the organization’s talent capabilities:

Build: Level up the existing workforce. 

Buy: Hire more full time employees. Resource reliability, but top talent will keep getting more expensive.

Borrow: Bring in freelancers, consultants, agencies, or other service providers. There’s expertise ready to be put to work, and lower overheads to go with it, but when they’re done a big chunk of knowledge leaves with them.

But while before there were 3, now there are 4. And this fourth element has created a new whole new set of questions, considerations, and conversations, and affects the existing 3 pillars as well.

You probably know what it is.

Bot.

Automate. Use machine learning. Remove humans. 

The question he is now asked most often about talent development is how machines can be used.

A question asked far less often: Why?

And more specifically, why they should be used at all.

There’s plenty we can do, but far less we should do.

Whenever the conversation shifts to Build, Buy, Borrow or Bot – it’s better to go back and start with Why.

4 Podcast Trends for 2019

A few hunches I have for the world of podcasting in the coming 12 months.

  1. Awards Shows: Podcasting categories will appear more regularly within vertical-specific awards shows (i.e. Music, Gaming, Law etc.
  2. Specialist Creative Agencies: There’s still a pretty big opportunity to provide creative and/or technical agency services to businesses and individuals looking to break into podcasting. A few offerings like this already exist – expect it to become more formalised and sophisticated in 2019. This shift has happened with all kinds of other content creation on the internet – from building Dreamweaver websites to SEO advice. It’ll keep happening in podcasting too.
  3. IMDB for podcasts: We have still yet to see the killer database of people making interesting things happen in the world of podcasting, especially those behind the scenes. A few companies getting into this but no one’s quite nailed it yet and things are still very fragmented. Feels like 2019 could be the year for a couple of these to break out
  4. Long-tail sponsorship: Sponsorship of the top-end podcasts by growth startups has become so ubiquitous that it’s moved into meme territory (and this has been the case for a while – see this from the Atlantic back in 2015). The long tail is starting to open up but it’s not easy, especially with listener data insights still being pretty limited/opaque/variable (depending on your viewpoint). Anchor recently launched their sponsorship marketplace offering – it’ll be interesting to see how it takes with both advertisers and producers.

Two quick tips on Trend Spotting

This quote from Beth Comstock is a nice heuristic for spotting emerging trends.

Another way of looking at this is through writing.

If you notice something and find yourself writing it down three times in a short space of time, you may have just spotted a trend.

Go back to those notebooks and look for the patterns.

Who knows what you may find.


PS. I’m putting together a recorded version of a class I did on Trend Spotting (including the above Beth Comstock quote plus a bunch of other tactics and exercises)  – that’ll be going live next week.

The Quick No

I once had a meeting at a prestigious London address. 

You probably know the kind of place – an immaculate 4 storey Georgian townhouse where even the flowers outside are imposing.

After waiting 10 minutes or so in the reception area, I went in for my meeting.

It was one of those meetings that come about from time to time. A slightly tenuous 2nd or 3rd degree referral, possible scope for interesting collaboration, often doubtful but usually worth a look. [1]

On my way home, I got a message flash up on my phone. 

“How did it go?”. 

I replied, “In and out in 12 minutes”.

10 seconds later; “Oh well”

They must have been right – 12 minutes can’t be good, surely?


Everyone says rejection sucks. Being told “No” is the worst. We also read about people who found enormous success after they were told No 1476 times in a row.

But the worst thing isn’t rejection. 

The worst is silence. Indifference, ambivalence, tumbleweed.

I’d rather have the Quick No.

And I knew it was exactly 12 minutes as on arrival I took my watch off and put it on the table in front of me. 

There wasn’t any point in wasting anyone’s time.

[1] Derek Sivers’ ‘Hell Yes or No’ post hadn’t entered my life at this point, but I do still believe that there are interesting things that can happen just outside Hell Yes…at the Adjacent Possible of meetings if you will.

3 elements of a successful entertainment venture

Last week I got a call from the founder of a new podcasting company.

As he explained the concept, I noticed there were 3 things he kept coming back to. They felt familiar.

I thought back to a meeting I took several years before with the CFO of a sizeable entertainment company in the UK.

At the time I was exploring options in the ‘buy’ side of the business (I’d spent the previous few years on the sell side as an agent).

As we discussed various nuances and fine points of building live event properties and marketing to millennials, the CFO took a pause and said;

‘You know what; there are only really 3 elements that matter. Talent, production and marketing. We can cut them up any way we like, but that’s what it all comes down to.’

This is reflected a number of times by CAA co-founder Michael Ovitz in his memoir ‘Who is Michael Ovitz?’ – from his formative work at CAA, to the ill-fated spells at AMG and Disney, and onto his roles with technology companies in Silicon Valley.

Whether it’s movies, festivals, podcasts, TV, eSports, conferences, or just about any creative endeavour that’s being put out into the world, you need that blend of Talent, Production, and Marketing.

And the real magic? Finding the alchemy between them.