Understand digitization in 4 seconds

This 4 second video shows how digitization is changing our workplaces.

The video called “Evolution of the Desk” apparently comes from the Harvard Innovation Labs. [although if you scroll up, it looks like linkbait for a review company/desk supplier]. The site has a longer video showing how common products have been replaced by applications, until in the end we are left with a PC, a smartphone and the sunglasses. The classic aviator sunglasses being the only things that remain unchanged.

Whilst the video is interesting, the really big shift is not shown. It is not the elimination of objects from the desk that is the biggest change, but the shift from owned single purpose individual objects to shared spaces and constantly evolving platforms.

The review company clearly wants to sell the future of desks, which it believes will be electric rising multi-screened and perched on top of treadmills, but to me this just seems as outdated as the original picture.

It would be more logical to see the next evolution of the picture to be an updated phone, but are we missing the point here too? With everything digitized and access to it ubiquitous, including from ‘things’ without human interaction then perhaps the real evolution will be an empty space.

Once everything becomes digitized, the more fundamental questions need to

Perhaps the next evolution of the picture would an empty space. With digitization making everything invisible,


How to be successful as a guest speaker

Your job as a guest speaker is simple …

To make people think.

You are there to fire up people’s minds to think, to reflect, to care, to challenge, to be angry, to be impatient … but never be comfortable.

The audience don’t need to like you, agree with your or your conclusions, but you should engage them in a way that forces them to think about their views of the world.

The one mark of failure is to leave the mind of the listener unchallenged.

You job is to rattle comfortable mindsets until what you are left with is a brain and body fizzing to change the world – or seething to respond to challenge what you are saying.

A way to be more successful is always to find the human connection in what you are talking about. Not just the human connection to your subject, but your audience.

Why does this matter to them? Why should they care?

Of course, this connection can sometimes be clearer in some subjects than in others, but education is its best when the student themselves understands and can articulate, “why does this matter in the real world?”. Whether this is geometry to design a bridge, computational fluid dynamics to design a more fuel efficient car, or composite plastics to make a longer lasting replacement heart value.  The connection to reality, to people, to lives is always paramount in the best speakers.

If you are good, you will spark discussion in the Q&A.

If you are great, you will inspire reflection in the days and weeks after.

If you are exceptional, you may, just once or twice inspire someone to do something positive with their lives …

And it is this last possibility that means that an opportunity to speak should always be accepted.

And also why you should always attend guest lectures when you can, even if you know you disagree with what they may be saying. Expand your intelligence by allowing it to be challenged.

If you want to change the world stop wearing Converse

If you want to change the world stop wearing Converse*

*Even if everyone else is wearing Converse still stop wearing them (unless you are at home, on holiday or at the park).

You might think that you are being rebellious, challenging things and pushing the boundaries … you might even be in a business where lots of people wear Converse; but even then you shouldn’t wear them – not in public and never with anyone outside of your company or family.

You think that you are changing the world, challenging the establishment.

Time for a wake up call: You are not.

You are playing at it. And most likely playing badly.

Whether you like it or not, the world is full of games. People playing games for your attention, your time and ultimately your money. If they are playing for your time or attention, they are playing for your money. I’ll leave you to make the connection as to why.

  • Business is a game.
  • Government is a game.
  • Sport is a game (obviously), but the sports business is a game.
  • School is a game.

And all games have rules. Sometimes these are written, sometimes they are not, but they are always there.

To be be successful, to innovate, to change the world requires you to be more successful than the people and businesses who are already there. You can define success how you want, whether this is money, market share, mindset or votes, but you need to play the game better than those who are already winning it.

To win the game you need to understand the rules. We know that innovation often comes from breaking rules, but don’t confuse this with not understanding them. Innovation does not mean that you don’t understand the rules, it means that you DO understand them and have figured out a way to achieve a better outcome by playing the game more effectively. If you look at innovators, real game changers in business and culture, then you will see that they did understand the rules. They then used this knowledge to outplay others.

A few quick examples 

  • Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon may have launched a company that has disrupted the online book and shopping markets, but his expertise was as an investment banker. He understood business models, supply chains and how the market worked in great details.
  • Bill Gates was a geek.
  • James Dyson was an engineer

They all knew the rules of the game that they wanted to win. They all analysed the game they wanted to win, looked for weaknesses, looked for opportunities to win the game by doing something better. It may be naive and simplistic, but it is also brutally true. Each of these people (and their companies) identified a ‘chink’, an inefficiency, an unexploited opportunity that allowed them to redefine the industry.

So change comes from 3 steps:

  1. Learn the rules
  2. Identify the chink
  3. Exploit the chink

So it is that simple?

Of course not, there are a thousand other steps and actions, but without these three key steps, the others will not matter.

Changing the world, or changing anything is requires you to firstly understand what game you are playing. Who are the players? What are their motives? How do they stay winning? How can you play the game better, smarter, faster and with fewer resources?

When you understand this – and it is not easy, you have a chance to be successful. Until then, you are playing at it, following the winners rules.

So why no Converse?

Clue: Look for a picture of a senior banker, elected politician, successful business leader … in fact any very successful person wearing Converse in their job.

Found many?

Found one?

Play the game, just play it better.

Microsoft gets it right

Microsoft gets an advert right. At last.

After years of some terrible adverts including ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Dinosaurs’, someone in the marketing department gets it right and focuses on what matters – PEOPLE.

Technology only really matters when it helps people; when it makes our lives better. Smart watches, tablets and the latest phone may be interesting, and techno-gadgetry dominates technology blogs … but only for a few brief minutes per post. The harsh reality is that for most people it doesn’t matter how clever/cool/geeky the technology is if it doesn’t have any human value. The value may not be obvious, but that if often a sign that you are not being imaginative enough in the vision of what is possible.

What matters with ANY technology is not the technology itself, but how it can help people. It seems a minor semantic difference, but it isn’t. It is absolutely critical. Interesting and innovative technology doesn’t matter until it does something useful. Looking at the recent CES announcement, it is interesting how many products fail this simple test.

Having worked for Microsoft for many years and seen what it develops and prototypes internally, it is amazing how little of this reaches the market. Microsoft has some of the smartest researchers in technology and is a prolific innovator but very little of what is developed makes it into a product with the name ‘Microsoft’ on it. That doesn’t mean the learning is lost as something far more valuable happens. Most research isn’t locked away in corporate filing cabinets never to be seen again, but is instead openly published in academic journals, so available for others to build on top of. If you look carefully, Microsoft technology and innovation is in many more places than you would think – helping thousands of companies across a range of industries to deliver life changing technology. Now that is #empowering.

The role of a designer is to rethink how the world works

I love this quote.

It comes from a Fast Company article reviewing a book by Kern and Burn.

Short and simple and it sets a high bar on ambition.

If we define a designer in this way though, doesn’t it allow us all to be designers?

I’m not sure that was the intention when it was written, but if you are rethinking ‘how the world works’ then are you really a designer?

You might not know Photoshop, carry a Macbook and or wear expensive black t-shirts, but if you are rethinking how the world works are you any less a designer than someone working on redesigning his brothers small business site?

Of course not.

But of course, it doesn’t matter.

Being a designer is a mindset. Just as being an artist is …

Or a writer … Or an interior designer … You could be completely crap at it (and many are), but it doesn’t matter. Creativity and art is by definition subjective. It has to be, else you would be an engineer, defining for function within accepted boundaries of what constitutes normal. Of course, there are highly creative engineers, but you get the idea. It is about pushing boundaries and challenging norms; in short, changing the world.

Sounds good to me.

Gary Burt, Designer

A 12 year olds view on Nokia … Finnished?

Did you know that 12 year olds have a hierarchy of phones?


Neither did I until today. OK, I did understand that there is a ranking of cool, but not really how important this is in driving purchasing.

I know that some phones are cool and some are not. A new £500 phone is surely going to be better than a 10 year old brick. What I didn’t fully appreciate is how cool factors into this.

So what is the coolest phone?

Answer Easy: iPhone (whatever is the latest model). Older models are acceptable, but not more than a couple of versions. iPhone 4 is fine, iPhone 3 is borderline ok. Just.

So. What is next?

Surprise time. Blackberry. Followed by Samsung, but only if you have a decent model. The entry level Android phones are on the borderline and as for non-Smartphones … don’t ask. Better to not carry a phone than to carry one that could be bought for £10 from Tescos.

Apart from Blackberry beating Samsung at least with BBM loving tweens, not great surprises so far

But where this became interesting was when I asked about Nokia.

Answer: Uncool.

Ah, but what about the new Lumia 1020 whatever-model with a 41 megapixel camera – twice that of a professional digital SLR?

Still uncool.

Nokia = uncool. Simple as that.

And herein lies the problem.

If my 12 year old represents the market that Nokia wants to win, then it has a struggle ahead. In addition to investing in new cameras, bright colours and a fast interface it desperately needs to invest to fix the image problem.

It needs to convince its customers that it is OK to own a Nokia phone.

This is likely to be a much harder task than improving the hardware.

The harsh reality is that from a features perspective is the majority of new phones are good enough. Apps did matter, but not anymore as the most popular apps are available on most platforms, or there are alternative options – but if your phone isn’t cool, then you have real problems.

UPDATE: 28th September 2013. 

[Also corrected a couple of grammar errors in the original post]

Blackberry are now out of the running. They are back down below Samsung and even Microsoft (just).

How did this happen?

Whilst kids may not watch financial reports or track stock prices, they are aware of whether a being company is successful or not. Blackberry is clearly not being successful, so the goodwill that they had is eroding away. They may not understand the details, but a company laying off lots of its workforce is not good. New handsets are failing to impress and the competition (meaning Apple and Samsung) is getting stronger. Outcome = uncool.

The iPhone 5s and recent Galaxy announcements, combined with the latest Blackberry news are the final nails in the coffin.

The analysis from a 12 year old … they are unrecoverable.

Strategists and branding analysts may disagree, but they clearly have an uphill struggle. A return to focusing on the enterprise market may not just be a prudent option. It may be their only option.