Happy Hunting: A Biz Dev Metaphor

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In business, you eat what you kill. As an operations manager, I’m always interested in the caloric potential of the business we catch. In less abstract terms, my perpetual concern is this: does the work we land cover costs and meet profit goals. The answer depends, in part, on the energy expended in the hunt. And this boils down to a simple question: are we hunting squirrels or deer?

Consider the squirrels. They seem like a good idea. There are a lot of them around and they aren’t much of a threat. However, to catch a squirrel requires a lot of effort. They are wily and fast. And scrawny; you finally catch one and discover  there’s hardly enough meat to replenish the effort. You know this kind of work. Lots of running around, chasing client stakeholders, policing scope, constantly reworking the timeline, and when it is done, there’s a blip in the bank account.

Let’s turn our attention to the deer. Certainly they take effort, but the payoff is commensurate to your investment. They sustain you for longer stretches, and the risk is nearly as low as a squirrel, right? Deer aren’t risky. This hunt does require more training, skill, and patience.  But these investments nearly equal the time spent running around after squirrels.

I’m really stretching this metaphor, I know. But I find the shorthand incredibly helpful when discussing new business. It can focus your sales goals. You listen differently when a potential client is explaining the workload versus the budget. What kind of account is this?

Squirrel accounts have their place. They can feed a team of 1 or 2. Once you’re larger than that, diversify. Leave a few team members still working on squirrels while you start landing deer.

And for the gatherers out there who feel less comfortable hunting (metaphoric or otherwise), there are acorns. These are small accounts with usually a gesture of a budget. However, a long-term opportunity is clearly there. So you collect the acorns; some you plant in faith they will grow and yield more than where they started. Maybe others you snack on to tide you over until the next hunt. The acorn should be respected for its innate potential.

So assess, what is the return on your time? Are you satiated or are you starving?

Happy hunting.

Life Lessons from the Beastie Boys

They've been in my life since sixth grade camp. In the mornings before our hikes, a group of mature girls from another school would put their License to Ill tape in the tape recorder they brought from home then proceed to rock out to "Girls" as they put on their blue mascara. Now sadly, the Beastie Boys have taken a seat on the bench behind Madonna, or more honestly, the Frozen album. But today, as I got ready to leave the house, I looked them in the eyes and asked them to accompany me on my first morning run in awhile. And they didn't disappoint.

Song 1. "Body Movin," Hello Nasty, 1998. The perfect way to start a run. A good song, a little poppy, but still truly them. Nothing much to reflect on here, except this song kept me running.

Song 2. "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," 1986, Licensed to Ill. Today just happens to be the 30th anniversary of the release of Licensed to Ill. I always think about their reaction to the popularity of that album. After years of playing punk rock in basements and garages, their new audience (thanks to Rick Rubin's influence) was a bunch of frat boys and partiers.

Now it's ridiculous to bite the hand that feeds you, but they hated the people who loved their music. They had nothing in common with them. There were now a band that no longer played instruments, they no longer wrote songs about transit cops or how the Reagan policy was getting the best of them. They wrote about girls and beers and how they were going into your locker to smash your glasses. We ate it up and they cleaned up all the way to the bank.

And this happens sometimes. You have talent, you have charisma, and you see a gap in the market, or someone sees one for you. You primp and prune and you start framing yourself up to fit into the gap. And if you were right about the consumer need then you will start making money. And this is where many people get trapped. Making all of their decisions based on money, instead of integrity. This is where the Beastie Boys started to question whether they had 'sold out', or if people would still like them if they changed course.

And then they changed course.

Song 3. "The Skills to Pay the Bills", Check Your Head, 1992. A critical part of my high school years. Also, a rejection against Licensed to Ill, also the follow up album to "Hello Nasty," the one that elicits no emotional response. The guys who made Check Your Head were the same guys. They just pivoted their business model. They went back to their core, they reexamined what they had been doing in the 80's, they took notes, they picked up their instruments again and then they blew doors. With this song they reminded themselves that they wouldn't starve just because they weren't writing songs for A-holes anymore. Instead they wrote lyrics like, " It's 1992 and there's still no one to vote for."

Song 4. "Root Down," Ill Communication, 1995. Every one of my college road trips included this song blasted at full volume.

First off, this song shows what happens when you keep practicing with the same team. The team chemistry here is amazing and clearly they started communicating telepathically. Also, the song is about roots. It's about going home, about putting roots down, about being proud of where you came from, about shouting out to dad and mom to thank them. It's about gratitude and feeling blessed for being able to do what you want to do. And it only took them nine years to get there.

I firmly believe that you if you can, you will and you won't stop. If you have the talent and drive, don't compromise. Pivot. Now more than ever we need to cater less to the A-holes we encounter in business. It's time to bring integrity back.

The Beastie Boys have pushed their way to the front of the line.

Future Jobs Now: ExS at Neologic

Predicting the future of things is sorta hit and miss. Consider the future-think article What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years from a 1900 edition of the Ladies Home Journal. Written by railroad engineer John Elfreth Watkins, Jr., the article offers some spectacularly accurate predictions. To whit:

“Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span… The instrument bringing these distant scenes to the very doors of people will be connected with a giant telephone apparatus…”

Dude.

To be fair, Mr. Watkins also posited that by now, “There will be no wild animals except in menageries.” How sad that would be!

Predictions, both happy and sad, are a perennial game. Of late, I’ve become aware of a rising meme in the prediction game - predicting the jobs of the future. Mark Laotian, in his book When the Boomers Bail: A Community Economic Survival Guide, reveals that

“… eighty percent of the jobs you will have in the future don’t even exist yet.”
Conditions are ripe for the future-casting of careers.

The thinking goes that digital disruption in virtually every field will yield new strange vocations. For example, this Mashable piece predicts our children’ children may toil as Nostalgists, Rewilders, or Robot Counsellors.

If I may, I would like to join the fray with a prediction of my own. I believe the job I have now - Director of Experience Strategy - may in fact be a job of the future. My job is an extension of what I’ll call the ‘imagination professions.’ These include vocations in the arts, design, consulting, and other creative, thought-forward services. Experience Strategy (ExS) is one of these, one that is uniquely situated in the digital realm.

On any given day, doing Experience Strategy at Neologic might entail envisioning novel and useful digital experiences of our own (as with Poetry for Robots or Cornbread) or workshopping with a client to discover the emotional and sociological seeds of their business aspirations and conceiving the shape of their digital presence accordingly. With ExS in our tool set, Neologic offers clients the advantage of a thorough (and essential!) broad-view preproduction engagement - our clients always measure twice. Also, I work as a team member on all our UX work, ensuring that granular interface decisions align with the larger story discovered in our client workshops.

In short, my job is to bring the big picture to the party. The ExS practitioner connects thinking from the humanities, psychology, social science, and liberal arts to the design and build cycle.

As such, this ‘job of the future now’ has also been predicted by sages past. Norman Cousins, in his 1989 piece called The Poet and the Computer, accurately predicts a near future of ubiquitous computers. He welcomes this development, but warns of a potential asymmetry. The ‘technologists’ should not be alone in inventing and implementing the welter of computer experiences on the horizon:

“…it might be fruitful to effect some sort of junction between the computer technologist and the poet… The company of poets may enable [those] who tend the machines to see a larger panorama of possibilities than technology alone may inspire.”

The poet in his parable, I propose, is the Experience Strategist. As we bring distance scenes to our very doors, we must always keep a weather-eye open for the larger panorama of possibilities. My job is to do just that. 

A Farm of Two Cows: Measuring in Story

Our global-scaled, highly centralized, and standardized world emerged from a more chaotic, local, and human-scaled medieval reality. I do not aim to overly romanticize the middle ages, when one was likely to have copious lice and cough to death by 40.  However, lessons from small isolated societies like those in medieval Europe may prove instructive of how to approach strategizing experiences for varied user groups.

Consider the evolution of Western measurements. For the most part, early measures were human-scaled.  Scholars note that terms like “stones throw” and “within earshot” were common, albeit somewhat arbitrary, units of distance.  Volume was also measured in terms of human experience: one purchased a “cartload” of wood or a “handful” of walnuts. While carts and hands vary from person to person and place to place, these fuzzy measures were generally negotiable in context and on the ground.      

Measurement of property was particularly zen. It’s practically useless information to a farmer how many acres or stone throws is her piece of land.  More significant is the lay of that land for the use-case of cultivation.  Land was therefore defined in more user-centered measures: days of work it required to plow, seeds required for a good crop, average yield.  Farms in Ireland were measured as a “farm of one cow” or a “farm of two cows” to indicate their true value - grazing capacity. Raw physical area is a useless measure when use is what matters, not quantity.  A ‘farm of two cows’ is a powerful, use-centric measurement. And it is a story about cows, farmers, and families.  It is utility and human experience over quantity and external standards.

And utility is relative, relational, and temporary.  Whether designing digital experiences, packaging, or a brand’s messaging here at Neologic, we aim to measure our results in cart-loads and hand-spans.  The imperial and prescriptive rules of design and search-tricking tips of content strategy are secondary.  First, we consider the folks on the ground - the users and all their various priorities, proclivities, and predilections.  Sometimes, this requires facing a large and contradictory set of user groups.  The key, then, is not to impose universal measurements and cold neutrality.  Rather, we design to the denominator - to the human scale.  Our experiences will need to fit and flow with users’ lifestyles.

Pamela Pavliscak, Research Director and Founder at Change Sciences talks about building experiences with ‘strong ties and loose connections.' This is what designing to the human dimension accomplishes - it appeals to our common humanity while allowing us to interface on our own terms. This creates a more seamless experience, a better fit to the real lives of our users, customers, audience.  

Will the experience you strategize and design be surveyed as cold acres or measured in story? 

Reverse Ekphrasis

To date, Poetry for Robots has inspired nearly 1,200 poems in five languages from users around the globe.  In just a few weeks at WebVisions Chicago we will query the database and learn how poetic metadata improves the robot mind.   Very exciting.

Ultimately, ours is an experiment based in ekphrasis.  According to the Poetry Foundation, "an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.”  In other words, an ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired by or pertaining to a work of art.  In these terms, we are soliciting ekphrastic metadata in the hopes that an image database becomes better aligned to the human dimension.   You can read more about the experiment here

In addition to all these ekphrastic poems, the Poetry for Robots experiment has also inspired a small collection of original images.  Our wide coverage in the press is often accompanied by imagery.  All these images seek to illustrate the intersection of computing and the humanities - a sweet spot that that we believe is the nexus of our technological future.  In this way, these original expressions are as important as the experiment itself.

Below is a a collection of my favorites.

These two are from O Globo in Brazil.  The Google Deep Dream treatment of Borges haunts me:

This lovely image from The Guardian places (recently found to be self aware) NAO Bot into Frost’s deep dark wood.  Good stuff.

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This Borges/ Asimov diptych in the Open Culture piece is a good omen of things to come:

Cornbread App

Very exciting news: this week, we are launching the Beta of our first Neologic App.  It’s called Cornbread.  Cornbread let’s users create beautiful messages - crumbs - with video, photos audio and text.  Then the messages are published wherever in the world you are standing when you ‘drop’ them.  Crumbs are discovered and experienced only where they are dropped. 

Cornbread is a social and creative app that ties experience to place.  Delight in creating and dropping beautiful messages out in the world.  Experience the thrill of finding other’s creations.

It’s a love letter. It’s inspired by your life. It’s a beautiful message in a bottle, a connection to place. It’s a connection to people, a secret waiting for you: in the air, anywhere.

Cool, right?  

Cornbread is an experiment. The idea of creating and finding messages at specific locations sounds cool to us.  There are so many ways this can be used.  And we’ve spent many hours imagining these ways.  However,  we’re certain there is no way to count them all.  So help us learn what Cornbread can do.  Go play with the app, get in touch and tell us how you are using Cornbread!