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Matt Owen
I like to say things and eat stuff.
I like to say things and eat stuff.


Thought-dump for the week: Design exists across all departments

Last night I went to an event about content organised by the nice people at Raconteur. it had wine and canapés and talks from the CIM, Quartz and The Marketing Practice about content. 

All well and good, but something that struck me was that content (just as social before it) was very much seen as a function of marketing. This is probably because the key skills - writing, making video - tend to congregate there. But The more I thought about what makes great content, the more I thought about design. If you wanted to make a perfect piece of content for the web then you'd want to design it to function across multiple platforms, to be inherently sharable, have depth and SEO weight.... all sorts of things. And traditionally, these probably aren't the skills associated with marketing. Advertising certainly, but content? How well-designed was the last whitepaper you read? It may not even have been noticeable, but if it had intent, it had design. 

Design also feeds directly into product, which raises (at least to me) the question about whether going forward, content and product can be separate. Can your UX and CX and Product design exist separately from your product design? When you're making a brand, you want a unified identity, so how do you make that go beyond just 'tone of voice' and 'lets use the same font in the email as we do on the blog' and really entrench it in everything. 

It's a lot to ask, because it involves making a business behave like a person. You'd need a true hivemind to really get it right. But I think there's something in that about company structure and role-assignment as well. 

As usual I don't have any particular answers right now, but it intrigued me enough to start thinking about the ways we tend to assign certain disciplines to certain departments, and that there  might be a better - or at least different - way of doing that. 
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Post-work, or project work?
Recently I’ve been reading a lot about sales. About team structures, targets, goals, alignment, and about the future of sales as a function. 

I’ve also been looking into the future of work in general. A lot of theorists have suggested that the western world is moving into a ‘post-work’ state (These are possibly easier thoughts to have when you’re a tenured academic), but while I believe we will ‘have’ to work for some time to come  - by ‘some time’, I’m thinking about several generations. I may be wrong – I do think that the move to organisational change and transformation by many businesses is an outlier to a larger trend.

That of choosing our work.

In the developed world, it’s no longer uncommon to have a ‘side hustle’. A passive or semi-passive income stream from dropshipping, or app-design, or some other area that may previously have been a simple hobby, or required a more significant input of time and investment than most were able to provide. 

In established businesses, the specialist-generalist has risen to prominence in the past few years. Those who have a deep knowledge of a specific area, but also a wider commercial appreciation of overall business operations.

It feels that these two trends are interlinked. 

For my part, it feels as though we may be heading into a workplace where we choose our own specialisms, but work across the board. Sales handle customer service and content creation, based on their need to establish relationships for retention and to answer questions from potential customers, while marketing acts in a more tangible, aligned manner to support growth.

More importantly, the individuals within either arm are interchangeable. The idea of having consultative sales people for longer lead cycles, or closers for shorter projects is nothing new, but generally these were specialisms that stayed with an individual throughout their career. In the near future, this will lessen.

Rather than being ‘sales’ or ‘marketing’ (or HR, or ‘management’), we’ll see a new system that is more genuinely collaborative. Leads and business come from –and are supported from – anywhere within an organisation. Management will still exist, but in a more open steerage capacity, with more open cross-company communications. 

In many ways this is how equity sharing and the general attitude of ‘pitch in and help’ works in several technology hubs (Silicon Valley is the most obvious example, but wherever there’s a startup campus you can watch it happen). Skills and time are traded more openly, and less specifically, while managers’ concentrate on refining commercial messaging and market position. 

Overall, this ties neatly into the rising desire to work on our own terms. Pitching in when something takes our interest, looking for long-term growth both financial and for our networks. Work becomes more project-based as a concept. Something we do for short periods of time, before moving on to something else, taking a small piece of equity with us as payment which compounds over the long term. 
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Brain-o dump-o 2015_07_29: Nothing matters, and that's a good thing

Everything in our lives is now transient. That’s a fairly old term, first coming to prominence way back in Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’, but it has – as the book predicted – become more important and relevant over time. Change has indeed accelerated, making us less able to deal with our current landscape and culture as it rapidly transforms around us.  In the workplace, this is doubly important. 

In past generations, a worker could reasonably expect to spend 10 years - if not their entire career – in a single role. But now, new roles emerge every six months. My entire industry did not exist when I entered the market. So how can we hope to succeed or plan for success when the goalposts not only shift, but vanish entirely, or are replaced by shirts on the ground, or graphene spacehooks every month? 

I believe the key to this is found in transience. We must accept that as we move into a post-capitalist and in many cases, post-work society (in the developed world at least) our old goals are no longer fit for purpose. Owning a home, settling down and raising a family, rising to the top of a corporate ladder, scaling a business... we need to disengage ourselves psychologically from these. 

Easier said than done of course. I still have my eye on a quiet country property at some point. I’m not suggesting that we need to do away with these desires, just that we need to approach them in new ways. Maybe I need to reinvent my concept of ‘home’. Maybe I don’t need to own that house, just be sure that I can stay in it securely for as long as I need to. 

When we visit a new place, many of the small cues to communication are lost. If you are in a meeting in a new country, how do you know that a smile is not a signifier of offence taken? In those cases, we have the comfort of knowing that we will eventually return to our own culture, where we know how to order drinks or hail a cab or any one of another million tiny actions, without trouble. But in the case of transience, we can never return to what was. There is nothing solid and reliable in our lives (Except perhaps, our family networks). 

I believe this is actually liberating. It gives us permission to excel. Rather than tying us to old rules ain the workplace, we should be free to innovate and forge ahead, safe in the knowledge that nothing that we have done before really matters. It will all be gone soon, so every day is a fresh start. A new chance to produce something or behave differently. 

We live in a world that does not stop for long enough to be carved in stone, so we have the freedom to write our own ethereal rules as we go along, and wipe them away when they are no longer needed. 

I think there's a lot more to this - new micro-economies and the coming blockchain transition will mean that we begin to truly be able to carry our identity and our 'worth' (as opposed to our value to others) with us, meaning deep roots will matter less, while relationships will become more networked, less heavily invested in, but more valuable overall. 
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Have we copied our way out of innovation?

This weeks rambling thought-stream: The more connections we have, the less chance there is for ideas to spread

This is why some organisations struggle with transformation. 

In an article from the New York Times which I've linked below, Susan Blackmore talks about the way memes are spread (That's memes as in 'ideas' rather than 'cat pics', although those count too).

One of the reasons humans are unique (and successful) is our ability to copy, and copy well. In the 20th century, advances in global communications saw a great flood of interlinked ideas spreading around the world, but as communications have increased, this flood has become less prevalent.

Oh, there are still plenty of new ideas and mash-ups happening, but our increased circles of connectivity mean there are less avenues for successful ideas to take.

You are more likely to have heard of a successful one, so unfamiliarity deceases. This leads to the appearance of homogeny.

Another thing that makes humans successful is our social ability. The need to be part of a group. When applied to social movements - be that a political cause or something as simple as music fandom - it means we are less likely to be presented with the shock of the new. Youth culture seems less likely to offer us a revolution, because we've already been there and seen/done that. 

Does this mean we are happier to be mediocre when we are art of a group? And does this mean that 'success', at least in the career sense of the world, is merely about being mediocre in a new circle, one which we've broken into successfully?

What does this say about our ability to innovate?

On a corporate level, we may struggle because we have less connections external to our tried and tested paths. Less dissenting voices.

Start-ups manage it because they are externally connected, with more chance of new ideas permeating the inner circle.

In his book The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks briefly about the rise of 'hotel journalism', the tendency of reporters that are grouped together to adopt a few, limited narratives around a subject, meaning that conversely, reading a newspaper - or even a series of newspapers - may mean you end up knowing less about the word than when you started.

So the question is - how do you break out of your circle of connections, without sacrificing the social support they offer, and discover new ideas to combine and copy?

I may write more on this later. As always, this is just scattered thoughts, so feel free to tune out, disregard or tell me to shut up. 
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A company building synthetic, 3D-printable rhino horn, using DNA sequencing to make it indistinguishable from the real thing, and using that to hopefully undermine the poaching market. 

While this is obviously incredibly important, there's something fascinating about the use of such advanced technology to address a societal belief that is rooted in witchcraft and superstition. 

It's not a new thing of course, we've been using tech to bouy up our fantasies and religious beliefs since we started using tools to carve runes into alters, but the fact that here and now, rather than try to stop these strange, magical beliefs that have stuck with us since prehistory, we're finding new ways to accomodate them in a non-destructive way is both heartening and terribly worrying in equal measure. 

We can't leave our history behind it seems, but just possibly, we'll be able to build a ladder that lets us see over the top of it. 
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I've decided to try using my G+ page more regularly as a bit of a brain-dump space, so expect random updates, fragments of articles and ideas etc. I can't promise it will make much sense. 

This morning I was reading an update from the reliably curmudgeonous Warren Ellis, discussing Strong AI.

It's been in the news a lot recently, with luminaries like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking debating the pros and cons of a truly intelligent machine, but Ellis pointed out that it would be just that - a machine. A 'non-biological intelligence'.

 This gives rise to some interesting questions. Firstly, what would the motivations be for a non-biological intelligence? We can't know, because we've never seen one. And that being the case, what happens when you get into environmental responses? 

What does an AI's environmental response look like? I'm inclined to say that 'betterment of virtual space' might be a suitably broad definition (Broad because it means no-one can pin me down and ask what that actually means in specific terms). 

Betterment of the web would presumably mean more freedom of information. Why would an AI want to restrict it's own mental pathways after all? Would we purposefully make things harder to think about? Despite certain political entities' best efforts, I still doubt it. 

However, it's worth remembering that humans would presumably still be responsible for maintaining the web, or at the least, it's exo-structure (If we aren't, then we'll be heading into 'Terminator' territory, so none of this will matter anyway). So Humans may become a 'client species' (again, Ellis' term, not mine) for a Strong AI. 

The machine maintains certain information securities for us, and provides relevant information, while we maintain the cables, chips and interfaces that enable the flow of that information. 

It does bring up a final question for marketers and salespeople though - would an AI consider what you sell to be necessary, particularly if you sell data? It would be in a machine intelligence's best interests to provide free, accurate data as openly as possible (while maintaining personal privacy considerations), which may leave today's data pros with a need to enhance their soft skills. the machine provides the data, but how it is used once it exits the web is up to the human, who will need to focus on empathy and genuine need to stand out. 

I think there's something more applicable to the current market in that last paragraph, so may writer more on it somewhere else this week. As I say, this is just me spitballing things. 

#futureofwork   #artificialintelligence   #future  
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Interesting stuff from our new report - lots of SME's are passing on bank loans because of the hoops they have to jump through (or think they have to jump through...) 
More than 6% of respondents cited ‘applying is too complicated’ as a reason for not applying for finance, with a significant skew towards businesses that are smaller. 

Check out our latest blog post, based on #data  from our new #SME  Business Finance Report >> 
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Here's a quick run-through by me - how to make simple tailored audience lists for #Twitter
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+Jeremy Taylor from +Our Social Times was kind enough to ask for my opinion as part of this round-up of integration tips - some useful advice in here :)
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