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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The Queen Mother’s Fridge

One of the more odd inspirations for a round of radio interviews came yesterday from the Queen Mother’s fridge. Not its contents — I was not at a garden party — but the appliance itself. Apparently it is 62 years old and still going strong.

Cue media stories about things not lasting any more.

The first thing that sprang to mind was Trigger’s broom from Only Fools and Horses. Is this really the same fridge? Or just a 62 year old shell inside which all the primary components have been replaced. We shall never know.

Assume it is the original fridge though. Can you buy appliances and devices today that will last for decades?

The simple answer is yes, if you’re willing to pay for them and buy carefully. Spend the inflation-adjusted equivalent of what the QM spent on her Frigidaire back in the fifties and you could get a commercial-grade refrigerator with serviceable parts that would likely last a very long time, with appropriate care. But it probably wouldn’t have an ice maker, or fit neatly into your fitted kitchen.

That’s not what most of us do though. We want something that doesn’t cost more than a small car, so we balance affordability, style and features.

It’s the features that are dangerous: they often disguise weaknesses in the basic features. Buy a smart TV and you may find the money has gone on the (fast-outdated) smarts and not so much on the picture. My buying advice is always focus on the fundamentals: everything else can be bolted on somehow.

So, I don’t think things are necessarily made ‘worse’ than they were sixty years ago. They’re just made to a price point that serves the modern market. That isn’t necessarily a good thing for the environment, but you can argue that wider access to labour saving devices has had important social benefits.

How will this change in the future?

Well there’s also a fair argument to be made that the appropriate ecological cost is not built into the price of many of these goods. Manufacturing is carbon and energy-intensive, and even with recycling directives it’s likely that the price remains artificially low. If this changes then we might see a different attitude from consumers to how long they expect goods to last. With general wealth levels not increasing, it is the manufacturers’ margins that will probably be squeezed.

Changing usage models may be one way to offset the cost. Start-ups are springing up to enable the sharing of all sorts of under-used capital assets from cars to power tools.
Right now laundry services that collect and deliver are a luxury option for the time poor. If the capital cost of appliances rises — and the average size of homes in densely populated metro areas declines — they may become much more of a mass-market proposition.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Friction starts fires, but ambition changes worlds

A year ago this week I was delivering the keynote speech at the Future Money conference in London. Next week I will be delivering a talk at Fintech North as part of Leeds Digital Festival.

In between the two events my attitude to the coming transformations has become significantly more cautious. Not pessimistic, as suggested by F6S/tech.eu’s Jon Bradford, but concerned that the opportunity is so great that it cannot possibly be fulfilled.

The risk, and the fear, come from the fact that the opportunity is not purely commercial, it is social.

A year ago I spoke about the various frictions in the financial system that were the ignition points for new innovation: the speed and cost of moving money and taking payments; a lack of trust in the big banks. Today more friction points are being exposed and exploited all the time, driving the fintech boom.

But each new innovation seems to be an incremental improvement. A profitable sliver shaved off the giant banks, while the core remains unchanged. As Chris Gledhill, one of the other speakers at Future Money, put it when he left Lloyds to found Secco“Even outside [the banks], the FinTech communities are innovating around existing financial protocols — making them cheaper, faster, better. They’re not trying to actually reinvent these things.”

What we have with the advent of technologies like the blockchain and its derivatives is an opportunity to reinvent the very structure of our financial system. The balance of power. The centralised nature. Not just to eliminate friction but to embed greater fairness.

This might sound like socialist moralising but really it should appeal to anyone of an entrepreneurial nature. By lowering friction but also redistributing power we can create a much more open marketplace. New platforms for innovation but also lower barriers to raising money, and collecting it from customers. Simpler access to new markets, nationally and internationally.

I am hugely hopeful that our financial system two decades from now looks radically different to how it does today. More open. More distributed. Lower cost and lower friction.

Will that come from individual innovations? Or does it require someone with a larger vision?

I’m not sure.

So I remain hopeful, but cautious.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The past is always with us

Sometimes people mistake the future for the absence of the past. As if all the things we have created in each age disappear at the dawn of a new one.

We know this is not the case.

If the future is here but not evenly distributed, then the gaps in its distribution are filled with pieces of the past, decaying at different rates.

Though perhaps it is just a trick of modern perspective, it seems like the older something is, the longer it takes to decay. Ideas particularly, like religion and magic.

This flyer came through my door last night. Offering solutions to pretty much any problem.

It seems comical to many of us, and perhaps surprising. But it isn’t that out of the ordinary.

Over eighty percent of the world’s population associates with a religion of one kind or another, according to the Pew Research Centre*. Most faiths offer stories just as fantastical as the promises in this flyer, even if modern interpretations of their teachings aren’t quite so literal as ‘pray and ye shall receive’.

Some aspects of these historical teachings can’t decay fast enough. Religious figures continue to claim their interpretations of texts as reason to limit the rights and freedoms of others — particularly women.

In America this week a Christian author claimed that female “masturbation is a direct path to Satan” and that sex toys are used in demonic rituals.

While in Saudi Arabia a Muslim cleric suggested that relaxing the country’s driving ban for women could ‘expose them to evil’.

Whatever their religious persuasion, most people would accept that these claims are no less ridiculous than magical marriage interventions or mystical business development.

They are anachronisms. Ideas that have been too slow to decay.

When thinking about the future we often focus on the things that will change, and change fast. But it’s important to recognise that the rate of change is not consistent across different fields. What is possible will always be bound by what is deemed acceptable.

Often, this will not change what happens. But it has a huge effect on when it happens.

*This is a question of culture as much as faith as the latter as hard to ascertain. 84% of people associate themselves with a religious group but when you look at the number who actually attend any religious service, the proportion falls dramatically. Only a minority believe you have to have faith to be a moral person.

 

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Teaching autonomy to staff… and robots

One of the challenges of being the boss of a (very) small company is that the challenges of personal development come down to you. Though you can draw on external support for training, the shape of the development plan and its execution really comes down to you and your remembered experience of your own career.

In trying to encapsulate the journey I want my staff to undertake I came up with the simple diagram above.

When staff join me at a junior level I expect them to be input and command driven. Put simply, I will tell them what to do. They and I will measure whether or not their work has been done based on whether they have produced the things I have asked for, whatever their work product may be.

As they become more senior, staff look more at the impact of their work: the output. Is what they are doing adding real value? And is it the best use of their time given the wider goals of the company? With this in mind they become less command-driven — just doing what they are told — and more autonomous, choosing a course of action that will best benefit the organisation.

Now this is a very desirable change in the people who work for you. The more they can determine the right course of action for the organisation, the more value they are likely to deliver (as long as they can execute).

But what about robots?

I began thinking about the rise of robots in the workplace and where they fit on this continuum from command and input-driven to output-driven and autonomous.

I realised very quickly that the most frightening robots in fiction are the ones which are focused on delivering a specific outcome and, which use their autonomy in selecting the best route to that end. Think Skynet.

Right now, there is very little talk about the new software robots entering the workplace having either of these characteristics. Smart as they may be, they have very little autonomy outside of a narrow set of parameters, and their ‘understanding’ of any outputs is very limited.

Perhaps these are the characteristics we have to watch for. The ones that truly differentiate humans from machines right now. And the ones that they will have to replicate in order to displace more of us from the workplace.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The New Influencers

A few years back the marketing team for a big tech firm asked me to come in and talk to them about my role as a blogger and TV/radio commentator. They wanted to better understand how to reach and — let’s be frank — influence people like me.

It got me thinking about the changing nature of influencers and how to categorise the people I increasingly met at trade shows and launch parties, and in green rooms waiting to go on air. Bloggers but also ‘experts’ and contributors, in the broadcast vernacular, who were even less easily comparable to journalists or industry analysts.

I pulled together a training session I called ‘The New Influencers’ and I’ve since delivered versions of it for various PR agencies and for the PR course at Bournemouth University.

Now one of the original team who asked me to prepare the session has asked me to deliver it for her new employer, and I’m thinking afresh about the whole issue.

I have a long history with the subject of influencers — at least relative to the total length of my career. My boss in my first (and only) ‘proper’ job after university was Nick Hayes, founder of Influencer50 and co-author of Influencer Marketing. I was involved in many early applications of his principles of influencer marketing in campaigns for large tech firms in the early to mid noughties.

So it was that I turned to Nick’s blog looking for inspiration and alternative perspectives.There I found this quote from Ogilvy chairman Christopher Graves, originally from a PR Week interview:

“The very word ‘influence’ is being thrown around in many contexts and some completely abuse the real meaning or conflate it with popularity.

Real influence means to convince someone to choose to do something on their own — without threatening them or bribing them — which they would not otherwise have done. That’s much tougher to come by. It is earned through sustained relationships, and not fleeting or dependent on compensation.

Influence is a demonstrable chain of persuasion from person to person leading to new attitudes and behaviour. Having a large audience does not necessarily mean wielding influence. Views and likes are not measures of influence though they may correlate or be coincidental.”

His point about sustained relationships is an interesting one. In this age of increasing diversity — one of our five ‘Vectors of Change’ (read the manifesto for more information) — you can find people who are experts in every niche, however small. If these people have a talent for communication, they can build up a following, whatever their communications media. That following may be relatively small but if they trust the expert and have a consistent relationship with them, then that expert’s influence can be disproportionately large.

That influence is also highly variable depending on context.

When brands call me up pitching stories or tech products for me to review, they are inevitably hoping that I’ll mention their brand or product on TV or national radio. But I think they’re often missing a much more powerful opportunity.

I know this isn’t a scientific measure but I think Twitter interactions are a pretty good benchmark for how many people are really engaged with what you’re saying.

If I’m on BBC Breakfast, I might notionally reach seven million people. And yet I’ll get maybe 10 interactions on Twitter — at most. People are busy, eating breakfast, getting their kids off to school and themselves off to work. They’re not really paying that much attention and I’m only on screen for five minutes.

If I stand in front of an audience of 200 people, not only will I get more Twitter interactions, I get live face-to-face, high-bandwidth engagement. I’m there for an hour. I can make a strong narrative argument — usually more than one. And often the conversations begun in that room continue long afterwards.

What I’m really saying is that reach is often given disproportionate weight when trying to measure influence. Better measures need a much more nuanced assessment of the impact that an influencer has and a much richer understanding of the audience they’re reaching.

In the new presentation I’m also covering issues of frequency and control: not just how independent an influencer is but how much their message to the audience is shaped by other people involved in the production of their communications media.

If you’d be interested in having me deliver this session for your company or agency, drop me a line. It’s available as a one-hour lunch session or a half day interactive workshop.

 

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The Unbeatable Bandwidth of Being There

I gave a talk last night to the Latvian events industry in a little town called Ventspils on the Baltic coast.

Sometimes when I give a talk, it is on a subject I know inside out. Sometimes, I have to get to know the industry first, using our Intersections tool to analyse it’s pressure points and understand the likely impact of the big vectors of change. If I’m speaking to a new industry in a foreign country? Well, let’s just say it’s reassuring when my hypotheses are confirmed by the audience’s reaction.

I put it to the audience last night that the reason for the continuing — and in fact growing — success of live events (both popular arts and business), is about the bandwidth of communication between human beings. This bandwidth, across the multiple channels of our senses, remains exponentially greater in a live, physical environment when compared to any form of alternative media, however rich.

If anything, the increasing prevalence of digital media, in incredible volumes, has actually enhanced the value of live events. Just as the prevalence of email has made real mail more exciting, and the rise of the MP3 has created a boom in vinyl, a more tactile format.

This isn’t to say that the events industry doesn’t face challenges. Technologies continue to advance and increase the bandwidth of the experience that they deliver, as we saw this week with the delivery of the first Oculus Rift to a consumer.

Technology also underpins the increasing choice of events that consumers can access, reducing the friction of organisation through intermediary platforms like MeetupEventbrite and Fatsoma. Combine this with the many ways of reaching consumers and the growing noise across the many channels of communication, and making an event economically successful will be increasingly difficult.

As a counterbalance, there is the opportunity to re-market the content created at live events as many organisers are now doing. Streaming passes for business conferences, or recordings of live DJ sets as enabled by new start-up Evermix.

Overall then, it’s a positive picture. But to realise this ideal, the events industry must like every other, be highly adaptive, capable of latching onto new trends and meeting customer demand while it lasts, before moving on to the next big thing.

You can access my slide deck here. Use your arrow keys to navigate. You may want to zoom in our out depending on the size and format of your screen.

Tom Cheesewright