— Fine, so Roger Martin is a friend of mine, someone I’ve edited over the years and who’s also essentially published me (by means of the magazine at the business school of which he’s dean, Rotman School of Management, part of the University of Toronto). Nonetheless, conflicts aside, for anyone involved in innovation, design, planning, budgeting, or really the world of business, his piece, Don’t Let Strategy Become Planning, is a smart read. I’ve also just started reading Roger’s latest book, coauthored with former P&G CEO, A.G. Lafley. More on that later.
This takes me back to my days with a teeny tiny flower press, marveling at the fragile and delicate dried and pressed flowers that even I, an entirely ham-fisted child, could somehow produce. But of course this project has a far more serious goal in mind—to document and barcode every plant in existence. I love the spirit and soul of this project—and Ellen Jorgensen, of the Brooklyn-based biohacking lab Genspace, is a rockstar.
As HMV calls in the administrators, it’s worth taking a look back a Why Companies Fail—The Rise and Fall of HMV, published last August. In the piece, former HMV consultant Philip Beeching gives an inside scoop on working with the iconic music retailer. The quote above comes courtesy of then-managing director Steve Knott, commenting right after HMV went public in 2002.
Beeching describes his reaction to this response with a thoughtful reminder: “the dotcom bubble had just burst and many people were mistaking this stockmarket meltdown for an internet meltdown.” In other words, hindsight is always 20:20 and it’s easy to scoff at those who turn out to have got something wrong. Nonetheless, the inability to imagine a different way often proves to be catastrophic.
As such, this is a useful take on a sorry and sadly somewhat typical story. Just remember: any time anyone writes something off as a “fad,” hear the alarm bells ringing. It may indeed turn out to be a gimmick of the highest order, but it’s certainly worth taking the time to take another look.
[Story via Tom Weaver.]
— Michael Bierut is a partner at Pentagram and a simply wonderful writer. In Graphic Design Criticism as a Spectator Sport, he takes on the thorny topic of untrained amateurs daring to voice an opinion on graphic design. Thankfully, he doesn’t come to the traditional designerly conclusion that such interlopers clearly don’t get it, but instead offers a nuanced argument and a call to action for design professionals to step up and do a part of the job they too often don’t consider or relish. As he writes, “perhaps the question in these logo discussions could be more than: could I do better? Perhaps we could also ask: what was the purpose? What was the process? Whose ends were being served? How should we judge success? But we seldom look any deeper than first impressions, wallowing instead in a churning maelstrom of snap judgments. Should we be surprised when the general public jumps right in after us?” Important questions, all.
— I have had many conversations with the inestimable Cheryl Heller about the meaning and purpose of “design thinking.” She’s a smart thinker and writer — not to mention the founder of the new Design for Social Innovation program at SVA. Where Design is Going, and How to be There is her manifesto for future designers, and it’s well worth a read.
“If we can enhance the experience, more people will spend more of their leisure time with us.” So said Thomas O. Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, in this piece about a huge investment the company is making to streamline the process of visiting the mega themepark. In At Disney Parks, a Bracelet Meant to Build Loyalty (and Sales), writer Brooks Barnes details the efforts Disney is making to move visitors away from having to use cash or credit and encourage them to use a connected wristband. Disney can then mine insights into what its visitors are actually doing when they’re at the parks. It’s not a small investment: analysts figure it’ll cost the company up to $1 billion. But I guess that’s the price you need to pay these days to get first-hand, reliable data on your customers.
— Another great piece by Andreesen Horowitz founder, Ben Horowitz: Programming Your Culture is a smart take on an important topic, filled with common sense. I also loved this line: “The world is full of bankrupt companies with world-class cultures. Culture does not make a company.”
— Simply lovely. In Be Wrong as Fast as You Can, New York Times magazine editor Hugo Lindgren lays it all out on the line, in a first-person confessional with a moral for us all. Now, please excuse me but I must stop procrastinating and reading Everything On The Web and get back to it.
So Avis has bought collaborative consumption poster child company Zipcar for $12.25 a share. As you might imagine, this has sparked a number of reactions, from those concerned that, consumed by a fusty incumbent, the innovative upstart will now lose its way, to those excited at the scale Avis can lend the still-fledgling company. The press release doesn’t say much beyond the expected platitudes, though Avis “anticipates” that key Zipcar executives such as CEO Scott W. Griffith will remain at the helm of the company. It’s certainly been interesting to watch Zipcar’s journey so far—and that will continue as the firm moves to become a test case for those looking to manage disruption both internally and at scale.
Update: tweet from Zipcar cofounder Robin Chase neatly sums up the issues at hand:
“Avis buys Zipcar. Should reduce fleet costs & make zip profitable. Concerned about whether OldCo can build NewCo in new innovative economy.”
[Photo c/o Zipcar]
Mark Bittman is always worth reading on the topic of food, and I loved this op ed, Fixing the Food Problem, in the New York Times in which he makes the case for both a systematic re-imagining of the way in which the food we consume is produced and distributed and our need to be patient while we do so. Reminiscent of Bill Buxton’s Long Nose of Innovation theory, it also reminded me of a conversation with an executive working on trying to innovate healthcare: laying the foundation is important and unflashy, she told me, when I was trying to figure out a story angle to impress both my editors and readers. As she explained, she wouldn’t be able to give me the all-important results or payoff on which I could hang my story of the progress of her work, because she wouldn’t know them herself for a decade or so. So that stopped me.
We’re all too impatient to see the fruits of our labor. This piece reminds us that every step we take is important, not just the ones when we triumphantly cross the line at the end of the journey. (And, of course, the end is never the end, anyway.)
— In Believe Yahoo’s tech makeover? Can I interest you in the Brooklyn Bridge? Om Malik explains why he remains unconvinced that, even with the arrival of Marissa Mayer and, yesterday, Max Levchin, Yahoo has a long, hard battle ahead as it tries to regain its mojo. “Ask any 25-year-old young programmer who he or she wants to work for,” he writes. “Yahoo isn’t the name you hear.” Ouch.
Much food for thought in this documentary examining the state of the world of interaction design. I pop up with a few thoughts, but I was much more interested in the opinions of the likes of the ever-fantastic Blaise Aguera y Arcas, architect of Bing Maps, and Andrei Herasimchuk, director of design at Twitter.
Google’s Larry Page steps into the one-on-one CEO exclusive interview ring, in the wake of Tim Cook’s bout with Bloomberg Businessweek’s Josh Tyrangiel. Miguel Helft’s interview is far-reaching, and while it’s impossible to imagine that the chief of a public company will say anything controversial on the record, there are some interesting insights into the company’s culture and management, including Page’s comment above, related to their focus on developing driverless cars, which reflects a breadth of curiosity and interest one might not attach to an advertising company. The whole interview is well worth a read; here are some of the quotes that stuck out for me:
On internal culture/talent: “We want to do things that will motivate the most amazing people in the world to want to work on them.” Google’s focus on internal talent is pretty legendary. The question that this comment sparked for me, however, is “not on those who actually want to use the products?”
On interoperability and playing nicely with others (especially pertinent in the wake of the Twitter/Instagram bust-up): “I think it would be nice if everybody would get along better and the users didn’t suffer as a result of other people’s activities.”
Echoing my colleagues’ theory of the Innovation Ambition Matrix, Page outlines Google’s commitment of 70% of efforts to incremental innovation, 20% to adjacent projects, and 10% to new-to-the-world ideas. It’s a simple enough theory that is nonetheless super hard to pull off. As he puts it, “it’s actually hard to get people to work on stuff that’s really ambitious. It’s easier to get people working on incremental things.”
On the importance and value of iteration: “If you look at a product, and you say the day it launched, “It’s not doing what I think it should do.” We say, “Well, yeah. It just launched today.”
On the fact that he and his team aren’t even close to done yet: “I have a deep feeling that we are not even close to where we should be.” Well then.
Emil Otto Hoppé, Speaker’s Corner, London, 1934. © Estate of Emil Otto Hoppé
“There are no shortcuts,” says London gallery owner Michael Hoppen in this interview with The Guardian’s Sean O’Hagan. Finders Keepers is an exhibition of his personal collection, put together over many years of obsessive trawling through the most unlikely places. This commitment, he says, is of paramount importance to building a worthwhile collection (though he also maintains that he collects photographs he likes, not merely those that are likely to rocket in price.)
Denise Grünstein, Tied, 2009. © Denise Grünstein. Courtesy of Charlotte Lund Gallery
I particularly loved this quote from Hoppen:
“If you think you can go to a fair once a year and find a bargain, forget it. I spend so much time going to places where I don’t find anything of worth. That’s the downside, but, like most collectors, I perversely enjoy that as well.”
Unknown Photographer, Tornado, USA, 1950s. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery
I chose three from the 130-image show here. Let me know if you have a chance to visit the exhibition. (Another instance of my slightly wishing I still lived in London.)
The post mortems and “I told you so”s are in full swing for the late Murdoch iPad publication, The Daily, with commenters split on the reasons for its fail. John Gruber (above) has a good piece which does not fall for Felix Salmon’s take that it wasn’t The Daily’s fault it was bulky, slow, and difficult to navigate. Gruber writes: “He’s 180 degrees wrong. All of these problems were entirely The Daily’s fault.” And, he concludes, this is really one more example of the fragmentation of big business as we used to know it: after all, a lean publishing team should be able to thrive on a budget of $5 million a year (though how many of those outfits, employing how many people, would be able to make a living from this, is another question altogether.)
Meanwhile, Twitter’s Michael Sippey flagged a post he wrote after one issue of The Daily, which turns out to have been awfully prescient. “The product doesn’t deliver on two fundamental features of today’s web — community and real-time,” he wrote, which if you ask me neatly nails the issues on the head. I follow the news pretty carefully, and can’t remember a time in which anyone flagged a story from The Daily. However painstakingly written, carefully edited, lovingly designed and beautifully produced, The Daily stories lived in a bubble. And that bubble just burst. iPad publishing will continue, of course, and hopefully those at the head of large organizations with an alleged appetite for innovation will be able to avoid the obvious mistakes next time around.