Category Archives: Processes


Today’s a sad day.

Not only has Pharrell Williams been speaking at Cannes Lions as if he is a philosopher.

But Ogilvy & Mather’s Twitter account diligently shared it with the part of the world lucky enough not to be there.

To provide some context. Ogily & Mather is the agency that was born out of David Ogilvy’s passion for clear and creative communication.

Ogilvy is heralded as one of the greatest copywriters in the history of copywriting.

His books are part of the staple diet for writers, advertisers, salespeople, business people etc…

Ogily & Mather also employs Rory Sutherland.

Sutherland is a very clever and interesting man.

If you need proof, watch one of his TED talks or read his book.

Regardless of all of this pedigree, it doesn’t stop their Twitter account from doing this:

Ogilvy & Mather tweet about Pharrell Williams

In the tweet, Williams is quoted saying:

Multitasking allows you to keep things different and creative

That sounds lovely.

I love being creative.

And who wants to be the same? Different is so much better.

In that case I’d better get multitasking.

But wait, I’ve just remembered I read a book about this by someone who knows what they are talking about.

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes is a book by Maria Konnikova.

The book is about mindfulness and how, if he were real, Sherlock Holmes would have thought and acted.

Quite early on in the book, Konnikova addresses the theme of multitasking.

Here is a quotation from the book saying such:

We also know, more definitively than we ever have, that our brains are not built for multitasking — something that precludes mindfulness altogether. When we are forced to do multiple things at once, not only do we perform worse on all of them but our memory decreases and our general wellbeing suffers a palpable hit.

To put this back in context, Maria Konnikova is a writer who specialises in psychology.

Pharrell Williams makes pop songs for films with tiny yellow people.

Both are very good at what they do.

But I wouldn’t expect Ogilvy & Mather to tweet about Konnikova’s new song.

It would probably sound like crap.

Ugly Babies and Hungry Beasts

I’m reading Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull at the moment.

It’s fantastic, the best book on working in a creative environment I’ve ever read, and I’ve read literally some.

The whole book is fantastic, but one chapter in particular stands out.

It is a chapter about finding balance.

Balance between the need to keep a team busy, yet allow them the space to come up with new ideas.

Catmull uses two analogies to describe the struggle that many organisations go through.

The first is the hungry beast.

The hungry beast wants stuff happening all of the time.

When there is a team of people employed, the hungry beast insists that they are engaged in productive work all of the time.

You wouldn’t want a team of paid staff sitting idle for very long.

Ugly babies are new ideas.

They’ve just been born, and like a lot of babies, they’re ugly.

They are ideas that are different to anything that has come before.

The seem strange, different, sometimes alien.

But they often grow into not-so-ugly adults.

So they need protecting.

New ideas and the need for 100% productivity are not opposites.

But they do upset each-other’s balance.

An organisation that concentrates on ‘feeding the hungry beast’ is likely to be productive, but it also eats ugly babies; killing the new ideas that are the future of the company.

An organisation full of ugly babies will be full of new ideas, and some will become organisation changing.

But the time spent nurturing ugly babies leaves the beast pretty hungry.

Catmull suggests that the success of an organisation rests on its’ ability to strike a balance between feeding the beast and protecting and nurturing ugly babies.

Or to translate – keeping the business producing a successful output whilst continuing to develop and explore new ideas and ways of working.

A business that ignores one or the other will either eat itself, or fade into obscurity.

This needn’t just apply to creative organisations either.

Take Ford and Toyota.

Ford was famed for its production line.

The production line would roll all hours of the day, producing vehicles at all times and stopping for nothing.

Toyota took another approach, it developed a production line that anyone could  stop if they spotted a problem.

It was a new way of working, and it meant that Toyota enjoyed periods of producing what some would argue were the most reliable vehicles in the market.

Ford, on the other hand, had to grapple with the effort of always remaining productive.

Both systems produced good results, although Toyota arguably nurtured the better ugly babies.

Its’ production system now has a huge following (lean manufacturing) and they launched the genre-defining hybrid Prius.

If Toyota hadn’t found the balance between protecting ugly babies and continuing to feed the hungry beast, it would simply have become another manufacturing company, facing exactly the same issues as Ford and potentially missing the opportunity to develop something new.

Catmull finishes the chapter by reciting his (and my) favourite quotation from a Pixar film.

At the end of Ratatouille, food critic Anton Ego delivers a review of Gusteau’s Restaurant.

Anton Ego summarises better than I ever could the importance of protecting new ideas:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgement.

We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defence of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.

Here is Anton Ego delivering his review in this great scene:

Standing still

Update: Since this post was published I have written up these notes in more detail on the website.

I overheard a conversation between two web people a while ago.

One (a web developer) was explaining a tricky situation.

A client had called with news that a button on their website had broken.

The client wanted it fixed.

Elaborating further, the client explained that they had not ‘touched’ the website in the entire time (1 year) that it had been live.

Therefore it was not their fault it had broken.

The developer then explained that they too had not touched the website in that time period – and neither had anybody else.

This leaves two questions:

  1. Why was the button on the website broken?
  2. Whose fault was it that it had broken?

The answer would prove important because it would be the difference between the developer fixing it for free or the client having to pay to have the work carried out.

So how does something change on a website that hasn’t been touched?

It doesn’t.

The website hasn’t changed at all.

The code has stayed exactly the same as the day it went live.

It has remained in a constant state.

But the rest of the world hasn’t.

In the space of a year a lot has changed.

Including web browsers.

Since January 2012 Google has launched somewhere in the region of 12 new versions of Chrome.

Mozilla’s Firefox was on version 10 in 2012, it is now on version 24.

Even Internet Explorer has had a Windows 8 flavoured overhaul.

So the website hasn’t changed at all.

But everything else has.

The website that worked on Chrome 17, or Firefox 10 or Internet Explorer 9 doesn’t necessarily work on their modern day equivalents.

A website can only be built to the standards of the day it goes live.

So who’s fault is it that the button broke?

The answer is no-one.

The website just stood still for too long.

When everything around you is moving forwards, standing still is as good as moving backwards.

Thinking about it

I used to work at a large institution.

My role afforded me the right to meet with the person in charge of the website to find out what they did.

During one such encounter we discussed the upcoming launch of a new website.

Being privileged, I was allowed to see the ‘work-in-progress’ version of the website.

Whilst reviewing the article the person in-charge proudly explained how the first three links in the navigation of the site were; ‘central to the user journey and had taken a matter of 6 months to decide upon’.

That’s a long time to choose what to put in your website navigation.

That’s so long that eventually you have to ask; what is going to be more damaging, rushing out the incorrect new navigation or leaving the crappy old website live for an extra 6 months?

I’d wager that the crappy old website (and believe me, it was crappy) was doing them significantly more damage.

So why do institutions labour so hard over these decisions?

The web isn’t ever in a state of ‘final form’.

If you make a website live and it doesn’t work you can make changes relatively quickly and easily.

In the days of print there was a need to think carefully before you gave the printer instruction to complete the job.

There was no going back.

But the internet isn’t like that.

It is progressive.

You can change things.

The Marketing Director of a large company once told me that the best websites don’t change, they evolve.

It’s true.

When was the last time Amazon completely redesigned its website?


It redesigns features.

Never the entire site.

It evolves.

If Amazon makes a change live and then sales suffer, they just go back and make a new change live in its place.

This could have been the case with the website I was looking at.

Work out the best navigation option your have in a matter of days / weeks.

Make it live.

Watch what happens.

React to the findings.

That is a luxury the web affords you, don’t waste it by thinking too hard.

Doing and being

A few years ago I was speaking with a friend.

At the time he was preparing to save some money for an upcoming plan.

In order to do so he had accepted that he needed to work hard in a job he wasn’t particularly fussed about.

Naturally the conversation moved onto ways he could increase his income without changing his current situation.

It just so happens that he is an incredible artist.

Only a week prior to our conversation I had been admiring some of his artwork.

Watercolour paintings of idyllic English country settings.

The kind of thing that would hang inoffensively in most conservative, middle-class households.

“Why don’t you sell your paintings?” I said.

“But I am not an artist” he said.

And there is the difference between types of people in the world.

There are people who do things in order to be something.

Then there are people (like my friend) who have to be something before they can do it.

My friend had limited his outlook by deciding that in order to sell paintings he must be ‘an artist’.

Except there is no such thing as ‘an artist’, there are just people who do art.

My friend does art, he could quite easily sell it and call himself an artist.

But he didn’t see it like that.

He thought of it as a job.

In order to sell art you have to be an artist.

You had to be that thing in order to do it.

Which is the correct way to do things?

My friend went on to achieve his goal and now enjoys a very successful career.

Who am I to argue with that?

But then again, what better way to become something than to do it first?

Want to be a manager in your company?

Why not try managing people, then you will become a manager.

Sometimes the best way to be something is to do it first.

How to get people to queue

People don’t queue at bars.

They linger.

The bar becomes a flat structure where the only way to signal your turn is to make eye contact with the bar tender.

When the bar is busy, this tactic can prove to be thirsty work.

People with large personalities tend to get served quicker than those who are less imposing.

Despite the injustice of the whole system, people will not form a conventional queue.

So, if this was a marketing problem here is the brief:

How do you stop punters either A. leaving or B. fighting each other as a result of the frustration that comes from trying to get a drink at a busy bar?

The obvious route to go down would be to increase the speed at which you serve drinks.

Although this could help, you are putting yourself into a game that you cannot control.

If the bar gets especially busy you may become overwhelmed and end up missing someone out.

Or what if the beer runs out and you need to change the barrel?

Counting the change that the local who lives next door gives you is an unforeseen burdon.

You see, the speed at which people are served once the bar tender gets to them is not the problem.

So to answer the brief we need to find the real problem.

If people end up leaving or fighting the biggest effect to the bar owner will be loss of revenue.

All of the time your customers spend leaving and fighting is time that they cannot spend giving you money in exchange for drinks.

That is where the genius of a beer festival I attended last week comes in.

Each stall selling beer would not accept cash.

Instead, thirsty punters were required to purchase beer tokens at a separate kiosk.

People don’t queue at bars, but they do at a kiosk.

This meant that an orderly queue was formed at the kiosk whilst each bar could concentrate on serving drinks only.

The beer festival answered the true brief.

How do you continue to take money in exchange for drinks during periods of extreme busyness at a drinking establishment?

The owners of the beer festival spotted the true problem and then they played a game in which they could control the odds and win.

That is creativity.

Turning a problem into a solution.

Getting drunk people to form an orderly queue to give you money.

Ideas and Delivery

I was recently talking to someone who asked me, “what do you mean when you say that ‘ideas are more important than delivery?'”.

It was in reference to a line on the about page of this website and was a good question.

Finding myself in a tricky spot where the only exit was the exact shape and size of a well considered answer I had to engage my brain.

After a brief delve into my memory I answered:

It was based on my time spent studying and subsequently working at the University of Winchester with Chris Horrie who is always full of good ideas.

Not only is Horrie always full of good ideas but he has an uncanny ability to side-step the awkward politics and difficulties that crop up with delivery.

The result of this was that ideas were cherished and encouraged and delivery was believed to be a thing that would follow, one way or another. A solid idea craves delivery.

Although my answer goes some way to describing why I used the ‘ideas are more important’ line on my about page, I don’t feel that it fully captures the essence of what I was getting at. It also risks writing off ‘delivery’ as not-so-important, but this is not the case.

So, a more concise answer would be this:

Good, solid delivery of a project will never be able to save a bad idea from failure.

A good idea can survive shoddy delivery.

That is why ideas are more important than delivery.

Delivery can happen, there is always a way.

Good ideas cannot be faked. You must work hard to own a good idea.

A good example would be a client who I worked with some time ago.

The client had an idea, it was to create a website that would provide a place for amateur creatives to publish their work, sell it, share it on other websites and the like.

Not a bad idea but it was missing a couple of key things.

1. The client had no solid proof that there was an audience for this product.

2. The client had no pre-planned method of gathering a significant audience, instead opting for a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude.

Fast forward a few months to the delivery of the project, a fine delivery at that.

The website was delivered in the form of a technical masterpiece. Chock full of features, bells, whistles and empty database rows ready and waiting for creative work.

Despite the great delivery and subsequent addition of new features, up-take on the site has been slow to say the least.

The delivery followed the brief perfectly but the idea within the brief needed more time to brew.

I am confident that the site in question will come good, all it needs is some good promotion, but that requires going back to the ideas stage.

You can’t fake hard work at ideas stage. Delivery will always happen.