I was walking around the Eatons Centre in Toronto on Saturday when I came across a “demonstration”. I asked one of the participants what was going on, and was told that it was a “United China” rally. Wait … what? Since when do people protest FOR China? It’s like holding a pro-American rally in France. Or pimps demanding better legal rights for smacking up their hos.
Pro-China Supporters in Vancouver
With all of the controversy and protests regarding the situation in Tibet, some patriots thought that it would be a good idea to hold a march to support their native land. But I’m not going to knock patriotism. It’s admirable to be proud of your heritage.
However, I asked a gentlemen participating in the chanting what they hoped to achieve by this. He told me he wanted all Canadians to know that China is united as one. And that’s cool too. I had only one piece of advice for him (and the organizers in Toronto).
MAKE YOUR SIGNS IN ENGLISH!
All of the slogans on their signs were in Chinese. From my personal experience, most Canadians don’t read Chinese. And if they can’t read what’s on your signs, or understand the rallying chants, I have a feeling that they might not pick up the message.
Vancouver supporters got it right… check it out! Signs in English!
It’s funny, because companies do the same thing. They are so internally focused that the forget how to connect with their customers. They’re just speaking to themselves. So my advice to China – remember who your audience is and speak their language.
PS. On a more political note, check out this picture below:
I haven’t been able to authenticate it from a proper news source, but it appears to be members of the PLA preparing to get dressed in Tibetan monk garb. All I’m saying is that they probably aren’t doing it because it was Holy Week.
I have written previously on information design and how by representing information in a graphical way, it is easier to understand. I believe that I have come across a couple of universal truths over the past couple of weeks. Instead of sharing them with you in a long-winded article, I thought that it would serve you (the audience) better if I put the lessons in a graphical context.
Last week , we debunked the myth of the wisdom of crowds. Simple organisms, like ants, can benefit from flocking – individuals follow simple rules, but a complex behavior emerges. Kind of like how you get your McChicken meal at McDonald’s. Or the assembly line that Henry Ford put together.
Unfortunately, when we apply the theory of “many hands make light work” to ideation and creativity, the opposite occurs. More interactions = dumber behaviour. We we come together as a group seeking consensus in ideas, we lose sophistication and intelligence.
Then where does the wisdom of crowds come from? The wisdom of crowds does NOT come from a consensus, but from the aggregation of the ideas of each individual in the group. In fact, the ideas spawned on an individual basis will often be greater than those born in a group environment.
That’s because groups tend to gravitate toward a handful of similar ideas and eliminate the outliers. In addition, as a group gets bigger, it becomes more difficult for people to express their ideas. People begin to censor themselves for fear of sounding stupid. People dominate the conversation in an attempt to appear intelligent. Less ideas get explored.
But let’s get back to where the wisdom of crowds comes from – the aggregation of the ideas of individuals. The number and quality of unique ideas born by each individual will exceed that of those ideas thought up by the group.
Diversity increases the quality of aggregated wisdom of the group. People are now able to branch out in their thoughts without gravitating towards a “group” answer. People can think up crazy solutions and let their creativity run free. And when you add up all of those ideas, they are better than the ideas that would be put forth by the group.
So how do you put this into practice? Pretty simple. Dedicate one brainstorming session to individual thought. You can have people think on the problem (and have a couple of ideas) before they arrive. Or you can dedicate the first 15 minutes of the meeting to individual brainstorming. Whatever.
The next step is to take the time to go through each and every thought that each participant had on the topic. People will expand on each other’s ideas and the solutions will grow organically. However, since you are always moving from idea to idea, the group is less likely to get stuck on one train of thought. It’s a simple way to assert the creativity of the individuals and benefit from the wisdom of crowds.
Why don’t we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it’s because we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies — far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity — are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. “We are educating people out of their creativity,” Robinson says.
Check out his TED talk below. A very worthwhile 20 minutes.
The vast majority of children moving through the education systems today are trained to pass tests, not solve problems. They are trained to memorize answers to multiple choice questions, not to learn.
And you know what? That makes education boring. When you’re not engaging your audience (in this case, students) to think, to interact and to be creative, you’re going to lose them. They will lose the passion for the subject and for learning in general. But by creating challenging problems that encourage kids to explore, you can keep them engaged. And prepare them for a career that is more than just performing a simple task over and over again.
*Side note – You can expect The Wisdom of Crowds (Part 2) to drop on Monday.
I was reading an excerpt from James Surowiecki’s book “The Wisdom of Crowds” and came across some interesting facts. Ants, as a species, are quite simple and stupid. Individually, they are unable to accomplish complex tasks. However, their intelligence grows as they interact with each other. The individual ants of limited intelligence follow a simple set of rules, and a complex group behaviour emerges. They can harvest food, build vast networks of tunnels and create a thriving colony.
More Interactions = More Sophisticated Behaviour
The funny thing is that with humans, the opposite occurs – especially in ideation. Individually, we are able to come up with a lot of good ideas. But when we get together in a large group to brainstorm, the quantity and quality of those ideas diminishes.
More Interaction = Dumber Behaviour
When we come together as a group seeking consensus, we lose sophistication and intelligence. Think about the last big group brainstorm that you were in. Groupthink and compromise take over. Everyone gravitates to one or two ideas that monopolize the discussion. No time is spent blowing out new ideas. There is no diversity. And creativity comes from diversity.The irony of “The Wisdom of Crowds” is that for humans, crowds are actually quite dumb.
I was out with some people on Monday night when one of my friends told us a story about a visit he had to Newfoundland. He said that some people there had never seen a brown person before. It made me think. When I think of my friends, I don’t really think about race. Here I was sitting at a table that with a group that pretty much looked like the a United Colors of Benetton ad, having forgotten an important fact. There’s a lot of white people.
Why are all Lego men yellow?
We spend so much time trying to figure out how to understand minorities, we have forgotten a key demographic in North America – white people. And apparently, they have a lot of spending power. So since we’ve been ignoring them for so long, I thought it would be prudent to do a little research. Find out how they think and what makes them tick. Luckily, I came across an excellent website that lays it out for the rest of us: Stuff White People Like. Now, they take an extremely scientific approach to figuring out what white people like.
I thought I’d try to take a crack at it. So, just from personal observation and some quick research, I have compiled a quick list of things that white people like:
- The 80s
- Wayne Brady
- Whole Foods
- Asian Girls*
- Ultimate Frisbee
*Does not apply to white women.
To bring it back to more of a serious note, I think it’s interesting how often we characterize people based on demographic groups. Because it’s easier to communicate to the characteristics of that group than to tailor a message to invididuals. The truth of the matter is that good communication and good products rely on insights. We are undoubtably influenced by our cultural and enthnic surroundings, but in the end we all experience the same human emotions and connections.
Update on March 17, 2008:
Someone made me a half-white, half-brown lego man! Awesome.
I believe that everyone aspires to have a great idea. One that adds tremendous value to your life. One that could even change the world. But a great idea requires a different mindset and approach than a good idea. Because a good idea is something that’s … just good. It doesn’t change a culture. It doesn’t create a sustainable competitive advantage. There are two things that you need to do in order to create a great idea:
Step 1: Listen
You need inspiration. That’s why you listen. You need to know what the core elements of the problem are. That’s why you listen. But don’t just listen in your office or boardroom. Get out there and listen to real conversations. Find out what real people are thinking. People who don’t have a vocabulary of corporate bullshit. And listen to realms that are outside of your own. If you are in advertising, take a look at science. If you’re in science, take a look at how people do things outside of a lab.
One of the best examples of drawing inspiration from a everyday situations is here. Shell invented a cheaper way of drilling oil (that is also better for the environment) by seeing a teenager drink a milkshake from a straw. Your inspiration is out there. You just have to listen.
Step 2: Ignore
In a manifesto “How To Be Creative”, the cartoonist Hugh Macloed’s first rule is to ignore everybody. I agree.
The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you. You don’t know if your idea is any good the moment it’s created. Neither does anyone else. The most you can hope for is a strong gut feeling that it is. – Hugh Macloed
Because when an idea is a great idea, it is originally resisted. This is because all great ideas motivate change. People fear change. You need to ignore everyone in order to be original. It allows you to free your mind and do things your way and not how society tells you to.
Before Sean Combs’ first fashion show for his Sean Jean clothing line, the business mogul never saw a fashion show. He didn’t want to see one. All he knew was how he was going to do it. So he rocked it by launching his label his way without the influence of seeing how everyone else normally did it. Needless to say, it’s been a big success.
So by ignoring everyone, you kill all external influences. That means that there are no nay-sayers and no preconceptions … only you, the problem and your mind.
It’s pretty simple. Listening gives you insights and inspiration. Ignoring everyone allows you to create the correct mindspace to think and develop your idea. The end result is great ideas.
I was reading a post on Nish’s site that lauded pencil crayons. Well, I am putting my stake in the ground. Pencil crayons are no match for regular crayons. You know the ones. Some good old fashioned Crayolas. You never really knew what they were made of, you might have eaten one, and one is lodged in Homer’s brain.
Top 3 Reasons Why Crayons Rule:
They’re blunter. They’re not as precise. You can’t draw specific detail with them. This restriction forces you think think/draw the big picture. It allows you to focus on the composition of the overall idea and prevents you from getting hung up on minor details.
You can’t erase crayons. You have to live with the mistakes and imperfection of your work. Again, this allows you to focus on having a solid idea that you are trying to communicate. Of course if the mistakes are too big, you have to throw out your work and start again. And everyone’s ideas can benefit from a second chance at a completely blank page.
You don’t need a pencil sharpener. You just need to peel back the paper. Boo yah.
So skip your art supply store and head down Toys R Us to pick up some quality crayons.
I’m jealous. Of Mitch Joel (yes, he has two first names). He was rockin’ out at the TED conference this past weekend, absorbing knowledge from some of the smartest people on the planet. In reading this article on Twist Image, I came across an interesting quote:
“Advertising is the price companies pay for being unoriginal”
I think this quote is a crock of shit. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of companies rely on marketing to create a point of differentiation when they’re too lazy to innovate. They come out with a product that is exactly the same as their competition except for some small addition and say “sell this.” Make it the next iPhone. But without a product or service that is ACTUALLY new, there is no authenticity in what you’re telling your customers. It lacks credibility
So you need a good product that is based on a solid consumer insight. If you have a product that is so unique, so functional and so cool, then you don’t really need to advertise it. People will talk about it. People will know what it does. People will want to buy it. So you don’t need advertising, right?
Wrong. That stuff will work for the early adopters, but advertising is how you inform the masses about your product. Here’s an example that’s in market right now: MasterCard PayPass. So this is a technology that allows you to pay for coffee at Tim Hortons or groceries or movie tickets with a credit card that’s faster than cash. You just beep your card and leave. No signature. No receipt. It’s supposed to save an average of 12 seconds per transaction.
This innovation represents the ONLY point of differentiation that MasterCard has over Visa. Everything else is exactly the same. But it’s a real innovation. What MasterCard has to do in the next 6 months is to construct a real long-term advantage. They need to create a compelling story so that they can own this type of “beep and go” credit card.
Advertising is how you tell your story. It allows you to get people to love you. To trust you. So that when your competition comes out with an imitation product 6 months down the road, you already own the category. By advertising your innovative product, you are able to define the battleground. You are able to define your niche and own it. Look at the all of the iPhone “killers” that are coming out. But Apple has successfully built it’s own category. It’s not a cell phone. It’s not a smartphone. It’s an iPhone.