Think Small


Earlier today, I was reminded of how insanely great the Volkswagen ads of the 1950s and 1960s were, which was named the best campaign of the century by Ad Age.

Good design and excellent copywriting will always sell your product or service. In the ad above, the lead paragraph alone is simply brilliant: “Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things.”

Using today’s standards, the ad may have been rejected for being sexist. But you have to admit: focusing an entire ad on just one selling point is a really good idea.

When I see simple ads in today’s media, I appreciate it — and you should, too.

Don’t Worry!

I love this simple illustration…

The Answer: A Good Product

Excellent post by Kathy Sierra on, “Pixie Dust & The Mountain of Mediocrity.” If you’re in marketing, then you simply must read it…

So, why are people still so convinced that social media and all related buzzwords are The Answer? It has always appeared that if the product is truly crap, “your social media strategy won’t save you.” Even the social media gurus agree on that one. But it seems the opposite end is true as well… If the product makes the users awesome (at whatever the product is helping them do), no special secret magic pixie dust sauce is needed either.

Oh, social media does play a massive role in the success of a product that people love, but it is not the product-to-users “engagement” that matters, it is users-to-users (and users-to-potential-users). If people love what a product, book, service let’s them *do*, they will not shut up about it. The answer has always been there: to make the product, book, service that enables, empowers, MAKES USERS AWESOME. The rest nearly always takes care of itself.

Thanks to Brian Reich for the heads-up.

Mother of Invention

I found NPR Cosmos & Culture blog contributor Stuart Kauffman‘s piece fascinating: “The Fruitful, Unprestatable Adjacent Possible.” It centers around Yusuke Ohki’s idea behind Bookscan in Japan.

I begin with a true, whimsical and lovely tale. Recently a Japanese man living in a tiny apartment, perhaps in Tokyo, with his 2,000 books felt utterly crowded. He scanned his library into his new iPad and sold the used books. But THEN: It dawned on him that this was a new business opportunity, and he is now offering “iPad library scanning” services as his new way of making a living.

I love it. Notice, to be a bit technical, that his “iPad library screening” business is a technological complement to iPad, as screw and screw driver are complements, creating value together.

Obviously the “iPad library scanning” business could not have come into existence prior to iPad’s invention and reasonably widespread sale.

What is the whimsical new “functionality” of this business that is the iPad complement? Screening libraries of those in tiny Japanese apartments crowded by books.

Then given the invention and widespread sale of iPad, the new “iPad library screening” business was in what I keep calling the Adjacent Possible of the evolution of our economic and technological web. The little example above demonstrates the ever innovation of new “complementarities”, that is new functionalities i.e., “screening libraries of those in tiny Japanese apartments crowded by books”, made POSSIBLE by what exists now.

So there are four huge implications: First, the Adjacent Possible is fruitful. There are myriad new Adjacent Possibilities, given the current Actual economy.

Second, we simply cannot PRESTATE what lies in this Adjacent Possible. Who would have thought of “screening libraries of those in tiny Japanese apartments crowded by books” as a part of the Adjacent Possible. Who would have thought, as I have blogged before, of the World Wide Web, eBay, Google, and Facebook, 30 years ago? We live in a fruitful world of ever new possibilities that we cannot prestate. As I keep writing, not only do we not know what WILL happen, we do not even know what CAN happen.

But the third implication is profound for today’s world. So, third, we cannot prestate the relevant strategy space of, say, the burgeoning economy becoming into its Adjacent Possible, so we CANNOT OPTIMIZE with respect to that BECOMING.

And the fourth implication is, I think, deeply empowering. iPad ENABLED THE POSSIBILITY of “screening libraries of those in tiny Japanese apartments crowded by books.” This new Adjacent Possible economic niche is not random, but not deterministic. Therefore we truly create the very possibilities we become. The same is true for the evolution of the biosphere where new species create non-random adjacent possible empty niches where the biosphere may/will evolve, then create ever new Adjacent Possible empty niches.

These issues are deeply important. Many people, including our elites, think we can prestate the possibilities, hence can optimize given a “figure of merit” and a set of expectations over those possibilities.

The new Japanese business is a tiny, profound, demonstration that this belief is just wrong. Sometimes, in confined conditions, we can optimize. Hence our aim is not only our limited prediction, optimization and management, it is enablement and adaptation.

I find this very empowering.

Think different, indeed!


I love my mountains (Catskills), and all the others I’ve been to.  And I consider myself lucky to not have to suffer the consequences of mountaintop removal, so I was especially gratified to to hear the documentary “The Last Mountain” got a standing ovation at Sundance the other day.


Kinect is Cool

While watching TV a couple of weeks ago, a Microsoft  Xbox Kinect spot came on. The soundtrack seemed familiar enough for me to “Google my brain” to find out whose music was playing. At first I thought maybe The Stranglers, then settled on Gang of Four. Thanks to Shazam, found it was indeed Gang of Four and the song playing is precisely “Natural’s Not In It” from the album 100 Flowers Bloom (1980). To quote a line from the Windows 7 Phone spots, “really?!” 1980?

I remember both bands fondly, having seen them perform back in the day. The Stranglers at Irving Plaza in New York (October, 1980) and Gang of Four at The Left Bank in Mt. Vernon (June, 1981).

But hey, it works. It seems this is the hot product of the season, and justifiably so. A real breakthrough product developed at the Microsoft R&D Center in Israel.

Oh, and what have we here? Gang of Four is releasing a new album (“Contect”) and kicks-off a North American tour in February. Good for them — and their agent. Well done. I’ve always enjoyed their music.

Xbox? No, don’t have one of those. Having a Nintendo Wii is enough. Both brilliant products, although the hacks possible with Kinect will make it truly interesting.  Such as this gesture-based glove interface, via Read Write Web:

Hackers at the famous MIT Media Lab have built an open-source Chrome browser extension that uses the Microsoft gesture-based controller Kinect to navigate around tabs and Web pages. The group says the end result is like the movie Minority Report and that seems like a fair comparison.

Called DepthJS, the software is on GitHub and open for collaboration. Check out the video above. It looks pretty good. Some of the gestures appear more dramatic than I would want to use to navigate the Web with, but perhaps that will change in time. If a gesture-based interface could capture text input as well, that would be even cooler. Cursor motion alone, however, is all it takes to evoke a vision of the future in which Kinect-like devices are used to control all kinds of Web-connected devices.

Kinect was intended as an interface for the XBox gaming console alone, but developers have made fast work at leveraging its technology in service of experiences beyond gaming. Aaron Zinman, a PhD candidate at MIT, said tonight on Twitter that the project is aimed to be available for other browsers in the near future.

Try Some Vaseline

I always thought corporate anniversaries were lame and unimaginative. Sort of a marketing cop-out. Unless, of course, you think about how to make it fun.

How refreshing it was to read about a brilliant idea from the folks at Unilever and Vaseline to celebrate their 140th anniversary. Contest, anyone?

Submit your creative, alternate use for the product via Twitter (you got it: 140 characters or less) or Facebook and they’ll select the top 140 ways.

Figures the product was developed by a guy from Brooklyn:

Vaseline Petroleum Jelly was first discovered in 1859 by Robert Augustus Chesebrough, a 22 year old chemist from Brooklyn, NY. Chesebrough travelled to Pennsylvania to study the oil extraction and refinement process and was immediately drawn to a by-product of the oil refinery process used by the riggers to help aid the healing of cuts and burns – petrolatum. The product was found to have remarkable skin-healing properties. He took some of the paraffin-like substance home with him and after testing discovered he could extract a skin-friendly version of the material. In 1870 Chesebrough introduced this product to the public as Vaseline Petroleum Jelly and by 1974 it was being sold nationwide at the rate of a jar a minute with most medical professions recognizing it as a standard remedy for skin complaints. Today it is triple purified and even safe to use on lips.

OK, so he was born in London. But he did reset his career nicely, don’t you think?