Springcleanin’

So for a while there this was my mood Danger_deephole. Various personal circumstances and getting laid off whilst on my penultimate day of my probation period in the new job meant that I wasn't the happiest of campers. Something to do with feeling like I lost control there for a bit. And yes, I am a bit of a control freak. There. Now it's out there. But I am also blessed with great friends and lovely family, who've been patient and kind. And then, relatively out of the blue, another job surfaced (and my personal circumstances worked out better than I could've hoped). I'll start in 10 days time, and I'm very excited, since it ticks a lot of my boxes, but most of all it'll be working in digital. Hell yeah! So there you go. Happy weekend. Don't forget to smile.

Smile_itsfriday

So about this learning thing

Most people I tell about doing a part-time MA are surprised and slightly bewildered. Why on earth would I want another degree? And why design school of all places? And why such a vague and weird degree? And am I addicted to learning / degrees / university (probably is the answer to that I reckon)? All these questions in turn bewilder me slightly. Partially because since it's my life, I consider this to be normal so it's weird when I'm considered a bit odd (although you'd think that by now I'd be used to it), and partially because don't you read everywhere that you need to keep on learning all throughout your career and life, no more of this career-or-job-for-life hoopla. So that's what I'm doing. Learning for life. And about life. From life. Something like that. And I like my learning when it comes served up with a formal schedule and classmates. So there you go. I am Natasja, and I'm a learn-a-holic.

[written on the occasion of my first class of the second, and final, year of my MA at Central St Martin's]

Here’s to another year

Most people make New Year's resolutions on Jan 1st. I always make mine on my birthday, which is my own personal New Year celebration. But before I make my resolutions, it's time to look back and see what happened in this past year. I work in an industry I love, and which allows me to learn something new every day at work (big thank you to my colleagues who have so patient and kind and have taught me more than I think they realise). I am doing a part-time degree that is inspiring beyond anything I could've dreamed and where I have made some wonderful new friends. I have seen some amazing exhibitions, conferences (Interesting2008), events (bschool meets dschool was definitely a highlight) and performances, most notably my alltime hero Bruce Springsteen in A'dam, my teenage heroes The Black Crowes, new discoveries Jamie Lidell and John Mayer (twice) who's fast becoming one of my new favourites. I completed some of my 1,001 things to do, most notably and memorably the 2 Michelin ** dinner at The Square earlier this year which opened up whole new avenues of addiction. I've met some inspiring, interesting, amazing, wonderful people both online and offline. And of course there's my family whom I love so dearly and who are my most ardent supporters for which I can't thank them enough, it's a wonderful feeling that whatever I do or dream up of doing, they are right there for me, cheering me on. If you can measure a person's wealth by her friends, then I'm a billionaire; there's so many wonderful people I get to share my life with, and so much love that I feel incredibly lucky. And yes, I do get very sentimental and soppy about these things, especially on my birthday, but it's my blog and I'll be soppy if I want to.

Life is very good. And I am grateful for that and humbled by it. And thank everyone who's been so instrumental in making this my best year ever so far. For this coming year I hope to travel a bit more (kicking off in a few days when I fly to Dallas to visit Al and the lovely miss M, followed by a trip to India late November to attend a wedding), continue to enjoy work and school (and try to balance the two), and enjoying this wonderful city some more. There you go. Soppiness over now, back to normal broadcast from the next post onwards.

Jammin’ with graphs

A picture is worth a 1000 words. If it's done the right way, that is. I saw a website called GraphJam this morning which has the best graphs, piecharts and Venn diagrams that I've ever seen. Here's an example:

Call

Now, especially if you're an MBA or a consultant, repeat after me: "I will not, under any circumstances now or in the future, create diagrams, pie- or barcharts or Venn Diagrams that add nothing whatsoever to the slide deck I am making. I will only use them where they make sense and help my audience to understand what I'm talking about, not to show off I've found the graph-making button in my software.'

And if you do feel the need to toy around with graphs, create one and submit it to GraphJam.

{Graphjam chart from here}

Changing the rules of the game

Without really realising it, I've become stuck in a bit of a rut. A blogging rut. The normal pattern for me for this blog is for a topic to hit me, me finding time to sit down for 10 minutes or so and hash out a post, find an image in my Flickr account which has some relation to the story (and sometimes the only relation is that I shot the image and wrote the post), and press 'save'. The careful observer notices the complete lack of spelling check, yes I blatantly do not spellcheck. Take that English professors from my undergrad. The whole thing doesn't sound like much work. And it isn't. But with the advent of Twitter, and especially Tumblr, my blogging habits but most of all my attention span, are starting to change. Having to sit down and find an image with a post all of a sudden seems a bit of a burden, as does waiting for a coherent and topical set of thoughts to materialise in my head. I want instant. Now, now, now. Instant gratification. But I'm not sure if this blog lends itself to that. So what I'll do is experiment a bit for a while here. Not all posts will be long as per usual, or have an image attached. Apologies for any upcoming randomness and conciseness. 

I don’t understand

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There’s a million things I don’t understand. Like why single bachelors of the male variety (aren’t all bachelors male otherwise they’d be called bachelorettes? I think they are, but just to clarify I’ve put the ‘male’ bit in) always have black leather sofas and giant flatscreen TVs in their homes. Or why people like pineapple. Or why we just can’t all get along. And more in that vain.

But lately what I’ve not been understanding at all is why there is such a thing as digital advertising agencies. In particular why there is a need for a specific agency that does digital stuff. Surely, digital isn’t just another channel on the block, it’s a new way of thinking, of figuring out how to interact with the audience or customers or whatever they’re called nowadays. Of communicating. I don’t understand the need for the separation of the different channels in different agencies. I’m also looking at it from a business and outsider’s perspective. Why would I, if I were a brand manager, have different agencies for different channels? Wouldn’t I just want to talk to a bunch of people who understand my painstakingly hard work on crafting and living a brand, and help me communicate that message in effective and clever ways? I’m pretty sure people on the receiving end (aka consumers/customers/audience) don’t give a hoot which channel the message comes through, they most likely are not waiting for your message anway (subject for a whole new post). Whether that’s through a viral on Youtube, a print ad in the free London Paper or by organising a festival in a park on a sunny day with lots of music and ice-cream. Hell, it could be through a song, or a book, or a iPhone application, or by word of mouth. Or Twitter, reverse grafitti or by sponsoring an art show. As long as it’s done in the way that’s most appropriate for the brand, by people who know what they’re doing from a strategic, creative and technical point of view*, why would I want to have specific agencies? That feels like you’re deciding what channel the message is going to go out on, before knowing how you’re going to say it and whether that’s the most appropriate.

So I’m not getting it, this whole integrated versus specialist agencies thing. From an outsider’s perspective, it strikes me as being decidedly odd, and very old-fashioned. Time for the agency of the future, a new model. Anyone want to start one with me?

* so that’s the reason I can see for the original existence of specific digital agencies: you definitely need technical know-how to do this kind of stuff. But surely that’s a historical thing, not a reason for the continued existence of different agencies.

[blogpost sparked by a combination of Tom Fishburne’s excellent drawing on silos and Russell Davies column in Campaign of July 25th which I can’t seem to be able to track down on the Brandrepublic website.]

Confession

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I have a confession to make.

You know me, I like my techie gadgets (I
can’t always afford them, but I do drool over them and covet them and
dream about them). A lot. I’m inseparable from my iPod Touch, own a N95 and if you
take my Powerbook away from me, I get serious withdrawl. Yet, and here’s the confession…
I have a paper diary/organiser/agenda. A good old fashioned Collins, £4.95, one-week-on-two-pages diary. Nothing fancy,
although I am picky. Has to be A6 format, and one week on two pages.
And preferably an elastic band that closes it, so that I can stick
stuff in. Reading this blogpost though  and getting
a meeting request from a friend who wanted to go to dinner and wanted
to know which email address he needed to send the invitation to, made
me realise that I’m maybe part of a dying breed of people that still
have a paper organiser.

I like my paper diary. I like it because I can pencil in appointments.
I have an overview of the week. Nothing quite as comforting as flipping
backwards and forwards through the weeks and months. I can stick
Post-it notes in it and pencil quotes into random pages. I keep my old
diaries as keepsakes, it’s great flicking through and being reminded of
all the fun things I did. The only downside perhaps is lack up backup
possibilities (short of photocopying it I suppose). If I lose it, I’m
stuffed.

So there you go. I guess you can take the girl out of book history, but you can’t take the love of paper away from the girl!

An Apple a day

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*cue unabashed gushing. If you can’t stand unabashed gushing, look away and come back for the next post* 


As some of you know, I’m a bit of a fan of Apple. My trusty Powerbook turns 3 this month, I have a passionate love affair with my iPod Touch, and no, I don’t have an iPhone yet but as soon as my current contract runs out this autumn you will see me sprint to the O2 store. Yep, I do like Apple. And this week, this was yet again reinforced. 

A couple of weeks ago I got an email announcing the iTunes Live series of concerts in July, in the ever so cool Koko in Camden (evidence number 1: free concerts in a cool venue). The only way to get to the concerts was to put your name in a raffle to win tickets (clever piece of marketing evidence number 2, access to a select group of people about who you in the process gather what music they like), so I put my name in for the Jamie Lidell concert. And then completely forgot about the whole thing. Until I got an email announcing that I’d won tickets, hurrah. So I dragged a friend along, walked in, were given a pass that gave you access to 10 free songs from the iTunes live series (evidence number 3, give something away for free, everyone loves that), and then saw a stunningly good performance which blew my top off* (evidence number 4: program great artists). Every single detail was done right, and the whole thing was simple, but definitely not easy. Hats off to Apple, man, that was clever marketing/branding. 

* I’ve been having really good concert karma lately, with Bruce Springsteen, John Mayer and Jamie Lidell, all fabulous concerts, in one month. 

What’s the most important thing we’re not learning/teaching?

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Combine a bit of Design Studies with a bit of thinking about the future of the MBA with a bit of disruptive thinking by Umair (in particular his ideas on edge economy, and this post on rethinking Detroit, and this one on hacking the industrial economy) and next thing I know I'm pondering on what I have never thought about. Literally. What don't we think off? And why?

This week we had two presentations on the MADS course, on of which was on 'What's the most important question we're not asking?' Great question. Tough to answer, but what a great question. Got me thinking on what's most important, the questions or the answers? What are the right questions? And why are we not asking certain questions? Because we can't think of them (If you don't know you don't know, how can you ask about it?), or because we think they're not relevant?

I have also been thinking about the MBA and the future of the MBA, and what we get taught as part of the MBA curriculum. As I've mentioned earlier, I've taken a course called Creativity and Personal Mastery (aka CPM, what's with the acronyms today?) at London Business School. I've not really talked much about it, since I find it hard to describe what it is or what I've learned. I've met some wonderful people, had and still have great conversations about everything under the sun, I've learned some tools that work for me in enjoying life more. Many people say this type of course shouldn't be part of the MBA curriculum. I disagree. Vehemently. Any course that allows you to think about who you are, what your values in life are and how you want to live your life should be part of the curriculum. What good is it teaching people the technical skills (the HOW) but not have them think why they are learning them (the WHY). The why I find more interesting than the how. The how is easy, the why takes a lifetime. Again, I'm thinking about what questions we're asking and not asking. About what subjects we get taught and what we don't get taught. And why questions like these ruffle so many feathers (see also me ranting about the LBS vision).

Then Umair comes along with his thought provoking posts. He's a master in uncovering the questions we're not asking. And poking and prodding to see why we're not asking them. I think he's ruffling quite a few feathers and I'm loving it. High time we start thinking about the world in a different way. 

Looking back over the past six months, I'm connecting the dots and seeing that it's all about what questions I'm asking. And what questions am I not asking, and why not. The quality of the questions count. What questions are you not asking yourself? What are you not being taught, or not learning? Why not? 

Get that label off me!

2413515872_a9e3d1c02aI am
an MBA
a design student
but not a designer (or am I?)
a brand strategist
a project manager
a lady geek
a blogger
a writer
an ex tech-consultant
an ex management consultant
an alumna

And that’s without even going into the personal labels I stick to myself (or get stuck on me). Labels make it easy to talk to people. "I’m an MBA from LBS" seems to open some doors or at least explain in a concise way what I am. "I’m a postgrad at Central St Martin’s" usually opens other doors (weird how you say MBA from LBS but not MA from CSM). And sometimes even mentioning you’re a blogger works magic! But at the same time, these labels make me feel uneasy sometimes, especially when others refer to them (or when I do) in a way that excludes another one. I feel like that a lot when it comes to business suits versus designers/creatives. Somehow there’s this perception that that’s an either/or situation. Either you’re a suit, and bureacratic and a management-speak spouting, tailored suit wearing MBA, or you’re a woolly creative, dressed in all black and sporting blackrimmed glasses, talking about negative space. I’m a bit lost I think. Where do I fit in? I haven’t worn a suit in years, and gave up glasses about 8 years ago. Is being both a suit and a designer a compromise that is the lowest common denominator of both and thus a bad thing. Or does it mean I can do both, and both reasonably well I hope, and that’s a good thing?

Interesting to see that this labelling happens on all sides of the fence. MBAs think designers are as weird as designers think MBAs are aliens. So maybe that’s what I am. Weird AND and alien!

It’s all about the cake. But it’s not about the cake

Chocolate_cakeEvery Friday, round about 4 pm, work at our offices stops for about 20 minutes, and we have our Friday Afternoon Tea and Cake Break. It’s an institution. Well, it’s on its way to becoming an institution. See, our offices are a 5 minute walk from Borough Market so cakes are in easy supply. Couple that with a strong belief on my side that work isn’t all about work, et voila, Friday Cake Break was born. We make a nice cuppa, have a piece of cake (every week a different one) and chat. About everything under the sun, except for work. A colleague recently asked why I was so obsessed by cakes. I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice piece of cake as much as the next girl, but it’s Friday Cake Break is not about the cake. Yet it couldn’t work without the cake. But it soooo not about the cake. It’s about making work more human and dare I say it, more fun.

So what am I trying to say? Work should be more fun. It should be about interacting with human beings, who have their own pet peeves and hobby horses. It should on occasion be silly, sad, fun and dramatic. When did we start separating work and life? I shudder when people ask if I am any different at work than I am outside it. Ehm. No. Decidedly not. I tried that for a while in my twenties, it made me frightfully unhappy and I think also crappier at my work. I can’t and won’t turn myself off between 9am and 6pm. And I don’t think anyone should. There is a difference between colleagues and friends, between clients and buddies, and my behaviour takes that into account, but I am the same person. I have good days and bad, and love to laugh. And stop every now and then, have a nice cuppa and piece of cake and talk about what movies are good, or what books, or who’s good on Idols (although I must admit, I don’t have a TV, so when the conversation rolls that way, I listen more than I speak… actually I should do more of that in general, listen more than speak).

It’s all about the cake. But it’s never about the cake.

Not half bad

2292910007_8a7a33196eThink about this:

‘Everything else is designed for you to throw away when you are finished with it. But where is “away”? Of course, “away” doesn’t really exist. “Away” has gone away.’ (Cradle to Cradle)

Don’t throw it away. There is no away. [seen on a painting at London Art Fair, can’t remember what the artist name was]

I think this was one of the quotes that most impressed me from a book I recently read called Cradle to Cradle (McDonough / Braungart). Impress might not be the right word. It blew me away (well, there is no away, but you get my drift). I had never thought about it this way. There is no away. Just because I throw it out, doesn’t mean it disappears into thin air.

The book really got me thinking about sustainability and the environment and that kinda jazz. And that automatically leads to feeling guilty and bad. We know we’re doing the wrong thing, but I don’t want to be told what I’m doing wrong constantly. That’s what I think from a marketing perspective is the biggest problem with all things green: they make me feel bad. Guilty. And that ain’t making me wanting to grab my purse. Not really.

In the book, the authors phrase it like this:
‘Instead of providing an inspiring and exciting vision for change, conventional environmental approaches focus on what NOT to do… Like our ancestors, we may react automatically, with terror and guilt, and we may look for ways to purge ourselves — which the eco-efficiency movement provides in abundance, with its exhortations to produce and consume less by minimizing, avoiding, reducing and sacrificing… The goal is zero: zero waste, zero emissions, zero ‘ecological footprint’. As long as human beings are regarded as bad ‘zero’ is a good goal. But to be less bad is to accept things as they are, to believe that poorly designed, dishonorable, destructive systems are the BEST humans can do. This is the ultimate failure of the ‘be less bad’ approach: a failure of the imagination.’ (Cradle to Cradle)

Hurrah. Less bad is a failure of the imagination. Less bad is dead. Let’s go for good. I love good. Good makes me feel good. It makes me want to buy it, sell it, flog it, advertise it, engage with it, and share it.

One of the ideas I liked best in the book was the idea of products as a service:
‘Instead of assuming that all products are to be bought, owned, and disposed of by “consumers”, products containing valuable technical nutrients – cars, televisions, carpeting, computers, and refrigerators for example – would be reconceived as services for people to enjoy. In this scenario customers (a more apt term for the users of these products) would effectively purchase the service of such a product for a defined user period.’ (Cradle to Cradle)
Wow, so how cool is this? You don’t buy a washing machine as a product, but as a service. In 5 years time I will return it to the manufacturer who will take it apart and make new products from it. Now THAT is an idea you can sell. Marketers, innovators, CEO’s of the world: here’s a disruptive business model. Right there. Think of car sharing services such as Zipcar or Streetcar. Or the Velib scheme in Paris. Products are dead. Long live the product as a service.

And finally, to close, here’s what the Cradle to Cradle guys say (and they are so much more eloquent than I am):
‘Should manufactures or existing products feel guilty about their complicity in this heretofore destructive agenda? Yes. No. It doesn’t matter. Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Negligence is described as doing the same thing over and over even though you know it’s dangerous, stupid or wrong. Now that we know, it’s time for a change. Negligence starts tomorrow.’

[edit 15/03: just found a TED talk by one of the authors of Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough, check it out here.]

This just ain’t good enough

Dear Mr Amex,

A while ago I took out travel insurance with you. I think to both our satisfaction: you get money and a traveler who has last claimed something on travel insurance at least 15 years ago, and I get peace of mind and what at the time was a good deal with a well-respected brand so I can sleep at night when I’m off jet-setting through Europe. So far, so good.

Today I came home to find you’ve sent me a renewal letter. Thanks for that. I kinda like the automatic renewal thing, saves me hassle. But here’s something I don’t understand (and I’m quoting from your letter):

"We have recently launched a new range of travel products and introduced a change to our pricing structure, based on age and geographical area. Additional options and discounts are now available too, which might make one of these new products more suitable for you. To find out more, please call 0800 XXXXX, otherwise we will renew your existing policy."

Oh. Old skool marketing. You are teasing me with (potential) discounts, won’t tell me what they are or provide a way to figuring out more information about them (would it kill you to put in a website address?), but have me call you instead (at which point you will no doubt try and cross-sell me something) which means effort on my side to get something which I feel you are teasing me with but am unclear about what it is exactly. I know I’m not in your books as a top 1,000 customer. Or even a top 10,000. But I am a customer. And I love feeling special. Doesn’t everyone? And to be really frank, I find this a little bit weird. And old skool. And a tad cold. It makes me feel like a bit of an idiot. And I don’t like that feeling. It makes me want to write angry blogposts.

See, you could’ve done it differently. You could’ve said: ‘thank you for being a valued customer, we trust you had a good year of travel and are looking forward to you staying with us for another year. In fact, we’ve been doing some tweaking of our policies and prices, and based on your personal data, we think you might be eligible for a discount. I have included a page which compares the policies side by side (you can also find all the information about the prices here on the internet: {include http address} and in the leaflets included in this envelope. We would love to discuss these options with you at your earliest convenience and are happy to change the policy accordingly if you decide that is to your best interest. If you would like to speak to one of our reps, please call at 0800 XXXX or email XXX quoting reference YYYY. If we don’t hear from you, we assume that you are happy to renew your current policy as is, which we’d be more than happy to do.’

Lessons: think about me (i.e. the customer) first. Then you. Think how you can make my life easier, not just yours and it will come back to you in spades. It breeds loyalty. Open a conversation, don’t just talk at me. Don’t speak in riddles or overly formal language. Although the whole 2.0 thing is so 2005, I think this is a case where the term Marketing 2.0 comes in, and it’s here to stay.

And yes, I know about how hard it is to change complicated IT systems and management structures that send out these letters, that you have thousands of clients and you can’t treat all of them well (in fact, some of them you probably want to be a little bit rude too, because they don’t make you any money and you’d rather they’d wander off to another company), that it will cost a lot of money to send out a more personal letter and you’ve probably paid a copy-writer a lot of money to write this letter, then had it copy-tested and everything. That ain’t no excuse. You can do better than this. If you don’t, someone else will. Even for something as commodity-like as travel insurance. I want to like you. I like your advertising. I like the American Express brand. But you have to work harder.    

Yours,
Natasja

[full disclosure: so yes, I do have Amex insurance. I even have a credit card with them. And yes, I did once interview (back in the phase of my life where I felt that if I didn’t do at least one milkround interview my bschool experience would be a waste) and I didn’t get the offer. Which was probably just as well, for both of us :-) , no hard feelings about that at all. ]