And this is how the damage is done

I know this will be a little off topic – I’ve never felt driven to write about the death of somebody I don’t know personally before. I’ve also never really felt saddened by it. Shocked perhaps, maybe even curious. But I’ve never sat with a tear rolling down my cheek listening to their work and wanting to talk about it until hearing, this evening, about the passing of Nick Talbot, the main creative force behind Gravenhurst.

I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Gravenhurst. I was in Smallfish Records in Old Street. Mike, as usual, had given me a stack of the glitchy, messy, bleepy electronic music which I love and I was standing at the back of the narrow shop skipping the tone arm across each record, looking for something to grab me. Only I realised a few records in that I wasn’t listening to them – I was listening to a voice as pure and direct as any I have ever known floating through the shop PA. I left the shop with a copy of Flashlight Seasons on both vinyl and CD and have listened to that album every single month since.

In 2004 I broke up with a long term girlfriend and moved to Sheffield. Somewhere around junction 26 of the M1, driving my hire van with my life in the back, the betrayal of the woman I loved fading behind me, The Ice Tree came on the stereo and I ended up in hysterical tears to the extent that I had to pull into services and let it all out. “I caress where my lover once lay by my side / Before I turned inwards and forced her to fly”.

And a few years later, and more than once, I’ve had moments where life has seemed insurmountable – where my faults and regrets have overwhelmed me – and Nick’s soft intelligence has placed it’s hand on my heart and centred me again. Flashlight Seasons in particular is more than a record for me – I cannot bear to imagine my world without it.

and it’s the words that get you. The voice, yes, the production, of course. But the turn of phrase: “The magic of stones / when taken back home / is left on the beach”. “Emily said, the things in my head are keeping me from sleeping / If I don’t go to them, they’ll come for me instead, and the company I’m keeping”. “Still the ties that bind us, blind us to the emptiness of the prize”.

I cannot think of another artist whose work – not just a song or a record – but an ENTIRE body of work has caused so much emotional response from me.

I’m not a music journalist and I can’t tell you whether or not Gravenhurst are “important” or give you Nick’s musical lineage (I fear Elliot Smith with be invoked in the obits). All that I can say is that if you love music, really love it…if it fills your soul, centres you and gives life meaning to you, then you know how rarely it is that you connect to an artist so completely. From The Velvet Cell to Animals to The Prize (oh god, The Prize – why is this man not bigger than Jesus?) to She Dances to the heartbreaking, stripped down honesty of The Diver and Damage – This is music to save your life and I can’t stop thinking about how sad it is that it couldn’t save his.

I have tickets sitting right here on my desk to see him at The Scala next Tuesday. I might go down there anyway – see if I can see the ghost on the shore and raise a pint to him.

Sleep well Nick. I never met you, but you have meant more to me than I have words to express.

If your kids are more digital than your business, then you’re in trouble.

It continues to surprise me, here in 2014, that “Digital Transformation” is still a hot topic. We’ve lived with the internet for a solid 20 years now and it is, without a shadow of a doubt, a fundamental part of our daily lives. We meet our partners with it. We browse, research and shop with it. It entertains and educates us. There is barely a single element of our lives that it is not a part of. My five year old son navigates its interfaces and experiences with effortless speed and without instruction (sometimes worryingly so). So why, when even our kids are immersed in technology every day, are businesses still discussing digital transformation and why, when the rest of our lives have long been transformed by being digital, have so many companies still not?

It’s a book rather than blog sized question, but here are a few thoughts as to why:

1. You still think it’s about marketing
The web (just one part of the internet after all) was only envisaged by Sir Tim as a way of publishing contextually linked documents across a world-wide network of computers. When companies started to harness it for commercial use, it was natural that it was regarded as a broadcast medium. Since then it’s been under constant evolution. We’ve had web 2.0, where the web became an application platform to deliver services (like ecommerce). We’ve seen the rise of the social web, where people connected with people (and businesses have had to think like people to succeed). We’ve had the smartphone revolution which has put a powerful and, vitally, individually personal computer with a permanent connection to the internet in everybody’s pocket. We now see the emergence of the internet and things which connects us to our lifestyles and environments. Yet digital strategy (and, vitally, budget), is still too often confined to marketing departments and executed as an extension to the media plan. People no longer consume the web, they use it like a utility. If your digital strategy is still just focusing on broadcasting brand messages, then you’re only using a fraction of it’s potential.

2. Your IT policies are still thinking in Enterprise terms
Enterprise IT is very good at infrastructure and operations. It is, largely, useless at digital. This is because technology is only one part of being digital. This revolution has not been about platforms and systems, it’s been about people and their lives. IT does not do people very well. It does vendors and processes and governance. These things have an important part to play, particularly where security is paramount, but all too often the interfaces, services and experiences delivered across that infrastructure are crippled by design due to restrictive policies, outdated delivery processes and coding standards and long term investment whose usefulness expires almost as soon as the ink is dry on the vendor contract. If your company’s IT policies are regressive (check the version number of the corporate approved browser you’re reading this on) then you are not equipped to deal with the ongoing evolution of being digital and your customers are already enjoying better service with a competitor that is.

3. You don’t invest in research
Nobody, not even the most expensive consultants that agencies can offer, is an ‘expert’ on digital. There are no gurus. The landscape changes too rapidly. To stay ahead, one must work with the medium, be immersed in it’s culture, prototype, test, learn, implement and adapt. This does not happen in “5 year plans”. The digital landscape will be unrecognizable in 5 years. Kickstarter, Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp didn’t exist 5 years ago. Staying ahead in digital only happens through a constant thread of product and strategic development and the investment in this must not be on the basis of ‘projects’ but as an ongoing commitment to making full use of the opportunities that being digital presents. This also means not being afraid to make some mistakes along the way which can be a hard sell in a competitive market.

Startups can be disruptive because all they *are* is research and development. They have an idea, they build an MVP to test the validity of this idea. They release executions of this idea rapidly, learning and shaping their product according to the feedback they get from their customers and the data they generate. They are also very good at making mistakes, learning and adapting as they go. This gives them an agility that is at the core of their ability to disrupt markets.

If you spend a year planning a project before you build, that strategy will already be redundant by the time it’s ready to launch. If your strategy and technology is based on competitor analysis, particularly in the startup market, you are looking at their strategy from a year ago and are already behind the curve before you’ve started. Innovation is born not of asking your customer what they want or looking at how your competitors achieve it, but in working out what your customer needs and harnessing the technology and the medium to deliver it.

4. You’re not applying the culture of the internet to your business
The internet is not really about the technology that drives it, it’s about what people use it for. Technology is just there to help solve those problems, but the user does not and should not ever care about that (bar those of us that get excited about a point update to Android). This means that it has a cultural place in our lives. For many businesses, their engagement with culture stops at brand. Understanding the place that being digital has in our day to day lives is key to harnessing the medium effectively and this understanding must be shared all the way up to the CEO. It is no surprise to me that heavily siloed businesses are often the ones that struggle most to understand how the internet is actually used. If digital is impacting every aspect of our lives, then it should be the responsibility of every aspect of one’s business, from marketing to finance to product to customer groups to planning to technology to engage with digital projects and achieve a holistic digital vision.

In short, the world, it’s markets, it’s customers and their lifestyles have already transformed into being digital. If your business is still struggling with this revolution then you’ve got some work to do…And if you need some help, I know a 5-year-old with an iPad that’d be happy to show you the ropes!

Geeky baby announcments

A couple of years ago, we announced the impending arrival of small ginger #3.  My Mrs, however, is the shy type and didn’t want me to broadcast it on social media.  I made a deal with her that I could do it if I wrote it in code.  I was just surfing through my Facebook timeline and found it again and thought I’d share since it made me laugh. Written in AS3, for my sins. :-/
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A grumpy post about Dinovember and digital creativity

Family ipad time

Standard Sunday morning iPad sessions

This week’s cool thing on the internet: A couple set toy dinosaurs up into little vignettes to give their kids a nice surprise in the morning. And I love it. I do. It’s quirky and fun and awesome – it’s dinosaurs being cute, it would be pretty hard to mess that up. Way to engage little minds. I do similar stuff by dressing up as a tiger and letting my fat tummy be a racetrack, I just thought that it was the fun bit of parenting, when you’re not clearing up shit and doing all the washing in the world. I didn’t realise that playing with my kids was a new frontier of creativity.
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Geek R and D

Andy in carbonite 3d print

Here’s the slides from my Reasons To Be Creative elevator pitch. As usual, they don’t make a massive amount of sense without context but you’ll get the general idea. Have to say, this is one of the toughest things I’ve done. That time limit is brutal, particularly if, like me, you’re more comfortable talking around a subject rather than delivering it concisely.

The point I’m mostly making here is that structured learning just doesn’t work for me, and I think it’s almost impossible in your busy work day. Basically, unless you’re a student or very well established in your field, having extended periods of research just simply won’t happen if you try to make a project out of it. However, it’s SO vital to the growth and motivation of creatively-minded teams of all disciplines, that you really must make it a central part of your culture, and the way I’ve always found to work best is to encourage people to indulge their passions.

Many of the speakers at RTBC talked about the importance of play and exploration and I think this is something we only do when we are genuinely interested in achieving something. For my 4 year old, that normally involves beating his brother at something (or with something more often than not). For me, it’s doing geeky cool – I mean come on, who wouldn’t want a model of themselves in carbonite amirite?

It amazes me that, with a little bit of pissing about, I can achieve things like this:

Andy in carbonite 3d print

…and the lessons that we’ve learned to get there mean the team have a fully rounded understanding of both the theory and practice of 3d printing, which we can, in future, utilise for the benefit of our clients.

Thanks to those that caught it. I’m going to be expanding on some of these themes at my Designer’s Fiesta talk later this month if you’re London based.

oh, the Kinect video will probably be missing from the slideshare, you can find it here.