Carts Before Horses & Digital Strategists’ Love of Platforms

Filmmaker James Gunn of Guardians of the Galaxy fame posted on Facebook:

CARTS BEFORE HORSES & HOLLYWOOD’S NEW LOVE OF SHARED UNIVERSES

Listen, I love big ass shared universes in movies, as well as huge franchises. But I’m a little worried about the numerous shared universes being planned by the studios, without having a strong base film to grow from – or in some cases, NO base film to grow from. Star Wars had the original Star Wars, the Marvel Universe had the original Iron Man, the Dark Knight series had Batman Begins, even movies like Transformers and Twilight – these were movies audiences loved, and the audiences demanded more from these characters. But these days studios are trying to grow trees without a strong seed. Execs and producers and sometimes even directors are focused on the big picture, without perfecting the task directly in front of them – making a great movie. And studios are trying to grow franchises from non-existent films or middling successes. It’s like they aren’t taking audiences into account at all anymore.

I know George Lucas, Kevin Feige, John Favreau, etc, had ideas where their films would potentially lead in the face of success. But I don’t think it ever got in the way of making that first movie count as if it was the last, of making it something wonderful that people would love whether it led to other films or not.

In short, I think this new business model is flawed. I think filmmakers and studios should be prepared for the big picture, but never, ever let it get in the way of making a single great film. Be a little more experimental and see what works as opposed to trying to force success. And mostly, remember that we as an industry exist to serve the audiences, to communicate with them – they have a voice in what we create as well. We are not here to dictate what they want to see, mostly because that’s simply not possible.

He’s right about Hollywood, and the thought underlying all of this is true of the tech industry’s obsession with planning for platforms before a successful product even exists.

All too often I encounter “big picture” thinking that is divorced from reality. I’m paid to think longterm for my clients, but never at the expense of the present. A vision is great. You need one, but acting like that vision will become a reality before you even have a successful and profitable product is a serious miscalculation.

Want to see something cool pathetic?

Bold = my tech word substitutions, everything else is Mr. Gunn’s.

Listen, I love big ass systems on the web, as well as huge platforms. But I’m a little worried about the numerous shared platforms being planned by companies large and small, without having a strong base product to grow from – or in some cases, NO base product to grow from. Google had the original Google Search, Apple had the original Mac, Amazon’s series of ventures had their original store, even products like Facebook and Twitter – these were products users loved, and the users demanded more from these companies. But these days companies are trying to grow trees without a strong seed. Execs and developers and sometimes even designers are focused on the big picture, without perfecting the task directly in front of them – making a great product. And companies are trying to grow platforms from non-existent products or middling successes. It’s like they aren’t taking users into account at all anymore.

I know Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, etc, had ideas where their products would potentially lead in the face of success. But I don’t think it ever got in the way of making that first product count as if it was the last, of making it something wonderful that people would love whether it led to other products or not.

In short, I think this new business model is flawed. I think designers and companies should be prepared for the big picture, but never, ever let it get in the way of making a single great product. Be a little more experimental and see what works as opposed to trying to force success. And mostly, remember that we as an industry exist to serve the users, to communicate with them – they have a voice in what we create as well. We are not here to dictate what they want to use, mostly because that’s simply not possible.

If you’re designing a platform, stop and think about the product. Think about your user. Design something with some empathy, logic, and creativity. Prove that you have a product that works.

If you manage to do that, you’re ahead of most. Then, and only then should you have the audacity to start talking about a platform.

Grow trees with a strong seeds
Grow trees with a strong seeds

Thankful for @FAKEGRIMLOCK & Getting Sick

2013 nearly killed me; literally (using the literal definition of “literally”).

The short version is that in May 2013, I contracted a foodborne illness that put me in the hospital, and some complications made it very difficult to work for quite a few months afterwards. I was in bad shape.

The first half of the year my company earned record profits. I made more money in five months than I made in any two previous years combined. The second half of the year I could barely work.

Enter @FAKEGRIMLOCK

In the middle of that low, I had a conversation with @FAKEGRIMLOCK, it was a conversation that I paid pretty heavily for via his Kickstarter. I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it, but his angry caveman-like, wisdom and humor-packed tweets had turned him into something of a Yoda for me… So I decided to back the guy and figured that maybe an hour of his time could shift my perspective.

The conversation that I had with him was brilliant and devastating.

I walked away from the conversation realizing:

  • My business wasn’t setup for longterm success.
  • The product-based startup ideas I was working on were doomed.
  • And I had no idea what to do about any of it.

I did my best to pick up the pieces, continuing to take-on clients, but I knew that my company was not going to be my future… Which is how I ended up at Phase2 (that’s a different story for a different post).

I’m on a different path now, and it’s wonderful.

I’m having a ton of fun because I am surrounded by people in all facets of my life who are exceptional.

I love what I do. I’m not working for myself anymore, but I’m working really hard to change the world.

A year ago I was lost, and quietly miserable because I got sick, and some anonymous guy from Twitter politely crushed my dreams in 60 minutes of conversation… And I couldn’t be more thankful that all of it happened.

I know not what comes next, but I’ll try to stay zen about it. Sometimes the stuff that seems good isn’t, and sometimes the clearly terrible things are exactly what you need. Just keep moving forward.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Outernet – A Core Technology for the Future

The need for land-based physical infrastructure is one of the Internet’s most significant liabilities.

In more developed countries this liability is most pronounced when a natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy rolls through and rips out the infrastructure.

For much of the world, billions of people still don’t have access to the Internet in any way. They are cut off from communication, as well as the storehouse that contains all of humanity’s knowledge (and cat photos).

Complicating Factors

Many of the people who would most benefit from the Internet live in disaster-ridden regions of the world. The places where education could do the most good, get the least information.

And to further complicate this, many of the least developed countries are massive, making physical infrastructure insanely difficult to install and maintain.

Gall–Peters map projection shows relative size of countries more accurately than the mercator map projections that were used in my school.
Gall–Peters map projection shows relative size of countries more accurately than the mercator map projections that were used in my school.

Africa is huge. The continental US could fit into the Sahara. Wiring that continent up for the Internet is a sisyphean task.

The Solution

The best possible solution at the moment is to forego Earth-based infrastructure, and look to space.

lantern_maps

“Lantern continuously receives radio waves broadcast by Outernet from space. Lantern turns the signal into digital files, like webpages, news articles, ebooks, videos, and music. Lantern can receive and store any type of digital file on its internal drive. To view the content stored in Lantern, turn on the Wi-Fi hotspot and connect to Lantern with any Wi-Fi enabled device. All you need is a browser.”

For $100 you can purchase and back Lantern on Indiegogo. This will give you access to information when your infrastructure is wrecked, and will help them further develop their infrastructure so they can deliver more information to the people who have no access.

It’s self-powering, and fed information via satellite.

Lantern_DiagramIt’s only a receiver, and it can only deliver information that is loaded onto their satellite network, and Lantern users cannot upload content back to the Internet, but it’s a start.

Lantern_Explanation

Much of my current work is focused on getting information in and out of disaster zones. This kind of technology, while limited today, has the potential to empower people who desperately need to reshape their world.

Narrowing humanity’s knowledge and technology gaps are a necessary step towards sustainable peace.

Help Lantern be one of the beacons that the 21st century desperately needs. 

Interviewed by Springboard PR

Back in September, NJ Connect invited me to give my talk, “Amazing Design Through Empathy.” I had a ton of fun speaking with the folks in attendance.

The conversation continued, and Benjamin Doda of Springboard PR (the organizers of NJ Connect) interviewed me on web design, empathy, and business. He asked me some really provocative, difficult, and fun questions.

Springboard Geek Whisperer Interview

A number of the questions he asked me about are going to feed the next iteration of my talk.

Here’s an excerpt

When you give an inch, some people take a mile. What are the consequences of designing with too much empathy?

Sympathy is feeling for a person. Empathy is feeling with a person.

It’s the difference between looking at the world’s tallest and fastest roller-coaster and saying “Wow… that looks really intense” (sympathy), versus getting into the roller-coaster and experiencing the ride for yourself (empathy).

Sympathy is useless, and drives a wedge between you and the person you’re dealing with.

To take this one step further, there’s a difference between having empathy, and being emotional.

If you’re feeling with a person, you have awareness, if you’re being emotional, you’re being strictly governed by emotions. In business, being emotional is going to ultimately make you spiral out of control.

Here’s what empathy is in a business context. I have a client who is agitated, passive-aggressive, and inconsistent. He’s incredibly difficult to deal with. Throughout the course of working with him I pieced together that he has a boss who micromanages him, changes his mind at the drop of a buzzword, and bullies my client around. When I look at my client, I understand what he’s feeling. I can identify those same emotions in myself, and I can even remember a time when I had a boss who did the exact same thing to me. What I am not doing is internalizing those emotions, and allowing myself to feel my client’s total panic. I’m identifying with his emotions, and using the knowledge that I have of how he must be feeling to help the situation.

Regardless of whether you feel with a client, or are numb to their emotions, a client can still push you around, and take more than they have paid for.

I have a small tolerance for extra work with my clients. When I start doing extra work, if it’s small, I let them know, “This is above and beyond, next time we’re going to have to talk about a change order and a budget.” If that extra work is a bit bigger, I may issue a no cost change order, and make everyone sign it knowing that the next change is going to cost money.

Some requested changes are just going to cost money. Sometimes you just need to tell the client early and often that future iterations and features are going to require a budget.

- See more at: http://springboardpr.com/2014/11/07/the-geek-whisperer-uncover-what-motivates-your-customers/#sthash.GePxYBYW.dpuf