Sunday, 30 October 2011

Why should currency be common?

The more I think about the future of money; the future of rewards; the future of social media and the future of mobile....the more i think that we're talking about just one thing, not four.

Last week I saw WIRED's editor, David Rowan, deliver his trends talk at the IPA 44, and whilst it covered a lot of trends we've all been thinking about for a while, the sheer number of examples he gave of initiatives, start-ups, services and platforms that are already live and exhibiting these trends really bought home the sheer pace and acceleration of everyday change that we are now undergoing.

He mentioned Blippy which publishes your all your purchasing behaviour in an attempt to harness the idea of social currency and leverage it to encourage others who trust in you to purchase in similar ways. Swipely geolocates your spending on your cards suggesting new places and products to followers. And Whipcar, a neighbour-to-neighbour car rental scheme where you can set your own prices dependent upon whether you need to use someone's car for hours, days or weeks. No waste. No risk. No doubt. The common theme that I took away was that we are seeing a massive transformation in the very idea of value.

Now, add onto all that, the idea that we are giving away more and more personal data to platforms such as Facebook and Google, who will soon recognise our identity via face recognition, our personal mobile number, or our unique position in a social circle. As we start to barter for the best deals on products and services, and we use our data (and those of others) to do so - whether that is our location, our connections, our social influence, our monthly subscription, our user content generation...and lots more besides - aren't we developing our own currencies with which we trade?

The idea that currency should be macro seems to me to belong to the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, we are developing our own individual currencies.

For example, say I have a mobile on a carrier and i spend £45 a month, and because I use their location based service offers at least 10 times a month, and follow them on twitter and tweet to my 1,000 follows every time i redeem their promotions - I am worth something more as a customer to them than someone who has no social footprint, doesn't use services beyond calling, but still pays £45 a month on their contract. I have developed my own currency with which I should be able to trade with them. I agree to tweet every redemption if they cut my bill by 10%, for example.

Similarly, anyone starting to use an NFC transactional system on their mobile might leverage their purchasing behaviour (whether number of transactions or total value of transactions), their social footprint and the number of '1's they register across the internet, to earn them a better deal when it comes to purchases they might come to make through the Google ecosystem.

It's not difficult to see that every individual will have their own 'value' and will be seen as being of a different 'value' by brands. It's a new type of exchange in which we start to use our personal data and digital behaviour as leverage for a better deal. And brands use the same personal data to keep us loyal through rewards.

So the question is will each of us develop our own currency, that is uniquely tied to our digital identity? Will I become my own currency, the value of which is based on my social footprint, the way I spend money, the things I spend it on, the amount of sustainable purchases I make, the number of positive ratings and reviews iI contribute across the web? Will 'tracey-lou's be worth more or less than pounds or pence? and how will I rank against other individuals' currencies. And who will monitor the exchange rate of a tracey-lou v another currency? Google? Amazon? Facebook?

A world of 7 billion currencies is a difficult thing to contemplate but the more we do, the quicker we'll get to a world in which currency is no longer about commonality, but has individuality at its heart.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Rise and Fall of Free: The week in which FREE finally went up in flames

How shocking it was to see those pictures on TV of rioting, looters helping themselves to trainers, plasma screens and mobile phones: brazenly walking into shops and clearing the shelves of more goods than they could carry. How shocking it must have been for marketers in particular. Haven’t we been telling our clients about the declines in materialism in favour of experiences; how there is an accelerated trend in people buying on the basis of ‘values’ as much as ‘value’: and how people are redefining what makes them happy by making more mindful purchases as they start to live with less and adopt a back-to-basics mindset. Well the events of last week seem to have punctured that theory.

What I saw was something closer to what has been described as ‘shopping with violence’ by groups of people who felt it their right to acquire as much as they could to get something for nothing. Some of the looters when interviewed on Radio 4 admitted that they didn’t need trainers themselves they were just taking the chance to get something for free.

But is it any surprise to us that our society has spawned a certain group who feel it is their right to acquire things for free? For how long have we been peddling the ‘magic of free’? From entering a free draw; enjoying a free drink; downloading content for free; and reading our news for free, to free interest rates, and even free housing. Is it any wonder that if you push the concept of free so far, that not only do you end up with freesumers….but freeloaders?

Now, of course, the reasons behind the riots are truly complex and don’t lie in just one area, but the contributing factor made by the marketing of ‘free’ is one element that has been strangely overlooked by the media, preferring to dwell on the political subject of ‘cuts’ than on the economic subject of ‘costs’. But this was a riot cultivated by a culture of acquisition, not of austerity. The evidence is right there before us in the TV pictures of looters: people who have been described as ‘mindless’, who value nothing but their ability to acquire what is not theirs to take. If this is about politics, it is about the politics of price.

Because if you tell people over a long enough period of time that the things they most desire can be acquired for free, you are eroding the very frameworks for understanding value. We can theorise about the post-recessionary changes that are taking place in the ‘value exchange’ but the unkind truth is that in a market where everything is free, there IS no value exchange.

Many a psychological study has been recorded on the effects of presenting products as ‘free’. Perhaps some of the best by Kristina Shampan’er and Dan Ariely’: ‘How small is zero price? The true value of free products’ in which they show that ‘zero cost’ encourages people to act in a much more irrational manner than if they had to weigh up the opportunity costs of something that came with a price tag.

Interestingly, the digital noughties (which perhaps we should now rename the ‘freebies’) could perhaps be held partly accountable for the ‘mindless mindset’ that fuelled some of last week’s events. When Clay Shirky paraphrases Szabo and others who have written on the idea of ‘mental transaction costs’ (the energy required to weigh up what the cost of something might be) he comes to the conclusion that: “The only business model that delivers money from sender to receiver with no mental transaction costs is theft” – or if you like, something that you don’t own but that you can take for free. In the digital world we have an expectation of ‘free’; and as the digital world and the physical world become one and the same thing, can we really be surprised when people have rising expectations that what they want should be free?

Looting online has been going on for ages, and as a society we have been happy to overlook it. But who pays for the data required to freely enjoy a Youtube clip on an iPhone? Who pays to play Farmville; who pays for the ability to send messages via BBM? The answer seems quite clear now: we all pay.

Free has been used as a mass distribution mechanic. And those looters last week felt that some non-digital distribution should be coming their way. This is not at all to excuse that repugnant behaviour, but it is to raise the possibility that in a world of free, where acquisition is presented as having no consequence, that requires no thought – where no one pays, so there is no cost - we are raising not a generation of free-thinkers, but a generation of non-thinkers.

A generation who do not have to calculate risk and reward. A generation that has grown up with free information, free publishing and free distribution at the heart of many of the products it now consumers. Chris Anderson wrote eloquently and convincingly about the new internet-fuelled freemium models, promising us that £0.00 would be the future of business, and that for businesses to survive they should become two-sided and learn to cross-subsidise. This is all true. But it does of course rely on ‘hiding’ the true cost of something that people might believe themselves to be getting for free.

And here’s the rub: years ago, many of the Platonic philosophers, as Ariely points out, were very suspicious of zero: because zero was seen as ‘void’, and since that was a concept that was impossible, neither was zero possible. As marketers, we have used free to mean zero, and the truth is that it is just not possible. Nothing is ever truly free, nor should something we want people to truly value, be flogged as free. We must redefine free as part of a trade, and not as zero. Like freedom itself, ‘free’ is not a right; but a responsibility. As such, it always comes with consequences and we must be responsible enough to spell those out.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Accountable Consumer

Thinking a lot about the post-recessionary consumer, I went back to John Gerzema's talk on the 'post-crisis consumer'.

It's fascinating really because he gives numerous examples of how consumer mindsets and behaviour has changed as a result of the recession; and also how brands and services are responding to this to deliver to a new set of needs.

His big point really is that consumers are now looking to buy into Value + Values - looking for brands that will deliver both great value and will do the right thing ( a bit of a Triple Bottom Line theme) but this seems a bit high falutin' to me when people can't afford to buy an extra tin of beans, or are having to feed their family for a fiver!

But i think what is interesting is that he is highlighting the themes of responsibility, accountability and sustainability. And he seems to pick up on an important shift taking place in which consumers are starting to, and having to, take more responsibility for their spending. They are de-risking; being extra resourceful in how they spend and on what they spend, often collaborating with others (as we know from collaborative consumption); and (like in the Depression) wanting to get better educated and skilled so that they can make more informed choices - and therefore, the right decision.

So, building on this thought, we could say that we are entering the age of 'The Accountable Consumer'.

The value exchange is indeed changing, away from consumers just expecting to be rewarded with great value; towards an idea in which the consumer takes some responsibility for the scale and type and even timing of rewards that are due them. The consumer might be empowered - but rather than just bullying brands, he can work with brands, to gain an overall better sense of reward. Think of it as 'buying the right thing + doing the right thing + enjoying the responsible thing'. There must be a sense of satisfaction knowing that you have been more mindful in your spending (ie that is an emotional reward that sits alongside the material reward of whatever it is you have required).

No longer are people being sold to. They are an active part of the purchasing process.

It made me think that maybe we are seeing a journey over time from the Age of Excess (pre-recession) through to the Age of Austerity (which is now in 2010/11) and will in turn soon become The Age of Accountability.

Of course, it's not just the consumer who is having to be more accountable; brands are too. Gerzema talks about brands now paying dividends to their customers (we might say 'rewards') and this seems a lovely mirroring of the consumer and brand sharing the same values - and hence both being equally accountable for purchasing - like a 'we're in this together' kind of mentality.

So, we could go one step further and say that the Accountable Consumer will now choose the Accountable Brand. And the Accountable Brand now seeks an Accountable Consumer (one they can build a sustainable relationship with).

And that could be the new value-exchange: one based on shared accountability. ie a shared accountability for spending, saving, - a sharing of responsibility. Consumers now will only have relationships with the brands, services, products, or other people who share the same values. And a brand only has a relationship with fans rather than random promiscuous purchasers - we are all taking more responsibility for what we attract and what we choose.

So let's not pretend consumers are having it all their own way (i don't think any consumer actually feels that!).... It's far more about an accountable consumer than an empowered consumer. A combination of rights + duties, not just rights per se - because that's what got us into this mess, in the first place.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Apple Toy Company

I have been thinking about Innovation and how to create market disruption a lot lately, and it led me to think about what has made Apple innovation so disruptive. Now the most valuable brand on the planet, it's easy to think of them as a computing company, or a mobile phone company, or as they describe themselves as a hardware company...But are they really any of those things?

The one thing Apple does time and time again is to break convention, bringing to market one after another aesthetically exciting, simple and intuitive gadgets. It's tempting to think that what they do is 'simplicity'. Their stuff is simple (mostly) but that's not what they do. The question is: what is the convention they that systematically break, and why? I think we underestimate the biggest cultural context they tap into time and time again, and that is play.

I think of Apple as a toy company.

It sounds silly but what they did was take the 'serious' work-related PC and give it a colourful twist with the iMac; then they invented the iPOD, making listening to music not only personal but playful - randomness and shuffling bring a sense of playfulness to an otherwise dull commute. And then, the iPhone. They took a 'serious' communications tool and turned it into a TOY. You can flip it around, you can bump it, you can create your own app world on it, and most of all play games on it (little wonder Angry Birds is still the most successful app to date).

They broke the conventions of Technology by thinking about the phone as a toy.

How many people have seen kids pick up the iPhone and intuitively know how to use it? How many times have we shown each other something silly to play with via an app? How many times have we complained that we can't make a call??? It doesn't matter because its 'toy-ness' outweighs its 'phone-ness'.

With hindsight of course, it makes absolute sense that we now see Apple as a toy manufacturer. As we all enter the Data era, and access information as much as we make communication, we can see that the Asian markets were far ahead of us. They built out their mobile brands on the basis of a culture that relies on data; funnily enough that's the same culture that prizes play and gaming as a high priority. In Asia, Technology = Data + Play. ie Toys. Consciously or not, Apple saw this too, and invented a whole new culture of technology usage for us in the West.

So, that's the lesson. "Break the technological taboos by looking for cultural clues".

Any technology, be it washing up liquid, food, or computing can be seen in a new light if we are only willing to break the conventions and challenge the taboos. Embed this thinking into the culture of a company and who knows how successful your next innovation will be!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Subscribers: The new consumers

For ages we've known that the word 'consumer' is not quite doing its job. It isn't explaining the kind of relationship that exists between someone who produces a product and someone who consumes it. That's partly because 'consumption' is often of something that is informative, experiential and participative - it is no longer the usage or 'wasting away of' a physical product.

The new world is going to see us selling a lot more of the former, and a lot less of the latter. The type of product we're selling and people are buying has changed. Forever. And we are as much asking them to buy into the value of our service, as we are asking them to buy into the values of it. Because we all now inhabit the world of experience rather than the world of transmission, because the experience is the communication, we are more likely to be asking people to buy-in to values, beliefs and communities than we are to be asking them to buy our products, packaging and proofs.

And here is the big shift. We've been talking for ages about social media, story-telling, advocacy and earned media, and pondering where it will take marketing. But until we stop thinking of customers as consumers - and recognise the new dynamic and the new exchange, we won't make progress. the truth is, brands are no longer producers, and people who buy are no longer consumers. That model, that "dialogue" model does not work in the information age. The model is more iterative, and involves more than two players. People participate through co-creation and collaboration, feeding back, responding...and even customising the brand. They even "version" the brand for themselves, often advocating the participatory nature of the brand to others. They are not buying something 'off the shelf'. They are buying-in to something in their daily life. So then they are not consumers.

What they are doing is buying-in, and selling-on the brand to others. They are doing some marketing for you. In this way they demonstrate they believe in the same things, share the same values, and are in a sense 'at one' with the brand. Not that the brand cannot exist without them, it can. But they are happy co-authors of the brand.

Subscribing is the New Selling

If we're not asking people to 'consume' because they are in fact co-creating, what are we asking them to do? I believe we are asking them to subscribe.

It's a funny old word, and feels like it belongs to a bygone newspaper or catalogue era of The Readers Digest...but it's not a word of the past, it is the word of the future. As more and more products become services, which is what happens when they get 'digitized', the job of marketing becomes one of getting people to sign-up, opt-in, and if you like 'check-in. The job of the marketeer is one of getting so under the skin of that customer that they can serve up personalised content, at the times when it is of most the exact places it can be most useful...each time and every time. The job of the marketeer is to make the brand an habitual part of life for that consumer, and to make it unthinkable that this is a service one could ever do without. Tell me that isn't what Apple have done.

Apple don't have consumers. They have subscribers. People who buy-in to the whole belief system and community of the Apple designed world; people who are in agreement with Apple's values and its vision for the world; people who are prepared to lock themselves into a system that makes things simple for them; and people who contribute to the whole system by exchanging their data in order for their service over time to be made better and better.


1. are in agreement with a group
they become part of the audience or community that are like-minded and are signing up to the beliefs of the brand, as well as the rest of the community. They are happy to be identified as part of that community.

2. make a pledge and therefore a commitment
they are ethusiastic enough to think that they will be part of that community for a fairly long time, maybe a year, maybe two, perhaps longer. And they make a pledge, usually written, for the brand to be a part of their world for the forseeable future.

3. make an ongoing contribution
as with any relationship, they contribute, and donate things of value to it. Every month they make a payment but it goes beyond this into adding 'comments' to suggesting new products, to reviewing existing services and to sharing the brand/service with, and through, others. This all has a value.

4. enjoy a relationship that gets better through data
the more personal data that is shared, the better optimised the product will be - both for that particular subscriber but also for the total community of subscribers at large - everyone benefits from the adaption of services from the intelligent use of personal data collected. We used to offer simple personal data on a form (our address, phone number, email) but now we're subscribing to offer up data about what we do, where we go, who we're with.

5. the relationship only ends when they actively unsubscribe
the relationship only comes to an end when the brand we've subscribed to fails to deliver either on the service being provided or to uphold the values we initially bought into. The subscriber is in control. The job of the brand marketers is to never give anyone a reason to unsubscribe from that brand.

Subscription is the new business model

And that is the reason that subscribers is a word of the future. In the past we asked people to subscribe at a product level (do you want this magazine, or that TV channel) generally to receive media content of some kind. Now, we are asking people to subscribe at a brand level (do you sign up to these values, or that data which is of value) specifically to build a relationship over time. Subscription not consumption. Subscribers not consumers. That's the future and it's a long way away from The Reader's Digest.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The new class system: the "knows and know-nots"

I am starting to think that our relationships with technology may well begin to re-draw class boundaries and put in place a "politics of technology".

Smart users of smart devices are accessing all kinds of valuable services that those not on smart devices cannot access or do not want. The irony is that it might be those who cannot afford an iPhone who would most value a 2 for 1 pizza deal on a week night, a free cinema ticket or 10% off high street brands.

If there aren't the right levels of education across the customer base then we could see a class system not of ‘haves and have-nots’ but of ‘knows and know-nots’….which inevitably does lead to a separation between the 'haves and have-nots'

And that makes for friction rather than harmony within society. Not only do those who aren’t ‘smart’ with technology not get the best value; they don’t get a vote. As social media grows and participation in the political and social debates gets more voluble, there could develop a class of technologically-inequipped people who have no voice – or certainly can only whisper when it comes to having their say.

Services that help educate customers in technology are incredibly important in order to share skills and knowledge more widely. One reason why they shouldn’t become a paid for service. The most generous gesture a brand can offer in the emerging world is to offer learning, share knowledge and help transfer skills between people. Otherwise we will be creating a class of people who might be referred to as the informed and therefore 'Influential Elite".

More to come on this I hope, as I think it will be a defining feature of the next few years; whether in mobile; cloud computing, or TV, there will be those who 'know-how' and those who 'know-not' - two classes of people enjoying different levels of access, value and rewards in the post-digital age.

Tweets are news

On twitter, I'm starting to think of it much less as a social medium and much more as a real-time news channel.

When the quake hit NZ I found out on twitter a full hour before the BBC News channel announced 'breaking news'... Moreover, the best way brands have found to use it to date is through time-sensitive promotions, and news about offers.

Equally, consumers seem to be using it for communicating news back to brands about their experiences with their product or service, good or bad.

Of course mostly it's used as self promotion so it feels like twitter is turning into just a set of 'news headlines' - 'a bulletin board for brands' - (whether a corporate brand or your own personal brand) rather than a truly space for groups of people to discuss. In other words a two way news channel which inevitably becomes a sales channel. Interesting.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Value of Aesthetics

One of the trends we're seeing is the move from believing that creativity exists solely or mostly in the idea, rather than the craft. In recent times, we've been rather seduced by the idea of the Big Idea. We have come to believe that the creative spark comes in the form of 'innovation', rather than 'aesthetics'.

There is a lovely talk here from Paul Feldwick which points to the counter view, and encourages us to rebalance and rethink where creativity lies.

I think this point about 'aesthetic value' is key in developing a 21st Century Brand. And is becoming an increasingly important component of the overall value exchange.

Brands that really work in the new spaces, in useable ways, and delight and entertain us, temd to be those with a heavily thought out 'design' narrative. Whether a technology-driven product like an Apple iPhone, or a human-centric service like First Direct 24 hour banking, there's an aesthetic quality 'designed in' to the brand, the service, the product...the experience. This is 'creativity-inside' and it is about beauty, attractiveness and, above all, sheer magnetism. As Paul quotes Bernbach...'the difference is Artisty' - we may these days call it design (sound design, visualisation, or even 'touch'...) but however we choose to tell the story of a brand it's the aesthetic that tells that story most creatively, and therefore should be designed-in to the very heart of the brand, not just its communications. In fact, it is the communication.

Monday, 21 February 2011

In praise of UNLIKE

I'm feeling increasingly uneasy about the fact that there is so much talk of 'likeminded-ness' at the moment. I know there is a healthy appetite for community, collaboration co-creation, but this 'sense of similarity' is bothering me, somehow. Whilst it is obviously true that groups of people with shared values can become a powerful force for good (or evil) in that they can create great influence and momentum in their endeavours, I wonder whether that idea of like-mindedness in itself is always 'good'.

We've all observed 'group-think' in focus groups, as we see 7 people willingly be led by the one other person and their strong (often inaccurate or ill-informed) opinion. And we've all sat in workshops or brainstorms in which the like-minded-ness of the group has jettisoned any kind of breakthrough thinking right out the window before even a single croissant has been passed around.

The problem, I would suggest, is that the best ideas come out of argument, debate and opposition. I know it all makes us feel better if we can agree that Apple is the most impressive brand; or that Daily Mail readers are all dimwits - but the reality is that we don't assert those things because they are true; rather because they make us feel we 'belong'.

Dear old Facebook has exacerbated the situation by audaciously branding the whole concept of 'like-minded-ness'. In the race to build, organise, manage and secure communities (a race in which Facebook is clearly first over the line) they have coveted not only the word, but the 'action' of like-minded-ness by inviting people to show the things they like to other people who might also like that same thing.

But it's further widespread than social media sites. When we talk about the evolution of organisational structures of companies and the re-engineering of teams, we are very prone to leap to the conclusion that a team of 'like-minded individuals' will be the answer. I'd suggest that actually, often, it won't.

In the previous post, I referred to Gilbert & George who had declared that "we are weird and normal at the same time". Now no-one can deny that they aren't breakthrough artists. And i wonder if their peculiar kind of innovation and success is due to the very fact that they have between them a sense of 'opposition that can co-exist'.

I think i remember reading somewhere that diverse teams or partnerships take more time to coalesce, but that they are in the end more effective than homogenous teams when it comes to innovation. In valuing differences, teams tend to hold fewer preconceived ideas as to where the solution might lie, and through a process of debate and dialectic, come to a more informed point of view. The way to think of it is that diverse teams are engaged in more learning, than teams who are already like-minded could possibly be.

Last year, I sat for two weeks on a Jury, sitting on an extremely serious and complex case. When it came to the process of deliberation, tempers flared, logic and emotion clashed, and diverse opinions were debated until it turned dark. The jury system works because it has diversity build into the very heart of it. Because it is nigh on impossible to ever get to the truth of anything, the only way to get close to that is to debate, disclose and discover...and that can only come via diversity.

And finally, the future of brands is going to be extremely dependent upon their ability to offer access to knowledge they don't themselves hold. This will be through partnerships, or agreements and will therefore require companies to not only establish an '...& friends' model but an '... & frenemies' model. The value is in the strength through compensation as much as through collaboration.

So, as a counter to the craze for all things 'community' I would like to praise all things and behaviours based on 'unlike'.

Those who UNLIKE:
  • know that they will learn less from their friends than their enemies
  • value originality over and above acceptability
  • aim to debate the strength of an idea rather than just vote for it
  • view likeminded-ness merely as a difference rather than a preference
  • know beyond doubt that the answer cannot be the thing to which everyone agrees
...and don't mind that their blogger peers will not agree

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Future of Advertising is a Mystery

Problems reside in things; mysteries surround people

Earlier this month, on This Week, Gilbert and George explained to Andrew Neil when asked whether they were conventional or eccentric, that they do not see themselves as either. They said: “we are weird and normal at the same time. We don’t believe in conventional or eccentric”. How refreshing! The idea that complete opposites can live in harmony despite the differences, makes for a much more interesting world. And it makes for a much more interesting ‘team’. And, I would argue, makes for a much more interesting environment, in which one solves more interesting problems in more interesting ways. This should be the future of advertising.

I think we should stop seeing our job as ‘manufacturing’ messages and arguably, stop seeing our jobs as solving problems. Why don’t we start seeing our role as solving mysteries. Problems require ‘solutions’ and solutions tend to be thought of as ‘final’. But what we do, isn’t imbued with that kind of finality, or certainty , or rationality – not in the information age.

Usually, brand problems exist in various guises, they hide amongst things, then reveal themselves, and just when we think they are extinguished pop up again elsewhere as something altogether different. Brand problems move around, they’re social – and in this digital world we live in, they don’t disappear. So I see what we do as much more akin to solving mysteries than solving problems.

If we ‘Re-Imagine’ what we’re doing as solving mysteries, we start asking different questions. We don’t expect to ‘extinguish’ something, we expect to ‘understand’ it’; we don’t expect the solution to reside in one simple action, but in a variety of spaces; and we don’t assume the answer lies only within analysis rather from a combination of analysis and imagination. Like Gilbert and George, a mystery has within it both ‘weird’ and ‘normal’ and therefore requires both weird-ness and normal-ness present together to tackle it.

In summary: We are no longer taking on a brief we are taking on a case!

Like Holmes, Morse, or Columbo, when we take on a case, we start with behaviour; that of the suspect, that of their associates, we look for patterns and anomalies. We assume that what we’re being told is not entirely the ‘truth’ and we search for fragments of gossip, information, and other types of stories that are given from various perspectives …and whilst we do, we tend to believe our eyes more so than our ears.

Imagine the implications for how we approach data. We should be investigating it for patterns and perspectives. Seen through the lens of ‘mystery’ we’re not simply seeing data as a way to ‘analyse’. We see it less as a stream of numbers, and more as a snapshot of behaviour and therefore ultimately, an insight into human nature.

We would look for the human stories within the numbers. Searching not for ‘answers’ but for patterns; approaching it from various perspectives and searching for links with other things we have observed in ‘real’ life. For what we should be doing with data, is exactly the same thing we do when we sit on a park bench or at a pavement café – we’re people-watching. If we’re in the business of mystery, our data analysts are merely people-watching, albeit from their desks.

The interesting thing about this is, whilst people sometimes don’t want to pay for ‘data’, because it’s just numbers isn’t it (!), and therefore in some sense a commodity; people do pay for stories. Over thousands and thousands of years, people have paid for access to plays, poetry and pantomimes. Because story-telling around the human condition has universal appeal – unlike problem-solving (your problem isn’t necessarily the same as mine) which is particular and seen as ‘specialist’.

Anyway, in the realms of data if we think we’re solving a problem we’ll look for similarities; if we think we’re solving a mystery we will look for similarities as well as differences – we’ll be looking not only for the normal (the things that seem ‘true’) - but also for the things we don’t understand - the weird. For example, often it appears to no longer be ‘normal’ to be a ‘normal’ weight. What do we now perceive as ‘normal weight? Perhaps a size 8 if you read Vogue, but size 16 if you shop in M&S. so, what is ‘normal’ for someone who reads Vogue and shops in M&S? Again this moves us from framing the task as one of ‘analysis’ to framing the task to one of ‘understanding’. Problems reside in ‘things’; mysteries surround ‘people’.

Which brings me to teams: I hope by now, it’s become clear as to why whilst a ‘collective’ might solve a problem, it will never solve a mystery. It’s for that reason that we might want to re-think not only ‘agency’, but ‘collective’ as the right format for describing the optimum team-dynamic. The team solving a mystery needs to be normal, and weird. Like Gilbert & George it should be a partnership. Which does not necessarily suggest similarity; in fact it could be made up of complete opposites; complete opposites that co-exist.

We are in an era of which I would like to term as ‘co-incidence culture’. Where people are doing lots of seemingly contradictory things at the same time. One in which people are at the same time exercising individual rational choice and being influenced by social norms; transmitting digital data whilst enjoying the physical reality; sharing whilst being completely alone; ‘liking ‘ the things they are at the same time moaning about it; and giving away one thing whilst buying another. In this crazy culture of co-occurrence, of co-existence and synchronicity, how can we isolate and identify things as ‘problems’ – as if something utterly ‘weird’ needs to be utterly ‘normalised’ by us.

To finish where we started, the entymology of ‘mystery’, in addition to meaning ‘truth via divine revelation’, is also explained as ‘handicraft, trade or art’. The sense of craft-skills, intuition, experience and humanity is all there, and a better way of describing what we do in the world of pluralism these days.

After all a leap requires both a ‘left’ and ‘right’ and could never come about without both.