High Definition Info Transfer

As a designer and strategist my job, at it’s simplest, is to come up with ideas and put them in other people’s heads. Over the years, I’ve observed time and again the challenges in getting a pure idea out of my mind and into other people’s noggins with a high degree of fidelity. So much is lost as a concept travels from my mind, into language, through some transmission device (type, speech, graphics, etc), into your senses, through your individual parser (which is shaped by experiences), and into your mind. This degradation of fidelity along the communication chain, which we can call lossiness, can’t be eliminated, but I believe it can be reduced.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a concept I’m calling High Definition Information Transfer (which is, admittedly, a crappy name. Definitely a placeholder for now). HDIT seeks methods to account for mind:mind lossiness. Think of it as a set of tools that sits atop communication theory. I’m really keen to dive into this, and look forward to hosting discussions and workshops to help build our collective ability to communicate with higher fidelity. A few of the areas I’m looking into include

  • Analogy and metaphor
  • Story
  • Video and motion graphics
  • Vocal pitch and modulation
  • Melody and rhythm

I hope you’ll join in and collaborate with me. I’ll be attending Overlap in June, and look forward to flogging this with a bunch of you there. I hope to find another couple of joints to pick this apart before then, so if you know any gatherings of curious people around Toronto, please let me know.

SXSW 2012: The Future of Digital Health

Note, this is cross-posted from the Klick Health blog. I’m posting it here for archival reasons.

South by Southwest is an annual festival of interactive tech, film, and music that started back in 1992 in Austin, Texas. I’ve been coming every year since 2005, and have seen the interactive part of the festival grow from roughly 3000 nerds to nearly 30,000 marketing, culture, agency, government and startup people. There are over 5000 events, talks, and panel discussions this year. With the massive growth has come both diversification and specificity. There are now specific conference tracks for politics, social causes, developers, designers, and for the first time, health care. I’ve been following that track closely, and am going to share a couple of broad trends and observations I gleaned.

Health vs Healthcare

There is a distinct lack of agreement on what we’re talking about when we say “healthcare”. To some, the phrase means “treatment”. To others, it means “wellness”.  In other words: does “healthcare” include preventative actions, stretching from education to urban planning to food policy?

Sensors, sensors, everywhere! “Mobile” is not another word for “smartphone”

Sensors will soon be everywhere. From our phones to our shoes to embedded in our bodies, we will be collecting personal data through everyday activity. Imagine a tooth implant that analyzes the nutritional value of your meal as you chew. Or a watch that measures your stress level. There are huge privacy issues to consider, but the potential for positive behaviour changes that emerge make the effort worthwhile

Successful behaviour changes when we can make informed decisions in the moment. Craving can be mitigated with up to the minute data. The smaller we can make the feedback loop, the more motivating force it presents.

There will be huge technical and design opportunities emerging in this space. In very short order, our definition of “mobile” will need to expand to include devices like Nike’s new Fuel bracelet and Google’s soon to be released head’s up display.

Gaming and health

This is a biggie. Nearly every health related panel included a nod to gaming in one way or another. Why? Engagement. Games tap into something hard wired in our neurology. They hold our attention like few other experiences. I could (and may) write a book on the subject, and can’t possibly do justice to the topic in this overview. Suffice it to say that between sensor driven real world activities (the human joystick) to virtual worlds designed to keep seniors socially engaged, there are a multitude of ways games and game mechanics are becoming integrated into healthcare. Watch this space for future posts on the subject.

Disruptive Stress

Peter Diamandis, the founder of the X Prize, used the phrase “disruptive stress” in his talk on abundance. He was referring to the gap between our human, linear experience and the exponential rate of change presented by information technology. Ray Kurzweil, in his keynote, extended the idea. This is a deep, complex problem, and one worth wrapping our head’s around. I’ll try to summarize it like this:

We humans are very bad at predicting the future, because we look from the present into the past, note the changes, and predict those same changes forward. We are terrible at remembering how things really were, and tend to wildly over attribute present day conditions to past situations. We tend to experience the world in a very linear way, even while the changes around us are happening at a greater rate.

Combine our innate difficulty in prediction with the exponential nature of technology, and we’re simply not naturally equipped to understand what the world of 2022 will look like. Note that I used the phrase “naturally equipped”. It’s not that we can’t predict the future, just that it we have to learn how to do it.

A few examples of exponential technology that will cause disruptive stress?  Biology is now an information technology. Gene therapies are coming online today, and in 10 years will dramatically change the healthcare landscape. Moore’s law (cost and size of microprocessors halve every 18 months) and nanotech will allow us to create devices that live in our bloodstream, actively boosting our natural defences in 20 years. Advances in artificial intelligence and robotics will change the way healthcare and patient support is delivered. Technologies like Siri, from Apple, hint at the very near future.

The digital revolution is coming

The same forces that changed the entertainment industry are marshalling at the base of healthcare. It’s early days, and the healthcare world has plenty of reason to move cautiously. But the move will come, and it will be driven by patients. The points I made above do not exist in isolation; sensors + gaming + disruptive stress = a change in the fundamental ways individuals will engage in and consume healthcare and health services. Health care providers and funders need to get out in front of this change, and quickly. Think about how Apple toppled RIM, Microsoft, and IBM by creating consumer desire. The same thing has started in healthcare, and the rate of change will not be linear.

Drinking the Zeitgeist: SXSW 2011

This post is cross posted to the Sequentia blog. Posted here for my own future reference.

SXSW is huge. Tens of thousands of people descend on Austin for two weeks of Interactive (aka web), Film, and Music programming. It is the largest web conference in the world. Media, pundits, and bloggers have written a million words or more covering SXSW over the past few years, and with good reason: SXSW offers a unique view of where the web (and culture in general) is headed.

When I first attended SXSWi in 2005, the emphasis was squarely on web design and development. This was pre-Twitter, when you still needed to explain what a blog was, and the Palm Treo was the hot gadget. As the web has matured, so has the conference. Today, the web touches most aspects of our lives. Design and development are still covered, but the keynotes, talks, and panels on business, marketing, community, non-profits, journalism, startups, psychology, culture, storytelling, games, etc outnumber the once dominant conversation by a huge margin.

There are 3 main reasons I go to Austin every year: to spark ideas and inspiration from the talks, to meet brilliant and inspiring people, and to bathe in the zeitgeist.Not much is written about this last point, probably because it’s hard to quantify. Rather than give a highlight reel of the talks I attended, this post will attempt to capture some of the energy and trends one observes by simply being at the heart of SXSW.

Geek culture = popular culture

While no one was looking, the geeks inherited the earth. As global culture has shifted online, the people building and designing the software, hardware, and interfaces we use have been elevated from fringe to centre stage. Mastery of digital tools, once a reason for derision, has become table stakes just to sit at the big kids’ cultural table. By building the tools and platforms the world uses to talk, share, learn and entertain, the geeks dominate and direct popular culture.

Game mechanics in the “real” world

Games engage humans like few other non-survival activities. Strategists, developers, and marketers are figuring out how to use the very things that make games so engaging in non-game scenarios. I’m not talking about making everything into a game, rather the application of certain motivational hooks to move people through a process. This will be absolutely fascinating to watch.

We live in a post-PC world

There were more iPads and smartphones being used to take notes than laptops. There were tens of thousands of photos taken, and very few dedicated cameras. The age of the PC is moving past us. Tablets and smartphones have taken over. SXSW attracts an early adopter crowd. Within 18 months, laptops will start to vanish from most business meetings.

Group messaging is the next big thing

Group.me and Beluga were two of the “winning” apps this year. Both programs allow the user to send short messages to a group via SMS, email, web, or directly in the app. This simple fact has huge implications. It allows for the creation of cross platform ad hoc social networks. In Austin, the main use was to coordinate meeting places with friends. In the near future, we’ll see these apps used for news reporting (topic specific updates), collaboration, permanent small-group networks, and ad-hoc event based networks. The ability to create segment specific networks (all my vegetarian friends in Austin) opens a whole new world of social media.

Location, location, location

First there was Foursquare and Gowalla. Then came SCVNGR, Facebook Places, and now Google Latitude. Despite a growing ennui from some, the money’s on Location Based Services exploding over the next couple of years. And with good reason. The combination of loyalty incentives (check in to a store three times to unlock 25% discount on your 4th purchase), growth in smart phones and new sensors and protocols like NFC that will allow auto-checkin makes for a potent mix of culture and marketing. Lots more action here in the coming years.


Everyone is talking about it. No one really agrees on how to measure it. To some, an influence score is the holy grail of social media. To others, it’s a terrifying reduction of the human experience into a single metric. One thing is for sure, influence and the conversation about it are not going away any time soon.

Information overload

Too. Many. Options. How do you reach your audience when they are increasingly scattered (in both attention and location)? This year, there were hundreds of just-launched apps vying for eyeballs. Noise, distraction, and infinite choice characterized both the streets around the Austin Convention Centre and the web in general. The number of destinations we can visit and the devices we visit them with are going to continue to increase. Organizations are going to have to become very adept at monitoring and engaging in multiple locations and in multiple formats in order to reach their audiences.

Is it worth it?


Studying culture, community, and superpowers

Are you studying culture? You should be.

At it’s simplest, the study of culture is the process of paying attention to stuff and writing it down. Culture is like oxygen: it’s omnipresent, and invisible. But stop and notice, and it’s all around us.

Within the context of community strategy, the study of culture is mega important. We already notice things like modes of dress (formal wear or bathrobes?), communication norms (“Forsooth, the yonder sun doth awaken” or “omg!!!! i <3 the sunrise :o"?), types of interaction (waltzing or grinding?), etc. Studying culture is taking these things that are already within our awareness and naming them. In doing so, we uncover opportunity. We uncover a different way to think about a group. We discover clues to increase the effectiveness of our communication. We figure out how to attract community members who will stick around and contribute. Importantly, we can also discover gaps; we can see what's missing, and where there are opportunities to add value. Studying culture gives you and your team a way to talk about and understand a group and an environment. By explicitly naming a group's cultural proclivities you gain a new kind of superpower. Try it. It's easy. I bet you'll be surprised at how simply naming what you're observing changes how you think.

Outline for the Using models as a tool in strategy development workshop

Last week, @interpretivst and I presented a draft workshop on using models to aid in strategy development. The impetus for this talk came from a couple of breakthroughs we’d recently experienced in our strategy development process.

This breakthrough fundamentally changed the way we’re collaborating and developing strategies @sequentia.

Our intention is to flush this outline into a full bore presentation/road show. We’ll see how that goes.

  • Why are we here?
    • Over the past few engagements, we’ve been experimenting with working with visual models, and have found them very effective
      • collaborating
      • explaining
      • informing strategy and tactics
    • We *think* this way of working is useful beyond strategy development. 
    • We DO NOT have all the info on this.
    • Purpose of this hour is to share our experiences, and see if there is any value in continuing to explore this as a group
  • What is a mental model?
    • visual or tactile representation of an idea
      • a map
      • a sculpture
      • a flowchart
      • a diagram
  • Why are models useful in strategy development
    • they are sources of both predictive and explanatory power
      • a well constructed model helps us explain and predict behaviours -> becomes the basis for strategy
    • framework for layering data and ideas
      • frees up your brain from having to hold stuff -> lets you move on to other stuff
      • lets you see connections between far flung ideas
    • allows teams to work together on complex concepts
      • breaks big concepts up into smaller chunks that can be layered on top of each other
      • the model offers a common language
      • get multiple perspectives and multiple A HA!s
    • allows you to communicate big ideas relatively simply
      • strategies are only effective if they are believable and understandable
  • Simple example of a model used for strategy
    • Sales funnel
  • Where do the ideas come from? AKA: What are we layering onto this framework?
    • research
      • Surveys
      • Interviews
      • Ethnography
      • Experience
  • Types of model frameworks
    • venn
    • ladder
    • spectrum/continuum
    • pyramid
    • funnel
    • matrix
    • flowchart
    • list
    • mind map
    • affinity diagram
  • Example of CLIENT X model
    • started with research
      • in this case, I had Ujwal walk me through the research. I prepared a bunch of thought starters and open ended questions to ask him about the work, to help uncover meaning. These may or may not be relative in all cases, but this should give you an idea
        • Why should someone follow these accounts? What would have to happen to thrill that follower/fan? 
        • what are the ways you can ignite their passion? 
        • Are the passions shared across brands? Which are common? Which are unique? Which can you build contests or campaigns around?
        • What would cause them to share? 
        • What should the tone be? Why? How personal? Is it first person or the royal we? 
        • Is it better to grow organically or to buy an audience? 
        • How can we integrate the social strategy back into the brand sites to create a virtuous circle? 
        • Are there any direct ROI opportunities? Can they drive towards specific promotions? Is there a twitter or facebook only coupon? 
        • How are we going to measure success? The strategy should steer towards those objectives
        • Are there existing targets for acquisition for the social program? 
        • are there any corporate culture changes that we need to recommend to allow these to succeed? Are they nimble enough to succeed? If not, should we recommend another approach? 
        • What about monitoring?
        • next came discussion
    • as we talked through these questions, relationships between ideas started to form, and we started to jot them down
    • this led to a number of A HA! moments and ultimately to the construct we presented (with great success) to the client
    • Take aways
      • using a framework (a spectrum in this case) allowed us to place a bunch of data onto a structure that we could see and manipulate
      • we were able to collaborate on the development of the model, since we were both looking at the same structure
      • we were able to push way beyond what we could have done if we were only holding the data in our heads
        • test concepts
        • move things around
        • take things out and add them back in
      • the model we ultimately developed allows us to convey HUGE meaning to the client in a way that minimizes individual distortion
  • Ways of working
    • you have to start in research. do a deep dive, for as long as you can/budget allows. make observations, but try to avoid conclusions. make notes. then write. and write and write and write. or go for a walk with a voice recorder. let your mind wander. let the research organize itself. then start asking yourself questions