Archive for the ‘irishblogs’ Category

Can the customer be even more right with the web?

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

I think I wrote this for the Cork Independent in 2010. The answer is no but you might have to suck it up a bit more unless you are very sure of your offering.

Can the customer be even more right with the web?

Last week we looked at customer care and how good and bad service can propagate far and wide thanks to digital word of mouth. Focusing as much as you can on your website and having it as a core part of your customer service system cuts down on costs and allows people to figure out their issues with less pressure.

Using actions to change behaviour
Many times when people contact a company via phone or email it’s to sort something that seems completely simple to an employee. Customers will look at things differently to an employee who lives and breathes the product and ways to use it. Even consumer giant Apple with their elegantly designed products still field calls about their iPods and iPhones, just ask their staff in Hollyhill.

Ideally each interaction you have with a customer should be a learning experience on both sides. Take note of how the customer describes their issues and the language they use and try and reuse their phrasing on your online help sections as the main wording or alternative text. For the customer you should be educating them on how to use the website and go through simple steps to solve the issue.

It sounds almost cruel, like keeping sweets out of reach from a child but just giving a customer an answer and getting them off the phone means they’ll call back again. Gently walking them through the action of how to fix their issue (if they can do it themselves) means that next time they might remember to do it themselves. Always follow up calls too with an email confirming the issue and how to fix it, step by step. Think of the safe cross code ads and how they thought kids to cross roads.

Unfortunately, the way customer support systems have been run over the years means a percentage of people mistrust ringing phone numbers or sending emails and instead take the quickest route to vent, crib or ask for help: Twitter!

You mightn’t know it or want it but you are going to have to do customer support via social networks nowadays. If someone that is connected to 200 people or even 2000 people complains about your service, you should at least be listening and try and sort their issue. If you don’t have a presence, reach out and bring them into your customer care system and use your traditional system to meet their needs.

Again, show them areas on your website where they can help themselves. Importantly to note when you help those on Twitter and blogs is that you are getting into an almost live commentary of your support. People will ask their Twitter friend how they were treated and are they happy with the result. The good with supporting your Twitter customer is that if you tell them how they can remedy the situation, they’ll share this with others. Twitter is a megaphone. Good things can be sent down it or bad things. It’s up to your core company philosophy as to which one you can have.

Fail fast, fail cheap, fail smart

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

From the Sunday Tribune

Fail fast, fail cheap, fail smart

Failure is an option that is finally getting explored in Ireland. It’s now starting to trickle through that trying something and failing is not the sin it once was. Many have been saying for years how in Silicon Valley people are trusted almost more if they have previously done something and failed. It’s not the failure per se but it’s the experience gained from work and being at the coal face. In Silicon Valley it’s “hard luck, what are you doing next?”. In Ireland it’s been a case of “Oh that guy failed, should you really do business with him?” It still exists too. Lots of companies merged or were acquired in recent years to save face.

There’s a definite culture thing at play here. Good old Catholic guilt probably contributes to this. Communities via the pulpit have always been encouraged to knock anyone that rises about their “station”. Possibly tied to that is the excuse about bankruptcy laws in Ireland. I’m not convinced strict bankruptcy laws are holding people back.

If struck off it’s hard to start new business yet there are plenty who never go as far as being struck off. Plenty of people have risen above being struck off and have done well for themselves. If bankruptcy laws are holding you back are you not creative enough or are you too risk averse?

It seems like years ago but at a conference in March Dylan Collins amongst others talked about embracing failures and mistakes and learning from them. “We have to be proud of our mistakes – It’s how we learn.”

Any fans of James Burke and his Connections programmes will know of the way discoveries throughout history were more to do with lots of trials and their errors moreso than eureka moments. A “good” failure allows the lessons learned to be applied elsewhere and lots of these combined becomes a new discovery.

Just like the scammers swarmed into seo and social media though, now I wonder will the acceptance of failure see the spirit of it twisted to: hard luck, what grant are you going to try and nobble next?

Failure when you and others/the collective learns is important. Selfish failure does not help anyone, it encourages skewing of data, hiding results and outright lying. Going back to companies merging, many that invest in companies including organisations like Enterprise Ireland and VCs have plenty of companies on their books that are probably already dead but to save face, are not publicly wound down.

I do wonder has this culture of fear of failure not only slowed or progress and experimenting but also created an even worse scenario where you can have worse failures because of the level of secrecy that happens. And what of all the things learned in them. A secret failure means others will have to trudge through the same stuff too. Can we have a Wikileaks for this stuff?

Light Speed Marketing

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

Everything Internet

You may be one of a large percentage of business people sick of hearing about the Internet, apps, mobile, digital marketing, social media and Twitter this and Tweedledee that. Consider the Internet though and how it really has changed business and how it has changed itself.

We started off 30 years ago with what was a way of computers to trade information with each other without geographical limitations. Born on top of the Internet soon after was the World Wide Web that brought around the idea of websites. We had websites for a while and then social media came along that added a social and personal level to the Web. Social Media sites on the Web and that sits on the Internet. Universes, galaxies and solar systems, in a way.

The speed of change is also increasing. 5 years ago nobody in Ireland used Facebook and today 80% of the population does. 5 years ago people used mobile phones to ring each other, today that’s the 3rd most common use of a mobile.

Here are some truths though: Good business always wins through whether you’re a Facebook fanatic or shun all forms of communication. If you supply good customer service, deliver value through price or high quality, people will have the inbuilt need to let others know about their amazing find. Us humans want to connect to people and the best connections are the ones built on sharing value. We will drive out of the way to buy something from someone for sometimes the simple truth that we think they’re nice.

The good will out, good business will out, it just takes time. What modern technology does is it speeds that up. From the speed of conversation to the speed of light. This month we’ll take a broad overview of what are the main areas in digital to look at and maybe in future articles we’ll get more in depth. Just one thing: Get over being afraid of this speed, reacting by bunkering down until it goes away won’t work. Change is the new “3rd generation business”.

In some areas of towns you have the legal sector, you have the financial sector, the food market sector and the retail sector and even amongst them you can have more specific sub-sectors. Like streets that do shoes only or formalwear. Like you’d go to a marketplace with high footfalls of the right type of customer, you’d go to marketplaces online that do the same thing.

There are millions of searches every day in Ireland alone and 90% of them are via Google. As a business, if you want to be found online through searches, you need to have a website or a webpage listing your details. The important thing to note is that most people won’t Google your business name, they Google products or services you offer. With that in mind a website should describe what you can offer, not information on your name and company history, keep that for the company history. Optimising your website for this type of person is known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

A tool Google offers for free is called the Google Keyword Tool and it tells you in broad numbers how many people search for a certain term. So you can type in your company name e.g. Mulley Communications and it tells you how many people search for it. 10 to maybe 100 times more people will Google what your company does than who you are. Use the Google Keyword Tool to inform yourself on what words you should use to describe your offerings and you’ll get more and better quality website traffic.

As well as searching online (think of these people as the ones that go to a store looking for something specific “I want a can of blue metal paint”) there are those that are the “I’m just browsing” types, just looking around, not looking for anything in particular. Think of those that use Facebook as those types. They’re not looking for anything but something may entice them in their browsing.

With Facebook you can set up a Business Page that in a way is like a mini-website and it’s free. On it, you can let people know what you can offer. Be careful though as people on Facebook are not looking so if you bombard them with constant pitches for business, they’ll move on. A Facebook page should be seen like a media channel itself. Inform them of things/information they like and then point out things you also have for sale.

A very popular or maybe hyped space too is Twitter, a way of having public chats with people. each update or Tweet from you is slightly less space than the size of a text message. I consider Twitter to be like a networking event. It’s a lot of work, you have to be present at a networking event to get the value and you need to work the room. Again though, if you just pitch at people instead of building relationships and engaging in a genuine way with people, people will just walk away. To me, Twitter is the most work but can be of the most value as you build longer-term relationships with consumers or potential partners.

These three online marketplaces are mostly about business to consumer, one online marketplace for business to business is LinkedIn. Something that’s a mix of an online CV mixed with an online address book. LinkedIn is really good for building contacts and you can get a huge amount of leads into companies with LinkedIn.

Of all of these options I’d go Website optimisation, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in that order if you want to be in the consumer marketplace online. An hour into working on your website will pay off for months, an hour on Facebook for weeks and Twitter a few hours. For B2B go website and then LinkedIn.

An hour taken seriously with digital marketing in any of these areas though will have a positive and valuable impact on your business. Enjoy the lightspeed effect.

Amateurs and cowboys

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

I wrote this a few years ago for the Cork Independent.

Amateurs and cowboys

Again and again in this column on digital marketing we have looked at all the new tools and techniques that allow anyone in an organisation to do digital marketing. A business can now do their own website optimisation and rank quite well in Google search results. The same business can create Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts and tweet away about the company’s offerings. Ads can be taken out with just a credit card and you can be advertising all over the web or in Facebook within minutes. The amateur class is becoming the default and doing quite a good job of it.

To quote the from the scholarly works of the great “Spiderman” – “With great power comes great responsibility”. With your amateur voice everywhere, you can be very amateur in front of a lot of people. As I write this I am looking at a business on Twitter, using their business name and they are engaing in a conversation with another business and basically suggesting their customers are stupid.

At the same time on Twitter people are giving out about the new TV ads from a biscuit company. 90% of the tweets about them are negative, if you go on to their Facebook Page it’s the same. With the way people are connected on Twitter and Facebook, others are joining in too, spreading the idea that the ads are awful to more people. Conversations are now happening offline with people asking people have they heard about these awful TV ads. All very one-sided.

It’s fantastic that for many tasks you don’t have to hire professional marketing or PR companies and can do it yourself but it doesn’t mean we should. There are some naturals out there when it comes to PR and Marketing who just don’t need professionals, they are already brilliant. We’re in the early days of social media where everyone is having a go at this, professionals and amateurs. For a while we’ll all get along/away with doing this. As the online crowd grows and matures we’re probably going to see new types of communications companies form in this space and offer their services though. This is good for those that want to use their services but also it should help up standards in social media.

PR and Marketing companies formed well after the industries they lived off were created and in the wild west of social media, it’ll be a while before it becomes more professional too. In the meantime we’ll have the amateurs having car crashes, saying things to a wide sphere when they didn’t realise it, slagging off their employer on Facebook or spamming people thinking it’s an ok thing to do. Even the companies with staff that are always on social media are still in the amateur stage and be aware of that if you are going to hire them. Lots of mistakes will happen but with them lots of lessons will be learned. Right now too we’re all more forgiving when these hiccups happen. So stick on the stetson, wear those boots and enjoy the unrestricted social media world before it becomes to mainstream and stale.

Me on Google Drive, Dropbox and Cloud Computing in 2008

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Also, I have CloudComputing.ie if you want to acquire it from me.
==
Sunday Tribune Jan 2008

At the recent Steve Jobs lovefest known as Macworld, a new super thin laptop was unveiled by Apple – the MacBook Air. While the laptop is just a piece of hardware, it revealed the future of how we will use computers and where we keep our data.

While it was expected Apple was going for a lightweight and thin laptop, many were surprised that the laptop didn’t contain a port to plug it into a computer network and didn’t contain an optical drive. Apple billed it as the thinnest laptop ever. While the Apple fans reacted like pavlov’s dog to the announcement, many others were sceptical and the scepticism grew over time. “We need to plug our laptops into our network.” said the sceptics. “Pfft, it has a wireless connection, connect to the network that way” said the fanboysandgirls. “Laptops still need a drive so you can load software on” added the naysayers and the fanmob pointed out that Apple provided software that allowed you to access the dvd or cd drive of any PC or Mac over a wireless network, once the software was installed. The laptop too doesn’t allow you to eject the battery, something many of us are used to doing if nothing else makes our computer shut off. This laptop was more like the iPod than ever before, a device which really doesn’t want you having a peek at what does on inside.

Apple was one of the first computer companies to drop the use of floppy drives and the rest of the computer world followed eventually. It now seems they think the CD and DVD drive are also dead. With the amount of data we use and store each day increasing drastically every day, even the CD isn’t capable of holding even a fraction of a percentage of our digital data and now too it seems that DVDs are the same. You’d think then that Apple would offer Bluray drives which can store much more on one disk. Apple though is probably thinking a few steps ahead. They now are kings when it comes to distributing music digitally. They’ve made the experience easy and cheap and they have now started to do the same with TV shows, movies and movie rentals. If your hard drive dies, Apple will even allow you to redownload your purchases, though sometimes it might take a little arguing. If Apple help impact on movie piracy by creating a better alternative, the studios and their bottom lines will be happy if media drives which allow the sharing of pirated media are obsolete, that too is a win. But what about moving our data?

A big switch will probably happen down the road thanks to Apple’s links with Google. Google’s CEO sits on the board of Apple and they have worked together on small projects but nothing substantial yet. There’s long been talk that Google will release their internal online storage system to the public. They already allow the public to store 6 gigabytes of email with their Gmail system and the upper limit increases every day, meaning most people will never fill their space. Google too are doing the same for Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents with another Google documents. Apple have very good backup and file-syncing software, so how long before there’ll be an option to backup to your online storage space while all your media goes to your iTunes Google backed storage space?

The MacBook Air is another step closer to what is now being billed “cloud” computing where our data will reside on servers, somewhere on the planet and very probably in Ireland judging by the amount of data centres being built here by Google, Amazon, Microsoft et al. Goodbye cables, scratched disks and virus infections and hello to total data portability. Once we have quality broadband of course.

And here I am predicting the Facebook Ad system

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

August 2007 in the Sunday Tribune:

Google are one of the most powerful technology companies ever and are the undisputed King of search with many pretenders to their throne. So why is a social networking site slightly better than mySpace or Bebo going to potentially be their most serious threat ever and not Microsoft, Yahoo! or Ask.com?

The hottest tech website this year so far has been Facebook. What once was a website dedicated to American college students proudly displaying their drunken pics and videos has now gained so much mindshare that even Rupert Murdoch, owner of Facebook rival mySpace has publicly stated he wishes mySpace were more like it. Individuals and businesses are flocking to join the latest online hotspot but the site isn’t so hot with search engines.

Unlike other social networking sites, Facebook does not allow search engines to come in and snoop around and catalog all the media being created and consumed inside this massive online community. For search engines like Google who are proud of their ability to monitor the web for newly uploaded content and display it in their search results as quickly as 15 minutes later, the inability to access a vibrant and energetic community creating millions of new pieces of data every day makes Google less powerful and less useful. Google’s motto of “organizing the world’s information” might need to add “except the data of 50 Million Facebook users”.

As with all social networks, their shine fades and people will move on to the next bright young thing. Being accutely aware of this, Facebook started giving developers access to the technology behind the site, allowing anyone to build applications which could plug directly into the Facebook. In one bold move Facebook turned itself into the web’s version of a lego set, where anyone could build any kind of creation on top of it. This new open “platform” is only around a short few months but already 1000s of new web applications have been built for Facebook which in turn has attracted millions more people to the website, causing them to create even more content Google can’t get to but the Facebook search engine can. Search companies see Facebook as a giant blackhole on the web because these Facebook applications suck in the world wide web but no data ever escapes back. Facebook now offers all their own content on top of everything you can get elsewhere online, so there is no need to leave.

If facebook offers everything to their users, then people will spend less time on the open web, which will naturally impact on Google and their ad revenues. With Google properties and partner sites getting used less, this is going to impact on Google ad revenue. Google as well as being a search company is the most successful online ad company ever and much of this is down to their relevance technology which matches the most suitable ad to whatever webpage is being viewed.

If Facebook emulated Google’s history and used an ad system like Google’s but tied into the detailed profiles of millions of Facebook people, they would easily out-Google Google. Ads on Facebook could be far more relevant than anything Google could offer, ecnouraging ad companies to flock to Facebook and pay a premium on ads, netting Facebook a fortune and hurting Google yet again.

With Google bloodied and battered from losing market share and ad revenue, Facebook could do one final thing to seal Google’s fate: Enable outside search. Facebook could build their own Google clone into Facebook offering internal and external search, tailored to the preferences of each individual with ads equally tailored. People currently speculate that Google might buy Facebook but maybe Facebook will end up buying Google?

Just a band … Route around your obstacles

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

I’m going through old things I wrote that I have stored in Google Drive. I found an article from the Sunday Tribune I wrote ten years ago and then I found this that I wrote for Tommie Kelly that is live here. Going to reproduce it here now as I think it’s still apt.

Damage: Route around the old grey-haired white men

There are three main links you can right click and open in a new tab as you start reading this meandering post.

The first link is to what is now a seminal article by Kevin Kelly called 1000 true fans where he riffs on the idea that we don’t need to be superstars and have mass market attention to be a success. Work at working with a smaller number of fans but fans who have your back and you have theirs. Uncompromising happier days await.

The next link is to Marc Andreessen who created Netscape, Opsware, Ning and so much more. The guy is a billionaire and one of the smartest men on the planet. He too has a seminal essay called Software is Eating the World and it in he shows that people writing code are disrupting and destroying the old guard in dusty old industries. You do not need to be a coder to read this, This article needs to be read by everyone.

The last link is to a YouTube of Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip called “Thou shalt always kill” and midway through the song the singer tells us

“The Beatles… Were just a band.
Led Zepplin… Just a band.
The Beach Boys… Just a band.
The Sex Pistols… Just a band.”

Software, as it eats the world is changing how we exist. We don’t need media owned and controlled by crazy white old men anymore, we don’t need to rely on banks run by corrupt greedy white old men anymore, we don’t need bloated publishers run by … there’s a pattern to this, right? We can now talk to people who appreciate our work and time and geography don’t matter. They can come to us and our work can go to them. If you were living in a one horse town and were amazing at a niche skill, you will get local attention and praise and that’s it. Oftentimes things are hobbies because we can’t feed our kids from what we earn from this hobby. In the always-on, instantly connected world, that’s all changed. I dream of the day I can live by the sea and still do my day job. Broadband is nearly there in deepest darkest West Cork and off I’ll go and I’ll work with a small number of people that appreciate my work and I appreciate their candid and constructive feedback. Now, to be clear, this is different to having a bunch of yes-men and women.

Let’s look at “media”. We had to look after journalists and researchers before. Work with them and harass them if needs be for them to tell the world about what we do. Telling the world by either getting them to write a story or buying an ad next to a story. Media in the traditional sense had limited space, had bosses with bias and had hectic cycles. Even if what you had was a good story, it might not get picked up. The Internet has ensured that this old way of getting large-scale attention is no longer needed. We can talk to fans directly. We can be the media and the PR agency and the ad company now. A blog, Twitter, Facebook, we can get to most people by these mechanisms alone. I ran Measurement.ie in February in Dublin and ticket sales were all a result of just promoting the event online and at that nearly exclusive promotion on Twitter. I didn’t need to send a press release, talk to newspapers or radio stations about it and the event sold out. My sponsors however and their clients would still read these media institutions so they did traditional media about their sponsorship. If your fans or potential fans are only reading newspapers, you have to be there. But they’re not. More people over 55 are receiving shitty updates from Farmville than are reading the Irish Times daily.

Let’s look at Banks. What an obsolete thing they are becoming. Paypal can do payments and card processing. A Twitter co-founder has released Square allowing you to take credit card payments with a tiny device that plugs into your iPhone and you swipe the card along it. For loans we have Kickstarter and we have Fund It specifically for The Arts in Ireland. Kickstarter and Fund It too are lovely little stomping grounds allowing you to do small projects and get experience of selling, budgeting and PRing your project. Taking what you learnt, you can go and build bigger projects. See this interview with Philly McMahon about his take on Fund It. I look forward to the days when some sort of currency can go from my wallet to someone else’s without the banks taking their sweaty fees from us.

Publishing. Talent hunters, agents, asking friends of friends to get your work on the desk of someone that delivers coffee to the PA of the woman that throws manuscripts in the bin… A blog, some fans and them talking about you and the publishers can come to you or you can just self-publish. This is not a platitude. The Internet makes it easier for talent to be spotted and evangelised. I say, easier, it does not mean if you have talent you are guaranteed fame but it makes it easier. Again, start small, get experience and build on that. Try something on a platform like Amazon and learn from it. Do not make the mistake though of trusting it and signing your life away to it. Amazon too in time will get eaten by other software and it is rapidly becoming the type of old-school industry we rally against.

The Internet is a router, built on routers. By that I mean if someone blocks you, be they media, publishers, banks, route around them. The Internet was built as a way of preserving communications if a nuclear attack wipes out an army base or city. Obstacles, whatever their form are damage, so route around them.

Minor Threat… Just a band.
The Cure… Just a band.
The Smiths… Just a band.
Nirvana… Just a band.

Threads – Part something something

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

We’ve been watching Jean-Claude Van Johnson, an amazing JCVD show where JC plays himself but he is also a spy using acting as his cover. Trailer. It’s hilarious and he is perfect at comedy. A recent show ends with M.C. Solaar’s Nouveau Western. I remember the sound and the video. Couldn’t remember the Director – Stephane Sednaoui. Look at his body of work. Some amazingly stylish music videos that defined the 90s. Give it away. Mysterious Ways. Queer.

And he did a few for Mirwais. Including Disco Science.

And from his album Production, flowed some amazing music. And Madonna had him work on Music. When you listen to both you realise they are cut from the same cloth or are Side A and B of a record where each of the duo take a half and follow their vision but they’re too in synch to be too different.

And now I’m listening to Uffie because Mirwais produced some of her work.

Ones to Watch – the 2018 biased edition

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Previously on Ones to Watch: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 2008, 2007.

This is the 12th iteration of Ones to Watch. I’ve been thinking for a while about these type of lists and how subjective they are and exclusive but exclusive with emphasis on exclusion. So many lists you see around the place are “mates rates” type lists. I find people for the Ones to Watch from people I know or notice in my day-to-day journeys online and off. 2017 was busier than ever, moreso after starting a sabbatical type thing so I’ve not interacted and watched people do interesting things compared to before. 2016’s list was the same too. I’m referencing the Pattern Recognition post I wrote as it glanced at the idea of confirmation bias too. My lists like most are in a bubble and are totally biased. That needs to change.

Here’s a fun thing to do with you and your “woke” friends:
Each of you write down the names of 5 Irish women who are inspiring for a podcast. Now compare notes. Louise Mcsharry will be on it because she deserves to be. Maeve Higgins maybe? One of those influencer people who have bought followers and the media are too thick to realise? Katie Taylor? Claire Byrne? Clare Daly? Alison Spittle? Louise O’Neill? 2.4M women you can choose from and the overlap is going to be staggering. A great start but quite predictable list is media personality or known of because of winning an award. Name someone from the Traveller community. Great you have John Connors too, now name another one that didn’t star in Glenroe. How about an Irish black male that isn’t a sports person? A person with a disability that isn’t doing Special Olympics. Someone that hasn’t done a TED(x) talk? It’s okay, we’re all in bubbles. We seem to reference the people just like us and then one or two people each from a minority community who it seems are there to talk about being a minority from their community. Like has been said so often, how often do you hear a working class Dublin accent on the radio outside of reporters interviewing locals about a shooting or the death of a homeless person? Arts programmes to a small degree.

And I’m just as guilty with events I do. Measurement 2016 was an all-female lineup. The rule we enacted was even the tech people that would be on stage had to be female. A male-free stage. It worked, in so far as we pulled off the event, though it made a loss but that’s because I’m great at ideas crap at business. It showed it can be done though and I was hoping like many of the other ideas we did, that it would be copied by others. The lineup of Measurement was all people from inside my bubble and I have done nothing to break it or expand it. Nice and safe people that I mostly knew, some I knew for years. Now you are generally risk-averse for these things when you are starting off so you go with people you know won’t go lala and alienate or get you sued. Which is why you always hear the same voices on radio. They’re trusted and SO very predictable so you can plan around that. Media production is all about cookie cutters. The new Jamie Oliver yeah?

It’s like that thing for nearly a decade where you ask the Irish tech heads to name a woman to speak at a conference and it was Martha Rotter or Clare Dillon both at Microsoft at the time or Jane ní Dhulchaointigh from Sugru. And then shuffling of feet. Well done lads. For them and me it was a case of look further afield.

Louise Mcsharry’s podcast Fresh had two guests that I never heard of at all. This is great, more please! 50% totally new on any media production is great. (at time of writing 4 were listed) Stevie G is doing remarkable work in Cork on a thriving hiphop scene and dance scene with so much young talent. Never heard of these folks either. Good. Following people totally not aligned to my interest on Twitter has seen me encounter all new ideas via their Likes and RTs. This is good.

So my Ones to Watch is going to be the “unknown unknowns” this time. I think I need to make 2018 the year that I change the lens on my vision and look for other sources and spaces. Time to stop going a little outside my circle and go way outside. A friend of a few friends I’ve heard mentioned is not enough. So what I’m doing is, I’m leaving people that are reading this to comment and recommend people they are finding interesting and are ones to watch. Maybe nobody comments! Anyone that recommends themselves gets deleted of course. Be humble. So off you go, who are the Ones to Watch in 2018? Tell us.

Pattern Recognition – How being able to spot patterns gives you an advantage

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

Pattern Recognition
A post in the need of an editor…

I come back again and again to the idea of pattern recognition in business and life. I time traffic lights – I count as the lights change from one coloured state to another and back and forth as cars go through junctions and people cross. I watch the traffic lights at the next junction down. I know when to get ready to go so as it hits green, I’m moving. However experience also allows me to know that someone will be breaking the red light nearly 50% of the time, pattern recognition comes from experience. I do the same counting when I’m the pedestrian, though I give no leeway to cars that try and break lights.

In medicine respiratory rate is a key part of the Early Warning Systems they have for patient monitoring. Studies have shown that a change in respiratory rate can signal (sometimes hours in advance) that a patient is in decline. Watch for that change in pattern and save lives.

The idea of writing something on pattern recognition came again from a recent article I read about “The Roofman”. Jacob Shelton studied a few McDonald’s and realised that the core proposition of each restaurant and the corporation is that they are all cookie cutter restaurants that if it could break into one he could break into all of them. So he did, 40 before he got caught. But then studied his prison and the patterns and escaped from that.

Terry Kniess did extreme pattern recognition of The Price is Right and won it all. He taped 3 months of shows and started seeing prices repeat. (keep reading though)

And David Phillips bought pudding and soup, got the Salvation Army to remove coupons from them and they got to keep the food (he got a tax rebate cos charity donation) and he ended up getting a million travel miles. All after seeing a pattern and seeing it play through if he added himself into the pattern.

Systems

Patterns, algorithms, systems.
Giving a box of chocolates to cabin crew on a flight, even a Ryanair one will get you special treatment. But Ryanair will fire a staffer if they give you a free coffee or sandwich if they give you free stuff. Yet, they do. The system says they can’t do that but the system never considered the public giving them a box of chocolates either. What happens if you add in an unexpected kindness into the equation of a scrooge airline? Change the pattern or at least make it wobble? Unexpected kindness is like caffeine with painkillers, it brings a state-change faster. A toblerone can get you very far in an organisation you are accessing, if genuinely given. Recognise the pattern and mess with it and see what happens.

I would think computer security experts are like that in a way. “This is what happens when A sends this to B” “What if we send C attached to A?” “But people don’t do that”. You can break into a computer system with a large amount of pure luck if someone didn’t lock it down in the most basic way or you can break into a highly sophisticated system because you have years of experience and you’d studied this system and have an amazing knack of thinking on your feet. You’ve got the receipts, you’ve the data.

UX (user interface) people are good at pattern recognition too. They study people and systems and they know if the system does D most people will go ahead and do E. But if instead they make the system do C and then D, then people might instead do F. UX to a degree utilises psychology and data. And psychology is of course about pattern recognition.

Data will make you better at Pattern Recognition.
Experience is data that has been analysed.

“You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads – at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out. “ Charlie Munger on reading.

Buffet and Munger. Two human data processing and analysing machines. I’ll write about them some other time but these billionaires are the Gods of the slow money movement. Reading, analysing, holding, pouncing. Pattern recognition.

Shake the hands of a carpenter or a chef, they’re going to be rough. (BTW, did you picture a man in this scenario? Tut, pattern recognition and unconscious bias). Carpentry is not kind on the hands nor is cheffing. I’m sure you could sit down some carpenters and chefs together and they can exchange war wound stories. Your meal or table might not be as good if it was made by soft hands. Not sure can you ask to feel the hands of your chef the next time you’re out for a meal though…

Complex Systems

Pattern recognition “naturals” are not professionals
You can be a natural at sales because you *get* people and know or have a feeling how to play with them to buy something from you. You can become a great salesperson from lots of experience, hard work and lots of study. Being a natural is an advantage but being enthusiastic is too. The naturals at anything never become the superstars without lots of practice too. Raw talent won’t win the great prizes unless nobody else is in any way skilled. Natural is in the same family as amateur.

Muscle memory is acquired data. The more you do it, the better you get. That data gets more refined over time too. If you watch a lot of comedy – you can predict the next line. Only Fools and Horses, Mrs Brown, Big Bang Theory. “Fucking obvious” comedy it is but only obvious because you’ve seen lots of it and know the pattern. In fairness, three shows of these and you can predict all of the lines but that’s probably because they are influenced by the same old comedic shite that went before them. Carry On, Last of the Summer Wine, Fraiser.

But can you be a writer for the Big Bang Theory from just smothering on that repetition? Well you’re only seeing the end product so you’re only witnessing a single digit percentage of the export. The structure, pace, themes are going to be hard to replicate. (I however think a BBC headline of “A.I. writes perfect copy of Mrs Brown’s Boys” is but months away. I hope Brendan O’Carroll buys that tech and he can live forever as Mrs Brown.)

Amateurs are professionals before getting experience
Maybe you can get a gig writing gags for someone that sells to the Mrs Brown audience? Doing the same thing again and again and looking for a different result is madness apparently. But is that not practice too? The over-used story of Giotto’s perfect circle but he wouldn’t have been able to do that without 100s or 1000s of hours of practice. BTW, not referencing Gladwell’s 10,000 hours idea because like everything else he ripped it off and twisted it.

Media is about systems and knowing that A + B + C = makes a good story. You can work on being the A part of this system. Watching media patterns, the likes dislikes, the things that get the headlines, when there are lulls that your story can get a chance to be covered, knowing when to stay away from pitching. Anyway, a post by me on PR tips based on pattern recognition.

Good Data makes you .. good
I’m a big fan of the show Billions. The dodgy traders in the show like pro gamblers (cos same) have tipsters all over the place letting them know about movements of stock, about financial mischief, giving them shredded documents and piecing things back together. There’s a bit where they use satellite imagery to figure out how much stock a chipmaker is actually shifting. Many of these actions are real. Traders now buy satellite imagery data and can predict how much Walmart is making based on cars in their car parks or how much excess oil there is based on shadows made by oil tanks. Same with crops. Hard to hide your secondary or tertiary data these days.

This is how they were able to predict a sales decline in Chipotle too but they used Foursquare check-in data.
There are so many free resources for mining data on things.

  • Google Alerts to find online mentions of competitors
  • Facebook Ad Data is unreal for market research
  • Google Keyword tool for what people are googling
  • Daft.ie house prices for areas
  • DoneDeal for the what the market will pay for something
  • The CSO
  • Scraper tools
  • Membership directories
  • Paper records – just use TinyScanner or OCR phone photos.
  • Even instruction manuals
  • And books.

I find autobiographies of business people are utter egotistical poo that are designed to just be a PR thing for their business or them rewriting history. Biographies of dead business and historical people are better. Hard Things about Hard Things (the first half) is an exception and a fav though. The best way to read a book when you want to get something good out of it.

How can you get better at Pattern Recognition?
Open your mind’s eye. Do LSD. No, not really. For me it’s just about noticing things. Ever tried a day of silence? No speaking, no devices, no reading or writing. Try that in an art gallery for 2-3 hours. Pay conscious attention to what are background objects or background noises.

There’s a nice book – On Looking where the author brings various people with expertise around her neighbourhood and they show her new things each time. Being better at looking and noticing to me aids with pattern recognition. Learning from others and how they see things gives you a swiss army knife of lenses at your disposal. If you only get views from your narrow field you won’t be very good at pattern recognition. You maybe will be good at Unconscious Bias though.

There’s this link with some advice.

Stop and treat everything like a painting in a museum and it’s raining outside so you have to stay in. Count traffic light changes. When the lights a few 100 yards ahead go to green, how long before your ones will? 20 seconds, 30 seconds. Look above the ground floor of shops, a whole new world. Put your phone in your hand. Notice the shape. Notice the edges. Notice the weight of it. Notice the temperature. How big is it in relation to your hand?

Complex Systems Pattern Recognition

So you’re good at Pattern Recognition, so what?
You’re like a water diviner. The water is below us, dig down. Wow, how did you know? Nothing to do with knowing the waterway patterns… You should start spotting opportunities when you find the patterns. Knowing the patterns might mean using them to get something for you. Like how to get stuff into the media by knowing their patterns. Everyone has their own grooves, know what their groove is and journey in it to get a return. Sometimes it’s knowing what the pattern or process is and using it.

Sometimes it’s knowing how to break it. “This is how it’s always been done.” Nice and safe and predictable. We like our groove. An ass groove isn’t it? How do we use this “always done this way” groove. How did they get to “this is how it’s always been done”? If something changes, can they get out of the groove? Google: history of newspapers. That’s an equation really.

“This is how it has always been done” is a bit like the Bystander Effect too. If the rest of the group behaves like this then you will too. Even if smoke is coming into the room.

Can you remove, replace or add something to the equation to change it? Plan it out, what would happen, what new factors get added when you make a change to the equation? Line them up, press play, see what happens, rewind, move things around, press play again. How do you address what would happen?

I gave a talk (I also I thought I did a blog post but can’t find it) called “Your next business is on Boards.ie and DoneDeal.ie”. Twitter thread of it. If you study the history of newspapers and Craiglist you’ll see how Craigslist killed off listings in newspapers. Then 100s of startups pared off pieces of Craigslist and some became billion dollar operations. AirBnB, Ebay, Grindr, Hassle and so many more in a way were just sections on Craiglist before founders spotted patterns of interest and came up with ways of making these more efficient for people. Spot patterns on Boards or DoneDeal.ie, see what are the sections most popular, see what people are complaining about online about them, make something cheaper or less friction. Unbundle this into an app.

Uber or Hailo/myTaxi
I remember advising a taxi company years ago to get everyone that took a taxi to put them into their phone as Taxi and when they show it to the driver, they get a discount. That “wasn’t the done thing” so they wouldn’t do it. Why should they offer discounts? At that stage it was obvious that everything was going to be mobile but the apps weren’t there yet. There is still ample opportunity to take back from Uber and myTaxi.

Every step is different pattern recognition
Finding your opportunity and starting it is one set of patterns. As you grow the idea there will be other patterns and systems to deal with and you may have to learn a whole new dataset for that or bring in people that have the experience to do that. If you want to destroy your company then bring in a team of MBAs to run the place. So this was just the starter course.