The Fat and the Defenders

We are just back from a lovely family holiday on the coast of North Devon. Croyde, Woolacombe, Combe Martin. Beautiful.

And there, rockpooling every day, were fat people, pretty much wherever you looked. Including in the reflection I saw mirrored back at me rock pools.

Seriously. Over the past two or three years I feel like the obesity epidemic has crawled out of the newspapers, radios and TVs as a media story entity and into the playgrounds, swimming pools, schools and streets as a fully formed physical fact.

Isn’t it shocking, seen up close? How fat so many of us have got in the developed world. 😦

I cannot help but think about my diet, and diets and eating in general. I am a poor role model right now. And I cannot help but think about my kids and their diets over the coming years, and kids and their diets and eating in general.

How right did Pixar get it with WALL-E? And how close are we already?!

More importantly, how will we overcome tomorrow’s challenges when we are in such morbidly poor shape?

This concerns me greatly.

Juxtaposed, I am reading some incredible output by two guys in particular on the topic of Resilience: John Robb and Vinay Gupta.

Both of their blogs are absolute must-reads for me. And both of their recent work is incredibly aposite and interesting. You need to read their work.

With these thoughts of fatness at the back of my brain somewhere, two other things collided in my head last week: the first from lusting at the magnificent brand that David Hieatt is creating over at HIUT, and in particular that gorgeous image of the light blue Land Rover Defender; the second from reading on John Robb’s resilience wiki Miiu about resilient cars.

The humble Defender is apparently one of the most resilient cars out there.

It appears on John Robb’s Miiu resilience wiki along with 25+ other ‘autos’ . The Toyota Prius, to my initial surprise, is not resilient by the Miiu community’s definition – it relies too much on the intelligence in its Engine Control Unit:

The basic engine integrated electronic component is called an engine control unit, or an ECU. Because resilient cars do not have advanced ECUs, they are easily fixed and tuned. A simple example of this is idle speed control, which in all new cars, is controlled by the ECU. The idle speed is controlled by the engine RPM. The RPM is monitored by the crankshaft position sensor, which is connected to the ECU. So, if the idle speed is too low, one would have to change it by tuning the ECU, which is an involved process. To tune an ECU, one would have to have an in-depth understanding of engine electronics and possess the knowledge and tools to tune an ECU. This is however, not the case in resilient cars. In resilient cars, the idle speed can be controlled mechanically by rotating a screw connected to the throttle that will increase or decrease idle speed.


In the future, the Defender and its fixable friends win.

And what of us, the humans? What makes for a resilient human? What traits should we seek to develop in ourselves, what skills?

There is a link here between the fat and the Defenders. I cannot quite draw it out, but it is here, just beyond my fingertips.

And though I can’t quite reach it, I instinctively know I want to be a Defender. Adaptable, fixable, resilient. And not too fat to help myself or others 🙂

Time creation, the billion dollar opportunity

Business and entrepreneurial literature describe the big new business opportunities: cleantech, the bottom of the pyramid, health 2.0 and so on it goes.

I believe these are all big, valid market opportunities.

Another one is – or should be – time creation.

Study after study shows that people say they are too busy, that they don’t have enough time. (I was reminded of this today at the Arts Marketing Association’s annual conference in Glasgow where I was part of the opening keynote and where my fellow speaker Jerry Yoshitomi shared a study from New Zealand that showed that by far and away the biggest cited reason for people to not attend arts events was lack of time/too busy.)

These people I refer to are already afforded an abundant life full of necessities and luxuries. They are mostly in the developed world, mostly in the West.

What these people are generally (but not always) driving for are chunked experiences, shorter emails, on-demand stuff that can fit in.

As information overload grows to crisis levels, as our internet addiction spirals and our positive and counterbalancing moves towards greater work life balance and more integrated lives add to the pile of tasks to do, so our time fritters away.

There are products and services that create or reclaim time for us.
The concierge and virtual PA. Google’s Priority Inbox. The Getting Things Done religion. And much more I’m sure.

There are products and services that have sympathy for the time constraints we now willingly live with.
On-demand and catch up TV. Reminder text messages from dentists. Other things you can probably think of.

This is a huge business opportunity. If I were starting a business today I would be asking ‘how does this reclaim time for our customers?’ and ‘how does this play nice and fit into the madly busy lives of our customers?’.

If you believe we could be doing good, useful things with the reclaimed or unlocked time, then this is also an important contribution to society.

Time creation: it’s where the smart money should go.

The Interactive Blackmail Squad: NEW SERVICE!


“As of today I am delighted to announce that we are offering a new high value, long-term investment service.

We call it The Interactive Blackmail Squad.

You give us a list of upto 25 up-and-coming people you think will be movers and shakers in the next 10 years.

They might be competitors, peers, industry rising stars, family members or randoms plucked from a telephone directory.

Using our blackhat techniques, proprietary methods and over-the-counter digital tracking & monitoring technologies we immediately start collating as much of their digital footprint as possible – following them across different avatars and pseudonyms, across different social platforms and spaces, aggregating and storing their contrails and online contributions. (In fact, we may already be tracking them as we add to our database every single day!).

And when it comes to finding them online, there is no place we won’t go!

Annually, we provide you with a bespoke ‘Yearbook’ report into each of their digital lives, detailing uncovered sensitive facts, infographics highlighting interesting trends and patterns in their behaviour and an executive summary of their gaffes, flirtations, mentions of key brands/individuals and any other non-generic statements/actions.

The Yearbook will also include visual graphics depticting your trackees social graph, with a brief narrative on ‘connections of interest’.

We will also contact you at this time to arrange your annual consultation with our Global Privacy Engineers based for a 45 minute VOIP briefing and Q&A. This is your opportunity to really dig deeper.

However, the real value is in the accretion and synthesis of data collated over time. We expect our clients to reap the greatest Return-on-Investment in their 8th, 9th and 10th years of this ten year service – just as their trackees careers reach their apogee. WINNING!

Payment is accepted in Bitcoin (pref) or US Dollars. The service requires an investment of ¢5,000 per trackee, per annum.

Think long-term, pick some winners, and invest today!



What the Hari kerfuffle is really about

Seen from close up the Johann Hari kerfuffle is about accusations of plagiarism, churnalism and therefore the trust in one of Britain’s foremost journalists.

It’s a fair debate, and with Hari’s response and apology today, one I hope will  naturally quieten down soon enough.

But seen from a step back what I feel this is really about is our society grappling and coming to terms with the new transparency that is afforded by the Internet.

The massively connectedness of the internet, the memory storage and recall of technology, and the human intelligence and diverse motivations and interests that reside in our social networks mean that we are in a new age of transparency.

In my opinion we are still only reaching the very earliest and most basic understanding of what this means for our lives and for the world around us.

Related and connected examples must include:

Yesterday I gave a talk at the PR Week ‘Ultimate Crisis Conference’ where I floated the idea that we are entering an Age of Crises.

For me, until we reach a new equilibrium in society – which will include a better understanding of transparency, changed behaviour in ourselves, and adjusted expectations in what we consider to be normal and abnormal behaviour in others – we can expect more of crises like these.

More of the great and the good being challenged, half found out (or not), memos leaked, personal spicy emails massively circulated. Learning the hard way, all of us to some extent, at scale, and in public.

I have no idea how long this will last.

The Hari affair is just another step on the road towards a better understanding of what it is to live in this new world we have created…

Will algorithms make life better?

The idea of algorithms has been knocking around my head lately.

The first was this tweet from Tim Dyson, CEO of NextFifteen, which I can no longer find which said something like:

‘Will algorithms make better decisions for us than we do or can?’.

And I thought: hmmm, that’s interesting.

The second stimulus for these thoughts is the excellent talk by Kevin Slavin on ‘Those algorithms that govern our lives’ which is absolutely required viewing for all.

So with then I’m accepting that algorithms are already hugely influential in my life, and starting to wonder about what life would be like as they become more present, more influential.

And when it comes to our behaviour, I often think about the things we do that we shouldn’t – they’re the interesting bits.

There’s the mundane stuff, like I eat too much, some people might smoke or drive when they could walk (I sometimes do both of these too!) or stare at attractive people, eat noisily etc etc.

And then there’s the big stuff we do that isn’t good for us – the partners we choose, the financial decisions we make, the workplaces and job crap we accept, the roles we play and the behaviours and habits we allow to lead us.

There’s a lot going on that could in theory be improved, if only we could help ourselves, right?

So we could do with some help, in theory at least. This idea that we could somehow Nike+ life in general, optimise LIFE itself is quite a promise (unless you’re healthily sceptical, which I’m getting to a bit later).

Then if I think about how algorithms – in a form to be described e.g. floating voices that follow us around or robot monkeys or computerised jewelery or whatever – started to ‘help’ us make better decisions, what would that be like?

Would they inform us of the full range of options? ‘Will, I see you’re about to order your seventh burger – have you considered the other options…?’

Would they interrupt and take charge? ‘Excuse me sir, but we’d like to cancel that seventh burger – Will’s cholesterol count is perilous’

Would they act ‘non-invasively’, insidiously influencing us FOR OUR OWN GOOD? Me: ‘Weird, I haven’t fancied a burger in ages. Just don’t even like the idea of eating a burger at the moment. Yuck. Got any apples?’.

Perhaps, being on-trend, they’d somehow combine visualization and gamification (add Transmedia for the full bonus point multiplier) and use these powerful levers combined to inform and influence our behaviour? ‘Calories consumed today – 2,587, 7% more than your daily intake, 45% more than other 33 year old males in your neighbourhood’ etc etc

So there’s the whole ‘even if they did exist, how would they manifest themselves’ that I’m sure will be figured out pretty easily.

But the thing that really interests me is then what would life be like in world where this happens universally?

If everything, every edge of our personality, every burr and rough quirk, was evened out like some kind of valium-for-behaviour, thanks to algorithms, what would society be like?

Would algorithms and then perfecting brilliance make life really better?

Would life really be more rich, more deeply satisfying?

Or would we be like GAP advert cut-outs, wandering through clean streets (this is making me think of Malmö in Sweden – a truly lovely place to visit), pastel-coloured pullovers drawn over our shoulders, sipping healthy volumes of mineral water and smiling like lunatics?

To me, that’s repulsive, shallow, uniform, repugnant. Just awful.

The last bit of this thought about algorithms brings me eventually to art.

In my philistine and fairly primitive mind I end up thinking, ‘what is the opposite of consistent and optimised and right-first-time?’. And I’ve probably got the wrong end of the stick but I end up thinking that maybe art is the last bastion of humanity – maybe this is what art is, the mess, the edge.

And then, just as I think I’ve figured it out – that algorithms will make life better (shallow), but not BETTER (deep) – I remember the art that Matt Pearson aka Zen Bullets creates or at least oversees. It may be worth noting that Matt also does not see this as art, but we disagree on this.

And so there it is, in all of its glory: art created by fucking algorithms!

And at this point I give up. I submit to the all-pervading algorithms. Will algorithms make life better? Shit, I hope so. I guess our only help is in influencing the definition of ‘better’ 🙂

The internet and Brighton, our digital city

The Argus, our local paper here in Brighton, asked me to write a piece on the social networks.

Earlier in the week I’d had an enjoyable conversation with Jo Wadsworth of that same newspaper about how I felt their news was disappointingly negative.

I really respect Jo’s opinion, and I felt I got a good drubbing and ended up the sad little optimist, defeated by a healthy dose of ‘reality’.

This summed up the conversation for me (click to biggify):

Conversation about news between Jo Wadsworth and Will McInnes

Good news doesn’t work – bah, grrr and nooooooooo!

Anyway, I wanted to write something that did address the dark side of the social web – the reality of snark, bile and polarised opinion. But maybe also highlighted some things we can do, some reasons for optimism.

It’s a bit long. I wouldn’t read it 🙂


Let’s start with the dark side.

Perhaps it’s the grey weather, but I’ve been thinking recently that there are times when nowhere is darker or more negative than the web. A quick trawl of the comments on any newspaper website, videosharing or social networking space usually quickly reveal the very worst of our collective bile.

That’s tough for those on the receiving end.

The kind of specific, personal sniping previously limited to politicians, celebrities and other public figures is now reaching into all of our every day lives. Schools – see Varndean’s spat with a mocking if fairly benign student campaign in Facebook and now Twitter – and teachers, event organisers, colleagues and mid-ranking bosses, shop keepers, hoteliers, mums in the playground – are all at the wrong end of digital sniping.

The things is, most of us don’t really want to live our lives in the public eye – it’s not what we signed up for in life! But one effect that online social networks have is to enable gossip, leaked memos, photographs and general “snark” to spread instaneously and with much less hassle and effort than before. One dodgy photo uploaded and we could be Tuesday morning’s unwitting internet superstar.

A number of the web’s characteristics seem to lend themselves to skewing this aspect of the web towards the darkside, but anonymity is usually cited as the most influential. The fact that any of us can pretty easily conceal our identities online removes inhibition in a big way. No holding back! And for many this has evolved into a daily pursuit – ‘trolling’, the act of deliberately starting arguments online, and the constant invocation of Godwin’s Law (Google it).

Even so I remain resolutely positive about the impact that the internet can and already is having in society. Despite the bile and negativity, positively world-changing things are happening both generally and specifically in this city of ours.

If we play our cards right Brighton can really come into its own in the next decade. This funny little city of ours has somehow grown a community of digital businesses and organisations that stands out in Europe and perhaps beyond.

This community includes video game companies, creative agencies, digital marketers and a thriving sector of independent web freelancers and expert practitioners. It is a marvellous and mixed party pack of “internetty” talent.

In 2009 an HSBC report picked Brighton as one of 5 ‘Super Cities’ set to thrive in the emerging knowledge economy. With 11% of our workforce employedin creative industries versus a 3% national average, this isn’t a foamy marketing claim – this is real.

So what now? Given the shocking and continued impact that the recession and its fallout is having on many people’s livelihoods, I believe this is too serious an opportunity to be relegated to the ‘nice little media sector’ box.

This isn’t just a business or a ‘creative sector’ thing. It is and can continue to be a city-wide thing. The city council is making positive noises about both supporting this growth and also harnessing the power of the web to improve its own shape and performance. (When you have to reduce your budget by as much as they do, there’s a real imperative to change – but their kind of change is incredibly painful and wide-ranging in its effects).

Other associated movements in the city are gaining momentum and need to be nourished and celebrated.

The Open Data project, kindled by Greg Hadfield of Cogapp, describes itself as “a collaborative project to transform Brighton and Hove into a world-class open-data city, in which all citizens can together lead more rewarding, more prosperous, and more fulfilling lives”. That might sound a tad ambitious for us slightly sceptical Brits, but I do believe in this project. If we can embrace the disruptive changes that the internet will wreak anyway, and consider how city-life can be improved by opening up and joining up information sources, and show the rest of the world an example, then we will all benefit.

Take, for example, the link between information about public transport (like when the next bus is coming) and the challenge of creating healthier habits around exercise and reducing carbon emissions. Or the opportunity of matchmaking the time and experience that older people have, who are also often lonely – which is a significant health risk – with school-age kids whose reading ability is behind where it could be. If we can find city-wide ways to helpfully connect, we can truly improve lives.

The second and closely-related initiative worth joining in with is CityCamp Brighton. Again, this is a free, volunteer-driven effort to apply the skills and ideas of Brightonians to the goal of making the city better. With a sleeves-rolled-up ethos, open participation and serious attention from city leaders, this is your and my opportunity to get stuck in to the job of creating a more enriching future for Brighton & Hove.

By way of explanation and disclosure, we believe in the City Camp format enough to have ‘sponsored’ it through the leadership and hard work of Max St John in our team, working with The Democratic Society and Public-i, two other progressive organisations that care about this goal. I know they are actively welcoming involvement so do get on board.

When I think about the web, it can be overwhelming in its many facets – good and bad. Nevertheless, today the real potential of the web to make life tangibly better is slowly emerging, and with it is our chance as a city and a society to take a big step forward. The time for action is now: get involved.


You know me, the President

I live in the future and I am the President / Prime Minister / CEO / Trustee / Mother / Father / Teacher / Religious or Community leader / person held ultimately responsible.

I am the guide, the role model, the leader, the holder of what is right and what should be.

I am, like you now are, in the public eye.

You can find photos of me, playing with friends, making rude gestures, drunk, sad, alone, with friends, high, doing things I shouldn’t be, wearing preposterous clothes.

Photos of me as a kid, as a teen, as young adult – it’s all there. First day at school, first day in a job, graduating from a college, first love, first tattoo / make-up / rebellious hair cut.

You can find words I wrote about streets, towns, cities, people, groups of people, the disadvantaged, ‘foreigners’ – disparaging, insulting, things written from passing trains, things written in bad moods, happy nothings, ‘what I had for breakfast’-isms, throwaway remarks preserved for ever more.

Reviews I wrote, fumbling exploratory blog posts I crafted, illustrations sketched, ideas half-developed.

Video upon video – built up over time like layers of soil and rock. Learning to walk, learning to speak, learning to ride a bike, learning to live. Hundreds, more like thousands of videos of amateur messy video of me, back then.

There are the streams of music I listened to, web pages I bookmarked, photos I shared, articles I commented on. Hundreds of thousands of emails. Video game scores, pseudonyms, handles, avatars and other identities.

It’s all there.

This is me, the President. You know me. So what is life like now?

The future-now of Publishing and Music

I have an innate love for the Publishing business. It’s a family thing and runs deep.

My mum was an editor and published writer, my uncle is a hugely talented professional illustrator, my Dad’s nickname – we found out through a school friend who had a part-time job at the local library in  Hove – was ‘Mr Library Man’ for all the yellow card tabs he’d bring in every week, ordering more and more books in 🙂

And so it continues: my sister works in publishing, so does my cousin.

But my love of publishing was never really to do with all that ‘big publishing’ thing. It was more the fact that I was able to create whole worlds of my own, sat on my own at home.

I used to write stuff at home, stuff for Dungeons and Dragons that was mainly just for me, a highly profitable, highly inappropriate every-so-often newsletter for my Air Training Cadets ‘squadron’.

And the miracle was hitting PRINT and seeing my world coming to life – leaving the old Apple Mac and entering the real world. It’s that paper thing, that tangible thing, that same moment when you get your first business cards done, or see your website go live. Freedom! Self-expression!! BOOM.

For those kind of reasons I’m really really gripped by how publishing is evolving at the moment, right before our very eyes.

Industries are supposed to evolve over years – like glaciers – but watching the Publishing, Music and Big Media businesses, it really feels like watching a timelapse video turned up to 11. The changes happening right here, right now. It’s not a distant future, but more like a future-now.

Of particular interest and excitement to me are:

  • The impact of Kindle and iPad on the book publishing world
  • The grasping for new business models in the music business

In the book publishing world I am fantastically excited by The Domino Project – its DNA a double-helix of Seth Godin the digital seer, and Amazon the gigantically successful ecommerce and digital content business.

If they can’t make a dent in the problem of how to really create value with content in a networked world, I’m not sure who can.

And this whole post was prompted by this short but very interesting Nieman Lab piece on how libertarian economist and published author Tyler Cowen has published his latest book as an ebook only at $4.

This is the pivotal comment, for me:

JB: If the ebook platform didn’t exist, what do you think you would have done with the book’s content? Chop it down to a magazine piece? Turn it into a series of blog posts? Inflate it up to 250-page hardcover length? Would it have found a useful life otherwise?

TC: No ebook format, no book. At least in this case. I may try the format again, of course. I don’t like to stretch ideas to excessive length and magazines often want everything to be driven by the anecdote, which doesn’t really fit here.

Here’s a guy in control of his destiny – multiply published in real books, with a very successful blog behind him, choosing a digital format because it suits his goals.

Not about desperation and survival, instead this is about picking and chosing, about having real options, and addressing the digital world as a true native, not a latecoming and awkward newbie.

In the music business I have less practical experience and knowledge, but through a friend who has been a successful artist in a top-selling band and who now manages a number of acts as a professional manager I’m starting to learn just how much needs to change in that world.

This friend is trying to create a new kind of organisation in music: cutting out major labels, managing and actually incubating the talent, bringing into their influence the relationship with the audience, testing and proving/disproving the 1000 true fans model, rejecting the 360 degree model, creating direct and warmer relationships with their fans, and trying to invent new sustainable business models. Cool challenge eh?!

If I was going to do a start up today, it would definitely be in the media ‘space’ – you have to call it a space when you’re talking startup lingo (as a friend said – what happens if you’re in the Space business, do you call it the space space?!!) – probably not music because I know the least, but certainly publishing or possibly TV (which I haven’t touched on because I don’t need to – see my colleague Anna’s fantastic Tellyflux blog on the future-now of TV).

Amazing times.

Bookshelves of the future

I suddenly began to think about the books that we have on the bookshelves at NixonMcInnes.

Each one that I have read represents a mini-journey, sometimes just a step and sometimes a leap.

Each one is remembered for its key ideas, the time and place that it was read in – each book tagged with memories and expectations.

And together they represent more – an aggregate, a narrative of the journey particularly because we were reading them to learn and directly inform the company’s early development. Part of our ‘street MBA’, to borrow from a Spanish colleague on a recent course.

Which got me to bookshelves.

Bookshelves as containers for memories.
Bookshelves as stories.
Bookshelves as trophy cabinets.
Bookshelves as personal or group manifesto.

Now, with my Kindle clutched, what will my bookshelf be or do?

Now, with content and ideas fragmenting and my learning happening just in time, facts fetched by search engine and feeds gather by reader, links stumbled upon in social networks, how will I curate my own bookshelf?

How will I remember what I got from where? Most importantly to me how will I share what I’ve found and enjoyed?

I wonder.


Suddenly, probably just to me, it seems like the world is awash with futurists.

Thinkers, futurologists, labs, institutes and ‘tanks.

But the other current ripping under this visible tide is the makers, the do-ers.

Do lectures, inspired by and inspiring people that do. Makers faires and hacker spaces and Etsy. Hexayurt and Global Guerillas. Not so much futurists as right-fucking-Now-ists.

With the world spinning as it is towards a very different way of being I suppose we need both.

But when the revolution comes I know who I’ll want on my side.