What’s up with Google Search on Mobile?

Seen below Google has three different search experiences on my iPhone and I’m not sure which result to trust. I’m torn between choosing Thai Select, Aceluck, or Pongsri. I’m certainly not going to go to menupages.com because that isn’t a restaurant and, knowing Google keywords, smacks of advertising. I think I’m going to go to Aceluck because I’m using Maps and I’d like to find one close to work. And it has a higher rating. Pongsri is just way too far away and those search results in Safari seem just plain wonky. Thai Select in Google is just too expensive and has a lower rating. So I think I’m going to stick with the results in Maps.

A colleague just noted that scale changes per app. Maps offers the most contextually relevant (“closest to me”) results while Google and Safari each take a consecutive step out.



Mobile applications sort themselves out into various categories – but nearly all have one desire in common – they’d like to engage you. Please. Preferably in a manner that will have you coming back for more. But most applications fail to achieve this because they lack a concept I call presence. Presence, as I see it,  is the ability to manipulate and present data in such a manner that you feel the application expressing a character – and a clear purpose – as you interact with it. The more presence an app has the closer you feel the intention of the maker.

When an application lacks presence the time on the device is measured in minutes or hours. When an application has presence the time on the device has the potential of relationship. Many developers who focus too much on the expression of a technology can lose sight of this and the experience of the application becomes hollow – a one off, “yeah, that was cool but…”. It’s a bells and whistles app without a soul. It’s an empty shell, a ghost.

Presence can be described and developed in a product road map. A well defined product roadmap is like a story arc. The purpose of any good story arc is to keep the reader engaged along a series of state changes. A good state change keeps you on the edge of your seat. A series of good state changes becomes a page turner. State changes in application design are features that are designed in order to enhance the user experience – over time. These can be subtle or rich. They can be conveyed in a simple reminder email, a new feature or content.

Though unlike the linear construct of a story arc app developers and designers can embed feedback loops which themselves contribute to the arc – beyond the narrative. A responsive product lifecycle increases presence and relationship as the application itself develops a meaningful purpose for the user. We all like apps, and will continue to use apps, that have a well defined (and simple to understand) purpose.

So the next time you develop an app think presence.

Entrepreneurialism – from a cultural point of view

I sent along my post in response to Friedman’s article to a close friend who works for the world’s largest NGO. He’s an economist and has been trying to instill the spirit and practice of entrepreneurialism both within his organization and in developing countries around the world. This is his response;

“What is interesting is the cultural attitude towards failure and how, apart from some parts of American society, it is somewhat to extremely negative everywhere else.

Its not surprising as in some places entrepreneurial bankruptcy can mean jumping off a bridge and having your family locked into slave labour for a generation or two. In other places you just loose your reputation and people avoid doing business with you. Here in la Suisse, declaring bankruptcy means no bank will touch you or extend short term finance.

This is not surprising and it turns out most biz gets seed funding from the 3 Fs: family, friends and fools.

At work I have been trying for years to get people to accept a try-fail-rinse-repeat approach. Even though there is is no financial risk to bear and you almost can’t get fired, people refuse to be involved in stuff that cannot be declared at least an important – if not huge – success in advance: reputation matters. Fake success is better than real success if it means risking failing even a little bit.

I think these cultural perceptions are so deeply ingrained that there is no fixing or changing.”

Discouraging to say the least so I quickly wrote this response to his email;

Okay. I’m going to let you in on a little secret that’s going to help your entrepreneurial kids. Yes, failure can suck, no two ways about it but there is a work around that will help you learn more about your target audience before you or your investors have to dole out loads of cash. It’s called MVP, or minimally viable product. Teach your kids that and they will have a leg up.

What is MVP you might ask? It is the absolute reduction of whatever product or service you are offering that will express your business idea the most succinctly and is targeted and developed for maximum learning. So, imagine that I am developing a mobile app and I want to test my idea before committing to the expense of hiring someone to either design or code the thing. Both of which take time, effort and…money (and reputation). Sketch out your idea in all its facets. And then go back through it and reduce it to its core elements that will most clearly express your business model. Let’s say it is a movie app where you want to be able to buy tickets to just the French movies playing in your neighborhood. Sketch it out. In all it’s gloriousness. And then reduce it so that just a few features express your idea the most clearly. Could it be that there is a simile of the ticket in the app that is in French? Could it be that the app talks to you in French once you’ve bought the ticket? Keep going. And then once you’ve decided on what your MVP will do sketch it out again. And, here’s the kicker, take that sketched idea and go outside and start talking with people. You don’t need to talk to a lot. Five or less. Ten if you want to go crazy. Take their feedback and then iterate. Do it again and again until you’ve honed your MVP down to the point where you feel confident that everyone you show it to “gets it” and, hopefully, loves it. If they don’t love it, try something else.

I did this last year with the app I designed and built. It is a radically different way to think – and do.

The mode of entrepreneurialism you speak of is old skool. Too much commitment to finding the dollars in your model. And you are right, all that you speak of in that mode are typical of that path. Especially the failure part. If you manage to go out and find funding for what you are doing – old skool style – and you fail, it is very likely that you won’t get funding again. Failure, in this case, is usually based on a few simple facts. 1. Your business model sucked. 2. You didn’t test it with your target audience. 3. And you probably got funded too fast which got you complacent and you sat on your ass raking it in, or so you thought, when you should have been plotting out your product lifecycle.

So that’s it. The VC money in the US is now following those who fail, and those who learn from their failure and get back up and do it again. And again. Grit, persistence and drive. When you pitch VCs they buy you first and your idea second. If they can see that you have that drive, grit and persistence they’ll back you. But if you are in any way fearful or unsure of your idea or unwilling to learn or pivot they’ll sniff that out from a hundred yards and pass. VCs are very very good with the sniff.

Read Steve Blank. Sit down with your kids and watch his videos. Buy his book. And get cracking. Life is short. And the world is crazy full of opportunities. Looking for a job sucks. And working for the man sucks harder. Help them invent their own. Give them that leg up. Show them Kickstarter. Invent ideas along with them.

The best skill to have? In my opinion it has got to be an inherent ability to express your ideas clearly – and visually. Not only being able to write about it coherently but also the ability to sketch the heck out of it quickly. Give your kids drawing lessons. Lots of them. The worst thing to have in life is a lack of ability to express your ideas. That sucks. Write write write. Draw draw draw. And encourage them to doodle in the margins of everything they read. It has to be developed and must come naturally as a second language. Period.

And remember the words of Yoda…”do or not do, there is no try”.

Thomas Friedman’s article – NYTimes – Need a job? Invent it!

This is mandatory reading for us parents who are looking for ways to give our kids a leg up in this new (and future) economy of ours. I apologize for the long windedness of this post and warn that it will take you more than a few minutes to get through it all – but please try.

The title of Friedman’s article in the NYTimes this past weekend is a little deceptive (here’s a link to the original article – http://nyti.ms/13LO2Pj). It should be – “Why (public) School Sucks for Kids and the Future of this Country”. He’s quoting from and discussing ideas from a recent book by Tony Wagner called “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World”. Here’s some of the juicy bits from Friedman’s article;

1.  K-12 and college tracks are not consistently “adding the value and teaching the skills that matter most in the marketplace.”

2. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever. That is, it either requires more skill or can be done by more people around the world or is being buried — made obsolete — faster than ever. Which is why the goal of education today, argues Wagner, should not be to make every child “college ready” but “innovation ready” — ready to add value to whatever they do.

3. “Today,” he said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge.

4. “Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” he said. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.”

5. “We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. “Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”

6. “Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world,” he said, “and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready.’  They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives — all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. In the U.S., 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Initiative and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21 are developing new approaches to teaching 21st-century skills. There are also a growing number of ‘reinvented’ colleges like the Olin College of Engineering, the M.I.T. Media Lab and the ‘D-school’ at Stanford where students learn to innovate.”

You can also watch Tony Wagner explain more about his ideas during last year’s TEDexNYED here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvDjh4l-VHo – here are some of my notes from his presentation;

1. Knowledge today is a commodity – the world no longer cares whether or not you are smarter than a 5th grader or good at Trivial Pursuit (just Google that shit) – what the world cares about is not what you know, but what you can do with what you know.

2. Do you have the skill and do you have the will to use what you know?

3. Wagner’s seven core competencies are;

a. critical thinking (the ability to ask the right questions) and problem solving

b. collaboration across networks and leading by influence

c. agility and adaptability

d. initiative and entrepreneurialism

e. effective oral and written communication skills

f. accessing and analyzing information

g. curiosity and imagination

4. half of all recent college grads are either underemployed or unemployed, a third are living at home

5. In 2007 the savings rate was minus two percent for all americans – we created an economy based on people spending money they do not have to buy things they do not need threatening the planet in the process.

6. Tony Wagner interviewed successul twenty year olds – their parents and their teachers – and found that every teacher or mentor whom the twenty year old mentioned as an influence on their careers was an outlier in his or her school setting.

7. The culture of schooling is radically at odds with the culture of learning that produces innovators

a. culturally we celebrate and reward individual achievement – but innovation is a team sport

b. the world of innovation is inter-disciplinary – for the past 105 years we have been using “Carnegie Units” to designate areas of specialization (chemistry, math, english, history)  – innovation is inter-disciplinary

c. the culture of schooling today is all about risk aversion and penalizing failure – the student’s job is figuring out what the teacher(or the test) needs – the world of innovation is all about taking risks, failing and learning from them – at Owen College (which Tony Wagner claims is now the best college in the US)  “we don’t talk about failure anymore, we talk about iteration” – learn that you can recover from a mistake (and you don’t want to learn that at 35 because it hurts a lot more then)

d. the culture of learning in school is about passive consumption – we “sit and get ” all day long (perfect for making us into little consumers and factory workers and totally not appropriate for the world today

e. we are extrinsically motivated to perform well in school – money for good grades – the innovators that he interviewed are far more intrinsically motivated because they want to make a difference in the world – so how do parents encourage this? play to passion to purpose – parents and teachers alike encouraging more exploratory play, with fewer toys and less screen time, more time that was unstructured, parents and teachers who encouraged a passion

Kids who had developed a passion had morphed into adults who had a deeper sense of purpose – parents and teachers alike said, “give back, make a difference” – and all of them (the successful innovators) shared this value.

Here’s his website with a link to his book and more – http://www.tonywagner.com/

Pass it on!

Is Growth Hacking Nonsense?

I had to jump in. This is my contribution to this (http://bit.ly/growth_hack) discussion on Quora;

I walked into a talk a few months ago here in New York where a self-proclaimed growth hacker gave his spiel about the practice. The room was overcrowded and people were hanging on to the walls eager to get their questions answered at the end of his presentation. The questions and discussion went on and on and way over the allotted time we had in the room. It was clear to me that growth hacking was the buzz word du jour. But rather than dismissing it as a fad or a self aggrandizing propaganda tool I want to acknowledge the enthusiasm that everyone in that room felt. Yes, it is not unlike the responsibilities of a product manager or even a CMO. Yet what I saw in the youthfulness of the presenter was the future of what I believe marketing – and advertising should and will become.  In the old days we used to message out. “Try our product, it is so awesome” and we would take that very same message and drape it with all sorts of entertainment value and we would get very clever about it and sometimes people would remember the product or service that was associated with the message. But most of the time they would not. And then came the web when advertisers tried it some more and they noticed that messaging out was becoming less effective. And then came mobile when everyone noticed that messaging out was not only ineffective but gosh darned annoying. Think about it. This may sound pedantic to most of you but your mobile device is the most personal thing you carry. It’s what connects you to your friends and the world around you. And most people would rather forget their wallets at home then forget their phone.

So advertising has no place on mobile. But smart marketing does. And this is where growth hacking fits in. Born from the world of technology growth hacking is about optimizing the user experience so that your user becomes your advocate. And thus, no need to advertise because, as we know, the most effective advertising is word-of-mouth. Especially amongst friends. And their friends. And their friends.

From what I can tell, growth hacking is in its early phase. Most practitioners are young and haven’t been through the full customer life cycle, the ups and downs, of a product launch. Or a brand crash. Witness the ups and downs of some of our most valued brands – like Facebook or Instagram – as they bumble (and shed users) with privacy issues and things they should know better to mess around with. And most are still figuring out the loyalty thing and how to retain the user/customer over time. I mean, gosh, how many apps do you still use?

Let me step away from the title for a second and let me tip my hat for the enthusiasm of the movement. It is a pragmatic approach to a very simple idea – how to make your product – or service – better. And it reminds me of the early days of advertising when, in the early twenties, advertising agencies partnered with manufacturers to make their products better. Before agencies became all about the message out the best of them were actively involved in the product life cycle because most manufacturers had no internal marketing, or product management, team. And before they became all about the message out the best agencies spent enormous time researching customers and helping to hone the business model. And many times even affecting the actual design of the product itself (think the Coke bottle).  The best agencies and marketing teams still do this but growth hacking, in my humble opinion, is at the tip of the spear of a new wave and age of product and service design and development because they are actively aware of the user/customer FIRST and are not encumbered by the legacy of a management team who are stuck in the world of “message out”.

Yes, you will have charlatans, snake charmers and hoodwinkers but the best growth hackers will drive real value. And that is how they should be measured. So give them a break. The best will float to the top and their products will show it. Let’s see where they go. I feel fully confident that they will upend the industry and make all marketers, product and service designers and product managers smarter and better.

Here’s the link to a Growth Hacking course on Udemy – http://www.udemy.com/growth-hacking-lean-marketing-for-startups/

Here’s a good definition – http://blog.hartleybrody.com/growth-hacker-definition/

And here’s a conference – http://growthhackersconference.com/

Brand Flow – part one

Brand Flow is an illustration of brand engagement across various touchpoints. It helps to have a mental model that indicates movement through a brand – as a customer would normally experience it across time. The categories or platforms of engagement are discretionary and depend on business objectives. Brand Flow is an excellent tool to use during the audit phase of a brand as it can quickly clarify where brand engagement is broken. 

Topologies of Engagement

I’ve been developing several different mental models to help visualize a theory of brand that can be easily understood. In a Topology of Engagement the expanse of the customer experience is visualized. Via platforms that add value to the exchange the experience itself becomes non-linear. Most models like to portray this experience as a pathway – a customer journey. While this framework might suffice as a quick look at the importance of engagement it is inadequate at portraying the complexities of customer choice. Some customers may only choose to engage at one point. Others might choose to engage at many. When the platforms are viewed discretely and layered appropriately the topologies of engagement can be viewed for what they could become – engagement points that can create value at any single instance. This changes the emphasis from a linear path to a point of engagement – which is the way most customers experience a brand.