The Man of Steel

Three weeks into growing a beard, I watched Man of Steel last night while folding laundry and drinking decaffeinated mint tea.  There’s a point in the movie when The Man is speaking to Lois Lane and she asks about the symbol on his chest.  She remarks it looks like an ‘S’ and he responds that “on his planet it’s not an ‘S’’s a symbol for hope.”  She persists, and The Man becomes known as Superman.

Superhero’s are in fashion again.  At the gym, which I joined to rebuild my body after years of neglect, men and women wear Superman’s symbol on T-shirts and shorts.  It’s not just for kids anymore.  Now more than ever, we feel the need to tap into something greater.  We need to feel stronger and more resilient.  We hope.

Yesterday I woke at 5:30am without an alarm and drifted into my kitchen for coffee.  I wrote in my new journal for an hour, made a sandwich of egg, ham and cheese before changing into workout clothes.  I delivered my son’s skateboard and phone to their mother’s home by 7:30am.  Most mornings we would get ready for school or camp.  I drove 30 minutes in traffic to my gym and spent an hour pushing muscle and bone through limits.   I spent the day at work.  Took the car in for an oil change.  Spoke to friends and family along the way.  Avoided traffic by stopping for sushi.  Shared worlds and words with Gabrielle over Skype later that evening after folding laundry and drinking tea.

In the early morning making eggs and lunches, in the creation of art, in showing up for work, in taking care of my children and myself,  in helping others, in loving a woman, in making a home, I am a man of steel.  Or so I hope.



Adobe Summit 2013: Breaking Wind In Stratospheric Freefall

LEGO ManWith less than 10 minutes of oxygen, the Adobe Sales Machine took one last look at the  heavens before plunging towards the curvature of the Earth Baumgartner-style.  The audience was surprisingly calm during flat-spin moments like the windy soliloquy from Deloitte, sporting a ‘Felix’ haircut and inspiring most of us to take up BASE jumping without a parachute.

When Felix (yes…the Felix) appeared on stage the over-30 crowd silently begged him to shout “You ah a girlie mahn!  I whant to pump YOU up!!” at the other sissies twittering about their make-up time.  Robbed of hypnotic LED waves and glowing podiums, Adobe Summit 2013 had no choice but to jump down-to-earth towards hard, rocky content.  And for those of us watching from ground zero, it was an awesome spectacle.

Adobe Summit 2013 hit its stride when it simply gave in to moments of rock star content.  The flat-spin focused into a supersonic free-fall that pushed hard against barriers acoustic, industrial and institutional.  Salman Khan, founder of The Kahn Academy, earned every ounce of standing ovation by connecting Summit to a larger social cause.

Carrie Brownstein, sharing an internal monologue about her personal dilemma relating to the social internet, graced Summit with an artistic spark.  In contrast to the poor nerd begging for applause after recreating the WIPRO sunflower (something to do with sentiment analysis), Carrie pulled off poetry on a screen the size of house.

And yes, The Black Keys literally broke sound barriers at Adobe Summit 2013 with a performance that was nothing short of stunning.  With 5000 conference attendees this year, some of the edges thinned (food was underwhelming) but nothing brings analytical nerds together like a mind-blowing performance from a grammy winning rock band.

Oh right, about those Digital Marketing sessions…

I attended the Adobe UnSummit again this year a day before The Main Event.  We spent the afternoon in a sunlit venue at the top of The Leonardo Museum downtown.  Industry practitioners from leading organizations presented their latest achievements and challenges, while a few consultants hung out on the sidelines. Afterwards, the general consensus was that Adobe would be hard pressed to deliver richer content for only $57.

At the Adobe Summit I attended sessions on Mobile Optimization, Personalization, and the Creative Process.  I had received a few insider tips to help me select the sessions, and in a totally informal, non-scientific poll afterwards the results were not surprising.  When Adobe ran the show, attendees spent more time checking Facebook and sneaking out for snacks.  When a live human client was given the stage to tell a story, Q&A ran into overtime.

I was swept into the uber-analyst crowd later one evening…people who slide into a posh bar after 11pm, order soft drinks, and talk eVars and props until it becomes even more weird to continue the conversation at the local Denny’s over a 1am skillet breakfast.

The uber-analyst crowd was excited.  There was plenty of geek twitter over Sneaks such as AutoMagical-SAINT-watcha-ma-call-it, and the inferno of something called BoomData (BOOM!) feeding a dark, black Marketing Cloud.  Hey, they may be a bit slow to implement stuff but you have to give Adobe credit for knowing its customers’ hot buttons.

I returned to Boston a few days later, unpacked and bumped into a small box adorned with the trademark Adobe Summit neon-digital wave pattern.  Inside was a TUMI smartphone charger in a neat leather case.  It’s a high-quality, useful sort of thing.

Adobe Summit took a stratospheric leap of faith in 2013, landing on solid ground by ultimately delivering a high-quality, useful sort of experience.

Do Ice Cubicles Freeze Innovation?

IKEA meets Office CubeThe fastest way to freeze innovation is to stick your employees in an ice cube tray.  “Clean, very white, and efficient” rarely describe the creative workspace.

In “A Capitalist’s Dilemma, Whoever Wins this Tuesday,” Clayton M. Christensen describes three types of innovations: Empowering, Sustaining and Efficiency.  Christensen argues that the US has under-invested in Empowering innovation that “transform complicated and costly products available to a few into simpler, cheaper products available to the many.”  I argue that large-scale irony happens when the workforce building Empowering innovation shows up to an office built for Efficiency.

“How do you like your new space?”

The truth is that I like the aesthetics of my new workspace, pictured above.  I live in a contemporary house, and I enjoy modernist design.  But I don’t think it’s the right design Al Gore's Officefor a team tasked with Empowering innovation. By comparison, take a look at this photo of Al Gore’s office space.  Countless stacks of research piled across a broad workspace. A triptych of flat-panel monitors serve a smorgasbord of information to the former Vice President.  We don’t need to know exactly what he’s staring at.  This is the portrait of an Information Artist delivering  Empowering innovation on a global scale.

In contrast, take a look at this photo of a garment factory in the 1970s.  Workers are organized for efficiency and provided just enough space for the tools of their trade and for temporary storage of the end product.1970s Textile Factory  And this is the industrial workspace we expect to see when Efficient innovation is the primary driver.  Assuming that this factory was operated in accordance with the fair labor laws of the time, there is nothing wrong with this use of space. We can assume that workers and management were in agreement about the purpose of the space.  This was a playground for Efficient innovation.  You can almost imagine the man standing at center with a clipboard and stopwatch, trying to figure out how to best organize workers, space, equipment and time to maximize production.

So what’s the problem with my clean, very white, efficient cube pictured above?

The issue is that the space is clean, very white, and efficient.  It was designed to support a factory of Information Workers.  One argument for the new design was that it increases collaboration.  The cube walls are only half-height.  Look at the picture of the textile factory again.  While there is no physical barrier to collaboration, we don’t see any hobnobbing either.  And why should we?  The purpose of the space is to get the craft done efficiently.  I haven’t seen any new collaboration since occupying my cube.  In fact, voices have dropped to a whisper.Holliston Mills Art Studio

But the real problem with my clean, very white, efficient cube is that my team does not identify with the Information Workforce.  We are creative professionals, Information Artists who prefer massive amounts of data served raw, messy and spilling across the monitors and tables.

A workspace needs to support more than the number of workers.  A workspace is an asset shared by management and staff towards a common innovative purpose.

Yard Sale Segmentation

Toy Getting Kicked Out of the PenAfter vomiting the last room of neglected toys, shrunken clothing, and low-mileage tricycles across my front yard, I inhaled a sip of coffee while a stocky plumber hopped out of his truck and walked purposefully towards my suburban sprawl.

“You have any guns, knives, bows, arrows or other firearms?”

I glanced at the Red Flyer scooter parked next to a bin of baby clothing, and then down towards a massive collection of kindergarten puzzles my neighbor was trying to unload.

“Um.  No.”

John turned out to be an alright guy.  He told stories about riding his motorcycle down our street before it was developed in the ’80s.  He wandered from table to table chatting with my neighbors, wishing us all the best of luck, and quietly organizing our junk into neat little piles.  I don’t remember if he purchased anything, but he had a good time heckling a few local yard sale regulars.

Ten minutes before the sale began, a suburban mom pulled up in a minivan and identified the best quality items with surgical precision.  She didn’t try to haggle, and presumably she already knew that we had priced the larger items to move.  She politely asked if I could help her load up her van, paid the tab from a fresh fold of $20 bills, and walked over to another table.

An older fellow edged his crumbling Buick into the curb, and took his time leaving the driver seat.  He shuffled along the road, Parkinson’s weighting down every step like a sack of sand.  Bill, the name stitched in cursive on his mechanic’s jacket, spoke with softened commands.  “I’ll take that…you want $10?  How about $5?”  He purchased a few items I was happy to discount, asked me to place them on hold, and drove away.  He came back a few hours later in a shiny new pickup, made a few more purchases at discount, and adamantly refused my help loading up the truck.

A mother expecting her second child arrived with husband and kid #1 in tow.  She talked with my wife while purchasing clothing for the baby and a toy kitchen with tea set for the soon-to-be big sister.  The husband was in a good mood, and he rifled through a box of classic video-games while the little girl hung on his leg.

Various older women sifted through our boxes of used books longer than most.  One took a stack from the free pile to share with her charity.  We accumulated a small library over the years, with sufficient quantity and quality to interest almost anyone looking for a good read.  Our visitors lingered over the titles, talking about the authors, asking my wife for her opinions, and sharing recommendations of their own.  I think we only sold one book for a dollar to a woman who actually smelled the pages while her husband pretended not to be bored.

By the numbers, the suburban mom who arrived early spent the most money in the least amount of time.  The older fellow who liked to haggle came in second.  Yard sale professionals…or what I would call Loyal Customers in the online space.

All of our neighbors had a rich assortment of merchandise.  And since we live next to each other, from the customer’s perspective the assortment seemed especially deep.  However my yard had the largest selection of books (and video games).  Visitors spent time rummaging from box to box, talking about books, organizing the stacks, and occasionally taking one out for a closer look.  While we didn’t sell many books, these Visitors (or their spouses) purchased more on average.  In the online space we would call them Highly Engaged based on their browse behavior.

At the end of the day we made a few hundred dollars.  About half of our sales came from a few Loyal Yard Sale Customers.  The rest trickled in from Browsers; grandparents, expectant mothers, and charitable buyers looking to support a church or preschool in need.

At its worst, Personalization quantifies a cardboard cutout of your customer and leaves you throwing beanbag offers at its head.  In any mass commerce, on your lawn or on the Web, fertilize your assortment with explorable content and document how customers self-organize into segments.  You will quickly learn when it makes sense to hurl that horseshoe of an offer, run back to the house for some new junk, or simply sit back and enjoy the small community growing in your yard.