Thursday, March 31, 2016

The ‘Art’ In Artificial Intelligence

Author Brian Green once said that art makes us human. Across the board it seems that many of us agree. Some call it culture, some call it creativity, but we all seem to believe that art in some form differentiates us humans from the rest of the living world or other forms of intelligence.

A recent report from UK-based innovation org Nesta argues that countries should nurture their creative industries and concentrate on jobs in creative industries as artificial intelligence might take other jobs away. But what happens when artificial intelligence starts to create art, which we thought was a just-human domain?

Google recently held an exhibition in San Francisco which featured art created by its ‘art generator’ Deep Dream. I have to say the art pieces – they sold for quite a bit by the way – were intriguing.

Google’s Deep Dream works with neural networks. Usually mechanisms like that are used to identify photos or faces online. In this instance, instead of recognizing a face, the program searches for patterns. These patterns – regardless of how small – are enhanced over and over again by Deep Dream. The finished art works look a lot different than the originals and the reason for that is that we don’t recognize half the patterns Deep Dream does.

The idea of computers creating art doesn’t make sense to some. It might even make you feel uneasy. Computers are logical and rational – they don’t hold any of the attributes that we ascribe to art or culture:  on mood, nuance and emotion, as noted in an article on Economic Insights.

Mark Riedl, associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology hits the nail on its head in saying that creativity might not be unique to human intelligence, but that it’s one of the ‘hallmarks’ of our intelligence.

Maybe the question isn’t, or shouldn’t, be if artificial intelligence can perform certain tasks – like creating art for instance. Instead we should think about how impressive it is if something to be made by us humans – regardless of whether that’s art or artificial intelligence. After all people like technology, but for the most part, people really love other people.

Image source: Mike Tyca

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Here’s an example of a traditional institution that is changing with the times.

Despite the fact that so many people seem to believe that libraries are a thing of the past, they are still around and they are evolving.

A recent article in The Atlantic highlighted how libraries are changing from being a space where knowledge is consumed to a place where things are created. Five years ago the Fayetteville Free Library in New York brought a 3D printer into the library. That was the start of the first modern makerspace. Today that space has evolved into a 2,500-square-foot Fab Lab and a Creation Lab for Teens.

Having these makerspaces in libraries enables everybody to become a creator; a skill in today’s world that is as highly prized as reading was in the early century.

Jeroen de Boer, co-author of the book Makerspaces in Libraries, calls these revamped libraries “DIY spaces”. They are places where people can exchange knowledge and ideas to create and innovate. Rather than obtaining knowledge (many of you may be too young to remember the time where we had to go to a library to find out about stuff), it’s about engaging with knowledge. That’s great.

This is exactly the type of response that needs to happen from institutions whose functions are no longer in sync with the times. The post office is another example of an institution in need of a makeover, and many around the world have re-positioned themselves as service providers in the world of e-commerce. It may not be mail that they’re carrying, but they are still in the business of delivery.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

All You Need Is Ears

The title of this post is taken from a book written by the late, great Sir George Martin; ‘the fifth Beatle’ and the one who made the Fab Four famous. Martin passed away on March 8, and with that we lost a musical genius, a visionary and an inspiration to many.

Here are some lessons he left us:
  1. To get the best out of others, treat them with respect: In an interview with Linnda Durré, Martin shared his technique for getting a diverse group of people to work together. “I think it makes good practice to treat all people the same. Whether it's the tape operator or the star, I have found I get the best out of people that way."
  2. Trust your instincts and your intuition: When he first heard the Beatles, Martin didn’t think their performance was that special, but his instincts told him that there was something there. And he was right.
  3. Keep the love of innovation: Don’t be afraid to do things differently and to look for opportunities. George Martin was the first to introduce some experimental production techniques – some of them we still use today, and many which changed the way music was made forever.
Sir George Martin will forever be remembered for the music he made, for how he made it and for the way he followed his dream. As The Independent puts it, “Fortunately for us all, his influence is scattered everywhere” and will forever be found in his music.

Image attribute/source: Sir George Martin /

Friday, March 25, 2016

Bloomberg Surveillance

The subtitle of my new book 64 Shots (out June 21) “Leadership in a Crazy World” was an apt context for yesterday’s conversation on Bloomberg Surveillance with my favorite newsman Tom Keane, and his co-hosts Vonnie Quinn and Francine Lacqua. We talked about the role of advertising and messaging in the US presidential race, the image of London Mayor Boris Johnson, as well as the challenge of advertising to the millennial generation, and the blurring of age lines in modern media. Check out these two clips Emotion Trumps Facts in US Election and A Lesson in Advertising

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Black Hat Thinking

Curmudgeons, black hat thinkers, devil’s advocates, and people who say “but” infect most organizations and systems. They have a role in “keeping things honest” and calling out obvious bull****, and contribute little or nothing to driving progress. Bob Hoffman was an ad guy who has a blog called "Ad Contrarian," and its content meets the expectation of its name: caustic, surly and bad-tempered rants on the state of the ad business, sometimes funny, though for the most part it feels like walking through thigh deep mud.

Business Insider ran a piece on Bob’s speech to the Shift 2016 conference in London, he said that there are three major misconceptions clouding the industry: "All of these delusions have one thing in common: they take a little bit of truth and then they distort it and they exaggerate it and they torture it to the point at which it does our marketers more harm than good."

Here goes Bob: “The first mistake advertisers make is thinking that other people actually care about their brands. Creating a strong brand should be every marketer’s primary objective and the highest role of advertising is to create a strong brand. But our industry has taken these truths and twisted them into silly fantasies. There’s a widespread belief in our business that consumers are in love with brands. That consumers want to have brand experiences and brand relationships and be personally engaged with brands and read branded story telling."

One consequence of "all this baloney," says Business Insider, is that the industry has spent almost 10 years and "billions of dollars exhorting people to join the conversation of our brands." But it's still unclear what that conversation is.

Hoffman continues: "People have shaky jobs and unstable families, they have illnesses, they have debts, they have washing machines that don’t work, they have funny things growing on their backs, they have kids that are unhappy, they have a lot of things to care deeply about. It’s very unwise to believe that they care deeply about our batteries, our wet wipes and our chicken strips."

In the words of the famous Tui beer campaign, “Yeah Right, Bob.” The radically optimistic reality check is that people have dreams, hopes and aspirations. They strive for magic moments in life amidst the dross and struggle, believe in a better future, and ways to make life more valuable, easier, and enjoyable. Products and brands have a vitally important role in helping people navigate their daily lives, bringing ongoing moments of convenience, utility and joy. Brands are not the be-all and end-all of life, but they sure make it flow, no matter how back-to-the-woods you might be.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Moving Meetings Forward

There was an interesting article in The New York Times Magazine recently about the nature of meetings, how we continue to have them despite our deep disliking of them, and some ways that people are trying to deconstruct meetings to make them more effective. The title of the article? “Meet is Murder”(!)

I have spoken about the bane of meetings for a long time, citing their amazing time wasting properties that decrease, instead of increase, productivity. There are better ways to get things done, but today, as it has been for hundreds of years, many companies continue to use this technique as a course of action. A meeting invite is sent, a select number of people sit around an oblong boardroom table in a closed room, someone states the agenda, and some people speak and others don’t. After the meeting you get a recap, which sums up the meeting in a few points and outlines responsibilities for “next steps”.

I can see you yawning already.

Unfortunately, since there hasn’t been a generally accepted replacement for meetings, if you have to hold one, stick to these two principles: don’t waste other people’s time, and move the action forward.

Don’t waste other people’s time. The key is to be smart about deciding who gets to be in the room. If the meeting has been curated properly, and the people around the table have sufficient insight on the agenda at hand, then the meeting has potential to turn into an interesting discussion that will provide insight to the group and move the team forward. However, many times only people with the requisite titles get to sit around the table, and some people are so far removed from the issue that there’s nothing valuable discussed which you couldn’t read in a more informative memo written by someone else.

Once you have the right invite list, you’ll want to ensure that the time used in the meeting is well spent. So to move the action forward in meetings:
  • Keep it brief. Set a time limit. There are suggestions that standing helps keep time.
  • Keep it small. If you can, don’t invite more than 5 people to a meeting. Anything more and it becomes a presentation.
  • Start with the answer. Decide what you want to achieve before you work through the agenda. The danger is getting stuck on minor points.
  • Brief the group prior. Do not use the time to recap the issue. Everyone attending should know what is being discussed and the context around the conversation before the meeting.
  • If someone is not contributing, don’t invite them again. You can do without a mute body in the room.

Image source:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Culture First

We tend to think of corporate culture as an idea developed by HR and Marketing departments instead of something that forms organically over time. Even if the company manifesto is hanging on the walls or in the lobby, the true spirit of any business is determined by how things have been done before. To quote Gregory Carpenter, Director of the Center for Market Leadership at Kellogg University, “Every organisation develops a culture based on past experiences”.

The role of ‘past experiences’ means that not all corporate cultures are fit for the future. The way things were done then may have been appropriate given that era, but they may not be sufficient for tomorrow. Just look at the phenomenal changes to how we live and work over the past 10-15 years! Technology, creativity, globalization, diversity, gender equality, sustainability. These are just some issues that have to be addressed in our corporate cultures if we want to nurture our people to be their best.

Building (or re-building) a culture takes time, but never forget why it is important:
  1. Culture keeps people together: It is shared belief that creates a team; having a shared dream helps when times are tough; a sense of belonging keeps people working for you and not the competition.
  2. Culture makes your product unique: It determines what your product should (and should not be); it influences how you treat your customers; it provides your brand with personality.
  3. Culture paves the way for the future: It shows you where you should be going; it determines what success looks like; it draws the kind of people who want to work for you; it tells you what you should and should not do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Publicis 90

Very few companies make it to 90, and when you do, it’s cause for a big celebration. Publicis was founded by the legendary Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet in 1926. Wikipedia cite him as “a French advertising magnate [who] invented radio advertising in France, helped create the first French opinion polls, introduced Édith Piaf to the French public, and fought with the Free French forces during World War II.”

To celebrate its 90th, Publicis Groupe has launched Publicis90, a global start-up initiative aimed at selecting 90 promising startups or projects in the digital field from around the world to mentor and fund. The initiative has achieved great momentum with an incredible 3,555 applications from 141 countries submitted by the deadline. Top countries were France, USA, India, UK and Israel.

305 projects were submitted from students coming from 186 different colleges and universities around the world. The operation has also attracted great interest from Publicis Groupe employees: nearly 600 projects were submitted by potential "intra-preneurs". The applications cover a wide array of sectors. The top 5 of sectors are Mobile (12%), Content and Entertainment (9%), Adtech and Media (8%), Ecommerce and Retail (8%) and Big Data (7%).

The validated applications will now go through a thorough selection process. They will be reviewed anonymously by all 77,000 employees of Publicis Groupe and closely analyzed by regional juries of digital experts from Publicis Groupe in the Americas, APAC and EMEA.

A shortlist will be announced at the beginning of April and these shortlisted candidates will be asked to provide a business plan and a short video. A global jury will then collaborate to choose the final 90 projects or start-ups that will be supported by Publicis Groupe.

Each project will receive equity funding of between €10,000 and €500,000 and one year of mentoring in management, technology, marketing and communication from an executive from a Publicis Groupe agency. In addition, all 90 selected projects will be invited to attend Viva Technology Paris, a major digital event co-organized by Publicis Groupe and Groupe Les Echos for three days at the end of June in Paris.

Birthdays are usually an emotional mix of past, present and future. At 90, Publicis Groupe is firmly focused on the future. Bring on the centenary!

Image source:

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lest We Forget

Old friend Milano Reyna sent me the attached George Bernard Shaw quote – from a restaurant in New York’s Meatpacking district.


Monday, March 7, 2016

What You Wear To Win

It’s not exactly career advice, but when Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue, said, “If you can’t be better than your competition, just dress better,” she makes a clear point. Although as Mandy Rice-Davies once said so memorably in the witness box of the John Profumo trial, “she would say that wouldn’t she.”

It only takes a fraction of a second for people to develop an opinion about you from the way you look. Making eye contact or wearing thick glasses makes people think you've got a higher IQ. Looser gaits are seen as more adventurous. Stiff gaits, more neurotic. Men without hair are seen as more dominant and powerful (check).

What I find more interesting than the science of superficial judgement is how what we wear affects how we perform. Believe it or not, there is a direct correlation between your choice of attire and your performance. Scientists have found that business attire increases abstract thinking and the ability to negotiate better deals. For guys reading this, dressing casual during negotiation actually lowers testosterone levels, making you less aggressive in selling your agenda, but perhaps better at hearing your opponent…?

And it’s not just the professional world that benefits from better dress sense. Studies on schools where students wear uniforms report better rates of attendance and decreased instances of misbehavior.

Take this as a tip for the back pocket. What you put on in the morning could contribute to what you manage to achieve during the day (I always suit up in all black for big days). Subconscious judging on appearance is one reflex we can’t control, but how we choose to be perceived and how we choose to treat others based on their appearance is one thing we have full responsibility for.

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Random Coincidence, Or Something More?

As humans, we often try to make sense of this world we live in. We can undertake truly esoteric tasks to try to uncover a piece of the puzzle, and here’s one I’ve come across that is strange enough to be worth sharing.

In August 1998, Princeton University began something called the Global Consciousness Study which set out to find if there is such a thing as an “interconnected human consciousness on a global scale”. The existence of such a phenomenon would help explain how far-flung cultures adopted skills like written language without being in contact with other more developed societies, and more common experiences like deja-vu.

The study involved 60 random number generators across the globe. They call these generators “eggs” and all that these machines do is produce random numbers. At the same time, there are computers that guess what those numbers may be. In the realm of probability, there will be instances where the random numbers and guesses match. But that is not where the peculiarity lies.

In 2013, the Princeton scientists released 14 years of data that showed the number of matches and their timing. What was discovered was that more matches occurred around the time of important world events (911, Princess Diana’s death, the Pope’s funeral, the Concorde crash), when millions of people focused their awareness on one thing. Skeptics think it is silly to try to measure consciousness in such a way, but I think finding patterns in random data produces revelations rather than insights. If this ramble has piqued your curiosity, this short 3-minute video explains the rationale of the study and results. There’s talk of “conscious interactions” and a phenomenon among data scientists known as “the drunkard’s walk.” I think I know which is the livelier road to take.

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