Monday, May 20th, 2013
The San Marino Suckerpunch happens when you focus on you, and not them.
It’s not that you’ve been negligent. Quite the opposite, in fact. You’ve busted your balls getting things straight; fixing things up. All with good intentions.
But those good intentions have made things straight and fixed them from your point of view.
And now you’ve left yourself open for the suckerpunch.
It’s going to hurt. You’re going to cry like a teething baby. But you’ll learn.
It is November 1993, and England are about to kick off an important World Cup qualifier away to San Marino.
San Marino, it is fair to say, are minnows.
They have been playing professional international football for just eighteen months. England, by contrast, reached the semi-finals in of the World Cup a little over three years ago.
It is David vs Goliath. And that’s good for England, because in order to qualify for the next World Cup, England need to beat San Marino by a margin of seven goals.
Seven goals in ninety minutes is a big ask.
But San Marino are so bad – it’s possible, is the general consensus. England need to be strong, to play at a high tempo, to use their wingers and get the ball in the box for Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand.
Come on, England!
The ref blows his whistle.
San Marino kick off and begin what turns out to be their only attack of the game.
A stray pass find its way to Stuart Pearce, who can only muster the most pathetic of back passes to goalkeeper David Seaman.
His pass doesn’t reach Seaman. Instead, it is intercepted by Davide Gualtieri, who sticks out a leg and scores his first and last international goal.
The scoreboard indicates fewer that ten seconds have been played.
Back in England, a million fucks are shouted at a million televisions.
I was put on the canvas by the San Marino Suckerpunch last week.
We were pretty confident about our new product as it was put in front of a potential new client. We’d spent ages testing, refining, redesigning, re-testing, re-refining, re-redesigning etc.
Too long, in fact.
So long that our focus had unintentionally drifted from our potential customers to our product.
Just like England had become obsessed with how many goals they needed to score (and seemingly forgot they were playing a competitive international), so we had lost focus on the job our customer was trying to do.
And just like England, it took around ten seconds for our product’s weakness to be exploited.
I was crestfallen.
The product worked as we’d intended it to; it worked perfectly with the dummy data we’d fed it. There was – as far as we could see – no problem at all.
Except dummy data doesn’t have holes in it – because it’s too easy to fill the gaps.
We needed holes.
We thought our product was working because it required all this data, and if it didn’t get it the data it required, it wouldn’t let you continue. Our product would be full of “good data”, we beamed.
And we failed.
We failed because our customers weren’t using client-side form validation in the real world. They were writing down all the details they decided were necessary.
So their data had holes.
Sometime they had an address, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they took phone numbers, sometimes they took an email. Sometimes they had titles, sometimes they went by their first names.
The customer’s real data didn’t fit our models of their data.
This rendered our app awkward at best, unusable at worst.
We’d been hit by the San Marino Suckerpunch.
So by all means design with data.
But make sure it’s real data.
Best of luck.
Wednesday, April 10th, 2013
Every now and then I go to the pub with Richard.
Richard is twenty-ish years older than me. One of the good guys; successful, kind, and understanding of Springsteen’s greatness.
I sometimes wonder if Richard is a hallucination of older me. But I’m pretty sure he’s real – I’ve met his kids.
One evening in the Fat Cat we were talking about the important stuff. Y’know, life and purpose and family and all that.
Richard said he’d decided that it was all quite simple: we are here to love and to be loved.
He’s right, of course. But every now and then those words resonate a little louder. Like today. Because tomorrow one of my best mates is getting married.
I’ve known him for twenty years. (Fuck, my eyes are watering a little bit.) And I’m on usher duties with another of my childhood friends.
Like most people, I love a wedding. They’re cheerful occasions. Obviously the free alcohol tends to help, but somebody’s special day also helps you to realign your own compass.
I’ll hold my wife’s hand a little tighter in the church. I’ll probably give her a really big kiss at some point in the evening. I’ll think about our daughter and all the joy (and occasional pain) she’s brought us.
And I’ll realise that I’m lucky. That I’m doing alright. That perhaps this life isn’t one big mystery.
It’s actually quite simple.
Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013
They’re only mistakes if you don’t learn from them, right?
I fell into the trap of thinking important and urgent were pretty much the same.
After all, they both involve the need for things to be done.
Important things need to be done because they’re important.
And urgent things need to be done because they’re urgent.
The truth is that these two words aren’t similar at all. They’re enemies.
The good guy here is Important. He arrives on a horse, dressed in white with a really important sword. Or something.
Urgent is no panto villain. He’s much more dangerous. He’s out to suffocate Important, and won’t stop till …
Arse-about-face personification aside, the truth is that most urgent stuff is bullshit.
It’s not urgent at all. It’s just a high priority of somebody else. Chances are that person is avoiding the important stuff.
They avoid important stuff because important stuff is invariably difficult. It’s painful, hard work. And it’s often without short term reward.
Urgent provides quick gratification: “It’s urgent? Okay, I’ll get on to it straight away.” … “Hey! I did that urgent thing for you!”
No gold stars for you.
Problem is there’s always something urgent. An endless stream of email with exclamation marks in subject lines.
And while you’re busy doing urgent stuff, the important stuff gets left behind.
Don’t let that happen.
Monday, January 21st, 2013
To get better at email:
1. Reply right now. I’m already interrupted. If I don’t know the answer right now, then the email should explain just that.
2. If a paragraph has more than two sentences, you’re not making yourself clear.
3. State what you want. Perhaps in bold.
4. Make your point and press send.
5. Just as email can distract you from doing good work, work can distract you from writing good emails. Make time.
Monday, January 7th, 2013
It’s nice to think great ideas come from a magical place where unicorns snort rainbow dust while listening to Engima’s Return To Innocence.
But the brutal truth is that’s where the crap ideas come from.
Because the crap ideas are quasi-psychedelic brain jitters that usually start with “it would be really cool if …”. Except, of course, it wouldn’t be cool. It’d just be silly and pointless and shallow. And probably involve a Google Maps mashup.
The good ideas come from boring places. Where smart people can communicate the product benefits, understand the consumer’s attitude towards to the brand and the marketplace, and appreciate the limitations of the company’s time, money and resources.
What brilliant communicators, creatives and marketers do is turn this seemingly dull information and turn it into insightful snippets, powerful strategies, and bollock-grabbing creative tactics.
So by all means let your imagination run riot. But pick a cause other people will care about, a location where you can generate maximum destruction, and weapons that’ll do a thorough job.
And then tip off the press.
Saturday, January 5th, 2013
“In reality, a brand only ever exists in the minds of consumers.” – John Hegarty.
Sure, you can patent your products and trademark your logo. But your brand? Sorry, that belongs to everybody.
And if we, the general public, are in control of your brand — and enough of us form the same opinion — we can be a powerful force for better or worse. Just ask Skoda.
The irony here is that once you accept you’re not in control, and focus on the things you can control — your products, services, and communications — the better your chances of building a great brand.
Friday, January 4th, 2013
I like building web things.
I still like printed stuff.
I’m hanging on to this blogging-every-day malarkey by a thread.
I should read more.
I wish I could’ve talked to my grandad about aircraft.
I don’t know a thing about pastry.
There’s a weird and polite Apple backlash happening.
I hate the new eBay logo.
The eBay iPhone app is incredible.
Would I read more if I had a Kindle? Probably not.
When I move house, will I hate my neighbours?
I need to know more about CSS animations. Or do I ?
I should’ve phoned my brother about dinner on Sunday.
I need to go for a run soon.
Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
Gain it. Keep it. Ship it.
Lose it. Leave it. Forget it.
Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013
The tiresome pursuit of excellence means not everybody gets to be a winner.
Nothing prevents from you from being a gracious loser.
Tuesday, January 1st, 2013
Arise, Sir Wiggo. Champion in a year full of champions.
It was an unforgettable 2012 thanks to Team GB, Danny Boyle and the BBC’s superb coverage. The Olympic spirit engulfed this wondrous isle and brought genuine joy – spilling over into ecstasy on Super Saturday. I was captivated by the build-up, mesmerised during The Games, and a bit lost when it all finished.
And then exhausted.
Exhausted by a lack of personal development when so many had reached their peak. Exhausted by challenges that seemed trivial compared to the ones overcome by these athletes. I found 2012 to be a tough and stormy year. And those clouds settled over me towards the Christmas break. I couldn’t shift them. Not depression, I don’t think, just down.
But yesterday I promised to draw a line beneath it all. To confine it to history with those wonderful days in August. And I have and I will. I’m rather looking forward to 2013, as it happens.