Birds aren’t real

I think every bloody communicator, strategist, marketeer and media guru has scratched his head over the past months in despair, and has looked at his social media in awe. How the flying spaghetti monster do all those  conspiracy theory posts get so much attention? How, in the name of all that is holy, can liquid crap find such a prominent place in and on thousands of timelines. Admit, if we could crack that code and be even half so successful for our paying clients we would be rich half-gods by now, sipping gold induced coconut milk on a superyacht leisurely anchored in the shade of the Blue Lagoon.

Fake news and conspiracy theories are polluting our news feeds, are challenging the very common sense of a big part of the population, has put a reality star in a president’s seat, has eroded the reputation of countless scientists, and has single handedly slowed down the fight against COVID19 by questioning vaccines.

Governments and decisionmakers, captains of industry, influencers, journalists, companies and their C-suite have had to endure gossip and fake news sweeping away credibility and common sense.

Blame Facebook

Frances Haugen tells us to blame Facebook, and by analogy most probably the other logarithm driven social connection and search platforms.   Frances prides herself in a strong sense of pride in democracy and responsibility for civic participation. You might know her as the “Facebook whistle-blower”:  the woman that is giving Mark Zuckerberg the flying hillibillies because she is spilling the beans on how Facebook and its evil machines manipulate the very pulse of thought and sentiment of the human race.

Frances is not a dreamy Generation Z-er. She holds a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Olin College and a MBA from Harvard. She specialized in algorithmic product management, and has worked on ranking algorithms at Google, Pinterest, and Yelp. At Facebook she  lead he Civic Misinformation team, which deals with democracy, misinformation  and counter-espionage.

Profit over purpose

Frances became increasingly alarmed by the choices Facebook makes in prioritizing stone coldly their own profits over public safety, and putting people’s lives at risk. The logarithms are -on purpose- flooding our timelines and news feeds with controversial content, contrarian news snacks and alarming conspiracies. The reason is simple: we engage more with those bizarreries than we do with regular “vetted” content, or even the content of our friends. That engagement generates more money.  At great personal risk, Frances made the courageous decision to blow the whistle on Facebook.

The birds are, wait, what?

Early 2017. Peter McIndoe is in Memphis and is couch-crashing at a friends place. Donald J. Trump just got the keys to the White House, and started hanging his gold-embroided curtains in the Oval Office.  Pro-Trump fanatics where in town to “neutralize” a women’s march. Peter McIndoe wanted to participate in the moment, ripped a poster off a wall, flipped it over and wrote the first three random words on the white cardboard: “Birds Aren’t Real.”

Waking up as a celebrity.

A  spontaneous reflex, a hilarious joke, feeding of the absurdity of peoples stupidity. An afternoon well spent. McIndoe went to bed. He would wake up an overnight celebrity. HOs hilarious billboard was picked up by social media “reporters” an plastered all over the internet. Journalists hunted him down, curious to know the story. Conspiracy complotters and Q’ers drank the new slogan like lizards on a hot sand dune. McIndoe decided to see how far the joke would carry… and talked to press and the Internet. Yes: Birds are NOT real. They are surveillance drones. Proof? Well… have you ever seen a baby pigeon? Journalists thought he was serious. The movement “Birds aren’t Real” was born.

The Bird Drone Agenda

McIndoe dropped out of college in 2018 and has spent a whopping 4 years in-character to lure journalists and the world. He used his psychological background  and conspiracy theorist cosplay to rally and cement a solid and growing community around the absurdity.

A real parody and satiric movement -complete with swag, slogans, rallies, and mass demonstrations- grew around this character. Real people in, real life were/are pushing a “bird drone agenda”. Birds are Not Real amassed millions of followers on social media, and hundreds of official chapters have popped up at colleges all across the nation. Bird-truthers  got almost up to par with Qanon.

From absurdity to learning curve

Peter finally came out of character in December of 2021. While some Birdtruthers still are genuinely believing the parody, it is McIndoe’s intention to use the momentum of the movement to create a siolid understanding on how easy it is to fool media and general public. He wants to help and illustrate how it is done, and what we can learn from it.

McIndoe wants to keep it safe, and cool. “Birds Aren’t Real is made to make sure it doesn’t turn into a negative end result on the world. BAR is a safe space for people to come together and process, discuss and digest the conspiracy takeover of America. We are holding a mirror in the face of media, journalist and analysts. Let’s laugh at the madness rather than be overcome by it.

Peter outsmarted trained journalists, hawk-eyed analysts, police forces and millions of people. His weapons: energy, satire, a good understanding of group dynamics and bias, wit and perseverance.  

We should applaud Peter: he shows us the vulnerability of our democratic and corporate systems. We should hire people like Peter.

Peter is a Red Monkey…

In Kyiv’s Fields

In Kyiv’s fields the sunflowers blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark your place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

You are the Dead. Short days ago

You lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now you lie

In Kyiv’s fields.

Nobody to take up your quarrel with the foe:

To us  from failing hands you throw

The torch; begging us to hold it high.

But the Masked Singer is on, so is Netflix

So we break faith with you who die

The West will not shed its sleep,

though sunflowers  grow

In Kyiv’s fields.

(DD after John McCrae)

The Collective Power: Welcome to The Hive:

Psst. It’s here. On my desk. A unique collectable, high tech, no battery, impact resistant, always on, no-cloud and darn pretty carrier of wisdom on Mediabrands Belgium and its illustrious Mediabrandies. Who are they? What drives them? Where do they come from? What sets them apart? Why?

Find the answers in this book.

It’s inspiring, honest, right-in-your-face, unfiltered and glutenfree.

It truly takes a village to make Mediabrands. Discover the pure human side that powers us to be so much more than a media agency. Enjoy the stories, the anecdotes, the passion, the good… and the bad. Powered by People.

The Illuminati are secretly distributing copies of this book… if you can’t wait, take a glance at https://thecollectivepower.be/

Welcome to The Hive….

#SxSW 2020: how to prepare for wisdom, beer, BBQ and rattlesnakes

I’m slowly, but surely getting prepared for #SxSW, the 16th time I’ll be flying out to the Mecca of emerging technology, new ideas and creative thinking. Every year I come back buzzing with excitement, and a million ideas. #SxSW is cerebral doping, enhanced synapses and trigger-happy neurons. Thousands of keynotes to navigate through at the official venues, and in the grey zones. People presenting their hearts out in gargantuan venues and shady hotel rooms. Things to learn, to discover… invitations to change and rethink. Festival organizer Louis Black thinks SXSW Interactive “has probably been the biggest of its kind in the world” since 2007.

Here is how you make the most of it. I share this 5 weeks in advance, so no excuse for you to come to the battlefield unprepared :-).

Law and order

You will need a passport, an ESTA, and a ticket to the festival. Start early… ESTA can take a while these days. Every year, the ESTA question list gets longer… don’t forget to add one of your social accounts. You do not want to go through the stress of having to deal with an expiring passport just days before you leave. (Been there, done that: bad for your inner rest!)

Austin City limits

Book you hotel even earlier. If you’re a party animal, get in the city center. Costs you an arm and a leg, but you’ll be close to the action and the parties. If you care about your night nap, aim outside the City Limits: plenty of great hotels, at a fraction of the price, and guaranteed quiet at night. Realize you’ll need a car, and go gentle on that beer.

#SxSW social

Fill in your social profile that comes with your registration. Upload a decent picture of yourself (if not the organization will provide you with a mugshot at check-in. Trust me, you do not want to go there, they are notoriously good at taking bad pictures). Pick a couple of tags that are interesting to you, and use the connector to set up meetings with people. You go to #SxSW to learn, and to meet. To meet is a verb: it requires action.

#SxSW Go

Download the #SxSWGo application. It gives you access to a world of information. I use it to browse the official agenda, screen speakers and topics, and plot a general blueprint of what I minimum minimorem want to see. It has a great planning section that allows you to add events to your timeline, good for quick referral and easy heads-up during the event. Download the app now! Start RSVP’ing to sessions that are in venues with reduced capacity. Start filling up your schedule now… a bit every day.  There are literally thousands of items to chose from, so this will take you a while.

Guard your badge with your life

No badge, no party. You will not enter without your badge. SXSW will not replace your badge. SO, hang it around your neck, and leave it there. Never leave it at the hotel: leave it in the car at night. Your badge is your best friend. Know where it is at all times!

Beat the queue

Everyone needs a badge, and most people come in on Friday.  So, beat them by going early, and pick up your badge on Thursday, you can do so until 22:00. You will thank me on Friday morning when you see miles of poor people lining up to get their ticket to paradise.

Buy a map

Austin is a big city. There are venues everywhere, and you can easily walk an hour from one venue to the other. Important to know when you are planning. Running out at the end of a keynote, and hoping you’ll make that other one at the other side of town is not the best strategy. Personally, I schedule my keynotes within a one mile radius. Going further away makes me burn away precious time.

Hunt as a pack

Go to SxSW in pairs and trios. Hunt as a pack, split the city in pieces. Let your colleagues and friends cover interesting keynotes that you cannot attend. Compare notes. Three people can cover three times as much ground. Simple mathematics.

Eventbrite and RSVP

Do party, but go easy: SxSW is a marathon, not a one night sprint. Use Eventbrite to look for “SXSW” events in Austin. Most official and unofficial events post their stuff here. RSVP to all you can, having your name on the right list can prevent you from having to wait in ridiculous long lines.

Trust the locals

Don’t hunt exclusively for names you know, and that you are familiar with. Leave enough space in your schedule for discovering new thinking, new approaches. Dare to step out of your usual echo chamber. Personally, I ask local experts what they are attending. Every year I discover exciting new ideas by attending keynotes by fabulous people I did not even know before.

#lines

Be in time for your favorite speakers. Town halls are big, and seat easily a couple of thousand, but some speakers are so popular there will be no room for everyone. So show up early, or –pro tip- go to an overflow room where the keynote is live casted.

SxSw

#shoes #dress code

You will walk. You will walk miles. Bad timing to walk in those shiny new shoes, and plain ridiculous to try to balance on your nine inch heels. I’m a lazy walker, and I total between 5 to 15 miles a day during SxSW. Go for comfortable. Austin is weird, dress codes are by default  technology-comfortable. Aim for light and practical. Dress in layers, it’s warm outside, but the venues are equipped with USA style air conditioning, so it can be frisky inside. Texas is known for its warm climate, but this is rain season: plan for the occasional shower.

Light and thorough

Pick a lightweight laptop. Get that US cable or plug. Make sure you have all the necessary travel bits. Remember: you NEED to be able to power up your laptop, phone, and devices at security before boarding the plane AND at security while arriving.  Clean your laptop from all not necessary files. Go for the biggest battery you can find.

Battery packs

You will burn through power like there is no tomorrow. Charge your devices whenever and wherever you can. Bring battery packs and power stations. I carry a whopping 50.000mAh 6 Port (5/12/20v) in my backpack, and a 20.000 mAh in my jacket. That gets me through a day.

#smartpack

You’ll need a backpack. A smart one. One big enough to transport your electronics, your water bottle and raincoat. One small and light enough to be your ideal companion for long, long hours.  One unique enough that you can see and recognize it from miles away. Remember: this is your shelter, your home, your office.

#WiFi

The WiFi coverage at SxSW is pretty amazing, so make sure you toggle your roaming cell phone data ‘off’. If you’re the social sharing kind (you should), posting your content on your European roaming fees might ruin you.

#ID

This is the USA. Carry your ID at all times. Tons of reasons, but the main one is that even if you’re over a hundred years old, and you look like Methuselah, that bouncer will not let you in, and that barman will serve you no alcohol if you cannot prove that you’re above 21. As your mom will not be around to testify, your ID is your key to drinks. Just saying.

#cash and tips

Yes, they accept cards everywhere. Debit, credit, you name it. But… it is good to carry cash as well. Remember that people in the hospitality industry most often are relying on tips to make their living. You do not tip, they get no pay. So, carry cash to tip your valet parking, the doorman, and the friendly guy struggling with your luggage. Tip your waiter 15 percent if he/she does an ok job, 18 to 20 percent if it was good. Tip a dollar for a drink at the bar, notice how your cocktail gets better as you tip more :-).

Cards

Your European debit and credit cards will be useless when you arrive in the States. Security measures will not allow you to use them, unless you notified your bank in advance that you will be traveling abroad…. So make sure you call ahead, and get a confirmation you will get active cards when you land.

#water bottle

It is Texas. It will be hot. You will be hot. Air conditioning will sap your moisture away. You’ll be jetlagged. You will need water, lots of water.  Invest in a great refillable water bottle, hydration is key. There are tons of water fountains around to fill them up. Drink.

#jetlag

Jetlag is a bitch. Arrive a day or two early if you can, so you can adapt to the time difference. As soon as you land, cleared immigration and arrive in the hotel, take a long long shower. Airplanes dehydrate you, and that has a very bad influence on your jetlag. Stay 20 minutes under that shower, and go from steaming to cold and back. Whatever you do, do not go to sleep. You’ll be tired, Exhausted. Those sheets will look so inviting. But hold on until at least 22:00 that first night. You’ll sleep until 04:30, 05:00. You’ll be tired, but fine the next day. Dive into bed earlier, and you’ll be wide awake around 02:00. Ouch. Be tender on the alcohol the first 48 hours, eat light and carry some aspirin.

Sunglasses and sunscreen

To protect those lovely eyes, and that tender skin. There will be sun. A lot of sun.

#pills and heath insurance

Bring Advil, aspirin, Imodium, Motilium, some vitamins and hand sanitizer. The last thing you want to do is losing precious time being ill.  Bring prove of your health insurance! This is the United States of America: No pay, no Cure!  Taking a temporary travel insurance might be clever.

Rental Car

Parking downtown will cost you between $15-30 per day and traffic is a bitch. That said, you need one to move around if you want to wander outside of the city. Book your rental online, in advance. There will be no spare cars at the airport during #SxSW. None. You’ve been warned. Make sure you bring the same credit card that was used to book the car… if not, prepare for a logistic nightmare. If you’re from Europe: yes, you do need that extra insurance. Trust me on that one.

#food

At noon, go easy and light and go for a food truck. Austin is the very home to some of the best food trucks. Michelin grade food on wheels. Going light at noon will help you with your jetlag and general fatigue… and, you will want to have some spare room for the evening hostilities. BBQ is a thing in Austin, and it is mjummie. Franklin BBQ, Lambert’s, La Barbecue, Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, Stubb’s, Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, and Micklethwait… all good. Iron Works is glued to the convention center, and is fab, but does not do reservations and the lines are epic. Stay away from County Line. That’s my favorite, and I love to have the place all by myself. Also om my top list: Fogo de Chao,where Southern Brazil meets Texas. An elegant front porch complete with open flame rotisserie welcomes guests, the meat is to die for. And, Torchy’s Tacos: eat a Democrat, a Republican and an Independent. Wash it away with a Mexican beer.

#reservations

There are thousands of people hunting for food in the evening, so, do not expect to walk in and be seated. Start your reservations around ten in the morning. Remember, most venues will not allow you to be seated before your whole party is complete.

#Bruce Sterling

Don’t go home before attending the Bruce Sterling closing speech. Bruce is a World traveler, science fiction author, Cyberpunk, journalist, all over wise guy and a future-focused design critic.  Bruce Sterling spins the globe a few rounds as he wraps up the Interactive Conference with his peculiar view of the state of the world from a global perspective. His rant and views are epic. He talks like a book, with nice vitriol musings.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold: This Petrolhead

Cars. I passionately love them since I was a little boy. Their seductive lines, the raw power, the hissing of the rubber as it kisses the highway, the happy roaring of a V8 as it thunders to the horizon. The smell of leather, fuel, and oil. The kick in the stomach as horses get unleashed, the precision of a steering wheel, the battle against G-forces that try to rip your face off. I like it when they take off like bad news and turn on a peseta.

My driveway harbours a Lotus 7, a couple of sturdy off-roaders and a collector’s dream: a vintage 911. I have read Top Gear for breakfast since I could walk, and I’ve seen every single episode. Twice.

And still. Choosing my last car was hell. I drive between 60.000 and 80.000 km a year. My last 3-year long experience with a Lexus hybrid was not it. Great car. In the city. Totally not fitted to my lifestyle.

It’s time

I’ve been preaching the values of intelligent electric cars for some time now. Automotive, mobility and environmental realities don’t lie.  The future is electric. Over time we even evolve to MAAS (mobility as a service) for most people that don’t require a ton and a half of steel 98% of their day. The (soon autonomous) intelligent electric car is one of the pillars of the trends presentations that I’ve been giving over the past year.

Yet, 18 months ago, as I took out a new car lease, I hesitated.  I hated the e-tron. Could not be seduced by plug-in hybrids. Choked on the French little electrics. And with all my admiration for Elon Musk, I knew it was not going to be a Tesla.

Too hectic to go electric

O, it takes off like there is no tomorrow. It beats even my completely over-the-top Lotus 7. By a mile. And it looked and felt too much like an application on wheels. My future-loving brain was seduced, the car lover in me was not.

I was also struggling with the practicalities. Details like charging. Range. The subtle art of getting there.

So, when some of my friends put their money where their heart and brain was, and are silently swooping away in their Model S, Model X or 3’s, I settled for a sturdy V6. The last one…

Polestar 2

But then Polestar called. Polestar is an automotive brand jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Geely. An intriguing Chinese – Swedish mix. I saw their Polestar 2 EV at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and loved every inch of it: luxury, the dazzling silent power of a performance EV, in a real car. Not a driving app.

Fully knowing that I have a couple of petrol guzzling beasts grazing on my driveway, and that I thought it was one car too early for electric, they asked me if they could try to convince me that their Polestar 2 would fit even my hectic lifestyle…. fully electric.  Would I be interested in a partnership?

You know what, it’s not too early: it’s time. I’ll meet them tomorrow at the Brussels Motor Show.

Beer, rattlesnakes, BBQ and FOMO a-go-go


At the unhealthy early hour of 03:45 I’m going wheels-up to Austin, Texas. My fifteenth South by South West (SXSW): my yearly pilgrimage to the world’s largest interactive, creative, tech and innovation conference. A brainy rollercoaster with literally thousands of keynotes, panels, workshops and presentations. SXSW is like a bubble bath for the brain, an energizer for the soul. SXSW is taking in new insights, visions and wisdom with truckloads; it’s drinking innovation from the firehose. A multitude of technologies were born here (Twitter, Foursquare…), some died here (Gowalla), or were crucified (Meerkat). You cannot throw a steak out of the window without killing a couple of self-proclaimed Gurus, Ninjas, Experts, and Influencers. Luckily there are also a lot of people who know what they are talking about.   You need good shoes, a level head and as much battery packs as you can carry to survive this yearly Texan brain upgrade.

Let me get out on a limb here, and try to forecast what this year’s edition will be about.

Planet, people, purpose

DDE: data-driven empathy is a powerful weapon. Thousands of kids protest all over the world against the irresponsible way our generation has threated the planet, and has consistently underestimated some persistent problems like global warming. The cry for responsibility is loud and justified. We see a global tendency to put three new P’s next to the good old Profit: Planet, People and Purpose.  Three years ago, Barack Obama asked the combined industries, innovators and thinkers to help solve the big problems the world is (still) facing: global warming, clean and sustainable energy, pollution, disease, war, hunger and discrimination. The lighthouse role and responsibility of tech, data, industry tycoons, tech innovators and influencers will be one of the pillars of this years’ edition.

Politicians

White House politics sketch a vision of Washington that is even more over the top than House of Cards, even more hilarious than the The Onion editors dare to write. All over the world extreme left and right political fractions use a deadly cocktail of data, bleeding edge automated media tech, and polarizing demagogic tactics. The role of technology, data and platforms, and their impact on elections, sentiment and crowd suggestion will be highlighted.  I particularly look forward to the session with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as she is called on social media: she won a Congressional seat in New York last year, and will be in a discussion with Briahna Gray, senior politics editor. AOC is one of the only politicians whose fresh and very ad rem social media use seems to scare off the Twitter-commander-in-chief in the Oval office.

Distrust and Fake News

Fake News, fake journalists, fake data. Fake is the new black. It’s all over the news, it will be all over SXSW.  Already prevalent last year, the number of submissions on this topic is even more on the rise this year. Foreign powers toying with truth, and actively steering the sentiment during elections is very high on everyone’s radar. The role of the big platforms in this vaudeville will certainly be highlighted, and the shaky way in which the respective CEO’s of Twitter and Facebook are handling things will guarantee some hard to hard discussions. Consumers, journalists, and even countries (eg. Germany) are demanding that the generation of fake news gets under control soonest.

Privacy and copyright

The first findings of GDPR on business, the doom of copyright regulation in Europe, the safety and ethics of personal data and their use. What is fair game? What is not?  The Cambridge Analytica debacle is still very much on everyone’s memory. Much as Mark Zuckerberg would want this problem to blow away, privacy and data safety will be central themes of this years’ edition. The tolerance around abuse of personal data by brands, politicians and State Departments is rapidly dwindling. Zuckerbergs open message today for a transition towards more privacy and control is very interesting timing wise, and will certainly fuel the debate.  It might be too little too late in the credibility game.

Cannabusiness

Cannabis for healthcare purposes is on the agenda of the Belgian government, and global projections of medical cannabis skyrock in the billions per year. Add to that the impact of legalized recreational use, and you’re looking at a gargantuan industry with lots of (formal) tech investors. Willie Nelson put himself on the agenda in Austin for years now with his activism for the use of biofuels and the legalization of marijuana. Cannabis related SXSW sessions grew tenfold. Tech, music and marihuana… something has to keep Austin weird.

Big food

Food is always important in Austin, city of slow smoked barbeque, food trucks and some of the most delicious Tex-Mex food. Food is prominently on the agenda this year, with close examinations on food, its impact and its future. The clash between meat and vegan, dairy and plant-based, GMO modified or not gives plenty of room to some great sessions. The growing impact of farm-tech is astonishing and scales from sustainable development over short supply chain to Deliveroo and Uber Eats.  Application driven nutritional habits. Yes sir. This is also going to be the year where food quality will be partly measured on its relative impact on health, socioeconomics and global warming. I am very much looking forward to the discussions on how blockchain technology will revolutionize traceability in the global food chain and change the future of food habits.

AI and Robots

There are hundreds of keynotes on AI, and robots. Deep learning, algorithms, heuristics, EQ programming, automation and parallel artificial brains. Immigrants, robots, universal income, sociodemographic and laws of accelerating return.  I would be surprised if the good old singularity, and exponential acceleration were not mentioned a couple of times…

I’m interested to see how AI and advanced robotics are going to team up with us, mortal humans. Case studies in fin-tech, farm-tech and medi-tech show that the combination human/AI guarantees stunning results: AI augmented humans work faster, draw better conclusions, detect anomalies swifter and diagnose more accurate.

The future of learning, working and living

More and more robots, up to a third enhanced efficiency: this might counter nicely an ageing population, as the baby-boomers walk out of our businesses and into retirement. We’ll have to work less, longer, more focused and diverse. Life-long-learning, eternal adaption. How will we fill in the timetables between work, learning and leisure? How will we fund our freedom?

AR, VR, move over: XR!

The scale seems to tip towards mixed reality. More and more concrete cases for immersive marketing, on eye communication, virtual business, phygital crossovers, and in-front-of-eye holograms. We’re only a couple of years away from mass-consumer adoption: the first impactful showcases will be on display at this SXSW edition.

The future of:

Retail, transportation, delivery, and subscription services. Voice and gesture control. The migration of voice assistants into the internet of things. Flying cars, tunnels, drones, autonomous delivery. A new decentralized internet.

Bring it on, I can’t wait 🙂



The future-killing thought bug: The Chicken or The Egg

A quick rant before diving into the first day of #SXSW. O sweet Jesus. We all know them. The very often well-dressed, well-groomed, but slightly under CPU-ed pseudo intellectuals that kill off all future scoping thoughts with the “yes, but”. Teenagers use social media to bond and band together to protest against global warming: “Yes, but do they know that they are polluting with their cellphones?”  Bill and Melinda Gates funding the battle against malaria: “Yes, but are we sure that they are not colluding with the big pharma bros”.  The crucial importance of safety of and ethical rules for personal data: “Yes, but most people don’t care that much.”

The yes but is a future killer. It allows for throwing that je-ne-sais-quoi shade over the conversation at hand. Around SXSW it manifestates itself in an even more vicious version: the chicken or the egg. On the development of autonomous cars: “won’t work, the legal red tape is not cut yet.”

Let’s throttle back here a little: autonomous cars are doomed to fail, because legislators, insurance companies and courts failed to keep pace? That is a chicken or egg thought bug: “what needs to come first”, is not clear,  ergo (and much to Plato’s chagrin) it can’t happen.

The clean car energy impasse

Best example at hand, prominently being discussed in press and social networks uncomfortably close to you: clean energy.

While a lot of the conversation at this year’s edition of SXSW is (again) about the future of transportation, critics with great corporate hair are quick to add their grain of salt: “Yes but, have you calculated the impact of batteries? The mining of cobalt and lithium?”  Etc, ad nauseam.

As if you cannot simultaneously develop an all-electric car, and work on clean production tracks, and sustainable energy solutions, and more intelligent battery break-through’s.

Habit

People won’t use electric cars.  Charging is complicated. It is against their habit. They do not see the need.” Let’s get back to reality: look at the picture below. In a decade the face of the earth changed, pushing horse-and-carriages and its whole sustaining economy into oblivion. In a decade. There was no habit for cars. No habit of fueling up. No paperwork or laws were ready at hand. It happened, because it had to. Horses were simply too polluting

Super Chargers

Electric cars are doomed, there is no nationwide network of chargers and superchargers. That needs to be fixed first”. Really? There were no gas stations in the 1900’s. No movie theaters either. No fast-food retail. No shopping malls. No….

Never in history (based on the empirical evidence of a 5 minute internet search) has the non-availability of a network refrained progress. On the contrary, most of the things we value today were developed as an ecosystem around an invention: cars, movie theatres, electric appliances, fast-food…

So there is no chicken or egg dilemma. If more and more electric cars hit the road, more chargers will pop up. More chargers will incite more people considering going electric. It’s a vortex, not a dilemma.

Batteries

The batteries are weak. Not up to spec. Polluting. Too heavy, that needs to be fixed first”.  The first combustion engines were made in really robust and heavy metal, and generated single digit horsepower. Still, cars were built around them, and people happily used them. 120 years later a combustion engine delivers potentially over 950 horsepower for a tenth of the 4 HP motor of 1922.

Blockers and drivers

The success of corporations, households and nations thrive on their capacity to tackle everything that blocks their process, and take advantage of every tiny bit that drives success.  Yes but, and chicken or egg thinking do not very well in that chapter.

So, what comes first? The Chicken? Or the Egg?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating… I ordered a chicken and an egg on Amazon. I will keep you posted.

RIP agility, a new omelet asks for broken eggs


Disruption, innovation… if there is one beating drum under the frenzy at #SXSW, it is that change will never be this slow again.

Future Identity

A plethora of speakers point out that it is crucial to contemplate on the very identity of the organization and the brand. “Change needs to be embedded in the very cultural fabric of the organization” states Jeremiah Owyang. It is clear that before you mess with the cultural fabric, you need to know exactly what it is, and define very carefully where you want to bring it. Learning who you are, and working on what you want to become, will be the carrier pigeon for your transformation. “This learning is a process, not an event” confirms Guy Kawasaki: “it never stops”.

What do we need to be to thrive

Bruce Sterling, steampunk science fiction author and futurist uses the future identity in his writing process: “It’s crucial to recognize the patterns that are shaping the future. How is it around the protagonist at the time of the desired result? What is influencing the protagonist? What skills does he need to survive in that environment? What lack of skills might bring him down? What is it like to be the protagonist? What are the answers to the questions that keep the hero awake at night? What tools does he need to go through this ”  This process allowed Sterling to predict with stunning accuracy a number of societal trends, disruptions, products and platforms over his long career. “This thinking is available for everybody”, Sterling told me in an interview a while ago: “It is about time that everyone in the industry starts thinking and inventing their own future. The future does not wait. It’s invented already, just not equally distributed.

Bruce Sterling Quote

Forging an identity is a complicated process: ask 20 people in the same organization what the organization is about and stands for, and you will most probably get 20 very different answers back. The extreme opposing spectra of these answers might even make you hesitate if those people are truly connected to the same organization.

Full thrust requires full trust

Change starts with directing the full power of an organization in a direction that will prepare it to be successful in the future. “To obtain full thrust, full trust will be needed”, says Beverly Jackson, VP Social Portfolio and Content Strategy, MGM Resorts International: “Results will always be suboptimal if people do not know what the brands stands for, what the brand essence is, and what the brand purpose is. Positive change can only happen if everyone sails in the same direction.” Jackson’s energetic slogan “Truth to Power, Power to Purpose” shows how the change and disruption tracks she carried at MGM, Yahoo and the Grammy’s are carried by transparency, determination and respect.

Purpose

Once you know who you are and who you want to be, you need to define what your purpose is.  The purpose of transformation is the lighthouse goal, the very direction everyone and all resources are geared towards.  Whether it is in B2B, in B2C or in B2B2C, purpose becomes the main lubricant to drive change throughout organizations. Moonshot Engineering, Exponential Thinking, Massive Transformation Purpose tracks build the very vehicle that needs to bring the organization to its next future habitat.   “If people do not believe in a brands purpose, they will most likely not pull their weight, Owyang said.

beverly jackson

A new omelet asks for broken eggs

Panels and keynotes at #sxsw partner up to symbolize and visualize an inconvenient truth. Change mostly requires killing the past, euthanizing the present. Breaking workplace barriers, killing current cash cows, shattering the glass ceiling, burying wage inequality, re-inventing work-life balance and compensation, blasting outdated technology into oblivion… getting future-ready requires energy.  Energy needed to deconstruct the now (smashing into pieces if needed), and strategize and build a new versatile approach that is ready for the future.

With workforces where up to 27 percent is actually actively opposed to change, operating systems that are too old to be updated, energy grid systems that often struggle to keep up with the current needs (and a US power grid limping decades behind), energy that still is mostly bolted down on fossil fuels, transportation that relies on a horse-substitute that is over a century old… baking a new omelet will mean breaking a lot of eggs. There seems to be little room for niceties, subtleties nor compromise, and little time to negotiate.  “There is no room in an organization for tech that slows you down, nor for negative people” said Jackson.

RIP Agility

While agile thinking is slowly becoming the new speed for most organizations, it looks like agile thinking might be too little, too slow, too late. More disruptive ways cut through corners as butter, and get results on exponential scale, very fast.

Even too-big to fail organizations do not escape this trend. There is always a part of the organization and its offerings that can be disrupted. If it can, it should. The history books show us a merciless mirror: the moment an organization, city or continent fails to find the energy and will to continue to invest in radical change, doom is just around the corner.

If you do not disrupt what can be disrupted, somebody else will. The automakers in Detroit and Germany long were reluctant to build the car of the future. Even Saab, an airplane builder could not crack that nut.

It took a coder like Musk to shake the tree, and re-invent the car as an application rather than a vehicle. Others followed suit, re-energizing the industry.

Saab on the contrary, is still very dead.



SXSW: Truth to Power, Power to Purpose

SXSW 2019 slowly powers down. My 15th one, and, -once again- a splendid edition. Austin is still weird. SXSW still inspiring. We’ve found the answers to some questions, and part with a gazillion new questions spinning in our heads. Mission qua brain fuel: accomplished. I tried to synthesize some highlights, before the maelstrom of things to do grabs me by the collar and that the reality of the business catches up.

Inclusion

SXSW does not have a lot of patience for yesterday’s thinking and yesterday’s habits. While most corporations and countries are still struggling with equal rights and diversity, SXSW is already full steam on inclusion. Inclusion is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. The difference between striving for equal rights, and inclusion is huge. Inclusion means that diversity in all its forms is firmly and structurally embedded in the very fabric of your society and your organization.

Inclusion tilts your organization to new heights, as women and men from every ethnic background, sexual preference, life choice and age contribute their full potential in finding the right path to a brilliant and bright future. Inclusive strategies have all the right ingredients from the very moment of conception.

Change is happening at neck breaking speeds, and all indicators show there is no slowing down any time soon. To answer this constant pressure, a culture of change needs to be installed in the root directory of every organization that wants to stay future-proof. Secondly, you will have to swing from your front foot. The best way to do that is with an inclusive team.

Fusion

The heydays of the Renaissance man are over. In Leonardo Da Vinci’s time, a polymath or Homo Universalis could know about everything there was to know at that time. Today, very few people span the necessary expertise in a broad number of subject areas. To be able to succeed in the decision-making, a fine set of skills and understanding needs to be fused together. Fusion thinking, and fusion rooms let people with different views, expertise and skills work closely together. This creates sparks that ignite (re)new(ed) thinking. Organizations need to draw on a complex set of knowledge to solve problems that get increasingly multifaceted.

A Fusion room where creative and impactful sparks rub off intense conversations and brainstorming in all openness and safety, is the beating heart of the culture of change. Supercharged collaboration, the ability to tackle everything, everywhere, anytime based on the fusional power of many. I like it.

Transparency, truth, power, purpose

SXSW clearly has no tolerance for the good old backroom tactics, grey zone approaches and black-box solutions… Transparency, traceability, and openness are the new power words. As well in B2B, as in B2C honesty and transparency became two extremely important metrics. In a world where the clients become more and more vocal, every transaction becomes a moral ‘tic off’ on the values of the business partner.

Brands find power in the values that are inherently linked to its experience. Perception becomes reality, and reality is fact based, and in these times of fake news fact checked. Values connect people and brands with links that go beyond the commercial transaction.

MGM’s Beverly Jackson’s personal motto nails it: “Truth to Power. Power to Purpose.”

Communication shifts from what you offer, to why you matter. Brands that are able to communicate (and show) clear purpose win, hands down. Marketing, communications and media put increasingly more emphasis on the softer bit of the corporate message.  Less down to earth product pushing, more purpose driven value matching.

P&G, Danone, Nike, Starbucks, Mercedes, Johnny Walker and countless other brands are stepping up to this purpose driven interactions.

Advertising needs to stop annoying people

Justin Billingsley, Global CEO Publicis Emil hopes that the next generation consumers will be able to say: “Advertising was the stuff that annoyed our parents when they were trying to do something else.”

The shooting from the hip at consumers on every single possible available platform clearly will not get you into the charts anymore. Consumer time and time indicate that they have had enough with media carpet bombing, and with brand messages that are not relevant to them.

The heavy intrusion of brands in digital media –and especially on social media-, communicating in ways that are not “native” to the platform is perceived as extremely annoying, up to a point that users try to hop from new platform to new platform in a desperate try to be ahead of the Corporate Media Rollercoaster.

Advertising needs to stop annoying people. The data and connection technologies are available to connect to everyone, at any given moment, on any device. The key is to find ways of using that nuclear connection power in combination with messages that are non-intrusive, relevant and engaging.

An ad blocker is a defensive weapon. If the internet user would not feel under attack, the ad blocker would simply not be deployed.

The battle for content

Content is magic. Content that is engaging, well made, informative, relevant, funny, inspiring… seems to be the elfenbridge between brand and consumer. Over the coming months, the battle for content is going to be fierce. With consumers more reluctant to share their own personal stories online, the social media and digital platforms are frenetically looking for good, engaging content. State-of-the-art, premium content- in text, info-graphic, audio and video is in high demand.

Life as it is doc’s, neighborhood focused news, memes, quality journalism overall, citizen journalism or good old entertainment, the social platforms are scrambling to get their timelines more relevant, more attractive, and more engaging.

Brands are also slowly waking up, and see that dry 6 pack shots in reach&frequency campaigns on Facebook buys them little more than very vocal consumer’s annoyance. On the other hand, good thought-true content on the same social platform creates huge added value.

Premium Content strikes back

Content is so good that people would be willing to pay for it,  -correct that-… are paying for it. The freshly launched Quibi video streaming service, Netflix, Spotify, HBO, CNN, Twitter, ShowTime,  YouTube,  Amazon Prime… they all were on stage to put the spotlight on their premium content.

From new episodes of Game Of Thrones, award winning top-notch productions (Roma!), over the return of the podcast (the clear winner of the battle for the intelligent speaker), to alliances with the world most creative influencers… premier content stood tall and proud.

The growing willingness of the market to actually pay for premium content makes content platforms less dependent on advertising dollars. Spotify, Amazon Prime, and Netflix are proving that they could run solely based on a subscription revenue.

Drowning in Data, Starving for Insights

Big Data might be the most used hollow phrase of the last years. There is data, yes: oceans of it. But, what do we do with it? What is the capacity of translating data in actionable intelligence?  How does data become a driver that moves the business needle in the right direction?

Drowning in Data, Starving for Insights was a revealing session on how to leverage the science of Information Architecture to redefine ROI for your brand. Data is everywhere, but the value and usefulness of that data can at times be elusive. Very Elusive.

SXSW took a steep and deep dive looking at the infinity pool of metrics at hand in a fully IOT- world. How to decipher which metrics are most valuable and the ability to re-invent the rules: there is gold to be had.

From drive-in movies, to movies in the car

Remember the day where youngsters would take the car, and enjoy a drive-in theater? Those days are long gone. The car developed into a supreme driving machine, and is on the verge of becoming something else altogether. Most of the premium car-brands are looking into (semi) autonomous cars. Electric cars that is. Fossil fueled cars seem to be in a blind alley, and alternatives like hydrogen are nowhere in the race for the moment.

Yes, there are still quite a few hurdles to take: We need laws and regulations. We need (even) better maps. We need cleaner, greener and sustainable energy to power those cars. (We need that to power our cities too, btw.) Investments in charging networks need to happen, and fast. We need better batteries; better battery management, and a transparent battery (re)lifecycle based on respect for people and planet. But all that will come within the next generation.

Most people have an audio system in the car that delivers music in a superior way than the systems in their living room”, analyst Jeremiah Owyang said:  “The car is not only a vehicle that takes you from A to B. It is the device that delivers you content and that enables you to interact: with people and with brands.

Once the car is fully autonomous, the curved windshield of the car could very well turn into the biggest and most impactful content delivery screen. Future car manufacturers will have a perfect entry point in the content experience of the commuters, and the car becomes de-facto a new competitive add-on as one of the connecting points in the already crowded communication and media ecosystem.

Business as usual

Honestly, there is none. 🙂

When the roots of democracy entangle in tech


Keep Austin Weird”, is the motto of the city. #SxSW reflects this weirdness to perfection. Centered in a very conservative stare –try getting a beer in Irving, Texas, and you will most probably be hanged, as it is dry county 🙂 – , Austin is the city of freedom, free thinking, and creative minds.  Cannabusiness, smoked BBQ, hippies, (cyber)punks and creative entrepreneurs make this city thrive. Since the beginning of SxSW Interactive, the impact of technology on humans and humanity has taken a very central part in the lineup of the festival.  As the tech and tech platforms became more sophisticated, the discussions on the impact on humanity heated up. Now that the roots of tech, platforms and applications seem to have an impact on the very roots of our democracies, the debates are steaming hot. Carefully rolled out logarithms coupled with demagogic propaganda and programmatic message delivery based on psychographic and sociographic data seems to be the winning cocktail to get people elected. Even presidents.

The politicians were here at Southby, loud and clear, drawing more crowd than some of the short-skirted high-heeled stars from the Film offering.

Skynet or the return of the Jedi

This is an important sign. While over the past years only few politicians played the apprentice sorcerer on social platforms and digital media, this year’s invasion of politicians, political analysts, regulators, and party high-rollers proves how much tech became entangled in politics, and how politics entrenched itself in every pore of our cultural and creative lives.

With an evil emperor on the US throne, who rules on one-liners, tweets, popularity scores and memes, it became clear to all that winning will mean having a perfect mastery of digital and social media. Winning from the Skynet of political programmatic and its stupidifying fake news will require a candid capacity in driving the political agenda through the same news channels.

John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado, Beto O’Rourke, senator Elizabeth Warren, ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, senator Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris,  even a Bernie Sanders did a video-ed fly-by from Iowa. It’s clear that the presidential hopefuls got SxSW very high on their agenda.

The most massive crowd was drawn by the young and up-and-coming political star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, more commonly known by her digital call sign #AOC. She out-starred most movie stars in sheer star capacity, and received certainly far more attention than the Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities in Austin.

 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

It has to be said that Ocasio-Cortez was particularly busy. On top of her featured session, the New York freshman representative appeared in on-stage interviews and attended an event to promote the new Netflix documentary “Knock Down the House,”.  This documentary followed her 2018 political campaign as one out of four female progressive candidates.

As Europeans, we often get the political landscape through Trumpenian lenses. The Trump camp colors Ocasio-Cortez as a young witless chick, who will be blasted back to her waitress job in no time.

I beg to differ: AOC does not look the senseless bimbo from the Bronx that her adversaries would like you to believe. I saw a young charismatic woman, sharp as nails, quick as lightning, determined, on top of facts and figures, with a clear and penetrating mind. She was so quick, that the dullness of the reporter interviewing her painfully stood out. For future debates, quicker reporters will have to be sent into the field!

But it does not matter what I think of AOC. One can notice how she is carefully building reach and credibility, how she is developing herself into the absolute champion of social networks. The young woman is the only one with an impact on Twitter that rivals Donald Trump. She is clearly ambitious, and wants to play the long game:  “We’ve become so cynical, that we view cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude.  We view ambition as youthful naiveté when … the greatest things we have ever accomplished as a society have been ambitious acts of vision.”

Fertile ground

 AOC’s appearance at SxSW is smart. She is still too young to be a presidential candidate, but she showed press, republicans and conservatives alike that she already draws a much bigger crowd than the candidates in the race for the upcoming elections. The progressive, indie-alternative cyberpunk rooted crowd at the festival clearly saw something of a “New Hope” in the elegant New Yorker.

Weapons of mass influence

Politicians, tech tycoons and C-level suits alike draw more and more on the plethora of communication and media tech that still is at the core of SxSW. This technology is powerful, targeted, precise, and impactful. It’s increasingly becoming the “Force” as in Star Wars. I can only hope that the coin flips to the good side of the force. In the wrong hands, our communication platforms, connective science and message wizardry become weapons of mass destruction. It is already happening.  

We need new politicians, analysts and journalists to be up for the task.

May The Force be with them.



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