Posts tagged “meaning”

The most important meal of the day

Culture eating strategy for breakfast at a recent custom car show…

Every company wants consumer loyalty, but not every organization knows what to do with it. The kind of fandom that expresses itself as a brand militia, while a tremendous asset, is not a force easily controlled from the top.

In a New York Times article on Chevrolet’s recent attempt to wrangle their identity back from the people by mandating GM staff to say “Chevrolet” rather than “Chevy,” Corvette racer Dick Guldstrand explains:

Once it became an American icon, America took it away from G.M. They made it a Chevy. You’re doing a disservice to all the people by telling them not to call it a Chevy.

Whether you’re talking about consumers or the members of an organization itself, a strategy based on top-down control leaves little room for passionate engagement. Cisco CEO John Chambers is remaking that organization’s entire structure around the perspective that

Leadership is not really about delegating tasks and monitoring results; it is about imbuing the entire workforce with a sense of responsibility for the business.

Ongoing engagement – through shared responsibility and shared identity – builds loyalty. And this process can only happen if an organization or brand leaves room for people’s agency, so they can create a sense of ownership and meaning for themselves.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Chinese Comedian Gets Laughs in U.S., But Puzzles People in China [] – Chinese-American comedian Joe Wong draws from his experiences as an immigrant to get the crowds laughing. China Central Television, the biggest TV network in the country, deemed his success in the U.S. curious enough that it dedicated a special program to him in December. The peg: He's the Chinese scientist who makes Americans laugh. While CCTV declared that Mr. Wong's success proves "humor has no boundaries," it concluded the program without showing any of his jokes. Mr. Wong's first live gig in Beijing, in late 2008, was "not successful," he says. In America, he says, it's funny to poke fun at yourself. But in China, there's no humor in misfortune. Back home, Mr. Wong's dad is among those puzzled by his success. Huang Longji, who lives in an industrial city near China's border with North Korea, says he is proud of his son, but a career in comedy isn't what the retired engineer expected for his son. "It's just like a black hen lays a white egg," he said.
  • Atlanta transit system MARTA changes “yellow” line to “gold” [Gold Dome Live] – Moving to tamp a controversy that has reached the national news, MARTA CEO said in February that the transit agency would change the name of its “yellow” train line, which goes to Doraville, home to a large Asian-American community. She said MARTA had never intended to offend anyone with the re-naming, which went into effect Oct. 1, along with other color names for the rest of the system, and that it was making the change out of “an abundance of caring for this community.” A MARTA employee who dealt with diversity issues warned the agency a month before the change that it could offend some in the Asian-American community.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Lost Garden: Ribbon Hero turns learning Office into a game – If an activity can be learned; If the player’s performance can be measured; If the player can be rewarded or punished in a timely fashion, then any activity that meets these criteria can be turned into a game. Not only can you make a game out of the activity, but you can turn tasks traditionally seen as a rote or frustrating into compelling experiences that users find delightful.
  • With Rival E-Book Readers, It’s Amazon vs. Apple – [] – Ian Freed, vice president for the Kindle at Amazon, said he expected developers would devise a wide range of programs, including utilities like calculators, stock tickers and casual video games. He also predicts publishers will begin selling a new breed of e-books, like searchable travel books and restaurant guides that can be tailored to the Kindle owner’s location; textbooks with interactive quizzes; and novels that combine text and audio. “We knew from the earliest days of the Kindle that invention was not all going to take place within the walls of Amazon,” Mr. Freed said. “We wanted to open this up to a wide range of creative people, from developers to publishers to authors, to build whatever they like.”
  • Pushing Military Styles to a New Level of Ferocity [] – A stepped-up demand for vests, blazers and hoodies tough enough to deflect a .22-caliber blast but sleek enough for a night of clubbing suggests that body armor is not just for the security-conscious. Fake or real, it exerts a pull on those inclined to flaunt it as a flinty fashion statement. “The trend to protective gear is pretty strong right now,” said Richard Geist, the founder of Uncle Sam’s Army Navy Outfitters in downtown Manhattan. “It’s big with rappers, alternative types and even some women.” Uncle Sam’s sells protective gear to the military. But most of its clients are civilians who snap up authentic bulletproof vests for as much as $1,000 or trade down to look-alike versions stripped of their armored lining ($24).
  • ComScore Calls Shenanigans on Gartner’s 99.4% App Store Figure [Maximum PC] – Gartner says 99.4% of app sales in 2009 were from Apple. ComScore disputes the figures but Gartner stands by its determination.
  • Amazon launching Kindle Development Kit so third parties can develop apps – Active content will be available to customers in the Kindle Store later this year. Remember that unlike smart phones, the Kindle user does not pay a monthly wireless fee or enter into an annual wireless contract. Kindle active content must be priced to cover the costs of downloads and on-going usage. Voice over IP functionality, advertising, offensive materials, collection of customer information without express customer knowledge and consent, or usage of the Amazon or Kindle brand in any way are not allowed. In addition, active content must meet all Amazon technical requirements, not be a generic reader, and not contain malicious code.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Electric Bicycles Are Gaining a Toehold in the U.S. [] – But there may be a greater challenge for companies like Sanyo and other e-bike makers. People tend to think of their transportation, like their clothes or cellphones, as an expression of their identity. In China, riding an electric bike conveys professional achievement, even a certain degree of wealth. People in the United States, said Ed Benjamin, an independent consultant in the bike business, don’t quite know whether these bikes are fashionable. The e-bike is “an ambiguous statement,” Mr. Benjamin said.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • The Beaver gets a new name [CBC News] – An iconic Canadian history magazine is changing its name to avoid a variety of misunderstandings. The current issue of the 90-year-old Winnipeg bi-monthly, The Beaver: Canada's History Magazine, is the final one to have that name on the cover. In April, the magazine will be known as Canada's History.

    "Use of the word 'beaver' on the internet has taken on an identity that nobody could have perceived in 1920," said Deborah Morrison, president of Canada's National Historical Society. "And increasingly, if we put 'The Beaver' in a heading, we would be spam-filtered out."

    The society also conducted market research last year with readers, and the conclusion was that the current name was just not working as an appropriate title, she said.

    "Canadians were twice as likely not to subscribe because of the title of the magazine, even if they showed an interest in Canadian history," Morrison said, adding there were also a lot of people who thought the magazine was a nature publication.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Stereotyping people by favorite authors – In our Reading Ahead research, we heard about how people were both exploring and communicating identity through their choices of reading material. Identity is a complex internal and external mechanism, where we (explicitly or implicitly) project outwards to imagine how we might appear to others…an internal act that feels or draws from the external. So the existence of lists like this, while tongue-in-cheek, validate that this process is real.
    (via @kottke)
  • Scott Baldwin on the fine art of listening – Try changing how you listen. Try to capture the message (listen with your ears, mind, eyes and heart). Make eye contact, use an open posture and be attentive to body language, volume, tone and pace. Look deeper than just the meaning of the words and try to understand the reason, feelings or intent beyond the words. Be empathetic, objective and analytical.
  • An iPhone app for ethnography – Really? I haven't tried it but I am not encouraged by the description. What we're looking for doesn't always fit into predetermined categories (indeed, how are you to be innovative if the type of data you are gathering is already classifiable?) and there's a danger in conflating data with insights (or as the blogger here writes "outcomes"). Raw data is overwhelming and takes time and skill to process, if you want to find out anything new. Now, we spend a lot of our time just wrangling (copying, renaming, organizing, sharing, etc.) all sorts of data, so I'm up for tools that can help with that; but I think it's easy to go overboard and create tools for uninteresting – or unreliable – research results
  • Lisa Loeb Eyewear Collection – Not an SNL parody ad from 1997, it's a real product line for 2010 (via @CarlAlviani)

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • The Air Force is just the latest organization to adopt the PS3 as a cheaper cluster computer – Talk about unintended usage! "The PS3s offer some outstanding performance for the price," said Richard Linderman, senior scientist for advanced computing architectures at the Air Force Research Laboratory. "It's an opportunity to leverage the large gaming market and get those kinds of cost efficiencies which are more along the lines of high-performance computing."

    (Thanks, Kenichi!)

  • Russia considers the functional and cultural impacts of changing their 11 time zones – The time zones, set up by the Soviets to showcase the country’s size, have long been a source of national pride, but the government is now viewing them as a liability and is considering shedding some. In today’s economy of constant communication, it is hard to manage businesses and other affairs when one region is waking up and another is thinking about dinner. The issue has blossomed in recent days into an intense debate across the country about how Russians see themselves, about how the regions should relate to the center, about how to address the age-old problem of creating a sense of unity in this land.
  • Digital whiteboard for the Kindle – [This is a good example of the “ecosystem” we identified as an opportunity area in our Reading Ahead research] Luidia, the maker of an interactive whiteboard technology called eBeam, is extending its reach onto another screen: Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader. The start-up is launching a system that automatically zaps a copy of notes and scribbles left on whiteboards into people’s Kindle or Kindle DX. It works by turning the notes (captured digitally by the eBeam system) into an image file, and then emailing that file to a Kindle. The notes capability could help improve the ways students use the Kindle in classrooms, says Luidia. Nearly 90% of Luidia’s customers are K-12 schools, some of which have been experimenting with using Kindles and e-reading technology to lighten the load of students. In theory, a teacher could present a whole lesson and then zap the notes to students or parents.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Jobs on the Kindle, January 2008 – Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading.

    “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

  • Roger Ebert’s Books Do Furnish A Life (plus a ton of amazing comments) – I cannot throw out these books. Some are protected because I have personally turned all their pages and read every word; they're like little shrines to my past hours. Perhaps half were new when they came to my life, but most are used, and I remember where I found every one. The set of Kipling at the Book Nook on Green Street in Champaign. The scandalous The English Governess in a shady book store on the Left Bank in 1965. The Shaw plays from Cranford's on Long Street in Cape Town, where Irving Freeman claimed he had a million books; it may not have been a figure of speech. Like an alcoholic trying to walk past a bar, you should see me trying to walk past a used book store.

    Other books I can't throw away because–well, they're books, and you can't throw away a book, can you? The very sight of Quick and Easy Chinese Cooking by Kenneth H. C. Lo quickens my pulse. Its pages are stained by broth, sherry, soy sauce and chicken fat.

  • Seats Of Gold – A writer's experience in the newly-redefined "luxury" seats at the new Yankee Stadium. Fascinating as Wall Street hyper-greed spills into other industries and illustrates how to kill loyalty dead. Hard to summarize this piece, but it's a great case study and a well-written piece as the author documents their own experience supplemented with a lot of background interviews.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • TD National Reading Summit: Creating A National Reading Strategy for Canada – Reading is under pressure from screen-based learning materials in classrooms and screen-oriented entertainments in homes are reducing the access that children have to print materials. The reduction of book budgets for school and public libraries that many provinces experienced in the 1990s has made it harder for libraries to engage students and adults in developing reading habits and skills. More research confirms the importance of reading in academic success, enhanced quality of life, stable economies, and strong communities.

    Becoming a reader is at the very heart of responsible citizenship, but we often lose sight of what reading contributes to our sense of self, our cultural awareness, our capacity for self-expression and, ultimately, our notions of engaged citizenship and the collective good. Reading is about so much more than a technical act that allows us to communicate, consume media and perform the activities of daily life. To be literate is necessary, but it is not enough.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Things I Would Rather Read On Paper – I recently built up a hefty backlog of unread articles, and the prospect of reading them all on a laptop or iPhone screen seemed like more of a chore than a pleasure. I should really get around to actually reading some of these things that I'm saving to Read Later. Something had obviously gone wrong. I had personally curated a series of articles, blog posts and essays that I was genuinely interested in, but somehow the resulting collection felt like a to-do list, yet another inbox on my computer waiting to be un-bolded. What I really wanted was a nicer user interface to these articles. So I copy-and-pasted the text of my unread articles from Instapaper into a PDF, uploaded it to, and ordered a single book.
  • As innovative products are introduced, category boundaries are continually shifting and new categories emerging – Lexar Media, a digital photography start-up founded in 1996, sold memory cards. They used a variety of signals to persuade early adopters, especially professional photographers, to classify the memory cards that store pictures as similar to the silver halide film used in analog cameras.

    Lexar Media’s product was put in gold packaging similar to Kodak’s film cartridges, given a speed rating to create an analogy to ISO ratings, labeled as “digital film” on the package and in advertising, and placed in the camera section of retail stores.

    Sony promoted a competing categorization, labeling its cards “Memory Stick” and advocating their use for many of the company’s consumer electronics devices, including digital music players, handhelds and digital camcorders. Other companies also adopted this broader memory classification, so Lexar Media’s success in establishing memory cards as analogous to film was short-lived, and the company stopped promoting the cards as digital film.

  • Will Piracy Become a Problem for E-Books? – Until now, few readers have preferred e-books to printed or audible versions, so the public availability of free-for-the-taking copies did not much matter. But e-books won’t stay on the periphery of book publishing much longer. E-book hardware is on the verge of going mainstream. More dedicated e-readers are coming, with ever larger screens. So, too, are computer tablets that can serve as giant e-readers, and hardware that will not be very hard at all: a thin display flexible enough to roll up into a tube.

    With the new devices in hand, will book buyers avert their eyes from the free copies only a few clicks away that have been uploaded without the copyright holder’s permission? Mindful of what happened to the music industry at a similar transitional juncture, book publishers are about to discover whether their industry is different enough to be spared a similarly dismal fate.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Japanese cultural norms – asking about weight – Insightful little culture-clash story; an American working in Japan isn't sure how to deal with blunt (especially from the Japanese!) questions about his increasing weight
  • Clive Thomson on Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, renowned for his use of mathematical game theory models for prediction – Those who have watched Bueno de Mesquita in action call him an extremely astute observer of people. He needs to be: when conducting his fact-gathering interviews, he must detect when the experts know what they’re talking about and when they don’t. “His ability to pick up on body language, to pick up on vocal intonation, to remember what people said and challenge them in nonthreatening ways — he’s a master at it,” says Rose McDermott, a political-science professor at Brown who has watched Bueno de Mesquita conduct interviews. She says she thinks his emotional intelligence, along with his ability to listen, is his true gift, not his mathematical smarts. “The thing is, he doesn’t think that’s his gift,” McDermott says. “He thinks it’s the model. I think the model is, I’m sure, brilliant. But lots of other people are good at math. His gift is in interviewing. I’ve said that flat out to him, and he’s said, ‘Well, anyone can do interviews.’ But they can’t.”
  • New York Times Magazine on the Beatles’ Rock Band videogame – This is a fantastic article that spans many big issues: gaming, music, performance, art, history, culture, product development, authenticity, creativity, entertainment, technology. It's a must-read.
  • Brian Dettmer turns books into sculptural pieces – Contemporary visual artists see opportunity in what many bemoan as the twilight of the age of the book. John Latham (1921-2006), Hubertus Gojowczyk, Doug Beube and others have treated books as sculptural stuff. But no one whose work I have seen tops that of Atlanta artist Brian Dettmer at Toomey Tourell.

Reading Ahead: Research Findings

Reading ahead logo with space above

(Updated to include slideshow with synchronized audio track)

We’re very excited today to be posting our findings from the Reading Ahead research project.

Lots more in the deck below, but here’s the executive summary

  • Books are more than just pages with words and pictures; they are imbued with personal history, future aspirations, and signifiers of identity
  • The unabridged reading experience includes crucial events that take place before and after the elemental moments of eyes-looking-at-words
  • Digital reading privileges access to content while neglecting other essential aspects of this complete reading experience
  • There are opportunities to enhance digital reading by replicating, referencing, and replacing social (and other) aspects of traditional book reading

We sat down yesterday in the office and recorded ourselves delivering these findings, very much the way we would deliver them to one of our clients.

Usually, we deliver findings like these to a client team in a half day session, and there’s lots of dialogue, but we tried to keep it brief here to help you get through it. (The presentation lasts an hour and twenty minutes.)

It’s been a great project, and we’ve really appreciated hearing from people along the way. We welcome further comments and questions, and look forward to continuing the dialogue around this work.


Reading Ahead: Building models

Reading ahead logo with space above

We’ve been hard at work synthesizing the Reading Ahead data. There’s a great deal of writing involved in communicating the results, and sometimes it makes sense to develop a visual model that represents a key idea.

Here are several partial models evolving through paper and whiteboard sketches, and finally into digital form.

We’ll be finishing synthesis soon, and publishing our findings on Slideshare, with an audio commentary.

Stay tuned…




Reading Ahead: Looking for the story

Reading ahead logo with space above

I started today by typing up all of the Post-it notes you saw in our recent blog post on Synthesis.

This activity created a 6-page Word document of bullet points.

The next part of the process is something I always find challenging: taking an incredibly detailed list of observations, particpant statements, hypotheses, and ideas; figuring out what the Big Ideas are (there’s a point in the process where many of them seem Big!), and putting those into a form that tells a cogent story.

First step: make a cup of tea.

Ok, then my next steps were:

  • Categorize all those bullet points
  • Synthesize those categories a bit further
  • Write down in as short a paragraph as possible what I would tell someone who asked me, “what did you find out?”

Then I went into PowerPoint, which is what we use when we present findings to our clients. I’ll continue bouncing back and forth between Word and PowerPoint; each piece of software supports a different way of thinking and writing.

I dropped my synthesized categories into a presentation file, sifted all of the bullet points from my Word doc into the new categories, and then started carving and shaping it all so that it started to follow the paragraph I had written. (I’m mixing cooking and sculpting metaphors here.)

I printed out the presentation draft, and laid it out so I could see the whole thing at once.


Steve came back from a meeting and I asked him to read over what I’d printed out. He started writing notes on my printouts, pulling out what he saw as the biggest of the Big Ideas.


We talked about what he’d written, which led to an energetic discussion in which we really started to breathe life into this. Tomorrow, I’ll start the day by iterating the presentation draft based on our conversation.

Reading Ahead: Analysis and Synthesis

Reading ahead logo with space above

Synthesizing field data into well-articulated, data-driven patterns, themes, and opportunities is a big part of our work, but it’s an aspect that generally has less visibility than the fieldwork.

An essential early step in the synthesis process involves going back over the fieldwork sessions. An hour or two-hour interview creates an incredible amount of information. By going back into a record of the interview, we make sure not to leave anything significant behind.

We go through and make notes on interview transcripts (done by an outside service), watch videos of the sessions, and look over photographs, sketches, maps, and participatory design pieces.

Annotated interview transcript

We made a bulletin board of the people we met, so they’re ever-present while we’re working.


Yesterday we came together to share the points we’d each pulled out. We present each interview, like a case study, to the team. Sometimes it’s just us, and sometimes our clients join us for part of this process.


While one of us presented, the other captured the essence onto Post-its. We had a lot of discussion and debate while we did this, pulling together multiple viewpoints.


When we were done presenting the interviews, the board looked like this:


Our next step is to take these notes and start grouping them. We’ll look at different ways the information can be organized, and from there, will start refining our work and writing it up clearly and succinctly into a report.


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