For our first Unbillable of 2015, we are taking a considered look at things that matter—and raising an eyebrow to the things we aren't sure of just yet. We are thinking about pro-aging adverts, freedom of speech, empathy, human bonds, anti-toxic engineering teams, mental health, team members who get it done, and technophants.
Things we're saluting
Team Contributions. We love what David Zweig, author of the forthcoming Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion, is saying about team members who deliver hard but are behind the scenes. How do you know if you are one of these non-self-promotional, bad ass workers? If you answer YES to all three:
- I have an ambivalence toward recognition.
- I am meticulous.
- I savor responsibility.
Here's to all the Made-by'ers who get it done day in and day out. And to all y'all doing the same.
Lego = Apple of Toys. Underpinning their meteoric surge over the last decade is not only the usual growth stuff: improving processes, cutting costs, and managing cash flow, BUT ALSO "deep ethnographic studies of how kids around the world really play" and a "classical skunk-works approach" to discover "what’s obviously Lego, but has never been seen before" according to hands-on CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp. He goes on to emphasize the power in the simplicity of their products: "All bricks are complementary. They all fit together. Which creates a system that you can be endlessly creative in." Quite Applesque and Jobsian indeed.
Awesome Fashion Adverts. In an industry known for fetishizing youth and vapidity, it is nothing short of revolutionary to see the house of Céline name immortal intellectual, permanent cool-girl, and now nonagenarian Joan Didion their new face. In the words of Vogue's Alessandra Codinha, Didion is "ultimate Céline woman: brilliant, creative, vaguely recalcitrant."
Human Bonds. Like the De Elizabeth of Thought Catalog, we too miss the web of yesteryear. Her top ten reasons you know you are obsessed with Live Journal post actually revealed something deeper. Many Made-by'ers were early purveyors of the web and long for the "stronger bonds" we had with our LJ friends (more so than ones we had with our IRL friends). Why? Writes Elizabeth: "You knew every detail of their existence, from their emotional breakups to their favorite type of ice cream. It was a unique type of connection, and one that you will always be a little nostalgic for.”
Timberland's Reboot. They used customer data and intensive customer research to shift from being purely about the outdoors and better serving one of their biggest audiences: urbanites.
Things that concern us
Engineering Culture. The narrative of the "brogrammer culture" often dominates discussions of what's wrong with engineering culture. Departing from this—but in no way undermining the issues of racism and sexism—software engineer Jasmine Tsai implores us to stop the anti-collaborative, self-righteous toxicity in our engineer cultures.
Consciousness Activism. While the world clamors that they are Charlie, philosopher-cum-activist Scott Long explains why he is not. TL;DR — "Changing avatars on social media is a pathetic distraction from changing realities in society. To combat violence you must look unflinchingly at the concrete inequities and practices that breed it." When something of this magnitude rocks our world, it is natural for us to want to do something. But avatar-changing alone isn't that thing. Lasting, systemic actions are.
Suicide Journalism. As if the act of taking your life and writing about it just before you do is not tragic enough, there is a rise in what the Daily Beast's Arthur Chu calls "concern trolls." Pointing to Leelah Alcorn's recent suicide and the New Statesman's Sarah Ditum's—in Chu's words—attempt to "cover it up," Chu claims that by asking people not to share Alcorn's public suicide note disallows us from being able to "examine the cause of the tragedy and keep it from happening again." He points to other tragedies
Things that really matter to us
Mental Health. Three pieces that have us taking pause at the moment include:
One: Caroline Williams of The Guardian writes about new research that might indicated that depression is a kind of allergic reaction. She asks: "could [the stigma around depression] really be killed off by shifting the blame from the mind to the body?" The answer, though not definitive: "there may be a blood test that can measure inflammation in people with depression so that they can be treated accordingly."
Two: For many of us with seemingly placid "I've got my sh!t together" vibes, there are likely paralyzing, anxiety-ridden waters below. With this in mind, let us heed the advice of Scottish theologian Ian Maclaren in 2015 (and always): “Be pitiful, for every [person] is fighting a hard battle."
Three: Although long argued as beneficial to mental health, meditation is now being probed for possible adverse effects. There is the potential "dark night" effect, which described by Buddhist monk Shinzen Young is characterized as "irreversible insight into emptiness" and "enlightenment's evil twin."
Empathy. We have no shortage of blog posts here at Made by Many that document our passion for intentional user research. So when we see something that turns our heads in this space, we want to make sure to spotlight it. Here's looking at you Indi Young—author of Practical Empathy and illustrious empathy researcher / writer / speaker / expert at Rosenfeld Media / founding partner at Adaptive Path—and your "Becoming Person Focused" story by way of Savi and her UX Team at "BigInsuranceCompany." TL;DR — "The story demonstrates a shift in attitude away from fighting for internal attention and toward including people you work with in the same philosophy that you use to understand customers."
Things that make us go: Hmmm.
2015 is the New '90s. Argues The Verge's Nilay Patel: “2015 will be defined by the Revenge of '90s Internet: media and tech giants flirting with each other, dominant players throwing their weight around, and portals, portals everywhere.” He goes on to call out giant-by-giant, stating: Facebook is the new AOL. Google is the new Microsoft; Qualcomm is the new Intel. Buzzfeed is the new Yahoo. The Internet of Things is the new digital hub. VR is the new VR. BlackBerry is the new Apple—adding a quip: “But how fun would it be if Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis came back and stormed the industry, Jobs-style?”
Hashgag. Possibly the most eloquently argued piece to highjack the hashtag-hashbaggery verbiage, Jason Porath delivers interesting insights about how "cute nonsensical character designs that make zero sense [are] bolted onto the rest of the movie in ridiculous vignettes" through his concept of the hashgag. Neither Madagascar nor Despicable Me are safe from Jason Porath's critical wrath (sorry, I had to).
Seductive Dystopias. New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum gives “Black Mirror” the best treatment in print yet.
Googled in Your Borough. No, but really, why is GMT the centre / center of time?
Things that make us go: Huh?
Absolute Bezos. Why did the Amazon Fire Phone fail? In the words of employees close to the matter: "In essence, we were not building the phone for the customer—we were building it for Jeff." And here we thought the user-focused, friction-removing, optimization-powerhouse that is Amazon didn't practice the dark arts of Don Draper style solutions. We are saddened by this.
Bibliophilic Zuckerberg. Salon's Erin Keane offers Mark Zuckerberg some literary advice about picking his 1-book-ever-two-weeks challenge for 2015. She also notes that there is already a Oprah-like "Zuckerberg Effect" afoot for the titles he announces as his picks on his Facebook page. “The End of Power" has surged to #8 on Amazon's overall best sellers list since he chose it for his first read.
Keeping Up with Elon Musk. FORTUNE's Peter Elkind weaves a marvelous story that is "The crazy, real-life story of how the CEO of electric-car maker Tesla dazzled, seduced, squeezed, bluffed, manipulated, and prodded his way to epic state incentives to build a massive battery plant in the Nevada desert." What will he think of doing next?
One of the great things about the Made by Many office is the diverse set of skills we each bring to the table, and what better way to share than to teach?
A recent BBC survey has found that 4 million people in the UK expect to spend most of Christmas day alone. This isn't just a problem at this time of year....
Whether you’re trudging across town or hopping on a plane somewhere cold (or warm), here are our top eleven holiday reading ideas. Possibly slightly biase...