Showing posts from 2009

The Only Certain Prediction for the Next Decade: All Forecasts Will be Wrong

As we approach the end of a decade once again the media have begun the tiresome review of the past ten years. Try as you might you will not find a newspaper or TV schedule that doesn’t feature some sort of overview of the noughties. Some, perhaps unwisely, are also essaying some predictions for the coming decades – the “oneties” I call them for the lack of a better name (the word comes from my three year old son who said onety-one, onety-two instead of 11 and 12 when he was smaller).
Normally I would not add to the confusion, but this year I have decided to share with you the only prediction you will ever need. Cut this out and paste it to something everlasting like a pyramid where you can always find it: All Predictions Will Be Wrong.
Why is it that predictions about the future are always so wrong? I believe that there are three fundamental mechanisms:
1. Underestimating the dominance of momentum: the Trains & Planes Case. Browsing through old books and magazines you will often find…

Mutant Facebook Groups: Yet Another Social Media Hazard You Need to Know About

Every time I read some PR maven forecast that social media spells the end of PR I always laugh. Far from putting flacks out of work, social media tools like Facebook and Twitter actually create more work, generating or adapting content, monitoring and watching out for hidden dangers. Communications professionals in the old days never had to worry about domain name or typo squatting, and they didn’t have to worry about fake Twitter accounts in their name.

And they certainly didn’t have to worry about Mutant Facebook Groups. This is a new danger where someone creates a new Facebook group with some generally acceptable scope, such as “Keep Facebook Free”. Then, when millions have signed up, the administrator changes the group name and description to something like “Let’s Eat Human Flesh!”.
Can’t happen? Yes it can and it did this week. A person or persons unknown created a number of groups in Italy with titles like “Support the Victims of the Abruzzo Earthquake” and “Support Made in Italy…

SideWiki Less Cool Than it First Appeared: Ten and a Half Reasons Why

In a recent posting I expressed my disagreement with an article published in the Guardian newspaper suggesting that Google Sidewiki could mean the end of PR as we know it (see )

At first I said that Sidewiki was cool, but simply that I did not think it was any threat to PR as we know it. Indeed I believe it creates more opportunities. Looking more closely, though, I now think that it is clever but I am not so sure that it is such a good idea. Here are ten and a half reasons why:
1. Users need to know it exists and website owners are not likely to put a button saying ”click here to see uninvited and possibly hostile comments on this site”
2. You need to install the toolbar to see it, at least for now.
3. You need to remember to turn the Sidewiki on.
4. Turning it on slows down page loading so you turn it off.
5. Controversial sites will block it.
6. Well managed sites will find ways to bury bad comments.
7. …

Culture, Innovation and the Curious Case of Pandora Internet Radio

Most people seriously underestimate the impact of cultural and social factors on innovation. Very often excited inventors roll out a product that is objectively “better” only to find that it bombs in the market for reasons that are perhaps obvious only to an anthropologist.
Take, for example, the stubborn resistance of European drivers to automatic transmission, which is an almost universal standard in the US and Asia. Most vehicles sold in Europe still have a manual stick shift and if you admit that you like automatics people look down on you. Your European friends will rationalize all sorts of explanations about safety, economy and performance, but the reality is that they are afraid to seem inadequate. Drivers of automatics are perceived as being incapable of driving properly and deep down they are considered unmanly, regardless of gender. Pretty much the same hostility slowed the introduction of footrests on saddles, wheels on luggage and countless other improvements.
Sometimes also…

SideWiki is Cool, but Reports it Spells the End of PR As We Know It are Exaggerated

In a world where there is an exciting new web tool practically every day of the week, Google’s new “SideWiki” toolbar did not quite make the impact it deserved when it emerged about a month ago.

Effectively it answers all the people who have become so used to adding their comments on Facebook posts and newspaper articles that they feel frustrated when they read an old time one-way web page with no comment space. SideWiki adds a column on the left of any web page where users can write comments and read the comments of others. Though the idea is not entirely original it will be more successful than earlier attempts simply because Google is a strong brand and has a broad customer base.

When Sidewiki catches on it will be another useful way of interacting with websites, and I expect that it will soon become a standard browser feature, though there is likely to be a battle for control of this space because of the possibilities of generating revenues from ad space and paid links.

But some of t…

Stockholm’s Rabbit-Fueled Heating: Why Some Things Are Just Not Good Ideas and How to Rescue “Hopeless” PR Cases

Competent PR professionals can deal with any emergency. It’s their job and it is why we have crisis plans. But there are some cases where even seasoned veterans must wish they had better customers. One that springs to mind is the use of real human cadavers as crash test dummies about a generation ago. Objectively most reasonable people could accept that this testing could make cars safer and benefit humanity. But the same reasonable people also think that it is perhaps a little too ruthless and you will need more than just careful spin to make it palatable.

Just recently the city of Stockholm, Sweden, found itself in exactly this kind of situation. News reports in local media revealed that rabbits culled in city parks were being burned to heat homes. Predictably the coverage in media worldwide was universally negative, especially when it was revealed that these were not wild rabbits but descendents of abandoned pets.

Twitterers, bloggers and journos across the planet pushed each other a…

More Smear, Seven Foot Doctors and Yes, Sometimes Punctuation IS Important

Over the years I have taught hundreds of managers how to communicate effectively. One point I often make is that you should be focusing more on the goals and messages, and not just obsessing over minute rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation. But these can sometimes be very important too, as we will see.

Yesterday I picked up a new ink cartridge for a printer and I was mildly surprised to see the package promising “more smear”. Looking again I realized that it really said “More smear resistant”. The reason my brain was fooled into not reading the second half of the adjective is that the hyphen was missing. If I had seen “more smear-“ my mind would have delayed interpreting the phrase until I had read the next word.

This is just one example where sloppy punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence or at least makes it ambiguous. Another classic of this type is the alleged newspaper headline “Hospital Sued by Seven Foot Doctors”, which is actually just a joke. Not only were the do…

If Fish Could Draw… How Limitations of One Media Drive Creativity in Other Media

If fish could draw perhaps their drawings would all be done with a fisheye perspective, though PJ O’Rourke once famously remarked that if fish really did see like that we could go after them with baseball bats and not need to buy expensive fly rods.Since the stone age artists have drawn and painted with the normal human eye perspective, but I have noticed that nowadays they sometimes draw and paint with a perspective that no human had seen until wide angle lenses were invented.I have in front of me a book* by the renowned Swedish illustrator Catarina Kruusval which is mostly drawn in this style.Ms Kruusval is clearly inspired by wide angle lens images because she draws landscapes with an exaggerated earth curvature effect and also drawings from above with distorted verticals.Probably she has seen landscape photos taken with very wide lenses.I suspect she is also influenced by security camera viewpoints which are both wide angle and also generally taken from above.A closer look reveals…

Language Learning 2.0: Simple, Sensible Short Cuts to Mastering New Languages in the Web 2.0 Age

Often I meet people who are trying to improve their communications but at the same time are trying to do it in a language that is not their first. I understand the problem well since it is what I do myself most of the time, but over the years I have picked up some useful shortcuts to speaking and writing more effectively in other languages. Some I have discovered myself and others I have learnt from language coaches around Europe. Today I will share some of them with you.

Traditional school methods are not suitable for busy people and are usually not focused at all on practical communications; there are many people who can conjugate verbs perfectly yet cannot make a simple presentation. A much more effective way is to follow these three tips:

1. DEFINE CLEAR, ACHIEVABLE GOALS. For each phase of your learning define a concrete and testable goal. For example, the first can be simply to go and buy something. A more advanced goal might be to deliver a simple presentation; a higher level goa…