trust and lemonade

There's a lot of buzz around generating new leads passively, about having people cold call or get cold traffic for you. But the most important thing everybody seems to ignore in these discussions is this: In a business situation like most of us are in, the major limiting factor is trust. If you think that a social media ad or a list of leads for cold calling is creating trust, you have to seriously question yourself – because most of the time it won't.

Standalone initiatives don't build trust; long-term relationships do. What you really should focus on is building these relationships. Technology is great for augmenting this process, for automating parts of it and for scaling up. But it can never replace genuine human connections.

Things might look a bit different, if you're selling lemonade on a hot, sunny day. But then again, maybe not.

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summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

Defining the Dimensions of the “Space” of Computing, by Weiwei Hsu

Traditionally, we have thought of computing not in terms of a space of alternatives but in terms of improvements over time. Moore’s Law. Faster. Cheaper. More processors. More RAM. More mega-pixels. More resolution. More sensors. More bandwidth. More devices. More apps. More users. More data. More “engagement.” More everything.

While trending technologies dominate tech news and influence what we believe is possible and probable, we are free to choose. We don’t have to accept what monopolies offer. We can still inform and create the future on our own terms. We can return to the values that drove the personal computer revolution and inspired the first-generation Internet.

Glass rectangles and black cylinders are not the future. We can imagine other possible futures — paths not taken — by searching within a “space of alternative” computing systems. In this “space,” even though some dimensions are currently less recognizable than others, by investigating and hence illuminating the less-explored dimensions together, we can co-create alternative futures.

It's difficult to suspend our current view of how technology shapes our world, and to imagine something completely new or different. We never paused and asked whether there was a way to build from a better, different blueprint instead of building on top of the existing technology. One of the most thoughtful pieces I've read lately.

Hypertext and Our Collective Destiny, by Tim Berners-Lee

It is a good time to sit back and consider to what extent we have actually made life easier. We have access to information: but have we been solving problems? Well, there are many things it is much easier for individuals today than 5 years ago. Personally I don't feel that the web has made great strides in helping us work as a global team.

Perhaps I should explain where I'm coming from. I had (and still have) a dream that the web could be less of a television channel and more of an interactive sea of shared knowledge. I imagine it immersing us as a warm, friendly environment made of the things we and our friends have seen, heard, believe or have figured out. I would like it to bring our friends and colleagues closer, in that by working on this knowledge together we can come to better understandings. If misunderstandings are the cause of many of the world's woes, then can we not work them out in cyberspace. And, having worked them out, we leave for those who follow a trail of our reasoning and assumptions for them to adopt, or correct.

Technology does not and cannot solve humanity's problems. We can enable, augment, and improve with technology, but ultimately humans have to deal with human problems.

Rebuilding the Typographic Society, by Matthew Butterick

Now and then there’s a bigger event—let’s call it a Godzilla moment—that causes a lot of destruction. And what is the Godzilla? Usually the Godzilla is technology. Technology arrives, and it wants to displace us—take over something that we were doing. That’s okay when technology removes a burden or an annoyance.

But sometimes, when technology does that, it can constrict the space we have for expressing our humanity. Then, we have to look for new outlets for ourselves, or what happens? What happens is that this zone of humanity keeps getting smaller. Technology invites us to accept those smaller boundaries, because it’s convenient. It’s relaxing. But if we do that long enough, what’s going to happen is we’re going to stagnate. We’re going to forget what we’re capable of, because we’re just playing in this really tiny territory.

The good news is that when Godzilla burns down the city with his fiery breath, we have space to rebuild. There’s an opportunity for us. But we can’t be lazy about it.

Technology should not replace humans, but it should play out its real strength, which is amplifying human capabilities. And once we understand how technology works, we can begin to focus on improving its quality, creating tools that truly make things cheaper, faster, and better without destroying the very fabric of our humanity.

effective websites

Just because your site is well-designed doesn't mean that it's effective.

There's one simple reason for this: most people fail to understand that websites are processes.

Websites are processes and start way before people come to your website and only end with clients buying your service or product.

It's no longer about optimizing your websites for SEO and hoping for the best. It's about optimizing your presence across the web and in the real world as well. It's about building bridges between your efforts, online and offline.

Take time to carefully craft your value proposition. Help people to easily get how you can help them. Make sure that your landing page works. A value proposition, a deep dive into your client's big, expensive problem and a call to action are essential. And finally, provide means to stay in contact. If you use an email list, don't send these spammy newsletters. Personalize. Give value. A lot.

the 10,000 visitor fallacy

I want 10,000 visitors a month on my website. Can you do that?

Recently I was having a meeting with the CEO of a moderately successful boutique consulting firm and this was the first thing he told me.

The problem: they only had about 300 visitors... a month. Now, it's not impossible to scale up to that number, but here's the catch. I knew the CEO was enjoying giving talks at many different conferences and meetups every month. So we took his calendar and put it below the website stats. Guess what... the numbers lined up perfectly.

And the audience of this talks were almost exclusively made up of... guess again? Right, people who were interested in the firms' services and fit their client profile perfectly.

What we did instead was preparing small, custom landing pages (e.g. with additional information which he would announce at the end of each talk. We didn't even get close to 10,000 visitors each month, but this will keep their sales team busy for months.

And this seems to be a common problem: we're so overwhelmed keeping up with technology and jumping on the latest bandwagon, that we don't spend a single minute thinking about how we can use technology to augment our businesses. This idea is small and trivial, but I guess being able to see it is not.

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summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

What the Hell is Going On? by David Perell

Like fish in water, we’re blind to how the technological environment shapes our behavior. The invisible environment we inhabit falls beneath the threshold of perception. Everything we do and think is shaped by the technologies we build and implement. When we alter the flow of information through society, we should expect radical transformations in commerce, education, and politics.

By understanding information flows, we gain a measure of control over them. Understanding how shifts in information flow impact society is the first step towards building a better world, so we can make technology work for us, not against us.

We shape our technological environment and our technological environment shapes us. But if we're blind to that change, how can we go against the negative effects and augment the positive ones?

The Long Nose of Innovation, by Bill Buxton

What the Long Nose tells us is that any technology that is going to have significant impact in the next 10 years is already at least 10 years old. Any technology that is going to have significant impact in the next 5 years is already at least 15 years old, and likely still below the radar. Hence, beware of anyone arguing for some “new” idea that is “going to” take off in the next 5 years, unless they can trace its history back for 15. If they cannot do so, most likely they are either wrong, or have not done their homework

The Long Nose redirects our focus from the “Edison Myth of original invention”, which is akin to an alchemist making gold. It helps us understand that the heart of the innovation process has far more to do with prospecting, mining, refining, goldsmithing, and of course, financing.

It's such an interesting notion, that technology innovation is not that fast moving thing it seems to be. Rather, technological change takes time, revolutionary change even more so. As the saying goes, it takes years to become famous over night.

WTF and the importance of human/tool co-evolution, by Tim O'Reilly

I think one of the big shifts for the 21st century is to change our sense of what collective intelligence is. Because we think of it as somehow the individual being augmented to be smarter, to make better decisions, maybe to work with other people in a more productive way. But in fact many of the tools of collective intelligence we are contributing to and the intelligence is outside of us. We are part of it and we are feeding into it.

It changes who we are, how we think. Shapes us as we shape it. And the question is whether we're gonna manage the machine or whether it will manage us. Now we tell ourselves in Silicon Valley that we're in charge. But you know, we basically built this machine, we think we know what it's going to do and it suddenly turns out not quite the way we expected.

We have to think about that fundamental goal that we give these systems. Because, yes there is all this intelligence, this new co-evolution and combination of human and machine, but ultimately it's driven by what we tell it to optimize for.

So much in computing is optimized for the single user. The personal computer, the smartphone, but also apps and most of our infrastructure. These days almost every room is equipped with electricity, light and buttons to control it. But just imagine a world, where everyone would carry a flashlight in their pockets, seeing only one thing at a time, charge it up every night, buy a new version every two years, and having one hand always busy. How small and lonely that world would be.

marketing secrets

I guess I do marketing, but I don't think of it that way. For one, I don't run ads. Almost all of my publicity happens via word of mouth. Ironically I don't do much work to optimize my own conversion funnel. Instead, I try to work in public, help people and other businesses, share what I know and try to teach people in a way that's helpful and sustainable.

In my opinion, marketing has not much to do with advertising, spamming, growth hacking or giving away free stuff. Instead:

  • Marketing means making it easy for people to notice you, to relate to you and to refer you – your positioning
  • Marketing means listening to your clients' problems and providing matching solutions – your value proposition
  • Marketing means staying in contact with your clients, prospects and leads, helping them and developing trust & relationships – your business strategy

Most importantly, look at everything through your client's eyes and do what's best for them. That's the best marketing.

the 300 million dollar button

One of the articles I shared most with my clients last year was a story by Jared Spool in which he describes how changing a simple button increased a site's annual revenues by 300 million dollars.

While my firm belief is that there are no silver bullets, no growth hacks and no get rich quick schemes, many of my clients and prospects had at least one 300 million dollar problem (or a figure nearby) which could be solved cheaply, quickly and easily. Think of things like:

  • Will your new contacts be just another skeleton in your LinkedIn contacts? Or do you have a seamless client experience in place that supports your company's brand, regardless of touch point, channel or device starting from your business card or referral?
  • Are your website visitors confused by what services you provide and how exactly you can help them? Or do you have a website in place that tells your story perfectly, how you can help your clients and provides options to directly get in touch with you?
  • Are you forgetting about your previous clients and prospects? Or are you leveraging digital channels and tools to keep in constant, valuable contact with your clients, prospects and leads?

I'd be very much interested in what your 300 million dollar problems or solutions have been. Let me know!

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summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

Big Idea Famine, by Nicholas Negroponte

I believe that 30 years from now people will look back at the beginning of our century and wonder what we were doing and thinking about big, hard, long-term problems, particularly those of basic research. They will read books and articles written by us in which we congratulate ourselves about being innovative. The self-portraits we paint today show a disruptive and creative society, characterized by entrepreneurship, start-ups and big company research advertised as moonshots. Our great-grandchildren are certain to read about our accomplishments, all the companies started, and all the money made. At the same time, they will experience the unfortunate knock-on effects of an historical (by then) famine of big thinking.

We live in a dog-eat-dog society that emphasizes short-term competition over long-term collaboration. We think in terms of winning, not in terms of what might be beneficial for society. Kids aspire to be Mark Zuckerberg, not Alan Turing.

Ask yourself: What ideas, spaces and lifestyles will you leave behind for your grandchildren?

Forget privacy: you're terrible at targeting anyway, by Avery Pennarun

The state of personalized recommendations is surprisingly terrible. At this point, the top recommendation is always a clickbait rage-creating article about movie stars or whatever Trump did or didn't do in the last 6 hours. That's not what I want to read or to watch, but I sometimes get sucked in anyway, and then it's recommendation apocalypse time, because the algorithm now thinks I like reading about Trump, and now everything is Trump. Never give positive feedback to an AI.

This is, by the way, the dirty secret of the machine learning movement: almost everything produced by ML could have been produced, more cheaply, using a very dumb heuristic you coded up by hand, because mostly the ML is trained by feeding it examples of what humans did while following a very dumb heuristic.

There's no magic here. If you use ML to teach a computer how to sort through resumes, it will recommend you interview people with male, white-sounding names, because it turns out that's what your HR department already does. If you ask it what video a person like you wants to see next, it will recommend some political propaganda crap, because 50% of the time 90% of the people do watch that next, because they can't help themselves, and that's a pretty good success rate.

There's lots of talk about advancements in artificial intelligence or machine learning, but very little about their shortcomings and effects on society. Surrounded by hysteria, mistaken extrapolations, limited imagination and many more mistakes we're distracted from thinking productively about our future.

The Bomb in the Garden, by Matthew Butterick

Now, you may say “hey, but the web has gotten so much better looking over 20 years.” And that’s true. But on the other hand, I don’t really feel like that’s the right benchmark, unless you think that the highest role of design is to make things pretty. I don’t.

I think of design excellence as a principle. A principle that asks this: Are you maximizing the possibilities of the medium?

That’s what it should mean. Be­cause other­wise it’s too easy to congratulate ourselves for doing nothing. Because tools & technologies are always getting better. They expand the possibilities for us. So we have to ask ourselves: are we keeping up?

We somehow think, technology becomes better because it gets faster. But that is simply confusing technology consumption for technology innovation. Consumption simply allows us to do more of the same, while innovation augments us to do things that were previously impossible.

in data we trust

The average person today is about as naive as was the average person in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages, people believed in the authority of their religion, no matter what. Today, we believe in the authority of our science, no matter what.

Neil Postman

We believe in data because it is the only objective fact we can hold on to. We count website visitors, conversion rates, click behaviours, heatmaps and how many people went through our sales funnels. The problem is that algorithms treat data as unbiased fact and we believe in the scientific objectivity of our algorithms' results. We no longer interpret data, we see it as unbiased and untouchable.

We believe in data because we think it's objective and will give us the full point of view. But we're past the point of just experimenting. Our technologies have real implications and become the foundation of our world and our businesses. We expect the computer to take over our thinking, willing and judging mind, which of course is doomed to fail.

Data is great to analyze & optimize specific processes, specific domains. But if we keep seeing data as the only truth we miss out on the big picture and forget about what really counts – building and maintaining a relationship with our clients.

broken websites

Recently, a client of mine showed me their new website for their consulting business. Four months in the work, fully responsive, neat, fast and a good looking. He asked me about my opinion, smiling from ear to ear. I looked at it and said I liked it, but...

But what?

Where do you explain who's your ideal client and what expensive problem you're solving for them?

Ehm... he said

Where is the call to action? Do you have any workflows, like drip campaigns, newsletter and contact possibilities in place to connect and keep in touch with prospects?


What does the workflow or funnel from the landing page towards qualification and acquisition of a client look like?


You see, design is utterly important, but functionality trumps design. A website that looks nice, but does not explain why and how you solve a client's problem is not helpful. A website that shows how to solve a client's problem like a champ but looks shitty is pitiful but works. Good design and functionality together is killer.

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summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create It. But Is It Already Too Late? by Alan Kay

Albert Einstein's quote "We cannot solve our problems with the same levels of thinking that we used to create them" is one of my favorite quotes. I like this idea because Einstein is suggesting something qualitative. That it is not doing more of what we're doing. It means if we've done things with technology that have gotten us in a bit of a pickle, doing more things with technology at the same level of thinking is probably gonna make things worse.

And there is a corollary with this: if your thinking abilities are below threshold you are going to be in real trouble because you will not realize until you have done yourself in.

Virtually everybody in the computing science has almost no sense of human history and context of where we are and where we are going. So I think of much of the stuff that has been done as inverse vandalism. Inverse vandalism is making things just because you can.

One important thing here is to not get trapped by our bad brains, by our thinking abilities. We're limited in this regard, and only tools, methods, habits and understanding⋅can help us to learn to see and finally get to a higher level of thinking.

Don’t be seduced by the pornography of change, by Mark Ritson

Marketing is a fascinating discipline in that most people who practice it have no idea about its origins and foundations, little clue about how to do the job properly in the present, but unbounded enthusiasm to speculate about the future and what it will bring. If marketers became doctors they would spend their time telling patients not what ailed them, but showing them an article about the future of robotic surgery in the year 2030. If they took over as accountants they would advise clients to forget about their current tax returns because within 50 years income will become obsolete thanks to lasers and 3D printing.

There are probably two good reasons for this obsession with the future over the practical reality of the present. First, marketing has always managed to attract a significant proportion of people who are attracted to the shiny stuff. Second, ambitious and overstated projections in the future are fantastic at garnering headlines and hits but have the handy advantage of being impossible to fact check.

If your job is to talk about what speech recognition or artificial intelligence will mean for marketing then you have an inherent desire to make it, and you, as important as possible. Marketers take their foot from the brake pedal of reality and put all their pressure on the accelerator of horseshit in order to get noticed, and future predictions provide the ideal place to drive as fast as possible.

And this does not only apply to marketing. Many fields today, computing & technology included, are currently obsessing about a revolutionary potential that has always been vastly, vastly overhyped. The hype surrounding these topics is sometimes so pervasive that raising skepticism can often be seen as one's failure to recognize that the hype is deserved.

Design in the Era of the Algorithm, by Josh Clark

Let’s not codify the past. On the surface, you’d think that removing humans from a situation might eliminate racism or stereotypes or any very human bias. In fact, the very real risk is that we’ll seal our bias—our past history—into the very operating system itself.

Our data comes from the flawed world we live in. In the realms of hiring and promotion, the historical data hardly favors women or people of color. In the cases of predictive policing, or repeat-offender risk algorithms, the data is both unfair and unkind to black men. The data bias codifies the ugly aspects of our past.

Rooting out this kind of bias is hard and slippery work. Biases are deeply held—and often invisible to us. We have to work hard to be conscious of our unconscious—and doubly so when it creeps into data sets. This is a data-science problem, certainly, but it’s also a design problem

The problem with data is not only the inherited bias in the data set, but also in algorithms that treat data as unbiased facts and humans believing in the objectivity of the results. Biases are only the extreme cases that make these problems visible, but the deeper issue is that we prevent ourselves to interpret and study nature and thereby defining our limits of interpretation.

getting rid of humans

So apparently the AI revolution is coming. Taxi and truck drivers will be replaced by self-driving cars, robots will replace workers, drones will be delivering packages to our doors and big data algorithms will find our perfect date. Also, robots will soon take over the world.

Well, I don't believe a single word.

What I believe is this: we are immersed in technology that is quietly reducing human interactions.

We stare at our devices while waiting for the next train and avoid the glance of the pretty girl/boy a few meters away, we use online ordering and delivery services in order to not sit alone in a restaurant, apps to call a ride or get the fastest route from A to B so that we don't have to talk to anyone. We use personal assistants and online stores so that we don't have to talk to that shop assistant, social media where everybody seems to have a perfect life in order to avoid the sometimes harsh conversations of the real life. All powered by AI, which allegedly should make our lives better.

But we humans don't exist as segregated individuals. We're social animals, we're part of networks. Our random accidents and behaviours make life enjoyable.

We should use our technologies to augment these capabilities, to make us better humans. This is the reason why I tell my clients to make use of their website to start genuine conversations with their clients, to help them to make their life better. That is the sweet spot of our technology, of our websites, of digital innovation and automation.

digital laziness

A few months ago, Facebook wanted us to send them copies of our nudes so that they can block those images if they are later uploaded by someone else. I don't even want to know how they came up with such utter nonsense. But regardless of that, it is a perfect example of what I call digital laziness. Instead of fixing the actual, hard and sometimes messy problem we come up with an easy technological solution.

I often get approached with similar requests – well, not nudes – but similar nonsensical ideas. We want 10,000 visitors on our website! We want to sell our high touch consulting service directly from our website! We don't want to do anything and still be able to grow our business!

We can use websites, drip campaigns, newsletters and digital marketing strategies to get more and better clients. But we'll fail utterly if we don't assert the fundamental goal we're trying to achieve. Instead, we have to see the above as tools we can use to reach these goals and augment parts of our businesses.

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summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. Drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

The "Next Big Thing" is a Room, by Steve Krouse

Our computers have lured us into a cage of our own making. We’ve reduced ourselves to disembodied minds, strained eyes, and twitching, clicking, typing fingertips. Gone are our arms and legs, back, torsos, feet, toes, noses, mouths, palms, and ears. When we are doing our jobs, our vaunted knowledge work, we are a sliver of ourselves. The rest of us hangs on uselessly until we leave the office and go home.

Worse than pulling us away from our bodies, our devices have ripped us from each other. Where are our eyes when we speak with our friends, walk down the street, lay in bed, drive our cars? We know where they should be, and yet we also know where they end up much of the time. The tiny rectangles in our pockets have grabbed our attention almost completely.

These days almost every room is equipped with electricity, light and buttons to control it. It's so common that we hardly trouble ourselves thinking about it. It is not a device we carry around in our pockets, have to charge up every night and buy a new version every two years – like a flashlight. Imagine how small and lonely a world like this would be, where everyone carries his own, personal flashlight, seeing only one thing at a time and having one hand always busy.

Machine Teaching, Machine Learning, and the History of the Future of Public Education, by Audrey Watters

Teaching machines were going to change everything. Educational television was going to change everything. Virtual reality was going to change everything. The Internet was going to change everything. The Macintosh computer was going to change everything. The iPad was going to change everything. And on and on and on.

Needless to say, movies haven’t replaced textbooks. Computers and YouTube videos haven’t replaced teachers. The Internet has not dismantled the university or the school house. Not for lack of trying, no doubt. And it might be the trying that we should focus on as much as the technology.

The transformational, revolutionary potential of these technologies has always been vastly, vastly overhyped. And it isn’t simply that it’s because educators or parents are resistant to change. It’s surely in part because the claims that marketers make are often just simply untrue.

The hype surrounding our technologies is sometimes so pervasive that raising skepticism can often be seen as one's failure to recognize that the hype is deserved. This is the game we're playing. It's no longer about the real transformational power, about real change & potential, but mostly about a superficial pop culture.

What We Actually Know About Software Development, and Why We Believe It’s True, by Greg Wilson

Think about how much has changed. Some things have changed without recognition, sadly the way we build software hasn't. There is nothing you do day by day that wouldn't have been familiar to me 25 years ago. Yes, you're using more powerful machines, yes you're using browsers and all this other stuff. But the way you work day to day has not improved.

Most of software development today is based on myth, superstition or arrogance. And this won't change until we're willing to be humble enough to admit when we're wrong. Only then we can find out how the world actually works and do things based on that knowledge.

black belts and silver bullets

This year I tested for the 2nd Dan black belt in Taekwondo, after preparing almost three and a half years. Black belt exams are an interesting beast. They feature an extremely deep curriculum, but most importantly there is a minimum time requirement for advancing from one rank to the next. The reason is a very simple one: time is needed for techniques and the individual to mature. The point is that it is a journey, not a result. There are no tricks, hacks or silver bullets.

Similarly, tricks, hacks or silver bullets never made a big impact for my business. And honestly, they have never made a big impact for any of my clients either. If there is a trick or hack it's always been crafting holistic, consistent and high-quality experiences.

Crafting these experiences takes time. Only when all parts of a (digital) business strategy (positioning, right channels, product/service-market-fit) align, you get something that is better than the sum of its parts. And an enduring process, which will bring new clients, growth and revenue for a time to come.

summing up 105 - the mother of all demos

Today, exactly 50 years ago, a man invented the future.

If you've been following my writing, talks and ideas you've certainly heard his name: Doug Engelbart.

On 9th December 1968, he and his team demonstrated the prototype of his vision at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco in front of about 1,000 computer professionals.

This demo introduced so many key concepts we still use today: the computer mouse, windows, graphics, video conferencing, word processing, copy & paste, hypertext, revision control, a collaborative real-time editor and much more. No wonder it's also known as the Mother of all Demos.

What's so striking about Engelbart's demo however isn't how much has changed since then, but how many things have stayed the same.

To celebrate this somewhat special day, I want to deviate a bit from my usual format and highlight some of his key ideas which impress me to this day.

The Mother of all Demos, which I alluded to earlier, is certainly one of the most important pieces of our computer history. If you can spare some time this holiday season, I can only commend to watch parts of this demo. It was a jaw-dropping experience for me. And a testament to what can happen when you get a bunch intelligent people together and ask them to invent the future.

The ABCs of Organizational Improvement is a framework I rely heavily on when working with clients. It depicts three types of basic activities which should be ongoing in any healthy business:

(A) Business as usual: Processes you can find in every business and include the core activities, such as developing a product, manufacturing, marketing, sales etc. It is all about execution and carrying out today's strategy.

(B) Improving how we do that: Thinking about how to improve the ability to perform A. This includes training, hiring, adopting new tools & processes, workflows or bringing in external consultants.

(C) Improving how we improve: How can we improve how we improve? How can we get better at inventing better processes in B? It's this part most businesses struggle with, but at the same time brings the most value. This kind of meta-thinking is the shift from an incremental to an exponential improvement and ultimately the advancement of the business as a whole.

Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework lays down Engelbart's fundamental vision. In there you can find his famous example of taping a pencil to a brick and thereby significantly slowing down the ability to write. When you make it harder to do the lower parts of an activity, it becomes almost impossible to do the higher parts of an activity – like exploring ideas, structuring your thoughts & ideas or to distill the essence of something to the essential. Our tools influence the thoughts we can think, and bad tools interfere with thinking well.

Engelbart's vision went much further, as he intended to augment human intellect and enable people to think in powerful new ways, to collectively solve urgent global problems. To really understand what he means by that, you have to forget today. You have to forget everything you know about computers. You have to forget everything you think you know about computers. His vision is not about computers, it's about us and the future of mankind:

Technology should not aim to replace humans, rather amplify human capabilities.

Engelbart’s vision & philosophy continues to influence many technologists today, myself included, I hope I could explain why.

bicycles or tricycles

Would you rather go across town on a tricycle or a bicycle?

It is clearly easier to learn to ride a tricycle, but nowhere as efficient as a bicycle. Learning to ride a bicycle is hard. But in the end it seems to be worth it – you don't see many tricycles around these days, do you?

Similarly, is it better to use tools that are easy to learn and use? Or is it worth to put in the time to learn and master difficult, powerful tools? On one hand, simple tools may be easy to learn and use, but it will be hard work to accomplish difficult tasks. On the other hand, difficult and powerful tools call for considerably more skills, but the ratio of time to effort is dramatically higher. And this is a very interesting perspective: If you happen to use the computer as a tool for your lifetime, isn't it worth to invest time, become skillful and save time in the long run?

you vs. i

Clients don't care about you.

They don't care if you have a mortgage to pay. They don't care if you have to pay your bills. They don't care if you have to feed your family. They don't care why the project is late, what clothes you wear, where you went to school or your favourite dish.

The only thing clients care about are themselves and their problem.

We're only talking to them because they believe – even a little bit – that we're able to better their situation.

Nevertheless, I see so many websites and newsletters talking about themselves, their team, their vision, their products & services and so on. And while these might be interesting bits here and there, they simply don't help you advance your business.

You want to make your communication "you" focused, not "I" (we, us, ...) focused. Help your clients understand how you can help them and what expensive problem you solve for them. Great websites say "you" – they don't say "I".

tyranny of choice

While travelling I specifically try to avoid restaurants with large menus. Why? Because they make me miserable.

First, you spend endless time just browsing through the menu, looking for the best dish (whatever that means anyway), comparing each and every option, and struggling to decide. Then, just after you found something to order, the dish is either not available or right after ordering, the neighbouring table has found an even more delicious meal. You wouldn't be happy with yours anyway. You're welcome.

Logic suggests that having options allows people to select precisely what makes them happiest. But as studies show, abundant choice often makes for misery. This holds true for websites as well.

summing up 104

summing up is a recurring series of interesting articles, talks and insights on culture & technology that compose a large part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it – and much more – straight in your inbox.

People don't change, by Peter Gasston

People – I think – don't change that much. What changes over time are cultural differences and values, but people have the same goals, the same desires and the same urges.

Technology matches our desires, it doesn't make them. People haven't become more vain because now we have cameras. Cameras have been invented and they became popular because we've always been a bit vain, we've always wanted to see ourselves. It's just the technology was never in place to enable that expression of our characters before.

The more I study history the more I understand that people from different cultures, people from different historical periods... we're not exceptional, there's nothing exceptional about us, there's nothing exceptional about them. The technology might be new, but the way we react to it, the way we use it, is the same it always has been.

Whatever we think about ourselves, we aren't more intelligent than our ancestors. Neither were they more intelligent than we are. But technology and knowledge plays it's role in augmenting us – and that is what makes us better.

Education That Takes Us To The 22nd Century, by Alan Kay

When we get fluent in powerful ideas, they are like adding new brain tissue that nature didn't give us. It's worthwhile thinking about what it means to get fluent in something like calculus and to realize that a normal person fluent in calculus can outthink Archimedes. If you're fluent at reading you can cover more ground than anybody in the antiquity could in an oral culture.

So a good question for people who are dealing with computing is what if what's important about computing is deeply hidden? I can tell you as far as this one, most of the computing that is done in most of industry completely misses most of what's interesting about computing. They are basically at a first level of exposure to it and they're trying to optimize that. Think about that because that was okay fifty years ago.

Probably the most important thing I can urge on you today is to try and understand that computing is not exactly what you think it is. You have to understand this. What happened when the internet got done and a few other things back in the 70s or so was a big paradigm shift in computing and it hasn't spilled out yet. But if you're looking ahead to the 22nd century this is what you have to understand otherwise you're always going to be steering by looking in the rearview mirror.

If someone today could outthink Archimedes and anyone who is literate can cover more ground than any oral culture... What can someone do with a computer today? The most interesting point is that it isn't as much as we think. We keep mouthing platitudes about innovation and pretend we're much more advanced than our ancestors. But the more you look at what computing can really be about, the more pathetic everything we're doing right now sounds.

Why History Matters, by Audrey Watters

“Technology is changing faster than ever” – this is a related, repeated claim. It’s a claim that seems to be based on history, one that suggests that, in the past, technological changes were slow; now, they’re happening so fast and we’re adopting new technologies so quickly – or so the story goes – that we can no longer make any sense of what is happening around us, and we’re just all being swept along in a wave of techno-inevitability.

Needless to say, I don’t think the claim is true – or at the very least, it is a highly debatable one. Some of this, I’d argue, is simply a matter of confusing technology consumption for technology innovation. Some of this is a matter of confusing upgrades for breakthroughs – Apple releasing a new iPhone every year might not be the best rationale for insisting we are experiencing rapid technological change. Moreover, much of the pace of change can be accounted for by the fact that many new technologies are built atop – quite literally – pre-existing systems: railroads followed the canals; telegraphs followed the railroads; telephones followed the telegraphs; cable television followed the phone lines...

So why then does the history of tech matter? It matters because it helps us think about beliefs and practices and systems and institutions and ideology. It helps make visible, I’d hope, some of the things that time and familiarity has made invisible. It helps us think about context. It helps us think about continuity as much as change. And I think it helps us be more attuned to the storytelling and the myth-making that happens so frequently in technology and reform circles.

We're confusing technology consumption for technology innovation. Innovation augments ourselves to do things that were previously impossible, consumption just allows us to do more of the same. Maybe better, faster of whatever, but still the same.



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