Outcomes, not outputs

You may have noticed that our culture is enamored with claiming success by getting a task done or hitting a predetermined target:

“She’s carrying a 3.8 GPA.”

“They announced earnings of $1.56 per share.”

“It’s set to launch by the end of Q1.”

If we can move it from the inbox to the outbox, victory is declared. If the “expectations market” has been addressed, we can breathe a sigh of relief. The reason we do this is because this is how everyone else does it, and how it’s always been done. We focus on tasks. And while tasks are not always easy to perform, the act of doing them is easy to understand.

It’s not like all these tasks are getting us nowhere. They’re getting us somewhere, but we’re not exactly sure where that is. Is it closer to where we want to be? Is it at least in the right direction?

The Educational Assembly Line

Few would argue that our educational system needs rethinking. Our current model was built to train workers, preparing them to be interchangeable cogs that fed a vast managed manufacturing economy. This system values averages and test scores. A standard has to be maintained. But this type of learning no longer prepares children for the world in which they will need to compete in—a world in which their defined competition has changed.

I realize that I may be in a lucky minority, but upwards of 75% of my work life is spent working collaboratively. My son Charlie is currently a senior at Whitefish Bay, one of the better school districts in the state. When I asked him how much of his school day is spent working collaboratively, he responded somewhat derisively “less than 5%.” If our country’s economic competitive edge hinges on our ability to innovate, that’s a pretty big issue.

“If we keep teaching the same way, can we
expect different results?”

President Obama has asked that we allow schools the flexibility “To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test.” There is no better example than the breakthrough teaching strategies pioneered by the late Harriet Ball which champion teaching styles that best suit and captivate the interest of each student. Her Fearless Learning method understands that as humans we absorb information in multiple ways—via audio, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic. This approach enables each student equal access to learning because they are taught in their strongest learning mode. That’s a big departure from assembly line education, a process—perhaps not by accident—that has created an educational caste structure in our country. In their landmark book Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain, Caine and Caine establish the Principles of Brain-Based Learning which include the following discoveries: Learners learn by seeking connections to what they already know; The brain seeks patterns; Each brain is unique, and since learning changes the brain, the more we learn the more unique we become. That sounds like a road map for learning in the connection/innovation age.

Some might argue that in the “real world” everything isn’t tailored to the individual, so why should education? But if digital age has taught us anything, it is that mass is no longer the norm. Content is no longer a scarcity, and no longer the proprietary property of media companies and publishers. We get exactly what we want, when we want it. If user-centric is becoming a widely agreed upon practice, shouldn’t student-centric be the next big thing?

Conventional Wisdom, Inc.

In a brilliant Forbes piece from earlier this year, Steven Denning begins the article with an excerpt from the book Fixing the Game:

“Imagine an NFL coach,” writes Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, in his important new book, Fixing the Game, “holding a press conference on Wednesday to announce that he predicts a win by 9 points on Sunday, and that bettors should recognize that the current spread of 6 points is too low. Or picture the team’s quarterback standing up in the postgame press conference and apologizing for having only won by 3 points when the final betting spread was 9 points in his team’s favor. While it’s laughable to imagine coaches or quarterbacks doing so, CEOs are expected to do both of these things.”

If you’re like me, you probably read an endless amount of books and articles on innovative companies—how they think, how they do business, and how they delight their customers. But we are in the minority. In the world of large, publicly held corporations, more often than not business decisions are made on maximizing shareholder value. This management philosophy leads to a shareholder-centric focus instead of a customer-centric focus.

Innovation-driven companies are predominantly customer-centric, focusing on the real reason a business exists: There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer. But even in the startup community how often are the stories—“they just closed their round”—about an output? The preferred outcome of course, is an exit. This makes me wish for more voices like Jason Fried in the startup community. His metrics are all outcome based: Are you profitable? Are you building something great? Are you taking care of your people? Are you treating your customers well?

The Marketing Factory

Until very recently, in order to market a product you needed a great amount of advertising. So your outputs were TV, print, radio, outdoor, and direct mail. Line up the right agency(s) to do the creative, launch, and repeat with another new “integrated” campaign in 12 months. Then technology threw us web, mobile, social, etc. etc., so there were even more outputs to deal with. All of these tasks needed to be integrated. But in essence, none of these tactics have ever really been very well integrated at all, just a loosely strung together series of stunts.

These outputs are products of the marketing industry’s assembly line. The challenge is we are now in the connection age, and there is a greater need for the unique ability to see the bigger picture. Outputs no longer reliably lead to outcomes now that there is competition from a million different voices using a million different devices.

Many organizational cultures dictate that none of the output creation can even begin without the SOW (Scope of Work). The time put into specifying “What exactly do I get for my money?” is often more valued and scrutinized than any outcome the work will deliver upon. Partners are judged and evaluated based on what outputs their SOW will provide, not the possibilities of the outcomes they can produce for the business. The granularity demanded for these documents often leaves no room for fluidity, the ability to pivot based on findings, or providing flexibility for exploration down a newly discovered path.

What if?

The connection economy rewards the leader, the initiator, and the rebel.
The Icarus Deception


What if a school turned out a graduating class without a cumulative grade average, but a cumulative story of problems solved? Or a measurement of the dots students connected between music and mathematics? Or the number of common threads discovered between art and science?

What if you could major in being a pirate? Or instead, the most sought after employees didn’t have an MBA, but an MPS—Master of Problem Solving?

What if we stopped measuring returns solely as financial? What if a company published charts that measured growth in learnings v. earnings over a 1 yr, 5 yr and 10 yr period? What if a business had a balance sheet for measuring connections? Or experience? Or art?

What if marketing wasn’t so “stunt-driven”, but built on messages, experiences and touch points that all created a unified brand experience platform? What if we started measuring brand utility in addition to brand awareness and affinity.

When you approach the work you’re doing today, are you just delivering outputs? Or can you be afforded the chance to take a step back, ask why things are done the way they are, and then deliver on a bigger, greater outcome? Think bigger. Go higher. Connect the dots. See the common threads. Think, plan, and create for an outcome.

The world is drowning in outputs. What it needs is better outcomes.


A collection of aphorisms, Vol. 1


Advertising projected a story on a screen. Digital opened a door on the screen to participate in the story.


Hierarchy is a relic of the industrial age. Build fluidity into your culture for the connection age.


Outcomes, not outputs.


98% of RFPs are written based on the sins of the previous agency.


Agency leaders should realize that potential clients are uncanny in their ability to smell desperation.


100% ownership of a great idea that goes unproduced is worth zero. Get comfortable sharing your ideas early and often.


Admitting what you don’t know is the first step towards learning it.


Banking on RFPs to provide new clients is akin to believing you can earn a living at the craps table.


If you’ve made your thing, offer to help someone make their thing.


Scarcity is good. Mystique is even better.

The habit of empty pixel grazing

There’s a scene from Sam Shepard’s 1978 play Curse of the Starving Class that has stuck with me for many years. Actually, it’s not so much a scene as a recurring behavior that takes place during the performance. Characters randomly open the refrigerator door and blankly stare at the contents, only to close the door after a moment without removing anything. It’s a brilliant observation of quirky human behavior we can all relate too. We’re not really hungry—we just look to see if there’s anything in the fridge that might interest us—even if we looked just ten minutes before.

I believe there’s a entirely new digital form of this now, something which I’ll call empty pixel grazing. That is, the part of our behavior that drives us to keep checking back in with Tweetdeck, Facebook, Tumbler, Posterous, Slideshare, Klout, Mailchimp, etc. etc. etc. to see what our friends/followers are doing, or how many comments, views, RTs, likes, embeds, +K’s or opens we’ve gotten. (Not to mention refreshing personal and business email). What is your unconscious clock set at? Five minutes? Ten minutes before you have to check the “social fridge?”

For all the good digital has brought, it has also bred a constant state of distraction, if not emerging neurosis. There’s an entirely new form of attention deficit disorder. In this case, the disorder I’m talking about is the amount of attention paid to each of us. Am I getting enough comments, enough retweets, enough likes? Are people paying enough attention to my content? Are they paying enough attention to me? What will happen if I’m not part of the stream? Tools like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite (and now the new Facebook feed) are the Social Frigidaires of digital content, constantly refreshing so that each time you “open the door,” something new is there for you to consume.

Tweet Deck

Social Fridgidaire. (Also note the insane number of tabs I have open)

This has all helped fuel the social self-help industry (or maybe, the self-help industry has fueled the neurosis). You know the bloggers who manufacture lists on a daily basis with the 3, 5, 7, 8 or 10 reasons why you should do this, not do that, remember this, but forget about that. Sometimes they’ll go as far as “17 easy steps,” which is the equivalent of an IKEA assembly manual on how to succeed in social media.

Just as absent presence has come to define the state of paying more attention to a smartphone than the people around you at the dinner table, empty pixel grazing eats up more time each day than can be measured in mere minutes. It’s not only the time—it’s the unconscious preoccupation with our information streams and the inability to truly focus. Our consciousness becomes divided between the online and the offline.

When we create platforms for our clients and our products, we talk in terms of how users will consume content. It is indeed consumed, meaning that both nourishing content and empty calorie content exist. No surprise then there is what I would call an emerging content obesity, that is, time spent on empty information, communication, and “content spread gratification.” The question is, what does this come at the expense of? The corporate reflex response is of course productivity, but I’m looking deeper into the individual human cost. I would argue deeper thinking and reflection suffer the most, and they are by far much more important since they are key drivers of productivity and creativity—be it personal or professional.

Today, keep track of how many times you click on your open Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, or Facebook tab and just g(r)aze, before going back to what you were working on. Sometimes you will consume content, other times you’ll just check to see if there’s any content worth consuming. Is it a good thing? A bad thing? Or just an emerging behavior to be aware of?

I tweet therefore I am

The lifeblood of social media is human interaction, thoughts and emotions. Forever trying to understand the importance of it on a need level, I like thinking in terms of how all of it fits into the realm of philosophy and human understanding.

Doesn’t every tweet come down to this: I matter. With each post, we leave behind digital proof of our existence.

Gauguin, Paul "D'où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?"

Where Do We Come From? (Facebook) What Are We? (Twitter) Where Are We Going? (Foursquare)

Digital has made posting as instantaneous as thinking. How many of us feel that if we stop tweeting, posting, or checking in we’ll in some form cease to exist? How (and most importantly Why) has digital quickly become such a big part of our consciousness?

@Descartes, what do you think?


Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

To take one step is courageous;
to stay on the path day after day,
choosing the unknown, and facing
yet another fear, that is nothing
short of grace. 

—Excerpt from Sangha, by Danna Faulds¹


Believe it or not, about 15 years and 30 pounds ago, I used to run marathons. Yes, the 26.2 mile kind of marathons. The crucial part of training for marathons is the weekly long run. Each week over the course of a 4 month training period, you add one more mile to your long run than you ran the previous week. Near the end of your preparation for the race, you’ll probably have logged three runs of 20 miles or more. The rationale of this type of training—or madness, depending on your point of view—is getting your body used to being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. After all, there’s really no way to avoid being uncomfortable at some point during an endurance race that covers 26 miles.

Two cases in point. During my first marathon in the Fox Valley, we were treated to 40 degree temperatures and a 20 mph tailwind for the first 18 miles of the course. At mile 18 we turned back into that cold wind, at which point my entire body immediately cramped up—with eight miles to go. Uncomfortable is not the word. Excruciating and soul-destroying come to mind. But I eventually finished the race and was given the customary finisher’s thermal foil sheet, medal, and long-sleeve t-shirt. Two years later at the 1996 Grandma’s marathon, I absolutely cruised for 25 miles, until I hit a complete power outage. But with only 8 minutes of exertion left, I knew I could easily gut out those last moments of discomfort to get my finisher’s medal.

Uncomfortable circa 1996

Now that I’m older, I run much shorter distances, but I’m still faced with many days when it just feels flat out uncomfortable. I have to actively remind myself in those instances that eventually this feeling will pass, and I’ll be better conditioned because of it.

So what does this have to do with what we usually write about on this blog? Okay, confession time. The last three years have been the most uncomfortable period of my professional career. Allow me explain.

In late 2008, I decided I had enough with advertising. I had done everything I wanted to do. Got in all the important award annuals, won multiple best of shows, and worked in Minneapolis for an agency I had always admired. But I didn’t love what I did anymore. In fact, it had become boring and tedious. Campaign after campaign after campaign. Telling clients we actually affected their business, but what we really did was just delivered was marketing materials. Great ads with great thinking, but in the end they were ads.

There were still things I liked about my profession. I loved design, more so than ever. I had discovered a design blog called Grain Edit, and I started tinkering with the simple “mod-style” of illustration that Charley Harper and Saul Bass pioneered, and that shops like Invisible Creature carry on today. I loved thinking and strategy—I just didn’t want that freedom of thought to be limited to ads. I had gotten my first taste of digital, and loved all the moving parts, and the need for collaboration that was talked about often but rarely put in practice at traditional shops. I had an idea for a creative school for special needs kids. I had ideas for businesses. And I really liked this thing called social media. But what was I going to do with all that?

With no finish line in sight, I pushed myself to be uncomfortable. I admitted what I didn’t know. I was willing to learn, in exchange for sharing the valuable things I did know. And I was willing to give up a position of respect in an industry that I had worked in for over twenty years, in exchange for something unknown, for psychologically starting over. There are lyrics from an old Yes song that say “don’t surround yourself with yourself,” and that’s basically what I did. All I had was experience, guile and my work ethic.

I was really good at making stuff like this. And then I walked away. (sorta)

Nothing would come easy. I moved back to Milwaukee from the Twin Cities (something I swore I would never do—heh) to work for Fullhouse, which at the time was a fast growing digital shop. It appeared to be a good match. They were interested in my experience developing creative and working on brand strategy. I was interested in taking that and applying it to digital, and learning as much as I could about digital, social, and technology.

I tell this story often. Having been spoiled by some of the strategic and creative minds I had worked with while in Minneapolis, I doubted I would find that back in Milwaukee. Call it snobbery, but when you work with some of the best, your expectations are forever changed. On my first day at Fullhouse, I was put in the third floor conference room with @deziner. I remember 15 minutes into that meeting I caught myself wondering about her: “What on earth are you doing here?” She belonged in New York or Minneapolis or London. I knew in a 30 minute meeting that Cindi Thomas was someone I wanted to work with and learn from for a very long time. I got the chance to work with a lot of other really smart people there as well. Perhaps some of you have heard of guy named @augieray who went onto Forrestor, and is now VP of Social Media at USAA. There was also @cullenob, still one of the most driven professionals I have ever met, and the wicked smart digital strategist @gkalantzis. I’m not sure what was more amazing about James Newell—his front-end development skills, or his ability to remain so centered with all the talent and intellect he possessed. I often commented it was a little bit like working at NASA in the late 60s. There was a similar attitude of just figuring out how to do things.

If you haven’t heard, things did not work out at Fullhouse. Ironically, ownership could not get comfortable with being uncomfortable at a time when the industry landscape was changing for everyone. Twelve months after I started, Cindi and I along with Andy Wright, left to start Translator. Within the span of just over a year, I was not only back in Milwaukee, but I was back to being involved in a startup agency. Add to that I felt a bit like an insect in mid-metamorphosis. I was completely out of traditional, but still not embraced by digital.

Translator got off to an unexpected slow start—a large local client that promised to bankroll our first year if we left Fullhouse, backed out after we quit. This was financially devastating to the three of us, to say the least. (See mile 18 of Fox Valley marathon above). The immediate setback challenged why we had started the agency in the first place. Was it the promise of money, or our belief system?  In a variety of rather surprising situations, my abilities were second guessed. This led to a stunning loss of self-confidence, something I hadn’t experienced in over 15 years. After only five months, we went through a partnership change at the agency. This contributed to us losing control over the product idea Translator had created—Meet-Meme.

When work finally did start to come in, it wasn’t a trickle, it was a flood. The zero to 120 mph pace led to more issues. I was left thinking, maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I’m too old for all of this. Maybe I can’t change.

It was all extremely uncomfortable.

But at the same time, progress was also being made. Through our former Fullhouse colleague (and all-around good guy) Micah Eberman, Cindi and I got a chance to work on a huge project for R/GA, an agency we both greatly admire. The work we did was extremely well-received, and it provided validation for the type of thinking the two of us had been collaborating on since we first met at Fullhouse. That style of thinking—what I would describe as a mash-up of the Diageo brand essence wheel, user-based behavioral research, and creative storytelling—is really the key to our current success. It results in complete stakeholder buy-in at the highest levels, and is what continues to attract new clients to Translator.

polish moon

Mod-style illustration and packaging hits the shelves soon.

We started to have success. My confidence came back. Not only in myself, but in delivering on the vision that Cindi and I had for what it meant to be a modern “agency.” We executed in what we believed in, even if that was outside the defined norms of what it is to be an agency. The compliments we receive from our clients are not ordinary. “You took what was in our heads and finally made it clear and actionable.”

Earlier this year, we were fortunate to be recommended to Brendon Thomas, who had an idea for a crowd-powered music booking platform. Shindig is about to launch in beta, and today we are closing on first round funding (w00t!). The hard lessons we learned on the first product partnership didn’t stop us from trying again. This time around the partnership was built upon mutual respect, and the experience has been vastly—and pleasantly—different.

We’re funded. Dig it.

My old ad colleagues ask me what Translator does, and when I explain it to them (without getting into deliverables), they say “I still don’t get what you do.” And that’s okay. We’re not defined by our work. We’re defined by how we think. Our clients—who are often C-level or company founders, are drawn to that and like it that way. Our approach to idea architecture and experience design is focused on transforming their entire business—not just their marketing.

In addition to morning lab sessions, we started the Translator XSMKE series. Rather than start or join yet another local committee to try promote creativity, we just decided to do our own thing. So far we’ve put on 5 events this year, including a live performance for the launch of Nineteen Thirteen’s first EP, a screening of the documentary Miss Representation, and a live staging of The 3six5 with @LenKendall. We’re interested in promoting and cross-pollinating all forms of creativity, in art, music and technology. It has nothing to do with being a typical agency—and everything to do with being us.

It’s often said about marathoners and professional endurance athletes that there’s no talent gap between winners and losers; rather, it’s the mental trait of not accepting your limits that decides who wins. Whether it’s growth, progress, innovation, change, none of it comes without a price. It’s human nature to stay away from things we don’t think we can pull off. Failure is embarrassing. And so we stick to doing what we know how to do. It’s safer that way.

Not that long ago, I seriously thought my best days were behind me. This weekend, I will turn 50 years old and I am here to say I survived being uncomfortable. I got through it, and I love what I do again. I’m better now than I was at 40, plus I can do a lot more things I never thought I could do. And what’s best, is that I especially love the people I work with everyday at a single long table we all gather around at Translator—Cindi Thomas, Kirsten Corbell, and Ben Leisch.

Yes, some days are still uncomfortable. That’s part of growth. As with running, I try to remind myself to breathe, ask myself why it’s uncomfortable, and remember that I am on the path day after day for a reason. When I stick to this the sky is the limit, and there’s never any finish line.

I’d love to hear if you have a similar story, or maybe if you’re going through the trials that come with being uncomfortable.


¹Special thanks to my Kripalu Yoga instructor Heather Burkart for reading this during class on the night of November 2, 2011. Roughly translated, Sangha means a community with common goal, vision or purpose.

As @deziner has taught me, there are no coincidences. None.

Keeping up with The @Joneses

Wikipedia tells us that “Keeping up with The Joneses” is an idiom referring to an individual’s comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social caste or the accumulation of material goods. As with everything digital, it’s always fascinating to see established human behavior such as this begin to show up (or morph itself) in a new online incarnation. While I believe it may currently be a minority of the online social sphere, there are certainly signs that there is a growing group of distinct users who have a preoccupation with their online social standing and prestige.

1959: Caddy fins. 2011: Klout score.

With that, I present Exhibit A: Klout

The most important thing about Klout (and the debate surrounding it) is not the purported influence it measures, or the fact (according to Klout) that marketers seem to “want it.” It’s that it brilliantly satisfies an emotional drive. Klout is important because it recognizes the core need for ubertweeters to Keep up with The @Joneses. Klout is the ultimate letter jacket for geeks. A daily updated badge of honor that continues to fuel the conspicuous consumption of all that is digitally social.

I’m not convinced this means anything for marketers. A Klout “Perk“—sending a user a branded coffee mug or a 3 oz. sample of styling gel—isn’t anything new. It’s just moved from the warehouse aisles at Costco to a sweet digital user experience for the tiniest sliver of people who happen to tweet a lot. What marketers foolishly fail to realize is that giving out freebies to Klout subscribers isn’t going to buy them any loyalty—that loyalty exists between the user and Klout. Subscribers like Klout because Klout gets them free stuff, regardless of whatever that stuff might happen to be. See my friend @NateStPierre‘s brilliant post on this very subject.

It goes much further than Klout of course. The desire to increase one’s position in the social hierarchy may not be solely American, but we certainly have a knack for it. In the digital age, this presents the opportunity to manifest itself in many ways. For this “soci0-egonomic” group, getting on the list for the iPhone 4S, being jazzed over Google + (that didn’t last long), or scoring an invite for Spotify is a big, big deal. Some Twitter lists have become the equivalent of elite suburban neighborhoods. “OMG, I’m on @edwardboches design list with IDEO.” How else does one explain the constant daily barrage of blog posts with a headline that touts the 3, 5, 7, 8 or 10 reasons why you should do this, not do that, remember this, but forget about that. I recently pulled the following numbers out of the headlines from a very well known blogger’s most popular posts list: 8, 5, 7, 10, 5, 27, 10, 10, 10, 7, 5, 10, 5, 5. I kid you not. These digits were followed by nouns including reasons, tips, secrets, habits, steps, techniques, mistakes, and ways. Twitter is a gold mine for social media hawkers peddling self help advice to users preoccupied with their social standing in the digital food chain.

It was only a little over two years ago that social media felt like a wide open territory, full of opportunity and equality for all. Now, good old human nature has take over, creating cliques and “hipper than thou” scoring systems. It was bound to happen. The outcry on Twitter yesterday to the change in the Klout scoring system was predictable to say the least. When Klout algorithmically says you have influence and bestows you with a high score, Klout can do no wrong. When Klout arbitrarily decides it is time to reshuffle the data and your score drops precipitously, Klout is held in contempt. So it goes.

With an entire generation of digital natives becoming mature, it will be interesting to see what other behavioral manifestations and social status anxieties we’re likely to see migrate online.


¹ Many readers of this blog have no idea what Klout—or the Klout score—is, which is interesting to say the least. You may be surprised that even though you may not know what Klout is, Klout knows who you are and has been tracking your online social activity whether you like it or not. And get this—there’s no way to unsubscribe. According to their site:

The Klout Score measures influence based on your ability to drive action. Every time you create content or engage you influence others. The Klout Score uses data from social networks in order to measure:

  • True Reach: How many people you influence
  • Amplification: How much you influence them
  • Network Impact: The influence of your network
Klout’s tagline “Measuring influence since 2008″ is dubious at best. Klout measures online “influence”. It does not attempt to measure offline influence. Which last time I checked—as warm-blooded hominids—we all still frequent on a daily basis.


Legal vs. Right

Today I happend across this in an article in Adweek about digital advertising trends. You can check out the entire article here, but this one stood out to me:

“Researchers have found that major websites—specifically Hulu and MSN.com—have been following visitors with a file called a “supercookie,” which continues its tracking even after users delete it in their Web browsers. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t go over well with consumers. When called out, Microsoft and Hulu apologized and claimed to stop the practice. Don’t look for them to disappear completely, though—supercookies are legal.”

The last sentence said so much more to me than its context within the article.

Legality, it seems, can be relied on and utilized as a reason to continue behavior that is wrong. It’s a sad state when we need to get used to something that people are uncomfortable with, or opposed to, simply because a committee deems it “legal.” I know this is the case across the board in practically every subject known to man. I’m just incredibly disappointed that companies in the new digital age aren’t learning from mistakes of the past.

We’re better than that. At least I thought we were.


Here’s to the crazy ones

Somewhere in the basement, I have a photo that was taken of me as a young, long-haired art director in 1987. It is a polaroid of me sitting at a drafting table, using a burnisher to rub Letraset into a headline that would be pasted on a key line to create an ad that would run in the newspaper.

Yes, read that sentence again and let every bit of irony sink in.

There will be many blog posts written about the passing of Steve Jobs. I can’t pretend to offer commentary on the magnitude of his contributions to the human race, but I can offer my own personal experience of how Apple changed my own world.

Shortly after the aforementioned polaroid was taken, the art department I worked in purchased a Macintosh SE loaded with Aldus Pagemaker, a scanner, a printer, and a black and white monitor the size of Volkswagen. I believe I used it to do rough layouts that would be used as a blueprint for a paste up artist at the Milwaukee Sentinel (yes, more irony). In 1991, I took out a $10,ooo loan so I could buy a Mac SE30 loaded with something called Photoshop, a monitor, scanner, printer and a Syquest drive so that I could do free-lance work. Believe it or not, even at that cost it was a good investment.

At my first agency job in 1993, I got to drive a IIci. By then, we were using Quark Xpress, Illustrator and Photoshop to create final files. I still remember pushing Photoshop to its limits. Back then, layers hadn’t been invented. If you wanted to do anything cool, you had to save each individual file change every step of the way. Doing a simple blur in a 300 dpi file back then took at least 90 seconds to process. I scanned images out of stock photo books, because back then the internet was called the information super highway, and only one person in the agency had access to it.

The mid to late 90s were the dark era for us Mac users. There were clones, threats of bankruptcy, and the hardware and OS were notoriously unreliable. My IIfx at Kohnke Hanneken would literally crash 12 times a day. Hence the term, “Save early, save often.” But we continued to believe. If the electric guitar was the symbol of free thinking, creativity and coolness in the 60s and 70s, then the Mac became that symbol for our generation. Because of the Mac, advertising and design began to look different.

Then crazy uncle Steve came back.

First, there was the candy colored iMac, the computer for the internet. Agencies, publishers and production companies bought the G3, then the G4. OS X may have been the most important thing Apple ever launched, because mercifully, the computers stopped crashing. Within a few years, everything that used to be sent out to a high-end retoucher could now be done on Mac. Macs began showing up in video and audio suites. In no time at all, internet bandwidth and processing speed increased exponentially. Every six months, crazy uncle Steve would show us something new, an iPod, an iMac that looked like a lamp, a Mac that looked like a toaster. The introduction of the MacBook Pro literally changed my life. As an art director/designer, I used to be chained to the desktop. Unless you had a system at home, you stayed at the office until all hours of the night. Now with a laptop you can work anywhere, anytime, on anything.

One day in 2007 Steve Jobs took the stage with an iPhone. The world spun really fast that day, and it hasn’t slowed down since.

The iPhone made me sidestep careers, going from advertising and design, to wanting to understand digital, social and human behavior. After all, who are we without our smartphones? My good friend and client Jim Atkinson of Guinness Atkinson Funds puts Jobs on the same level as Leonardo da Vinci. I don’t believe that is a stretch. Never before has so much power, knowledge and creativity been put in the hands (literally) of so many people.

Apple suddenly became cool for everyone. Those who had derisively dismissed Apple a few years earlier “swearing by their PCs at the office,” now carried iPhones and purchased iMacs for their home. They took pictures, made movies, and listened to music. They bought iPads without even knowing why they needed one. Apple made us all more creative. Technology could indeed make us all more human.

If the legacy of a person is to be a bridge upon which others can cross to fulfill their future, Steve Jobs is (not was) the Golden Gate. His greatness is impossible to measure. Count me among the millions of grateful fans, believers, and crazy ones. We know what it means to Think Different:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011, To Infinity and Beyond

Translator Chats: Digital Education

Cindi: Mark

Mark: Cindi

Cindi: hi

Mark: hi

Cindi: so… that discussion we were having at lab the other day

Mark: which one

Cindi: you know, that one


education, and the lack of digital in it

Mark: at the university level

Cindi: yes… I’m still floored that there is so little attention paid to exposing students to designing/working in the digital space

I mean, a class here and there on learning a software program really doesn’t cut it

Don’t even get me started on the impossibility of finding any representation of UX

Mark: yes, but it’s still an emerging discipline

there’s not going to be any formalized curriculum around it

other than at BDW

and that’s because a group of agencies and professionals have taken it upon themselves

educators are going to be slow to catch up

Cindi: that’s ridiculous. then flexible curriculums need to be developed. Science is always changing, we haven’t stopped teaching that.

The thing is it’s never going to slow down enough to plan how to teach it

Mark: well then the curriculum should match the environment

or the culture

and i would add

it should be taught at a much younger level

kids are digital natives by the time they’re 9 or 10

if not younger

why wait?

they’re already creating content

Cindi: Having digital or a separate track to study even if it was available seems like the wrong way to go anyway.

Digital is engrained in everything we do… it should be part of every curriculum.

Mark: that’s what i was saying

the curriculum should mirror culture

everyone is trying to learn this on the fly

although some have chosen to ignore it

i think the very nature of higher ed is slow to adapt

which is diametrically opposed to how digital evolves

one moves like a glacier

the other

a wildfire

and actually

all the practitioners are doing

not teaching right now

which means as practitioners

it’s not enough to just do

we must also teach

Cindi: then why is higher education a measure of proficiency?

seems backwards

Mark: heh

i’ve never bought in to that

but you’re talking to a guy who doesn’t have a college degree

Cindi: you seriously have to teach yourself once you get out of school. I think I’d rather hire people who didn’t go to college.

Those 4 years would be better spent on learning, not attending.

Mark: well, and testing

Cindi: but to your point about practitioners being the real teachers…

I think that’s a core shift and role for the “new agency” everyone is trying to figure out.

Clients need us to be mentors, not just marketers, just as up and coming talent does.


that’s a money slide

did you get that?


Mark: yes

there have been a couple of money slides

this gets back to that blog post someone at ideacouture wrote the other day

about social learning

they talked about the studio system in architecture

you not only learn from direct instruction

but from the instruction you hear given to others

that’s a learning and experience culture

and that’s what the new agency should be about

i think there’s been some aspect of that at really good traditional and digital shops

but it’s always been behind closed doors

i think it’s our responsibility to open the doors

to let people see how it’s done

to teach

and to do

Cindi: ooo… I wanna work in a place like that

oh wait…

Mark: ummm

you do

Cindi: :)