Building feedback loops for finding flow in serious work

0 Comments 03.19.17

“Inspiration arrives at surprising times, but it prefers to find you working,” Picasso reportedly said. As someone who aspires to develop my self and my skills, and to make the world a better, more just place, I like to think about working in many different ways.

One of the ways I’m thinking about work is this: building feedback loops to optimize for the conditions conducive to entering a state of flow may be a powerful enabler for competing in competitive endeavors.

“Serious Work” seems like a category in and of itself. While reading the wonderful book Checklist Manifesto, I was struck by the difference between my aspirational checklists (20 things I try to do each morning before leaving the house) and the checklists used in building construction or surgery. My aspirational checklists are really helpful, but it’s not the end of the world if I fail to check of some or many of the items on them in a given day. The same cannot be said about the checklists used at construction sites for complex real-world structures.

This morning when reading about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to China where he used language from the Chinese government that observers say suggested a new willingness to concede to Chinese aspirations of expanded regional dominance, and he said that US media visibility into his trip wasn’t something he needed to accomplish his mission – I thought, “there’s a man I’d like to see using a different checklist for this very serious work.”

Much of our work probably falls somewhere in the middle of the continuum between construction or imperial statecraft on one hand and my morning to-dos that include filling the bird feeders and doing push-ups. Even where our work might not fall into the category of Serious Work, though, I think that inspiration can be drawn from that kind of effort.  I want to be as effective as possible, both at work work and in my work outside of work.

Serious work is competitive and competition requires that winners enter into a state of Flow, at least some of the time. I listened to a wonderful podcast recently, which I’m unfortunately unable to find a link to, about the conditions most conducive to entering a state of flow. I took note of those conditions though: attention, risk, and embodied intelligence.

I’d like to introduce a third concept to this discussion (after Serious Work and Flow) and that’s feedback loops.

“Feedback loops are important for building good systems because they allow you to keep track of many different pieces without feeling the pressure to predict what is going to happen with everything,” wrote James Clear in a recent blog post. “Forget about predicting the future and build a system that can signal when you need to make adjustments.”

I would argue that keeping track of all the factors involved in doing serious work falls outside of a flow state and more into an administrative state. Administering checklists is a great way to do this, and monitoring those and other feedback loops at designated times allows you to focus on entering into a flow state during other times.

So in order to be competitive in a serious work environment, it’s good to use feedback loops that provide infrastructure for consistently entering a flow state.

A feedback loop for how often you’re creating the supporting conditions for a flow state is an exciting idea.

For the past month, I’ve been doing daily and weekly check-ins on four tactics. I just revised the list for the coming weeks and it’s now: meditation, book reading, keeping a log of execution-oriented tasks I’ve completed in a day, and Pomodoros. Those are tactics that help create attention, risk, and embodied intelligence – especially if I can keep a steady routine of exercise going. (Which I struggle with.)

Right now I’m using one page in a BlankieBook for logging each day’s book reading, execution tasks, etc. and then reviewing each Sunday.

I would argue that managing these feedback loops becomes a light form of Serious Work itself. I don’t want to screw it up. If I stumble in recording my efforts to create conditions conducive to flow, or doing weekly check-ins on my logs from the week, then I may just fall off the wagon entirely. As such, these feedback loops require both Flow and feedback loops on feedback loops. Getting into a flow state around tracking and revising behavior based on feedback loops helps imbue that work with a sense of inherent meaning.

Finally, this ends up feeling like a nested pattern of serious work needing flow, which needs feedback loops, those feedback loops being serious work, that serious work needing flow, and that flow being supported by the aforementioned feedback loops. Feedback loops on the conditions conducive to flow can be serious work. And that’s a process I’m excited to explore. Towards no specific goals.

“Inspiration arrives at unexpected times, but it prefers to find you working.”

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What I’m working on this month

0 Comments 03.08.17

I love a good log book. “Captain’s log, Star Date…” Etc.

I’m big into keeping a journal, I have been for the past couple years, and I review month and year old entries each day.

A log is great for context, history, accountability, self-awareness, and more.

In that spirit, I thought I’d start a new page on this site: a log of what I’m working on. I’m going to try to update it monthly. If we talk, and you’ve already read that page- then you’ll already know what I’m up to in general and we can jump into specifics. What are you working on right now?

Here’s my log.

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AI will never be fully automated

0 Comments 03.04.17

AdWeek covers a Coca Cola exec, Mariano Bosaz, the brand’s global senior digital director, saying at Mobile World Congress this week, that Coke is interested in doing a lot of automated, AI-powered ad creative work.

“In theory, Bosaz thinks AI could be used by his team for everything from creating music for ads, writing scripts, posting a spot on social media and buying media. ‘It doesn’t need anyone else to do that but a robot—that’s a long-term vision,’ he said. ‘I don’t know if we can do it 100 percent with robots yet—maybe one day—but bots is the first expression of where that is going.’

“Bosaz isn’t alone in envisioning human-less creative. AI is already being used to create commercial music and jingles and publishers like the AP are experimenting with using robots to write copy.”

I’d argue that the framing here is counter-productive: AI shouldn’t be thought of as free of humans, it’s much more about collaboration with humans, hopefully extending and augmenting our human work. Increasing labor productivity, but usually still involving human labor.

How is the common perspective this article advances off-base? How many ways will, and should, humans always be a part of the story?

Humans will need to…

  • Clean the data that trains the AI
  • Set the parameters for what a desirable outcome will look like
  • Judge the effectiveness of the output of the AI, based on criteria and assumptions that hopefully will be equitable and just
  • Interpret the data that AI crunches, including with symphonic thinking that draws connections between one conclusion or one data set and another.

And much more. Much better to think of AI as a part of a large trend of augmenting knowledge work. Advertising, for example, won’t be done by AI – it will be (and programatic ad targeting already is in some cases) done with AI.

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A Networked View of Value and Cost

0 Comments 03.04.17

We’re entering into a networked age where the value created by single organizations is being surpassed by the value created by networks, and humanity’s participation in networks is giving each of us a new opportunity to engage in something bigger than ourselves, like a global brain.

graphofideasThose were among my favorite take-aways from futurist Ross Dawson’s really interesting talk at an Ericsson event in Mumbai, written up this week by Vanessa Cartwright: Value creation in a connected world: 4 key insights for organizations to lead and succeed in a networked economy

Lots to chew on there, but I’d like to add the following: it’s not just about creating value through the network today, we are also moving into a better position to understand costs paid by the network, too.

All the things that traditional economics has called “externalities,” like pollution or adverse social consequences, are clearly relevant to any organization that intends to tap into its network of stakeholders for value creation. Uber may be a great example of networked value creation, but the labor conditions for drivers (and employees!) in the network are hotly debated. Likewise, if (or when) manufacturing or distribution firms start leveraging networks extensively for value creation – they’re going to need to look at the costs incurred by those network participants, too, if everyone wants this networked economy to last.

I don’t mean to just be a dark cloud – I actually think that tapping into a whole network of stakeholders for identification of emerging risks and opportunities, for costs and benefits, is a really exciting idea that will make our organizations much more effective.

I’ve been thinking of the phrase Networked Foresight for some time; foresight that leverages networks for exploration and takes the interests of all participants in the network into consideration.

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The future of influencer marketing: B2B influencer engagement

2 Comments 02.25.17

carvermoneyWhen you hear the phrase “influencer marketing” – a consumer product example comes to mind, doesn’t it? It’s a kid on Instagram, being paid to post a photo of a pair of shoes, or some such thing.

Well…that’s not the only game in town. In fact, it may not be the best game in town, over the long term. Many people say influencer marketing is more effective than advertising because the world demands authenticity now, more than ever. Honestly, though, paying someone to advocate for a consumer brand isn’t that far from advertising and so the advantage that model enjoys seems unlikely to last. (That said, my thoughts on paid influencer marketing are shifting away from outright rejection, lately.  That’s another matter.)

Influencer marketing: Building relationships with the people your customers are listening to.

Today, as part of a 3 part series of posts on The Future of Influencer Marketing, I want to share some thoughts about one big trend I see emerging: B2B influencer engagement. These thoughts are based on my years of serving customers in the influencer marketing market, many of the most successful ones being B2B companies, what I see from other vendors in this space, and frankly my hopes and desires. I secretly hope more influencer marketing shifts to B2B because I think B2B is smarter and more interesting, less aimed at serving the lowest common denominator and pointless material consumption. Whatever, though, I totally work with B2C companies too, of course.

Screen Shot 2017-02-25 at 8.10.10 PM

From the top right, clockwise. Click to enlarge.

B2B influencer marketing is going to challenge assumptions, both for the marketer and for the thought leaders, or influencers.  Marketers will need to take a more strategic view of influencer engagement.  Look at this incredible webinar that Aileen McGraw of Microsoft did with us on her influencer engagement for a #A1 example.  Remarkable.

Influential people in B2B will need to navigate what it means to work with brands in the future.  Is it a peer-based, unpaid collaboration? Is it a sponsored arrangement?  I’m sure we’ll see both and more.  It won’t be like the stereotypical sponsored Instagram post, though, at least not all the time.

Technology needs will be different too.  I’ll refer you to my previous post about building long term relationships, because there’s a lot of overlap here.

Finally, B2B influencer marketing is going to require a different kind of people, staffing.  It’s going to require people who have or who can build credibility in an industry context, with leading practitioners.  I’ve done this in data-related parts of the Internet, and it takes time.  Junior staff, told to jump in and engage B2B thought leaders, are going to struggle until they have invested time, learned, and contributed.

Finally, B2B influencer engagement, because it requires credibility, and is best served by long term relationships, is going to require that people really take responsibility for their work and reputation.  B2C “influencers” may, to too many brands, feel like expendable, interchangeable resources – but B2B influencers are not.  They’ve invested years working, taking risks, succeeding in business or technical matters.  Engaging them is a serious business responsibility.

Last week was about building long term relationships in the future of influencer marketing.  Next week I’ll write about the 3rd of 3 trends I see: gathering market intelligence from your influencer engagement.

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

The future of influencer marketing: Long term relationships

7 Comments 02.17.17

Influencer marketing, as most practices do, is advancing along a maturity curve.  Here is the first of three ways I see evidence it is moving, based on engagement with customers, watching other vendors in the space, and more. Then some thoughts on the consequences of these developments.

Building long term relationships

Influencer engagement has compounding returns and the model of just-in-time cold call pay-to-play is far from the only game in town.

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 12.17.22 PM

Clockwise from the top right: If we as influencer marketing practitioners start building more long term relationships, we’re going to need technology to manage that.  Specifically, in order for this to be a sustainable practice, we should be able to track our organization’s history of engagement with a given thought leader and we should be able to leverage automation as much as possible where appropriate.  I like to say: let’s use automation to surface opportunities to engage – let’s not use automation for the actual engagement itself.  

Next, we’re going to need to get to know the people we’re engaging with: as a group, as individuals but across platforms, and based on relationships built by the right people in the right places in our organizations.  For your company to get to know influential people well is a staffing issue.

Finally, developing long term relationships and working with people over time requires that we give up some control.  I’ve honestly had someone say “these thought leaders you found are great…how do I get them to do what I want?”  Lol, yeah so…that’s not really how it works.  We’re going to engage with and collaborate with these people respectfully, as peers.  That means two other things: we need an organizational structure that supports that kind of work and we need to be selective about the people we engage with.  Since they won’t be reporting to us – let’s vet them before we spend a bunch of time engaging them.  Or we could use software to discover and vet thought leaders for credibility in specific contexts, then use its automation to track opportunities and history of engaging with them…that’s what I suggest.

This post took longer to write than I thought it would. I’m sitting in the lobby of the Brooklyn Museum and just got surrounded by kids, curious to look at my computer. 😉  In subsequent posts I’ll write about the future trends of B2B influencer marketing and the use of influencer marketing for gathering market intelligence research.


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Source based vs keyword based social listening

0 Comments 02.13.17

Almost all social listening is done based on keywords, but as a former journalist that broke a lot of news stories by listening first to the right people online, no matter what words they happened to use, I can tell you that keyword based listening is not the whole opportunity.

That’s what we do in Little Bird, we find the people at the center of a given community (say, Internet of Things experts, or Makeup Artists) and we watch to see what they talk about.  No keywords required, we just want to know what they come up with.  When they post something that gets a lot more engagement than their content usually does, that’s extra important.  Now as a part of Sprinklr, we’re able to get some great aggregate content analysis out of these groups of people, set up rules engines to route messages around to various departments in an organization based on what keywords they do use, and much more.

One of my favorite source-based listening workflows right now is an email alert I have set up for any time any of the 60+ people in my VIP list uses the words amazing, incredible, or new.  I get to discover all kinds of cool  things and important conversations this way!  It’s amazing, incredible even.

Find the right people, watch them, discover unknown unknowns, and it is good.  Below, an important conversation was brought to my attention that I hadn’t really thought that much about – until I saw a couple of super-smart people discussing it critically.  What’s that saying? I can’t read everything Zeynep Tufekci writes, but when I do…

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 8.15.27 AM

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.