Archive for March, 2011

Cool Ain’t For Everyone

March 29th, 2011

It shouldn’t be necessary to say, because everybody (and I literally mean everybody) has experienced this in high school: Sometimes, the harder you try to be hip and cool, the more you make yourself look an idiot. But obviously, for Germany’s Public TV weather and election show hosts, high school is too far away too remember this simple rule. So what happens is this: In their left hand, they have a small, but visible clicker (it’s black), and while clicking to the next slide, they performing a full-width swipe across their massive LCD screen with their other hand. This is so nuts. It’s a complete failure, not impressing anyone. My grandma wonders why they start swiping their screens because she knows they had remotes until last month, and now the poor fellas have to perform these ridiculous gestures. And the younger generation just feels sorry for these misguided and confused people who give the impression of never having used a touch device. Hint: they invented touch control to make it more comfortable to use, not to make it easier to impress.

Touting the Process

March 27th, 2011

…is in most cases a lot easier than touting the result. It’s what musicians use social networks for these days, but I can’t make sense of it. Who is it about? Whenever a musician posts or tweets they’re going to the studio, it’s just another version of “Hey, I’m feeling great today.” Good for them. Not good enough for me, because there’s no value for me as a fan and potential buyer. Their well-being doesn’t lead to any interaction. And when the attention span is exactly as long as the time it takes to read a post or tweet, the question that need to be asked is: Is it worth your fan’s time? Not the time it takes to read your news, but the time it takes to start a conversation about it. Related questions are: How can I facilitate engagement? How do I connect? How can I make it sneezable? It’s easier than you think. (Exceptions apply.)

And the issue has yet another dimension to it. A process is hardly measurable (but that’s our fault, because it’s easier for us to measure outcomes), making it a good means to hide behind. No one’s gonna judge you for this, everyone is waiting for the result. And now, as always, it comes down to whether you’ve raised the bar too high for yourself to exceed expectations. And sometimes, the creators feel that they’ve bitten off more than they could chew, which makes going out there and touting the result a little harder. That’s why musicians are still sending review copies of their records to music magazines. Of course, these mags also serve a top-down connecting function within the tribe, but the top-down evaluation component is a lot more important, because a good review is yet another shield to hide behind: “It’s good because some authority said it’s good.” The problem with this thinking is the authority’s voice today is just one in a million, and it’s heard less every day.

Everything becomes most dangerous

March 14th, 2011

…when you forget about it.

On the other hand, things that are, even if just temporarily, on top of everyone’s mind are not interesting to talk about and sometimes way off point.

Our biggest problem is for us today matters more than tomorrow.

Storytelling, Inspiration, Expectation

March 11th, 2011

A very good friend of mine has decided “Leave a message after the beep” would not do for his phone mailbox. His is “After the beep, tell me something I don’t know yet.” Isn’t that how all of us are — not necessarily being aware of it — going through life? Looking for inspiration, new insight? The problem is, I don’t know what you know yet. And this is something that  makes it sometimes very difficult to tell a story that has the same persuasiveness to everyone.

Noreena Hertz has a TED talk during which she argues that experts are not infallible and we need to make more decisions on our own. The Domino Project, Seth Godins latest publishing venture, has a series of features on certain people telling their stories and what supposedly makes them special. And these are just two examples of stories that didn’t resonate with me. I wasn’t like “Wow, this is great, I must tell my friends!”, it was more like “I wonder what kind of world you’re living in.” And it’s not because it was a bad or badly told story, but it just didn’t cross the chasm between my expectation and what was actually delivered. This is enforced by the standard that has been set, sometimes by the people themselves. I do expect TED talks to be remarkable, an I do expect Seth Godin to come up with a different view on whatever each time he posts.

And sometimes, it really works. Remember Jay O’Callahan? Or (the obvious example) Ken Robinson? All of the people I talked about this with were deeply impressed by those speeches. Obviously there wasn’t such a great level of expectation at work, and expectation, it seems, puts us at defense, where we are not open to a certain degree. Which then bears the risk that we’re missing that one tiny bit of inspiration that lies in every story, but not always it’s plain to see. My latest example is as follows:

After reading the story of Laurie Davis on SxSW Pokes (the unmodest tone of which is explicable by the fact that all participants write the stories themselves, and they might be published unedited), when the annoyance about wasting two minutes of my precious morning’s time was gone (“Duh, no inspiration! Useless bravado!”), it occured to me that the point I made in an earlier post obviously isn’t off. The paraphrase I found today is “Business is taking advantage of other people’s problems”, not meaning to hurt them on top of their problem, but benefitting yourself by solving their problem (through, say, getting paid by them). To examine a business idea this might come in handy by asking “On a per-person level, is that a problem big enough, pressing enough (in time and/or emotional respect) that people are likely to pay to have it solved? And how many are there?”

Sometimes, it seems, not the facts that we know make the difference, but the connections in between, and what happens in the aftermath of telling the story that incorporates these facts, and this is something you have little control over. But telling a good story or telling a story well won’t hurt either.

It’s working, but different (Apple Compressor)

March 10th, 2011

This week I’ve been quite busy converting a series of videos into iPad-compatible format (which is h.264 video with AAC audio in an MP4 container), and I encountered an annoying glitch in Apple’s Compressor 3.5.x which is part of Final Cut Studio 3.

It’s been reported that when working with interlaced footage, de-nterlacing and downscaling leads to bad results. My experience and the solution I’m giving here has worked with DVCpro 1080i50 material, I can’t say if it works for other formats as well. Here’s the thing: When deinterlacing, you have to leave the Deinterlace Filter off. Here are some screenshots to show the massive differences between Compressor’s Preview and the actual results.

Compressor Preview with Deinterlace on

Fig. 1 — Compressor Preview with Deinterlace on

Compressor Preview with Deinterlace off

Fig. 2 — Compressor Preview with Deinterlace off

Once again, the source is 1080i, and I want the output to be 720p. The Image Processing settings are “better” for both Scaling and Deinterlacing, because “Optimum” takes ages to render. The output fields are set to “Progressive”.

In Fig.1, the Deinterlace filter in the Filters Tab has been added with the “even” setting. As you can see, the result (right side) is promised to look very smooth. In Fig. 2 the Deinterlace filter is off, all other settings are the same. Notice the jagged edges and compression artifacts on the right side.

Compressor Output with Deinterlace on

Fig. 3 — Compressor Output with Deinterlace on

Compressor Output with Deinterlace off

Fig. 4 — Compressor Output with Deinterlace off

But the results are just the other way round. In Fig. 3, which is the output from the processing with the filter enabled, the edges are all jagged and the whole image looks like a blow-up from one with half the resolution. But the file with the filter disabled (Fig. 4) looks all sweet.

Oh, by the way, should you experience Compressor abort encoding with a “NewMovieFromFile failed” error when converting WMV with Flip4Mac 2.2.x, my current workaround is to export the WMV from QuicktimePlayer 7 with a ProRes 422 Setting and then use Compressor on the ProRes file to make whatever format.

 

A Business, A Hobby, and A Table

March 3rd, 2011

There are a lot of approaches how to distinguish what you do as a business or a hobby. Yet most of them are interior aspects, like motivation, seriousness, persistence and so forth. I want to throw in another soft factor, but one that’s coming from the outside.

In both a business and a hobby you interact with people, but what makes the difference is what sides of the table you’re on. What I was thinking the other day is that a business is defined as “doing something for somebody (i.e., quid pro quo, results must be achieved)”, whereas a hobby is “doing something with somebody (i.e., for the fun of it, results optional)”. And when you look closely at business relationships, it’s never really the case you’re partners who are on the same side of the table. We always say that in order to close the sale, convince voters or get a new coaching client, but once this point has been passed, they’re (quite rightfully) claiming that we live up to the promise we’ve made, right?

Which is exactly why politicians’ popularity instantly seems to fall after they’ve been elected — voters start claiming right away.
It’s why your customer or client seems to be unhappy right after signing the deal — she wants you to deliver.
And in all cases, not only do you have to meet, but to exceed their expectations. (Which is hard enough in “real” business, but close to impossible in politics.)

But in a hobby it’s different. You’re there for the fun of it, no expectations set. It’s also why groups like AA feel “good”, there’s no exchange of expectations and claims, only mutual interest (or desires, or problems). A hobby and a business can happen in the same location, a health club for example. With the owner of the gym you have a business relationship, with your training partner you’re sharing a hobby (but not your trainer since she’s your business partner’s employee, thus it’s quid-pro-quo too).

So the two questions to ask to know if you’re in a business or hobby situation are:

  • What are we here for — to achieve results or for the fun of doing something?
  • Does the imbalance of abilities/prerequisites lead to an exchange of claims?

Once you have figured this out, it resets your own expectations and you can act accordingly.

Where to Look

March 2nd, 2011

The other week German IT association BITKOM published 2010’s legal music download numbers, proudly speaking of a record result. The interesting part was their interpretation of the age structure of customers, accompanied by a lot of hoopla and (inappropriate) [self-]praise. Since I don’t have the proper numbers, I just made up my own to illustrate my point.

spreadsheet - music downloads

Fig. 1

In Fig. 1 you can see the numbers of downloads for each age group in the years 2000, 2005 and 2010. At first glance, everything’s looking good, aye? Reading left to right, some of the groups are growing, some stagnating, only the youngsters seem to be shrinking in 2010. Or are they?

Fig. 2

Fig. 2 helps visualize what I was talking about in the above paragraph. It may look like your product is growingly attractive for the older groups. It also appears that you have massive growth in the late 30s group and with a little less scale in the early 40s group. The younger groups seem to be stagnating after the initial growth in the first 5 years. And all of these conclusions are wrong. Fig. 3 may give you a hint why.

Fig. 3

Still no idea? Maybe Fig. 4 makes it clearer.

spreadsheet music downloads with illustrative arrows

Fig. 4

All this age group-based thinking easily leads into a trap of silo thinking that doesn’t match reality. Your customers are getting older, so the ones that bought something ten years ago are ten years older today. The risk is of course that your company would say “we only cater to the young audience” which means a lot of more work, because turning a stranger into a customer requires a lot more work and is thus more costly than keeping your customer. So how to interpret this example?

  • Your popularity with the very young audience is falling, yet growth relatively solid.
  • Today’s middle age groups (30-44), who were your young audience ten years back, are your best customers, spending ever more money on you. Large potential.
  • Current older audience is not that attractive. ROI not safe.
  • Conclusions: Do what it takes to keep your core buyers. Don’t overthrow what you’ve built up just to attract a younger audience, but they’re the ones you must find a way getting them excited about you and become your customers, and do this continously. Then, over time, you’re likely to have a solid customer structure distributed over all age groups.

What you might discover when you look at charts this way is your business works differently than you expect. For instance, you could save a ton of money when you realize there is a customer lifecycle and embrace it. Which, on the other hand, requires you to see your customers as your most important asset, not only as average consumers who buy your stuff. The record industry would be better off if they realized that they’re selling commodities, not fashion. Their artists are fashion, but the products shipped are all the same. So why waste advertising space like they used to (and still do)? But that’s a different topic, and it’s already been written about a lot.