Infrastructure Over Innovation

Russell Davies is one of the smartest men alive.

He hasn’t cured cancer nor has he fired man filled rockets into space, but he understands humans. He gets the complex systems of understanding, and motivating people, and the really deep stuff of interestingness.

He was Strategic Planning Director at W+K, he was a Global Consumer Planning Director at Nike after that, he has done stints at R/GA and is now a Director of Strategy revolutionizing government in the UK.

He is a crack nerf sniper, makes a wicked cup of tea, and is a mean left back.

People who know me, know that I point a lot of other people to his words, he once agreed to be my mentor & he is way way way more eloquent than I.

A few months ago Russell wrote a couple of posts he titled “the basics.”

It was about what many people round here call “Digital.”

It was about the fact that we really don't need more shiny objects but we need to fix the basics. Stop embarrassing the companies we work with before we focus on “innovation”. Innovation is such an overused word that it makes no sense these days.

“until large ‘customer-centric’ organisations stop making mistakes like this and this and this, they should probably back off with the innovation.”

We need to use our smarts, our service design, our technology chops and get the basics right — you know the bits we ignored when we should have concentrated on them, right ?

The bits we ignored because they were boring.

At the time he wrote it, I shared it around our office, I shared it on twitter — you know as you do.

Since then it’s been rattling around my empty skull.

Last year I worked on a bunch of “new” projects. None of them launched, no one will probably play with what we made. We were trying to answer the wrong problems, perhaps we had the wrong answers to the wrong questions.

They were Products, Tools, and software all being used to talk to audiences, “inspire”, “engage”, “motivate”.

But maybe that’s not the point of software — that’s what “communications” does so well.

Obvious reckonings:

The power of images to convey messages is clear and unquestionable.


Its not just images, “Don’t Tell me Words Don’t Matter”.

Its amazing what people can do with a short video.

If you want to persuade people, If you want to make people want things, use communications tools. Communication is good at that, and used in the right way it is really powerful and really effectual.

Communications is not dead, it is as strong as it ever was, leave it alone, let it be. Let it do it’s thing.

Software on the other hand … we can do better. Much better.

This is our tool. Our weapon.

I grew up learning basic on my BBC Micro.

I did everything I could to hack my Spectrum.

My grandad was one of the first programmers in the UK — he built printing presses to automate print runs overnight, he went from push cards to Vax systems.

I ran the computer lab at college — a bunch of mac used for forging ID’s and printing out homework.

I helped set up bulletin boards at University — mainly for the Role Playing Society, and bootleg audio servers for our rave tapes.

I was once a webmaster.

I built wap sites.

I built flash sites.

I integrated Lotus notes into anything that moved.

I’ve seen attack ships off the rings of Orion.

Its time we stopped trying to innovate the fuck out of existence, and as Russell so clearly said, get the basics right.

We jerry rigged this world we live in — there is so much crap is still lying around — ie8, Lotus notes running airline support systems, javascript holding shopping sites together, code built on code built on code.

What people call CRM system trying to do communications.

The biggest corporations don’t know the names of its most valuable customers.

The biggest corporations still send billions of emails hoping to hit a target.

Images are plastered all over us, hoping we click on them.

My future wasn’t intended to be like this.

It’s like we live in a space station that’s held together with duct tape.

String and thread keeping the boosters in place.

Recently I have started working on a new project. I am more excited about it than I have been about things for a long time.

Its “a basics” project.

It’s about looking at super complex systems built on decades old knowledge.

We have the opportunity to tear off the tape, pull out the old copper wire, strip the lead from the roofs, and replace it with something better.

Now it may not be future proof.

I don’t need it to last forever.

but we need to start thinking about the “unsexy” stuff, the mundane, the stuff that gets things done.

The stuff that solves people’s problems.

The stuff that makes stuff better for people

Connected homes — homes that work, and know you, and make things easier, not just changes the color of the lights.

Communications that treats you like a human not a sales node.

Remember the cluetrain manifesto ?

Let’s get back to that.

Let the Mad Men be mad men.

Let the storytellers tell stories about their products.

I want to think and work on making better systems.

I am focusing our product and service work on getting the Basic systems right.

Easier to buy tickets.

Smoother travel.

More choice with less options.

More access to information, but at the right time, you need it.

Knowing our audience.

Making things people want, not making people want things (see John Wilshire)

Whatever we do, lets do it well,

Less shiny, more real.

Less seamless, better designed seams (see Timo Arnall, Matt Jones, and Tom Armitage)

Less clouds, more servers (see James Bridle)

Infrastructure over innovation.

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