Friday, April 6, 2018

Why Interior Design IS like Strategy Planning?

Got attached to Abstract these days and have been binge learning about all the personal design principles these gurus have to offer.  There are such great advices, and suddenly Netflix has become my personal mind trainer.  I've been doing strategy for years now and I too have a simple methodology in designing solutions for clients - audit, decode, insight, and then magic.

But then after watching the episode on the illustrious Interior Designer from London, Ilse Crawford, I am gonna shamelessly steal her principles instead because they are so 'humanity-centric' and none of those cold marketing terms.  The choice of words representing each step illuminates the 'how' in thinking and I've become an overnight fan.

The steps are...

The point she brilliantly made - God gave us two eyes, two ears and one mouth and therefore we should use them in that proportion.  That is true in what I call the 'audit' part of the strategy, which is easily and commonly mistaken as just 2D research by a lot of people.  Yes, eyes are given to read (especially off Google) but nothing beats physical observation which I find not a lot of strategists care anymore.  A lot of reading, observation, listening.  But interrogation is so much more than just audit.  The word compels you to ask questions - the right questions and the tough questions.  So that you get all the what is and nothing missed.

This is the most beautiful part of the thought process, at least to my mind.  Why are we in business at all if not to fulfill a human need - directly and indirectly?  Empathy means walking a mile or more in the shoes of people.  Considering their POV when it comes to the product, service, experience or even the environment we're designing.  This part of the process keeps the next part, human-centric.  Especially for spaces - honestly, clients shouldn't care too much on the material, colour and texture you choose - it's about knowing them and then creating the atmosphere and aspired mood they long to be in.

Your deepest, wildest dreams can now manifest and they should really be an extension of the empathetic discoveries made.  So that all your what ifs can be kept relevant, even the most outrageous ones.  Be realistic at this point as well on commercialisation.  We, unfortunately, can't afford to and shouldn't be wasteful because not many people have great excess of money lying around, waiting to be spent.  Be outrageous but keep it real.

And the last, not the least important part; if at all - the equally important part...

Where the magic comes to life.  A lot of people think a lot, plan in greatness but decide on a flimsy execution which is like a death sentence to a great idea.  But you'll be surprised, great execution can sometimes mask a flimsy idea, that's how much power this last part of the process can wield.  Do quality or don't do at all.

From my experience, a lot of people discount on the most time spent on the first and last steps of the process.  Why?  Because they require and involve investments.  Unlike the middle part where it is a rather subjective state - which seems to me, 99% of the marketing world's population believe that those steps are easy and free.  It's like building a house with loose cement and flimsy roofing but all you wanted was just cheap and nice wallpaper and decor.  Don't take short cuts.  Great foundations are carefully built so that it can outlive multiple generations, and every generation lays a new brick on the old taking into consideration new climate and changing environment. This is how businesses become rock solid.

So remember, the next time you plan, think IE² :)

Friday, March 30, 2018

Welcome home, Sparks.

Everyone who has worked with me, will notice that I always had a lanyard around my neck. In the plastic case contains my office tag, some business cards for those off-guard moments and one very special card.  It was my business card from Sparks' days.  I've been carrying it around for a decade now.  So here we are today, after the many ups and some downs in the Dentsu group for so many years, it has come to the moment we part ways.  For what it is worth, it's been a great journey.  Many couldn't believe that I have worked here for ten years - yeap, my whole youth gone!  I couldn't believe I'd last that long either.

I'm indebted to many of my clients but in particular, Honda for allowing me the space to continuously challenge and excise new thinking and be part of the team that transform a niche brand to today's top-selling one.  I've seen many generations of teams come and go while I stuck around the account like a bubblegum - it has allowed me to see the transformation that happens to a brand and a company with an unflagging emphasis on their spirited culture.  I've witnessed all the growth and crisis.  I've taken beatings and failures but I've also tasted victory and an unprecedented camaraderie that honestly is what made it hardest to leave. I've seen things that I would have not seen if I had accepted any other offers in the past decade.  I may have missed out great career opportunities but given a second chance, I don't think my choice will be any different.

I'm indebted to Dentsu. The Japanese have shown me great hospitality, loyalty, silliness and insights for the many years I have worked with them.  I have all the opportunities that came my way which made me believed that there was only one company who truly value entrepreneurship at every staff level.  I was given many chances to flex my ideas.  I used to tell the teams - the only limitation is yourself because if you have an idea, Dentsu never says no.  Well top-down or bottom-up, as in life, balance is the best approach.  We had a merger and I was elevated to a group role and itself was an amazing opportunity.  I spent 3 years on group strategy, executive management and data leadership.  I had to learn from ground up on media because I only had creative agency background.  It's like you don't just have to run but also eat at the same time.  It was tough but it was also a great workout (well maybe not recommended in real life).  It reminded me of the early days in Sparks - I was working on 3 agencies at any one time.  Every working year triples the experience!  It was tough but it was good because THEN, I was one of those eager beavers who couldn't wait to grow.  But when I was in DAN, it wasn't as easy because I had a lot of people to care for.  It wasn't just me.  I had to run and eat and make sure the rest of the people behind me cross the finishing line too.  The difference was stake I guess.  It's a helluva of an experience but I will never exchange that for anything.  The other day I had a chat with a legal veteran and she told me that she has worked for 25 years and served 7 CEOs.  I told her I have worked in DAN for 3 years and I have served 13 CEOs.  I felt like I was a walking CEO-pedia.  I knew all colours, shapes and forms of ideas and intentions, professional or otherwise.  I think this was the extraordinary part of my position that not many people were given such opportunity.  So if you are a CEO wanting to give me a job, seriously, you can just cut to the chase.  And if I'm ever to be CEO, I sure hell know what rocks and which type I don't want to be.

And when it came to regional offices... I realised (not sure if The Regional People realised), that the most hated word in any agency and I'm not even referring to the network I worked for, but anyone from this industry whom I came across, hates this 4 letter word - APAC.  LOL. Seriously.  I get WHY it's difficult but to be honest with you, I never had any issue with the regional team - whether or not they are my team or even directly relevant to what I do.  I think I might be the luckiest person in the agency world then cause the people I'm in touched with are seriously the most helpful ones.  They get everything for me, all I had to do was just ask.  And sometimes we gossip.  And we laugh out loud.  And then we go back doing our work.  And we go back helping each other.  Although, I'm not really sure if I ever want to be known as APAC, or at least that kind of APAC.  The word GLOBAL is not even half as bad as APAC!  Maybe cause GLOBAL is too far away and APAC is just across the causeway.  Haha, I laugh just thinking about it.  People, wise up!  We're all on the same boat.  A very big boat!  But the same boat.

And lastly, the people I love, trust and respect.  My team.  All of my team, direct or indirect reports, with dotted or squiggly lines, in the group or across all brand agencies - I'm going to miss them the most.  The ones who fight the battles on ground.  I guess my biggest regret if I had one, was I could have done more for them.  The one thing that's more satisfying than personal growth is when you see others grow.  Many have left and new ones came but I'd like to think like Soichiro Honda who once said that he was proud when great Honda employees after so much vigorous training left to work elsewhere.  Because that only affirms that Honda is moving in the right direction and that's how the philosophy will spread around the world.  That amongst many quotes, is one of my favourite.  I'd like to think too that when you have trained real good people and they leave you - it's never disloyalty.  But it's a way for them to create greater change elsewhere.  

So here's signing out from Dentsu Aegis Network.

And welcome home, Sparks. We are now open for collaboration :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Code of engagement

Let's talk at (at)

"A great strategy starts with clarity; knowing what's the problem, how long and how much do I have"

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why Asians are the best digital experience designers?

In fact they should be because East and South Asia dominate global internet usage.  Quite amazing that all the tech stuff and content are coming from the West though.  I mean even Africa has higher users!  Maybe that's something to do with penetration instead.  The more people use it compared to those who don't, the more quality stuff we get?  I think we have to rewire our thinking.  Internet is not about being advanced or developed.  It's about enabling solutions.  We should get out of this follower mindset right now.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The real difference between Malaysia and Singapore today.

Source: Google

That's the difference.  Malaysians who go to Singapore, can't afford the night and Singaporeans who come to Malaysia, all enjoy themselves :'(

This is a very far-fetched hypothesis.  Please take it with a pinch of salt. Don't be too serious otherwise statistics becomes shitistics :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What happens to the strategic planner with the advent of data and marketing automation?

Second day in the digital summit and I swear that I've met agency groups who see Strategic Planners as an endangered breed.  And they rejoice to hear from one.

Strategic planners - a dying breed?  Well, that depends on where you come from.  In Malaysia, and specifically Malaysian strategic planners - yes, they're high on the list of extinction.  And if data intelligence is going to drive the client's business from now on, then how do we survive?

On the contrary, this. Is. Our. Moment.

Was reading Superforecasting on the plane and came across this very interesting paragraph:

"When the scientist tells you he does not know the answer, he is an ignorant man.  When he tells you he has a hunch about how it is going to work, he is uncertain about it.  When he is pretty sure of how it is going to work, and he tells you, " This is the way it's going to work, I'll bet, " he still is in some doubt.  And it is of paramount importance, in order to make progress, that we recognize this ignorance and this doubt.  Because we have the doubt, we then propose looking in new directions for new ideas.  The rate of the development of science is not the rate at which you make observations alone but, much more important, the rate at which you create new things to test."

Take that principle, apply it in planning. Ever come across a planner who struts in and is cocksure that his idea was going to work and everybody else's is going to fail?  Well, that's not a planner.  That's just plain bossy.  Jokes aside, it is true that we must be able to differentiate ignorance and doubt.  And it's always good to have a pinch of doubt in everything we work on because before we are planners, we are human and we must recognize that as humans, our knowledge will always be limited.  Hence, why there are always new ways to be tested, novel ways to do things.  Data, interestingly will help us to reach there and get our answers faster.  Because data does not only show historical behavior, it can also be a rich base for predictive modeling.  And that's essentially what we do isn't it?  We evaluate where the brand is today and project the highest potential of where it can be in one year, 3 years, 5 years time.  And then we work out the kinks on how to get there, considering everything good and bad that could possibly happen under the sun between now and 5 years later.  Predictive modeling helps us to close our doubtful gaps, even if not 100% and advise plans which are a lot more grounded and risk-proof in such a fast paced environment.

Account planning was half strategy and half creative - there was always something subjective albeit calculated in our proposal.  Because we were weavers of culture and we understood the fabric of people.  So we have and will always stand proudly to represent the consumer's voice in the parliament of marketing.  That human intuition will and should never go away.  It can only be made more powerful with data analytics and machine learning.  To quote Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, "To reframe the man-versus-machine dichotomy, combinations of Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue may prove more robust than pure-human or pure-machine approaches".  The computer learns patterns and can probably spew a million positions in a few seconds, while the human mind can only project to as far as 10 steps ahead. But the computer will never be able to understand context as well as a human and there's where we trump. Honda said it right, Man Maximum, Machine Minimum when it comes to their engineering philosophy, because at the end of the day it is about the 'human taste'.  And THAT, was coined in the 40s.  Likewise, the machine might have hundreds of best variations but it still lacks our God-given creativity - the nature to start fresh without the burden of history. The even better news is, they will help us to be faster and more efficient as a planner.  In levels never before - we can make decisions overnight or in a blink of an eye.  Ten years ago, if you wanted a complete brief in 3 days, you must be out of your mind!  But today, 24 hours is possible with the right tools. But don't you dare test it on me.

Machine will never replace us. They're our friends. And they will help us to reconcile our client's brand and/or category back into the world where it happily belongs, in speed we've never been able to before. We shouldn't just wait and embrace it.  We should create it.

Monday, January 11, 2016

What would 'Perfect Education' look like?

I am convinced that in order for human to advance, we must always consider 'balance' in our everyday life.  It sounds like some Buddhist Zen philosophy but reality is that is how nature has always taken its course.  Which to me, education should not be a field that is an exception to this law.  If at all, it should be the most important one to embrace this because as we all know, education is the fabric of any modern development.

To me, 'Perfect Education' should look like this, where X marks the perfect equilibrium of technical skill (what is) and thinking skill (what if):

Too often than not, traditional education tends to focus on the 'what is' - the technical aspect of any field of study.  While this is important as logic tells us; before you meddle with science, you better know your compounds - it teaches the individual of what had happened, what had been discovered and how the world is currently working - but not necessary what can happen, what is yet to be discovered and how the world should or could work.  But if we apply 'what ifs' thinking into the equation, learning becomes something else.  It spurs us to question what had happened and how we can change that.  This is the thinking skill, we so desperately need.  Do bear in mind however, a school that teaches only 'thinking skills' - usually dubbed as 'creative', seems to produce students best in fields which don't require a lot of technical knowledge.  It's missing a lot if you ask me because no society is built without technical capabilities.

Although I'm not a big fan of moral police, but if I absolutely have to add another dimension to this so-called 'Perfect Education', it would be 'ethical skills'.  This is an area of contend, even for me, because personally I believe that there is good in human if only they are taught to 'think'.  The greater the ability to think, the greater the ability to connect ideas - good or bad.  Unless, the person is pure evil, there is no way an individual will choose to continue building on a series of bad ideas!

What kind of education is this framework applied?  Any.  In nurseries, in schools, in colleges, in professional courses, in corporate training and in life.  That's how lifehack came about anyway right?  What you do previously and how you can hack it to make it better.  Same principle.