Why do people only read things that back up their way of thinking?

Remember when the internet was in its infancy? We all had to put up with little 468 x 90 banner ads everywhere you looked – and sometimes we clicked them because we didn’t know better.

As time went on we grew smarter, we were able to tell the bad adverts from the good, and the emergence of online advertising  bumped the ugly out of the marketplace entirely. And now, our brains automatically blank out adverts to keep us focused on the content we went to the site in the first place for. Many of us use ad-blocking tools so our brains don’t even need to perform the mental airbrushing.

But what if those adverts were trying to tell us something really important?

What if the Emergency Broadcast System was hooked into those banner ads trying to give us forewarning of an avoidable cataclysm?

Social Engineering

Social Engineering refers to psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information.

It is becoming increasingly common by malicious actors (bank and identity fraud, for example), but is also becoming a core part of many companies’ business models.

It all started innocently enough with the Social Graph. The ability to link people with other people, events, photos and products via rich, meaningful relationships turned the one-size-fits-all internet into a personalised window where the chaos suddenly started to shape itself into something we recognised and could engage with on a more emotional level.

Instant social gratification through ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ became our norm, information relevant to us started to travel at a speed that made some high school students, even back in 2008, say “email is too slow“. The relevancy-engine that is the Social Graph began to play on our most base motivations. Read more

Things I learned at my last job

Today I closed a chapter in my life. After nearly 4 years tenure at a company I wanted to reflect on the things I learned over that time.

I have been very lucky to have a few excellent – world-class even – mentors here who have taught me things that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I wanted to share the reflection process with you in the hope you gain something valuable too.

Individual Success Isn’t Success

For a long, long time I  adopted the ‘aircraft oxygen mask’ approach to my career: I’ll get to where I want to be first, then I’ll help others. This company has taught me that isn’t the right thing to do.

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My thinking was always “I’ll be in a better position to help others” once I hit my objectives, but that simply doesn’t work in practice: without respectful, cooperative development across your team(s), you risk yourself hitting your goals at all, and if you haven’t helped others hit theirs too, nobody wins.

Dare I use the management-bullshit-bingo term ‘synergy’?

My current role here is a technical leadership role – that means I don’t have people reporting to me but I do have authority over technology direction and a remit to ensure conceptual integrity of the solution. I have led project teams before, I have even run small businesses before, but being a leader in a larger company was new to me when I began this chapter of my life, and I wanted to be good at it.

I’ve seen all the memes about the difference between a boss and a leader but for some reason I struggled to enact the differences. However, after some time spent being (in retrospect) a terrible boss, some sage advice from one of those mentors made everything ‘click’, and I was given the mental tools to develop the techniques required to become a good leader instead. (Note, a good mentor won’t give you the answer, but the means of finding it on your own!).

boss-vs-leader

“Take people with you.”

So what does that look like in practice? Last year I was offered the chance to travel to our American HQ to present some new work to 1,500 customers. ‘Prestigious’ isn’t even close – this is a huge event, so compelling that our customers pay us to listen to our plans and roadmap. The trip dripped with a significant amount of attached ‘kudos’ and the opportunity to rub shoulders with the highest of the high in the business. Not only that – the opportunity to ask probing questions to 1,500 customers about our technology direction is such a rare occurrence it was unmissable. The old me would have started packing immediately. Read more

What We Can All Learn from the Aviation Industry

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The “fly” button is third from the left on the second row. The “land” button is cunningly hidden behind a removable panel in the rear lavatory. The rest control the in-flight-movie.

The aviation industry is one plagued with red tape and strict process, and not without good reason. With more than half of all plane crashes caused by pilot error, and the flying public unwilling to fly without pilots in the pointy end, aviation authorities are doing everything they can to turn the cockpit into a robotic, process-driven office.

Believe it or not, the problems that pilots face, and which cause aviation disasters, are often the same issues we face every day at the office. So the ways these have been solved and mitigated are worth a look, whether you’re flying a plane, or flying a desk…

Don’t distract me when I’m busy

Take-offs and landings are extremely busy times for pilots. Besides being the cool, calm head there to deal with emergencies when they happen, take-offs and landings are where they really earn their money.

Under 10,000-feet, airline pilots must obey a concept known as the “sterile cockpit”; that means they aren’t allowed to discuss anything except the job at hand. Checklists, departure or arrival routes, weather and radio communication with air traffic control, that’s all, nothing extraneous.

And you can tell when you’ve climbed to 10,000ft even as a passenger, it is usually signified by the pilots turning off the landing lights (the bright white lights in the wing roots) and turning off the fasten-safety-belt lights (as weather permits).

Applying this to the office: We all have busy times, I’ve seen several ways of signifying  that you don’t want to be disturbed and just want to get things done. Sometimes small flagpoles on desks can be have status flags hoisted up them, “do not disturb” or “only disturb me if it’s urgent”, for example. Other companies have employed simpler policies, business intelligence (BI) experts BusinessObjects, now part of German megacorp, SAP, uses headphones to indicate disturbability (a word I just made up). No headphones means the door is open. One headphone in means it needs to be pretty important. Both headphones means my head is down and the building had better be on fire…

Be specific when you tell me something

The language used by airline pilots has evolved over decades to become very strict and specific, and not without good reason. The deadliest aircraft accident in history (besides 9/11), where two fully-laden 747 collided on Tenerife’s Los Rodeos airport’s runway in fog in March 1977, has been put down to a misunderstanding of terminology.

Waiting to depart at one end of the runway, a KLM 747’s impatient Captain said on the radio that he was “ready for takeoff”. Meanwhile, a Pan Am 747 was still taxiing on the runway.  Read more

How to Take a Good Photo

Christmas is almost upon us and pretty soon the flood of pictures of Uncle Bob in his reindeer jumper will reach its peak. Photography is a very simple thing, you just point and click, right? And with the proliferation of camera-equipped smartphones and other devices you’d have thought that learning how to take a good photo would solve itself, but it really hasn’t. There are some easy rules about photography which nobody seems to know, so here’s how you take a good photograph…

 

The portrait

Most people make the mistake of putting the auto-focus square (which appears in the middle of the screen on digital cameras and smartphones to show where the device is trying to focus) on the person’s face that you’re trying to capture.

Wrong!

A few years ago I loaned a camera from a professional videographer for a project I was working on. I asked for some tips and tricks of the trade and he said something incredibly profound and technical, which has stayed with me ever since. He said, “if you’re taking a picture of a person, make sure their eyes are in the top third of the viewfinder.” And that changed everything.

It’s weird at first, because it feels like you’re taking a picture of someone’s chin, neck or cleavage. But the difference is clear:

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  photography_2

 

(Apologies for inflicting Jeremy Clarkson’s fizzog on the interwebs.)

You’ll struggle to find a professional picture that doesn’t follow this simple rule. Just search Google images to see. And if you have an auto-focussing camera (like most smartphones have on them), you can choose to focus on the face by tapping the screen! Amazing how many people don’t know that.

 

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Generation C

gen_cThe new leaders of the free world are Generation C. They aren’t an age group, people born between certain arbitrary years such as Generation X or Y, instead it is a mind-set and an attitude. But the really interesting thing is that they don’t know they’re in charge.

The C Word

The “C” in Generation C stands for many things: curation, community-oriented, connected, creation, computerised, communication and the most important one: content.

Even Google acknowledges that this group exists, synonymously calling them “The YouTube Generation“. They attribute this glossy, if somewhat somewhat proprietary, title to people with a focus on production rather than consumption because they are “YouTube’s core audience”. Elsewhere, Generation C is being acknowledged as a powerful force that can decide the success or failure of commercial and political initiatives. Generation C has replaced the celebrity-endorsement deal.

 

Did you know there are more voters in the USA born 1980-1995 than all other voters combined? Imagine if they realised what collective political power they had over the systems currently in place which is punishing them for the failures of their forefathers.

 

The first generation of digital natives

Generation C almost encompasses an age group known as the Millennials – those born between 1984 and 2000 who have no understanding of the world without the Internet, Google, Amazon, smartphones, real-time chat, etc. Forrester estimate that 80% of Millennials embody the attitude of Generation C, but are keen to stress that it really is a mindset not an age group.

Once you start to quantify the attributes of Generation C you begin to see why they are important and realise there is some astonishing human behaviour emerging within this group. Behaviour that is flipping tradition and accepted wisdom on their heads.

Their importance can be seen in the statistics published by Nielsen in 2012 (Nielsen choose to categorise Generation C as 18-34 year olds):

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The prevalence of 18-34 year olds using tablets, smartphones, social media, etc. puts them in a position of data-wealth and amazing connectivity. They are opinionated and can share their black-or-white opinions instantly with the rest of the world. They have the same reach as hundred-million-dollar marketing programmes had in the 1990s and many are turning their digital soapboxes into well-cultivated media microbrands. Promoters really promote – they become champions of companies or products – while detractors can be extremely hostile.  Read more

FlightLevel390 has Vanished! Hello, Dave?

Not Captain Dave.

Have you seen him? He’s vanished off the interwebz! The mysterious, greying Captain, fond of Japanese superbikes and perfect landings, only known as “Dave” has removed his blog, “flightlevel390”. And I’m not the only one who is missing this paragon of aviation blogging awesomeness…

In fact, you don’t have to look very far to find a plethora of people calling out for the venerable flyboy:

 

The Disappearance of FlightLevel390 – The Greatest Mystery Since ‘Who Shot Mr Burns’?

This is turning out to be a big Internet mystery – and there aren’t too many of those around these days.

To avid fans of the blog, Dave dropped enough hints to let us know he flew for Phoenix, Arizona-based US Airways. He was also type rated and current on the Airbus A32x family (A319, A320, A321). So when Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III decided to land his US Airways A320 on a particularly wet runway in New York in January 2009, many of us faithful readers suspected our beloved Cap’n might have been at the controls.

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