Tag Archives: creativity

Newsflash: The Swarm launches today

While I don’t usually write about myself on here, I’m very pleased to announce the launch of THE SWARM, my new venture that will be offering mobile consultancy, multi-platform content production and creative workshop design and facilitation.  A full(er) website will launch soon.


Please check out the site and get in touch if you’d like to work together.

Yes, this means I’m leaving the BBC – officially in the early Autumn – after 8+ great years here.  I’ve learned alot, had a great time and now it’s time for my next adventure.


Over The Air – The Future is Mobile presentation

I spoke at Over The Air 2009 recently and have just uploaded my slides to share with the attendees and thought I’d share them with my readers too, in case you want to get a better view of what the BBC is up to on mobile and also, some of my personal predictions for what might happen in the mobile space.

Two highlights I wanted to pull out were my mini-analysis on what makes a good mobile app, which I’ve boiled down to:

Makes your life easier

Uses unique hardware capabilities on the device

Makes a better media experience on your device

Makes it FUN (aka GAMES)

Full details are in the slides and if you want to know more (since the talk isn’t on there), just get in touch.

The other part I wanted to highlight were my personal predictions around things that I think will unfold in the mobile space.  They are:

Mobile take centre stage as the first computing device you turn to

Everything becomes connected – clothing, toys, etc

Everything filtered via location

Mass participation and creativity will grow

Again, there’s more in the presentation but if you want to talk about any of these, or find out more, just get in touch.

I also gave a longer version of the talk at Ad-Tech London – part of London Digital Week.  If you want to see the extended version (with more details and examples of good stuff in the industry), dive in here:

Lego, Imagination and Work

Last week I was lucky enough to go on a session about using Lego as a means of facilitating creativity and/or strategy.  It wasn’t the full ‘Lego Serious Play‘ experience – but it piqued my curiosity in this and was interesting so I thought I’d share – and share some fun photos I took of the serious play we were enganged in. Serious Play is a technique that Lego have developed for using their bricks, etc in the office for, erm, work.

The session I went to was run by the Digital Research Unit based in Huddersfield.

The idea is that using the bricks can help people use their imaginations and using the bricks to express complex ideas and relationships in 3D, describe complicated relationships and also give you a chance to use your hands (which, in theory, helps some people engage their brains more).  They can also be used in brainstorming – and many of you saw an example of how this can be done in an exercise one of my colleagues ran a  few months ago.

We worked through a process where we used the Lego to model our own role; then how we operate within that role; the wider organisation etc, until we built up a large model of how our roles fit together and fit into the BBC.  We also built aspects of ourself that we don’t bring to work and used these to do some introspection into how we might (or might not) change the way we operated, etc.

The main idea was to get people to work through their individual identity, then team identity and then the wider environment/landscape their role and organisation exists in.

My role - in Lego!

My role - in Lego!

How I operate in my role - In Lego!

How I operate in my role - In Lego!

A 'model' BBC

A 'model' BBC

I was really captivated by how much the Lego opened up the conversations we were having.  ‘Playing’ allowed us to put alot of our normal conversational conventions to the side and forced us to explain things in a simple way that wasn’t offensive or overly formal because we were using simple tools for explaining our ideas.  I also thought about people I work with who aren’t necessarily comfortable expressing themselves verybally who could use this as a means of showing instead of speaking.  And, best of all, building something before you explain it makes you think before you speak; and let’s face it, we could all do more of this.

Effectively we were building stories.  Stories about who we are, where we work and how we do it.  But this storytelling could be expanded to help build stories for use in programme making or other content.  I recently read an article in Wallpaper* (which unfortunately isn’t online) about how architects are building stories and fantasy into some of the new work that’s being done in that field because they’re trying to embrace our contemporary need for more narrative experiences that blur the difference between real and fantastic.

I think this is especially important when you work with digital media – sure everything needs to be functional and simple – but it should also delight and building this delight is the hardest part.  Sure Google search is a wonderful piece of technology, but it latched into not being ‘just another search box’ by having fun and playing with its logo.  I’d hope that in the type of work that I do, that if we start by expressing our ideas with Lego (or other manual tools for that matter) that we might capture some of the fun and fantasy that can get lost along the way.

We’ll see how it goes.  I’ve just installed a few containers full of Lego in meeting spaces for my team to ‘play’ with…

Some more info on Lego in the office/work environment:





Design Mind: Mobile industry and creative destruction

This is an interesting article I just read about the mobile industry written by Design Mind, the in-house magazine at Frog Design – one of the few that backs up and isn’t looking at what’s the next Series 60 handset or guessing at what Palm or iPhone have planned – but actually looking at some of the historical and traditional forces that are facing the industry.

creative destructionUltimately, it takes a dim view of convergence happening via smartphones – I’m not quite sure I buy it, but its an interesting theory, and certainly possible.  We don’t think about it much but there could be another path to instant communication and access to all the information you need that’s not a PC or a mobile or a hybrid one.  Sure, they’ll both come close – but, the article says, they may never provide the whole solution.  I also liked the importance the article attached to the ‘feeling’ that designed products provide – I think this is far too often overlooked.

Another point that excited me was that this is the first time I’ve read about Nvidia announcing that Tegra would soon be available and able to make video game-quality graphics available on mobiles.  This is going to allow a huge shift in mobile content and services and bring some great stuff to the small screen.

Shoot the Summer

Last night I (also) attended a screening of Shoot the Summer (or http://www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/shootthesummer on your mobile) – a film made by some of my colleagues (Hugh Garry and Jo Bellingham) in BBC Audio & Music.

What a blast it was – and a great example of how mobiles can be used to capture stories from users that we’d never get to see or cover otherwise.  The basic premise was that Hugh and Jo provided loads of punters, radio talent and bands at summer festivals with mobiles to film whatever they wanted and then pieced it together to document last summer’s festival scene.

Afterwards I was asked if I thought my colleagues in BBC Vision (the telly-and-video-making bit) or BBC Journalism (the news, sport, weather bit) should be doing this.  And, while of course they could, I left Shoot the Summer feeling like this was the perfect thing to be coming out of one of our radio-based areas.  The texture of it just felt like radio to me.  Audiences voices mixed with radio talent and bands, first hand experiences and – of course – music.  Sure it didn’t have all the polish that a TV production on summer festivals would have had – but it had something more intimate than what you’d capture otherwise.  Having been to ALOT of the festivals in my day, I definitely felt like it capture the feel of festival going far better than the professionally-produced Glastonbury: the Movie did.

Watching it also backed up another hunch I’ve always had – that while musicians are great on stage, they’re not nearly as interesting as crowd members when you meet them.  The only parts of the film that left me fidgiting and not laughing or enjoying myself were the ones where the bands were on as opposed to the punters.

I really hope I see more of this type of work coming out of the BBC in the future.

BeeB Camp (aka BBC Camp)

The BBC camp?  Never.  This was BeeBCamp.

Today I attended a really interesting event (‘unconference‘) with various other ‘digital types’ from around the BBC to discuss, well anything we wanted.  I attended a number of self-organising sessions, and here’s some of my notes and thoughts:

Session 1: The BBC’s first MMOG (massively multiplayer online game)

This session was run by Dave Anderson from BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC) and he talked about a MMOG called Tronji that they’ve co-developed with BBC Children’s.  It was very interesting to learn about how this has been developed as its getting close to going into beta about how they’re hoping to build critical mass.

The big challenge for Dave seemd to be reconciling how his part of the BBC could find a business model and tech to support it that would allow them to commercialise the world they’ve built for non-UK users while making sure that license fee payers get a great free experience.  He’s not the only one thinking about this.  It’s come up in a number of projects I’ve worked on over the years and is always tricky and is a particularly live issue on one of the projects I’m working on now.

IP detection seems to work to an extent for us – but it’s not perfect and is far less perfect on mobile than it is for fixed-line broadband.  Issues like Opera Mini routing all its users through Norway and Blackberry using strange international proxy servers means that determining which country a mobile user is in is far more complicated than it is for a fixed-line broadband user.  I guess by the very nature of mobiles being, er, mobile, they’re harder to track.  There’s also the issue of what happens when a user with a UK sim card and subscription roams out of the UK and the issues of when a non-UK user roams into the UK.  (Nevermind my friend who’s phone picked up Orange France while he was standing in Dover recently…)

Session 2: What is the Common Platform?

Steve Bowbrick (who it turns out I worked with on a project called TotalTele.com way back in 1997 and haven’t seen since) is the BBC’s new ‘Blogger in Residence’ – but he’s not just blogging.  He’s advocating something he calls (somewhat clunkily in my humble opinion) the Common Platform.  He described himself as being a ‘critical friend’ – one who can be friends with everyone around but who won’t go native while he’s here – I liked this way of describing what he’s doing.

So what is it?

It seems to be a vision he’s creating for what the BBC could be and how it could provide value after the ‘broadcast era’ that’s centred around ‘openness.’  He said it should involve 5 things: Creation, Enterprise, Learning, Participation and Communication.  I can’t argue the BBC shouldn’t do those things but, I want to know more about what he’s got in mind – I’m sure alot of other people in the room have had those thoughts.

When pushed on the details of how exactly he imagined his vision manifesting itself, Steve elaborated that he thought it was like an ‘added layer’ on top of what’s already there on the Internet.  Interesting, but some would argue the Internet already exists and no one needs the BBC trying to control it and that as an organic network it will improve itself to meet the needs of its users.  I pressed him about whether he thinks the layer is something that the BBC should build or if its something that we can encourage the growth of by building our stuff in certain ways and he didn’t seem convinced either way.  Personally, I think there’s a greater case for building public value (did I just use that phrase?!) by building things well and setting examples that will build up better semantic relationships rather than trying to create some monster application that will try to ‘control’ a medium that clearly isn’t controllable.  Granted, the control Steve is talking about is enhancements that make it all better but I can’t help but be wary.

Session 3: How NOT to run an Alternate Reality Game

This session was really interesting – I didn’t even know the BBC had attempted an ARG before today – but it also annoyed me.  The speakers told us about how they had run an ARG around the programme Torchwood and about the lessons they learned.  They were (not direct quotes):

  • Don’t make any assumptions about your reality or the alternate one you’re creating – check everything;
  • Don’t underestimate how much work it will take;
  • Be prepared for there to be a change in the real world (say current events) that require you to change your alternate reality.

All very sensible from what I could see – and great to get these tips ‘from the horses mouth.’

That said, the speaker didn’t feel the work had been worth the effort (despite others in the conversation being fairly impressed with the stats!) and seemed to be advocating that the BBC not try an ARG again.  (He did suggest that we might do less elaborate “brand extensions” so wasn’t completely negative on the idea.)

Now, from my perspective, not getting something QUITE right doesn’t mean never do it again.  It certainly didn’t sound like a failure and I’d rather see us try to do better next time.

The game, as it was described to me, ran exactly alongside episodes – so was in some ways still essentially linear and only had the length of the series to attract an audience from TV.  I’d like to see one where the story is less linear and that can last over a longer period of time to catch on virally.  The game also sounded very PC-based (though there were clearly links into the real world) and I’d like to experiment more with what we can do with mobile and out-of-home content to see if we can create ARGs that manifest in the real world away from the PC.  I think there’s a connection to be made with geocaching here too… somehow.

I’d love to know about any great examples of mobile ARGs that people have seen!

Session 4: Does the BBC need a games strategy?

Really interesting conversation here.  The general consensus here was that yes, we do need one.  The audience are crying out for them and will abandon us if we don’t engage with gaming.  But, more interestingly, we discussed the fact that even amongst the people around the table, everyone was talking about something different when they talked about a ‘game’.  Console games, mobile games, virtual world games, ARGs, playground games, board games, web-based games, puzzles, the list goes on.  It wasn’t until the end of the conversation when I mentioned Celebdaq that anyone really discussed the fact that this is probably the most successful game the BBC has done to date.

I think a great outcome of this would be for someone to put the type of games into some sort of simple framework and then say what our business strategy for each type is.  One serious fly in the ointment was the that the BBC is in a tricky space from a regulatory perspective when it comes to games but, interestingly, the ways of working in this space that we talked about almost all included collaboration with the games (or other) industries, which I think show how we could create beneficial partnerships across the range of games and I think that if this was mapped against the framework for the types of games we could produce it could be a powerful way forward in a space that’s traditionally been very difficult.

There’s probably already a bright spark someplace in the BBC that’s already done this so if you’re out there, please, come out, come out wherever you are…

Which reminds me – if nothing else – today was a great day for meeting and connecting with alot of smart folk from around the business I work in.  The type of day that makes me really happy to work for the Beeb.

Session 4: My session! – Should We Bother With Bluetooth?

I lead a conversation with a few other people about whether or not we should try to use Bluetooth as a distribution mechanism.  The conversation basically centred around the fact that Bluetooth is widely used by teens and a free technology which makes it even more attractive to them.  In fact, one report I read said that UK teens and young people use Bluetooth more than their peers in any other country.  All that said, when we’ve tried to do projects using Bluecasting, the results have been underwhelming.

Bluecasting and users Bluetoothing content to each other are clearly two different ways of communicating and what I took away from the session is that we should move our Bluetooth efforts towards trying to fit with the natural behaviour that teens have – sending stuff between themselves – rather than trying to be a, errrr, broadcaster pushing content over-the-air to them in a linear fashion (Bluecasting).  We talked about trying to create a non-linear narrative that was distributed this way and how you might be able to use it in conjunction with a ‘hidden camera’ or game show…  If anyone has any ideas, please shout!

A few thoughts on how the day was shaped

It was great that people took the time out to organise the day and, as I said above, it was a really good one that made me happy to be working at the BBC.  But I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the format since creative facilitation is one of my interests.

The day was billed as an ‘unconference’ that was self organising.  The ‘un organisers’ put a grid of times and tables on the board and asked people to talk about something or pose a question for people to join them to talk about.  It reminded me of the ‘Open Space’ methodology which I’ve seen used other places with slightly different executions.

Open Space aims to be light touch and when you have a bunch of like-minded and engaged people in a room works well but, there’s a few things that still could have gone better:

Ground rules.  You gotta have em.  I know that no one likes them and thinks they know them, but there were a few times today when I thought it would have been good to remind people that in this type of setting ‘no idea is a bad idea’, etc.  We were told ‘No Powerpoint’ upfront – which was a godsend.  I also felt like it would have been helpful to have a few neutral facilitators around to help slow conversations build up momentum – or even just some pointers about unconference techniques that work well, for people who felt ‘stuck’ during their conversations.

Also, moving on from these types of events is always hard.  We talked about this a little bit at the end, but a mechanism to help people try to take something concrete away might have strengthened it.  In any training on how to run these types of things, one of the thing you learn is that you should ‘record everything’ and I really agree with that.  Lots of people were making notes today – and I’m sure I’m not the only one blogging by any stretch of the imagination – but I still feel like some great stuff might get lost – purely because there was just SO much good stuff!

Crossover Nordic: Day 5: Preparing for the Final Pitch

Well, day four of Crossover Nordic was the day of hard work.  All of the teams spent an intensive day working on their ideas – and boy – did they come a long way.

To re-hash, the teams formed after the Ideas Market on Day 3 and put their heads down to work on pitches for their ideas.  We’re using creating pitches as a way of developing the ideas and giving feedback because its a useful methodology but also because these ideas will be pitched to real commissioners at Nordisk Panorama.  Each group has had three watering holes (described here) with different mentors where they’ve had intensive feedback on both their ideas and their pitches and have been doing tremendous amounts of revision before the next watering hole.

The amount of work that’s gone into each project between has been amazing.  The ideas and pitches have been iterated at break-neck speed and the teams have been incredibly open to all forms of feedback and critique – which isn’t easy; especially when some of them have been working almost all night.  The teams have gone on huge creative journeys and its been thrilling to help mentor them through the process and see them progress.  Each time they’ve presented, the mentors have seen the ideas and presentations progress a huge amount.

This morning I’m sitting and watching the final technical rehearsals for the pitches and they’ve all improved – again.  Great stuff.  Personally, I think that more than one of them has a really strong chance of getting commissioned and I’m really proud of how well the teams have done.

At this lab I’ve been working as a mentor/facilitator but I know I’d be interested in taking these type of projects forward had they been pitched to me in other labs and festivals where I’ve worked as a commissioner.  I’m wishing all of the teams good luck and can’t wait to see the final pitches and see the teams’ reactions to each others work as it will be the first time they see their colleagues ideas since they were just a bit of writing on paper a few days ago.