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Five provocations for
aspiring planning types
20 November 2013
Hello. My name is Ian.
Principal / Chief Strategy Ofﬁcer, Almighty
Mentor, Harvard Innovation Lab
I am not a planner.
Sorry about that.
Take circuitous routes
How I got here:
1994 - 1997 student of philosophy
1997 - 1999 founder, Unwrapped
1998 - 2000 music journalism
1999 - 2000 design at Mattel
2000 - 2004 production at Euro RSCG
2004 - 2013 founder, Almighty
“Forget trying to pass for normal. Follow your geekdom.
Embrace nerditude. In the immortal words of Lafcadio
Hearn, a geek of incredible obscurity whose work is still in
print after a hundred years, “Woo the muse of the odd.” You
may be a geek. You may have geek written all over you. You
should aim to be one geek they’ll never forget. Don’t aim to
be civilized. Don’t hope that straight people will keep you on
as some sort of pet. To hell with them. You should fully
realize what society has made of you and take a terrible
revenge. Get weird. Get way weird. Get dangerously weird.
Get sophisticatedly, thoroughly weird, and don’t do it
halfway. Put every ounce of horsepower you have behind it.
Don’t become a well-rounded person. Well-rounded people
are smooth and dull. Become a thoroughly spiky person.
Grow spikes from every angle. Stick in their throats like a
puﬀerﬁsh.” - Bruce Sterling
You don’t just wake up
interested, one day.
You have to cultivate both
Fall in love with people
Robert Moses, systems guy.
Who was this designed for?
It has never been easier
or less-expensive to
learn about what people
do, want and need.
Falling in love with
people is not the same as
Design for Networks
Get to know
The value of a network is proportional to the
square of the number of connected users
Believe (deeply) in
Start with needs
Design with data
Do the hard work to make it simple
Iterate. Then iterate again.
Build for inclusion
Build digital services, not websites
Be consistent, not uniform
Make things open: it makes things better
( photo by Mike Bracken )
Work at the intersection of the physical and the digital,
because that’s where people live their lives.
Begin with the needs of the people we’re building for.
Create lightweight experiences that can be understood
in any sequence in which they’re encountered.
Provide value to the network ﬁrst, then to ourselves.
Give people something to act upon and add to.
Design measurement into the experiences we create,
rather than just measuring outcomes.
Plan for learning, iteration and (often) abandonment.
Consider sharing and mobility defaults, not features.
Design with a plan to deepen usage, not just grow it.
What if more companies
built their products,
services & experiences
on a foundation of
Fuel new ways of
working, not just new
ways to sell things
Prepare yourself for a
career in which the
companies you work for
every 3-5 years.
Find new inputs:
Eschew PSFK. Stop seeing
Hang out with people who
don’t work in advertising.
* Martin Weigel’s words
diﬀerence between ideas
Hint: most of what you
read is stuﬀ, and can safely
be ignored or picked up at
a later date.
Catalog your beliefs:
Write them down. Be
Know what they mean for
the work you do.
Make your own tools:
Learn to code.
deck & notes at
1. Almighty is where I work. You should also
follow us on Twitter.
2. Beyond the Beyond, Bruce Sterling’s blog
for Wired is worth your time.
3. Zeus Jones, brilliant agency in Minneapolis.
While you’re at it, check out the slides from
ZJ partner Adrian Ho’s talk from Cannes
4. Robert Moses is worth learning about. If
you’re interested in the Moses/Jacobs
conﬂict, 99% Invisible had a great piece on
it this week.
5. Metcalfe’s Law is worth committing to
memory. If you want to go deep with it,
Kevin Kelly has a brilliant piece on
extending the way you consider the Fax
6. If you’re interested in the New Balance
Nationals, this is a good case study.
7. You should spend some time getting
familiar with the UK’s Government Digital
Service and their wonderful design
8. I could bombard you with links to Martin
Weigel & his rant on ad shaped problems.
I’m also really partial to his How to (Not) Fail
Also, read these:
1. John Willshire is as spiky as they come in
2013. His ‘Are Brands Fracking the Social
Web?’ is genius stuff.
2. Convergence Culture, by Henry Jenkins
3. Welcome to the Creative Age, by Mark
4. Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Taleb
5. Advice for a Young Investigator, by
Santiago Ramon y Cajal
6. The Mind of the Strategist, by Kenichi
7. Massive Change, by Bruce Mau