The R/GA Make Day 2 video, possibly featuring a little bit too much of me.
A cold afternoon, warmed by the tension of watching my team. My team - a strange phrase. They’re clearly not just mine - on this occasion I’m sharing them with the 700 other people who’ve decided to travel to the less than glamorous Abbey Stadium in Cambridge and pay £15 to sit in the away end (another 2000 or so locals are spread around the rest of the patchwork ground).
I’m always in the away end, that’s how I started watching them, with my dad at small grounds in the late 80’s and early 90’s. When football wasn’t an all pervasive fashion item that politicians and Hollywood a-listers were required to ‘like’. Not that this game is touched by much glamour. The Blue Square Premier League is a long way from the banal MOTD platitudes and millionaire showboating.
I don’t go and watch my team very often. For lots of reasons: money, family, geography, time. But one of the main reasons is that I don’t enjoy it. I can watch and enjoy most sport (except motor sport) and I enjoy watching football. But watching my team play is a long way from being a pleasurable experience.
It’s the tension, the stress.
The stress of getting to a ground in a town you don’t know. Arriving, taking a glance at the programme and with the dawning realisation that there isn’t a single player on the team who was playing for the club last time I watched a game. That strange superstition of not sitting down until the referee blows his whistle (I have no idea where that comes from). As the game progresses it gets worse. A knot in the stomach, voice growing hoarse, willing a good result. Those nearly moments - an almost great pass or the ball striking the bar. The collective frustration that pours out of the stands when a basic error is made.
Suddenly the end of the game approaches, nervous glances at my watch. The board held up for a few minutes of added time. Which drains away like the belief in fading light. Perhaps one last change and then the final whistle.
No win today. No end to the run of games without seeing them win. My team. Next time they’ll win. Next time I’ll enjoy it.
Heavy skies, grey and laden with snow. Snow that falls slowly, dampening sounds and flattening perspective. A tramp across the fields, heavy work, snow crunching underfoot - the percussive sounds of winter.
The world seems asleep, but no less beautiful for it. In the fields beyond the pub at the end of the village (where the windmill used to be), there’s little sign of life - just some abandoned old pieces of farm machinery, a couple of very territorial robins and footprints leading out across the fields.
The marginal gains of innovation.
Innovation in digital advertising. Innovation in advertising.
How do you create an environment and attitude that allows people to innovate on a daily basis? Is it possible to create a culture of innovation?
There’s an increasing tension pulling at the commercial web. The commercial web being that part of the internet that’s trying to sell you something - even if that something is as intangible as brand or an idea or maybe even an emotion. This commercial web is becoming ever more formulaic and codified. Measured in an analytic sense, but also in a careful way. There’s a pattern to campaigns, to exploiting social media with the big players. Facebook, Google and Twitter drawing more and more users and therefore advertisers into their orbit.
If you believe this to be true, that innovation is the key to stepping beyond the confines of the formulaic web, and therefore, standing out and being noticed, then how as an organisation do you make this one of your goals. Can you codify innovation? Make it reproducible? Isn’t that just like planning to be spontaneous. For teams involved in creating for the commercial web, innovation can not be something that happens in a vacuum, away from results - the formulaic, measured web has seen to that. This isn’t a story about “being brave enough to fail”. Client success isn’t a nice to have.
We seem to wrestle with this most days at work. I certainly don’t have all that many answers. Yet. But I’ve noticed that the most innovative projects I’m involved in have thse ingredients.
1. Be a team
Not just a group of people who happen to be free at the same time and who the resource manager and producer have cobbled together. That might be how the team gets selected, but it needs to evolve quickly into a genuine team.
The big idea is great. Someone probably needs to have one at some point in the process, but that’s really just a beginning. Innovation isn’t the eureka moment. Or rather it’s not one big eureka moment, but normally hundreds of tiny innovations, back to back to back. Build something, make it better, change it, test it. Improve it. Some of the most innovative projects I’ve worked on recently haven’t really worked all that well right up until the last minute. There’s no such thing as getting it right - it’s a case of keep making it a little less wrong.
3. Be open to the marginal gains of innovation
There are opportunities to innovate across a whole spectrum of disciplines. The most effective innovation might come from the way you change the hosting, deploy your code, manage your daily scrum or prototype the user interactions. Nobody knows where this is going to come from, but it’s important to recognise any opportunity for innovation and grab it.
And suddenly winter is here, frost across the fields. Puddles frozen.
A few weeks ago I was part of a panel discussion hosted by Getty Images at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden, “Show, don’t tell: the rise of visual social media”. There’s a nice edit of the presentations that preceded the discussion.
Further east today and somewhere new. The landscape changes as you move through the fens, the sky bigger.
A carpet of yellow.
Clear skies. Exploring.
And then back home.
The mud is heavy, claggy. A steady squelch underfoot. The three of us exploring a little woodland that my wife knows well. We are a running late and the light is fading a little already. The small glades off the main path are carpeted with bright red and orange leaves (and an amazing array of fungus).
Autumn colours in full force.
Back on the path we pick our way through the mud until we find a better path. Violet skipping along until we get back to the car just before dusk.
Hazelborough Forest, Northamptonshire
Working. Fixing. Preparing.
The house is over 100 years old, a simple working cottage that has been battered, fixed up and repaired throughout it’s life (with varying amounts of competence and success). And now it’s our turn, taking back the layers of one of the rooms to the horse hair plaster. A week in a room. Sanding, filling, fixing and painting. Hands cracked and sore with paint under my nails. It’s not finished. It never is, but it’s more finished than it was before. Incremental changes.
An increasingly digital world means that change is often accelerated and effort is mental, an ever more complex brain teaser of optimisation and Moore’s Law style improvements. The physical efforts and calluses from my week of ‘home work’ are difficult in a different way. The rewards slower.
Currently my favourite flowers in our little garden are a group of leeks that we planted last year, and then left to bolt, grow and flower. You don’t really see leeks looking like this, but they are beautiful, tall and elegant plants, with fantastic flowering globes. They are also loved by bees, wasps and all types of fly.
As summer comes to a close I’ve been watching the amazing array of buzzing, hovering and flying miniatures that flit in and out of the tiny flowers. There’s a strange beauty and amazing variety of colour. In a few more weeks all this will be gone and autumn will be here, but for now our overgrown leeks are attracting an amazing and often ignored group of intriguing little creatures.
Early morning on Thursday 9th August heading East towards Stratford. Excited. The Olympics are in full swing and this is our chance to get involved at the Olympic Park.
We have just 30 minutes to dash across the park towards the Riverbank Arena in time for push back, we make it, and take our seats as the game begins. Argentina against New Zealand playing off for ninth place doesn’t sound like much of an attraction, but this is the Olympics and the crowd are knowledgable, engrossed and enthusiastic.
The sun beats down and by the start of the second half most of the 15,000 seats are full. The game ebbs and flows, but New Zealand seem stronger and faster and in the end run out 3-1 winners. We break for ice-cream, sun screen and leg stretch before Pakistan and South Korea play off for 7th place. This game is more defensive but still exciting. Pakistan seem more skillful but have a game plan that involves taking minimal risk. In the end they win 3-2. The applause from the crowd is enthusiastic as the players take a lap of honour. Then we file out.
The 15,000 seats and pitch will be modified for the Paralympics and then dismantled and moved to a new location, with a much reduced capacity. The arena is described as temporary. But most sports facilities are in some sense temporary, even if the stands remain they change and evolve - the new Wembley seems to only share a location with the old twin towered stadium. The timeless nature of Lord’s cricket ground is perpetuated by the continuing existence of a single stand, the members only pavilion.
When the game finishes, the crowd leaves and the event is over. Even though the photos live on and the highlights remain on iPlayer, the race, the match, that goal, they only really exist in the moment. The past tense immediately applies.
Yet these events live on in the memory. That morning at the Olympics will live with me forever, the bright pink and blue pitch seared into my fallible cortex.
The scarcity value of a visit to the Olympics and the esteem that the games are held (in spite of the relentless commercial exploitation), means that even when the Riverbank Arena is dismantled and relocated, the exploits of the athletes will live on. The impact of these Olympics, the imprint on my life of that bright morning in August will be permanent.
I haven’t climbed a tree in years, probably not since I was about 14, but at this point there doesn’t seem to be much choice. The crowd is 10, maybe 15 deep on Constitution Hill. The police are stopping anyone getting closer to the finish to avoid overcrowding so I’m stood by the flamme rouge assessing my options. From the PA system I know the riders are leaving Richmond Park, they’ll be here in a little more than 10 minutes. There’s nothing for it, if I want to see anything I’ll need to climb the tree.
I ask the woman in the Italian cycling top if she can step out of the way so I push up off the lampost. I grab one of the low branches and then I’m scrambling up, pushing a grasping until I’m sat high up in one the trees that stands on the run in to the finish.
The PA announces that Wiggins is on the front trying to pull back the breakaway - a huge cheer goes up and the tree shakes a little, but my arms are wrapped around the trunk, and I have a perfect view onto the road waiting for the riders to swing round the bend and on to the finish.
As the riders fly round the corner, an almighty roar leaps up from the crowd - it’s not the British on the front as most of the spectators would want, but the atmosphere is electric. Even from my tree I can see the steely confidence in Vinokurov’s eyes, there’s no way he’s going to let Uran win this one.
wind in the wheat fields
46 species of birds, we spotted in a week in the highlands
In no particular order:
- Collared Dove
- Wood Pigeon
- Sand Martin
- Great Black Backed Gull
- Herring Gull
- Greylag Goose (with goslings)
- Pied Wagtail
- Willow Warbler
- Mallard (with ducklings)
- Great Spotted Woodpecker
- Great Tit
- Blue Tit
- Coal Tit
- Shore Lark
- Sky Lark
- Meadow Pipit
- Great Crested Diver