New Perspectives – Is the Leaning Tower of Pisa always inclined?

Recently I posted about an area of research I am interested in and mentioned that we were going to Pisa to present the results at the European Health Psychology Society Annual Conference.

I jokingly asked if Psychology could help the leaning tower and we concluded that the research I was offering up for scrutiny probably wouldn’t.

However the “Inclined Tower“, as a Swiss friend calls it, offers up an obvious, and visual, comparison with some of the benefits from attending conferences.

Its actually quite unusual to learn astounding new facts at academic conferences. Most of the formats involved are just too short and the programme too crowded to allow for a long and detailed examination of new research (that’s what Journal papers are really for). In Pisa there were nearly 1,300 separate pieces of research being presented, either in 15 min oral presentations, posters, symposia, or round table discussions. And all this over 4 days [programme in pdf format].

While you may not spend a lot of of time learning new material, you are forced to look at things from new angles and applying your thoughts and feelings in new ways.  In other words from a ‘New Perspective’!

You’re exposed to the work of people with very different, though equally valid, research philosophies.You can see how they tackled similar questions but from different perspectives (sometimes wildly different).

Studies in psychology provide and require multiple perspectives to be applied in order to understanding people as individuals and as individuals in a community. Research findings and implications about the mind and mental processes as well as studies of the development and behaviour, maintenance and change of socially significant behaviour are all of importance in understand and explaining (at least in part) the world we live in and how we situate ourselves within it.

p.s. John here, I sat in on some of the presentations and there were a couple of very interesting points. Traditionally the shift change in hospitals has been seen as a vulnerability and has resulted in a culture of long shifts. Some research indicated that safety might actually be improved with more shift changes, since they were more often catching problems than causing them. It was the act of explaining what was going on to someone new, a fresh pair of eyes, that caught these oversights. Equally, they sometimes gave people the impetus to make a decision. For a start up company that’s charging along eyes on the prize, taking time out occasionally to explain that bigger picture to an impartial observer, is a huge benefit.

It was also notable the lack of technology awareness in health care messages and communications. Not just the use of social media but viral gaming, mobile data capture & evaluation, and general webbiness. As I tweeted from the conference (I was in the minority having a mobile data device with me), online avatars working from fixed scripts do not make for very convincing ‘companions’. There is a lot this community could learn from places like the Pervasive Media Studio here in Bristol and the ecosystem around them.

For a technical civil engineering description of the tower and various attempts to ‘straighten’ it check out this page. 🙂

Social Media – Recommend something

Uploaded on March 17, 2009 by gilderic
Uploaded on March 17, 2009 by gilderic

Recommend: to present as worthy of confidence, acceptance, use, etc.; commend; mention favorably

This is possibly the hardest stage and the one that most often introduces cognitive dissonance. You spend the time establishing rapport, building your understanding, demonstrating your understanding and expertise, at some point you need to recommend a solution. Obviously you want to recommend your solution, your most expensive solution (to push your ROI), or your cheapest solution (to hook them in)?

No, you want to recommend the best solution for whoever you’re talking to.

Of course if all you do is recommend others you’ll quickly go out of business, unless that is your business paid for by someone else. And here we get to a really interesting business proposition that’s been around for some time but is potentially seeing a resurgence in the business of social media business.

Commission based sales and affiliate marketing (where the sales channel takes a cut of the final transaction value) are nothing new. However, this is still a traditional sales pitch, even Google ads will present you the ad that’s paid the most for the keyword you’ve typed in even if you would actually be better off with another (cheaper) solution.

‘Proper’ social media allows you to recommend other people and yet still maintain a link with the customer for the next time, and through the joy of networks to all their connections. So when they tweet what a great consultant/business/product you’ve got, all their connections find out.

There still isn’t a decent mechanism for measuring social value. Tara Hunt‘s Wuffie Factor is an attempt but I’m not aware of it being used much in practice. LinkedIn recommendations are a bit too back-slappy and mutually appreciative which sort of devalues them.

The hardest reports I filled out were the ones where I’d been talking to a company and suggested they get in touch with another University for their £’00k research project. Of course it goes down better if that solution is from the company employing you, but its remarkable how many successful introductions to new clients came from people I’d recommended go elsewhere.

Uploaded on July 9, 2009 by Reinante El Pintor de Fuego
Uploaded on July 9, 2009 by Reinante El Pintor de Fuego

Close: to arrange the final details of; to complete or settle

If the recommendation is accepted, and it usually was, then closing is just the fine tuning of the agreement, sorting out purchase / invoice details, price, delivery, etc.

A word of warning though, just because you’ve build up this great rapport with a client, don’t begin work without a signed contract. If there is to be an exchange of money then you need at least something that sets out in writing the proposed transaction.

Having invested all this time and effort in securing a sale, keep it going, but don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that now they’ve finally made a purchase they’ll go away and leave you in peace, making monthly subscription installments; or that now they’ve bought your stuff you can pester them about every upgrade and option on the list.

I would recommend consistency above all. If you’ve provided a very light touch information stream and simple options leading up to the sale, don’t suddenly start sending bi-weekly email newsletters. Likewise, if you’ve been chatting on twitter, sending notifiers through your Facebook fan page, and so forth, don’t suddenly ignore them to chase the next client/customer.

So five posts ago I asked what was social media good for? It can be good for business, it can be good for your business, but like any tool of business, you need to spend a bit of time thinking through your strategy and implementing it to find new customers and establish rapport, lurk-a-lot (and talk with them a lot) to understand them and their needs, demonstrate you’ve been listening and really understanding, and then make some recommendations on their best course of action, eventually closing a deal with a new customer.

And if I’ve managed to build up some rapport with you, you think I might understand your needs, and have demonstrated that I understand social media, I’d recommend you drop me an email and we’ll take it from there! 🙂

Social Media – Demonstrate your skillz

Uploaded on October 2, 2006 by J. Star
Uploaded on October 2, 2006 by J. Star

Demonstrate: to make evident or establish by arguments or reasoning; to describe, explain, or illustrate by examples, specimens, experiments

Now is the time to join the conversation. Relate to your audience, demonstrate that you understand their world and needs. Demonstrate that you are an authentic person not just a marketing drone. This is where a little bit of human comment alongside the professional is more acceptable than in traditional marketing / communications strategies.

How much will depend on you, your product/service/company and your audience. Try a bit out, see what the response is, if you haven’t quite understood the social norms, apologise and tighten up a bit.

It may be that your online shopping site is able to demonstrate that you understand my need by recommending other things I’d like. At the moment this is still more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’. And frankly my experience of Facebook’s targeted ads is pretty poor (but then perhaps I’m not sharing enough to allow them to understand my every whim).

Freeagent established an early rapport with me through a review of their products on a website (can’t remember which but it was around their launch date), they clearly understood the needs of small businesses in the UK and particularly recognised the need for LLP specific accounting support (we’re incorporated as an LLP). They continue to demonstrate that they understand my needs by staying out of my face and cranking out the updates.

By contrast Greenlight Search Engine Marketing blew it completely at this point. They’d begun well, establishing rapport with a polite email referencing this site and a specific post, and followed up with a couple of phone calls which was a nice touch. I should have realised that they didn’t understand me from the email and phone calls but decided to proceed anyway because of the great job that Vodafone had done with their ‘Live Guy‘ promotion and this was also for Vodafone.

Greenlight asked me to put some links to Vodafone’s store on my post, I thought this was kind of cool (it’s always nice when someone reads, or at least notices your stuff) and wanted to add a small post-script about Greenlight, SEO in web2.0 etc and then the links. Nope, they just wanted the links and to pay me £40. Against my better judgement, and after lots of thinking, I stuck the links on (with rel=”nofollow” tags) and emailed my invoice. A few weeks later, without settling their invoice, I got another email, from someone else in Greenlight, ‘updating’ the links (which I did in good faith). Several months later, still without settling their invoice, I’ve not heard anything further and have taken the links off.

Which brings me to an important aspect of social media (which applies to any business but is amplified with online). Do a great job and your happy customer might tell one or two people what a great job you did, upset them and you’ll have United Breaks Guitars (YouTube video)!

Assuming you’ve demonstrated that you understand your client/customer/community needs, it’s time to make a recommendation on what to do next.

Social Media – build Understanding

Uploaded on January 22, 2007 by gari.baldi
Uploaded on January 22, 2007 by gari.baldi

Understand: to perceive what is meant; to accept tolerantly or sympathetically

This is the sage advice about having two ears and only one mouth, listen to what is going on. Even if you already have a very strong market leading brand; before you wade in, listen and observe (lurk in the parlance). The social norm’s don’t always apply on line and some ‘normal’ behaviour is downright rude on line. Equally, what’s ‘normal’ on twitter isn’t the same as what’s normal on LinkedIn. Think of it like international trade and those HSBC ads about cultural differences.

Social media is great for lurking and the great thing about social media is that lurking is accepted, even encouraged. You can let the river of news from most social networks flow over you while you scope out the lie of the land.

Tools like Tweetdeck mean you can keep an eye on half a dozen topic groups (by using search & group functions), most sites allow you to ‘follow’ a discussion so you get all the updates without having to spend all week hitting reload.

Set up a few Google alerts, feed them into your RSS reader. Find the social media networks relevant to your business, there is one out there and Google probably knows where it is. See what’s popular, language used, topics of discussion, OT discussions (Off-Topic, not directly related to the forum/discussion/network but of interest to the group).

Take the time to figure this out, don’t just hire a 13 year old. Like any key aspect of your business, you should understand the basics so that you can plan and act accordingly. If nothing else, you need to know when you’re being spun B.S. by your 13 year old ‘social media guru’. 🙂

You don’t need to be developing any great theory of everything, you certainly shouldn’t aim to know everything about everything. That way lies analysis paralysis, but you can build up a picture of the industry, your client, their challenges and how you can help them address those challenges.

Most social media sites have great facilities for chat, discussion forums and similar where you can ask questions and monitor replies. However, remember the opening advice above and be aware than discussions can be very robust & opinionated. Whatever you do, I would advise against getting drawn into a flame war. As recent evidence as shown, no one is really anonymous on the internet (if they ever were).

Generally I don’t say a lot at networking events, at least until I’ve stopped ‘working’ and had a couple glasses of wine. I’ll usually ask questions like ‘what are you currently excited about…’ or ‘what cool stuff are you working on’. By taking the time to understand a business in the assisted living technologies markets (primarily for the hearing impaired) I was able to identify that the key challenge was more about growth & succession planning than product development & sales. I was able to demonstrate this by asking more about their business structure & strategy than about their technologies. Having establishing my understanding and credibility I was able to recommend that two projects were developed what were around £100k each.

Having worked on understanding your customer’s needs through social media, you can begin to demonstrate that understanding and establish your position as someone who can be trusted and respected.

Social Media – establishing Rapport

Uploaded on January 11, 2009 by daviza

Rapport: relation; connection, esp. harmonious or sympathetic relation

This is ostensibly the easy bit of social media; the ‘friending’ act is usually straight forward and simple and isn’t the whole point of “social media” to be, well social?

As is often the case the answer is “Yes, but…

I think that the difference is between permission and interruption. Seth Godin is probably the leading writer/thinker about this.

In the good old days you’d interrupt what people were doing to tell them about your great product or services. Because you’d interrupted them you had to move fast before they found something else to look at, hence the high-speed / high-pressure approach made (in)famous by car salesmen on US television.

If you were networking you’d open with your elevator pitch and close by handing a business card over and demanding one in return. When you got home you’d immediately send out a follow-up letter and offer to quote for business, you might even include a ‘special offer’ because you’d met them in person.

All of which has very little to do with rapport and everything to do with words like ‘conversion’, ‘pipeline’, and ‘sales order process’. Too many people are still using the social media tools as old-school interruption opportunities. Folks on twitter who constantly tweet their blog posts, special offers, etc, Facebook apps that aggressively try to go viral by demanding that you interrupt your friends with requests to join this club, or take this test.

The plethora of tools and sites now available mean that we can genuinely begin to build harmonious or sympathetic relations with customers/clients without getting all new-agey and transcendental.

The first task, as always, is to be clear why you’re using social media tools. Where they fit in your business plan (you do have a plan right?) and what you’re hoping to achieve. From here you can think about where to begin social networking, who you’re hoping to network with, what you would like out of it and what you’re offering. Remember that to be really successful you need others to give you permission to be social with them. Your content / offer / insight / etc has to be compelling enough for people to click “Accept new Friend” or whatever the equivalent is on the platform you’re using, and you should almost certainly be on several.

Then there’s the design of your social presence, which should be sympathetic to the audience. If you’re audience is corporate business then slightly serious blues, rounded boxes, and a ‘business like’ approach is probably better than wacky layout, pastel colours, cartoon fonts, etc. This harks back to a joint post I did with Chris in March about presenting your product (or yourself) to a customer.

Think also about your avatars, are they logos, photos cartoonified versions of your photo? Think about where you are (FacebookMySpaceBeboXingLinkedInEcademyetc) is this where your customers, partners, or audience are? More importantly, is it where they expect to see you?

Most of the companies that do business with Universities are medium sized or large companies, they’re typically not start-ups. So while start-up and new media parties are great fun (and they are), they weren’t that relevant for my role back in 2002-2005. What was relevant was industry networking events, and regional networking events where the middle and senior engineers and Directors would go to find out about research, funding, and opportunities for their company. Being sympathetic meant asking about their business processes, technical challenges and opportunities they weren’t able to capitalise on just yet.

These days I’d be checking out the LinkedIn groups from Aerospace & and major primes, I’d also be signed up to the forums from the West of England Aerospace Forum (our regional membership organisation for this sector). I’d also explore Ning and some of the other less well known social media platforms to find the niche networks.

That’s how I established a rapport with the MD of Messier-Dowty Services, at an event where the interesting companies were. Messier-Dowty Services had a huge opportunity in the coming need for through life capturing of service data on every component in an aircraft’s landing gear, and a huge challenge because a single landing gear can have thousands of components and hundreds of sub-systems; all of which are being moved between individual landing gear, different aircraft, and many operators throughout their serviceable life. With even my limited database architecture experience it wasn’t hard to sympathise with that opportunity/headache.

Having established some rapport I was able to arrange some follow up meetings to understand their needs, demonstrate that understanding by developing an outline project idea and then recommend a great academic and funding source, and closing a circa £100k project between them and the University.

Once you established some element of Rapport, you can begin to build your Understanding of the person’s needs.

Social Media; what is it good for?

Specifically, how can we build business value using social media in all its forms.

Lots of smart folk have been discussing the business models (esp Alan Patrick, Seth Godin, Fred Wilson, and Sean Park) and the use of social media (esp danah boyd, Chris BroganTara Hunt, and our own Nigel Legg), you could even check out my GReader shared stream or Friendfeed to see who I’ve been reading in particular.

This particular post was triggered by two events here in Bristol. The first was the launch of the Brrism Social Media Cafe, the second was a local Federation of Small Business event. Both were good in that they were fundamentally starting from outside the echo-chamber.

As a lapsed academic with a research background in systems theory, business processes and change management I think I have a useful perspective to consider these new tools. I’m also not promoting my own business solution so perhaps offer a degree of ‘independence’. I’m lucky in that I have the freedom to experiment and to try and span organisational & industry boundaries to figure out how these tools can be used.

And they are just tools. This may be heretical, but despite all the Gen-Y / Digital Native stuff, I don’t think social media is re-wiring our brains. That probably last took place around 60,000 years ago and even if it is taking place now, its a process that’ll take several biological generations (rather than internet generations which can take place over a weekend).

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C Clarke, Profiles of the Future, 1973, Ref. Wikipedia

Yes, the technology is remarkable, even amazing and close enough to Arthur C Clarke’s description of ‘magic’ as to be the best description in most circumstances. Even the humble SMS, when you actually try to break it down to fundmental processes, software and hardware, is magic.

So what can we do with this ‘magic’?

There was definitely more understanding of the community building potential for social media tools at the Brrism event (even the ‘money’ group spent most time talking about community & method rather than purpose) while the FSB folks were still making the leap from social media as a ‘free’ version of traditional marketing. However, all the talk about community, social, conversation, and similar terms took me back to a Young IoD event I went to a couple of years ago.

The speaker was Nick Drake-Knight and he has a very clear sales process. Nick advocated RapportUnderstandDemonstrateRecommend – Close. I think this provides an excellent strategy for social media usage in business, actually its a great strategy for being social in business. Over the next few days post my thoughts on how to do this and relating to real experiences that I’ve had.

Can Psychology help the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

leaning-tower-of-pisa

As part of Sam’s interest and research into the effect of Oral and Maxillofacial Cancer, and its treatment on patients, she has been investigating the knowledge and attitudes of General Dental Practitioners (GDP).  In particular she was interested in GDP’s expereince of treatment of this patient group following completion of their cancer treatment. So she performed a small postal survey. The results of which have been submitted and accepted for presentation at two conferences (British Assocation of Oral Maxillofacial Surgeon Annual Conference & European Health Psychology Conference Annual Conference).

The abstract accepted for these conferences tell you about the study and the results:

Incidents of Oral Cancer are increasing, coupled with campaigns to raise the awareness of symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. To date, no study has investigated the General Dental Practitioner’s (GDP) frequency of exposure to this type of patient or their current knowledge and attitudes in relation to the treatment and potential complications of these patients post cancer. This study investigated these areas and the requirements/requests for further training and education. A questionnaire was constructed and posted to 183 GDP in the South West (UK), with a stamped returned addressed envelop. A subsequent posting was sent out a month later to the non-respondents. The analysis of numerical data was limited to descriptive statistics using SPSS V16. Free text was analysed using content analysis with the aid of NUD*IST V5. A total of sixty-one percent (n=114) of potential participants responded. On average they had been qualified and registered as GDP’s for 20.5 years. Seventy-Six percent (n=87) of respondents reported having a patient post treatment for oral cancer. Thirty-five percent were not confident treating these patients (depending on their morbidities). The reasons given could be categorised from free text responses as due to; 1) Lack of Training, 2) Poor Communication with the hospital, 3) Finance. A minority of GDPs reported the need for further education on the treatment of these patients and for better communication between themselves and hospital consultants. The findings suggest the need for a larger study to validate this pilot and indicate future interventions with GDPs.

We hope you find this research as interesting as we do, as it has implications for the training of future GDP, and improving the communication betwen patients, GDP and hospital based dentists and surgeons. The hope is that it will improve the treatment of this patient group, reduce the amount of time they have to wait for treatment, as well as the lenght of time they need to have assisted feeding through things such as Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastronomy (PEG) feeding tubes.

As for Psychology helping the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This research probably won’t help, but we’ll keep you informed as to it’s progress once the conference is over!

Outside interests

In addition to our various ‘day jobs’, Sam and I also maintain a number of outside interests including various catering engagements.

Some time ago, Sam began helping with the staff and artist catering backstage at the Cambridge Folk Festival. A couple years ago I joined her for the first time and we were back there again this year. While some of the backstage crew are ‘professional’ (in that they travel around all the festivals doing lighting, sound, etc) most are loyal to the Cambridge Folk Festival and only meet once a year.

Everything starts about a week before the music begins with rigging marquees, setting the infrastructure to cope with the influx over the weekend. We pitched up on Wed when Sam began serving egg & bacon butties from ‘Bob’s Country Bunker’ (a porta-cabin with a hotplate, grill, fridge, and not much else by way of catering equipment). By the end of the day the main catering Marquee was full of the cookers, fryers, hot plates, storage, boilers and serving equipment that is a functioning kitchen; including the kitchen sink! A walk-in fridge and a separate walk-in freezer kept everything nicely chilled, whatever the temperature in the kitchen.

Our routine was then 6am (breakfast served from 7am) until 10pm (last dinner serving at 8pm but people always turned up late); either preparing, cooking, serving, or cleaning up. At it’s peak we served 438 for Sunday dinner in just over 4 hrs (including stragglers).

It wasn’t all hard work. There are four ‘gators’ (4 or 6 wheel drive buggies) that are used to transport the heavier bits of equipment around the site. Tradition is that on the Sunday they hold a fancy dress parade with each of the gators being ‘decorated’ by the Sparky’s (electricians), security, stewards, and artist hospitality teams.

Apologies for the ‘sideways’ view, Qik doesn’t seem to let me rotate the image.

We were also blessed with the. best. toilets. ever.

Update:- someone has asked and no the music isn’t post-production, its piped from the black loudspeaker you can see beside the fluffy hand towel. Without smell-o-vision you can’t tell but the hand-wash was a fragrant lavender.

It’s also worth noting that these are on a trailer, just like other portable loos (only posher)! 🙂

It isn’t all festival food.

My sister was also over recently from Boston with my newly born Niece (7 months old) for her Christening at Mum’s local church. Sam did the cake and constructed the baby from Marzipan & icing, and the lettered bricks from icing blocks and letters piped individually to spell out “Evangaline” and individual “e”s on each of the 70 cupcakes.

cake

baby

Supersonic cafe

[Disclosure: I was attending last night’s Science Cafe in my role as Manager of Science City Bristol.]

At last night’s Science Cafe, a broad group of Bristolians heard about CFD, Pitch drips, carbon footprint of cows, and road spray from lorries; all from a talk about a 1,000mph rocket car!

Pitch drop experiment on Wikipedia
Pitch drop experiment on Wikipedia

Computational Fluid Dynamics is the particular research discipline of Dr Clare Wood and Dr Ben Evans from Cardiff University. Clare began with a basic introduction to CFD, some of the history of the Navier-Stokes equations and the other uses they get put to. This was where the Pitch Drop came in; an experiment started in 1930 to measure the viscosity of pitch (which looks like a solid), there have been 8 drips of pitch since then as it very slowly flows into the catching beaker. Unfortunately, no one has ever witnessed a pitch-drip, there was a technical hiccup with the video feed [requires Windows Media Player] on the last drop (28 November, 2000). Clare also talked about ‘proper’ science and using CFD to model blood flow in hearts and the bio-medical applications.

Ben then picked up the topic and began talking about the pressure waves that develop as you move from sub-sonic through to super-sonic. A major challenge is the incredible pressure that will occur around the rear wheels as the third shock wave develops. This is potentially so strong it could physically lift the back-end of the car into the air, obviously a bad thing at 1,000mph!

There’s a limit to what can be done with the mini-winglets that are being used to trim the car aerodynamically, so Ben and the CFD team are leading the engineering design changes to the rear suspension & underside to try and reduce these pressure waves to make the car safe to drive. There was some more about the research development of new CFD algorithms and the promo-video (embedded at the end of this post).

After a short break, the Q&A began. The first question was about the environmental impact of a 1,000mph rocket car with follow up comments about the 19th Century’ness of a fast car. Although this wasn’t Ben’s area of specific expertise its obviously something that comes up fairly regularly. An environmental economist (or something like that) has looked at the car, the project and worked out their carbon footprint for the whole 4 year project. Apparently it comes to around 4 cows farting for a year; now I’d never entered the term “cow fart” into Google before this morning (who would) but it seems quite a research topic, even the Telegraph are reporting it!

As to the choice of a rocket car (rather than a green car); this had been intended from the outset to be an engineering adventure. The car & the 1,000mpt target are almost incidental, the primary aim is to get children (and the young at heart) excited about science & engineering and thinking about careers in the sciences. Rockets are still exciting to young kids!

The topics moved around and one that came up was the legacy of the project, what will we have after the final run (other than a very expensive museum exhibit)? Ben explained that much of the research involved in the CFD modelling is directly transferable. The example he used was how spray is formed at the back of lorries in the rain. One of the challenges of Bloodhound is the generation of a dust spray from the wheels and shock wave, and modelling how this mix of air & particles grows and affects the car. The same physics are (they think) involved in road spray from lorries, but no one has developed a good model of how spray forms and moves around the lorry. When you drive into this spray, in overtaking for example, it can be a real safety hazard, by modelling this and proposing different designs for the lorries, they might be able to reduce this spray and improve road safety.

There were tons of other questions (about an hour’s worth), it was a really great evening. Thanks to John and At-Bristol for hosting and to Bob Foster for his Science Cafe website where I found out about the event from Bob’s Calendar.

Free Bristol

Andrew McConnochie, 30 March 2008
Andrew McConnochie, 30 March 2008

To a packed (and hot) Rosalind Franklin room in At-Bristol, Chris Anderson (Editor of Wire, Author of Long Tail & now Free) gave a really good overview of the premise of the “Free” economy, Fremium, marginal costs and the impact of Moore’s Law on abundance & scarcity.  That was for around 25mins, he then did a Q&A session for 30 min before retiring to sign copies of his (not free) book.

I was lucky enough to ask a question which went loosely around, in this new economy of free, what is the value of geography (Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Beijing, Bristol)? Chris answered partly by describing two companies he’s just launched. For one the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) came from MIT, for the other the CTO was online and after 6 months Chris discovered that he was a High School drop out with a self-taught knowledge of Arduino in Tijuana. Chris also talked a bit about choosing to live in a place and then finding the best talent for solving a problem, which probably isn’t in your company, City or probably even country.

On stage and in the couple minutes he spent outlining his answer, this made a degree of sense but something wasn’t quite right, and it was only on the walk home that I worked through some thoughts; hence this post (it goes on a bit, sorry).

Whilst the human brain is an undoubted marvel of flexibility and adaptability, in evolutionary terms its design is around 5,800 years old. The last major version change was about 1.5 million years ago when it tripled in size, and the last genetic upgrades were around 37,000 years ago and 5,800 years ago. However, given that the internet isn’t 50 years old yet (and probably under 30), it’s a wonder that our heads don’t just explode trying to cope.

As an aside, I’ve worked for the last few years with a company in Toronto and for a while helping them build a partnership with an organisation in Vancouver; headshifting across 8 time zones is disproportionately harder than just working a 20-hour day. Even funnier is what happens when you try to physically do what the internet allows virtually and travel around the world in 23 hours, as Jeremy Clarkson found out (with a slight cheat on the international dateline – YouTube from 8:05 onwards in particular).

The point is that we’ve evolved to be local, social creatures (see the Dunbar number) and it’s only by a design fluke that we can even begin to cope with the internet. Which brings me back to geography by way of Seth Godin, we like to be in a tribe of similar people. Of course tribes can be online but fundamentally we like to meet people in real life. Its no coincidence that most digital start-ups are around the Silicon Valley area; that’s where all the other digital start-ups are. If you want to be in movies you go to Hollywood; if you want to be in finance you go to London, etc. Of course there are thriving start-up, film and finance industries outside those locations <plug>not least Bristol which has been recognised as one of the most innovative cities globally by McKinsey & the World Economic Forum, over a quarter of the global wildlife film making originate out of Bristol and the finance sector is the largest in the UK outside London</plug>.

And perhaps that’s the value of local. You can build trusted relationships with all the key partners to build a successful business and still compete globally on the ideas & products that are generated.

In my new part-time role as Manager of Science City Bristol, I was talking this morning with Martin Coulthard about the developments of the Bristol Enterprise Network over the next few months. He was making the valid point that Science City Bristol doesn’t have a ‘neat’ strapline or twitter pitch. But I’m not sure it needs one. To get back to Chris again, in the world of free and virtually frictionless transactions, we need to find the added value of being in the Bristol / Bath city region and being into science. That might be (probably is) different for each of the many tribes in and around the area.

For a bit of fun I tried “what is a science city” as a search term; WolframAlpha was completely stumped, Google found most of the UK Science Cities but didn’t really provide an answer, and Bing didn’t really do much better. I can’t promise to develop a complete answer myself, but I do think there is some great added value to be delivered.

Thanks to Andrew Kelly for running this as part of the ongoing Festival of Ideas.

[Clarification: I booked and paid for this Festival of Ideas’s talk as Managing Partner of jbsh LLP, before discussions about being the Manager of Science City Bristol; I just happened to ask a question about geography in the new economy. These are my thoughts on Chris’ response.]