Mapping the human enome


The human genome project started in 1990 and continues today (I guess with ever decreasing marginal return) towards the exhaustive mapping of the core physical cells which make us. Definitions vary on when the project will be ‘complete’ but as Ray Kurzweil points out, we are accelerating towards whichever version of completeness you chose, as the technology to sequence the genome improves. This is a finite task.

This is of course very impressive.

But it will tell us absolutely nothing about why I used to hate my 13+ geography teacher, why Lindsay Lohan chose to throw away a promising acting career, what drove Tony Hancock to take his own life or how to sell a new type of toilet paper to anyone.


What we would need for that is an equivalent map of motivation?

I’m talking about a kind of super-matrix of Maslow needs, helping us to start to understand how the decisions we take are actually part of a broader model of interconnected behaviours and reasons we behave and think in certain ways – whether those motivations are primal, like the physiological elements of the hierarchy of needs, or more sophisticated like much discussed concept of ‘self actualisation’.

Such a model would certainly be useful in looking at tactics we use to address behaviours and behavioural problems, whether serious issues in development or less-serious issues (23 year olds are simply not buying enough cranberry juice), so why hasn’t it been done, or does it simply exist and I’ve been unable to find it? (Wikipedia lists the emotions here:, there is something interesting in this:

What sort of cook book would we be writing here? Will we – like chemists – come up with a long list of basic emotions from which all others will be cooked, or will we – like physicists – find a key emotion or two which sits as the basis of the entire system, and from which everything can be made?

I think we’re looking here at a system we can reduce to few components, maybe even one, the fear of death. From this fear we can start to derive many of the decisions  that fill our daily lives. Death drives us to build a physical and mental security and to want to be part of wider, social groups. Death makes us want to reproduce, to extend our legacy beyond our actual lifetimes.

How about belief systems in major external factors, like religion and patriotism. Surely such otherwise peculiar behaviours start to make sense when we can see how they relate to a complex map of beliefs based on more fundemental conditioning we have undergone.

So I propose a first draft of a tree of decision making which is as follows (and many many apologies for doing it in smart art). image

The one thing that strikes me absolutely immediately is that so many of the immediate motivations relate so directly to areas provided for my religion. In Connected, Nicholas Christakis argues that belief in a higher-power can support the desire to be part of a network, it also – often – supports the need to think beyond one’s death and many many aspect of family life and social cohesion. Put more broadly, the need to understand moral codes, seems to link directly to the model I have outlined.

The areas shown here seem to be amongst the most primal. Where we can relate the behaviour we are trying to foster to these motivations, we will be far more likely to drive adherence. Magazine editors have long known that money, sex and chocolate sell. Apple have unleashed the powerful allure of group status and immediate clique membership.

Perhaps I’ll not get to the bookshelf of densely packed information shown at the top (in the Wellcome Collection’s physical readout of the human genome) but I’m going to keep exploring this concept, trying to find motivations which just don’t fit. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the idea.

New balls please

Tennis balls 

Mike Butcher picks up on the Brand Republic story about the future of social networks being in niche verticals.

The most remarkable thing about the original article – about the Association of Tennis Professional (ATP) launching a ‘social network’ with 10Duke – is the lack of thought added to the piece by the journalist as she fairly obviously retypes a press release. What she forgets to mention is that companies don’t get to launch social networks – social networks do.

This article has attracted quite a lot of coverage, so it’s a real shame that it’s so uncritical. Even 30 seconds of Googling would have uncovered the woeful test site. Couldn’t any of us have done better on Ning in five minutes? Or if time is short – spend two minutes making a Facebook group as Mike suggests, and then support it with interesting content, as they should be doing anyway.

As with all these ventures, build it and they will come does not – by a long shot – make sense. And the investment should go into interesting and engaging content. Without an audience playing ball (sorry), the world welcomes one more empty warehouse from ATP. Consumers do not need brands to provide enablement, they need brands to provide interest.

I’ll be your digital strategist for the evening

Princess Leia hologram from Star Wars 

As you’re about to find out, I’ve been thinking a little too much about the concept of “digital strategy”.

You probably know the scenario. You’re sitting in a meeting and someone says “What should our digital strategy be?” Everyone stares at the floor until, under the weight of expectation, someone with the ‘s word’  in their job title volunteers to do an initial write up for the next meeting.

It’s obviously particularly tough for people that work in digital agencies AND have the word strategy on their business card, or – and there seems to be more of them by the day – people with the job title “digital strategist”. This is a brilliant job title for all the important reasons – firstly it sounds fabulously up-to-date and secondly it confers on the owner a kind of Hawkins-esque intellectual fierceness. I’m just not sure it actually makes any sense.

And I’m not just coming at this from standard contrarian position that strategy is strategy, digital or not. Because actually, that’s not what people mean when they say it. Often people with fairly well defined commercial and brand strategies still fancy a third piece, their digital strategy.

I think it’s about language. And I think we’ve been fooled by the apparent syntactical ease of the phrase into buying it. After all, we never had analogue strategy.

Clearly the phrase “strategy” is massively over-used anyway to mean everything from a tactic to a method. Properly speaking, a strategy is a long-term plan to achieve a particular goal (that’s stolen from Wikipedia, so it must be half right). Alternatively you could say that it is “How you’ll get to where you want to be”, that’s stolen from a quite brilliant piece from Northern Planner which talks in interesting terms about communications strategy.

So for example a brand strategy is a strategy about what a corporation could do with its brand to become most relevant to customers, or to move itself into a different niche, or to redefine the niche it’s in. In fact the strategy will go further and will figure out which of those is the right thing to do. There’s lots of examples of that being done well. Brand strategy is often done by independent brand consultants work for brand owners.

What other words do we use to qualify strategy? How about range? For a retailer, range strategy is a method to look at what they stock and how they merchandise it to shift sales or customer perceptions and habits. A stratgey about range, done by a range strategist for people with ranges.

I could have an export strategy. That would be a strategy about my exports.

So if I have X, I can ask an X-strategist to develop me an X-strategy. So pick a word at random, which is a facet of what you do… returns for example. Can I hire a returns strategist to come up with a returns strategy (a plan to reduce returns most probably). Well I’ve never met one, but otherwise this seems to be fairly reasonable.

What other sort of strategies can I have. Well we’ve all heard about “aggressive strategies”, “collaborative strategies”, “defensive strategies”. Does that mean I can change career direction and become a “defensive strategist”. Well no*. Because there is a missing word in the phrase “defensive strategist”. What is the word? I have no idea. There’s a variety of possible answers. I can have a defensive brand strategy, defensive range strategy and even a defensive employment strategy.

And no more than I can employ a ‘defensive strategist’,  should I be able to  employ a ‘digital strategist’. I can have a digital brand strategist or a digital supply-chain strategist or a digital payroll strategist probably. The techniques to do those things will have elements in common, but they won’t be the same role. Anyone in one of those roles needs to understand digital technologies and digital trends, and quite possibly how compound nouns work.

* Although of course, all strategists are a bit defensive. Especially if you start messing with their planning key.