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Post #2157

Week 276

Each week, Kari spends 5 minutes with each person in the studio recording what they’ve been up to. We do this so nobody has to keep time-sheets. Here’s my week.

Last Tuesday (the 14th), we launched the short film Making Future Magic. It hit 400,000 views in 2 days (it’s currently over double that). The video was picked up by Gizmodo, Stephen Fry, and William Gibson. I wasn’t on the film team, but helped with the launch preparation and saw it come together. The day Cam, Timo and Jack hit on the techniques that went on to become stop-motion light painting, it was electric just to have them in the room.

Also last Tuesday afternoon, we had the kick-off meeting for Project Blacklight. It has been slow to start, this one, as it’s a pretty unusual enterprise for us. One quirk is that the financials aren’t completely fixed yet, and they have to be before I continue conversations with potential backers and advertisers. The print tests and quotes over the next couple weeks will firm those up. Blacklight should make for an exciting start to 2011.

On Wednesday I had a meeting with a potential new client with Matt Jones. This particular client is interested in our product invention workshop, which we run either standalone or as a prelude to pretty much all our design work. It’s 3 days of intense knowledge download, concepting and co-creation, and sketching. The client ends up with around 5 “microbriefs,” which is what we call the sketches and descriptions of the products or services we come up with around their business and brief. They then take those briefs off to their existing agencies and internal teams, or ask us to make a proposal for one or more of them. (BBC Dimensions started this way, one of a half dozen products to come out of an invention workshop aimed at history storytelling and digital.)

I had a catch-up with Nick over lunch, covering everything from my current thoughts about the studio’s direction, to his progress meeting iOS developers, and what weird ideas are tickling him at the moment (I’ll make sure our proposals steer in that direction). It was really good. So I’m going to spend 45 minutes with each of the studio, individually, every two weeks on Wednesdays. It’s funny how, even in a small room, you can miss chances to really spend time together.

Jack and Matt J had a long-anticipated getting-to-know-you meeting with another possible client in the afternoon, and we spent an hour after that chewing over possibilities.

But mainly on Wednesday I was working on my talk for the Do Lectures, which was in Wales. I spoke on Thursday evening, and went from sci-fi, to the early years of electrification, to the idea that is really making me bubble at the moment: Fractional A.I. This riffs of Dave Winer’s application of fractional horsepower to the Web, where he says that new products can be made by taking an old one and scaling it down.

What if we had fractional artificial intelligence? This is another way of saying Matt J’s maxim to Be As Smart As a Puppy, and also a topic I covered in my Mobile Monday Amsterdam talk What comes after mobile. It’s a topic I’m fleshing out.

Thursday and Friday was talks, walks in the Welsh countryside (there’s a beautiful river there and you can take a short hike up the gorge. Lots of ancient woodland and slate landscapes), late-night conversations, and inspiration. You should watch the 2010 videos when they’re up.

Whilst I was away, a project proposal was accepted, and we’ll start that project off this week.

Euan Semple gave me a lift back to London on Sunday night, and I waited at Slough railway station for a train. While there, I found a stuffed dog in a box. The dog is called “Station Jim,” and he used to raise money for charity. He was quite a character by all accounts, and died in the closing years of the 1800s. I mentioned Station Jim on Twitter… and @stationjim replied! Fractional A.I. indeed. We had a little chat.

Monday, yesterday, we had a kick-off meeting for the next stage of Project Barringer. Andy is working with us a day a week to produce a pretty significant strand of the project. It’s nicely complex – lots of different skills and people involved – and a good blend of design and hard tech. But risky. So the next two stages are: prototype; detailed costings for production. We’ll have to do some pretty serious analysis at every stage of this one.

In the afternoon I caught up on a few projects. I wanted to get an update on the next film (it’s going well — the team have just been meeting to discuss the last few bits of copy), and Tom and Matt B have been working on league tables for Schooloscope and those are tantalisingly close now. I went out with Jack in the evening to run through contracts. After 40 minutes discussing “worst case scenarios” I got home a bit grouchy. It’s funny the ways in which work affects your personal life. Not just emails arriving late at night, feeling tired from working hard, or elated after a launch, but subtle emotional spillover. I try to keep an eye on that. I’m undecided yet whether a high level of self-knowledge is an advantage or hindrance for the kind of invention and design we do. But it’s important for general wellbeing.

Which brings us to today.

This morning we’ve had our All Hands, during which we had our first project updates from active new product development. These projects are like invisible people, so they deserve to have their say about their week’s activity.

I’ve set up, with Kari, an old laptop to run Dropbox. We’ve pretty much entirely shifted to Dropbox for file-sharing from our in-studio server, but that means our archives aren’t up to date. So: archiving.

A few copies of the Making Future Magic book arrived in the post (print on demand; designed by Cam. Very pretty). And I pointed Matt B at Tunecore because we’d like to put the film music on iTunes.

Jack and Matt J are at a workshop on Wednesday and Thursday, so I’ll help them prep that later. I think I’m sneaking in a massage after lunch (lunch is with some iOS developers, so we can keep them in mind for future projects). And this afternoon and over the rest of the week, I am way behind on keeping project proposals moving through the pipeline, so I want to concentrate on that. There are a bunch. Oh, and emails: way behind on those too. I have a little list of people to whom I really owe a Hello.

Last: Jack, Matt J and I were going to go out for dinner with an Interesting Person tonight, but that’s been moved to tomorrow. I can still make it — I’m not sure about the other two.

Otherwise, generally thinking about what’s happening next, and seeing where I can nudge or smooth the way as appropriate. To be honest, that’s most of my time.

So that’s my week!

3 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. Matt Carey said on 22 September 2010...

    Always find thee type of weeknotes interesting. The ones that cover business aspects and the way the studio runs. I’m always learning on that side (do we ever stop learning that ‘type’ of thing?).

    Did you find the timesheet recording got too much, or never got done? I have real trouble getting everyone to record their time (they are just getting on with things). But I know I need to know where our week goes. Chicken and egg.

  • 2. Matt Webb said on 22 September 2010...

    Thanks! Then I’ll keep doing them — I like rambling :-)

    I think that, if you’re creating/inventing, anything that interferes with that, even for a moment, should be automated away.

    So I’ve never asked people to fill in timesheets individually. It’s always been that Kari goes round and keeps a record. I get a detailed spreadsheet version, and she also makes a simpler chart that goes on the wall showing what people are doing this week and next. To be honest, I’m not sure how many people look at that chart, but it’s important that it’s there. Likewise I don’t often need to consult the timesheet records, but when I do it’s generally both urgent and important, and that makes it all worthwhile.

    The next step is to formalise it a little bit more (not for everyone, just for me and Kari) and make templates to keep a running track of the P&L on a per-project basis (I have an approximate idea now, but it’d be better to have it more current and visible), in the same way we’re working on templates to kick off each project. Templates mean I can take myself out of the loop.

  • 3. vanderwal said on 24 September 2010...

    Excellent week from the sound of it.

    Any chance of putting the Making the Future Magic music on something like Bandcamp so that higher bitrate downloads are possible rather than the meager 265 that iTunes offers?

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