K Street Newsletter :: Directions

August 2017    |    VOLUME 15, ISSUE 8

Your Brain on Data 

Infographics have become wildly popular in marketing, mostly because human brains need help translating raw information into something useful. A good infographic can visualize data in a way that makes that easier. Customers want to "see" the idea, not just rows and columns of numbers. This article gives a brief history of infographics (mentioning the work of Edward Tufte, who is one of our heroes), and goes on to present three tools that can help turn numbers into images.

Developing Infographics is one of the things we do here on Knowledge Street. And we know that the best ones are able to tell a story, not just present a mash-up of little graphs and trend lines. So if you're developing something intended to answer a question, make sure the question is clear to your audience before you start drilling into the data. People love good infographics. Bad ones are just confusing. (And if you need help, drop us a line!)
 

Looking to Science Fiction

Some questions seem to have obvious, if complex solutions, but others can leave us in the dark. This article recalls that New York City was facing a horse-manure crisis at the end of the 19th century. In 1898, urban planners were completely at a loss for how to address the problem. They weren't able to imagine horseless transportation, even though it was less than 20 years away. The author thinks there's at least one way to open your mind to less obvious outcomes: read more science fiction.

Reading science fiction gives you a taste of alternative realities and can help free your thinking from artificial constraints. It can lead you to ask different questions and consider new possibilities. It's not that it's directly predictive, but it can re-frame your perspective and help you question your assumptions. Some recommendations? How about Infomocracy, which explores how software could alter public institutions. Or New York 2140, about the intersection of rising sea levels and stock markets. Or Change Agent, about the sweeping effects of synthetic biology. The truth is out there.
 

 

Street Smarts 167: Consider the whole audience.

Before Knowledge Street, we worked in corporate communications for a multinational consulting company. There, we preached the importance of integrated communications. The core idea is that there are multiple audiences companies need to address, like customers, analysts and business partners. A company's employees are often neglected, though, with potentially serious consequences. If your employees learn about important changes from outside sources or by reading press releases, it can be a terrible blow to morale. And in the age of social media, there's always a risk of leaks, either from inside out or from outside in.

This article makes the same point, noting that internal stakeholders (like sales, HR and IT) can be an invaluable part of your marketing program. They can carry your message directly to customers and prospects, help you find the right talent and deploy technology that can improve your program's effectiveness. Marketers are generally good at storytelling and engaging with their perceived audience. They just need to broaden their scope and make the internal stakeholders a part of the story.
 

 

The Psychology of Ransomware   

Ransomware has been with us for some time, since the concept was first presented at a IEEE Security & Privacy conference in 1996. But it's really come into its own this year, with high profile news like the WannaCry attack last May. The idea is simple. The attacker penetrates a victim's computer in some way and inserts a piece of malware that encrypts the data on the vicitim's hard disk. To get the data back, victims have to make a payment to the attacker, usually through some anonymous payment service, like Bitcoin.

But a recent study from De Montfort University shows there's a lot of psychology involved in getting the victims to pay. The price has to be right, for one thing, so that paying the ransom seems like the simplest and least expensive option. Some of the biggest criminal operations also provide checklists and FAQs and even help desks to guide their victims through the payment process. The study examined 76 ransomware splash screens, which are the vehicles used to deliver the bad news. Most of them stressed the urgency of a response, with things like ticking countdown clocks. When the time runs out, the locked files will be deleted (or perhaps released to the internet). Some used frightening images, which could be anything from movie villains to the logos of governmental agencies. It's a problem that's not going away, so it's one for which everyone needs to prepare. You can read the full study here.

 

Failure and Innovation

Successful innovation rests on a willingness to experiment;  to try new things. And some, maybe most, experiments will end in failure. So the genuinely innovative companies are those with failure-tolerant cultures. It's probably no surprise that most companies don't look kindly on failure. The word itself has a very negative connotation, both in society and in the workplace.

This article points out that It's not that failure itself leads to innovation, but that organizations that are willing to learn from mistakes will be more innovative than those that focus on blame and punishment. Even companies that claim to encourage experimentation may sideline managers who champion initiatives that don't succeed. There's a school of thought that suggests work teams are at their best when they're trying to come back from an initial failure. Some believe the best strategy is to make those failures happen more quickly, in order to provide this motivational boost. To be truly innovative, companies need to learn how to fail early and often.
 

 

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