Work Note: 4 years in

Reflecting on four years of Third Wave.

Third Wave by Kai Müller Third Wave by Kai Müller

Last Saturday, Igor and I went for a drink in a bar in Prenzlauer Berg to celebrate the 4th anniversary of our company. The last time we’ve been there was more then three years ago when Third Wave was much younger and rather inexperienced. It was good to reflect on what had happened in the meantime.

To be honest, I’ve been feeling rather lucky in the last months to still be doing this. We saw quite a few people that we admire and who are much smarter than us having to close their businesses. People like the brilliant minds at Berg in London, who have influenced us tremendously (take some time to look at all their projects). Once again, it made us more aware of how fast it can all go away and that we should not take it for granted that we still have the opportunity to build a business around our ideas.

And ideas, we have more then ever. But unlike before, we’re making them all part of a bigger plan. It’s something that we’ve avoided for the last years to stay flexible and see where all of this would take us. But now, with the experience of four years and inumerous projects, a more focussed vision emerges for us. It’s about time that this strategy consultancy gets a strategy…

So Third Wave is changing. New initiatives like the podcast are the forerunners of the direction we’re heading. We’re not going to announce more right now, because we’ve also learnt in the last four years that it’s better to show what you’ve done than to talk about something you’re planning.

But it all feels good right now. Just the two of us is still the best choice for us how to run this company. We enjoy our office and our lovely office mates. We are doing some of our best work these days with clients that we have a great relationship with. As of this year, we also somehow got a lot more clients in Berlin1, which makes for less traveling. There are even rumors of an office dog.

So here’s to the next four years of Third Wave. Thank you all for coming along.

  1. Igor did the math recently. 

Week 181: The Literatur Digital Conference

Johannes looks back at the Literatur Digital conference at the HKW in Berlin.

As Igor mentioned last week, we spent the weekend at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt1 in Berlin attending the Literatur Digital conference. It was organized by Fiktion, a collective of authors and publishers that sees more opportunities in digitalization for authors and serious fiction than dangers. The program was a good mix of theoretical and practical aspects with national and international speakers. It was a pity that the audience seemed to mostly consist of like-minded writers and publishers. There was little debate that would have pushed the conversation forward. So I enjoyed the back channel bantering with the few other Twitterers present.

Elisabeth, Igor and I used our panel to talk about publishing for the new context of reading and writing. Each of us introduced one example of an entity, doing something different while not waiting for the industry to decide on the right way forward.
Elisabeth showed how Maria Popova has taken Brainpickings from a newsletter with some inspirational links to a media brand with 7 million readers per month. It’s fascinating how she is using new media patterns (like listicles and book trailers) to re-introduce and promote a lot of classics of world literature.
Igor talked about Readmill as an example of a social ebook app that helps readers to engage deeper with digital text and have more conversations about it. He also demonstrated how the immense costs for a license for the Adobe DRM that companies like Readmill have to pay, hurt publishers. When they demand DRM, only the big platforms can afford it. If publishers want to see more competition for Amazon’s ebook business, dropping DRM demands would be a good start2.
I presented Wattpad, a Canadian startup that has created a platform for reading and, more importantly, writing. It has over 20 million active users, most of them teenagers. It’s a fascinating example of a new generation of writers who are learning to build reader communities and receive massive feedback from the get-go. The details about Wattpad are best summed up in this NY Times piece from last Sunday.

What all these examples have in common is their enormous passion for the written word. They are all struggling to find their business model. But that hasn’t kept them from pushing forward and bringing better texts to more readers. It’s an enthusiasm that they share with most attendants of Literatur Digital. I hope that these types of events get more attention in the future. The German publishing industry is in dire need of some well-balanced passion for the art form. Neither cynicism and conservatism nor blind faith in technology and the digital will create a prosperous future for writers. What is needed is some critical optimism. For Elisabeth, Igor and I, this panel was also a good example of the future collaboration we aim for. Her expertise as a former publisher and our insights into the digital landscape made for a good mix of observations and predictions in our talk.

I’m writing this at Il Baretto, an Italian cafe in the wartehalle of Zurich’s main train station3. We’re on our way to a big workshop with our client 3A Composites. They have just released the iPad version of their digital magazine Forms & Elements, developed by our friends at MoreSleep.
After this major milestone from the 4-year roadmap we created for them almost two years ago, it’s time to reflect on the general vision of the strategy and plan the next milestones in more detail. We’re looking forward to two exciting days.

  1. All of a sudden, it feels like I’m spending a lot of weekends at the HKW. The reason is that they’ve put together a pretty decent conference program. It started this year with Transmediale and continued with Narrating War and others. If you’re looking to widen your horizon on the weekend, the HKW is an excellent place to visit. It’s a nice building, too, including a restaurant with a lot of tables outside along the Spree. Now that spring is coming back, it’s a beautiful place to spend a Saturday afternoon in the shadow of the Kanzleramt. 

  2. And due to the late publishing date of this week note, I have to add that Readmill is rumored to be bought by Dropbox. It’s an “acqui-hire,“ which means that Dropbox wants the talent and will presumably kill the app. There you go, publishing industry, another good effort bites the dust, because you were neither interest interested in making it work nor made it at least easier by not demanding a lot of money for DRM licenses that could have gone into development or new ideas. 

  3. The coffee is a typical over-burned robusta hell, but the chocolate croissants might be the best I’ve ever had. 

Week 180

A few announcements about new projects and a talk at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt this upcoming Saturday.

We are happy to announce that we have been commissioned by Hoodie. Well, technically by The Hoodie Firm and we consider the setup to be more a collaboration than one of the usual commissions.

This is one of the special projects for us. First, it means working with people who’s work we think very highly of. Second, it’s a Berlin-based project. It’s nice to be able to meet for coffee and have a discussion without having to travel far as we usually do.

Hoodie operates on the fringes. They are working on technology that will enable people who are currently regarded as mere users on the network to become much more than that. Their foray into offline first application development has the potential to shape a zeitgeisty demand1. We couldn’t be more happy to support them as much as we can.

Talk at Literatur Digital

As announced on Twitter a couple of weeks back, we will be giving a talk with Elisabeth Ruge at the Literatur digital event at Haus der Kulturen der Welt. The event starts on Friday at 15:00. The opening event, as usual at HKW, is free to the public. Our session is on Saturday at 16:15. We would love to see you there.

We’ve been tasked with presenting the new and the unexplored in the digital publishing world. Since the focus is on literature, we will not be focusing on some of the exiting things happening in the news business right now.

Instead, our focus will be on projects and services that managed to attract large audiences, but not necessarily a functioning business model. Many in the industry measure success by the size of the audience attracted. We aim for helping publishing houses to find a balance between developing toward large audiences as well as generating revenue. In 2014, few publishing houses can afford large investments without knowing when and how they will make a return on their investment. I’m looking forward to the potentially lively discussion.

Elisabeth Ruge Agentur

As mentioned in one of the previous week notes, we started working with a new client from the publishing industry. Elisabeth Ruge, who recently launched a literary agency, commissioned us to be … well, strategic advisors. We are involved in the nitty-gritty stuff of setting up an agency as well as long sessions about business models. We also helped her pick the right person to design her website.


We all think that Jens did a great job on the first iteration of the website (you should hire him, too). Expect to see a constant transformation of the website over the coming months.

Similar to Hoodie, this became a collaboration. We are cooking something up that utilizes both Elisabeth’s long-standing experience in the German publishing world as well our knowledge of the digital. We’ll keep you posted.

  1. With what we learned over the last 12 month about the state of the internet, it is safe to say that being always on isn’t as desired or possible as it once was. We are already seeing many new applications that take that into account, provide services that do not require the cloud to operate. 

Week 179 – About the Whatsapp/Facebook deal

Johannes talks about podcasting as a tool for thinking before putting on his tech analyst hat and looking at some details of the Facebook-Whatsapp deal.

Writing is my favorite way of processing all the input I get throughout my days. But it’s also an exhaustive process, that costs me a lot of mental energy and hence a regular victim of heavy procrastinating. I’ve been looking for other ways to reflect topics and rediscovered podcasting.

It’s not podcasting, it’s thinking out loud.

I had been experimenting with podcasting a couple of years ago, but never got into the habit of producing on regularly. Then Christian Grasse asked me and Florian Schumacher if we wanted to do a podcast about the Quantified Self and now we’re seven episodes in (all in German). It turned out exactly as I hoped. We’re having a conversation about topics and news connected with self-tracking, wearables, and everything else that is somehow cyborg-ish. The exchange helps me to develop new ideas, based on observations and thoughts voiced by Christian and Florian.

The same is true for my appearances on the neunetzcast, where Marcel keeps inviting me back. Again, I do this for selfish reasons. Marcel is much closer to the pulse of tech news and one of the best tech analysts in Germany. Just to see what links he puts into the collaborative document we use to prepare a show is a good indicator for me which news I should pay attention to. I also like to feed him my more absurd theories about the tech industry1 and see if they hold up.

An interesting detail about the Facebook-Whatsapp-deal

In the last episode of neunetzcast, we talked about the Facebook-Whatsapp-deal. What stuck with me since then, was our conversation about all those people switching to other messenger apps, after the deal was announced. I never used Whatsapp because of their track record of privacy flaws and I considered this to be public knowledge. I assumed that most people used the app anyway. The connivence of communicating easier with their friends trumped the security concerns. Then came the Facebook announcement, which seemed to tip the balance. It made the security concerns bigger than before. But why?

By now, it couldn’t be more obvious that we the users have a gigantic trust issue with the Facebook brand. We see the value that the platform provides. But we don’t trust Facebook one bit to take good care of our data and have our best interest at heart. Even so, we don’t leave Facebook because we feel the strong lock-in effect of FOMO2. Instead we are getting much more deliberate about what data we give Facebook. Or to put it more precisely, what data we allow Facebook to access.

The reverse-lock-in effect

So here’s the theory: We’re ok with giving Facebook some of our data. But we’re becoming much more careful about giving them all our data. “Sure, Facebook, you can know which events I attend. You can also tell my relatives about my new relationship or my aced school test. But the more you want from me, the more suspicious I will become and draw back.”

You could call it the reverse-lock-in effect. Because we feel so locked in and dependent on one platform, we seek out alternatives to avoid more lock-in at all costs. I think this is the (unconscious) reasoning behind people switching mobile messenger apps now.3
It’s not because they think that Facebook is less secure than Whatsapp or more evil. It’s because they don’t want to have their private and group conversation also belong to Facebook. That’s why they have been using Whatsapp instead of the Facebook Messenger. And that’s why they are switching to Threema or Telegram now. Which adds another interesting layer to the situation.

A lesson for developers of security tools

The Snowden leaks have changed a lot of people’s perception about the risks of data insecurity. But the threat has been too vague to create enough motivation to look for a more secure tool right away. But now that people want to switch anyway, a more secure messenger makes a lot of sense.

There’s an interesting lesson in here for developers of security products for the mainstream – of which we will see a lot in the coming months. Threema and Telegram have been around for a couple months and even longer but couldn’t get any traction. They were trying to make a rational argument about security. But it wasn’t in-line with how most people think about privacy issues with technology. Developers and especially marketers of security tools need to learn much more about motivations and user behaviors. They need to get a better feeling about the users gut reactions. They need to understand that a platform deal creates much more perceived pressure than abstract leaks in the news.

But there might also be a bigger issue here that could effect startup founders and the “stacks” who want to buy them. If this user behavior of trying to avoid giving too much data to one ecosystem will catch on, startups will have a tougher time selling to the Facebooks, Googles and Yahoos. The number of users they’ll lose with the deal might make them less attractive for the buyers. Well, unless the number of users plays a minor role and the deal ist mostly about making sure to have a stake in the futures. But Zuck’s pockets only go so deep…

Update: Marcel picked up my thoughts and took them further (in German).

  1. Like Microsoft taking on the vision of creating the operating system for the singularity, which, as it turns out, they already kinda did

  2. FOMO = Fear of missing out 

  3. Another point I make in the podcast: I don’t believe that Zuckerberg will do much with Whatsapp. He has hardly touched Instagram yet. It’s more about owning parts of possible futures than about integrating them into Facebook. His vision is bigger than his product. 

Week 178

On the effects – or lack thereof – of a classic media mention.

Look, Mum, I’m in a newspaper.

It wasn’t the first time I could say that, but at this point I both have a better understanding of what that means and how I value a mention by a classic media outlet like the Berliner Morgenpost.

How did the story came about?

It’s one of those things that don’t make sense until they happen.

My post on startups and Berlin wasn’t just well received by the tech community. A friend of mine who worked at that time for the World Economic Forum saw it too and asked me, if I would contribute something along those lines for their blog post. It took some time, but a few days before the rich and mighty gathered in Davos, my post went online.

A few days later, as we are watching with interest how one of our themes is being discussed at the Forum, a journalist asked about an interview, assuming I was in Davos. After clearing that up, she surprisingly remained interested. The journalist in question, Viktoria Solms, said that she looked at our site and developed an interest portraying us for the local business section of the Morgenpost.

Flattered, but also curious as to what had made her want to talk to us, I agreed. A few days later, Johannes and I sat down with her at our office and talked for 90 minutes. The result: a big, splashy portray by a daily Berlin newspaper.

Expectation management

Now, while everybody decrying the death of print and classic news publishers, there is something ingrained into our cultural DNA that makes people’s mind pop when they see either themselves or people they know in a newspaper. Nobody cares at that point how many people have seen and read the whole thing. It’s in a newspaper and that still means something.

It does mean something, but usually not what most people expect or think.

Let’s start with what is usually not happening after a media mention from our experience:

  • Nobody will call you and tell you that they saw a report on you in the newspaper and now they want to give you money to do some amazing project. Media mentions do not generate direct leads.
  • You will also most likely not see a spike in traffic on your website or a rush of new followers on twitter. That applies both to a mention in print and online.1
  • You will not learn what people think about that article unless you promote the existence of the article in your network.

Which brings us to what an article like that usually does for you.

  • Such an article is a nice, sharable object. It’s easy to share, people like to see and interact with it. You usually score a significant amount of likes for it on your Facebook or LinkedIn profile.
  • It is a fantastic way get back into the attention, refresh everybody’s memory about your work and / or projects.
  • Usually it’s also helpful to reconnect with some older acquaintances and looser part of your network. They tend to react to media mentions in a fairly strong way.

Now you know what it means when you tell your mother that her kid is mentioned in a newspaper.

(To be honest, I didn’t even mentioned it to my mum. She just liked our companies Facebook page and saw our post in her news stream.)

So, if you like that article and know someone who could be interested in our work, please consider sending them a link to the online version or the pdf.

  1. Newspapers and journalists design their product in a way that prevents you from wanting to know more beyond what the article or the outlets provide on that topic. The assumption is that it’s the sole responsibility of those outlets to inform the people. That’s a logical flaw and one that hinders publishers significantly

Week 177

Changing the new business rhythm. Igor highlights a new approach and our focus on the future of work.

A long time ago, I used to work for what today is Lufthansa Systems AG. You can think of it as a oversized IT department that grew large enough to be considered a company in itself. Those constructs aren’t rare for airlines. It’s a complex IT business and a few players in the field invested a significant amount into infrastructure in the 80s. At that time my employer maintained its own backbone as well as the size-wise largest data center. In addition, the company employed many people for an enormously long time. Some of them well over 15 years. Which made their jobs as secure as they can get in a free market society.

While being a separate unit – a company, not a department – the airline maintained full control over the company. More importantly most of the revenue came from Lufthansa itself.

At the time when I was there, the order came down that the revenue stream – well over a billion Euros at that point – would need some diversification. A goal was set out to reach 50% revenue from non-Lufthansa companies in three years. An ambitions goal for an organization that has grown slowly, humanely and failed to motivate to remain interested and competitive.

The goal meant that the company would have to compete with the likes of T-Systems, IBM, SITA, etc. I only witnessed the first 12 month of the new strategy. From what I could tell, it wasn’t going well.

It is easy for management – especially with high fluctuation – to set out goals. On paper, they don’t seem to be unreasonable. The hard part is to align strategy with the capabilities of the people who will be charged with executing it.

This is all a long pre-text for saying that we are trying something similar.

Changing a rhythm

For three and half years now, almost all of our business comes from people approaching us. They usually find us through one of the following categories:

  • Preceding relationship (either a former co-worker or client from previous employments)
  • Recommendation from our network
  • Search Engines

That works out fine for us, but it also means that at times we have to accept jobs that we are accepting mostly because they help us pay the bills. I know that this is not something that people talk about, but I also know that even those big names out there do that. No reason to hide behind facts, not everything out there is awesome.

We decided that while it has worked great so far, we want to explore, if we can change that a bit. And in our case the people in charge of strategy are also the people executing it. A significant vantage.

One of the things that we never succeeded in doing is to make ourselves more approachable to others. We are good in telling the overall story, but not the details. Those matter. It’s the small bits that people hire consultants for at first. Few people are ready to handover the keys to their company to a bunch of guys they don’t know. Easing into bigger, more elaborate jobs through smaller engagement is a natural process.

How are we doing this?

We decided to start with one topic: the future of work. According to a study by the Oxford University, 47% of all jobs in the US are at risk to be replaced through automatisation. We will help companies answer questions like:

  • How will this affect my company?
  • What does it mean for my employees?
  • Who is going to by my products, if algorithms replaced such a big chunk of the work force?

Johannes gave a well received talk on the subject last year, we’ve been writing and giving interviews on the matter for a long time. Mr. Kleske even managed to end up on the cover of the Brand Eins Magazine that focused on said topic a few years back. We know a lot about, it we have the skills and the methods, we just didn’t make it easy for people to talk to us about it. We decided that there are three overall goals for our new business strategy:

  • Enable our network to recommend us
  • Extend our network
  • Approach industry relevant conferences and events to target executives

The deck we made is aiming for German speaking companies. Specifically their management and / or their HR departments. The time is ripe to talk about it. It’s a well publicized topic, there is awareness for it, but very few answers. We are not aiming high. The goal is get hired for some speaking gigs behind closed doors, maybe some extended workshops. If the chemistry is there, we would want to proceed from there and see where we can help the clients. This is a subject that will be around for years and years to come. We are ready for it.

If you yourself would be interested in speaking with us on that topic, let us know. If you know somebody who can benefit from our expertise, please consider forwarding them this article.

Week 176 – On Client-Relationships

A metaphor for how we like to work with our clients

It’s been some time since I’ve reflected on our work with one of our favorite clients: 3A Composites. We’ve now been working with this company for over 1.5 years, so it feels like a good time to take stock. I can’t go too deep into details of their goals and our strategy for non-disclosure reasons, so let me put this into a metaphor.

Instead of doing individual projects, I like to think that we take our clients on journeys. And this is the prototypical example of it. The client gave us a broad goal that defined a rough destination (“We want to see America”). As strategy consultants, our job is “figuring out the best way to get from here to there” as our friend Mike Arauz put it. So we planed a nice journey that would take them to their destination. Good, solid planning work. But here’s where it gets interesting.

A journey to the future

The client is the business leader of its market. They also want to remain the innovation leader and so they want to explore a destination that nobody has been to before: the future. And you know how it is with the future when you want to put it on a map and plan a journey to it: lots of ‘Here be dragons‘ areas.

We constantly check in with other explorers to hear about their observations of those unknown territories. Therefor we have a more detailed idea about what might await us there. But it wouldn’t feel right to just give our client a journey plan and some guidelines how to best behave once they’ve crossed the border to the unknown. No, when our client wants to (boldly) go where no-one has gone before, there’s only one thing for us to do: shoulder our Mission Workshop backpacks and join our client on the journey.1

Joining the journey

Lets forget about bloomy metaphors about the future as the destination for a moment. The reason to join our client on this journey is of cause that it is impossible to define the “best way” at the beginning of the journey. This is essential when the landscape is shifting perpetually like it does in the digital world. Another reason is that goals not only might but will always change when you’re on the journey. We want to be there with our clients when that happens. We even want to be able to anticipate the changes before they occur and have alternative routes ready when our client needs them.

The best part about this is the reward we feel from seeing how the journey evolves, where we were right and where we were wrong and, to finally jump the shark with this metaphor, how the journey changes the traveler.

On a journey with our client 3A Composites

Ok, to sum up: It’s been a great time with Alucobond so far. Here are a few milestones of this journey so far:

  • We set up one of the first tumblrs by a b2b-company.
  • We learned that you can reach 520,000 impressions in a niched target-group with just 800€ worth of Facebook ads.
  • We are about to launch a beautiful Ipad magazine, designed and implemented by our friends at MoreSleep.

But the best reward is a happy client who seems to enjoy the journey. For us, this client-relationship has become a role model for how we prefer to do this. And it already rubs off on new client-relationships.

  1. That’s right. We think of ourselves as the Gandalf to our client’s Frodo. Deal with it. 

Week 175 – A different project

Johannes reflects on a recently finished project that was different from how we usually work.

When we talked about our plans for 2014 for 2014 two weeks ago, we mentioned how important it is for us to get into a meeting with a possible client, because then we can explain much better what we do and how we approach our projects. We also try to spend as much time in person with our clients as possible. But sometimes, a project is completely different but works out anyway. We just finished one of those with a large German organization.

How this project was different:

  • The client found us via Google and our website.
  • We have never met them in person.
  • The project was about social media in Brazil.

Researching social media in Brazil

They asked us to help them figure out how to do community building around a new online platform that is about to launch in Brazil. As neither Igor nor I speak Portuguese, we recruited a native speaker with some experience in social-media research. Based on our briefing, she put together a huge document detailing the social media behavior of Brazilians, their favorite social networks and possible partners and collaborators to promote the online platform.

All the meetings during this project were conducted via Lync, a Microsoft online conferencing system1, which worked ok for these purposes.

The research was well received in our first online meeting with our client. But in this meeting, we also began to much better understand what our client needed: a study and recommendations for how to do this on a tight media budget and in an environment where the term “social media” is met with distrust.

A theoretical model combined with practical scenarios

So we created a report that detailed our current point of view of how to set up a digital ecosystem around an online entity, based on our version of the bought-owned-earned-media model. We explained in detail why social media (without ever using the term) could be an integrated part of all efforts and works best when it’s not handled as “YetAnotherMediaChannel.”

To make this more feasible for our client, we developed three contrasting scenarios that all used the same model but emphasized different aspects and had differing needs of budget and resources.

Deliverables designed for the client’s use

We usually create these kind of reports and handbooks in Keynote because these documents have to be presented most times. But they also should be understandable by others who are not getting the presentation. That’s why we like to work with a combination of visual and text slides. The visual slide shows the idea or the concept and is for the presentation. The text slide puts the visual slide into words. In a presentation context, we (or our client presenting the deck to others in her or his company) just hide the text slides. From the feedback that we get, this seems to be helpful for our clients.

Last week, we had the final online meeting with out client and walked them through the report we’ve created. They seemed to enjoy our holistic view of how different types of media converge and how we combined our insights with practical recommendations for possible courses of action. It’s always a gamble to come back to a client who asked for “social media“ and present them with a more comprehensive approach. But so far, it has worked out for us every single time.

  1. To be clear, it’s the client’s preferred conferencing system. We wouldn’t recommend using any digital Microsoft services right now, because PRISM. 

Week 174

A report on a new, long-term client relationship and a few comments about this years Transmediale.

While we are not specialized on a specific industry, we do have preferred ones, in which we apply our services. Beside the finance and the automotive industries, it is the publishing business that is both plentiful in new commissions and close to our heart.

Over the years, we have worked for various players in the field. Newspapers, Magazines, huge B2B publishing conglomerates, both nationally and internationally. Both from conversations with the clients, at conferences and with peers, we know that we have gathered significant experience in this field over time.

It still came somewhat as a surprise to us when our friend Caroline pinged us about an intro that she wanted to make between somebody she knows who is looking for some high-level consulting to start a new venture.

Little did we know what we where getting into when we said “sure, lets do it”.

Unfortunately, yet again, I can’t name the client just yet. The setup is fresh, preparations and companies are being formalized. It would be premature to go into detail, but I can lay out a comprehensive outline of our scope of operations.

What is exactly that we do?

The client – who is a known, public figure in the German publishing world – wanted high-level, strategic consulting to setup various businesses. One, the core business, is up and running and has a traditional, well prevailed business model that doesn’t need much of our attention. The second business is still in the formalization phase and one where we help shape it from the ground up.

It is both fascinating and feels pertinent to be charged with shaping the business model, working together to find an aesthetic language and the people who might be able to execute it, consulting on potential business partners and deliberate whether or not this should be rolled out nationally or internationally first.

We are fortunate in that regard and we are looking forward to being in a position to contribute something of consequence and impact onto the German publishing business.

A few notes about Transmediale

Last Wednesday, this years Transmediale started. So far, both Johannes and I only attended single events at previous ones. This time, we decided early on that we wanted to dive in deeper and bought early-bird tickets for the whole conference. The theme of the conference – afterglow – and the exceptional curation of speakers hit close to home.

At times, the conference program didn’t seem too connected to the rest of the event and to be honest, I didn’t care for much of the media-art installations that I have seen. They seem outdated, too unequipped to significantly deal with a world in which nothing anymore is absurd. We know that we passed the Rubicon without knowing where to now. In that sense, maybe the installations indeed managed to express just that.

That being said, we mostly focused on the conference program and been rewarded for it, too. The Benjamin Bratton / Metahaven Black Stack keynote has been a cognitive fireworks, one which gave us a lot to chew on for the months to come. I’d have liked to say that I understood more of it than I did, but at least now I know which way to look further. Also, there Bratton’s book that is coming out soon and that will be on top of our digital book shelves.

Than there was the Art as Evidence keynote. It was a privilege and an honor to see Trevor Paglen and Laura Poitras speak about their work. Both in what they do and how they express themselves, they differed strongly from Jacob Appelbaum who’s contribution to the panel seemed out of place and a bit self-involved.1

On the last day, William Binney, Alexa O’Brien and Annie Machon spoke about their extraordinary work and contribution to society. While I was mesmerized by their contribution, I left the panel with a feeling that I only can contribute something to resolving an unmeasurable conflict by following Assange’s and Applebaum’s plea to join the government with one goal in mind: become a whistleblower. Not because this is actually an option, but because everything else pales in comparison with the sacrifice that whistleblowers bring.

At first glance, it felt amazingly out of place to have Sputniko! be the closing speaker of this year’s event, but it might have been deliberately and a strike of genius. To be sure, her presentation felt in many regards as exactly the kind of thing that Ben Bratton critisized in his TED talk on what was wrong with TED, but after many days of charged, emotional and heavy-weight thinking, we were exposed to a character – I’m not sure where the character ends and her true self begins – that strives to understand the complex world with all the tools at her disposal in a naive, truly playful way while being fully aware that reaching out is the key to affect and change people. In that sense, Bratton and Sputniko! are as far away on one spectrum as they can be, but something tells me that they do what they do to achieve similar outcomes for us all.

  1. I like to describe what he does this days as Assange-ing it. Make of it what you will, this is my personal opinion. That is not to intended to marginalize the tremendous work that he does in various positions and occasions. It’s the public speaking that is slowly evolving into something unfavorable… 

Week 173

After a successful 2013, Johannes describes Third Wave’s goals for 2014. And something with about a sci-fi author yelling at Germans.


Getting yelled at by Bruce Sterling is kinda hilarious, actually. Especially when he’s mixing it with his trademark ironic speaking style. You lose any reference for if he’s joking or if he’s really angry. It’s even more entertaining to watch a room full of hacktivists, social academics, cyberfeminists and the odd politician trying to wrap their heads around how that guy wants us to react.

I might have had a slight advantage over most of the other participants at the As Darkness Falls conference last week here in Berlin. I have seen Sterling speak at quite a few occasions and I have read through the complete State of the World 2014, his yearly “conversation”1 with Jon Lebkowsky and others on The Well. Throughout that stream of thoughts, his current obsession with “the Germans” and his perception of our fight for privacy including his fondness for female German novelists who initiate global petitions against surveillance became clear. If you’ve read his latest novel Love Is Strange (A Paranormal Lovestory), you know that Sterling loves to play with national identities and their roles in the world. In the world according to Sterling, the Italians have a different approach to technology and the future compared to the Brazilians, for example. And now it’s our turn as “The Germans.”

I find it truly fascinating to get the outside view about my home country and its perceived identity and the hopes and fears and expectations that the world has for us, especially as I don’t feel a strong identity with this country myself. Igor wrote down a couple of thoughts about those expectations after Sterling’s keynote. But I bring that whole topic up because I needed a lead-in for this Week Note about what we are going to do in 2014 as Third Wave. Yeah, sorry about that.


2013 had two big goals for us:

  1. Establishing a sustainable business
  2. Pay back some loans we got to start the business

We achieved both goals fully and had a remarkable year. March 2013 was a tipping point in our company history. We have been enjoying a constant stream of projects since then and have been able to produce a healthy profit for last year. We know now that what we do can sustain us.

So for 2014, without the need to payback any loans or hustle hard for the next project, we can take it to the next level professionally with these three goals.

  1. Raise the quality
  2. Organize for flow and freedom
  3. Get more meetings

Raise the quality

Getting better at what we do is our strongest motivation. We want to deliver more insights, more actionable strategies, more Aha!-moments, more long-term success for our clients and more valuable observations and ideas for our industry, our community and our peers.

Add random quote about mastering an artisanal craft here. Preferably by a sushi chef.

This is an ongoing process, but we want to make sure this year that we demand more from ourselves than just delivering the project. We want to take more time to iterate, to “have another go at it,” to edit and revise. And to criticizes and challenge each other to dig deeper.

Organize for flow and freedom

To be able to take more time for quality and to grow means that we want to waste less time for things that don’t add to that. So we’re putting a huge emphasis this year on optimizing our everyday work structures and getting rid of distractions. We’ve started to plan our weeks and days much more vigorously. This helps us to be more accountable to each other and slack off less.

Like many others, we will also use 2014 to reflect on our use of social media. It has been of tremendous value to us as a source of inspiration and insight as much as a way of communicating and growing relationships. But as we strive for more quality, we need to find a better balance between input and output, between thinking through writing and thinking through communicating. We highly enjoy the serendipity of streams, but we also want to spend more time exploring one idea.2

Get more meetings

To this day, we have never done any serious new business development or cold calling. We have the fortune of people calling us, which makes it much easier when it’s not always so simple to quickly explain what we do. This makes us dependent on outside forces and maybe that’s just how it is for a business like ours. But we don’t know that yet and it’s time to find out. We want to take this year to create a process how we can sell our consulting business to new clients who haven’t heard of us before.

The key for us is to get the meeting. Once we’re in the room with a possible client it usually works out fine, because we can then apply our knowledge to the customer’s specific problem. But getting invited into the room is the challenge for us. A manager needs to know that we exist and why she or he should invite us. We still haven’t found the optimal way to communicate all the topics we’re involved in and all the ways a client could use us. At the end of the year, we want to have a much better understanding of how to make that possible.

So as you can see, 2014 is all about growing-up as a business for us. Just in time for Igor to invest into the next generation…

  1. You don’t have conversations with Sterling. He talks, you listen. That’s why you don’t put him on a panel. 

  2. One immediate consequence is that we’re changing the Weekly Reads to Monthly Reads. We ourselves are already drowning in article recommendations and don’t want to add too much to the noise. Choosing our favorite, most insightful reads from a whole month allows for a much better signal-to-noise level.