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 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 162 + 163

Igor reports back from two packed weeks, building labs, starting new projects with a focus on Brazil and buying a Little Printer.

Look, it’s a double feature again. Last week flew by without me realizing that I missed out on writing a week note.

Here we are, second half of November. Before soon, it will be Christmas and 2013 will feel like ancient history. I blame my early end-years attitude on our friends from MoreSleep / Freunde von Freunden who’s Christmas dinner we attended last Friday. It was fun. Great to see some familiar faces and a surprisingly large amount of new ones as well. Things are good.

Things are good at Third Wave as well. In fact, they are more than just good.

A project that we collaborated on with Edenspiekermann got green-lighted. We have been commissioned by a shared client to be their mobile payment laboratory. Based closely on the OODA loop, we developed a process that helps us tackle two major obstacles:

  1. Validity of the setup – Each cycle is only 4 to a maximum of 6 weeks long. After that the client gets to see our work which can formalize itself in form of a concept, a storyboard, prototypes or something entirely different. With every concluded cycle there is the option to adjust the process and change the team structure.
  2. One of my biggest issues with Labs in general, but especially ones that aren’t part of the corporate structure is that they by and large do not contribute to the company itself. That doesn’t mean that they do not create value. Often this value can not be utilized by the company who was paying the bills. To make sure that this is not the case here, we installed a solid protocol for measuring success.

As always, I regret not to be able to share more details on this project. It has been a great experience so far.

That being said, this lab reminded about work that BERG London has been doing all the way back in 2010. Which, unsurprisingly, triggered my urge to buy a Little Printer. So now we have lots of fun exploring what we can do with our new gadgets beside using it for the project itself. If you have a BERG Cloud account, have been developing things for it or just bought a Little Printer yourself, let us know.

Little Printer

That’s not the only new collaboration that we started. A new client – who, surprisingly, found us through googling – wants us to do some work on the topic of Concentrated solar power – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia in Brazil. Since both our local knowledge as well as our Portuguese are limited, we found ourselves some help and are happy about having more people at the office.

On that note, have a coffee and enjoy a great week.

P.S.: There is a new coffee service on the block. Check out Kaffee bitte!.

Week 160

Johannes and Igor went for a strategy weekend to Amsterdam, attended the Dread Exhibition the accommodating symposium.

Johannes and I left for Amsterdam for our strategy retreat on Friday. We used to do this more often. But being only two people makes it easier to have a common vision for what we are trying to accomplish.

We usually tend to pick places for these retreats that are significantly more remote and calmer than Amsterdam. Nature can be a gracious guide when it comes to finding a pace to do some long-term thinking. This time, we just couldn’t resist attending the Dread Exhibition Symposium (just look at this lineup) and the exhibition that sparked the need for a symposium in the first place. Juha, the curator, might be a friend, but I’m certain that anyone who will get to see the exhibition in Haarlem will be able to affirm for themselves that it’s an exceptional testament to many current conversations. If you have the chance, please consider going.


Stimulating your brain as prep for a strategy retreat is a contrarian approach to what we have been practicing so far. Nevertheless, it helped us, although clearly in a different way. Immersing one self in the incredible work of people who are able to grasp, understand and explain the more complex structures of todays world jolts you right back on the track and into the realization of how many exciting things there are still to be done.

We decided to adjust some of the things that we have been practicing in the last year.

  1. We decided to automate the weekly reads. We are still reading a lot and we will still share those findings, but we will just let the machines do what they are good at and aggregate those things more or less automatically for us. It didn’t took us too much time to add some context for the five articles that we always have selected so far, but it was one of currently many things to be done.
  2. The input day will become the input/output day. Instead of having to separate days, in which we can lean back and read, consume information, we decided to have Friday as a non-client work related day, in which we focus on not only consuming important information, but also making something with it. We accomplished a few things in the last few month, but we want do dive deeper into things like creating an Onion Pi, migrate away from some cloud services or polish our coding skills. Those are just some examples of topics that we discuss often, but don’t get do. We hope that tinkering away together on a Friday will get us closer to learning by doing.

Week 140 + 141

While we are busy churning away multiple projects, Igor takes a closer look at an aspect of how to deal with the revelations made by Edward Snowden’s leaks.

Busy two weeks. We are dealing with multiple concurrent client projects and planing new ones. When a project got postponed, we used to fall out of productivity rhythm. Now, we just turn our head to the next big todo. We like how things are working out these days.

What didn’t help to stay on track where the revelations about the NSA. Those kind of stories are right up our alley. They a broad, many people provide valuable perspectives and we are very keen to understand it all. So here is our take on what is happening right now.

Revelations about the scale of the surveillance state have been making their rounds on every media channel. The leak by Edward Snowden seem to have started something that should have been going all along: real reporting on the issues. We’ve been seeing multiple articles emerge that look deeper into what seems to be an extraordinary setup by the US government to spy both on its own citizens as well as on the rest of the world.

We live, once again, in times in which the future that we’ve used to read about in science fiction books is not only upon us, but is even scarier.

But I want to focus on one specific aspect in this situation. Not many years ago, the most convincing argument why companies like Google can’t screw with privacy too much was: it’s very easy to switch from one service to another. Especially when it’s a search engine. As we can see today, this is not the case anymore. Many of the big players in the technology business managed to integrate themselves into our life in a similar manner as the financial institutions did. Technology is now also too big too fail. To switch away from Gmail, Dropbox and Facebook means severing oneself from an ecosystem that many other, small vendors use to make their product work. The APIs that we hailed as saviors of the open web, those who helped create those ecosystems in the first place, are now coming to hunt us.

There are, of course, alternatives to all those services. Open source alternatives and ones that provide the user with a lot more security and privacy. And yet, convenience and the existence of those proprietary ecosystems make it very hard for people to make the switch. This is both because the lock-in mechanisms have been designed to keep user in, but it also because the open, more secure alternatives aren’t making their argument in the most effective way.

For a long time, I have been a strong supporter of the open source movement, used to run my machines on Linux and kept away from proprietary solutions as much as possible. That changed a couple years ago. Not because my views changed necessarily. I just discovered that for this stage in my life, I want convenience and “just works” more.

The same applies to security. As an informed user, I can take care of quite of few precautions. I’m mostly only going online through a VPN, I have a Tor browser installed and I could reactivate my GPG key. But this is not a scalable solution. Even after the revelations about the extend of NSA’s capabilities to tap into our data, we will not see mass adoption for those security measures.

We obviously can not rely on our governments to protect us. We also can’t rely on the companies who host and own our data to prevent governments on accessing it as they see fit.

In a world in which we still need to fight arguments like “I don’t have anything to hide”, who will be able to provide both new questions and the ways to answer them that are adequate to the world that we live in?

Week 137

Igor discusses Yahoo’s acquisition of tumblr and teases a new publishing project.

It’s Yahoo! week.

The internet has been buzzing about the Tumblr acquisition for a couple of days now. Being bought by Yahoo used to be a great thing. Flickr, Yahoo Brickhouse. All those names were associated with highly competent teams and extraordinary technology. These days, the not-so-newly appointed CEO Marissa Mayer needs to openly promise that they won’t mess it up. If anything, it speaks to the fluidity of the technology business.

It will be interesting to watch what happens next. Yahoo has been clawing its way up to be considered as an equal contender among the other tech giants. Grabbing up Tumblr will help in that regard. It shows a financial commitment that will at least make the others pay closer attention. My take on this is that wether or not this take-over will be a successful one will not only be decided if Yahoo can make Tumblr profitable or not. For Yahoo this deal was not only about the potential revenue from Tumblr, it was about being perceived as a potential serious employer and partner in the near future. It’s about building a company that can change the brand perception of today’s Yahoo.

So far, the last 12 months have been successful. Appointing Mayer was a big scoop and one that gave the company credibility, but also one that has built up expectations. Mayer’s eagerness to buy Tumblr is likely to also be based on the fact that analysts and the industry in general have been waiting for a big gesture.

Her juggling those expectations seems to be working out fine so far. Launching a big update of Flickr on the next day is also a keen tactical move by the PR professional that Mayer is.

There is one mistake that Yahoo could make that would ruin Tumblr instantly: take away the anonymity/pseudonymity of the platform by requiring a Yahoo login. Lets hope they won’t walk into this trap.

In other news

We’ve been working on a small project with our dear friends from MoreSleep and Freunde von Freunden. It’s a little publication experiment that aims to give executives and key decision makers inside companies a faster and more comprehensive introduction into trends that we are seeing. No, it is not yet another trend report.

It’s too early to publish it online, but if you want to take a glance at what we are up to, drop us a line.

Week 130

Arrived in Berlin-Mitte. Now in full preparation mode for a project in Moscow.

Berlin-Mitte, we are in you.

As planned and in between many client related projects, we orchestrated our move to Mitte while most people were out and about looking for those Easter eggs. While we clearly have more than 100 items, we do have certain leanness that allowed us to make the transition smoothly and efficiently. Just for the record, our new address is:

Third Wave GmbH
Rosenthaler Str. 34-35
10178 Berlin
On Foursquare

If you are curious, here is a photo of the space, which has since been filled up with desks and such. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the panorama shot into believing that we are now residents of a gigantic space. It’s a modest, yet perfectly suited space for us. All things considered, it is a minor step for us as a company. And yet, the psychological effect of sitting in an office that is not being sublet from another company is strangely exciting and motivating.

But enough about the office. We will try and maintain our usual communication habits, but the next few days will be a mixture of organisation todos around the office and preparation for some tremendously interesting work that we will be doing in Moscow. As is so often the case, we can not go into detail, but we will try and share the insights both about the topic in general as well as Russia as a market.

Week 119: Aaron Swartz

This week, we say goodbye to Aaron Swartz, young activist, builder and great source of inspiration.

As the weekend was unfolding, so was the story about the tragic death of Aaron Swartz. Co-author of the RSS protocol, co-founder of Reddit, major force behind Creative Commons, one of the heroes of the free movement, a hacker and a builder. In his too short life, Aaron brought more people together, accomplished more than one can hope for in a life-time. Him being gone at the young age of 26 is a tragedy to his family and friends, but also to everyone who has used and will use the internet.

Many things have been written about his death, about the unjust prosecution that he had to endure and about his accomplishments. If anything, I encourage you to honor his life by reading about him, about his work, his life. Here are a few links where you can start.

Lawrence Lessig #1, Lawrence Lessig #2, Parker Higgins, Cory Doctorow, Tim Berners-Lee, Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, Remember Aaron Schwartz

Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.

– Aaron Swartz, at the age of 21.

Rest in peace, Aaron.

Week 113: More Writing

As our 4-day-work week experiment is coming to an end (and becomes normality), we start a new experiment.

4-Day Workweek

Two months ago, Johannes and I started the experiment of having one dedicated day just for consuming information. The simple idea was: if we know that there is one day in our work week that we can fully dedicate to reading, we will be able to focus more on the tasks that we are supposed to do in that particular moment instead of glancing at Twitter. Since I picked Monday and Johannes picked Friday, we also had the luxury of having only three days for meetings. That too is immensely helpful. It shapes the week in a very natural way.

As reported in the previous week notes, we do not see this as a rigid system that needs to be enforced no matter what. Instead we used it as a guide for structuring our work week. Some weeks, we won’t be able to dedicate a whole day to consume as much as we want and need to. That’s alright, because we are likely to do something else that is exciting and fun.

To make a long story short: the experiment of a 4-day work week was a success and will now become a general routine for us.

New experiment: more writing, more structuring

As one experiment found its happy ending, we decided to start a new one. This one was solely inspired by something that I have read about the way Jeff Bezos works.

Bezos says the act of communal reading guarantees the group’s undivided attention. Writing a memo is an even more important skill to master. “Full sentences are harder to write,” he says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

While we will not directly start reading out our memos, we decided to start writing down our ideas. No bullet points. Real sentences, real structure, real depth. From now on – and until the end of February – only ideas can be discussed in meetings that are have been written out by the person who proposes one and who actually saved their text in a specified folder. This sounds a little bit more rigid than usual and it is.

We are starting this for multiple reasons. The most obvious one is of course already in the quote from Bezos. Having an idea is very easy, especially for meta people like us. Shaping this idea into something more than a spontaneous line of thought is much harder and requires either a lot of discipline or a structure that helps you deal with that particular problem. That’s where our experiment comes in. It will help us reflect and it will help us make the most out of meetings. It will also make it easier for other people to help shape this idea.

On top of this, it will also help us get into the routine of writing more. It’s a skill that, if mastered, can be of an immense value and we all want to get better at it.

With that, I wish you all a pleasant week.

Week 107: The 4-Day Workweek and Read-Later Services

Igor continues the documentation of our 4-day workweek experiment and combines it with opening thinking about how much time we spend on creating breadcrumbs.

Week 3 of our little experiment.

Feeling more guilty now then ever when I read anything on one of the four not-for-input days.

Still, feeling a lot more synchronicity between my being increasingly interested in everything and running a small company.

There is still one main question that remains unanswered: will we manage to stick to the rigidity of four output days and one input day? Especially when the work load rises. The questions that I ask myself are: Will I really be able to explain to my clients that this is how we work and that they need to wait? Is it actually fair to expect that from clients? What if I actually would prefer working on a project instead going into an input day? Even with a testing phase, it will be hard to find a definitive answer to that. All of this is part of the experiment.

That brings me to my current iteration of how I save, consume and process my information.

There are an incredible number of read-later services out there. I’ve been testing many. My latest favourite is Pocket. Not because of its design – I prefer Quote.fm and Readability in that regard – but because it also can save videos and provides the best multi-platform solution right now.

On my output days, I try to send as much of the stuff that sounds interesting directly into Pocket without even opening it up in the browser. That minimises distraction. On my input day, I start with the few newsletters that I actually read. These days, it’s mostly the one from Quartz and the New York Times. After that, I switch to Pocket and the saved items. Being interested in many things is in itself a good personal trait, but not necessarily one that always helps the business goals. That’s why we attempt to make the most out of the things that we read and not only on a cognitive level for us personally. Let me show you how the process looks right now.

  1. Saving article into Pocket
  2. Opening it up in a browser
  3. Enabling Evernote’s Clearly to mark important passages and automatically sync them into my Evernote account
  4. If the article is in some way relevant to what we do, save it – with an appropriate description and tagging mechanism – into Pinboard so that it can be easily integrated into our “What we read this week” blog post and newsletter
  5. In most cases, when I do that, I’m also inclined to post it to Twitter and Facebook. For that, I use Buffer to get the most out of my posts
  6. Post an interesting passage to Quote.fm

That’s a lot of breadcrumbing right there. Recently, and looking mainly from a business perspective, I found myself asking whether I’m investing my time sensibly. It is incredibly hard to measure a direct business impact for all of that. It’s actually impossible. My experience and instincts tell me that I should continue and try to automate wherever possible.

I’d love to hear thoughts from other people on this topic.