Recommendation: Joe Marchese on the attention economy

This is an interesting piece from REDEF on what happens next in the competition for our ears, eyeballs and thoughts, with a link to a reading list at the bottom.


Organic food became a multibillion-dollar industry as people took a greater interest in what they put in their bodies. The markets will be even bigger that are shaped as people begin to pay greater attention to, and regain control over, what they put in their brains.  The government may even play a role here, but will not need to be as heavy-handed as has been suggested. The solutions that come next will represent a new age of media companies: quantified-self applications for your media habits to help you optimize your “attention diet.” New Operating Systems for recommending entertainment (aka new “TV Guide”). Technology that better values people’s attention and data. Technologies that help people better connect IRL (In Real Life).

Joe MarcheseThe Attention Economy Crisis: The Future of Content, Commerce and Culture

Clayton Christensen: Jobs to be done (1)

Here’s a great insight from Clayton Christensen: people don’t buy a product or service because of abstract needs, but rather when they have a specific job to do.

So people don’t use public transport, or cars, or taxis because they need transportation in general, but when they need to go and do something specific at a specific time.

All people need to be healthy, but they only consume medical services when they notice that they are sick, or hurt, and have the ‘job to do’ of getting better.

All people have an abstract need for education of one sort or another at all times, but they generally only seek out and pay (in some combination of money, time and effort) for books or teachers or schooling when they have a need or want for a specific thing.

You can watch Christensen’s famous (and funny) example of what people “hire” MacDonald’s milkshakes for in the video below.

Benefits of thinking about customer behaviour in this way include…

  • Better understanding of why people ‘buy’ what you offer – understanding the job to be done is for more helpful for improving your offering than general demographic information or market research into how you might improve your product because it’s more specific, focusing on the critical moments when people actually buy
  • More insight into who else might buy your product – instead of asking “who is similar to my customer?” you ask “Who has a similar job to do?” and “What other jobs does our product do well?”
  • Stability – Christensen points out that ‘jobs’ are far more stable than products and users. Julius Caesar, Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs, for example, all needed to get letters securely from A to B – but the services they made use of to get the job done were radically different.

It’s time you learnt (a bit about) how computers work (1)

If you know nothing about how computers work (and I know precious little), it’s probably time that you learnt.

Consider: if software really does eat the world (and the signs are that it is rapidly doing so), huge swathes of your life – everything that is better off digital – will become digital. So it’s a good idea to have at least a rough idea of how computers and software work.

A good place to start is MIT’s Introduction to Computer Science and Programming using Python. There are a few versions of this course (MIT 6.0001) on Youtube (alternatives are here and here) but this one’s my favourite. It gets into teaching the (hugely popular) Python programming language pretty fast but has some great conceptual stuff about what computers do and how they work, even in this early lecture, that will almost certainly be useful (or at least interesting) as you sail further into the 21st Century.


What’s the Metaverse?

Here’s more on the Metaverse: from Matthew Ball (again) on the BBC’s Beyond Today.

The first half of the program has some good stuff on Fortnite’s business model and how it’s more than simply a game… the second half gets into the question of what the Metaverse is in principle, and how close (or far away) we might be from seeing it in (virtual) reality.


Tim Sweeney on open platforms and the metaverse (2017)

I feel especially as we’re building up these platforms towards the metaverse, if these platforms are locked down and controlled by these proprietary companies then they’re going to have far more control over our lives, over our private data and over our private interactions with other people than any platform in previous history.

[How are you going to keep the metaverse open] is a central question for the industry and something we think about a lot.

The great thing is that there are a lot of steps in that direction. There are open file formats now… the web was open because it was built on standards like HTML, Javascript, Jpeg – all these different file formats and internet potocols tied together to create an open web that anybody can participate in. It’s the opposite of Facebook or Twitter, which are locked-down, proprietary APIs and services controlled by companies, and you can’t write a client for these applications unless you get their permission.

So if we build the metaverse on top of protocols and all of the major players in the industry are committed to working together to define these standards and maintain these standards, then we can all interoperate as peers, and avoid any one company taking control over the thing, and having a monopoly over not just commerce, that’s bad enough, but also a monopoly over our private data and the ability to probe in really really scary ways into our private lives when we’re being connected through these digital tools.

Tim Sweeney – interview at GamesBeat 2017

Worth Reading: Matthew Ball on videogame business models (Fortnite)

Thanks to Kevin Kelly for pointing this out this excellent article on REDEF by Matthew Ball. It’s interesting to learn about what Epic Games is up to with Fortnite, but more than that in terms of how computer game and media business models are evolving – and what might be next.

Highly recommend.


  • Fortnight is pulling in upwards of $300 million per month – but is completely free to use (it makes its money through optional, non-essential purchases like clothing for user characters)
  • Fortnight is way more profitable per user than facebook or google
  • It’s a huge success – but several other games have achieved similar – particularly in Asia. (for comparison: Candy Crush has earned $5bn, while The Avengers: Infinity War earned a bit more than $2bn worldwide.)
  • Its success enabled total cross-platform availability – even Sony opened up to cross-platform play on Fortnight for PS4.
  • “Fortnight likely represents the largest persistent media event in human history. As of today, the game has likely had more than six consecutive months with at least one million active users – all of whom are participating in a largely shared and consistent experience…”
  • There are some notes about Epic’s open and always-iterating business model as a platform provider (providing resources for others to make games, rather than only making its own games)
  • Some great discussion of The Metaverse – a shared virtual world (or interlinked worlds) that could be “the next version of the internet.”

Resources: Clayton Christensen on disruptive innovation

Clayton Christensen’s The Innovators Dilemma is a business classic, providing a framework for understanding how technological or business model innovations (or more usually, both) allow new businesses to gain a foothold in markets or to create new ones.

It’s been hugely influential – and has come in for its share of criticism.

This post contains links to a range of resources for getting up to speed with disruptive innovation, as well as some of Christensen’s other theories – particularly his ‘jobs to be done’ view of markets and product development, and modularity theory.

The Christensen Institute:

Brief introductions to:

… and some decent blog posts illustrating some of these topics in different fields

Talk at Google

This is my favourite overview – Christensen covers most of his key ideas clearly and with humour.

At Startup Grind

On how to build a disruptive business…

And talking with Marc Andreessen about his ideas:

On the a16z Podcast

Highly recommend these episodes:

  1. Beyond Disruption Theory: Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz talking about how disruption theory has been important to them, with other insights into entrepreneurship in general:

2. Competing Against Luck: Another conversation with Marc Andreessen about how the Christensen’s understanding of disruption theory has evolved

At Said Business School, Oxford

I’ve just discovered these while writing this post – will add a note later once I’ve watched them.

Lecture 1: Disruptive Innovation:

Lecture 2: Management

Lecture 3: The Process of Research

Zen Hae on cross-pollination, imitation and innovation in Indonesian Peranakan literature

The pattern of hybridity, imitation and innovation we talk about under the label “combinatorial innovation” isn’t limited to cars and computers – it’s central to (and has been discussed for far longer) in literature and the arts. In a paper from the Jakarta International Literary Festival 2019, Zen Hae unpacks the example of Indonesian-language writing by Peranakan* writers as a disruptive force in pre-Independence Indonesia.

Karya-karya mereka digolongkan sebagai “bacaan liar” oleh lembaga penerbitan kolonial Balai Pustaka. Mereka menerima novel atau roman sebagai buah modernitas bukan hanya dari Barat, tapi juga dari Cina Daratan. Dengan penuh semangat mereka menerjemahkan, cerita silat, roman sejarah, juga kitab-kitab keagamaan dan ajaran moral Konfusianisme dari negeri leluhur mereka. Pada tahap berikutnya mereka bukan lagi menerjemahkan, tetapi menyadur, kemudian lagi membikin karya asli, baik tentang kehidupan di Cina Daratan maupun di Nusantara – yang terakhir ini kerap terjadi dalam genre cerita silat. Bersama pengarang-pengarang nasionalis-Kiri di sisi lain, mereka menggunakan Bahasa Melayu Rendah secara politis untuk menandingi dominasi Bahasa Melayu Tinggi yang diinisiasi oleh linguis kolonia…

Zen Hae – Perihal Pagar dan Siasat Para Pengarang dalam Menafsir (Kembali) Batas, Jakarta International Literary Festival 2019

Their works were classified as “wild literature” by the colonial publishing house, Balai Pustaka. They received novels and stories as the fruit of modernity not only from the West, but also from Mainland China. They eagerly translated the silat (martial art) stories, historical romances, and also religious books and the moral teachings of Confucianism from the land of their ancestors. In the next stage they were no longer translators but adaptors, and later creators of original works about life in China or in [what would become] Indonesia – this last seen frequently in the genre of Silat stories. Along with nationalists of the left, they used Low Malay to challenge the domination of the High Malay used by colonial linguists…

Zen Hae – On the Fences and Strategies of Authors in (Re)Defining Borders, Jakarta International Literary Festival 2019

*Broadly speaking, ‘Peranakan’ means people of Chinese descent who have assimilated to varying degrees into the local cultures of the Malay Peninsula or the Indonesian archipelago. More here.

Marks and Spencer as disruptive innovators

Marks and Spencer have been a mainstay of British retail for more than 100 years, so it’s hard to imagine them as disruptive innovators – but it turns out they were innovative all over.

More immigration and innovation

Michael Marks (born in 1859 Slonim, then part of the Russian Empire) moved to the U.K. in 1882, and within a few years had a market stall in Leeds. He was successful, in part because of a pricing innovation: he called his shops Penny Bazaars (“Don’t ask the price – it’s a penny!”) and allowed customers to browse with no pressure to buy.

Eventually Marks began a partnership with Thomas Spencer, who brought additional capital and good connections with manufacturers, enabling them to source goods directly from their suppliers.

Peter Drucker picks up the story:

World War I had profoundly shaken their country’s class structure… [creating] masses of new buyers for good-quality, stylish, and inexpensive merchandise such as lingerie, blouses and stockings – Marks and Spencer’s first successful product categories.

Marks and Spencer then systematically set to work developing brand-new and unheard-of core competencies. Until then, the core competency of the merchant was the ability ot buy well. Marks and Spencer decuded that it was the merchant, rather than the manufacturer, who knew the customer. Therefore the merchant, not the manufacturer, should design the products, develop them, and find producers to make the goods to his design, specifications and costs. This new definition of the merchant took five to eight years to develop and make acceptable to traditional suppliers, who had always seen themselves as “manufacturers,’ not “subcontractors.”

Peter Drucker – The Daily Drucker

A different retail experience

S4RB continues:

[After the First World War] M&S continued to grow and innovate. The company displayed its products on trays in the store allowing customers to browse. This was different to most other retailers who kept the products on shelves behind the counter… In the early 1920 M&S started selling what is now their most famous product: underwear. Today one in three women wear an M&S bra.

The history of M&S: This is not just a store, it’s an M&S store since 1884 – Blog at

Other innovations

There’s much more to write about: no-limit cash-refunds with receipt; a staff welfare department; clothes and cafes designed to meet the requirements (or exploit a loophole in) of post-war rationing; a survey of women’s legs to improve underwear design; the invention of ‘cold-chain’ supply so that meat could be sold fresh instead of frozen; the introduction of ‘sell by’ dates to products; some of the earliest sales of Indian and Chinese ready meals – and the Chicken Kiev; increasing emphasis on sustainability and responsible sourcing for clothing.

Slowing down

Innovation seems to be have slowed down a bit at M&S in the 2000s, but with any luck they’ll return to the habit and continue to flourish into the future. After all – it’s where I buy my pants.

Read more at Marks in Time: A History of Marks and Spencer and