Monday, August 24, 2009

Hedy Lamarr - Actress, Inventor and An Inspiration

Secret Communication System involves frequency hopping that helps radio signals to hop between 88 frequencies and intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder to detect. (US Patent No 2292387 dated August 11 1942 and awarded to Hedy Kiesler Markey and George Antheil)

Hedy Kiesler Markey is none other than Hedy Lamarr whose picture is shown above and who was rightly called the ‘most beautiful woman in the world’. And George Antheil was an Avant Garde Music composer. Secret Communication System is the basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology that is used in WiFi, cordless phones and cellphones.

Her life is best captured from a line in this post:

“Not only was she the first actress to simulate an orgasm onscreen in 1933, but her frequency-switching device (now known as frequency hopping) developed with partner George Antheil, is the technology upon which the cell phones are built."

I first came to know the incredible story of Hedy Lamarr from my Physics professor. This particular professor had an amazing ability to tell stories on just about any topic related to Physics. And you guessed right, the attendance to his class was always full.

Hedy Lamarr was of Jewish parentage. She was drawn towards expressive arts at an early age and entered the world of films (German) in the 1930’s. She married a German arms manufacturer who was also a Nazi sympathiser. In addition, he was an extremely controlling man and refused to let her continue her acting career. Instead he took her to meetings involving military technology with his partners and technologists. Hedy picked up lot of ideas from these meetings. In 1937 she fled Germany and her husband for USA as she completely despised the growing fascist menace in Europe.She became a very famous actress with films like Samson and Delilah, Boom Town, Tortilla Flat and many more to her credit.

While she pursued her acting career, she wanted to help in the war efforts to defeat Germany. It was this burning mission that made her develop ‘Secret Communication System’ involving frequency hopping with her friend the music composer, George Antheil. The invention was seen way ahead of its time. In fact it was put to use successfully for the first time during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And now in cellphones.

Why am I narrating the story of Hedy Lamarr?

The story of Hedy Lamarr can be one of inspiration for people with a ‘creative’ persuasion.

Hedy Lamarr symbolises the magic that happens when creativity meets technology. Coming from an ‘Expressive Arts’ background, Lamarr and Antheil were highly intuitive. They could harness the potential of a phenomenon into a useful application. What is remarkable about her achievement is that it happened at a time when there was a very clear demarcation between arts and science.

That demarcation, at least pertaining to the digital world, is crumbling fast today. By digital I loosely mean all things internet, mobile and emerging media. It is user-friendly and with interesting possibilities for brands and marketing. More importantly, I foresee a new kind of role likely to emerge in technology companies in the near future. It is that of a ‘Creative Officer’.

As a budding entrepreneur (ahem!), I have come across young engineers in Bangalore with incredible product ideas. Some of them have also started full-fledged companies. However, they are struggling to make the much needed consumer connect for them to succeed. Creativity is the magic that can add ‘soul’ to their product and help it connect with the consumers.

Hedy Lamarr once said, “All creative people want to do the unexpected.” Have fun with technology and you can do the unexpected in which ever field you are in.

(Image courtesy)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Leave a trail

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

One of my earliest posts talked about new agency models and in that context I mentioned Anomaly as an agency I admire a lot. Anomaly probably embodies the spirit of Emerson’s statement. I will come to the reason shortly.

The really bad times might be over, with even Paul Krugman admitting that the economic downslide was halted just a few paces short of the abyss. I was hoping that these recessionary times would have seen agencies – the big, small and famous – trying to innovate and hopefully ‘cutting a trail’.

You might ask why.

Budgets were getting slashed and in some cases down to zero plus clients were extremely wary about the market conditions and therefore needing guidance. This was the moment for agencies to truly display ‘partnership’ that they always talk about.

However, partnership and innovation was furthest from any agencies mind. Instead they exhorted clients to spend more (‘spending in recession will make your skin glow’), to be more ballsy and so on. Elaborate presentations and case-studies formed a part of this charade. Suddenly agencies developed new found strengths in digital and emerging media, PR and anything that was the flavour of the hour. WTF!

Did they think that clients would fall for this? Unfortunately by these actions, agency folks got tarred uniformly as hustlers.

If only agency folks practiced what they preached they would have earned the respect of the industry. By experimenting with new engagement models, agencies could have created a ‘disruption’ of sorts. And ‘disruption’ is what we urge clients to do.

Anyway, someone is doing it.

I came across this case-study for Lauren Luke (Courtesy: AdScam) Lauren Luke is a range of cosmetics founded by a 27-year old single mother in South Shields, England.

“As co-owners in the By Lauren Luke brand Anomaly has been involved with the careful development of the By Lauren Luke brand, its promotion through PR and the web plus product development and packaging design. It’s part of the move towards intellectual property(IP) that was always part of the plan”

Lauren Luke’s sales are growing rapidly and they haven’t spent a single penny in advertising. Anomaly by being a co-owner took the risk of building a brand from nothing. They are now reaping the profits.

Agency Nil is another ‘disruptive’ agency model with their clients being other agencies. There is no price but instead want what the client thinks the work is worth to be their fee. Agency Nil is not even a year old and it is difficult to hazard a guess as to their prospects. However, Anomaly has been around for nearly 5 years with an impressive body of work.

I think the agency business in India is not in as bad a shape as it is in other markets like US. They should thank their stars that they continue to have a job and are still profitable.

What if the existing agencies decided to experiment with just one client? Like Anomaly and Lauren Luke? Is that asking a lot?

You cannot expect clients to be ballsy when you are not. Leave a trail or else you will be forced to follow one.

(Image courtesy: tricky)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Top 10 I Wish I Had Written This

This is the fourth edition. You can read the earlier editions here, here and here.‘I like them and my gut says so’ is the only criteria for the selection of the posts mentioned below. They are not in any order of priority. Hope you like them as much as I did. More importantly, I request you to continue to direct me to such awesome posts. Not only I wish I had written this but also wish I could live like Iyer, Zen like. Awesome. Companies are not only discovering that social media is not ‘sexy’ and also that they have to do the ‘heavy lifting’ themselves. Unlike advertising, there are no shortcuts as bluntly told in this post.
The author has dissected all forms of relation between the client and agency and come up with the “un-agency”- a co-op of equal partners. It resonates well with what I am trying to do. No nonsense post about social media that led to a wonderful debate between the author and Joshua Michele Ross - In defense of social media (at least some of it) Read both the posts to get a well-rounded view. Hodgman describes Jockish vs Nerdish approach to issues, especially Middle East. He feels that dissemination of ideas with ‘nerd’ power is far more powerful than ‘jock’ power. Rob Campbell has understood Asians and our obsessions with ‘educational degree’ very well. It is an honest and thought provoking post about our biases. He questions whether behaviour can be quantified and how foolish we are to continue believing that way. He easily navigates between the corporate world and the world of advertising to make his point. Written on David Ogilvy’s tenth death anniversary, he talks about the two encounters with the great man. On both the occasions D.O’s only advice was ‘advertising is about selling’. Is anybody hearing? This is a ‘management game’ that is also a powerful tool to understand inter-personal relationships and dynamics. ‘The currency of an Enterprise is currency’ and therefore Susan urges all those who are keen on implementing 2.0 tools to have an ‘old fashioned or 1.0’ approach.

(Image courtesy:John Ong)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jigsaw and The Big Picture

Have you ever seen a kid assemble a jigsaw puzzle?

My wife tried to compete with our 5-year old nephew in a race to see who completes the jigsaw puzzle first. He was given a new set and a tough one at that. I think they were characters from Power Rangers. He completed it in less than 2 minutes and won. He further rubbed salt to the wounds by finishing two more puzzles before my wife could complete even one.

My wife was trying to assemble it piece-by-piece and missed the big picture (or image) altogether. Our nephew, on the other hand, kept visualizing the big picture and moved the pieces intuitively. That is why he won. This is true of most kids.

However, when we grow up we somehow seem to lose this power altogether. Probably it is pushed to somewhere deep within the recess of our minds. We become conditioned to being too process driven. The big picture always remains elusive.

Great leaders and great managers, like kids, do not lose sight of the big picture. They make moves that would befuddle most people. I had the pleasure of working for such people and also clients in the distant past. They have also got the well deserved success.

There is an unfair accusation at them in that they do not look into the details. This is bullshit and is more a case of sour grapes. The fact is that they do not let details bog them down.

This is in direct contrast to what is happening today in most companies and agencies. We agonize over details (jerking off is more like it) so much that when the time comes for implementation nobody has a clue what we were supposed to do in the first place. The big picture "are we giving the consumer a good and well differentiated product" is missed altogether. Over analysis, uninspiring research and complex strategies are all symptoms of this disease. I am not the only one but a lot of my friends who work for reputed companies and agencies feel this way.

My only wish is that this innate gift of big picture visualization that children possess is somehow nurtured. The future belongs to them.

(Image courtesy:miss_blackbutterfly)