Take control by being a lifetime learner

personalized learning 2

I’ve never been someone who takes things for granted. For many reasons I’ve felt like the most fortunate person in the world, meet my beautiful pregnant wife and you’ll soon start to see what I’m talking about. One of the biggest blessings I’ve had is from being a shy Yorkshire lad, 21 years old with a degree in Business IT, somehow stumbling into the crazy extroverted world of Digital media. I’ve met and worked with some of the most talented people in the industry who have always had the time to teach and inspire me. I’ve spent ten years working within both digital media and marketing and feel like the industry has evolved so much since back when we were sticking banners on MySpace & Lycos. The measurement has gained new ground, the publisher landscape is completely changed; I’ve been through FIVE organisational restructures! That’s one every two years.

The biggest thing I realised during this time is if your world resembles a giant tumble dryer then you’re going to have to keep moving if you want to stay on your feet. The secret to being motivated, happy in your surroundings and confident in your skill set is to embrace change and force it upon yourself before it’s forced on you.

If you work like a machine then you’ll soon be replaced by one  

I don’t need to stress the point of Artificial Intelligence, or scare anyone into thinking their job is soon under threat. But rather than look upon this as a threat to my job I see it more as a wake up call. If someone really thinks their job could be replaced by a machine then they’re probably not thinking enough within the day-to-day, or talking to people enough, or mentoring people enough. There are things machines currently struggle to do which are arguably the most interesting parts of our days at work:

  1. Emotional intelligence – Being great at reading situations, compromising with stakeholders and making something happen. Machines tend to be quite binary in their objectives
  2. Connect the incompatible – Can you take what you learnt from one meeting and translate it to be relevant in another? It would take a pretty impressive computer program to be able to do this effectively
  3. Draw abstract parallels – Stitching experiences together and taking abstract learnings for other purposes is a hugely undervalued human attribute, and one that needs an attitude of lifetime learning to be effective

“If you’re in the tech industry and everyone else is just reading tech publications, but you also know a lot about biology, you have the ability to come up with ideas that almost no one else could”

Michael Simmons from the Observer, theorising on why Elon Musk is such a fast learner

Be more than a cog

In keeping with my tumble dryer analogy, the reality really hit me when one day my washing machine broke and it turned out the problem was this tiny valve that needed replacing. This tiny insignificant valve that took five minutes to replace and discarded even quicker, with no other value to me. It suddenly made me realise (whilst likely daydreaming/procrastinating as my washing machine was fixed) how fragile our employability is if we allow ourselves to be specific cogs within a machine.

Most organisations love cogs and are more than happy for you to be institutionalised and become one. Cogs are easy to train, fit nicely and neatly into an organisation chart and are easily replaceable. Have you ever wondered why your company has so many processes? Well one of the reasons is a continuity plan, if you fit a defined shape then if you ever leave your role is commoditised, put to market, filled and the world moves on – How else can media agencies cope with such high staff turnover? We all know that ex-colleague who thought they were irreplaceable….

No one is going to stop you from becoming an institutionalised cog apart from yourself. Insist that your role gives you the runway to learn new experiences as part of your day-to-day and if work is more physically challenging (with crazy hours and ridiculous deadlines) than mentally challenging then it’s time to take a stand.

A generalist species is able to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of different resources. A specialist species can thrive only in a narrow range of environmental conditions.

Keep moving, keep learning

The best advice I can give to anyone is to keep learning. There’s a wealth of information freely available on any topic we just need a motivation to take it in. If you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity then there’s no better way to get out of your comfort zone than trying a different job. As I said at the beginning, I’m hugely fortunate as I’ve been thrown the opportunity a few times. I’ve lived in London, Sydney and now Singapore, and was lucky to be given the opportunity with Telstra to broaden my media knowledge to more marketing. And recently I’ve switched again, working within Product marketing.

I’ve made many mistakes, oversimplified challenges, overvalued my work’s significance and generally showed naivety to the bigger picture. Mainly due to the fact that I felt like I got Digital, until I moved into a different role and found a new dimension to the Digital ecosystem that completely blows my mind. Uncomfortably, I’ve met people who say they don’t understand digital that have a much more rounded grasp than I did coming from my media silo. The more I learn the less I realise I know, and I’m still in a marketing silo! Moving into marketing with Telstra has been a very humbling experience. There will never be a time to stop learning new things, things that re-wire and enhance the way I’ve thought in the past.

Things i think i know

The two sides to jumping into a new role:

  1. The stuff you don’t know – Leave your ego at home and be prepared to feel like the stupidest person in the room. Cling to every word and read whatever is suggested to you. Be as respectful as humanly possible to anyone willing to teach you new things, it’s a rare gift so grab it with both hands. They want to meet at 7:30AM? Be there. And repay them tenfold with whatever you can do in return to make their life easier.  Pedal like CRAZY to get up to speed with what everyone’s talking about as being ‘the new guy’ has an expiry date.
  2. The stuff you know – It’s hardly likely that there won’t be some overlap in what you know, otherwise there’s no logical reason why you’d be given the job. For the things you know this is your time to shine and you need to smash this out of the park. Put yourself under great scrutiny, more than your peers and manager can and make yourself useful.

Push the boundaries of your role

Whilst searching for opportunities to jump out of your comfort zone be on the lookout for new experiences in your role that can provide an extension. Find people you want to learn from and look for ways to make it happen. Perhaps there are projects you can ask to be a part of, or initiatives you can suggest that benefit the company.

If all else fails then learn something outside of work and then try to apply it to your work. If you’re a media buyer who wants to be the analytics guy? Try subscribing to Lynda courses on Google Analytics and start integrating it into your reports. Do it long enough and people will start asking you to do it for them, it won’t be long till it will make sense for the company to make this part of your role.

There’s nothing stopping you from embracing change and becoming a lifetime learner. Stop being bored at work and grab every opportunity you can to feel stupid again as it’s the only way to grow.





The tragic story of the world wide web

What’s the difference between the Internet and the world wide web? I remember this being a question I was asked at University back in 2002 and it sparked far more debate and confusion than it would today. The reason being that the ‘www’ protocol was by far and away the dominant use of the Internet, it eclipsed the Internet so much so that you’d be forgiven for assuming they were the same thing.

These days ‘the web’ feels like really old fashioned terminology, something you’d correct your grandparents on without really being able to explain why.

Decline of the world wide web google trends
world wide web search volume decline – Google trends

If you feel like the term ‘web’ has lost its relevance in today’s world of communications you wouldn’t be on your own, but I have a feeling one day we’ll be reminiscing back on those days rather than scoffing at the infancy of where our world of Internet connected devices came from.

The birth of something special

Going back to 1989 when Tim Berners Lee created the world wide web, his vision was to reduce the barriers for the sharing of information with an egalitarian hierarchy. This encouraged world wide collaboration and made new levels of innovation possible at scale. Usage of the internet grew exponentially as per Metcalfe’s law, networks get more useful the more people use them.

This abundance of information led to a real need for organisation and this is where search engines came in – you don’t need me to tell you who won that battle. This I’d argue was the first time Tim Berners Lee’s vision was being altered given the impact Google had over how they rank content.Whilst the web in its design was still egalitarian, Google’s significant role in how we access the world wide web meant the users of the web had voted for their governor.

Publishers and businesses had to be very wary of playing by Google’s vision (not Tim Berners Lee’s vision) and there’s been some big cases such as Interflora in 2013 where manipulation of this vision has led to expulsion. Not many companies can bring down a business overnight by flicking a switch, but this just shows how much power Google has over the world wide web.

Social media – The world wide web’s new flame

Throughout the late 2000’s began a mainstream wave of a whole new way to access content from the world wide web, why seek out your own content when you can kick back and wait for your friends to deliver it to your doorstep? Among others, Facebook and Twitter became a whole new way for people to discover content, and for publishers to amplify their audience.

Search and social worked hand in hand, people with specific intent looked to seek out their content via search,
and social gave them the opportunity to share. It was a marriage made in heaven and for the time being played nicely with Google’s vision over content quality. Why would anyone share content that didn’t offer high quality information that gives visitors the information they are looking for?

The web was dominated by Google, but since the value of their product fed off delivering the best possible user experience of the web’s content, this wasn’t such a bad thing. And social’s ability to amplify content reach meant publishers could really invest in delivering quality content to their audience off the back of their ad revenue models.

Social outgrows the web

In recent years, whilst search was still the predominant focus for maximising readership, publishers and brands started to stray from Google’s vision for the web’s content due to the growth of social platforms. Instead they chose to innovate with ways to make their content fly across social, leveraging their loyal advocates by piggybacking off their influence within their own social communities. ‘New wave’ publishers like Buzzfeed switched their entire focus on writing content ready made for people to share and even provided tips on how to make content go viral.

Whilst having years of successfully dominating search engine competitors such as Microsoft’s Bing, a whole change of ecosystem was on the horizon. It was becoming increasingly clear that Facebook in particular was evolving to become a real threat to Google’s dominance over the world wide web. By June 2015 research by Parse.ly stated that Facebook had overtaken Google as the largest referrer of traffic.


This is huge for any content creators as it meant there was potentially more to gain by writing content to be shared rather than content to be found. There’s fundamental differences in these approaches and it will likely change the way we consume content from now on.

Closed ecosystems create their own rules 

Google had a significant role to play in the web, but they will be known as enhancing the experience and helping people get the most out of it. They govern unsavory content from being indexed and if it’s not indexed it’s pretty much invisible, cast to the depths of the deep web.

Facebook is completely different, it’s a closed ecosystem to the web. You can find it via the web but you shut the door behind you. The problem with a closed ecosystem is it sets its own governance; when Facebook sold advertisers ‘Fans’ only to obliterate their owned media value further down the line there was no Internet police you could turn to. Facebook’s platform, Facebook’s rules. Deal with it.

Even with a closed ecosystem the web’s content is still valuable right? It’s the blood pumping through the veins of the internet surely? Distribution pipes are one thing, but social still needs content to be shared and that content comes from the web.

The pipes take over

As Facebook’s oxygen is still content found on the web, Google are still happy. Content is written in HTML, collected by Google crawlers in the free web, indexed and ranked accordingly. More content for Google, to be found through intent, and then shared across Facebook.

If Facebook is so important to publisher’s content distribution then surely they’re in a position to just eat the web? What’s stopping them? As they govern their own ecosystem they can offer incentives to publishers to just go direct to them rather than going all traditional with the web. Well that’s exactly what they’re trying to do by launching Instant Articles.

This is a platform which publishers can use to provide great tailored experiences to their audience, super fast loading and importantly an integrated ad revenue model which is immune from the ad blocking epidemic. Who knows, maybe further down the line Facebook will use this enhanced user experience as a way to justify an increase in organic reach for publishers who take up Instant Articles. Maybe as uptake increases they’ll insist content is uploaded exclusively without a duplicate version being published on the web? All speculation at this point but again, your platform, your rules.

Why would Facebook target the web? Tim Berners Lee’s innocent creation hasn’t hurt anyone! Facebook was born out of the web, how else would you find it? The problem they have is a growing jealousy of the big profits Google make for organising content. But if content isn’t uploaded to the web then Google’s product begins to lose its usefulness.

“Google makes the lion’s share of its money on search, and Google search doesn’t work if the web isn’t searchable” – The Verge

Facebook could potentially be on a path to starve out Google’s product, with the world wide web being a casualty caught in the cross fire.

Mobile Devices escalate the gang warfare

When creating the web, Tim Berners Lee created the open platform infrastructure for this to live on. It sneaked up on the likes of Microsoft, for whom it represents a missed opportunity of catching it in a box and rebranding ‘Windows Web’ – Has a nice ring to it.

The big boys weren’t going to make the same mistake twice, and when consumer habits evolved to Internet devices they had their chance to put their own spin on the web. Step forward Apple, their iOS platform took the internet’s connectivity and created their app store. The App store offered developers a way to create rich applications that could be hard coded to the Apple device and powered by the Internet – Importantly this is a walled garden available only to Apple users.

The scale of Apple’s marketshare for mobile devices, added to the sweeping trend of accessing the Internet via a mobile device. This means that this closed ecosystem is a significant player in the world of closed ecosystems. The app store offers great utility and content and…. yep they’re also trying to eat the web’s content too with Apple News.

With such a threat to their lifeblood, Google are having to match the ecosystems with their very own. Back in 2005 they made the savvy purchase of Android, which would effectively become the ecosystem used by every phone manufacturer bar Apple. They’re even planning to keep the web on life support as they incubate its migration to an existence on mobile devices. They’re doing this through announcing a partnership with Twitter to create AMP, Accelerated Mobile Pages. which will allow publishers to enhance their HTML content when it’s being served on a mobile device – One of the biggest growing pains of the our device evolution is load times, so Google are moving quick to remedy this.

Given both Twitter and Google rely heavily on the web it makes complete sense for them to team up and preserve it. Although Twitter’s rumors over expanding their character limit from 140 to 10,000 would lead to speculation that they’re eyeing up their own closed ecosystem for publishers.

 A game of thrones

So there you have it, in the space of ten years the Internet landscape is virtually unrecognisable. Who would have thought when Tim Berners Lee created the world wide web that it would be the target of multi billion dollar tech companies?

The transformation of the world wide web

Whilst I must say the three rivals have transformed the distribution of information beyond the wildest dreams of Tim Berners Lee, we are heading down a path of lost innocence that I believe by the time we see the repercussions it will be too late. By moving from an open platform accessible to everyone, we will live in a world where the ecosystems we play in are tainted with a self serving motivation.

At the moment we’re free to play the field between tribes and they’re all roughly talking the same language. Tribes have a habit of demanding loyalty, and as they start to make you choose one over the other it will ultimately shape the way we communicate, which might not necessarily be shaped in your best interests.

The moment you step out of the free web and into a controlled environment you hand control over to the gate keeper.