Research You Can Walk Through

August 19, 2014

For years, Scratch has studied the compression of time and space between, say, a good idea and a better one; a thriving company and a dead one; instant success and precipitous failure and then (often in a reality show?) premeditated redemption.

“Time’s moving faster than ever,” right?  Sure it is, or at least if feels like that, depending on how much (food, content, stimulus, etc) you consume in a given period of time.  But those who stop right there and land on “we’ve just got to move faster to keep up” — are missing the point and will face extinction.

The winners of the 21st century, so far, are those who obsessively pursue a deeper understanding of the ways in which Millennial consumers are calibrating their speed at every turn.  Slow food and binge viewing; nap pods and Adderall; apps to consume more in less time and apps to fight distraction, the quantified self and the self #unplugged.


Yesterday, Viacom’s blog featured a post by Tiffany Knighten about CADENCE, a project Scratch kicked off last month to present new perspectives on the speed of life in 2014:

“Open to teams across the company, as well as select partners and clients, the month-long installation – part research presentation, part museum exhibit, part art gallery – brought Viacom’s consumer insights to life in a new way. Cadence was designed to help visitors experience the unique approaches programmers, content creators, marketers and brands are taking to calibrate their moves in a culture that’s compressing time and space in more and more complicated ways.”

I’ve been excited about this for a while, for a few reasons:

  •  It’s impossible to perform at a high level in the media business without a nuanced understanding of the velocities of culture.  That sounds like a media executive taking himself too seriously on his own blog, but it’s true.  Most of us get it wrong, most of the time — we’re either ahead of the game, patting ourselves on the back prematurely, or we’re behind it, fighting irrelevance.  Stepping back to measure the distance gives us all a chance to catch our breath and look at things with colleagues and partners in a new way.  Then apply what we learn to our daily work, whether we’re writers, programmers, developers, marketers, designers, strategists, planners or anything in between.


  • Speaking of a new way… it’s exciting to see research served up to make participants feel the information as they move through it.  Anne Hubert, Senior Vice President at Scratch, describes CADENCE as “truly immersive, a chance to experience life at Millennial speed, and to apply that understanding to everything we do.”  Watching participants take it all in, explore the subject and raise new questions, I could see the need and the potential for bringing more subjects to light in new and exciting ways.


  • An enterprising team of people from Scratch made this happen…from scratch.  It’s what can happen when provocative material doesn’t want to live locked up in a PowerPoint deck in a conference room.  The content itself inspired innovation in the way it could be manifest.


You can read more about the CADENCE project on the Viacom blog.  And for more information, email




The “Millennial Disruption Index” On Bloomberg TV’s Market Makers This Morning

June 13, 2014

I was a guest this morning on Bloomberg TV’s show “Market Makers,” hosted by Stephanie Ruhle and Erik Shatzker, where I talked about THE MILLENNIAL DISRUPTION INDEX.  It continues the discussion Scratch and Viacom started about the ongoing transformation we see in financial services at the hands of the largest generation in American history, which was first covered in Fast Company and Time Magazine.


Are We Becoming Nature’s Very Own Cyborgs?

October 27, 2013 — 1

Yeah, your your mom and dad deserve some credit for how much information your brain can jam in, retain and recall — and how fast.  The foundation of our ability to process information is indeed genetic.

Thankfully for our children, though, despite what they’ve inherited from us, they can do a great deal to build more capacity and brain speed for themselves. Eat well, sleep more, drink less, read poems more…, the science of “how to get smarter” is neverending.  And if that doesn’t work, no worries — the technology we’re building will get smarter on our behalf, right?

Either way, as long as we consider technology an extension of (and not a replacement for) our brainpower, there’s no reason why we should ever see a generation with less brainpower than its parents.

Kevin Roberts, Worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, posted last week on how different living creatures experience the passage of time.  Roberts compares the visual processing speed of flies, dogs, humans and turtles:

Vision is a powerful sense, but does it have the power to stop time? Recent research indicates that time moves at a slower rate for some creatures.

If you’re a fly, you can process close to seven times as much info in a second as a human, which is why houseflies split their sides over our attempts to swat them – they see us coming in slow mo.

If you’re a dog you can process information at twice the rate of human, which is why TV is of little interest. A flickering image is all dogs see. If you’re a leatherback turtle on the other hand, time flies. Those guys get roughly a third of the information that we do in a second.

It seems that perception of time has to do with size and metabolic rate. Perhaps nature is nodding to the little guys. Now, how to be as fast as a fly and laid back as a turtle?

That’s interesting stuff.  Reminds me of how we used to experiment with the speed and duration of programming on MTV’s college network, mtvU.  By slowing things down, we were able to break through the clutter of our own network and give certain messages the space and time needed to connect and engage college students who were half-watching.  Funny how when something on TV slows down or gets quiet, we look up to see what’s happening.

What Roberts’ blog post doesn’t get to are the differences we’re starting to see between us humans, the generational shifts that make one generation look at the next generation and wonder why it’s moving so fast.

The Species Millennial (born 1981-2000) seems to be moving at light speed, processing information so fast it’s hard to believe they’re actually processing anything at all.   Especially to those of us who are, er, older.  Millennials are moving so fast, we say, they can’t possibly concentrate on anything, finish anything or appreciate anything.  Pretty bleak. 

And not true.

Cognitive scientist Andy Clark studies how our brains respond to the world around us becoming smarter, getting to know us better and better.  Clark explores the notion that the power of our minds extends beyond the limits of the “fortress of skin and skull” that protects our brains.

In studying the technologies we’ve built to solve problems and learn alongside (or ahead of) us, Clark shows how our inherited computational apparatus is now more sophisticated than any in the history of mankind.  In other words, the development of our mental capacity is cosmological, limitless, because we are turning ourselves into cyborgs (but, like, in a good way!).

Here’s Clark:

We cannot see ourselves aright until we see ourselves as nature’s very own cyborgs: cognitive hybrids who repeatedly occupy regions of design space radically different from those of our biological forbears. The hard task, of course, is now to transform all this from (mere) impressionistic sketch into a balanced scientific account of the extended mind.

The fundamental question becomes: Where does our mind end and the rest of the world begin? 

Millennials don’t see the difference.



Yahoo! News Presents: How Millennials Will Change the Workforce

October 8, 2013 — 1

Yahoo! News recently invited me to appear on its live special exploring the future of the U.S workforce.  See below for my comments on “sidepreneurs,” the value of a college degree, and the impact of the Millennial generation on life at the office…

From Yahoo! News’ intro:

By 2020, nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce will consist of millennials (according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) — that’s the generation of people born between 1985-2000. And 25% of millennials expect to jump between six different companies during their careers. That’s a drastic change to the way in which the careers of Baby Boomers played out. So how will this change the workforce?