Performance Firestarters 9: The Power of Feeds


For the ninth in our series of Firestarters events for the Performance Marketing community will be focusing on Feeds and APIs, which are changing the advertising landscape in a unique and potentially powerfully way. As well as talking about how the smartest agencies are using feed data to improve campaign results and bring new levels of contextual relevance to messaging, we'll also thinking about the future and where the application of this kind of data might lead us, including how AI and machine learning might be used to adapt approaches to marketing. So plenty of interesting stuff to talk about, and to help us we have three excellent expert speakers: 

  • Alistair Dent, Head of Product Strategy at iProspect (the UK's largest performance agency)
  • Visar Shabi, CTO at Brainlabs digital, the 'scientific' PPC agency
  • Kris Tait, business director for Croud, one of Google's fastest growing Search agency

The event takes place on September 2nd, 6.00pm at Google Central St Giles, London. I have some free passes to give away to readers of this blog so if you'd like one, message me direct or leave a comment below.

Do Not Follow Your Passion

I liked what VC Ben Horowitz (who wrote the excellent Hard Thing About Hard Things which I really enjoyed) has to say in this commencement address about why 'follow your passion' (something that has become a very popular convention) may not actually be the best career advice. 

Whilst doing what you love may work out for some, it likely won't for everyone and may be less successful than you think. Passions are hard to prioritise, may well change over time, might be in areas that you're not actually good at, and it's a pretty egocentric way of approaching the world. Instead, says Ben, we should focus on what we can contribute and align that with our passions:

'Find the thing that you’re great at, put that into the world, contribute to others, help the world be better and that is the thing to follow'.

I'd also add that it's not always as easy as it seems to find what your real driving passion is. I'm not sure that I ever really knew what it was in my early career but I'm lucky enough to have found something that I'm good at and that I find fulfilling. Which has been less about following a passion, and more about developing one.

More is Different

"At first, poaching stars from competitors or even teams within the same organization seems like a winning strategy. But once the star comes over the results often fail to materialize...What we fail to grasp is that their performance is part of an ecosystem and removing them from that ecosystem — that is isolating the individual performance — is incredibly hard without properly considering the entire ecosystem."

An excellent post from Shane Parrish on making decisions in complex adaptive systems (like organisations). I like what he says about the perils of extrapolating individual behaviour to understand the likely behaviour of a system, being wary of systems becoming too tightly coupled through lack of individual diversity, and the values of using simulations (or tests and prototypes perhaps) to aid learning. Makes a lot of sense thinking about organisations in this way.

The Modern Blight of Overwork


'...the long hours...may be the byproduct of systems and institutions that have taken on lives of their own and serve no one’s interests. That can happen if some industries have simply become giant make-work projects that trap everyone within them.'

Lots of truth in this New Yorker opinion piece about the modern blight of overwork, and how many industries become victim to 'arms races that create work that is of dubious necessity'. Whilst the promise of technology has for so long been about greater efficiency leading to a surfeit of leisure time for us all, somehow we've ended up with the opposite becoming a reality.

One of the great enigma's of modern working is that despite having more workers and being more productive than ever we are still working longer hours. Rather than focus on workers’ decisions and incentives, Tim Wu is suggesting that we should instead focus on the system - how technology is removing the kind of limitations that created natural boundaries and barriers to excessive working, and how white-collar work in many industries seems to expand infinitely through the creation of 'false necessities' - practices that evolve and develop and become entrenched ways of working yet create little value.

Overburdensome processes that cultivate over time, avoidable meetings, reply all emails, needless reporting, work that feeds systems that have become outmoded. Like Tim, I think there has to be a better way.

What Network Science Says About Career Success

Thanks to Peter for pointing me at this piece on 'The No.1 Predictor Of Career Success According to Network Science'. Like Peter I'm not a fan of the term 'career success' (nor of over-analysing Steve Jobs) since we might define success in so many different ways, but Michael Simmons makes a powerful point about something that intuitively feels right: being part of a small, closed network where you are connected to people who already know each other is distinctly limiting, whereas being part of a large open network, particularly where you are the link between different clusters of people, is empowering, and a good predictor of success.


Research by Professor Ron Burt at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business indicates that no other factor is more important in predicting career success. What the work shows is that simply having a large network of people you know is not enough - but being a 'broker' between different clusters is enormously powerful: 'What a broker does,' says Burt, 'is make a sticky information market more fluid. Great ideas will never move if we wait for them to be spoken in the same language'.

I think this is  a powerful idea for organisations. I've drawn a lot in the past from the book The Power of Pull, which talks about the idea of 'porous enterprise' - how innovation happens at the edges, how valuable connected employees are in bringing fresh thinking into a company, and how businesses need to focus less on protecting existing 'stocks' of knowledge and more on knowledge flow.

It's comfortable and validating for both individuals and companies to stay within the same groups. It's easy for businesses to become extremely inwardly facing and reward managing upwards rather than connecting outwards. But being able to draw information from diverse clusters, make new connections, introduce new information to different audiences or translate and re-apply knowledge has surely never been more valuable. We talk about the need to get out of our comfort zones as individuals, but companies need to do it too.