Reflections and Echoes

I managed to sneak an Amazon Echo into the house in January, by pretending it was merely making a brief stop on its way to my office. I wasn't entirely sure why I'd lusted after it so, but justified the expense as a relatively cheap way of being able to listen to Spotify in the kitchen, and replace our ten-year-old bacteria-harbouring DAB radio.

After an initial period of six weeks or so when she wouldn't talk to the thing—preferring instead to revert to the manky radio—Mrs. Tree eventually gave in. She now speaks to it often, albeit in the manner she might when scolding a disobedient dog.

Ten-year-old Miss Tree on the other hand spent the Echo's first two days in our home repeating the words "Alexa: tell me a joke", stopping only when the replies began repeating themselves. She asked "Alexa: what's a penis?" only once (you would too if you heard the answer) before her primary interaction with the device became "Alexa: play Shout Out To My Ex by Little Mix" whenever I'm listening to something interesting on Radio 4.

The man of the house (that's me, for the avoidance of doubt) was an eager user from the get-go, setting timers while cooking, asking whether I needed to take my umbrella to work, converting measurements from imperial to metric, and so on. I even hooked up my espresso machine with a WeMo Switch so I could command it on and off from a great distance of ten feet or more. I have been astounded by its ability to interpret what's being said; without exception it understood my entire and extensive repertoire of British dialects (while Siri still struggles with my normal accent).

Two months later, all the objections and novelty have passed by and it's become just a radio we command by voice—and not a very good one. I've found it prone on occasion to buffering awkwardly (the the most awkward being that time at 3am it decided to reconnect to a TuneIn stream, making us think we had intruders). And for £150 the sound quality could be better.

So I think I may find its way to my office after all, although what it'll do when it gets there I have no idea. Perhaps it's really destined for eBay.

Kings Of Ceiling

As promised this time last week. The eBay purchase turned out to be a print of a Kings Of Leon photograph, who shall forevermore survey my office from above.

I suspect there's a very fundable art project in purchasing items from eBay based purely on their physical dimensions but sadly I am far too busy with work to consider such pursuits. (This is also my excuse for a lack of more considered blog posts this week and last. Back to normal soon, I promise.)

Fixing a hole

I have a hole in the ceiling of my office where a section of ceiling tile is missing.

It measures precisely 17x26cm.

Once I have posted this, I will search eBay for '17x26cm' and sort by lowest price. I will then order the item nearest the top of the list which is rigid enough to fill the gap, regardless of what it is.

I shall report back in due course.

Lifting elevators

I had an interesting chat this week with a couple of nice chaps who run a digital agency. They've been honing the way they talk about their company in advance of a couple of upcoming events, and asked for my thoughts on how they might structure a quick verbal introduction—the good ol' elevator pitch.

They pride themselves on doing the best work possible for their clients and by all accounts are very good at it, boasting a portfolio of impressive projects for a raft of big brands. They see this passion and credibility as the obvious starting point for their pitch: "We love what we do. We're the best at it and we've worked for well-known company x, y and z."

I wrote last month about building credibility in your pitch rather than simply stating it. I felt that advice massively applied here; even if their audience believes every word they say this approach does nothing to differentiate them from the long line of other agencies in the same field professing equally strong credentials.

They need to start with something more—a big mission, vision or purpose—which sets them apart, something which can be discussed in the abstract before getting down to the nitty-gritty of what they do and how they do it. (Simon Sinek's 'Start With Why' again.)

But they've already been successful without articulating a greater purpose, by simply doing good work, retaining clients and having new business referred their way. So why bother bolting something on retrospectively?

I think this raises an important point of clarity on what I wrote previously:

  • When someone approaches you because they've heard good things about you, you're in a dominant position and only have to work hard at living up to expectations. By far this is the best way to win new customers (and, for that matter, investment).
  • However, when you approach someone cold to peddle your wares and want to make a good first impression, you're on the weakest side of the equation and have to be much more clever about how you introduce yourself.

The people I spoke with this week have enjoyed lots of the former but are about to start trying more of the latter. To do that, I think they need to stick to the tried-and-tested approach of highlighting a big problem / challenge / mission, outlining their (unique) solution / approach and backing their ability to deliver with some sterling credentials.

I'm not sure I fully convinced them. But have I you? Feel free to disagree...

Sleeping and walking

I flew off to Kraków with the family on Monday, where we've been walking around until our feet hurt and catching up on some much-needed sleep. So the writing will have to wait until next week, and you'll have to make do instead with some photos of our adventures.