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ImageDo ya feel lucky? Well do ya?

If you do, place your bet and double it again as it appears that lucky streaks are for real. If fact, they’re a behavioral fact of life.

It isn’t that people have a “hot hand,” explains a recent study by University College, London and as reported in The Economist, or that people are self-deceiving and only believe they’re winning when they are not. What occurs when one [usually] wins a series of hands is that wining streaks increase in length because winners start choosing safer bets and safer odds, which leads to more wins, albeit for less winnings. Conversely, those experiencing a losing streak also bring it on themselves making even riskier bets after each loss, and thus lose more.

The rule “the house always wins” is thereby assured, for winning streaks win less and losing streaks lose more. Perhaps the “gambler’s fallacy” is correct after all.

 

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Recently, a few colleagues in the marketing research industry have sent me documents, decks, and general thought pieces to review. Putting content aside, each article is unique in character, but what is common to each is a static framework, or context, to communicate thoughts.

Each framework is similar by seeking to convey  a certain meaning that augments or leverages associated meaning to text. This is accomplished by employing visual cues and heuristics such as headings, indentation, and grammatical symbols throughout the document. It’s much different than writing a standard cohesive paragraph; it’s lexical “pimping.”

Unfortunately, despite some compelling ideas and insights, many documents nevertheless are all over the place in the methods used to frame and accentuate thoughts; rarely does the context of these documents leverage the ideas written.

Truth be told, most of these documents are written in Power Point, which has plenty of detractors, and I will avoid such comment here. A few are constructed in Prezi, “this year’s model” a rarely well adapted and over-stylized, yet extremely linear presentational software. Software, regardless of origin, however, is not the culprit. Rather, it’s that we’re not following a few simple rules.

What are The Rules? Well, let me share them with you:

Fonts
All fonts are not created equal
Choose a font that feels right
Try to use one font throughout
Don’t be afraid to to bold, sparingly

Color
Color is an art and a science, so know color theory
PowerPoint is good with color

Images
Use images deliberately
Full-bleeds create breaks
Watch your resolution
Clip art is not your friend, nor are stock photos

Page Layout
Present one idea per page
Don’t be afraid of white space
Bullets are for lists
People can read sentences
Use transition slides as bridges, not breaks

Infographics
Find inspiration in today’s news, don’t be afraid to reinterpret
Storytelling, not statistics
Avoid data for data’s sake
The appendix has a purpose

And now, the obligatory 2012 Summer Olympic W5 blog post:

Let it be known that I hate merchandising “tie-ins.” They tend to further degrade bad food and lousy movies, but I get especially peeved when the practice attaches itself to something that at least tries to offer us something soley for the sake of ‘giving back,’ as does the Olympics.

The Olympics has many committees, but one in particular, the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), is responsible for keeping tabs on official Olympic sponsors, companies who pay dearly for the right to be called “official” Olympic sponsors. But that can’t stop Toby Leigh, the Hackney-based illustrator, from plying his trade to Olympic-themed products. Working in conjunction with the UK-based acccessories designer Elaine Burke and Khama, a women’s micro-lending cooperative of knitters and sewers located in Malawi, Leigh’s unofficial Olympic products, namely a simple tote bag, are flying off the shelfs of UK stores that also carry the requisite mascost stuffed animals, t-shirts and Union Jack flags.

What’s most interesting about his tote is that they’re not designed for Olympic tourists, but rather UK locals. He calls them “reality check” bags, a nod to the people of greater London who still have to go through the everyday regardless of the onslaught. Tagged with slogans such as “It only took me three hours to get to work this morning,”and “I’m renting my flat to a fat American family” these statement bags poke fun of the event. The “I’ve got missles on my rooftop” offering was a last-minute nix.

For the next few weeks, unfortunate Londoners stuck in town over the summer holidays dealing with a double dose of summer tourists can now share a common bond when pressed into the 5:15 Tube, stuck between an Ohioan and Berliner, commuting home from just another day in the city.

And if you’re not attending, you can still pick up the bag at www.thatbigeventlondon.co.uk and do your part. Cheers!

A bit back I was made aware by the ever-curious Grant McCracken of his latest project on culture entitled “Culturematics.” Culturematics are “little machines for making culture.” And while not actually small industrial devices, culturematics are nevertheless “ingenuity engines.”

Grant had developed a blog for people to post their newly minted culturematics: quick, inexpensive prototypes of ideas that are likely to fail, but that just might take off and get picked up by people and become part of our cultural milieu. By sharing ideas, the jist is that these ideas will evolve quickly. Many ideas will not be picked up and die off. But a few are likely to be adopted, and transformed in the process through iterative innovation into something that has the possibility of making its mark, or better still, transforming society, i.e., an “app for creating the world anew.”

In today’s fast and furious world, culturematics give one the opportunity to either take the reins and lead the charge in the creation of their own culturematic or at least participate in the process and contribute to one’s development.

In the end, while you may not create the next Google or Starbucks, Grant allows us to participate in the mysterious process of innovation. If nothing else, it will stir one’s curiosity and allow you to dip into a creative pool of interesting people. Fun and relevant.

It’s almost official, summer arrives this week! I noticed last night the sky was still light at 9:15pm, the fire flies are out, bees are buzzing and I’m already well on my way to a summer tan. For me, I feel “reborn” every year at this time. There’s something about the onset of summer that’s stirs me unlike any other season, and that time is now. I’m getting itchy to leave the usual and do something “different.”

There are many summer festivals out there, but most of those either seem like going to the mall or just plain silly, and none of them really take me out of the day to day. Cochella is held in a beautiful environment, but it just feels like Brooklyn with lots of desert in place of asphalt; Bonnaroo has the vibe of one big farmers market, attended by everyone’s groovy uncle and everyone’s favorite eco-consumer brand available for purchase. And, do I really want to spend a few days with people who travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to attend events as mundane as a mosquito or cream cheese festival? No thanks.

Call me flighty, but I’m looking for something that will stir the soul and lift the mind, and also let loose a bit. I think I’m done with Burning Man. Done it enough,  and now a chance to get tickets is so complicated that they’re scapled online for up to $1,000 each. If you haven’t been though, still a great escape from consumerism and yourself. Just be very ready for heat, sun, and incredible sandstorms, with no escape from the elements, whatsoever.

An alternative to Burning Man is Nowhere, held July 3-8 in the deserts of Spain. A lot smaller and ‘softer’ than its American counterpart, it’s a true summer getaway. Since its host country and the Continent in general are going to hell, it might be a good year to attend.  Since I’m on the subject of Europe, a few people I know recently experienced the Pink Pop Festival in the Netherlands. It’s held every year somewhere between late May and mid-June. And while it’s too late to go this year, if massive live music extravaganzas with bands are your thing, this is the place to be. What’s different about Pink is the bands aren’t curtated through the lens of wonky U.S. or British hipster cognescenti, but rather by those with a Continental palate. This results is ten of thousands of people cheering wildy to bands whose names I have trouble pronouncing, never mind ever hearing from them before. A fresh perspective. Something new. A learning experience.

If you want a more dance-oriented festival there’s the Stop Making Sense Festival held August 2-6 in Croatia, right next to the warm waters of the Adriadic. Perhaps the best place in the world to dance. During your downtime you can take yoga classes or share a sailboat with others festival goers. Sounds too good to be true.

If you want something a bit more ‘cultured’ feel free to join me at the American Dance Festival (ADF) in Durham, NC held from June 14 through July 28. It’s the world’s leading venue for modern dance. Given that modern dance nowadays embodies not just dance, but also theater, performance art, multimedia, music and fashion, there’s a lot to the art.  ADF also holds a six-week dance school during the festival, so enthusiastic young people abound in a small easy-going, but quickly emerging Southern city.

If studying urban environments in quiet contemplation is your thing, I recommend a week at Arcosanti. Since 1970, Arcosant is “an experimental desert town” under constant evolution in the Arizona desert led by Paolo Soleri. Each month they hold a one week seminar where you can be immersed in the history and nature of what the city calls “Arcology.” Or, you can just rent a room and roam around on your own. Nothing quite like the place.

While in Arizona you can take a road trip a bit east to New Mexico for the Santa Fe Opera Festival, held this year from June 29-August 25. While I’m no fan of the classical “fat lady in horns” opera (too much) I’m up for mingling with perhaps the most die-hard fan base out there. There’s no audience, including Euro football, that’s more rabid than an opera crowd.  Besides, opera in a setting such as Santa Fe is a balanced affair, with its relaxed vibe. And the people you’ll meet out on the town will offer great lively discussion. Worth the adventure, I say.

Lots more too, but if you went to any two of the above I think you’ll have a summer you’ll never forget. So, even if it’s not this year, good planning for next year may make these events become a reality. Have fun!

From the department of “you heard it here first,” a few observations.

First, the personal laptop PC is dead. Not a big insight, really. We all kind of know this with people buying tablet devices, though its basically a zero-sum gain with folks spending their time on one device over another. I’m seeing less and less laptops out in the world; consumer PCs in general are a dying breed. Just look at the recent earnings reports of some of the largest PC manufacturers for hard evidence of category turmoil. At a recent conference I attended I saw exactly two laptops in sessions, along with a smattering of tablets devices and smart phones.

Second, and more importantly, the conference’s rooms were filled with attendees writing on “writing tablets.” Yellow legal pads and blank notebooks such as Moleskine. Most of the people were hand writing! I thought I had been transported back twenty years. I noticed people were not just writing long-hand, but also drawing symbols and related graphical mnemonics to represent information they were taking down. Learning was non-linear and more holisitic using personalized cognitive script. 

On my return to the office, I mentioned this to a colleague and she said lately people in her graduate program at Duke have switched from laptops to paper tablets to take class notes. I find this fascinating. What’s up?

Have we hit a ceiling with electronic devices as information sources? Is the recent proliferation of managing social media returning us to the locus of self in order to process more critical information processing situations? Are we just bored with ‘things?’ Whatever it is, I’m keeping an eye on this…

I confess, it’s true: as a statistician it can be easy to position a storyline a certain way.

But numbers themselves don’t lie, people do. What’s even worse is when certain numbers are removed wholesale from data sets. You really don’t see this happen in market reseach studies. If so, the data is usually incorrectly defined when collected, and the collection is usually redone. But it sure does happen with the U.S. government. Especially, it seems, with really important numbers they share with the general population. Bellweather benchmarks numbers of how the country is doing.

A great example is the official unemployment rate. Big news nowadays given the sluggish economy; big news in a presedential election year. Up until 1994 reporting was, give or take, a number representing the percentage of those not in school of legal and unretired work age who were unemployed. Then, for whatever reasons, the method for calculating this number was changed, overnight, by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They removed what was termed “discouraged workers.”

Take the U.S. unemployment number (chart, right). The red line (U.3) is what the goverment says is going on, the official number that is reported., i.e., the monthly headline number we all read. The gray line (U.6) includes “short-term discouraged workers,” those seeking full-time employment, but only employed part-time, i.e., the ‘under-employed’ that was once only Christmas help and jobs for schoolkids. This number is not included in unemployment statistics, nor is it reported. A big difference. The blue line (SGS) includes “long-term discouraged workers” defined as “those who have looked for work in the past 12 months, but are not currently looking because of real or perceived poor employment prospects,” i.e., those who’ve tried everthing they know, and don’t know what to do. Or, in other words, lots of my freinds who have been out of work for a while. This number is not included in unemployment statistics, nor is it reported. A huge difference that is baffling.

A great place to dig and find the numbers that may better reflect what’s really going is “Shadow Government Statistics.” Sure, it may have a bit of an anti-government conspiratorial tone, but offers food for thought…

Looking for a week in Europe this summer? Don’t want to get stuck in overcrowded hotels, cueing for expensive meals served by less then caring staff? Looking to “get away from it all” but meet a cross section of interesting gregarious Europeans? I have the perfect solution, travel to Nowhere.

Set in the northern Spanish wilderness, Nowhere is an arts festival. But it’s quite different than the usual wine and cheese gallery stroll throught Le Marais or a day at the Tate Modern.  Instead, Nowhere is descibed as “an experiment in creative freedom, participation and cash-free community, conceived, built, experienced and returned to nothing by you.” If this intrigues you, you may end up having a very different summer vacation.