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Change is inevitable

Adapt or die is the classic business mantra. To survive and thrive you must remain nimble and ready to pivot. To jump the curve, so to speak.

If you could start your business all over again, what would you do differently? In this episode, The Futur CEO Chris Do and brand strategist Anneli Hansson discuss what the future holds for creative service businesses.

How will technology like Ai and blockchain change how we run our businesses? What new opportunities will they provide? And how can you leverage these tools for your business?

Nov 16

Change is inevitable

If you could start your business all over again, what would you do differently? In this episode, The Futur CEO Chris Do and brand strategist Anneli Hansson discuss what the future holds for creative service businesses.

Adapt or die is the classic business mantra. To survive and thrive you must remain nimble and ready to pivot. To jump the curve, so to speak.

If you could start your business all over again, what would you do differently? In this episode, The Futur CEO Chris Do and brand strategist Anneli Hansson discuss what the future holds for creative service businesses.

How will technology like Ai and blockchain change how we run our businesses? What new opportunities will they provide? And how can you leverage these tools for your business?

About
Greg Gunn

Greg Gunn is an illustrator, animator and creative director in Los Angeles, CA. He loves helping passionate people communicate their big ideas in fun and exciting ways.

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Episode Transcript

Anneli:

For me, it comes down to be super clear about having a niche and if you are well-known, people want to work with you. The niche is so important because this is what I didn't do well in my last business I niched way too late. I would be super clear about my niche right away if I started over.

Chris:

If you have the ability to start over, get rid of all the legacy stuff, all the equipment that you've purchased, all the staff that you may or may not have, and the clients, and you get to design a business that's poised for growth, but also is in 100% alignment with who you are today that also can capitalize on the way that culture society is shifting with technology and the way things are moving to prime yourself for the maximum amount of success. What would you be doing? Is it the same thing that you're doing today?

Is it the same thing but with a variation maybe it's for a different client or it would be a totally brand new business model and you get to keep all the knowledge and experience that you've attained thus far. You have to start over, but you're going to get to start a brand new type of business. That's what we're talking about, we're talking about the future of service businesses. Anneli's going to share with us what she would do, and then I'm going to share with you what I'm seeing mostly from a trend forecasting point of view.

I'm going to tell you some things about blockchain, maybe about AI and machine learning, and how that might impact you and what opportunities are going to be presented for those that can adapt. Anneli, what kind of business would you start if you're starting over today?

Anneli:

I just want to say that I'm super excited and I can't wait to hear your trends about this. I think we are coming in from a little bit of different perspective and I'm very open because I want to learn more, but I have this really human-centered approach and I'm really interested in behavior change and how we can drive behavior. My agency, because I would actually start an agency again, a branding agency would be focused on a hybrid between strategy, brand strategy, design thinking and behavior science, that would be my agency.

No employees working with the best free agents in the world and just have a fluid agency that really helps people to change behavior because I think that's the big challenge we have in front of us.

Chris:

Given your opportunity to start over, I'm curious because at first blush, my reaction would be you're now moving away from client service work, and is this a purely hypothetical thing that you would get back into doing client service work again? Maybe I'm not understanding it correctly.

Anneli:

If I would start over an agency, I would do that. I'm super happy with teaching and coaching and everything. I'm so happy that I don't do client work anymore, but sometimes I can feel if I would start over, I will definitely start this kind of agency because I see the need for it.

Chris:

To help me understand the perspective here, you're really happy, confident, comfortable doing what you're doing now, which is to be rid of clients. Before we talk about reinventing yourself as service business once again, tell me a little bit why you moved away from doing client service work to begin with.

Anneli:

I started '98 in this industry. My first job was in a PR firm and then I just been in this industry for so long and working with clients and I felt after been doing advertising, PR, marketing, strategy, design thinking, so many things, but everything was connected to building brands. I also saw the potential that I feel like creatives have. Every time, both when I was on my agency and on the client side, I was a little bit sad when I saw that creatives didn't have a place at that table.

When I was a chief branding officer and chief marketing officer, I never worked with creatives more than from the agency side. I thought, "What if I can teach creatives how to actually be more strategic thinkers so you can solve problems instead of just making stuff?" That was my big motivation and drive. I just felt like I want to do that for the rest of my life. Now, I've been in this industry and I work with clients now I don't want to have clients, but I want to help creatives how to level up.

That was my big motivation because I think creative, we need creatives and especially really designers when it comes to building more in more sustainability and businesses going forward so that was my motivation to change.

Chris:

I see. You noticed a pattern within the spaces in which you used to work where there was a lack of designers represented at the highest level, a seat at the table, if you will. Now, you are shifting your career, your purpose, your work towards helping to elevate designers so that they would not only be allowed in those rooms, but invited into those spaces because their way of thinking, this divergent way of thinking versus convergent can actually solve a lot of problems if they're brought to that place where those decisions can be made right.

Anneli:

Absolutely, and you know what? I also think and I know this, people don't like this, but I don't believe in traditional advertising anymore. A lot of graphic designers, especially graphic designers was a little bit sidestepped when it was a lot of advertising. I think this is the era for a lot of graphic designers to really level up because we can see that I think 92% of people believe more in family and friends than you do in advertising according to Nielsen.

If that is true, then we want to put in much more effort in actually developing products and services that people talk about instead. I think this is where the designers are really, really important and can come in much, much earlier in the process. Dead for advertising, more focus on developing sustainable products and services.

Chris:

Let me see if this is a fair statement or a fair observation. When asked the question, what business would you start if you could accomplish anything. In the world of where anything is possible, what kind of business would you start? Maybe you would be in the same business today and just do it on a bigger scale, right?

Anneli:

I think I see this potential, and I don't think it's so many in there, but what I would do, and this is what would change, what would be the difference and the niche I would have is that I will bring in people who's really good at behavior. Behavior scientists, psychologists, people who understand people, minds, and behavior and know how to nudge and how to change behavior.

To have them work together with designers who can actually be creative, how to solve that, that would be super cool. Especially now, because I think you will talk a little bit more about AI and everything. When we think about what we want to do going forward, I think we really want to be more that connect the dots, see the strategies, see the big holistic picture, because a lot of the making we don't probably need to do going forward.

Chris:

For the sake of the title and topic, the future of service businesses, I think you put on your creative hat and said, "If I had to, not that I want to per se, if I had to start a service business, what I would do is create a fluid agency." For people who don't understand what that term means, can you explain that a little bit?

Anneli:

A fluid agency doesn't have any employees. I read a book called No Logo 20 years ago, something like that, with Naomi Klein, and she talks about this agent, this nation of free agents and I really fall in love with that idea. I was like, "When I'm going to have an agency, that is what I want." I did have that kind of agency and I would start that again. I would not have a lot of employees.

I would work with people from all around the world and just work with the best of the best and with companies that have really big challenges around nudging behaviors so that would definitely be what I would do. I wouldn't go in a new industry. I would stay in this creative industry.

Chris:

Fascinating. I just want to be clear, so you would have no employees, just a few employees?

Anneli:

No, just a hired guns, hired team.

Chris:

You don't see the importance of having, say a project manager or even an accountant or any system operations people you would do that all yourself?

Anneli:

It depends how big the company would be, I would say probably. Up to 10 people, I would just have hired people, experts, and then maybe over 10 I would probably have a product manager, but I could hire that person as well, not an employee, maybe up around 20, I don't know, because I haven't had a company with 20 people, so I don't know about that. You have more experience in that If I would need it.

It's just that something around this freedom and to be really fluid, you can actually see what you need and you can help the client with the strategy and see what they really need to do, identify the problem, because this is where a lot of people are stuck, really identify the right problem. Then you don't know, maybe the challenge here is to develop a new product or a new service, then you want to work with maybe industrial designers and psychologists. I would just really pick the right dream team for every client. I wouldn't want to be stuck with people.

Chris:

Very interesting. You're saying that if the company remains a certain size, you don't feel like you need to have a full-time person that everything can be contracted out?

Anneli:

Yeah, I think so because I've been working like that myself and hired people like that and been that person myself, and I think that works. I think it's much more important to have a really clear vision and a mission and a culture so people know. I want to find people who believe what I believe. I want to have people who want to follow the same mission, but if they do that, I don't see any need for have any employees.

Chris:

Fascinating, I have some thoughts on that, but before I give you my reactions to that, I want to fully understand this business model that you're talking about. I see some challenges around marketing and managing talent. Let me talk about the first harder of the two. As a solo operator, as a solopreneur, it can often be that you're going to be coming up against really large firms that have maybe hundreds or even thousands of employees who have quote unquote "legitimate office" and everything looks like this is the whole team.

There's systems and process and protocols in place, how do you market yourself, how do you compete and how do you bid against those types of companies to be able to do what you do?

Anneli:

I've been there already and the thing is that the most management consultant agencies and really big branding agencies, they're so expensive to work with, especially the managing agencies they're so expensive to work with, so they say it themselves it's maybe $50,000 just to get started, couple of meetings. It's really, really expensive to work with them. I have actually been working with really big clients because I could find this dream team of people and the clients didn't care if they were an employee or not, as long as we had a contract.

I could direct pick people that was absolutely the right ones. For me, it comes down to be super clear about having a niche that is a really clear niche, and you need to be the expert in that niche. If you are well-known, people want to work with you.

Chris:

You would offer a kind of nimbleness and agility that these big large business management consultancies can't provide, but you would also be priced competitively, is that what I'm hearing?

Anneli:

I could definitely go lower, even if I could I know that would be a high price compared to a lot of other people, but if you compare it to them, because they need to have a lot of costs, so they need to be very, very high price. I think that that flexibility, the niche is so important because this is what I didn't do well in my last business. I niched way too late, so I would be super clear about my niche right away if I started over.

Chris:

Since you mentioned that, what would your niche be? How would you be positioned?

Anneli:

The only thing I know, I haven't decided exactly for what industry yet. I thought about it, I haven't really, my last niche was in the food industry because it's a really big negative footprint for that. That was my last one, but I'm not sure that I want to do that. I think more about my offer would be that understanding behavior and how to change and nudge behavior because that is the need I see right now.

I just want to say why I think it's important because I went to this Nordic sustainability expo a couple of weeks ago and I was so surprised because I thought they were going to talk a lot about tech and what we can do opportunities for the future. I think about 90% at least of the speakers talked about the importance of behavioral change. We have so much tech today that can solve things, but what we can't do right now is that we can't make people change their behavior.

That was when I felt like, "This is so important to do and this is where designers combine with people who understand really how our minds work." That's where we can do a really big difference. I just know that I wanted to offer that, but to who I'm not done with that thinking yet.

Chris:

I get the service which or the result, which is to be able to influence behavior. What you do, how you do it, and who you do it for, you're still not resolved just yet?

Anneli:

No, not exactly because I think that this is not an offer I know someone is doing exactly this right now, so I would have to think a little bit more about it. I just know that it's so important because when you can see how much that actually just by having, for example, one person, maybe this where you live, one person puts solar panels on the roof, and the neighbor starts looking at that person they're like, "Maybe we should also do that. We don't look good in front of our neighbors if we don't."

Someone buy an electric car, same thing. There's so many things that we can actually help with. I think that's why I think it's so important. But I don't know exactly for who yet. No, I don't.

Chris:

Wonderful. Here's the second challenge and I said there were two challenges around this in terms of marketing. It seems like there's some things yet to be resolved here. Then the second issue, which you already brought up, which is talent. Your idea is to run a fluid agency full of superstar, best of breed, and they change depending on the needs of the project and the client.

Here's the reality part, which is it's very hard to be able to consistently get who you want. Having run in a design agency for 20 plus years, we have our first stringers, our second stringers, and it just goes on and on. Every time a project happens, we try to get our A-list people, but then they're booked, they're working on other projects, they're overextended. How do you deal with that?

That's I believe why people bring people on staff. There are other reasons why, but you want to be able to work with people when you want them, otherwise you're going to wind up going down that list to sometimes unfortunately whoever's available. What are your thoughts on that?

Anneli:

I see that problem. See, I don't know why this might be a little bit different with more consultants that I've been working with than freelance creatives because when I started, I had this really clear mission what I wanted to do around sustainability and food, and specifically organic food and startups. It was a really clear niche that I wanted to work in.

What I did then I reached out to people, which was the best people I knew in Sweden back then, and I just told them about my mission, what I wanted to do, and to my surprise, a few of them actually left their jobs and they started their business so they couldn't work with me. I didn't have a problem actually finding really, really good people because I had this super strong vision and mission, what I wanted to do and the culture that I really wanted to bring.

Then, I messed up a little bit later because I couldn't like this. This is my learning from this is how important it is to have a really, really strong vision, mission, and a company culture, especially if you don't have employees because you want people, it's like clients they don't want to be sold to, they want to buy. It's the same thing with people, you want to work with people who's drawn to you, who want to work with you, not people you have to chase.

I was a little bit too much of a people-pleaser, so I let everybody be part of making a lot of decisions, which was a really bad idea. I should have stepped up much more as a leader and that is something I learned. If you have a really strong vision and a mission and a culture you want to have, you will attract the right people because not everyone wants to lead. Not everyone wants to have their own business.

As long as they can see that you have longer contract, I didn't work with clients less than six months they was not short things. It was like they were hired for at least six months.

Chris:

I have two follow up questions for you. First question for you is it paradoxical to say culture as a company of one? Do we not need more people in our company to have a culture otherwise it's a revolving door of independent contractors who come in. You may share a moment, but then they're gone, they do the next thing. Is it possible to create company culture with just one person?

Anneli:

I think so because it needs to start with the leadership and it's the same thing in bigger companies as well. I think it comes from the inside because if you are clear about what you want, it's like you build your tribe. I don't think even people, because I want to work with people from all around the world and we can't be at the same place anyway. I think it's really important that you have that, like I said, with the vision, a mission and when, what kind of culture you want to create.

Then you also know what kind of people you want to have around you. I would be super, super careful. They need to be the best of the best, but they also need to share my values and vibe with me. If they do all of that, I think we will create a culture right away because we're kind of similar. Here's one thing that I wanted to say I forgot about that. I want people to be build that culture together and to have that strong drive of the mission, but I want to have different ages, different people from all around the world, gender, everything in a mix.

I think that diversity is so, so important if you want to really help companies to disrupt because it's so easy that you want to work with people who are exactly like you because it's no friction, you don't need to have any discussions about things. I think it's so important if you really want to disrupt and not just be efficient, you need people who come in with different perspectives. That's why it's not just the psychologist and neuroscience and everything together with the designer strategist.

I also want really different kind of personality types working together. That will be a cool mix. Not easy maybe to lead, but it will be amazing result.

Chris:

I'm hearing conflicting ideas, but I don't want to press too hard. The conflicting idea I have is this, is that each one of us has personal values, core beliefs, philosophy, but I would not say anybody that's running a solo practice has a culture because I'm wrestling with this idea, can you have culture without community? Community can't happen if they're all transient, meaning they come and they go. How do you have a country of one person? How do you have a civilization with one person?

If people are just constantly migrating between the doors and coming in and out, I find that to be hard to wrestle with in my mind. I just want to share that thought. The other thought I have for you is this whole idea of being able to draw and attract A-players. Now, I'm speaking from personal experience of 20 plus years of doing this is the best people, they're always doing their own thing and it's very hard to catch them even around mission, vision, and values.

Now, I think I'm on safe ground by asking this question. It's probably more rhetorical than anything else. Do you think the future has clear mission, vision and values?

Anneli:

Your company?

Chris:

Yes, The Futur?

Anneli:

Yes, I think so. I actually want to respond on your first thing you said because when-

Chris:

Please go ahead.

Anneli:

You said that about culture I've been in The Futur Pro Group for soon three years and there's new people coming in all the time. Would you say that it's difficult to keep a culture when it's new people all the time? Isn't that the same thing?

Chris:

No, it's not. I'll explain it and that's a really good question by the way. Well, just for point of clarification, The Futur has about 20 people working for us full time and several more working for us as independent contractors. We're about 20 plus people right about now. And The Futur Pro group is 700 people. If you can imagine if it was a constant migration of people coming in and going, there would be no connective tissue.

It would also be really impossible for us to have any kind of shared values if each person came in with different values. I know in an ideal world everybody comes in neuro divergent, different philosophies, different values, and we can all somehow magically get along. I think that goes against the whole idea of a culture. A culture has to have shared beliefs and values and there's different ways of implementing those things. Say for example, Anneli, if you popped in for three months and left, and never came back and every person did that, I would say The Futur Pro Group would disintegrate.

Luckily, there's a strong base of people, people who have been there for months, sometimes years and are lifers and they're the ones who are the glue that hold all the new people together. Can you imagine just a constant migration of people coming and leaving? I would say from being an objective observer that we would then have no culture.

Anneli:

I did have my agency like this for five years and the people that I worked with most of them for at least four years. They stayed because they wanted to work like this and wanted to work together. I don't really see that problem, to be honest, actually.

Chris:

Fair enough, I just wanted to point out my way of looking at it so that we have a mixed conversation about it not just fully accepting everything.

Anneli:

What we can say is, I think this is important because what I did a big mistake was to actually not realize how important it is to talk about a shared vision, a mission, and how you want the company like the values and how you want to live the values and the culture you want to create.

I didn't talk about it enough because I thought, "Let them just come in and let's create this together. Everyone can decide together. I don't want to be like the leader." That was a big mistake, but I know that now.

Chris:

Wonderful. The other thing that I just want to let you know because we're talking about that is I think The Futur, my company has a pretty clear mission, vision, and values and I think you agreed to that. I got to tell you right now, in the real world good people leave all the time, even if they're attracted to your mission, vision, and values for different reasons. It's in my experience, it's not enough to keep people, they're forever and it's not going to happen.

They're ambitious, they have their own dreams, and they want to do different things whether they're working for you as an independent contractor consultant or as a full-time person. We do know this, the person who commands the relationship with the client also commands the lion's share of the profit. Maybe we'll do it differently in this vision of yours in the future, but I just don't expect that to be a real thing to hold people there.

It's very difficult in my personal experience to keep the very best people with you for any extended period of time. Obviously, you had people working with you for four plus years and that's pretty wonderful that you've been able to do that. Do you want to respond to that?

Anneli:

No, I understand and I agree with you that it's difficult, but I still think that there is another thing that I haven't talked about that is I love selling and not so many people do that, but when you can be the one who actually find the clients, take care of the client relationship, and find new opportunities, a lot of people want to work with you because most people don't like doing this. It's not just creatives, it's most people who have their own business, they don't like it.

When they have someone that they share values with and a vision and animation and that person can also bring in business, a lot of people want to hang around you then. It's not that I just see that it's like 10 people in the whole world that share my vision and mission. I think there are a lot of people out there who's doing that. Even if not someone is there for a couple of years and that they leave, there will be someone else.

Greg Gunn:

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back. The Futur with Chris Do is supported by First Republic Bank. Have you ever experienced a relationship with a banker who is available to answer all your questions even by phone or email? Doesn't exist you say? It does at First Republic. At First Republic, everyone gets a personal banker who's ready to sit down and answer your questions no matter how complex.

Did you know that first Republic's commitment to extraordinary service extends beyond its clients? First Republic is committed to strengthening the communities it serves through meaningful partnerships with innovative nonprofit organizations. To learn more, visit firstrepublic.com. That's firstrepublic.com. Member of FDIC Equal Housing Lender.

The Futur with Chris Do is supported by First Republic Bank. Have you ever experienced a relationship with a banker who is available to answer all your questions even by phone or email? Doesn't exist you say? It does at First Republic. At First Republic, everyone gets a personal banker who's ready to sit down and answer your questions no matter how complex. Did you know that First Republic's commitment to extraordinary service extends beyond its clients?

First Republic is committed to strengthening the communities it serves through meaningful partnerships with innovative non-profit organizations. To learn more, visit firstrepublic.com. That's firstrepublic.com. Member of FDIC Equal Housing Lender.

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Greg Gunn:

Welcome back to our conversation.

Chris:

I've been looking at certain technological, cultural, political, and social shifts and I want to be able to spot patterns and maybe share some information observations that I have so that you can be ahead of the curve to avoid redundancy and ultimately becoming irrelevant in finding yourself out of gainful employment. I think back to this thing that here my business coach, my former business coach told me.

He said something to the effect of sometimes we limit ourselves by how we define what it is that we do. Those labels that we apply to what we do, graphic designer, illustrator, letter form designer, brand strategist, sometimes those labels can be liberating and sometimes they can be a prison. The label does matter and your self-story determines how you process and interpret change. Some will see the changes and opportunity depending on the label on which they look at themselves how they define their identity.

Some will see it as obstacles. For me, I've had to change the definition of what I do, who I am quite a few times. Originally, I'm a graphic designer is what I went to school for. Then I changed that to being a motion designer. Then, when I started doing live action direction, I became a director. When I got tired of doing that as a service for an agency, I wanted to become a brand strategist. You could see the evolution there.

The biggest shift, the biggest evolution for me personally was shifting to becoming a content creator and educator and maybe somewhere down the line a philanthropist one day where I could just give away everything that I do just to help people. I remember this talk from Guy Kawasaki, he's one of his rare people who've been at Apple twice in his lifetime as an evangelist. In his TED Talk or most of his talks, he talks about this idea of jumping the curve.

His example, and I love his example because it's so simple to understand, is he says quite seriously look at the ice business. He describes it in Silicon Valley Tech terms like Ice 1.0 is Bubba and Junior, they go out to the lake during winter when the lake freezes over and with saws, sleds and horses, they cut blocks of ice to go and then to sell and distribute. They were interrupted or disrupted by ICE 2.0 and they couldn't jump the curve because if you ask Bubba and Junior what they wanted more of, they would say a sharper saw and a bigger horse.

They didn't really think about the next change that was coming. Ice 2.0 is like ice manufacturing when they were able to create large freezers and they were able to pump the water out of the lake into warehouses that were insulated and they would just freeze the water and ship it. Some advantages there obviously, they could produce ice year-round. They don't have to wait for Mother Nature to agree. All they need was a steady supply of water. They were also interrupted and disrupted by Ice 3.0., you can see where this is going.

Ice 3.0 is when people manufacturers created personal refrigeration devices, freezer refrigerators, and it put the Ice 2.0 business out of business. They also could not see that there was a business beyond what it is that they were doing. Again, the theme of the labels, how you identify yourself do really matter. Each evolution or each industry or each version of it was primed for success if they could jump the curve, but because of their own limited foresight, they wind up going out of business. They were wiped out by the next industry leaders.

The problem is if they had a more holistic, broader definition of what it is that they were doing, instead of saying, "Well, we cut ice blocks out of the lake or we freeze water." What they should have done was to describe themselves as in the business of preserving food. We want to extend the life of food. Dr. Clayton Christensen, he has a great book about this, it's called The Innovators Dilemma. Definitely look it up when he's the person who originally coined the term get this: disruptive innovation.

Now, we use disruption pretty loosely here, but in its definition of it's these seismic changes that happen within industry due to the changing needs of a customer. A few key points from the book itself, customers are historically bad at telling you what they want. This is right, so the customer is not always right, in fact, they're mostly wrong. If you ask them what they want, they'll say they want whatever you do, bigger, stronger, faster or cheaper.

If you continue to do that, you'll tap into the market and you'll have a period of great economic growth, but then what you'll do is you'll miss the next arc or the next curve. Innovation really comes from finding or creating a new customer for the things that you do. There's many examples in the book and he has tremendous factual studies on the computer and how that is a strong demonstration of what's wrong with doing more of the same. There's also an excellent article in wired magazines that are often cite and refer to.

It's called The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine. It's dated August 2009. What this is talking about is typically creatives. We like to pursue the finest things, the best materials, the best construction, and we strive for perfection. We wear it on our sleeves like a badge of honor. Perfection is the key. Disruptive technologies who provide a good enough alternative where the low cost far outweigh the promise of perfection or build quality.

There are many examples within the article definitely worth to read. They talk about very few of us now have landlines. Landlines were a hardwired connection, peer to peer talking. It's mostly replaced now by voiceover IP like Skype, Facebook Messenger, Apple FaceTime. The quality can be sketchy sometimes, but the fact that it's free or relatively free supplants the fact that the quality was all that mattered. Same thing happened with music industry from vinyl to MP3s, which arguably is a fraction of the quality.

The fidelity of something you would get from an analog recording. MP3s are super convenient as Steve Jobs was able to capitalize with Apple, you can fit a thousand songs in your pocket. You can probably fit five LPs in your backpack, but that's it. There's many observations from that article, The Good Enough revolution, highly recommend you reading that. There's a sliding scale of quality versus price and convenience and we have to understand that. This is all a primer for what I'm about to say next.

Let's move into AI and machine learning. This is probably going to be a topic that's going to stir up a lot of emotions. If you're unfamiliar with it, the natural reaction is, "I'm afraid I'm scared. There's no soul in machines." Perhaps we're asking ourselves the wrong questions. I'm having lunch, former student of mine, his name is Shaw Russ and his entire business over three offices and I think around 50 employees or so, he built using ai, machine learning technology.

He's just I think eight years or eight or nine years out of school, and it's remarkable the kinds of things he's been able to do. He tells me the story and this is where I become really fascinated by all this stuff. Just bear with me as I try to retell the story. His previous job, he worked at a large business management company. His task was really to help launch brands. He said he would have to launch about five high multimillion dollar brands a year, and he noticed certain patterns, certain redundancies.

Being the ever diligent person he is, he's pretty good with coding, he starts to write scripts that help automate some of the process to create brand identity guidelines. He noticed certain formulas happening. They all needed a certain thing to have a successful launch for their brands. He capitalizes on this and he decides, "I have a really good idea, I need to leave and I need to start my own company." He launches his own company and starts to develop software.

The first thing he did was he fed the software, the machine 100 identity manuals for it to look for patterns because this is what computers were really good to do. He would identify certain things like use case, color, clear space, lockups, those kinds of things for logos and identity systems. Recipes for writing copy and photography style because all brands need that. "This looks like our brand, this sounds like our brand, this doesn't." To do things like CSS styling for websites and things like that.

He started to show me evidence, proof of his product that he's like, "Look at this site, this site was built 100% with AI copy and content." I'm like, "The images too?" He is like, "Yes, it sources the images, it figures out does it fit the formula." It was quite incredible and he did this crazy demo for me. He changed the logo and it rippled through the entire site in 30 seconds or less. It changed the copy, it changed the typeface, it changed the styling to reflect the brand. It just didn't change the typeface, it changed the words to match it.

Pretty incredible stuff that he was doing there. He told me the story of how one of his clients that uses his software as a web designer developer has designed 10 or 12 site templates. We know certain systems' standardization has happened already for the benefit of the user so it's not confusing for all of us. What they do is whenever they're hired or looking at a new client, they take the client's logo, they generate 12 fully functional websites instantly.

Then, what they do is they select the three that they like the most and they screenshot the pages as if their mockups or designs in progress and they wait a couple of weeks and they present that to the client for approval. Once selected then they'll tweak and do some human powered quality control, quality assurance stuff. That was pretty freaking amazing and I'm very excited during this conversation. He tells me, "I teach a business innovation class at art center."

One of the assignments he gives is he asks his students to generate 50 ideas, 50 ideas. What he does is he takes their ideas and he feeds it into the AI and he asks AI to evaluate what's good and bad. I'm like, "What? How do you train the machine to recognize what is good and bad?" He says, "I don't. It just starts to analyze it compares it to previous business models, it starts to look for potential problems." This has blown my mind as a teacher that you can be more ambitious with the kind of assignments that you can give.

It doesn't take more of your human capital to be able to process the work. He says, "Here's the crazy part, after it reads the 50 ideas and analyzes what's good and bad about each idea, it starts to write new business ideas for you because it sees a pattern of the thinking AI as a low cost TA, wow, that is super cool to me. As I already mentioned, we don't necessarily have to be afraid of machines. I know there are a lot of ethics and potential like Terminator 2000, SkyNet, all that kind of stuff. I realize that's out there, but I'm looking in the near to midterm here.

Those of us who are able to capitalize on redundant tasks or things that are better designed for a machine to do than humans, I think we're going to be able to ride the next wave. That's why I'm here to talk to you about your service business and why you need to wake up to this and potentially use it. I myself have tested out the AI stuff. It's not perfect far, from it. I've used AI to write copy. I gave it commands like generate five ideas on hourly pricing to see what it would come up with. It writes five topic sentences, five titles. I'm like, "Wow, sort the best to worst."

It does that. I write one paragraph based on this headline and include three quotes from philosophers and cite the sources. The one that I liked, "Write a parable based on this." It wrote one for me. It's pretty wild stuff that's out there. Some of the other additional benefits of using AI-generated copy or imagery is that you can get something that's custom versus stock. It's custom because you asked it to do something that the probability of someone having the exact same image, maybe it's there, I don't know, but at least it's not from a catalog.

You can create a near one of a kind thing and you can iterate at scale. It's cheap to explore and you don't have to deal with copyright strikes and it's all royalty free because the machine made it. No, the opportunity in all of this is you have to be really good at art direction. You have to be able to articulate what you want. You have to be able to direct and provide parameters because it's not going to do everything for you. You still have to have taste and you still have to have direction.

Those that have broad artistic and cultural references like in art, music, architecture, literature or photography or something like that, will really do well because you can say in the style of Duchamp, in the style of Rozhenko, and the machine would know that because you know it. I can see people exploring with this, artists and designers and some of them make beautiful bespoke looking pieces of art, and others have a hard time speaking to the machine I can also see it in their body of work.

Are we there yet? No, because the machines make funny things that humans wouldn't do. You should know this and I think you already recognize this in your own life is Moore's law the exponential power is just increasing every single year, so you could only imagine where this is going. If you're in a job where a machine will do what you do better, cheaper, faster, you have to be ready to shift and you should shift immediately.

There's this quote from Ricky, I'm forgetting his last name here. The change is inevitable, that progress is a choice, we all move, but are you going to move forward? I talked a little bit about the things I think are kind of popping on my radar. There's a couple other things about this attention economy that we're living in. Anneli talked about this where the marketing in the 21st century will not look like advertising in the 20th century where I think we've already moved beyond that.

Some people are slow to recognize it. It's like the body doesn't know it's dead, but it's already dead. What I'm talking about is what Seth Godin and writes about a lot, which is moving towards a permission base versus the interruptive way of speaking to people niche versus mass communication. Seth Godin writes about in his book, Permission Marketing. People will now volunteer to participate in a long-term marketing campaign where you as the brand, as a company deliver increasing value over time.

He has three criteria for this to work. It must be anticipated, it must be personal, and it must be relevant to you. The old model is around paid media that's distributed to mass audiences so it's a shotgun approach. Unfortunately, there's a lot of casualties when you're not looking for something and you're being bombarded by a message. The new ways earned media where the audience pays you to be marketed to with their time and their attention and ultimately their money.

It's built on trust, showing up consistently and delivering value. If you can ease a pain point, help them to achieve a goal and to transform from where they are to where they want to be, you've done a good thing that is the new face of marketing as I see it. Who can capitalize on this? People who think like teachers. It's curriculum design, everybody. There's an intro, an entry level thing that's very easy to consume and process and you just move up in levels of difficulty and creating attainable wins for people, so it's a progression.

People who are in the education space who can understand marketing, put those two things together, there's huge opportunity there for you as a service business. There's rising demand for those who can help authors and coaches, teachers to build brands, enroll students, grow their influence to deliver content because everyone now understands the name of the game. It's to be omnipresent across multiple channels or to be omnichannel.

It's the illusion of being everywhere all the time at the same time. Those of you who are really good at writing research powered by AI or not, it's up to you that understand production, graphic design, post production, who can leverage search and discoverability, social media marketing and being able to create titles and thumbnails that hook people in tremendous opportunity. I have a couple of business models to share with you.

One of my friends, what he does is he helps authors and coaches and influencers create short form content from their long form recordings to be able to create real shorts and TikTok, he charges somewhere north of $6,000 a month to do this. Somebody else that I know helps other people do podcasts and to grow their podcasts to bring it up to charts and also do LinkedIn posts.

I think he also charges north of $10,000 a month per client to be able to do this. For some of you, this will sound like a lot of money for some of you it sound like not a lot of money at all. I was at the Grow With Video Conference when there was a company called Monopolize. They have a $50,000 package to help authors, business people to grow on social with content, strategy, monetization, systems, creation of a value offer, high value offer, et cetera.

It's like, "Wow, $50,000 for a shot, that sounds pretty good and they promise certain results getting you 100,000 followers, getting you into Forbes or USA Today. There's something interesting about that. I think there's value in people who are able to orchestrate and end to end solution with very tangible results. If you're a videographer, a graphic designer, if you write, think about how you can help solve this business problem.

If you can get people earned media, it's worth its weight. If we just continue to singular, isolated, siloed off activities, we'll continue to go down the value chain and not up the value chain. The formula is something like this: Your creativity plus your ability to help people get social reach. Plus solving a business problem equals a big opportunity. Of course, you probably have heard this before from Gary Vaynerchuk. Everyone is a media company. I'm a media company who happens to have educational products.

You're a media company who, I'm sorry to bake pies or cakes. You're a media company who just happens to provide IT services. Those that know how to create attention, to focus it, to harness it, to leverage, it will be the leaders of the industry and the ones who don't will suffer the consequences. If you know how to build people's personal brands, if do you know how to design and create messaging for keynote and presentation decks or content marketing or how to help build influence, there's opportunities for you.

What will happen is you'll start to move away from trading your time for money and you'll be able to hopefully capture a percentage of the results that you create, and that is a beautiful win-win situation. The fairs form of pricing that I can think of. The last two things I want to just briefly mention is those of you who could do integrated marketing. Another word for that is influencers. Again, you built up an audience, you're a media company and big brands who align with what you do will give you money just to talk about the things you love to use on a daily basis.

Those numbers can be really big, they could be six figures and up. The last one, the obvious one, the one that of course you're going to say of course Chris, you're going to say that is education, big market for that. We see this in remote learning. We see that they're bloated, old fashioned, inefficient systems of teaching people that could be done at scales in which the big universities completely ignore because you know why?

They keep doing more of the same, they're not going to find and create a new customer. Those of you that know how to teach, who know how to package it and market it, I think there's tremendous opportunity for you there. I'm going to land my plane.

Anneli:

You were on the roll there. There was so much valuable information. Thank you so, so much Chris. I'm just a little bit curious Chris because you had so many trends and interesting things to talk about, but when we talk about this company that you would start your new service business, what would that look like? How many people? What would you offer?

Chris:

My service business, and I'm going to be very clear about this, I wouldn't have a service business. I'm be very clear about this because I believe that where when I used to create ads for companies, I was just one part of a long process. A brand would hire an ad agency, an ad agency would hire a production company. Sometimes that would be us, production company would hire a number of independent contractors or specialists.

You just go down and down until you hire the freelancer actually does the work. What I find fascinating right now as a content company is a media company, we are the network, we are the showrunners, we're the advertiser, we're the production company and the post production company all rolled up into one there's value there. This is why the creator economy and things that people talk about is actually really important.

In one swoop we've replaced five different verticals or five different industries and combine them all to be ourselves. What I mean by that is we write the content that we care about, hopefully an audience shows up. Those eyeballs, the attention and the community that's built around that advertisers want, and because we're very specific about the things we talk about, they know what's going to connect and what's not.

They give us the money to then generate an idea for an integrated piece of marketing that they pay us for that allow us to continue doing what we do and to benefit our audience. I prefer that kind of business model.

Anneli:

You would actually start what you have today or is it something else?

Chris:

No, I would do exactly what I'm doing today because I live this spirit, the spirit that I live in is if I want to do something, just do that thing. I constantly think about that all the time. If this isn't working for me, if I see something better, I'll just stop doing what I'm doing today because I'm not really attached to it. I will just move on to the next thing.

Anneli:

I want to add something that I think is so important and something that is hopeful for a lot of creatives out there in the audience is that if you look at what skills you're looking for recruiters now and going forward, it's creativity, empathy, imagination. Doesn't that sound exactly like what all creatives have? I think that is really important. I think we could see so many opportunities instead of being scared.

I know that you talked about that they could define problems and then you talked about creative direction that was needed. I want to go back to that defined problem because if we think about design thinking, for example, one of the most important thing where we start with everything is to really define the right problem to solve. I always thought that was a very thing that makes us human to be able to really dig deep and to define the right problem. Are you saying that could be replaced by AI too?

Chris:

Which part?

Anneli:

Defining the problem to solve or is that where we need? Then you use AI to execute on the work, or can they help defining the problem?

Chris:

That's a very good question, Anneli. For a full disclosure, I'm no AI expert, no machine learning expert. I don't want to limit my thinking to what I understand and what I don't understand. My general answer is probably A, I can do anything and everything a human can do at some point. Denying that probably will ultimately close doors for me. Today, can it do it? I'm not sure, but everything that you can do a robot can help you do maybe more efficiently.

It's fast coming upon us where the technology is getting so good that it can surpass what it is that you would even know how to direct it. For right now, it needs a human to direct it. People think you can just go to one of these copywriting AI bots and give it something and then it'll just write the whole thing for you and it'll sound exactly like you. It's not there yet. There is still a lot of curation and directing and that's why one of the skills that you need to have is to be able to art direct the machine.

Now, some people get scared when they hear this kind of thing, but I just want to remind people that 10, 15, 20 years ago, the most coveted job of anybody coming out of school, at least the people I knew was to be what? To be an art director. Now, you get the opportunity to art direct a machine and you're like, "No, I'm scared of that. I don't want that. I can't do that." It seems weird to me. The natural reaction that everybody has to change is to resist it.

I constantly try to remind myself when change is coming, instead of putting my hands on pushing it away, I want to relax my shoulders, open my arms and say, "What's coming? How do I use this to propel what it is I want to do?" I'll tell you how we're going to use it right now, I'm using AI to write scripts for me at scales and speed and offer new ideas that I don't even have. I also think about using AI to write music for me. I want to write a rap song.

I cannot rap and I don't know how to do this, but I have ideas. It will enable and empower people who have a technical skill deficiency to be able to do stuff. Now, for people like you and me Anneli, we might get really excited about that because I know you're not a designer. If you said machine, imagine a keynote deck that's clean, Swiss modern, but warm and friendly, and has a sustainability vibe to it and generates ideas for you. I like number four, give me four more examples and it just keeps doing it.

That would probably make you really happy. Who is this going to upset? The people who used to do that for you, Anneli, that's the problem. The composers are scared. The people who are on production are scared because they're like, "What do I do?" I don't look at this as a problem. I look at this as an opportunity because human beings are not meant to do repetitive tasks than a machine was better suited for.

We talk about automation. It's like now you get to be more philosophical. You get to be more of an artist, and you get to think for those that can respond to this challenge. This is a tremendous opportunity. I got to run.

Anneli:

Thank you. Bye.

Chris:

Bye-bye.

Greg Gunn:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barrow for editing and mixing this episode. Thank you to Adam Sanborn for our intro music.

If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me? Head over to thefutur.com/heychris, and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support this show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com.

You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you next time.

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