Signs are everywhere. We just need to look up.

You wouldn’t think there’d be a business (and life) lesson hidden in Bajan civic planning.

Generally, the folks who man the desk at rental car agencies go to great lengths to either furnish old fashioned paper maps or upsell you on a navigation system.  The friendly man who provided me a rental car in Barbados this past week did neither.  He instead assured me that it was impossible to get lost on Barbados.   “Just follow the signs.  Wherever you want to go, there’ll be a sign for it.”

In an age when we’ve outsourced most of our environmental perception to technology, this seemed quaint and outdated and flat out impossible.  How could there be a sign for everything?  And what was the point of paying enough to AT&T for local data to chart a course to any point on the island ten times a day if all I had to do was look up rather than down at my smartphone?

Turns out using GPS technology on Barbados just makes traveling more complex.  They tend not to like straight lines: it may take 30 turns to go less than a mile, which makes following a little blue dot on a tiny screen challenging.

Like the little blue squares of paint that mark blazed trails in the woods, frequent uniform civic signs inform drivers that they’re driving either towards or away from whatever major town to which they’re proximate, and customized private signs with colorful logos point – literally – to nearly every commercial destination in the region.

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It took me three days to finally look up for these signs rather than down at my phone.  It took getting lost because I lost signal.  It took asking a passerby where an establishment was only to have her smile and point up to a sign for the establishment not 30 feet ahead of me.  It took making room in my intuition for a few well-placed, hand-painted signs on defunct telephone poles to finally get where I wanted to go without endlessly clicking the next arrow on my map app.

I once read that finding your true path in life is a combination of internal direction and external perception.  You must have a strong sense for what you want, but you also must listen to the directions that the world around you provides.  Call it motivation coupled with cosmic jujitsu.

I’ve been hearing a lot about “failing fast” lately.  It needs little explanation: realize you’re wrong as quickly as possible so that you can change course and succeed more quickly and efficiently.  That to me now sounds like “get lost fast.”  Why, in the age when signs both real and virtual surround us entirely, must we fail at all?  Why can’t we just look up a bit more often and take in data in “realtime” so that we never fail or get lost at all?  To me, modern failures hailed as “fast failures” seem totally avoidable.  The folks doing the acrobatic pivots should have just paid closer, “iterative” attention to the signs all around them.

Too many people get lost these days – in business, in relationships, and on rustic roads on holiday in countries with an aversion to straight lines – because they don’t listen to the world around them.  All it takes is looking up from time to time and adding what you see to your own well of motivation.

The photo industry needs sharper focus.

I’m doing some branding and innovation work for large imaging equipment manufacturer, and I’ve spent a good bit of time looking at the broader imaging industry.  I think low-cost, multifunction connected devices loaded with super smart code will one day replace just about every dedicated device on the imaging market.  Here’s the picture I’d paint –

MIT professor Henry Jenkins has talked a lot about convergence, and he seems to think there’s always going to be a role for dedicated image capture devices.  I 100% agree if “always” means the next 10 years.  Beyond that, I think we’ll be able to take pictures on our smartphones and turbo-charge image quality and tweak depth of field, contrast and colors with intuitive software and end up with a shot that’d make Ansel Adams swoon.

Evolutionary, adjacent innovation is swell, but startup businesses and their upstart thinkers are gunning for revolutionary breakthroughs.  Kodak’s ongoing demise should be a cautionary tale and a mega motivator for big manufacturers to acqui-hire the shit out of as many of those imaging revolutionaries as they can find.

I say “F.U.” to your product.

There are lots of complex ways to evaluate the odds of survival / success of a product.  To all of that complexity, I say eff you.  All products can be neatly plotted onto a grid with two simple axes: fun and utility.

If your product is just fun, you’re going to have more competition, and your users are going to be more fickle and have shorter attention spans: fun is disposable and replaceable, and everyone’s on the lookout for the next funner thing.  Zynga is a good example of a fun-centric product.  #hitdrivenbusiness

If you’re long on utility and shorter on fun, you’re in a pretty good spot.  It’s difficult to find true utility in the world, and once people are plugged into a useful resource, it takes a lot to lure them elsewhere.  Google‘s a truly useful product.  [we won't mention their forays into fun]  Bing’s only managed to eek out 8 or so percent of the total search market despite three years of a blood, sweat, and deals.

Ideally your product manages to be both fun and useful, like Apple. Or a burrito, which is packed with protein and fiber but also super delicious.  So when you’re standing back and basking in the glory of your product (or your whiteboard scribbles), ask yourself if you’ve created a burrito.  If you haven’t, well, F.U.