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Oh hello! Welcome to Article Group's weekly missive devoted to helping you navigate uncertainty, seek the most interesting challenges, and make better creative decisions in marketing and beyond. New in town? Sign up here.

Hey, uh, anybody know how to predict marketing results?

This week's guest editor is Noah Brier, co-founder of content marketing firm Percolate and a wonderfully, amazingly, intensely organized dude. We love his brain and think you will, too.

Hey folks,

I, like many of you, am a framework obsessive.

I have a constantly-expanded Evernote folder full of models I’ve found in books, articles, and this email. While almost all of them are the work of others, there is one model I’m particularly proud of. I call it the “variance spectrum” and I first developed it while trying to answer the question of why there wasn’t already a central software system for marketing. My argument, essentially, was that the challenge marketing has is the “variance” of its output, which makes people think you can build systems or models around it.

To illustrate the idea, I plotted a spectrum. The left side represented zero variance, the realm of manufacturing and Six Sigma, and the right was 100 percent variance, where R&D and innovation reign supreme.
While the poles of the spectrum help explain it, it’s what you place in the middle that makes it powerful. For example, we could plot the rest of the departments in a company by the average variance of their output (finance is particularly low since so much of the department’s output is “governed” — quite literally the government sets GAAP accounting standards and mandates specific tax forms). Sales is somewhere in the middle: A pretty good mix of process and methodology plus the “art of the deal”. Marketing, meanwhile, sits off to the right, just behind R&D.

But that’s just the first layer. Like so many parts of an organization, companies are hierarchical and at any point in the spectrum you can drill in and find a whole new spectrum of activities that range from low variance to high variance. That is, while finance may be “low variance” on average thanks to government standards, forecasting and modeling is most certainly a high variance function: something that must be imagined in original ways depending on a number of variables include the company, and its products and markets (to name a few).

Zooming in on marketing, there’s a whole new set of processes that can be individually plotted based on the variance of their output, with governance far to the low variance side and creative development clearly on the other pole. Another way to articulate these differences is that the low variance side represents the routine processes and the right the creative.
Over the years I’ve found it a helpful way to think through a variety of problems, from how to give creative feedback (be explicit about whether your feedback is a low variance demand or a high variance idea to experiment with) to what roles the robots are going to eat first (they’re working their way from left to right).

Good to see you here,
 >> Noah Brier, Co-Founder at Percolate // @heyitsnoah //
What we're working on this week ~ Liz is working on two new presentation decks ~ Rae is on vacation in Hawaii 🍹(and omg she got engaged!) ~ Steve D is translating tech acronyms Article Group is a questionous creative marketing agency and this is our weekly missive about navigating uncertainty, seeking the most interesting challenges, and making better creative decisions in marketing and beyond ~ sharing is how we grow, please forward to people you love ~ reply to this email, we’d love to hear from you!
From Article #030:
  1. How to Verb Your Job Title                                                                                                  
  2. An Exercise to Help Your Team Feel More Comfortable with Conflict                                                                                     
  3. Can’t get any work done in the office? Try these 5 things
Bonus: our twitter thread on bicycles, dating apps, and slut shaming has been retweeted 4,000 times — check it out!

>> Kurt Vonnegut on the Shape of Stories

Over the last year I’ve discovered the wonder of watching lectures at 2x speed on YouTube. So. Much. Knowledge. This 18 minute talk from Kurt Vonnegut was one of my discoveries last week and it’s awesome. Based on his master’s thesis, Vonnegut charts out the “shape” of stories and graphically explains the wonder of Shakespeare. If you prefer reading to watching, HBR has a writeup complete with a fancy chart

☝️Related: The Shape of Stories (Open Culture)

☝️Article Group recommends: Donald Trump is a Better Storyteller Than Ernest Hemingway (Medium)


>> Replace Your To-Do List With Interstitial Journaling To Increase Productivity

As I’m guessing you’ve all experienced, maker time vs manager time is a very real thing. Trying to do long-running brain work while being interrupted for meeting’s every 30 minutes is basically the challenge of the modern workplace. For the last few months I’ve been using a modified version of “interstitial journaling” and finding it to be really helpful. The basic gist is take the last five minutes before stopping a long-running writing project and jot down a few notes about where you are, what you’re thinking at the moment, and, critically, what you would do next if you didn’t have to go to that meeting. Then next time you pick it up it’s hopefully a little easier to get the fingers moving.

☝️Related: How to Get Your To-Do List Done When You’re Always in Meetings (HBR)

☝️From Article #029: Writer Steven Johnson's "Spark File" method of creative note taking (Medium)


>> The Temin Effect

Apparently last year Malcolm Gladwell (no introduction necessary) and David Epstein (author of The Sports Gene and soon-to-be-released Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World) published an editorial in Ophthalmology, the official academic journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (tagline: “Protecting Sight. Empowering Lives.”) The piece describes and expounds on a study in the issue that asked whether exposing a group of medical students to instructions on how to view and appreciate art would improve their practice as doctors. The answer turns out to be yes, it helped immensely (albeit with a small sample size). Despite the obsession with specialization in medicine, sports, and just about everywhere else, it turns out there’s good evidence that a grounding in generalism (and the continued exploration of areas outside your own) is probably superior. 

☝️Related: Gladwell interviewing Epstein at the Sloan Sports Conference (42 Analytics)

☝️Related: Pentagram partner Michael Bierut on why design isn’t about design
 (Design Observer)
You have questions. We don't have answers. But ... we do have keyboards. Welcome to Office Hours, a weekly advice column in which we gamely attempt to answer your tweeted queries about marketing, the meaning of life, and everything. Follow us on twitter to play along. This week's question comes from @lupcheong, a friendly photographer in Singapore. For his ontological musings, he will receive a beautiful plastic trophy in the mail (once we find a local trophy vendor. Do they have trophy vendors in Singapore?). This week's answer comes from creative director, copywriter, and friend to small woodland creatures Mike Spiegel
Hey AestheticLevel:Masao, first I must congratulate you on your aesthetic level.

I’m stuck on AestheticLevel: Malkmus myself.

To Do: Sign up for weekend aesthetic classes!

But to your question. Batteries included or not, what is the point, indeed? Why wake up before dawn? Everybody knows that good news always sleeps til noon. Cowboy Junkies said that, and they put the lyrics on the bedsheets to prove it.  

So I set out to answer this question, in the most efficient and productive way possible. Let’s do this. 🎶 Today is the greatest / Day I’ve ever known...🎶

4:00am: Alarm sounds. This is me, waking up on Haruki Murakami time. Much like the Vice guy who tried it, I failed miserably. Fell back asleep and had the Excel spreadsheet nightmare again: all my best ideas (and to-do lists, and passwords, and keycards, and actual keys, and clothes) were hiding in secret tabs.

8:00am: Woke up and jotted down this thought: maybe these hyper-productive people we hear about are the human incarnation of overly literal early 90s music videos. Over-performing the thing they are describing, just to make sure you know. 

9:30am: Watched a highlight of Giannis Antetokounmpo dunking from the 3-point line while hanging in mid-air to deliver a Nike tagline and get a pedicure. Jotted down another thought: maybe those battery-powered efficiency machines are a different species than you or I, AestheticLevel:Masao. They are simply playing a different game. 

12:30pm: I meditated on this question, Mr. AestheticLevel, I mean actually meditated. Mind drifted, thoughts flew in and out. I probably actually meditated for 4 minutes out of 30. But that was 2 more minutes than yesterday. I’m gonna get a Richie Tenenbaum headband and go for the Individual Meditation gold medal. See you at Lhasa 2032.

3:00pm: What’s it all about? As someone on Twitter just said, “Do the people who run marathons know they don’t have to?” I think they know that endorphins, if not epiphanies, await them. Our more organized friends get this blissful effect from crafting 10-year plans and getting to email zero.

3:01pm: Started watching The Clock by Christian Marclay, a 24-hour film taking place over the same 24 hours of real time, made up of thousands of film clips throughout time, of people mentioning the time, passing time, racing against time.

12:00am: At the stroke of midnight Orson Welles is impaled on a clock tower, and Big Ben explodes in V for Vendetta. I’m putting these 8 hours on my timesheet.

We did it, AestheticLevel: Masao. I feel so productive. What was the question?


Have a burning question? Need the ointment of an answer? Tweet us.
  • Good buddy and executive director of NYC Media Lab @justinhendrix recently [...checks notes..] "donated a part of a cow" to Heifer International in honor of @DevinCow—and donations are up thanks to his lead. Heifer is a nonprofit that aims to train people across the world in sustainable farming. Good job, Justin!
  • Our very own design lead Joanna Walters just wrapped a 52-week art project!
  • Our friend and charming Francophile Amy runs recruiting at digital advertising firm Mogo Interactive—and they're growing! Mogo is hiring their first Programmatic Account Executive in New York to sell integrated multi-channel digital campaigns. Anybody know a good candidate?
  • Our pal and Head of Strategy at Fred & Farid, Colin Nagy, recently helped create and launch The Last Column: a selection of the last works of journalists who were killed in the line of duty. Amazing work, friend. You should be proud.
  • NYTimes journalist and occasional travel buddies Adam Ellick and Andrew Blackwell recently released the op-doc Operation: Infektion and hoo-boy, it'll learn you good on Russian disinformation.
  • The talented Polina Lutsenko has been promoted to associated to Associate Brand Manager, Prestige Brands, and Amanda Alves has been promoted to Marketing Coordinator, Stoli Vodka🔥
Are you a human? Are you doing great things? Send me an e-mail about your great things, human, so I can include it here:
Article is a 100% organic, free-range, desktop-to-inbox newsletter published once per week by Article Group, a delightful creative consulting agency of talented problem solvers. Article covers the essentials of brand innovation — brand strategy and messaging, creative systems, and content — that affect your organization, your creativity, and your career. We also recommend the products, books, and recordings that we love. It’s work and play for innovators, leaders, agencies, and brands. We deliver 7pm ET every Tuesday. Article Group is for hire.
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