The Knowledge, and London’s 13 remaining cabman’s shelters

Russell Square: cabman's shelter

Most English people know something about The Knowledge, the fiendishly difficult tests devised for London’s black cab drivers, and we take pride in the fact that our cabbies are probably the best in the world, thanks almost entirely to its imposing demands. But I would imagine most people’s Knowledge knowledge ends there.

This beautiful National Geographic piece dives deep into the history of The Knowledge and throws up many fascinating details, including the charming story behind London’s cabman’s shelters (shown above), of which just 13 remain:

With the ease and fluency of a man who has The Knowledge, and the passion of a true historian, Lordan explains how the shelters were founded by Captain George Armstrong in 1875 to give London’s taxi drivers somewhere to keep warm and dry.

Armstrong had “sent his manservant out to hail a cab in a blizzard,” Lordan says. “He came back an hour later and said they were all in pubs, and none of them were in any fit state to drive. And so he established these shelters.”

Read the whole piece, it’s wonderful.

Out of focus

A nice piece of pith from this take-down of focus groups:

People are lazy, forgetful, creatures of habit. We all are. This is why the mega bestselling book is called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, instead of An Infinite Number of Novel Tasks Performed by Highly Effective People.










IMG_1027.JPGI can’t take the credit for the shot of Gerda – my wife sent that to me a few weeks back and made my day.

Stephen Fry has never sounded more like Stephen Fry

In his gushing praise for the new iPhone:

The matchless design and innovation team led by Jony Ive – who has headhunted to Apple the brilliant Australian designer Marc Newson (over whom at the launch I spilled some horrible green wheatgrass and spirulina drink that would otherwise have gone all over P Diddy) – has produced two devices of absolutely exquisite dimensions, heft and feel.

At last, perspective on ‘content’

This post captures all my reservations about the holy grail of ‘content':

Soon we will see a major content crash like we did in the cost per thousand views for display advertising.

Because the best content is created for itself and not as a shill for a marketer. It is created by true experts or is truly authentic.

Berg is closing


Berg announced that it is closing today, which is sad. I’ve always been drawn to these unconventional companies that don’t fit into neat boxes and which create oddly innovative things you wish you’d thought of. I saw founder Matt Webb’s keynote at Reboot a few years ago, and wrote about it here. It remains the most inspiring talk I’ve had the pleasure of seeing live. Here’s what he had to say about the decision, typically poetically:

We’re wrapping up for this incarnation.
Our partnerships and our services, they’re
done. A few things left, then hibernation.

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Being early is like being lucky

Russell Davies has a great list of recommendations for travelling more efficiently. This is my favourite. Unfortunately it’s my wife’s least favourite:

10. Being early is like being lucky

This is the most important thing. Being early is like being lucky. You get a better seat. You might even get an earlier flight. You get shorter queues. And you get to relax. Stress and frustration cause mistakes like leaving your bag at security or your passport at the check-in. And stress comes because air travel makes you feel out of control and short of options – you’re basically cattle. And that makes us nervous in case things go wrong. But if you’re early then you know that things can go wrong and you’ve got time to fix them. You still have options. So leave at least 30 minutes before you would have done. What are you going to do with that 30 minutes anyway? You’re much better of people-watching at the airport.

‘It’s just, like, incredible’

Inc’s profile of Buzzfeed’s chief data scientist Dao Nguyen says a lot about how companies are run these days:

 “It’s just like incredible to hire someone and say ‘your job is growth,’ and then you look, and she just like knocked it out of the park.”

This is especially depressing to me:

“We said. ‘OK. We can write a piece of code that sends you, on Fridays, according to our analysis, the top 20 posts we should be promoting,'” Nguyen recalls telling the editor. And here she is quick to add she firmly believes that data should not determine one’s editorial strategy, but rather inform one’s decision. “You can promote them or not,” she continues. “But this is what the data suggests.”

Translation: You may have set out to inform and educate, but the data says nobody gives a shit about those things. If you want advertising revenue, you need to start shovelling more inane crap down people’s throats.

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We all want to feel special


An interesting take on how Virgin Atlantic pioneered the idea of Premium Economy, creating an alternative three-class structure:

What Virgin Atlantic did was special, profitable, and enduring because of the customers it targeted. It worked on a very human factor: that all of us, regardless of class, have a little elitism in our veins. We all want to be a bit better off than our peers. We all want special treatment, and are willing to pay for as much special treatment as our wallets can afford.

Related, Richard Branson’s post today on the Virgin blog details the thinking behind the naming of Upper Class. If you can’t win, change the rules.

Advertising gripes from 1992


There’s so much good stuff to cherry-pick from this 1992 Adweek piece on the demise of Fred/Alan. It jolted me into realising how silly we all are in thinking that the problems we have are strictly contemporary. Maybe that’s the polite way of saying we none of us know our history.

Somewhere along the way, Seibert says, agencies became “no different than a free-lance writer/art director team. The client set a strategy and gave it to them, and they fulfilled it. If the client didn’t like how they fulfilled it they gave it to another team. Then another. But that’s how a real partnership works.” The agency/client relationship has since taken on so many vendor-like traits, Seibert adds, it’s completely acceptable to “blow an agency off just because it doesn’t take you skiing.”

To my shame, this was the first time I’d heard of Fred/Alan. Their archive is fascinating – start with their positioning presentation for Comedy Central, a masterpiece in concision.

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