Raw Notes and Thoughts on Talk Given by .@malbonnington .@eurorscgny

Today I attended a very interesting talk by Ben Malbon of Google Creative Labs. Ben is actually better known (for me, anyway) as being the brother of Made By Many’s Tim Malbon — and for being formerly of BBH Labs.

When he worked at BBH Labs, he wrote a blog post that talked about pitching, well, Google.  Evidently he had a slide in the BBH deck that said:


In the post, he goes on to say:

We gave them an ideas engine that was an extension of their own company, but which operated outside the (even back then) stifling constraints of their own insane business. … we developed a way of approaching creativity that was quite different to anything any of us had experienced before. No hierarchy, no titles, no departments, no egos, virtually no rules. Fun, frantic, fruitful. Three things stuck: I knew that was the model for me going forward, that Google was the most extraordinary company I’d come near, and that the Internet was the most disruptive & magical thing ever.

My emphasis.  And that was sort of the essence of his talk.  It showed the value of just making stuff and not spending hordes and hordes of time and worry with decks, risk management, and planning on doing something.  It’s okay to fail.  The patient will live.

(Or will it?  The Law of Unintended Consequences lurks.  I never got the chance to ask about Google Buzz.)

In any case, here I have first my summary, then my raw notes on this talk, as I usually do, interspersed with my own thoughts.  Walking away, a few things are burning in my mind. The foremost is, of course, being a PM, is how to do.

He went through lots and lots of work.  He showed, of course, It Gets Better, but he showed this work (which encourages gay folks to have courage in the face of bullying) in the context of a real user response/reaction to the work. There was a poster thinking about committing suicide.  This person went to YouTube, thinking to post his suicide note as a video on YouTube.  But then he saw the links to It Gets Better and, evidently, this caused him not to take his own life.

The second piece Ben showed, “Dear Sophie,” was similarly tear-jerking, heart-tugging, but in the nicest of ways.  I noticed I wasn’t the only one in the audience who was dis-concertedly trying not to get misty-eyed.

Immediately I thought, “This isn’t so interactive!”  The work he was showing us was film not apps.  Not so much web object.  YouTube.

I had just thought this morning about the studio committee system that existed when I worked in the movie business back in the old days.  With my indie film outta NYU background, I detested the studio exec committee culture, reeking of celebrity, ego and power, and how they would corral directors into meetings to squash down their vision.  It so frustrated this one director I worked with, Beeban Kidron, that she came to our trailer on the Fox lot in a state of emotional frustration so intense that I thought she’d pull a rock star move on her office and rip it to bits.

So with this thought in mind, and hearing how it seems Googlers work, at the end of the talk, I asked Ben how Google functions.  I really wanted to get at this thing of the “Big Idea” which we are so entranced with in the Ad World.  He was very hesitant to say much, but did hint it was through lots of chaos and that no one person ever gets credit. Someone asked if they used Agile, and he indicated their process was very lightweight.  They have a place in which all the work in progress is being projected at all times.  Everything they make is either by “Google Labs” – and NOT by a particular person.  Anyone can have ideas.  Their client is themselves so they can try as much stuff as they like.  (My guess is he is so high an executive he may not have any idea about “how” in the day-to-day.)

I asked him how they avoid design by committee, thinking of Beeban, and he responded that in fact the Creative Directors hold that back. It was a bit of an unfair, trick question on my side as I wanted to know – is there a Steve Jobs? Meaning, is there a mastermind behind what they do or do they really behave as a hive?  I did not get a clear answer to this, probably because this is not something so share-able.  It might be Google’s Secret Sauce.

He made his way at the end to one of my own favorite pieces on the web, http://thewildernessdowntown.com.  This piece evolved into http://www.ro.me.  His final slide?

Do Epic Shit

Great talk, inspiring.  I had a bunch of other questions, and just wanted to corner him and grill him about what they were doing at Google, as I want to know do they do Reflective Improvements?  Do they have Account People-like objects?  PMs? Scrum?  But had to let it go…


Remind people about the magic of Google is their mission.

Skunkworks like approach – CMO is a key sponsor. Previously with Eric Schmidt

Ambition is NOT to grow big. Desperately trying to stay under 100 people.

Creative talent is fresh out of school.  Five young people on a team.

Give people massive responsibility at a young age and set them free.

There is effectively no strategy…

We have a strategic plan: its called doing things. Make stuff quickly, iterate quickly. No one at Google has a strategist title. Have to bake strategy into making process.

Spend as little time as possible pontificating.

Know why.
Knowing why we are doing stuff. Smaller subset understand how to do. Smallest subset is WHY you do it. Information is Oxygen. Slightly in Koolaid area.

Gayglers made “It Gets Better” and someone about to commit suicide changed their mind about it.

It gets better is Chrome campaign – is about the web’s power to change things.

People sending emails to their unborn children and then later giving them the account key. “Daniel Lee Dad” video was more popular than Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber – shows emotional connection most important.

Androidify Dance – ad execs on beach.

Do something great but be humble

The Art Project – museums were scared Google was just trying to stick all their stuff on the web and then no one would go to museums. But actually?  The project caused attendance to museums to go up. Idea of a 24-year old guy.  Why all this emphasis on youth?  Can’t old people come up with ideas too?

I am interested to see so far he has shown all videos, no apps.

And this is affecting me. I am suspending disbelief….

A thought I had earlier was that back when I was in movie biz I hated movies by committee

Know the magic. Know the user. Connect the two.

Know what user feels. Whats the one thing the product can do.

Parisian Love.

So much can do on Google search that most people don’t even do

The Google + project – really did ads in a humble way, didn’t make big claims.

Big Spaceship “what do you love” – to get away from tools with lots of links. Hour one of day one everyone put in bad words – really bad words – and Google had fun with it and hacked it. So far this is the only thing that does stuff, isn’t it strange…

Make other people heroes.

YouTube Play

The Johnny Cash Project
– an example of crowd-sourced creation without taking a lot of credit.  Does not scream “GOOGLE.”

Google being humble – fans and cash are heros

No such thing as a successful slow decision, the faster we are the better we become

Search stories, perfection

“search on” campaign. – to show magic of search – people doing amazing things with search

Lady Gaga spot they did (with her jogging on Brooklyn Bridge) took 10 days. Her relationship with fans reflecting it gets better – did unleash your inner monster.

The web is what you make of it – the celebrity aspect was in doubt for them.  Ben said this is as far as to the edge of celebrity as he feels it is right to push.

Don’t tell show- don’t do a deck – make something.

Epic Docs Tu+

Made out of Google docs – which is most boring product – by aftereffects genius out of Thailand

Search Ads – maybe the best ads are just answers google,com/ads/answers – made for CMOs

Give others awesome powers

This is at core of interactivity

Les Paul 96 birthday doodle


Idea born before it became huge in a very small way.

Nora Jones, five year project. Rome http://www.ro.me

Thewildernessdowntown.com. Way was sold was it was based originally on a Google Exec’s house.

Do epic shit

Fragile not agile – process emergency room type stuff

Testing – not on copy, not on ads, but test on users

Self discovery approach to some things

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