Would You Fail The Mum Test?
April 24, 2024
Seth Jackson
The mum test is a ‘scientific process’ whereby your dear mum finds herself utterly stumped when you respond to her question, “So, what exactly does [insert random friend’s name] do for a living?”

The Mum Test??

For those of you who don’t know, the mum test is a ‘scientific process’ whereby, in the perfect lab conditions of a coffee morning, a wedding or a chance meeting in the supermarket, your dear mum finds herself utterly stumped when you respond to her question, “So, what exactly does [insert random friend’s name] do for a living?”

Now, some folks fail this test for perfectly legitimate reasons. They might be delving into the intricate realms of molecular physics or navigating the murky waters of obscure manufacturing technologies – stuff so essential to the world, yet utterly mystifying, that it defies easy explanation.

But then there are the rest of us. Those who fail the test simply because what they have chosen to do for a living, also known as the job that they have simply made up, really, just appears, from the outside, to be just f**king around.

I’ve spent 25 years in the f**king around space I’ve been told (thanks, mum). 

I’ve sent things into space, designed a translating dog collar, harvested clouds to make beer, built a ringtone empire, sent music fans hunting around the globe for a golden statue. None of these things with clear utility.

Innovation (?) Agency

My agency, Strange Thoughts, is sometimes described as an innovation agency. I mean, I think that is rather grandiose. Innovation suggests that we push technology forward for the betterment of society and its goals. That is not what we do.

I’ve just got back from two weeks in the states where we’ve had a team of people touring around a couple of mind-controlled beer pouring robots. In LA, San Francisco, Dallas and New York the team has been working on the stands of unicorn tech companies showing people how to pour a beer with only the power of their mind and their Jedi skills. The robots use EEG technology to read the pre-frontal cortex and measure an individual’s focus. That focus controls the robot and pours the beer.

Lots of would-be detectives, earnest Americans in suits, possibly working for my mother, ask me. But why? What’s it really for? I know you are using it to pour beer now but what is the actual purpose, the practical application, what does your company do?

My answer never fails to disappoint: I mean…. It kind of runs a fleet of mind-controlled beer pouring robots… that’s sort of it…

Tech For Joy

I went to see my mother the other day. “Why don’t you invent something like the air fryer?”, she said. Something actually useful.

“They are very popular you know, everyone around here has one. Why don’t you do something like that?” 

Like all it would take would be me to have an epiphany – to realise suddenly that f**king around wasn’t a real job and I should just invent something every household needed. Simple. Then she wouldn’t have a problem explaining what I did. She could even demonstrate with some healthy fried chicken!

And yet, f**king around or not, I believe in what we do. I think there is room in this world for technology that doesn’t make us more efficient, richer, lazier, that doesn’t have scalability or hit growth metrics for VCs but simply makes people smile, and laugh, and talk about it.

Tech for Joy. 

And this belief infuses our work with an exhilarating sense of possibility. When faced with outrageous briefs from Shoreditch’s creative elite, fuelled by negroni sbagliatos (among other things), who want, “The world’s first bioluminescent swimming pool.” Or a “100ft AI-driven robotic octopus tentacle.”

I kid you not, these are just briefs from the last few weeks – and it is our joy to think around these briefs. To use a process of radical collaboration with brilliant people, to come up with some bats**t crazy stuff that surprises, delights and (of course) hopefully gets signed off!

If You F**k Up...

On the wall in our office we have the immortal words, “If you f**k up, nobody dies.” That is the phrase that keeps us brave in our invention and endeavours. Like a stand-up comedian – if we f**k up, some people don’t laugh, maybe a big name client sells fewer cans of deodorant. Or fans of a well-known musician don’t have a pair of AR ears on their head. But it means we aren’t afraid to push some boundaries.

And if f**king around for a living means that I get to create, invent, and use that technology to drive joy then I’m happy and those around me are happy. 

To all of you searching for the utility in what you do I would counsel taking a few moments to ponder, do I really want to pass the mum test?

Does it matter she doesn’t understand a thing about our industry? It doesn’t, and more importantly, we need to stop apologising for it.

Because in my view, there is utility in joy. It’s what makes the world go round and drives commercial industries. So, give me a shout if you want Strange Thoughts to help your world spin a little more joyfully.

And how the hell does an air fryer work anyway?

© Strange Thoughts Group Ltd. 2024