February 06, 2013

A Pixar University for the Rest of Us


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We hear about internal “Corporate Universities” at Pixar and Apple, and even at some of the high profile Silicon Valley startups – all organizations that want to be known for their innovation, creative problem-solving, success rates that exceed the industry norm, and engaged employees.  But what about the vast numbers of people at organizations that do not provide access to such programs internally (or otherwise through university-based executive bootcamps), or the growing number of individuals around the world who run smaller businesses (both tech and non-tech) and see themselves as “creative entrepreneurs?”  How can they design or access a program for themselves and colleagues that can provide them with both new perspectives and problem-solving skills that can rival, if not exceed, that of the corporate universities in terms of both content and integrated design?  The solution may well be in a combination of online continuing education platforms (synchronous and asynchronous) and facilitated/engaged real world realtime groups (e.g. meetups and discussion groups).  Different than signing up for a single technical course from a Udemy or Coursera (specific industry skill development), or listening to a TED Talk (largely inspiration vs. action focused), there might well be an orchestrated road map of several classes that in sequence add up to a powerful whole that bridges new ways of being with new skills.

What follows is a proposal of what one such road map might look like.  And it is one that is completely possible with technology and platforms available now.

What Is the North Star That Guides You?

As indicated by the infographic that opens this post, the touchstone for all of the classes in this model is an understanding by the individual of what their “North Star” is.  This is what guides, frames, and makes specific and actionable to them – all of the material in the other classes.  So it is only natural that the opening class in this approach is to help people begin to understand or verify their “North Star” – meaning that "internal compass that can guide you successfully through life."  It is that rock upon which your point of view and way of being in the world is built or checks into on the journey.  It is what is truthful to you, without needing permission from the rest of the world.

Sound a bit soft?  Perhaps, but that does not make it any less important.  And some of the leading agencies in the world of “challenger brands” talk about this on the level of definition for a company or brand (see the global consultancy “eat big fish” that calls this a "LightHouse Identity" for brands).

So how might we describe that foundation class?

In large part it is about the concept of path to authentic leadership and being an authentic human being – and entering the metaphorical crucible that burns away anything extraneous and untrue to reveal true intentions, character, values, principles, and path – and defines for each indivual what motivates them beyond making money.

Finding Your North Star – Your Personal Brand Truth 

Every individual’s path is personal and unique. There is no universal map that will guide us through life.  So how do we answer the questions: What do I do next? How do we deal with inertia?  Is there a necessary and irreconcilable division between the head and the heart? Can only impoverished poets follow their passions? How do we live a life that matters?

Example Books and Teachers that could support this type of class

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." - Joseph Campbell

Program Components and Structure

Four classes each then fall into two supporting categories of “Ways of Being” and “Skill Development.”  And an additional two classes fill a category that is focused on bridging these two categories.

 

“Ways of Being”

Traditional definitions of work culture, leadership and organizational values, along with the relentless urgency of most businesses, has resulted in an undermining of quality, creativity, engagement, and ultimately performance and productivity.  How do we redefine “ways of being” in business and other organizations to reclaim both personal and group performance levels, along with greater satisfaction and meaning?

Courses inlcude:

  1. Peak Performance
  2. Creative Confidence
  3. Emotional Intelligence
  4. Compassionate Leadership

 

“Skill Development” 

There are a number of skills that can be learned over time – that have been mistakenly defined as the native talents of the few.  While some may come to these skills more easily than others, all can be learned and honed with practice and guidance.  All are relevant to those regardless of their walk of business life or left-right brain orientation.  And all contribute to powerful approaches to problem solving and the generation and realization of new ideas and approaches.

Courses inlcude:

  1. Humor and Improv
  2. Storytelling and Presentations
  3. Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
  4. Design Thinking 

 

"Bridging"

There are two classes that fit neither solely in "Being" or "Skills" - but that actually serve as the actionable glue between the two categories of learning.

  1. Networking and Mentoring
  2. Habits and Behavior Design

Ways of Being

1. Peak Performance 

Is sustained high performance in the face of increasing pressure and rapid change possible? Can we take the learnings of elite athletes and apply them in the business world to individuals and teams?  Is there power in minding and feeding the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental/cognitive self and the connections between them?

Example Books and Teachers that could support this type of class

“We grow the aspects of our lives that we feed – with energy and engagement – and choke off those we deprive of fuel. Your life is what you agree to attend to.” - Jim Loehr

 

2. Creative Confidence - Creativity Expanded

What exactly is creativity?  Just as there are multiple types of intelligence, creativity takes many forms.  What can the “creatives” and otherwise creative individuals learn from each other about tapping into that process?  How can we deal with “writer’s block,” find ways to step outside the box, and get comfortable with coloring outside the lines – as individuals, in groups, and as organizations?

Example Books and Teachers that could support this type of class

“The mind in creation is as a fading coal which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this arises from within … and the conscious portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its approach or of its departure.” ― Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

3 and 4. Emotional Intelligence and Compassionate/Authentic Leadership

What if we began to see how the understanding of emotions in a business environment (one's own and those of others) was actually a net positive?  Emotional maturity and understanding have been shown to directly correlate to performance and the bottom line, as they travel from leaders throughout the organization.

Example Books and Teachers that could support this type of class

“The most successful business leaders are often experts in emotions.” ―  Chip Conley

Skill Development

1. The Serious Business of Humor and Improvisation

Not everything needs to be, or even should be, planned. Inspiration can come from many unexpected sources and improvisational techniques can help surface these and increase adaptability, creativity, and flexibility - even when you don’t know what’s coming next.

So how can we rediscover a sense of play and humor and apply them to the most serious or mundane of endeavors?  We often think about improvisation in terms of comedy, music, or acting, but the art of improvisation can be applied to all sorts of pursuits – from scientific exploration and experimentation, to the subtle diplomacy of peace negotiators, to sports, to business leaders and owners who must mix long-term planning with on-the-spot thinking as the landscape around them shifts in unexpected ways.

Example Books and Teachers that could support this type of class

“Basketball, unlike football with its prescribed routes, is an improvisational game, similar to jazz. If someone drops a note, someone else must step into the vacuum and drive the beat that sustains the team.”  ―  Phil Jackson

 

2. Storytelling and Presentations

We are creatures of the narrative, as little is more powerful than a great story. Great presenters need to be great storytellers - as a presentation is essentially a story with a purpose - to engage the audience, and eventually have them take ownership of the story.   The art of storytelling is not limited to the world of professional actors or writers, nor is a great presentation defined by how compex a slide deck may be.  Storytelling and presenting are skills that can be honed by studying and practicing the techniques and structures of the greats, and can be a game changer in business.

Example Books and Teachers that could support this type of class

“Structure is not a template. It’s not a cookie cutter. It’s something that arises organically from the material once you have it… When I was young, I was so bewildered about how to cope with all that material. Leaning on structural planning is what got me out from under a 50-ton rock that was lying on my chest.” ― John McPhee

“Consider the kind of relationship you want to have with your audience. Do you want to be their hero? Their mentor? Their cheerleader? Like these characters, good presenters aren’t in it for themselves; they’re in it for others.”― Nancy Duarte

 

3. Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

Can we reexamine the roles of logic versus emotions/perceptions in the process of negotiation, and by making more powerful human connection with "the person across the table" actually become a more successful negotiator?

Example Books and Teachers that could support this type of class

“We know - intellectually - that confronting an issue is the only way to resolve it. But any resolution will disrupt the status quo. Given the choice between conflict and change on the one hand, and inertia on the other, the ostrich position can seem very attractive.”  ― Margaret Heffernan 

 

4. Design Thinking  - From Inspiration to Idea to Invention to Innovation

Where do ideas come from?  How do they evolve from a thought into an invention, and from there through continuing phases of innovation.  How is the birth of a big idea different from that of an incremental refinement?  What is unique about the process of generating groundbreaking concepts, and then bootstrapping them into the physical world?  How do you build a culture of innovation to birth and support this?

Example Books and Teachers that could support this type of class

“Defer judgment. Encourage wild ideas. Stay focused on the topic. The most important of them, I would argue, is ‘Build on the ideas of others.’ “ – Tim Brown

 

Bridging "Being" and "Skills" to Facilitate Change

1. Networking and Mentoring

How do we challenge the conventional understanding of networking and mentoring, redefining and implementing it in a way that is both personal and purposeful with an equally meaningful "give and ask".  How do we organize our relationships around our true beliefs?  What value do we want to bring to those with whom we connect in sometime murky situations?  How does this bring about measurable change?

Example Books and Teachers that could support this type of class

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.  

“The ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial to our survival and our happiness. It has helped our species evolve, lifted our living standards, and enhanced our daily lives. The capacity to sell isn’t some unnatural adaptation to the merciless world of commerce. It is part of who we are. “  ― Daniel Pink

 

2. Habits and Behavior Design

Are we stuck in our current way of being and addressing problems and challenges? Or can we begin to redesign and reengineer our behavior as well as that of others?

Example Books and Teachers that could support this type of class

Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” ― Charles Duhigg  

 

Moving Forward

This particular idea of a "Pixar University for the Rest of Us" is based around the concept of understanding and supporting a "Personal North Star" with actionable classes that challenge conventional thinking by (1) redefining ways of being in the business world, (2) teaching new skills that transcend job titles, and (3) developing the creative glue that bridges the two.

What would you change or add to the mix in terms of topics or instructors?  And do you think this could be achieved via a year long program (one topic per month) facilitated via an online learning environment with optional real world gatherings?   Favicon 

 

December 05, 2012

Tweet Wars – A Twitter Concept for Engaging Sports Fans, Brands, and Social Causes

  TwitterBirdSportsBallsSepia550

There are legendary fan rivalries in the world of sports and on the field – UCLA vs. USC (college), Dodgers vs. Giants (baseball), Leeds vs. Manchester United or Argentina vs. Brazil (soccer), Ford vs. Holden (auto racing), India vs. Pakistan (cricket).  But today, with networks like Twitter, fan rivalries can create competition online that can rival the intensity and passion of that on the field or on the court.  So why not harness that energy to create better content for all, in a way where social causes can benefit, that provides brands with new genuine ways to engage with fans in both the real-time digital and physical worlds?

So what is the content competition that we can create online around the fans and “nations” that already gather? How do we value “Twitter actions” and track the score in cyberspace while the game is on the field?  What’s the opportunity to link fan action and the online “win” with social cause support in alignment with athletic competition beyond what we see today?

Background 

Fans and athletes already create and share content on Twitter during games – from simple team support and virtual cheers to trash talking; from tweets that stand alone to those with media attached such as photos and video from the event and behind-the-scenes, or deeper online article links shared form those at home. 

The 2012 London Olympics saw the creation of an aggregation page from Twitter – a one-stop shop for tweets and media from athletes, mainstream media, and fans. Many media sites have found great (and often unexpected levels of) success via deep fan engagement, commenting and content creation (Bleacher Report).

Notable consumer and media brands (ESPN, Nike, Gatorade, P&G) have a long creative history with sport leagues and major events, as well as more recently with innovative social causes (Pepsi).

Twitter has continually proven its value in the world of live TV – from entertainment to sports – as a voting and media creation/engagement mechanism.  Nielsen has taken note of this value in strategy and acquisitions to rethink ratings. Twitter is also experimenting in the world of direct customer (fan) surveys.

Tweet Wars: The Idea and Its Elements

The Idea: Engage fans of competing teams in real-time during the game in valuable content creation that has distribution in both digital and physical worlds, provides a new relevant brand platform for sponsorship, and results in the distribution of dollars to social causes or scholarships in a way that has meaning and value to fans.

 

TweetWarInfographicFramed2

The concept of “Tweet Wars” in sports is about building on the trends that we already see (from above), and evolving and integrating those experiences by:

  • coalescing fans and rivalries in online competition around the creation of high-value content during games;
  • setting the stage for a “winner” in the digital world that may be different from the winner on the field, by creating a “Tweet War Counter” that  tracks a running tally of tweet volume (adjusted by new tweet value rules) between the two teams and their fans;
  • offering new brand-sponsored opportunities on Twitter for “Tweet Wars" and the “Counter” that integrate with, but go beyond today’s offerings of promoted tweets, trends and accounts
  • attaching the award of dollars at the end of the game, in a “Tweet War” winner-take-all mode, to a social cause (or in the case of college sports – alternatively to a scholarship fund) selected by the team, the school, the conference, or the league – with which fans will have an  affinity. (Those dollars to come from a part of the brand sponsorship/ad sale package with Twitter).

 

The Elements

(1) Content Creation: For Tweet Wars to have value to brands and fans, both the level and volume of Twitter content have to grow beyond current levels, with a focus on unique content that brings additional information, insider perspectives and enjoyment to the game. Hashtags would exist for each team to enable automating the identification, filtering, curation and counting of Twitter delivered content for each team (eg #Go49ers vs. #GoRams, or #GoStanford vs. #GoUCLA).

(2) Content Value and Scoring: Not all tweets would be equal in Tweet Wars.  More points would be assigned to tweets with higher value content, and perhaps even the source (decisions here vs egalitarian nature of Twitter and people wanting to “hear” from celebs and athletes). No points would be awarded to spammy tweets or tweets with nothing but the #hashtag. Minimizing the opportunity to jerry–rig the system would be critical.

Tweets might have different point values depending on the content they carry, such as:

  • With photo from the event or relevant archive shot
  • With link to historic background information or profile
  • With link to a card with data visualization
  • With live insider information from the sidelines
  • From an athlete or verified account or account with a sizable number of followers
  • For tweets that are favorited and retweeted

(3) Content Output and Distribution: Twitter content spurred by Tweet Wars would find distribution in both digital and physical spaces. Digital distribution might evolve from the work at the 2012 Olympics with both human editorially curated and data-driven (MassRelevance applied here) rollup of content on Twitter via a single page that would show side-by-side competing team content, as well as the Tweet War Counter. Scoreboards and Jumbotrons at games provide the screen for periodic display of the “Tweet War Counter Tally” and encourage game attendees to get more involved in the digital outcome. 

(4) Sponsorship/Ad Sale Opportunity for Twitter to Brands: The Counter, side by side team/fan tweet page, as well as surveys and insider content in the tweet stream is a natural brand sponsorship/ad sale opportunity online – that can be packaged with the display in the physical world on the scoreboard of the intermittent Tweet Counter. Sale can be to a consumer brand, media brand, or even to league or conference.

(5) Social Causes: Tweet Wars, like the game on the field, is a winner take all proposition, with the social cause of the team/fans that wins in digital space having the biggest number on the Counter – as the recipient of a set sum of money that is a part of the brand sponsorship package. (Remember that the winner on the field and the winner in digital/Twitter may not be the same – Those results are completely separate. One is about athletes.  The other is about fans.)  This can be thought of as an evolution of or adjunct to some of the “fund your cause” voting campaigns we have seen from brands such as Pepsi (Refresh campaign) and Chase (Community Giving campaign) in recent years.

Time to Experiment?

So is it time for a Tweet Wars experiment in sports that links fan enthusiasm and content; tweet value assignment, curation and a scoreboard; brand sponsorship; and social causes?  Pick a single major event such as SuperBowl,  a series such as the NBA Playoffs, or even a whole season with MLB to see how it might work. 

“Sport is where an entire life can be compressed into a few hours, where the emotions of a lifetime can be felt on an acre or two of ground, where a person can suffer and die and rise again on six miles of trails through a New York City park. Sport is a theater where sinner can turn saint and a common man become an uncommon hero, where the past and the future can fuse with the present. Sport is singularly able to give us peak experiences where we feel completely one with the world and transcend all conflicts as we finally become our own potential.”  - George A. Sheehan

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November 09, 2012

Technology and Live Events: Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013

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The Question

What might one of the iconic music and cultural events of the past century – Woodstock – look like today with the integration of digital and social technologies, especially with Twitter as the network?  And how might this compare almost 20 years later to the first experimental integration of digital consumer technology into the 25th anniversary of that live event?  (If your reading time is limited, go to the sections in this post labeled "Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013" and "Woodstock-Twitter Schematic Elements.")

The Background

In 1969, Joni Mitchell said, "Woodstock was a spark of beauty" where half-a-million kids "saw that they were part of a greater organism." Without any real outside media coverage during the event, that experience was initially limited to those camped out for 4 days at the 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York.  The true size of that “greater organism” and the full impact of the cultural experience that transformed and energized a group into the “Woodstock generation”  - came later, delayed by limitations in distributing and sharing the experience.

Cut away to the present time, and we see widely adopted consumer media creation technologies and platforms like Twitter that when creatively deployed (with smart production values and rock solid engineering) in areas such as politics, entertainment, and sports  - create real-time living breathing “organisms” (we might now say audience or community) that are “Woodstock worthy” in terms of the potential for impact - and that powerfully bridge the physical and digital worlds for both those at the event and others geographically separated from the event and each other by even thousands of miles.

So it’s not surprising that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently told the Wall Street Journal that the company is evolving to "more closely tie the shared experience on Twitter to the actual event that is happening."  And the proof of that is certainly found in the company’s track record of just the past 6 months as Twitter has made some bold and successful partnership and production moves into the live event integration arena with examples such as:

  • NASCAR – Launching a relationship with the first sports organization to create an enhanced live event experience on the platform.  (May 2012)
  • The London Olympics – Partnering with a major main stream media company, NBCUniversal, along with major brands such as GE, to create an infrastructure and experience that aggregated and parsed millions of tweets from athletes, fans, and commentators. (July-August 2012)
  • The US Presidential Debates and Election Night Coverage – Redefining the relationship between first and second screen in terms of information, conversation, and delivery of candidate announcements.  (October – November 2012) 

The Experiment

So what if we now take Woodstock - one of the most surprising and culturally redefining live music events of the past 50 years - and use the lens of technology powered media and engagement – to see how the spirit and experience of the 1969 original was translated with early digital technology in its first “reissue” at the 25th Anniversary in 1994, and what a “reimagined Woodstock” might be in 2013/2014 with the kinds of technologies and experiences we have today, with twitter as the empowering network.

A quick comparison table here with frameworks, specifics, and flowcharts following.   Download Woodstock Comp Grid

The 25th Anniversary of Woodstock 

In August 1994, the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock was held over a three-day period at the 800-acre upstate New York farm that had been initially intended for the first event.  This was the first time that the iconic brand had ever been revisited as an event, and the producers who had also set the stage for the original phenomena, wanted to remain true to that initial vision while also adding relevance for what they described as “a generation who was reading William Gibson and getting up on the Internet.”

(NOTE: This was quite a statement to be made at that time. In 1994, there were only 1500 Web servers online, the Mosaic browser had just come out one year earlier, Earthlink was launching, and Yahoo was about a browser and content index. No Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube. There were no smart phones, and consumer digital still and video cameras were expensive and limited in resolution.  Platforms to distribute media were limited to videotape and CDROM, with containers and authoring systems being jerry-rigged around software such as Macromedia Director.)

But what was the same then versus now?  The drive to create and share information and experiences.

An 8-acre area of the festival field was carved out and named “The Surreal Field” with interactive experiences from artists like Todd Rundgren and Peter Gabriel.  This was also where a 4000 square foot tented production facility (plus an adjoining semi truck with mobile video editing bays) was built in which Woodstock concert goers could observe the behind-the-scenes creation of the twice-daily Woodstock News “video magazine” by a team of two dozen videographers, editors, animators, blue screen operators, composers, programmers, onscreen talent, field reporters, producers and directors working nearly round the clock.  Story types included Woodstock history and event pre-production, behind the scenes interviews, artist interviews, concert audience “ambush style” interviews, “question of the day” blue screen interviews, creative and gaming tech stories, and the concert schedule for the day.

Additionally, limited amounts of text-based reporting were sent out each day via an Apple Web Server.  Yes, limited Internet access was pulled into this portion of the 800 acre cow pasture for this purpose.

A simple flow chart (click image below for larger size image) of the creation of the Woodstock News in terms of people, equipment, and infrastructure. Almost two dozen people, more than 12 Macintosh computers and 24 monitors just to handle acquisition, digitizing, and output to a distribution format from “professional” sources.  No opportunity for “audience” contribution or feedback other than the limited offering in field interviews and blue screen “question of the day” segments.

Framed WoodstockProdFlow

 

  • Woodstocknewsroom
  • Woodstock_jumbo_Blog
  • Woodstock News Storyboard
  • *band schedule image
  • WoodQuestionDay 2
  • Woodpress
  • Woodstockk Logo
Woodstockk Logo

 

My observation at the time on the people and the technology, and live events as platforms for testing creative and technical boundaries. I think it’s very relevant no matter the year – then or now.

"Sometimes it’s almost more about how well your team will coalesce and how they will deal with the elements and difficult situations - mud, crowds, thunderstorms, close-quarter housing - than if the technology will work.  Rock and roll festivals are great places to test the boundaries of multimedia, both from a technical as well as a creative sense.  From a creative perspective, you have to create something that will really grab and maintain people’s attention - from the front row to the guy standing half a mile from the stage watching the Jumbotrons.  And technically, you never know what you might face in terms of the elements causing problems with your equipment - dust in the video deck heads, thunderstorms during which you have to power down, rain coming in through AC vents - and there is no local Apple dealer around when you are out in the middle of what is essentially an 840-acre cow pasture."

Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013

There are innumerable ways that one could reimagine and engineer a Woodstock  with the wealth of broadly distributed digital and social technologies available to both professionals and the “consumer” audience today, the user experience, design and technical skills that have developed from experiments on many platforms, and the mobile element – which did not exist for anyone at any price before.


Framed WoodstockTwitter2013Infographic

This is a simple flow chart (click for full size image) showing the sourcing of various forms (created by both pro and user) of media content and conversation directly and indirectly into Twitter, and then the moderation, curation, and filtration of that along with the tweet wrapper content itself -  based on both human editorial and rule sets – to create output, visualizations, and control streams back out to various distribution types, displays, and devices.

The description and schematic above in this post represent just one possible “reimagining” (with Twitter as the primary network).  It is meant more as a sketchpad for thinking more deeply from creative, technical and business perspectives of what we can do now in bridging the physical and digital worlds (in both real-time and asynchronously) in ways that were never before possible.  And those new kinds of experiences may well create the “sparks of beauty” and connection to a “greater organism” that Joni Mitchell talked about in the opening of this post. 

  • It  - and that which it surfaces and displays by separating the signal from the noise - can become part of the event/show itself;
  • It can take a deeper show experience to other people outside of the event space (geographic independence synchronously) and time (asynchronous);
  • It can change the “planned” nature of the event itself, by content and conversation created by the audience locally and in other areas;
  • It can spark unexpected cultural shifts.

Woodstock-Twitter Schematic Elements

(1) Content Input Sources into Twitter

How might media of all forms come into Twitter at a major live event such as a reimagined Woodstock?  Significantly different from the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock, media comes from both the pros and the audience.  And depending on the synchronous nature of the event, that audience may not be geographically determined or bounded.

From the event producers, pros, and the artists themselves, we might see:

  • Video elements such as live streaming, edited packages included historical and behind the scenes stories, video bits from location-based monitoring cameras (like DropCams), and timelapse;
  • Audio delivery via live streaming, asynchronous stream or download, edited and packaged interviews and commentary;
  • Individual iconic photos and high quality photo packages;
  • Engagement activities constructed around live tweet chats, polling, alerts, and announcements;
  • Information and data generating devices automatically generating data to a “Tweet card” output based on some behavior by attendees.

For the “audience” both geographically near and far, the ability to create media and commentary is unprecedented.

  • Visual media creation from smart phones, DSLRs, and GoPro cameras, loaded directly to Twitter or attached via intermediary site (e.g. video to YouTube or photo to Instagram).  Short video bursts via perhaps Vine or Viddy.  Longer form via YouTube, Vimeo, and other newly emerging video distribution platforms.
  • Comments and text posts

(2) Separating the Relevant Signal from the Noise

As software advances (including Mass Relevance and other custom software) and real-time human curation skills develop, the effective (from both production and engineering perspectives) moderation, curation and filtration of the vast sea of tweets and associated media from such an event can be parsed and routed to the right people and devices (both private and public) that not only enhance, but change the very nature of a live experience such as a Woodstock

(3) Experience Outputs and Destinations

Twitter content may then be filtered and edited into dynamic media packages, or the underlying data translated into infographics, guides, and maps.  For example:
  • Event page curation as was seen at the 2012 Olympics, with in the not too distant future, the option to add another layer of personal filtering based on geography, demographics, or interests;
  • Tweet streams, editorially selected tweets, and tweet visualizations sent to venue-based displays, as well as out to various broadcast and Web partners;
  • Tweet activity informing real time maps and “programming guides” to optimize the experience of both on-site attendees as well as those at a distance; (See Twitter's Director of TV Fred Graver’s talk including comments about Twitter creating real-time programming guides – a live event is not that different;
  • Tweet activity and conversation turning into data that controls onsite or remote devices, offering up new forms of activities and entertainments that the “Twitter audience” creates intentionally or unintentionally through it’s actions.

More than a moment in time. It’s a way of being in the world.

This is true not only for a major live event with deep cultural influence, but also for Twitter itself.

Beyond the ideas sketched in this post, fully conceiving a reimagined Woodstock size live event would also require looking deeply into engineering issues, brand engagement opportunities, and revenue models including and beyond creative advertising and sponsorship. This party is just getting started, so to speak.  

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August 07, 2011

The “Summer of Love” Grows Up to Become the “Summer of Smart” – Reinventing Government One API at a Time

SOS 
“ In the ‘60s we protested the establishment.  Today we write an API to it.” - Peter Hirshberg, Board Member GAFFTA, San Francisco CA

The Rise of Gov 2.0 and the Smart City

Technology and politics have been interesting and increasingly intimate bedfellows over the past 7 years – starting at a national level with the Howard Dean bloggers in 2004, the Obama digital team in 2008, and today’s live-streamed and tweeted town halls - to on the local level, the rise of urban hackathons like San Francisco’s Summer of Smart designed by and for citizens to address issues in their own city.

During this same period, there has been the explosion of ownership of mobile electronic devices and smart phones beyond the tech population into the hands of the general community across all age groups. And within cities, the deployment and embedding of sensors in a variety of places and products has led to the development of and research into the concept of the “real-time” city at places like MIT’s Senseable City Lab.

With these developments in place, and the announcement of the Open Government Directive in December 2009 by the White House, there have been a growing number of technologists and political/community activists asking "Are there ways that diverse groups of everyday individuals can use technology to change and improve local and national government and empower and provide direct control to the individual in the community?"   This is the evolution of the concept and practice of Gov 2.0, eloquently described by Tim O’Reilly in his post “Government as a Platform” as:

 

“…a new generation has come of age with the Web, and it is committed to using its lessons of creativity and collaboration to address challenges facing our country and the world … Government 2.0 is not a new kind of government; it is government stripped down to its core, rediscovered and reimagined as if for the first time …  (It) is the use of technology—especially the collaborative technologies at the heart of Web 2.0 — to better solve collective problems at a city, state, national, and international level.”

 

Much of the Gov 2.0 movement that has been written about has been at the national level.  In addition to the Open Government Initiative, there are sites such as Data.gov and Apps.gov.  Organizations such as Code for America, Sunlight Labs and Expert Labs have served as incubators for the funding and development of data access and technologies that are designed to bring citizens and government closer together. 

But now, led by cities like San Francisco with its own Open Data Executive Directive, the philosophy and possibilities of Gov 2.0 are manifesting at the local level to deal with everyday issues.  Groups such as The Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA) are facilitating this movement by organizing a series of urban innovation-inspired gatherings and hackathons called “Summer of Smart.”

The Summer of Smart

The Summer of Smart (SOS) is an intensive, three-month experiment in urban innovation that has evolved in part out of the city data visualization and art projects of GAFFTA, and also draws inspiration and foundation from four other main sources:

  1. The evolution of the hackathon concept to include non-technical participation,
  2. Grassroots community activism and its similarity to hacker/DIY culture,
  3. Gov 2.0 open data initiatives at the local and national levels,
  4. The birth of the real-time sensor-powered city with work pioneered by MIT

The various hackathons, presentations, and mayoral debates of SOS are part of a new model for how citizens and government might work directly together to address urban issues – in essence to begin to build an extensible platform for local government, an urban operating system.  Examples of addressable issues: mass transit inefficiencies, building energy efficiencies, and better means and measurement of citizen engagement with elected officials.

Within Summer of Smart is a series of 3 hackathons, one each month addressing a different topic area. The three areas:

  1. Community development and public art - June
  2. Urban innovation and Sustainability - July
  3. Public health, food and nutrition - August

And GAFFTA’s hopes for results from the hackathons?

  1. The prototyping of new ideas with opportunities for the best to find continuing development and real world deployment.
  2. The expansion of “bottoms-up” Gov 2.0 innovation from a small niche of activity to become part of the greater urban conversation and reality through the gathering and empowerment of self-organizing multi-disciplinary teams of technologists, artists, writers and activists.
  3. The meeting and collaboration of two previously distant and often adversarial cultures – politics and grass roots innovators - and providing a platform for then to learn and work in tandem. GAFFTA smartly optimized the chances of this outcome by scheduling its activities in the months leading up to the local election with candidates anxious for new ideas, while simultaneously intimidated and interested in the prospects of Gov 2.0.

 

“…there are people in the city bureaucracy that have interesting ideas .. but you just can't express them there as there are budget limitations and bureaucracies … But if you can connect them up with the creative tech community, that’s when it can become very interesting.” – Peter Hirshberg, GAFFTA

The Hackathons – 100 People + 48 Hours of Innovation

If one believes that innovation often happens at the edges of expertise and is fueled by constraints, then a 48 hour hackathon with multi-disciplinary teams of people who have never met each other before seems like a good starting structure for participatory democracy. 

“Hackathons are good in the same way that design charettes are. You give people too little time, too little resources, and too big a goal… that leads to a whole lot of creativity, and forces the creation of something that is “good enough” while keeping people from becoming too bureaucratic. This is the opposite of just about everything else that goes on in a city.” – Peter Hirshberg, GAFFTA

Hackathons and the Importance of Data

Data is at the heart of Internet application development at hackathons like SOS. The goal is to go beyond simple government data access in order to establish simple frameworks and tools that make it possible for citizens, not just the government, to create and share useful data – and drive action based upon that data.

“We are at this moment in time where there is this huge surplus of data. What do we do with it?  In the past, most of the effort was on just visualizations and art derived from city data. But now, we are looking at how do we create a feedback loop that makes something actionable.” – Peter Hirshberg, GAFFTA

Hackathons and the Importance of Redefining Citizen Participation

Gatherings of diverse groups of people - both tech and non-tech -  at hackathons like SOS, provide a forum for citizens to connect like never before and to leverage their respective skill sets and passions to identify and begin to solve problems directly affecting them.

“The success of a hackathon such as SOS is highly dependent on the diversity of the teams. It’s when you get journalists, designers, coders, policy types, sensor experts, and activists who understand the communities – that’s when this exciting stuff happens. You always need programmers … but the bottoms-up “maker energy” that we associate with hackers is similar to the energy that you see with community activists and artists.” – Peter Hirshberg, GAFFTA

The ideas, approaches, and apps that can come out of this type of gathering can redefine collective action in a way that goes far beyond “collective complaint.” Collective action and citizen participation can go beyond the boundaries of “input” (that may or may not be considered by government entities and officials) and enter the arena of direct measurable engagement and control, with potentially new interfaces to government entities and politicans.

Hackathon Project Outcomes

The best projects from the three weekend hackathons will be presented to city officials and mayoral candidates at Summer of Smart’s final public forum at the Commonwealth Club in early October.  Some may even become “productized” in the sense that a home base and ongoing support structure are found for the work. A list of projects can be found here, with some examples:

  • GoodBuildings.info - Helps individuals compare commercial spaces based on their environmental performance.
  • The Call Wall – Makes calling a representative more transparent and collaborative.
  • Public Art Mapper - Assists in locating and cataloging San Francisco’s public art from the street.

Moving Forward

In the near future, will technological advancement contribute to government working better for the average citizen? And more importantly, will the result be not just a more effective way for government to source questions and concerns from the public, but more importantly for citizens to provide and drive solutions, ideas, and true two-way engagement and accountability?

If GAFFTA’s Summer of Smart and its hackathons are an indication of what is possible, the chances are good that at least at the city-level, Gov 2.0 practical innovation can happen.

“... every man … feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day.”– Thomas Jefferson

Additional Resources

Background information on Grey Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA) and Summer of Smart (SOS)

Summer of Smart (SOS) Launch Press Release

Video: Summer of Smart- Democracy in the Digital Age

Open Government Initiative (Obama Dec 2009)

San Francisco Open Data Directive (Gavin Newsom 2009)

Video: Smart, Smarter, Smartest Cities from MIT Forum on Future Cities

Tim O’Reilly’s  “Government as a Platform”

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June 13, 2011

What’s Past Is Prologue – The Link Between Early CDROM Publishing and Today’s Digital Books and Storytelling Apps

  HyperCardBrochure (HyperCard brochure cover excerpt, 1987)

 

“What’s past is prologue.” – William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” (1610-1611)

 

In William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” (1610-1611), the character of Antonio utters the phrase “What’s past is prologue” which in modern times has come to mean that history influences, and sets the context for, the present.  Such is the case if we look at the links between the vision of media-rich computer-based storytelling from approximately 20 years ago (1987-1991) with the possibilities that the iPad now offers for realizing some of those dreams  - if not now, then in the very near future.   That is, if we get a few things right this time.

In preparing this post, I spoke with some colleagues from the early days of “New Media” at Apple including:

  • Hugh Dubberly, who was a creative director at Apple and co-creator of the famed “Knowledge Navigaor” video . He now runs an interaction design and information architecture firm.
  • John Worthington, who was a pioneering software engineer in the areas of sound and video (QuickTime, Sound Manager, MIDI Manager) in Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, and is a software architect, inventor and performing musician today. 
  • Antonia Chappelle, who was an interactive producer/business development exec at groundbreaking CDROM publishing companies Voyager and Inscape, and has now founded iPad publishing company Sage Tales which recently released its first title “The Venetian.”

 

1987: Past as Prologue

In 1987, Apple produced a video that articulated a vision of the computing future called “The Knowledge Navigator.”  It painted a story of a near future with a portable tablet-like device with high-speed connectivity and new UI paradigms (e.g. touch and voice) enabling a highly personal visual convergence of documents, rich media and data with autonomous agents acting on our behalf (what we might think of now as “friends,” semantic search, intelligent readers, and curators).

That same year, Apple released Macintosh veteran Bill Atkinson’s HyperCard, one of the first interactive authoring platforms “combining database capabilities with a graphical, flexible, user-modifiable interface.” This was an important “entry level” authoring platform with a pathway to adding some more sophisticated programming and media control options.  One big drawback that limited HyperCard – there was no powerful global network (or browser) to access non-local (beyond on the computer or a CD) information or remotely connect people and ideas.  And there were certainly few hints anywhere of the powerful social networks of today (with AOL and The WELL as the only real players in the space at the time).

“Hypercard as an end user authoring system had a low bar of entry but gradually stepped up to sophisticated programming …  It was really powerful but there was no Internet.  It could work over a LAN but there really were no networks. It (the Internet) was still locked up … This thing that was a “war device” could be used for commerce and information exchange…. (But) laws had to change as well as technology. “– Hugh Dubberly

 

The Limitations of the Past

With a vision of a rich media connected computing future that is not much different from the reality of today, married with the beginnings of an authoring platform that could, at some level, address different levels of programming sophistication – why did we not have the potential explosion of interactive storytelling that is possible today?  The late 1980’s to mid 1990’s rich-media storytelling world was largely a great experimental playground populated by a mix of avante-garde experience creators/artists and some mainstream entertainment brands repurposing existing properties.  But the playground never evolved into a sustainable business.  Why?

(1) Immature authoring platforms

HyperCard was a start, but never evolved into a mature authoring platform.  Even Macromedia Director, which became the workhorse of the time, was still in its technical infancy and largely held developers at its mercy.  With a lack of both powerful cross-platform tools and an ecosystem of APIs to plug in and extend functionality quickly and inexpensively, both creative and technical expertise was disproportionately focused on solving rudimentary problems rather than envisioning what the storytelling experience could become.

(2) Long and expensive development cycle

Development cycles for early interactive CDROM titles were often in the 12-18 month range, with the deployment of teams of significant size (10-20 people or more).  Development was expensive, not only as a result of time, but because of the expense of specialized platforms – high end desktop computers ($20-30k) with additional expensive memory, hard drives that had to be physically moved around offices between machines because of lack of networks (with a cost of $10/meg for a device), limited – if any- opportunity for distributed collaborative teams without the Internet and online storage/file sharing, and often expensive ($5k/development computer) software licenses.

(3) Lack of interactive design and development experience

Outside of the MIT Media Lab (founded in 1985),   there were few individuals with any experience in interactive design.  And while both design and engineering talent for these kinds of projects was difficult to find, it was nearly impossible to hire an individual who could bring some level of both design experience and engineering knowledge to the medium.

(4) Limited distribution

Many early developers of interactive titles saw distribution as the single largest obstacle that they faced, even more so than the expense of development/teams and the lack of tools. Because the end game for a title was a CDROM disc, both physical production and physical distribution were necessary.  There was no one button publish or Apps Store.

“Distribution was difficult, if not impossible, to capture if you weren’t a major entertainment company.  In order to compete you had to be able to buy shelf space and end caps at a price tag of $100,000 or more.  And even at that price, you were still competing against big game titles.  This made things difficult for any immersive storytelling company at the time.” - Antonia Chappelle 

(5) Pricing options

Because of the expense of development and limited market size, CDROM titles were priced more like the platform video games of today ($49 or more), as opposed to the free or $.99 apps of today. 

There is a very different consumer expectation of value, and willingness to experiment, when the cost is $49 vs less than $1.  How many units of the Angry Birds app would be out in the market if it cost nearly $50 vs $1?

(6) Niche audience

Audience size was limited because of player platform requirements. Early interactive CR-ROM titles usually required higher end computers for playback to handle graphics, video and audio.  Higher end machines naturally skewed to the early adopter, male dominated, gamer audience – an enthusiastic group, but limited in size then and very specific in its tastes.

“ …people had to have higher end machines, so naturally this  skewed more gamer … (but) to be truthful,  we really didn’t know who the audience was .  We were driven more by experimentation than business.” - Antonia Chappelle 

(7) No consumer Internet

With the inability to build in any network connectivity (beyond a LAN for some specialized business applications), developers had to limit their content and code to the 650 megs that could be squeezed onto a CDROM, or deal with issues of multi-CDROM installations on customers’ computers.  This limited choices about breath and quality of media (and why we saw video postage stamps of 1/16 the size of screens in even the most advanced titles)

 

As a result of these 7 key limitations (“7 deadlies”), early interactive/immersive storytelling was limited in market size, and was dominated economically (although not creatively) by large media companies who already had channel and brand awareness to address the physical distribution channel issue at some level.  As large entities, risk mitigation played a greater factor in decision-making than it did for the independent developer community – resulting in many “best-selling” titles coming from repurposed books or other media, often lacking a particular editorial point of view for what the medium could be.

 

Then vs Now - The Rise of iPad and the Demise of the 7 Deadlies

What’s different now and why won’t 2011 be a repeat of the “failed” (at least from a business point of view) efforts of the 1980s and 1990s?

Over the past two decades, all but one of the “7 deadlies” has been addressed.  The average consumer’s access to baseline processing power and bandwidth is significantly better.  Development teams are perhaps 1/6 the size with virtual geographically distributed teams taking ½ the development time of some of the original titles. Interactive design expertise still continues to evolve, but has moved out of its “ransom note” beginnings.  The market and appetite is no longer only “gamer niche” when over 150 million people have their credit card numbers in Apple’s iTunes Store alone. And the Internet has 15+ years in front of consumers, bringing in a volume of content and connection not even conceivable in the early interactive days – but with user and design experiences that generally fell far short of those developed in early interactive CDROM titles.

“Apple's iPad is a milestone in computing, because it brings together for the first time several capabilities long in development. Vannevar Bush (1945), Douglas Engelbart (1962, 1968), and Ted Nelson (1974) articulated early visions of computers as tools the average person might use to organize their own research. SRI, PARC, and Apple demonstrated the power of graphical user interfaces and direct manipulation. HyperCard and Director ushered in a "revolution" in interactive multi-media, but 600 MB CDs were the only medium for distribution. The Internet exploded onto the scene in 1995 providing distribution but taking a 10-year step backwards in terms of media and interactivity. iPad is the first device to bring together rich media, interactivity, portability, and broad distribution.” – Hugh Dubberly

So which one of “the 7 deadlies” still needs to be addressed?  It’s mostly about authoring platforms, although one can debate there is still a distribution limitation focused now around “how one rises above the noise once you get in the free apps stores, were certain companies have a lot of say about success.”

 

The Remaining Deadly - Authoring Platforms

While the Internet took us steps ahead in accessing and distributing information, entertainment and conversation, it took us many steps back in terms of authoring and design.  And that’s not surprising if you consider and believe this:  looking at the Internet as something that was initially structured to transmit 20-30 page physics papers, and then various individuals found ways to bolt on code and brute force morph that system into something that could distribute cat videos or sell stuff, and create multimillion dollar valuations.

Now if we are to move ahead and take the best of the vision of “Knowledge Navigator” and merge it with that of the Internet, thoughtful development of authoring platform(s) needs to be addressed.

“2011 is like 1991 all over again  -  a new revolution in interactive multi-media. HTML-CSS-JS-SVG offer a great deal of potential, much of it still untapped. But we lack good authoring tools at all levels from end-user to professional designers and authors…. As good as it is, iPad has no authoring environment … Quite a number of iPad information utilities or intelligent aggregators have emerged… All of these services are new and evolving. We're quite a ways from a final or even a stable form.” – Hugh Dubberly

Given this, there are several challenges/development areas that will need to be addressed to get to a true authoring platform that enables many (not just the “tech elite”) to develop immersive storytelling and information sharing experiences (that are neither pure books/magazines, video/documentaries or social platforms):

  1. Intelligent readers and social aggregators that can learn from user behavior and facilitate discovery beyond intentional search of a friend’s “Like” (cross reference this to my prior posts on Flipboard etc);
  2. Richer “book/magazine” authoring platforms that contain social elements (to facilitate media as catalysts for conversation) and more structural information beyond a list of words and pages – reflected in richer navigation, parallel information, linking, collecting and curating one’s own and group material);
  3. Interactive video (and photos) authoring platforms beyond simple linear editing and navigation;
  4. Mobile authoring platform as opposed to authoring on PC.

 

Moving Forward to “Past Is Prologue”

With the development of the right authoring tools and APIs we may well move to a “Media and Story Convergence 2.0” where we see the digital and physical worlds; journalism, publishing and broadcasting; social and personal; services and commerce – all come together in a meaningful, accessible, mass market way - after a nearly 20 year hiatus since the first experimental attempts.

“It’s exactly the same thing people were trying to do with HyperCard.  What has changed is of course the platform … Now with Push Pop Press the real stunning thing about it is consistency of vision throughout the book… Part of it is about the willingness to do things on a grand scale, to go beyond repurposing.  People really thought about the material and the right way to present this… Brain cycles can now be spent against the bigger issues – and not the struggle of the 90’s with so many basic technology issues ….”  - John Worthington  


“Imagine an updated version of HyperCard running on smart phones, enabling 10-year-olds everywhere to develop contents and apps. That will create a revolution equivalent to the invention of pocket books which made possible universal education and literacy. ” – Hugh Dubberly

 

So to the innovative developers who have pieces of what a powerful authoring platform could be - Push Pop Press, Zite, Flipboard, Inkling, and others -  the games have begun.   The past is waiting.  Patiently, perhaps.  Favicon

 

May 15, 2011

If "All Politics Is Personal," Then for 2012 Will It Also Be Increasingly Social and Semantic?

  PoliticalMagazines2012

(Image top right: Flipboard.  Image bottom left: Zite.  Image bottom right : Push Pop Press "Our Choice."  Click on image above to see full size image.)

 

Politics and the Internet, as well as politics and the personal, are inextricably linked.  This may offer up some interesting new opportunities for "political magazines" (built around individuals’ social graph, expressed interests and inferred semantic behaviors) via "publishing platforms" like Flipboard, Zite, and even Push Pop Press - depending on their respective development and business plans.

In 2003, the Howard Dean campaign demonstrated that the Internet could be used effectively to raise campaign funds.  In the 2008 Obama for America Presidential Campaign, a relatively small team demonstrated that digital, social and mobile platforms had graduated from fundraiser status to gamechanger. (Twitter was in its infancy when the Obama campaign sent out its first tweet in April 2007.) And outside of American politics, many of the defining moments for Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook have been around political issues and movements.

What did not exist in these earlier campaigns was the iPad and technology platforms that could enable the construction of personalized political/issue “magazine” experiences built around individuals’ social graph, expressed interests and inferred semantic behaviors – with both deep archival and breaking content of all media types. With thoughtful experience design added to the equation, platforms from companies such as Flipboard, Zite and the underlying technology from PushPopPress could evolve and be used to create a new kind of living mobile political campaign magazine for the upcoming 2012 election.

 

"Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social-networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns, and get out the vote…” – David Carr

 

A Look Back at the 2008 Obama “New Media” Campaign

The campaign generated a connection with “users” in ways that had never been achieved before, and was based around the facilitation of the dissemination and sharing of massive quantities of media (interlinked with actionable opportunities) across many platforms, with minimal effort (given small size of the team). A quick recap of some of the main elements: (for more details, see a great 2009 case study written by Kimberly Smith for Marketing Profs).

  • Main campaign website: My.BarackObama.com was designed to be the comprehensive resource point with media, how-tos, transcripts, and opportunities for involvement.
  • Video: The campaign’s YouTube channel eventually held 1800 videos with over 18 million views. Ustream.tv served almost a million hours of live video streams during the campaign.
  • Photos: The Flickr account included official event photos as well as candid views.  (There was no Instagram,Path or other social photo sharing apps at that time.)
  • Social technologies: Numerous Facebook groups were created and updated daily not only for Barack and Michelle Obama, but also for every state and innumerable interest groups. Twitter was in its infancy when the campaign sent its first tweet in April 2007 (with under 300 followers for @BarckObama). LinkedIn was used to present questions and discussions to the (largely) business community.
  • Mobile: The campaign developed an iPhone app that included news, photos, videos, location specific engagement opportunity information (using GPS), and user’s contacts organized by state for campaign calling. The opt-in nature of the mobile strategy provided the campaign with a community with robust profiles on almost 3 million participants by the August 2008 VP announcement.

Possibilities for the Personal-Social Political Magazine 2011-2012

If 2007-2008 was about brute strength and enthusiasm fueling the cobbling together of the various digital initiatives, perhaps 2011-2012 will see the addition of the elegant auto-generated (and two-way) “personal and social political magazine” generated by new tools from companies such as Flipboard, Zite or even a more social-enabled version of PushPopPress (with various evolution of the tools required).

If “O Magazine” and my Twitter feed can be social magazines via Flipboard … If  Zite can learn about my interests and serve me up more undiscovered content … If Push Pop Press can create Al Gore’s “Our Choice” to merge the models  of the book with documentary film … Then why can’t a party, a politician or a cause have the same kind of possibility of creating an engaging, ever changing environment of media resources (from archival to breaking) and social conversations/sharings around their “brand?”

That new personalized political magazine could include integration of all the disparate elements we saw in the 2008 Obama campaign into one dynamic package (although one could still go to the individual platforms as well).  We might see in these "magazines":

  1. Curation of the political articles/videos your friends have found most useful and interesting
  2. Revelation of influential sources and expertise from sources you didn’t know about (avoiding the personal echo chamber)
  3. Revelation of related issues and discussion documents (to what you have already requested or that has been pushed via a programmed feed)
  4. Options to select information on opposing points of view on particular issues
  5. Historical issue and poll timelines and dynamic infographics and maps generated on the fly
  6. Deep archival issues video presented in relationship to relevant current writings
  7. Live streaming video integrated with info graphics, social curation, feedback, polls and calls to action
  8. Polls, real-world engagement opportunities, and messaging/texting supplied in realtime relating to your interests, reading/viewing path, and geolocation data (of you and friends)
  9. Realtime social sharing of media as well as personal highlighting of media
  10. New models of "opt-in" database building, as well as advertising and fundraising

Data and Insights

Think of the interesting breadcrumb trails of action data to be culled from the various browsings of such an integrated, dynamically built, and two-way “magazine”  - the reading of a tweet from a political curator that leads to a YouTube video that leads to a campaign donation and hosting of an event with 20 friends that generates instantly shared photos curated back into the Twitter feed and displayed in the magazine. Additionally, there would be an incredible learning opportunity for mapping people’s information sources, interests,sharing propensities, and their relationship to various stances on critical issues by discrete geograhic location (even via GPS).

Platforms Need to Evolve

In order for this kind of experience to occur, there would need to be evolution in the development of the technical and design capabilities (eg interactive graphics) of the various  social magazine (Flipboard) and personal semantic learning magazines (Zite), or alternatively the integration of these kinds of social and semantic capabilities into the rich-media book/documentary model of PushPopPress .  Some ideas:

  1. Combination of social curated, search generated, and semantic discovered content across a complex topic definition in a single "magazine" format (not in multiple panes in Flipboard or separate list categories in Zite).
  2. Opportunity to more powerfully discover, capture and retain content of interest from your quickly flowing “historical social stream” to get beyond the timeline model to the “personally important model” that is driven by both “discovery and unexpected delight.”
  3. Intuitive and powerful “bookmarking and clipping” functionality to collect and share entire pieces of media or only highlighted and annotated sections (think scrapbook).
  4. Dynamic integrations of various media types from multiple sources into a single screen experience – eg streaming live debate video with an interactive map and poll, curated related analysts' content that can bookmark, conversing/tweets with friends, fundraising around the issue being debated
  5. Balance between content and sources that are asked for, and new serendipitous information and sources that would be useful and revealing. This goes to the ideas in Steven Johnson’s book “Emergence” where he presents the idea that a newspaper tailored to the tastes of a person on a given day will lead to too much positive feedback in that direction, and people's choices/offerings would be permanently skewed for the rest of their lives.
  6. Addition of new interactive media types.
  7. Smarter deduping of shared media via social relationships so that the same video or url is not shared multiple times from multiple sources using multiped url shorteners.

The Near Future

“Much of the creativity and spirit they (Obama 2008 digital team) brought with online tools to help galvanize grass-roots supporters in 2008, they will be trying to re-create this time with an ambitious online presence. This was evident when Mr. Obama began his re-election effort this month with an e-mail and text-message blast, posts on Twitter, a short video on YouTube and a new app that connects supporters and their Facebook friends to his campaign Web site with a question: Are you in?”NY Times Blog: The Caucus

And in the not too distant future (later this year?), might this not also include political iPad magazines that have content that is both professionally created (by candidate/party) as well as "personally" curated via social platforms, search generation and semantic learning?  Favicon

 

April 20, 2011

Will 2011 Finally See the Realization of the 1995 Idea “The Daily Me” - and Beyond?

FlipboardBeingDigital

"To be a viable publisher in this new world you have to think about how your content is going to map to social real-time experience."  - Mike McCue, CEO, Flipboard, 2011

 

Imagine a future in which your interface agent can read every newswire and newspaper and catch every TV and radio broadcast on the planet, and then construct a personalized summary… It (the newspaper) would mix headline news with “less important” stories relating to acquaintances, people you will see tomorrow, and places you are about to go to or have just come from … Call it The Daily Me.” -  “Being Digital” (p 153) by Nicholas Negroponte, 1995

  

The Future Is Today

Sixteen years ago in 1995, Nicholas Negroponte wrote one of the seminal books of the early days of digital media and design called “Being Digital.”  In Chapter 12 of that book, there is a brief two page section entitled “Personal Filters” in which he sketches the vision of “The Daily Me,” a personalized newspaper that would migrate us from the world of general print (atoms) to that of personalized electronic bits (see his quote above).

A lot has had to happen since then to turn this from prognostication/science fiction into the possibilities we are now seeing popping up most predominantly on our iPads.  Remember that in 1995:

  • Netscape was but a year old (Navigator 1.0 browser),
  • Steve Jobs was at NeXT,
  • the fastest commercial cell phone network anywhere was 2G in Japan,
  • the coining of the term Wi-Fi and the first version of RSS were still 4 years away,
  • companies like Google (1997), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005) and Twitter (2006) wouldn’t be founded for years

In the decade and a half since then, the Web evolved into an amazing cacophonous, and certainly imperfect, information source – filled with innumerable pieces of content of all types (words, numbers, photos, audio, video) – with the “good/relevant” sharing equal shelf space with “bad/irrelevant.” And with technology development generally outpacing the integration of thoughtful experience design, even that deemed “good and relevant” was often surrounded by distractions and elements that diminished its value and the experience – often made in pursuit of an elusive, but needed, revenue model or some way to optimize search.  Then, more recently, layer in the supersonic speed of information sharing via social technologies like Facebook and Twitter, and it becomes a near full time job for mere mortals to sift the “signal from the noise.”  (This is at least true for the information junkies among us).

 

 

The Problem and a Need for a New More Human Experience

 

For the most part, the truth is out.  Except for a few media sources accessed religiously, a growing portion of news and entertainment finds us via friends, followers, communities, loose ties, and vertical curators. (Whether we “consume” it in the social space, or go to the media brand source with social primarily serving as discovery and trusted referral service, is another discussion.)

 

On the other side of the media equation, publishing brands are struggling with maintaining control of the content they pay professionals to create, installing paywalls, fighting social syndication, bringing in or contracting technical expertise to create their own branded apps, and perhaps “burdened” with old Web thinking and assumptions that people already know of their content and its relevance for them (excluding the opportunity for new serendipitous discovery/new audience).  At what cost?  And might there be another road (not necessarily exclusive of these) to take?

 

The problem with journalism on the Web today is that it's being contaminated by the Web form factor. What I mean is, journalists are being pushed to do … stuff meant to attract page views …  that are really distracting for the reader, so it's not a pleasant experience to 'curl up' with a good website. … Journalism is being pushed into a space where I don't think it should ever go, where it's trying to support the monetization model of the Web by driving page views. … Let's leverage the power of the Web -- don't get rid of it, but make the Web beautiful again. We need to give the content room to breathe, and give magazine-style advertisements the opportunity to flourish.”  - Mike McCue, Flipboard

 

So What's the Win-Win?

For the consumer audience: it’s the creation of a mobile media “enjoyment” tool for the average person, not another power user dashboard that fills large monitors and enables the parsing and scheduling of content. It’s a platform that, in essence, reinvents the Web content model – by providing, in one aggregated place, what the individual specifically requests/wants or what they would enjoy if they knew about it – without inundating them with everything and expecting them to sift.

  • Platform that can help me find what is most relevant to me from a variety of sources - branded, social, curated, semantic-search aggregated - and present the totality in a visual structure that encourages emotional and intellectual exploration and engagement (vs. just clicking).
  • Customization of sources if desired – passively (via technology in the background observing human behavior), and actively via conscious human choice.
  • Creation of “magazines, portfolios or movies” of content pieces that are additive in nature, rather than providing duplicative coverage of a story with the same reference sources,
  • Presentation in a beautiful engaging way that encourages scanning, as well as reading/viewing, bookmarking, highlighting, sharing, and saving
  • Collection and presentation of all media types around a content areas within a single wrapper – text, photo, audio and video

 

For media brands and publishers: it’s about providing a viable technology platform option and place to aggressively experiment with a reinvention of the possibilities of digital content surfacing, presentation and monetization less constrained by some of the “Web rule” legacy that results in “unnatural behaviors” to generate clicks.  There is a chance to be able to design and provide information and entertainment – to tell stories - in ways designed for human behaviors and not merely Web optimization behaviors that humans tolerate.

Could they make far more money than they ever have on the Web in the past  - when they can get the combination of broader distribution and better targeting leading to larger ad, commerce and even ticket/event subscription revenues – with “The Digital Me” as the way they finally tap into real digital revenues (which for pre Internet entertainment company sector in particular, has been strictly second class)?

  • Platform that rewards playing to the strengths of storytelling and understanding the audience
  • Choices of revenue opportunities from multiple sources, including and beyond re-imagined advertising and subscriptions (see “Evolution” section below) – that supports and evolves the brand essence and the creation of great stories
  • New promotion and discovery opportunities that maintain brand and creator integrity
  • Inspiration for opening up media brand’s archives of content, as well as the creation of new – with both used in concert to create new kinds of stories
  • Exploration of new kinds of programming and storytelling experiences, with the majority of resources going to content creation vs. technology infrastructure

Smart and Powerful Under the Hood; Beautiful and Witty on the Surface; Socially Savvy and Agile

If the above are the desired end states for consumers and creators, how do we begin to get there?  Has there been enough evolution in “installed base” infrastructure, agile tools, and human understanding and practice of media design since “Being Digital” -  that companies in the space (such as Flipboard, Zite, News.me, Pulse, FLUD, NewsMix, Taptu) can successfully move toward the vision of the “Daily Me”?

I say “Yes.”  From a development perspective, it’s about focusing on three areas, while always understanding the importance of the building of relationships with media creators and publishers with a creative and economic model that can support all.

 

Smart and powerful under the hood

Search and social for discovery highlight the need for syndication and integration beyond the need for subscription to single branded channels.  A syndication model in turn requires additional focus on relevance and personalization.  Algorithms that are smart and powerful under the hood will have an increasing role in differentiation (because of the desire for personal relevance) but must be deeply linked to design respect.  Technology can’t trump presentation. The kinds of business relationships that can be developed with media partners will also influence the outcome of what algorithms will be allowed to present  (What can be done is not always what should be done.)  Lots of questions and exploration to come here:

  • How is personalization different than customization?
  • How might recommendations algorithms play out – asking questions that require human action (like Netflix and Amazon) or making decisions and taking action to refine choices in the background (like Pandora)?
  • How will content search and semantic search balance out?
  • Does the resulting model of the algorithmic parsing of the information need to be (or lend itself) more to a digital newspaper or magazine, or something not yet seen?

 

Beautiful and witty on the surface

Design that is beautiful and witty on the surface – meaning innovation on the presentation and navigation layers – needs to have equal footing with algorithm development. And this mantra applies as much to the visual manifestation of advertising and other revenue sources integrated in, as it does with the content itself.

 

Socially savvy and agile

A socially savvy and agile approach that can make the wide, fast-moving streams of Twitter, Facebook and even RSS more navigable and time effective is a requirement for any of the experience offerings that wouldn’t revolve around a single media brand.  Again, many questions to be answered in this area beyond technical development and feed integration – as important questions in terms of how one monetizes and could share revenues within “curations apps” part of the system would work vs. the “single media branded” world (whether as part of a social magazine platform or a stand alone branded app).

Evolving the Opportunity - Strategies and Examples

How might a platform like Flipboard evolve to consider areas such as:

  • Advertising
  • Commerce
  • Special Events - Both Live and with Deep Archival Content
  • Video, Music and Entertainment
  • Location-Based Experience Guides

 

Advertising

Is there an opportunity for design-centric advertising fueled by deep multi-source data (real time and historical), in addition to supporting ad sales and display for single media brands within their own “social magazines?”

Advertising models within this kind of environment, could potentially exist in three spaces:

  • The media brand’s space itself (eg the Flipboard Pages model with brands such as “O Magazine”)
  • Socially curated spaces, ranging from Flipboard curated spaces like FlipTech, or feeds from noted curators such as Maria Popova and Jason Hirschorn.
  • Self-curated and directed by the individual using Google Reader, or some future form of custom complex search (if this capability develops over time with Ellerdale technology)

The first is the model that is being experimented with Flipboard Pages with magazines such as Rolling Stone and O Magazine, as well as pure online plays like All Things D – For now, full page ads that fill part or all of the page sold and provided by an outside agency.

In the second and third instances, with aggregated or curated content “magazines” fed via news reader-type application, no one has yet figured out how to share advertising revenues with publishers. One option is to have advertising revenue for brand specific “magazines” only, and use access to curated content feeds as “discovery cost.” However, while the waters may currently be murky in the world of curation, there may be an interesting hidden opportunity for both technology and media partner alike. Consider the possibility of advertising that leverages the power of all the data feeds that pour into Flipboard from the various Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Flickr, Instagram and other accounts – as well as directly from the media brand “magazines.”  That’s a pretty big potential gold mine –obviously more complex than Scenario 1, requiring different technology, agreements and resources to scale and support.

But while not publicly on the drawing boards, could there eventually be a Flipboard powered ad network or advertising type for “multi-source social magazines” that combines great creative with the diverse data streams, social heuristics and additional inventory?

 

Commerce

In many instances, It has been easier to monetize in the commerce space than advertising space on the Internet.  Something to consider in more broadly thinking about what Flipboard and the 'social magazine" space could become, with three potential models:

  • Traditional catalogs (print and Web) translated in a new way onto the platform
  • Curated commerce around a single brand (media or product), product class/type (across brands), or various "deal of the day" offerings
  • Social semantic search commerce where information (photos, social reviews, offers, videos etc) is collected and displayed on the fly against a certain specific product, product class or brand with purchase opportuity online or real world (with geolocation driven recommendations)

 

Special Events - Both Live and with Deep Archival Content

Special events offer new content opportunities to media partners both in creating new live programming, as well as digging deeply into their content archives and integrating "evergreen" programming with new professional content and social commentary/curation.  Programming could range from one time only to an ongoing series (monthly or quarterly) with revenue opportunities extending beyond traditional advertising to include branded sponsorship.Revenue sources ranging from brand underwiritng to ticketing.

What might this look like for live nature, adventure or travel-related programming, sports, music performances, and curated events (think PopUpMagazine on Flipboard)?  How might a YouTube Live partnership fit with this?

 

Video, Music and Entertainment

Could Flipboard become a new syndication and monetization platform for video creators  - both at the head and mid-tail.

  • Major media brands with their video vaults of evergreen content not yet on the Internet (eg topics around science, nature, travel, sports, history, health, pop culture.)
  • New integration/distribution opportunities for many of the newly funded digital studios that fit the middle ground of media continuum between “the major brands” and the long tail of “skateboard dog videos” (eg Maker Studios, Machinima, Break, BedRocket).
  • Celebrity partnerships with direct to the audience behind the scenes or cause related content.

 

Location-Based Experience Guides

Could Flipboard provide a platform for the next generation in guides - around a  location/geography or experience type/topic? The potential exists for guides to be created "on the fly" with social and  algorithmic curation, appropriately integrating (and “de-duping”) media of multiple types from a variety of sources, providing not only content, but cross reference commerce/retail offers and unique events and experiences that are time-based.

 

Moving Forward

We could be seeing the beginning of the first serious rethinking of the Web content experience in 15 years via a better and more human balance of technology, design and financial relationships. This space (and Flipboard in particular) sits squarely at the intersection of design and algorithms, social media and copyright, storytelling and data feeds, order and cacophony - so it is certianly not going to be boring any time soon - and the opportunities for all sides of the table could be astounding.   Favicon

 

April 17, 2011

Words of Wisdom for Finding "What Really Matters"

The words of individuals as diverse as Buckminster Fuller, Jon Stewart, Lawrence of Arabia, Eleanor Roosevelt and Yoda tell a story about "Finding your vision and making it true - That's what really matters."

 

What Really Matters?

WRM1

 

Choose who you are ...

WRM3

 

... and live that life ...

WRM4

 

... by imagining a difference ...

WRM5

 

... and taking a risk ...

WRM6

 

... to seize the moment ...

WRM7

 

... and do it all.

WRM8

 

What Really Matters? Choose who you are and live that life by imagining a difference and taking a risk to seize the moment and do it all.


WRM9

 

What's your vision and how will you make it true? Favicon

 

January 16, 2011

For the Movie Industry - Marketing is the Eye of the Storm

MovieMarketing_3Posters

 

While the debate storm swirls around the issues of technology and its impact on the how and when people can access “mainstream” entertainment, the true “eye of the storm” may be a product of technology and its impact on how the marketing of entertainment (and the associated distribution of dollars and time) needs to be significantly re adjusted if not completely rethought.

So why “the eye of the storm?” 

 

While the eye is perceived as the calmest part of the storm, it is often the most hazardous and deceptive.  In storms over water, conditions inside the eye can include towering waves generated by the storm walls.  Over land, people wander outside to inspect the damage once the eye passes, thinking the storm is over, and then are caught by surprise by massive winds in the oncoming eyewall. Such it is with technology (the storm), distribution (the storm and eye walls) and marketing (the eye) in the entertainment industry.

 

 

What Does It Mean to Market a Movie?

Historically, marketing a movie, whether it is a wide release from a major studio or a niche ultra indie, is not the same as marketing a similarly priced consumer product (an item priced at about $10). Movies exist in an environment filled with a nearly infinite variety of creative choices for an audience that needs to make a purchase decision (and an often one time purchase decision) without trial.  They don’t personally know if they like it until they have actually tried/viewed it, and there are no returns.  For the studio, the value of that initial ticket purchase decision is non-trivial, as it has historically set the tone for the all important downstream revenue opportunities.

So how does a marketer make a potential viewer feel that “they know” the movie and become invested in the experience, and provide signals that raise the chance of ticket purchase, without giving away the creative surprise that is at the core of movie viewing?

 

“… marketing by its nature is an attempt to influence the outcome.” – Jeff Ulin


This is why the race should be on for innovative thinking and well-crafted and monitored execution, and dare we say “some calculated risk taking” in rethinking the appropriate media vehicles and digital-physical linkages for different stages of the marketing conversation. 

 

Seven Stages of the Marketing Conversation

Marketing needs to be thought of as an ongoing engagement process, not a sales spike only (push style) strategy.  Media and platforms chosen for one stage should setup and feed the conversation and engagement in the next.  The following seven activities propose one way of organizing the structure and flow of the marketing conversation.

  1. Research: Identifying potential audience groups, influencers and platforms
  2. Seed: Creating and placing media, experiences, conversations and platforms for exchange
  3. Discovery: Optimizing the opportunity for discovery, curation and sharing of content and conversation of interest to the potential audience
  4. Purchase: Creating ways that make ticket purchase easy, immediate and sharable
  5. Experience: Watching the movie in theater or unique location
  6. Share: Encouraging the dialogue of personal experience with the movie, between individuals and groups with both strong and loose ties
  7. Ongoing engagement: Aligning the movie with opportunities for ongoing conversations and media beyond the initial spike push to meet opening weekend reach and sales goals. Depending on the film and originator, this linkage might be with the brand, characters or related cause

 

Timeline of Marketing Activities for Theatrical Release

Today, there is no magic formula when it comes to the theatrical release. It’s not about “one from column A, and 2 from column B.”  Innovative and creative thinking, married with well-coordinated (but flexible) execution is as important in marketing as it is in the conception and production of a movie.

The table in this post is not meant to be a complete representation of all the possible tactics, nor should every movie use all the tactics listed at a high level in this document. It is meant to help frame some thinking about media and conversations in a time based manner – before , during, and after theatrical release – and begin to introduce some more thought around the concept of “continuity of brand over time” vs. “spike/push tactics to reach initial release reach and frequency targets.”

 

Page 1 focuses on the more physical space tactics where the majors have traditionally focused and spent - with the dominance of traditional sources like TV advertising (sometimes 80% of total media spend), but with the need for more creative use of digital.  Indies may use very little of the traditional (and expensive) media platforms on Page 1, but have great opportunity to creatively use their limited dollars against digital tactics and social platforms such as those on Page 2.

 

Disney spent $34M in the initial marketing of  “Finding Nemo” with more than $20M just for TV spots - this against an estimated  $536.7M initial gross.  (Source: Ulin book)

“The power of the Web to target messages to specific demographics is a marketer’s dream, and the budgets for online advertising continue to grow.  However, the percentages spent online and the migration of marketing dollars has not been as great or fast as one may expect.” – Jeff Ulin 

 

Timeline of Marketing/Communications Activities for Theatrical Release

GenericMarketingMatrix
GenericMarketingMatrixPage2


Integrated Marketing Communications- Making the Digital and Physical Symbiotic

 

With the increasing pressure on traditional marketing tactics, there is a strong argument to be made for rethinking not only the timing of marketing activities, but also the need for:

  • strong thoughtful integration of physical/traditional media and digital/social platforms
  • increased digital spend with an understanding that those dollars are not just about ad spend with “risky non-standard platforms” (to the industry), but against new digital experiences
  • better understanding of how social platforms extend the “virtual” media budget for a film, but also require attention in dollars and resources beyond free “interns”
  • changed thinking that all activities on the Web, mobile or via apps are free for people to find randomly on their own  
  • an agreement that execution and luck do not “magically intersect” online  

The infographics that follow show snapshots of a theoretical movie campaign with both (1) a traditional media only approach and (2) a digital deeply integrated approach. Their focus is on the integration of elements and the time frame of elements is not identified (as was the purpose of the previous table). Much of the traditional marketing comes and goes, while the digital and social technology platforms can take on a more persistent continuity role before and after a particular release.

 


Traditional/Physical Marketing Only Approach

  PhysicalOnly_MovieMarketingInfographics(click for full size image)

 

The major elements are as follows, and can also be linked back to the previous table (page 1) in terms of general timing.  The major goal – to “push” awareness and traffic.

  • Advertising
  • Trailers
  • Press
  • Events
  • Posters
  • Merchandise
  • Cross Brand Promotions

 

Integrated Digital and Physical Marketing Approach
  MovieMarketingInfographics(click for full size image)

 

In addition to the major elements from the physical/traditional only campaign, other media/platforms/activities are integrated (and can also be seen in terms of general timing from the previous table page 2).

 

Additional elements to existing physical/traditional categories include:

  • Advertising – some digital push platforms
  • Press – seeding online and bloggers and digital EPKs
  • Events – virtual audience oriented
  • Trailers – the consideration of online only versions as well as digital distribution of theatrical trailers
  • Contests – digitally driven

New categories include:

  • Digital and social platforms
  • Online video
  • Apps

 

(1) Digital and Social Platforms

Creating brand specific digital platforms and leveraging those created by others that have garnered significiant (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) and targeted (e.g. "vertical" blog networks) audiences create powerful amplifying nodes for content creation and distribution; curating, commenting and sharing; awareness and traffic driving; and reach/value extension for the traditional media efforts.

“For too long, we've tried to understand ourselves in isolation, as we test people one at a time in the psychology lab or rely on their past preferences to predict behavior. But these conditions and algorithms are artificial. In the real world, we are deeply intertwined with each other, dependent on our social networks for all sorts of advice. If it weren't for the buzz of strangers, we wouldn't even know what movie to pick at the multiplex.” - Jonah Lehrer in The Wall Street Journal

 

(2) Online Video

Online video can range from the creation of YouTube channels, integration and posts into Facebook groups, promotion and discussion via Twitter, stealth placements, and even syndication across "vertical" blog networks. Material can inlcude that created for traditional broadcast campaigns (e.g. talent interviews), but is even more powerful when unique digital-only content is created on an on-going basis that lets the potential movie-going audience connect deeply and personally with the brand in advance (e.g. behind the scenes, remixes with popular pop culture talent, ongoing Q&A's, digital only trailers). This can be content with high curation, aggregation and sharing potential.

“… the virtual community can scale and expand beyond what would typically occur in the physical world .. because the Internet has no geographical boundaries… It becomes a global, real-time conversation and online video is in many cases the catalyst that brings all these people together.” - Peter Levinsohn, President of New Media and Digital Distribution for Fox Filmed Entertainment

 

(3) Apps - Third Party and Original

Experimentation with apps has recently included the development of orignal apps and leveraging third party apps to directluy drive ticket sales:

"You now have a self-identified list of participants who are passionate about entertainment, and the event brand has even more value to them." - Jordan Glazier, CEO of Eventful in reference to the use of his company's app in the marketing of the movie "Paranormal Activity"

 

Three Case Studies

The series of posts that will follow will use the models and infographics presented in this post to look at the use and integration of digital platforms and content for three kinds of movies:

  • Toy Story 3: a major studio franchise release, the kind of movie where the amount spent on traditional media (largely TV) to open it is disproportionately large as theatrical launch is seen as the engine that drives larger downstream revenues.
  • Ready Set Bag:  the ultra indie passion project where distribution and helping theaters sell tickets has to be earned one geographic market at a time.
  • Waiting for Superman: the cause-related film where the key is knowing how to engage those already deeply involved with and invested in the topic and their surrounding communities. Favicon

October 29, 2010

Why Space Matters – An Argument For Truly Creative Environments and Against Cube Culture

  SpacesImage

Which of these images is not like the others?

(answer at the end of the post)

 

If one wants to give more than lip service to the concepts of collaborative creativity and innovation acceleration, then caring about the “micro-environment” of the individuals involved in those processes is required. "Micro-environments" are the spaces, both individual and common, over which we have control to some extent, and are different in the level of effort required to change them from the macro-environments of the location that surrounds them (ranging anywhere from a city to a scenic wilderness). That thoughtful engagement with and design of the immediate work environment must go far beyond many organizations’ concepts of trendy design directions or gimmicks like indoor slides.

In his book "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention", Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote that:

"Even the most abstract mind is affected by the surroundings of the body.  No one is immune to the impressions that impinge on the senses from the outside.  Creative individuals may seem to disregard their environment and work happily in even the most dismal surroundings … But in reality, the spatiotemporal context in which creative persons live has consequences that often go unnoticed." (p.127)

This group of “creative individuals” is not limited to “artistic” creativity, but to the broader definition of creative thinking and action that also includes science, technology and the practical arts.  One might argue that these, even more so than “fine art,” are collective creative endeavors where idea and information exchange and innovation often grows much faster in specific “hot spots” where the work of one person builds on that of others.

So what creates – or reveals -  those “hot spots,” the elusive right place at the right moment for the right pursuit?

  • Why Italy and Renaissance art?
  • Why Paris in the early 1900s for writers?  Or why Gertrude Stein’s salon in particular?
  • Why the University of Illinois and the physics of superconductors in the 1950s?
  • Why Silicon Valley and the personal computer in the 1980s and the Internet in the 1990s?

It would be overly simplistic to say there is only one factor that drives the rise to greatness of density of creative thought for certain geographic locations (macro-environments) for specific endeavors, but as to why a particular place (macro or micro) may accelerate and spread creative work within its boundaries, Csikszentmihalyi said:

"Certain environments have a greater density of interaction and provide more excitement and a greater effervescence of ideas; therefore, they prompt the person who is already inclined to break away from conventions to experiment with novelty more readily than if he or she had stayed in a more conservative, more repressive setting."

So if one theme extracted might be about the density of appropriate interaction presented to the “prepared mind,” what might be some current real world examples of how this can be taken to the micro-environment level of the common and personal spaces we inhabit in the structures in which we work?

 

Here are two.


1. Randy Pausch’s Stage 3 Laboratory in Wean Hall at Carnegie Mellon University (lower left image at the beginning of this post)

This is about setting the stage for fun, comfort and contentedness to fuel collaborative work from teams with diverse disciplines who don’t usually work together. And this does not have to happen in an expensive, high design space.  It can be in a humble university lab.

"Instead of a traditional laboratory, the Stage 3 lab more closely resembled a toy store. The space was awash with color and filled with games, toys and stuffed animals – lots of stuffed animals, some hanging from the ceiling.  Randy had wisely banished the use of fluorescent lights, so the colorful stuffed animals were illuminated by incandescent lamps.  The theme was clearly one of fun, comfort and contentedness. … Clearly Randy intended his lab to inspire creativity and out of the box thinking. – “The Comet and the Tornado” by Don Marinelli (p 37)

 

2. The Atrium at Pixar Animation Studios (upper left image at the beginning of this post)

 This is about maximizing the opportunity for the informed serendipitous encounter.

"Our building, which is Steve Job's brainchild, is another way we get people from different deprtments to interact.  Most buildings are desgined for some functional purpose, but ours is structured to maximize inadvertant encounters.  At its center is a large atrium, which contains the cafeteria, eeting rooms, bathrooms, and mailboxes.  As a result, everyone has strong reasons to go there repeatedly during the course of the workday. It's hard to describe just how valuable the resulting chance encounter are." - Ed Catmull in "How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity" in Harvard Business Review

 

Takeaways Beyond the Common Space

It is important to note that neither of these examples is about creating chaotic environments where one has to be an aggressive extrovert to survive. Nor are they about taking away personal and quiet spaces with a practice some call "hotelling" where individuals have no assigned personal space, but "check-in" each day for an open desk with their personal materials kept in a box on a shelf they move around each day.  (Thanks to Allison Arieff for pointing out the “hotelling” example, and to Michelle Kaufmann for reminding me about the need for beautiful open personal space.) What they are about is both personalization and optimization of the prepared mind for inspired moments as well as the chance encounter and exchange.

 

Points beyond physical attributes of the micro-environment

1. The importance of bringing a prepared mind

It is essential to have a “prepared mind” if an environment is to have a chance to impact creativity.

“…what seems to happen is that when persons with prepared minds find themselves in beautiful settings, they are more likely to find new connections among new ideas, new perspectives on issues.”  - M. Csikszentmihalyi (p 136)

2. How you do what you do

How you spend time in the right setting also has impact on the creative process. Sitting may be acceptable, but being able to walk around seems to be even better. Why?

"… when involved in a semiautomatic activity that takes up a certain amount of attention, while leaving some of it free to make connections among ideas below the threshold of conscious intentionality.  Devoting full attention to a problem is not the best recipe for having creative thoughts.” - M. Csikszentmihalyi

3. The personal space

Beyond the common space designed for the serendipitous event,  personal micro-environments, the immediate setting in which a person works, can and should be transformed into a way that those spaces enhance personal creativity.  Successful creative problem solvers manage to give their surroundings a personal setting that reflects the rhythm of their thoughts and habits. What you place around yourself whould reflect what you intend to become or create.

"In order to think more creatively, imaginatively and strategically, we need to cultivate a more intuitive, metaphorical attention that calls preeminently on the right hemisphere of the brain … The parallel challenge for leaders and organizations is to create work environments that free and encourage people to focus in absorbed ways without constant interruptions.” – Tony Schwartz in “The Way We're Working Isn't Working"

4. The exterior macro-environment

 External macro-environments set the social, cultural, and institutional contexts of our lives. Most of us can’t do that much about changing them on a daily basis.  However, access – even on an irregular basis – to environments that present unusual and complex sensory experiences (Big Sur, Grand Tetons, the beach - as in upper left image at beginning of post) can be very beneficial to the creative process.

"...one’s attention is jolted out of its customary grooves and seduced to follow the novel and attractive patterns.  However, the sensory menu does not require a full investment of attention; enough psychic energy is left free to pursue, subconsciously, the problematic content that requires a creative formulation.”  - M Csikszentmihalyi  (p 138)

 

The Takeaway

The belief that the immediate physical environment deeply impacts our thoughts and feelings, and hence our work, is held by many cultures - and ours should be no exception.  Building micro-environments that up the odds of creative thinking and work , for both the individual and the group, needs to be a thoughtful process that goes beyond surface trends and gimmicks.

And to answer the question posed at the beginning of this post: "Which of the 4 images is not like the others?"  The answer is the lower right cube farm.  It is neither a micro or macro environment that enhances creative collaboration.  Favicon

 

Additional Resources

The Economist: "Fun and the Office Environment"

Randy Pausch's office and lab

Michelle Kaufmann's post on Twitter office space - a mix of private and public spaces

Fast Company: "Where Work Is Play"

Steven Johnson in GOOD Magazine on future working spaces

Business Pundit: "8 Coolest Office Spaces Ever"

Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker (added Nov 5) "Why your bosses want to turn your new office into Greenwich Village"

 

 

    Or

Liz Gebhardt


  • © Amanda Jones
    Digital and traditional (live & broadcast) media/ marketing strategist and producer living at the intersection of Web meets (live) World. More than two decades of experience in building media and technology businesses, content programming and distribution, brand stories and integrated communications campaigns.

    Believes that strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. Embraces the role of navigator of the uncharted path vs. passenger along the known road.