8 posts categorized "Books"

February 06, 2013

A Pixar University for the Rest of Us


PersonalUniversityModel.001

 

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 

 

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

 

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

 

October 03, 2010

When A Comet Meets a Tornado – The Power of Creative Partnerships

 

CometTornadoFramed2

 

In a world that seems to crave the solitary archetypes of the lone hero, the rugged individual, the anti-social nerd and the alpha wolf, have we forgotten the magic, mystery and power that can be found in the story of collaborative creativity? How is it that two people or a “small” group, with individuals capable and talented in their own right, can create together what they could not have done on their own?  These are important questions for both the artistic and entertainment community, as well as that of science and commerce – both in search of “that which is the new” and the illusive innovative breakthrough.

Take, for example, the unexpected “love story” between Professors Randy Pausch and Don Marinelli, who together created the Carnegie Mellon (CMU) Entertainment Technology Center in a unique marriage of science and art.

 

Background

Many have heard of “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. Less known is the story of the unique partnership between Pausch and Marinelli (the Associate Head of Drama at CMU),  in the building of the CMU ETC.  Pausch (the comet – an illuminating astral body) and Marinelli (the tornado – a whirlwind of energy and creativity) were two dynamic men who met each other with polar opposite personalities, skills, life experiences and perspectives, but still found a way to powerfully join forces, create something much bigger than themselves, and unexpectedly change each other in the process.  Their premise: that the false divide that often exists between engineering and art could be bridged by showing that the two actually think surprisingly alike and can work together in trusted collaboration without mastery of knowledge in the other’s domain. Their work resulted in the definition of a unique interdisciplinary approach to the creation of technology-driven interactive entertainment founded on premises of team dynamics that provide valuable lessons for individuals and companies far beyond the walls of academia.

 “…while we were both alpha males, we were from vastly different cultures.  The battle for domination was essentially neutralized when we realized it wasn’t about which lion would rule the pride, because we were actually two distinctive breeds sharing the same enclosure.  And that environment was unfamiliar to both of us … “ - Don Marinelli (p. 42)

 

Defining the Individual

For Pausch and Marinelli, in order to understand and maximize the dynamics of the group, one had to first define two major dimensions of importance of the individual.

(1) Defining the value one uniquely brings to the team : A unique (self-understood) skill set and a predisposition to making others successful (vs just being smart) are paramount.

“Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.”  - Randy Pausch (p. 33)

“Smart isn’t enough.  The kind of people I want on my research team are those who will help everyone else feel happy to be here.’” Randy Pausch (p. 118)

(2) Acknowledging the value that “the other half” on the team provides: Defining what you don’t know, and that you don’t need to know it because other trusted members of your team have that knowledge.  Admitting the “lack of knowledge” held by “the other half” tends to clear away many of the opportunities for egos and attitude triggered by a fear of comparison.

“When we’re connected to others, we become better people.” - Randy Pausch (p. 176)

" When I collaborate with people, the further apart they are from me, the more I learn.” - Don Marinelli (p. 80)

 

Defining the Dynamics of the Group

Pausch and Marinelli believed that the best innovative (and inherently risky in terms of predicted outcome) work would be done by groups defined by a significant diversity of skills and experiences among members, mixed with a strong commonality of “teamwork, perseverance, sportsmanship, the value of hard work, and ability to deal with adversity.”

“When we’re connected to others, we become better people.”  - Randy Pausch (p. 176)

"When I collaborate with people, the further apart they are from me, the more I learn.” - Don Marinelli (p. 80)

Married with this philosophy of the creative team, was a set of simple “rules” for optimizing group dynamics:

  • Meet people properly
  • Find things you have in common
  • Try for optimal meeting conditions
  • Let everyone talk
  • Check egos at the door
  • Praise each other
  • Phrase alternatives as questions

Equally important was a set of guidelines for giving and taking feedback.

  • On giving: “Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”  - Randy Pausch (p. 151) 
  • On taking: “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”   - Randy Pausch (p. 37)

 

New Research and Writings

Beyond the story of Pausch and Marinelli, there is some interesting new research and writing on this topic of “socially powered creativity” that echoes and amplifies their practical lessons from building the ETC.

Writer Joshua Wolf Shenk has begun a series of posts on Slate.com as well as a group page on Facebook to examine the story of “creative pairs”  (he’s limiting his “group size” to the number 2). His premise:

“The stereotypes of miraculous breakthrough moments—and the incessant drive to locate them in the head of epic individuals—are slowly yielding to a portrait of complex, meandering, inherently social paths toward innovation… there’s an experimental foundation now to demonstrate how our cognitive structures morph when we’re very close with other people, so that our ideas of “self” literally expand to include another person.”

Beyond face-to-face creative collaboration, some like Steven Johnson are writing about the amplification that the Internet provides in its role as a connector of diverse and remote relationships.

And others, like Daniel Pink in “Drive” are writing about what motivates us – and surprise – it’s not about “carrots and sticks”, but about mastery and purpose, something that Pausch and Marinelli learned early on in the forming of ETC.

 

Lesson Learned

So what happens when a comet meets a tornado – when the creative state successfully moves from the solitary to the collaborative?  In his relationship with Pausch, Marinelli observed that:

 “… (there is an) importance of being attuned to more than one’s personal desires and ambitions.  If you truly believe the answer is blowing in the wind, then you need to go outside to feel it.  I stepped outside my previous existence and, in doing so, discovered an alluring vortex.  The funnel-cloud of creativity would soon develop into a veritable tornado of innovation.”

When it comes to creative endeavors, we should all hope for this kind of “stormy weather.”  Favicon

 

Resources

Books

Video

Blog Posts and Groups

 

 

June 30, 2010

Is "Open" Just Another Four Letter Word?

OpenScrabble

Download Open Leadership Flow Chart

 

Like the word "free" in Chris Anderson's book "Freemium,"  the word "open" indiscriminately applied to organizations might be seen by some as just another four-letter word - representative of business anarchy, causing more problems and disruption than the value it could ever eventually deliver.  But that perception is as off base as the one where social media zealots require that organizations be 100% open without regard to individual business needs.

In her book "Open Leadership" Charlene Li presents a rigorous approach to identifying and evaluating a specific organization's need for open leadership and its respective strategy, action and ongoing evaluation plans.  Her approach is not a one size fits all prescription, rather she best describes it as:

"Being open should not be a mantra or philosophy ... The question isn't whether you will be transparent, authentic, and real, but rather how much you will let go and be open in the face of technologies.  Transparency, authenticity, and the sense that you are being real are the by-product of your decision to be open."

- Charlene Li

Rather than writing another high level review of the book, I've created a downloadable "how to" road map or flow chart of the main concepts and their relationships to each other. The map takes many of "Open Leadership's" detailed and highly practical audit lists and metrics recommendations, and builds a visual relationship between them.

It's clear that "open" (leadership or organizations) is not a mono-dimensional state, nor is it for everyone.  And it's certainly hard to achieve - meaning that patience and dedicated resources are required once the desired location on the "openness meter" is identified.  Some may give up and others may prevail. So in the end, "hard" - like "open" and "free" -  may just be another four letter word for some.  Favicon

November 15, 2008

Tribes - Choose to Lead Rather Than Wait to Be Chosen

TribesInnerCover

Image from the inside jacket of "Tribes" by Seth Godin

Oh you modern city dweller - you think you don't belong to a tribe?  Guess again. If a tribe is defined as a group of people who are connected to each other, to a leader,  to an idea AND they have a way to communicate about a shared interest -  then we are all probably members of multiple tribes. 

The connective power of the Internet and its social media tools has nearly eliminated the barriers of geography, money and time that in the past were powerful definers of the boundaries of tribes and the selection of their leaders.  But technology is just that - technology.  It doesn't have a heart.  It doesn't have ideas.  It doesn't have passion.  That's where leaders come in.

"Tribes" will make you think about leadership in a new way.  Don't wait for leadership to be conferred on you.  Define it for yourself. And there are some sketches of others who have followed this premise and become leaders in tribes as diverse as wine-making, social entrepreneurship, political activism, religion and the Forune 500.

A great evening or afternoon read designed for inspiration.  It is NOT a "how to" blueprint book.  For example, from p.84:

"It's easy to get caught up in the foibles of a corporate culture and the systems that have been built over time, but they have nothing at all to do with the faith that built the system in the first place."

Rating: 47 of 151 pages tabbed/annotated in my copy of "Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us."

September 16, 2008

UNSTUCK - A Timely Repeat Read

UNSTUCK Stratgy Circles  

Above: The iconography of the basic systems model of UNSTUCK.
Left brain structure to release right brain strategic creativity.

The systems approach of "UNSTUCK" is designed to help individuals, groups or entire organizations look at what is healthy and what is out of balance in their world (aka the system).  When "stuck" is the watchword of an organization, it's usually because one or more of the essential Elements of a System are out of balance with the overall Purpose of the organization.  The key is to identify which of the elements is unbalanced, diagnose the root causes, and engage and personally invest the people/culture in the process of re-engineering the system.

The "Serious Seven" Primary Causes of "Stuck"
  1. Overwhelmed
  2. Exhausted
  3. Directionless
  4. Hopeless
  5. Battle-torn
  6. Worthless
  7. Alone

Any of these feel familiar? Then jump into some of the recommended exercises (paired with each of the seven causes) that include intriguing concepts of:
  • Have a moonshot
  • Futurecast
  • Give the movement a name
  • Build a haven for radical thinking
  • Go where the unofficial power lies
  • Creat a mind map to see different people's views
  • Find the quiet rock star
  • Embrace thine enemy
To find out what these are ... well you'll just have to buy the book.

"UNSTUCK: A Tool for Yourself, Your Team and Your World" is written by Keith Yamashita (an old Apple colleague) and Sandra Spataro. I originally discussed the book in another blog post in 2004, but the nature of today's business (and personal) world makes this a read worth repeating with practical tools and tested approaches to try.  Enough said.

August 10, 2007

Robert Sutton and “The No Asshole Rule”

So what’s more taboo, the word or the behavior?

Bobsuttonphoto_4 High tech, digital media, the entertainment industry, and startup environments seem to have their fair share of assholes –bullies in the form of bosses who manage by fear or employees who step on or over their colleagues. Many have even held the belief that those who consistently exhibit that behavior, but are seen as “extraordinarily talented or big winners,” are tolerated and even pampered.  But Robert Sutton, a management science and engineering professor at Stanford University, makes a powerful argument that they stifle the performance of others and the organization as a whole, and are usually (he doesn’t believe in absolutes) successful despite of, rather than because of, their behavior.

“Even organizations that seem to glorify arrogant jerks, like sports teams, can reach a breaking point where superstar coaches or players are so destructive that they are punished and kicked out,” writes Sutton.

Does Coach Bobby Knight come to mind, for example?

Sutton’s book, "The No Asshole Rule," doesn’t suggest that we all sit around the campfire and sing “Kumbaya.”  But he does provide powerful data from other researchers that quantify the impact of assholes on the workplace around them, and the business reasons for mitigating their proliferation.

  • Negative interactions had a fivefold stronger effect on mood in the workplace than positive interactions
  • 25% of bullied victims and 20% of witnesses of bullying quit their jobs.
  • Studies and organizations have actually calculated the TCA – total costs of assholes – for various individuals, and it can be in the $100,000s

At 186 pages, the book is a great 3 hour read - perfect for that San Francisco to Los Angeles business flight.  And an airport is a great place to observe the behavior and make sure you don’t unintentionally embrace it yourself.

So how do you know if you have an asshole in your midst or work for one? You probably already know it in your gut, but Sutton has created the “The Dirty Dozen” - Common  Everyday Actions That Assholes Use. A quick look at the list below. (You’ll have to read the book to get the details.)

  1. Personal insults
  2. Invading one’s “personal territory”
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
  5. “Sarcastic jokes” and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems
  6. Withering e-mail flames
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  8. Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they are invisible

Along with the handy ID points above, there are also some great guidelines to consider if you want to cultivate an “asshole free” environment, rather than just complain about it:

  1. Say the rule, write it down, and act on it
  2. Assholes will hire other assholes - so don’t let them be part of the hiring process
  3. Get rid of assholes fast - don’t take so long that you find yourself asking “Why did we wait so long?”
  4. Treat certified assholes as incompetent employees – even if they fall into the superstar or “extraordinarily well” category
  5. Power breeds nastiness – remember a little power can be a dangerous thing
  6. Embrace the power-performance paradox – note the reality of a pecking order at work or on the team, but downplay
  7. Manage moments – not just practices, policies and systems; change the little things and something big will likely follow
  8. Model and teach constructive confrontation – use constructive arguments to voice opinions vs. nasty personal ones
  9. Adopt the one asshole rule – the token jerk as the reverse role model can be a useful practice
  10. The bottom line: link big policies to small decencies

Finally, since “asshole poisoning” can be highly contagious, there’s a fun self test (in the book and online) you can take to see if you are safe or on the verge of becoming “one of them” on a permanent or even temporary basis.

To keep the conversation going, send Sutton an email about your experiences and support the concept that civilized workplaces and teams are not pipe dreams. You can also can check out his writing on The Huffington Post where he is a contributor or on the his Harvard Business School blog “The Working Life.”

    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.