11 posts categorized "Cool Stuff"

November 09, 2012

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

  Framed_woodstock2012_h

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.  

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

 

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"

 

 

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

 

 

September 15, 2010

Learning from Pixar: Deep Beliefs, Hard Truths, and Creative Magic

PixarLegos2 
It would seem that more than any other current organization that is deemed “innovative,” Pixar is referred to in more business presentations and articles than any other – regardless of industry.  And well it should be given its unique combination of business and creative achievement. But companies, both large and small, should make sure that they first understand Pixar’s underlying beliefs and values, before they run off and try to apply the various presenters’ lists of the company’s best practices.  Why? Applying techniques that don’t have their roots in values deeply burned into the organization’s core DNA, have little chance of working.

The ideas in this post are informed by a number of talks and interviews with Pixar executives and creative talent including Ed Catmull, Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton. All of these are listed and linked to at the end of this post for reference, and quite frankly, make for very enjoyable and entertaining viewing.

Pixar appears to have three critical belief areas that describe (1) why an organization should ever undertake a project, (2) the “physics” of innovation and creativity that rule the process, and (3) the primacy of the very human resources that need to be brought to bear to make the ideas uniquely real.

 

(1) THE WHY: The motivation and underlying truth for any undertaking.

That which provides the genesis for a venture must be something over which the team has some control via their individual talents, collaborative actions and relationships. It needs to provide reward to the heart and head throughout the process - the pocket is a somewhat less controlled result at the end.

 Beliefs:

  • You shouldn’t do anything unless you think you can make it great.
  • Making money can’t be the focus. Making money is a by-product of doing something great.

 

From the Pixar Team:

“It seems counterintuitive, but for imagination-based companies to succeed in the long run, making money can’t be the focus.” – Brad Bird

“The first step in achieving the impossible is believing that the impossible can be achieved.” – Brad Bird

 

(2) THE HOW: The basic physics of innovation and creativity that power the process.

To head-off the development of an insular NIH culture bounded by past successes, Director Brad Bird was brought into Pixar to stir things up and provide a different perspective. He did just that in seeking out "the black sheep who have another way of doing things" to form the team to do "the impossible" on the film "The Incredibles."  Writer/director Andrew Stanton has been around the block on numerous Pixar films and knows from experience that: " I won't get it right the first time.  But I'll get it wrong really soon, really quickly."  But he knows that he works within an organization that understands the marriage of originality and uncertainty, that supports a process "where they don’t give up on us after our 15th try and it's still not working .... (in) hopes that the 16th try will get it.”

Beliefs:

  • Innovation can’t happen in a vacuum.
  • To be creatively original, you have to accept uncertainty and being uncomfortable.

 

From the Pixar team:

“Everything is new and original. And therefore our way of dealing with and solving the problems has got to be original. So the secret is we have to keep on digging deeper and deeper and knowing that we’re always missing something that’s important.” – Ed Catmull

“We knew after a few successes that the enemy was us, and that our biggest fear was complacency - that we would think that we had it figured out.” – Andrew Stanton

 

(3) THE WHO: The primacy of people over things.

In his papers and presentations, Ed Catmull talks at length about the beliefs that people are more important than ideas (the story behind the making of “Toy Story 2” illustrates this), and that it is management’s job to construct environments for those people that will nurture trusting peer relationships between different disciplines in order to set the stage to unleash creative processes that also make learning from failure possible.

Beliefs:

  • Companies are communities of diverse people and community matters.
  • Talented people are more important than good ideas (and “interested” people are more important than “interesting” people.)
  • Management’s main job is not to prevent people’s failure, but to help them recover when failure inevitably occurs.

 

From the Pixar team:

“I would say that involved people make for better innovation. Passionate involvement can make you happy sometimes, and miserable other times. You want people to be involved and engaged. Involved people can be quiet, loud, or anything in-between—what they have in common is a restless, probing nature: “I want to get to the problem. There’s something I want to do.” If you had thermal glasses, you could see heat coming off them.” – Brad Bird

“You’re constantly morphing it (teams at Pixar) on the micro and macro level to maximize the people you are working with, and the chemistries you start to see and ignite between certain groups.  You’re always trying to maximize the potential of who you have.” – Andrew Stanton

“There’s always some crisis ... And the trick is to recognize when that crisis happens… Human organizations are inherently unstable.  They will fall over, and you have to work to keep them upright … You have to look for the hard truths.” – Ed Catmull

 

Moving Forward

So if you are an organization looking for practices to increase your chances and mitigate the risks around producing either technical or creative breakthroughs, those that Pixar has developed through years of learning are a good place to start - but only if you truly understand, believe and embrace the values that underpin them. Favicon

 

Other Resources

Video of Pixar talk at Computer History Museum (Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith and others) ; “Pixar: A Human Story of Computer Animation”   (note that the first 50 minutes focuses on the technology history, while the thread of the chemistry of the organization starts around 56 minutes in).

Video of Ed Catmull at Stanford: “Keep Your Crises Small”

Transcript of “Keep Your Crises Small”

"How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity" by Ed Catmulll in HBR

HBR IdeaCast: Pixar's Collective Genius (Audio Podcast)

Brad Bird Interview in McKinsey Quarterly (written by Hayagreeva Rao, Robert Sutton, and Allen P. Webb)

GigaOm post that references the Brad Bird interview in McKinsey

“Pixar’s Incredible Culture” in IBS Center for Management Research

"What Google Could Learn from Pixar” by Peter Sims in HBR Blog

Book: The Pixar Touch (print as well as audio, iPad and Kindle versions)

 

 

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

December 12, 2009

Will Square Be the VISA of the 21st Century?

 Square-receipt-sightglass Image courtesy of Square.

  

While startup Square is not in the business of making credit cards as VISA was when it started in 1970, there is a potentially interesting link behind the intentions and possibilities of the two companies at the time of their respective foundings, even though they are separated by 40 years of business and financial change, not to mention lightyears of technology evolution.

When Dee Hock started VISA, he had hopes that he could create an organization that reflected elements of both chaos and order (what he dubbed “chaordic”), as well as competition and cooperation.  At some level, a chaordic organization would be “self-governing,” reflecting more the principles of evolution and nature than those of flawed 17 Century financial institutions and hundred year old oligopolies.  Hock wanted to challenge what many held as fundamental truths about the nature and relationship between money, organizations and the human spirit.  He wanted to use technology and chaordic beliefs to challenge the form (e.g. physical objects of bank and tellers with endless bureaucracy), and rethink the essential function and value that financial transactions should deliver.


“Could this be an opportunity to reconceive, in the most fundamental sense, the very ideas of bank, money and credit card – even beyond that, to the essential elements of each and how they might change in a microelectronic environment?”
 - Dee Hock, in 1999’s “Birth of the Chaordic Age” page 117


So while in the end, VISA did not achieve Hock’s highest chaordic hopes, might Square take up the mantle and become the transcendental organization that finds new ways to link together diverse financial institutions and individuals (retailers and customers), some of whom might have had access to the prior financial structure, but many more were denied access?  Might there be a unique business to be built on the transformation of the concept of money from physical object to that of “guaranteed data” that provides equivalent value and a fluid (mobile) medium of exchange for all, regardless of size of the entity?

In the US today, the credit card revolution started by VISA in 1970 has become a reality in which 90% of US consumers use some form of credit, debit or prepaid card. And what are these cards about?  Don’t think of them as simple ‘credit cards.” More broadly, they are physical symbols of the ability of buyers and sellers to safely exchange value (goods and services) with a level of guaranteed security in the transfer of the data.

That’s what Hock hoped for in the 1970’s – to be in the universal monetary exchange business via cards, not in the credit card business. While today the system that surrounds the cards is one where it is easy to pay, there is still considerable friction in receiving and accepting the payment. 

Hence the opportunity for Square to go beyond the reality of VISA.  And the challenge it has is to define and execute on the nature of a new organization that is chaordic, at least in part, by the nature of the “immediacy, approachability and transparency” mantra of its technology backbone.


“(We want to) enable individuals and small businesses to accept electronic payments by turning any device with an audio-input jack—such as a computer or a mobile phone—into a credit-card terminal.” – Jack Dorsey, Square founder at Le Web 09 (video)


“I can buy an iPod touch] for $200, get the app and I’m in business. I don’t need a contract with AT&T or anything. I’m in business.” – Jack Dorsey in The Economist


“The startup hopes to make it big by allowing virtually anyone to accept credit card payments by connecting a simple reader to a mobile device. Dorsey, Square's CEO, envisions the technology being used by small businesses, street vendors, and even individuals who want to sell a couch on Craigslist or collect money from a friend … pricing will allow for different levels of customer involvement. Someone who wants to use the service once for a yard sale should be able to get started easily and cheaply, while a small business might upgrade to a more full-featured version of Square” – MIT Technology Review


So is what Square will create in partnership with its ecosystem, the premiere system for immediate and secure value exchange regardless of the size and location of seller or buyer?  And in doing so with “real-time” technology, will it make the relationship between “Man and Money” a bit more immediately … human? Favicon

   

(Video demos of Square can be found here starting at 9:00 minutes in, and here staring at 1:40 in.)

   

August 26, 2009

Twitter = LEGOs?

TwitterBirdLegoBricks

Twitter bird made of LEGO bricks that I commissioned from New York artist Nathan Sawaya

Some History

On January 28, 1958, Godtfried Kirk Christiansen (a carpenter who built a humble toy factory during the Great Depression) submitted a patent for the LEGO brick building system in Copenhagen, Denmark. Fifty years later, the core building block of the brick is virtually unchanged, as is the fundamental philosophy of the company – that there should be unlimited opportunities in play with the ability to build virtually anything from LEGO bricks (elements).

Almost 50 years later, in March 2006, Twitter emerged out of the company Odeo as a side project (when the first tweet came from Jack Dorsey).  In the three years since the first tweet and then its explosive growth in 2009, Twitter’s small fundamental building block – “the 140 character tweet” has remained unchanged, and an ecosystem of other “elements” (called applications) is growing around it.  Now that may not enable the building of “virtually anything” as in the claim of LEGOs, but what is evolving is much more than just 140 characters of random text.

A large part of the enduring appeal of LEGO bricks is that they are so simple and satisfying to use, and there is no age or geographic boundary to the appeal.  Anyone anywhere can take a bunch of bricks and build something with only their imagination and two hands.  In digital space, one might say something similar about Twitter.

So does Twitter = LEGOs?

Seven Similarities

1. Size doesn’t matter.
Both a LEGO brick and a Twitter “tweet” are simple and small, and yet have become iconic in their own rights. A LEGO brick is a small rectangular piece of plastic with 8 studs on the top (4 each in 2 rows) and a pattern of 3 tubes underneath.  A tweet is up to 140 characters in length, period. The simple and logical nature of both may be part of their power.  In the case of Twitter, the length limitation may actually spur use and the creative process, being less daunting than writing a blog post or creating a video.

2. The value of the sum of the parts is more than that of the individual pieces.
On a per unit basis, a brick and a tweet are both simple, but they are part of a bigger, more complex ecosystem. Some people might look at a box of LEGO bricks as a pile of plastic rubble, while others see the house, palace, ancient pyramid, or spaceship they dream of, and can finally build.  Looking at the scrolling screen of a Twitter client, the same conclusion might be drawn about a tumultuous narcissistic din, or about serendipitous discoveries and linked conversational threads. According to a 1972 LEGO catalog, LEGO was/is “as simple or as complicated as children wish.”  This is a very Web/”Blogish” philosophy that is in alignment with Twitter, and certainly isn’t limited to the kids.

3. It’s more than child’s play. Everyone’s invited.
There is not one psychodemographic group that “owns” LEGOs or Twitter. What starts in one place moves to another.  Bricks began with children and spread to the “other” adult population, including scientists and artists.  Twitter started with the geeks and professional tech insiders, moved to SXSW attendees and the enthusiastic amateurs, and now into the broader population.  Both products could be defined as having “it’s what you make it” and “who you are” kinds of experiences that differ between user groups.

4. If you build it, they will come (and make it more).
The didactic nature of the LEGO brick is similar to that of Twitter.  Each has an individualistic approach to problem solving and communicating. There is no one right way.  With Twitter, you can write a novel 140 characters at a time, tell a joke, share a photo or an important article, or organize an impromptu TweetUp. As a 1992 LEGO catalog said: “We’ve got the bricks, you’ve got the ideas.”

Similarly, neither is a fixed model, despite their simplicity. A LEGO construction set does not consist of one outcome, but of many possible combinations, even though each comes from the same basic element – the brick.  There are innumerable ways that Twitter “outcomes” have been expanded – 2500 and counting to be more specific using the Twitter API.  New applications and their outcomes enable people to directly donate money to charity, take real-time opinion polls, play games, share breaking news photos, and spread the truth despite the efforts of a repressive regime … in addition to talking about lunch and sharing puppy photo links.

5. Nothing that lasts forever stands still.
LEGO started as wooden toys and then moved to the plastic shape we know today, and that still remains as the brand and product foundation. New additions to the core brick throughout the years have included tires for vehicles (1961), human figures (1974), software (1997), robots with MIT Media Lab (1998) and a Spielberg endorsed movie-making set (2000).  Similarly Twitter remains the 140 character communication, and yet is changing from its origins both from the ideas and imaginations of its users, and also through technology improvements and new business practices and models in the near future (e.g. paid professional accounts).

6. “I am the only guinea pig I have.”
So said architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller in talking about personal experimentation and creativity. The brick is a creative material, an enabling catalyst for kids or adults to influence the world around them in some small, but powerfully personal way by making things once only imagined - real (and with their own hands).  Twitter, like blogging or video production, serves a similar purpose, although with the possibility of far greater influence, collaboration and  conversation.

7. Turn up the volume.
In terms of pure raw numbers, both LEGO and Twitter have some impressive ones to offer.

For LEGO:

  • 5 billion hours a year are spent by adults and kids playing with LEGO bricks (elements).
  • 36,000 bricks (elements) are produced every minute.
  • 19 billion bricks (elements) are produced every year.
  • There are 62 bricks (elements) for every person in the world today.
  • More than 915 million different possible combinations are possible from 6 bricks of the same color with 8 studs each.

For Twitter:

  • More than 23 million unique visitors and 153 million visits to Twitter.com in July 2009 (Compete.com).
  • 1,400% growth in Twitter users February 2008 to February 2009.
  • Estimated 1.5 million Twitter accounts added in “3 days of Oprah” (April 17-19 2009).
  • More than 3.5 billion total tweets sent to date.
  • About 20 million tweets/day by the end of August 2009. (That means in less than 178 days there will be double the number of tweets sent in the first 3+ years).

The LEGO List

Can an attributes list for a “kid’s toy” from 1963 provide inspiration for a Silicon Valley company and a technology entering the second decade of the 21st Century? The following is a list of the 10 characteristics of LEGO written by the inventor more than 45 years ago. What might this list look like for Twitter, now and in the near future?

  1. Unlimited play possibilities
  2. For girls, for boys
  3. Enthusiasm to all ages
  4. Play all year round
  5. Healthy and quiet play
  6. Endless hours of play
  7. Imagination, creativity, development
  8. More LEGO multiplied play value
  9. Always topical
  10. Safety and quality

Trans-Generational Longevity

Only a few products outlive generations, and the LEGO brand is one of them. Maybe in the digital age the definition for “generation” needs to change and be more like Moore’s Law (generation = 18 months)? In any case, can Twitter or any digital technology have the chronological longevity of LEGOs?  Or does the analogy, no matter how fun for fans of both, end there? Egv_tiny_blogicon


(Note: Sometimes posts are inspired by the oddest random and personal desires.  In the case of this one, I wanted to have the Twitter bird “logo” made out of LEGO bricks, in 3D.  So to justify that, I felt that I needed to come up with an idea in which to use that piece of art.  That’s the genesis of “Twitter = LEGOs?” which led to deeper thinking about the particular analogies shared above. If you love LEGOs or just design in general, there is an excellent book that was published in 2008 for the 50th anniversary of the esteemed brick, “50 Years of the LEGO Brick” by Christian Humberg.  The book itself is quite a piece of art with LEGO bricks and copies of the patent and early promotional materials - helpful research for this post - from 1963 to present included.)

   

August 18, 2009

Inspiration - Some Of The Best Ideas Come From Unexpected Sources

InspirationCompositeBorder

The items in the images on the left inspired the products and brands on the right.

In his 2005 book, "A Whole New Mind,"  Daniel Pink proposed that we have entered an era in which creative conceptual thinking has become increasingly important. Right-brain thinking that is emotionally and observationally based needs to take its rightful and valued place next to the left-brain thinking of logical analytical and theoretical thought. Both science and business often say that the result of creative thoughts need to contain both originality and appropriateness. To get to that final stage, there is a process (the 4I's) that takes inspiration into idea into invention and later into continuing innovation.

So with creative thought a valued process, where does the "first I of Inspiration" come from?  Some examples follow that demonstrate that some of the best ideas and solutions come from truly unexpected sources that are about as far removed from the "industry of record" as possible.  A humble kitchen. A walk with a dog. Street art in some dicey alleys.

1940’s - Velcro

The inventor of Velcro (Swiss engineer George de Mestral) was inspired by the burrs stuck in his dog’s coat.  Returning home from a hunting trip in the Alps, he noticed all the burrs, specifically burdock seeds, stuck fast to the coat of his dog. Examining this scenario under a microscope, he saw that the burrs had hundreds of "hooks" that caught on anything with a loop, dog fur for example.  Thus was revealed the seed of the idea for a new and simple way of binding two materials together if he could figure out how to duplicate the hooks and loops that he had found in nature (burrs and fur). Ten years after that walk with his dog, he submitted the patent for Velcro that was later granted in 1955.

1970’s - Nike

A waffle iron led to a revolutionary athletic shoe sole design and the birth of a global mega brand.  Track coach Bill Bowerman of the University of Oregon was experimenting with ideas for shoe outsoles that would better grip the newly resurfaced track at the university. One Sunday morning, he poured liquid urethane into his wife’s waffle iron.  This evolved into the famed Nike “waffle sole” which was first mass manufactured and distributed in the iconic Nike Waffle Trainer in 1974. In 2008, Nike’s revenues were nearly $19B. That’s a lot of waffles.

1980’s - MTV logo

On August 1, 1981 MTV launched on a small New Jersey cable system with a theme song in the form of a crunching guitar riff playing over a montage of images of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The MTV logo on the astronaut’s flag is the iconic symbol of the company that was inspired by the graffiti and street art that Creative Director Fred Seibert and his team would see walking the streets of NYC. Contrary to the “industry standard practice” of never touching a corporate logo/icon, the MTV logotype, true to its street art origins, is constantly changing and simultaneously existing in many different creative manifestations.

  

InspirationTwitterNYC

21st Century - Twitter

I'm not sure what the real story of the initial inspiration for Twitter is.  Maybe it's as "mundane" as some form of evolution of SMS.  But I am intrigued by a recent tweet from Twitter co-founder and chairman Jack Dorsey that read:

DorseyBloombergTweet


Lesson?  In the creative idea economy, you never know what the source and timing of initial inspiration is going to be.  More often than not, inspiration springs from unexpected sources far removed from the confines of the particular business or problem at hand, which says something about the value of an "informed naivete" in the approach to the creative process ...well that, and taking a lot of walks and spending time in the kitchen. Egv_tiny_blogicon


October 23, 2007

Consumer Generated Media Is Not Just a Digital Phenomenon

Custom_jones Consumer generated media existed in the physical world long before the Internet ... and still does.  A great case in point is Seattle-based Jones Soda. Jones Soda has been enabling consumers (fans) to design labels and name flavors since 2000. And they have community, blogs, sponsored events and other activities that support their unique sense of brand humor and appeal to the youth market (or more broadly to those of  youthful spirit). But the final product is still physical, even though its creation is facilitated by the digital - a bottle with the consumer's photo and copy with the Jones Soda flavor of choice inside.

The Jones Soda Photo Gallery (with some current voting results below each photo) is where you can vote on the consumer-uploaded photos to influence the next set of product labels. There are currently 538,322 photos out of the 737,206 that have been posted.  (Submissions older than 6 months are archived).  That is quite an active fan base.

Jonesphotogallery2

For those who can't wait to see if their photo garners enough influence votes to sway Jones' choice (or who want something for a special event), the company initiated the MyJones program where for $29.95 you can create your own label on a 12 pack of product and have it shipped directly to you.

My recently submitted customized Jones Soda
order is below - in celebration of (e.g.) ventures' security dog, Zoe.

Jonessodascreen1_2

Pepsi recently launched a "Design Our Pepsi Can Contest" that offers the winner $10,000 with the winning design printed on 500M Pepsi cans.  Their promo material claims "the first time in history" that this has been done. So I think they must have missed what Jones has been doing for the past 7 years? Pepsi's 100,000 (less than 1/5th the size of the Jones Soda Gallery) entries have been narrowed down to 5 final designs that the public can vote on.

So what's the takeaway? Consumer generated media isn't just about digital video on YouTube. It can be something as simple as a message (a photo in this case) on a bottle.  As long as the brand and product in that bottle have relevant meaning and emotional value to the consumer.

 

July 11, 2007

It's All in the Cards

When you're stuck, sometimes the best source of inspiration or creative spark can come from a humble set of cards. More specifically, either the IDEO Method Cards or one of the sets of Oblique Strategies cards created by musician Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.

Oblique Strategies

Oblique_box The Oblique Strategies cards (subtitled "Over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas") were first published in 1975 and have gone thru five subsequent editions.  Simple black text on a white background, each card presents a pithy phrase or cryptic remark meant to nudge the "stuck mind."  They can be as simple as a single word ("Courage") or phrase ("Emphasize differences.")  Among my favorites that range from the practical to the surreal:

  • Do we need holes?
  • Would anybody want it?
  • Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them
  • Remove ambiguities and convert to specifics
  • Take away the elements in order of apparent non importance
  • The most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten
  • What elements can be grouped
  • Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them

Fun factoids: Oblique Strategies cards were mentioned in the 1998 R.E.M. song "Diminished" on the album "Up." In the film "Slacker", a character offers passers-by cards from an Oblique Strategies deck.

I bought my set in the UK.  Some of the older editions are sometimes available on eBay.  Cards were last published in 2002. And there is now an Apple dashboard widget of the cards.

IDEO  Method Cards
Ideocards_2 The IDEO Method Cards are based on some of the methodologies of the famed product design firm and their philosophy of keeping people at the center of the work  and the principles of: Ask. Look. Learn. Try.  Each of the 51 cards describes one method and a brief story about how and when to use it.  Not a "how to" guide, these cards (although more "practical" than Oblique Strategies), are still designed to help you take on a new view or perspective to the business or creative challenge at hand.

Method Cards are available exclusively from William Stout Architectural Books in San Francisco, and you can purchase them online at their site.

You might even try using the two decks together.

    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.