Uniting creative executions and innovative advancements

Spinning, mashing and connecting… it’s what I do. I’ve come to terms with being a Generalist. In fact, I’ve come to be proud of it – after all, it’s one of the hardest things to do well. It’s not just a matter of spinning cellphones on tables to see what happens, although that’s usually how it starts ;-). Steve Hardy makes his case in The Creative Generalist that Generalists are key to discontinuous innovation, being better situated to see how previously unrelated things can be recombined to create something new.

“Ideas are the product of divergent thinking, lateral steps and questions dealing with completely unrelated notions. Seldom pure and often appearing out of nowhere, ideas come from a kaleidoscopic grab bag of other ideas(…) Ideas cannot belimited to the confines of a silo. They need space to run around and occasionally bump into strangers.”

On that note, the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology is taking an interesting multi-disciplinary approach to research:

“(T)he institute is building horizontal links among departments to foster multidisciplinary studies and creating research teams that integrate individuals� deep expertise across disciplines to enable more comprehensive studies beyond those led by single principal investigators. We expect this new approach will redefine the very nature of the university system � the traditional home for fundamental research.”

…Which is very cool, of course. I would like to see a University of this type take its General Studies program this seriously. Bringing teams of specialists together to share insights is great, but where are the “connectors”, the Da Vincis who can bring perspective, without the preconceptions borne of specialization?

“Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”
–Leonardo Da Vinci

FlagrantDisregard’s Cool Flickr Toys…

All the Flikr nrds already know this of course, but those of us who still leave the “e” in “er” might appreciate knowing of flagrantdisregard.com’s Flickr Toys. Create a mosaic, magazine cover, playing cards, and other neat things with this suite of web-based flickr tools. Silly, but fun – especially for the kids.

LinkedIn Feature Request

I’ve been using LinkedIn and Plaxo quite extensively over the last few weeks and months, and I’ve run into a limitation in both to a greater or lesser extent. An article in Fast Company discussing the question of quality vs. quantity of contacts in your professional network alludes to the problem. You can optimize your LinkedIn network for one or the other, but it doesn’t give you any help in balancing the two. If you’re like me, your contacts don’t fit strictly into one or two buckets, but live on a continuum from family through friend to remote acquaintance.

Just as I think I benefit from having contacts that are very close along with contacts that are less familiar, I think the network benefits from having a variety of networking styles in play at once. This lets me do useful things like optimize my “path” through the contact network for either speed (shortest path) or strength (highest “friend” quotient).

LinkedIn doesn’t give you any way to call someone a “friend” (like Flickr does – those guys are so smart…). Although Plaxo does let me say that someone is allowed to see my personal information along with my professional information, it doesn’t let me do anything interesting with that metadata, like query on it.

Pretty please, I want to add my own metadata to my Plaxo or LinkedIn contacts beyond just a simple note field. As a start, I want be put each of my contacts somewhere along a continuum from family/friend to acquaintance, and use that metadata to optimize my networking activity appropriately for my objectives at the time. Thanks!

All your base are belong to us

[shoebox] workbuyconsume_article
Wow. They’re mad.

It’s some how not as catchy as “Workers of the world, unite!” but I think it comes from the same place…

In “What’s your Antidote?” Alan Moore writes that “we shun traditional organisations in favour of unmediated relationship to the things we care about. The new individuals thus demand a high quality of direct participation and influence. They have skills to lead, confer and discuss, and they are not content to be good foot soldiers.” Damn right. It’s not just that we want you (marketer) to give up control over your brand, it’s that your brand already belongs to us. We simply don’t care what you think your brand is all about. We’re going to mash it up for ourselves, and all the little ™ symbols in the world ain’t gonna stop us. Our culture belongs to us.

There’s no such thing as cyberspace.

Analog Sky
Analog Sky,
by Corporal Tunnel.
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – Neuromancer, by William Gibson

William Gibson was wrong (whew). It turns out that there’s no such thing as cyberspace.

A few things collided in my mind recently. One: I’ve been reading this report: Pew Internet & American Life Project Report: Teen Content Creators and Consumers. Two: Last Saturday night I had a conversation with friend of a friend a party about the isolation and impersonality (did I just make up a word?) of “cyberspace”. And three: I have this meme I inherited from I know not where: “Always-on Relationships.”

Obviously, as a civilization, we’re still processing, just beginning really, to feel the impact of the expansion of our network beyond physical space. We’re still updating our idea of what community is, what workplace, education, conversation is, in this new environment. Those who are going through the process of change marvel at the young ones who had no such preconceptions, and seem to stretch effortlessly past the old boundaries. I love the idea of “social networks” because it contains within it the recognition that “the net”, at least the human part, has always existed. Instead of having only light and sound waves as the communication protocol, now it also includes IP and those things we’ve built on top.

Some interesting tidbits from the Pew report:

  • 40% of online kids who live in cities remix and mash original creations out of the web
  • 38% of all online teens say they read blogs, and 62% of those say they only read blogs of people inside their social network
  • 57% of internet-using teens and 50% of teens overall (representing 12M US youth) self-publish on the internet
  • 90% of kids who blog, and 72% of those who don’t, use IM to communicate with their friends, and 55%/35% use SMS (I’m guessing this is different in Europe)

That doesn’t sound very isolating and impersonal. It sounds like conversation. I can’t remember where I first heard the term “always-on relationships”. I could be that I inherited this meme from the writings of Philip E. Agre, from the Department of Information Studies at UCLA, who wrote, among many other things, two papers which I highly recommend you read: Cyberspace as American Culture and The Market Logic of Information. I find very compelling the idea that we beginning to see a generation that has not grown up with the idea of the internet as a separate “cyberspace”, but instead experiences it as an aspect of the environment in which they live; another channel alongside “real space”, only with different characteristics. The Internet as a technology, without the ideology of cyberspace.

Death to slogans!

Say it with me: Death to slogans! At least to those empty, one way, marketing slogans that attempt to change the way I feel about something I already own. That last bit doesn’t sound so good when you shout it, but you get the idea.

Interesting article by Al Ries in AdAge.com, talking about how the city of Atlanta has chosen this incredibly lame slogan for the city.

I bow to Mr. Ries’ industry experience when he explains why, in general, bad slogans happen to good people. In this particular case, he points to “creativity” as the culprit. The ad agency wants to win awards, and so they need to do something “new”. I’m not sure I entirely agree. This doesn’t look especially creative to me.

Maybe the problem is that they weren’t creative enough, either in using the existing brand asset, or in establishing any new positioning. This is a perfect example of a community that already exists, and has a narrative of its own. This city don’t belong to the marketing department, the city bureaucrats, or the politicians. If Atlanta is “Hotlanta” in the minds of the community, then that’s what it is. No matter how much new city letterhead you print.

It’s not really about the web…

I was reading mynameiskate (which is fast becoming my VERY FAVORITE blog), and it took me to gapingvoid, a site written by Hugh MacLeod (who also helps to run a bespoke tailoring firm English Cut who coincidentally just made a suit for my friend Stewart), where I heard about this contest to help design a new wine bottle for a South African winery called Stormhoek and it got me very excited. You see, one of the things that Hugh MacLeod said to Stormhoek was “You’re not competing with Jacob’s Creek or Blossom Hill. You’re competing with Google and Microsoft and Apple and Skype.” Wow.

So I entered the contest, and this is what I wrote:

One of my favorite things to do with wine is bring it to someone else’s house. It spreads the word, and it’s a bottle that’s pretty sure to get drunk by a group of people who might not have purchased the wine before. This wine should be the most “give-away-able” wine in the store. It should become a story we can tell to each other at the time we drink it, and later, remembering.

To make it giveaway-friendly, I should be able to personalize it; make it a story I tell, not just a gift I bring:

  • A (mostly) blank label. Maybe it’s treated paper and you need a special pen, like those kids in the car drawing kits. or something like one of those kid’s drawing tablets that has a top layer you peel off to erase and start again?
  • A label that is “remembers” my hand-print as I carry it into the house – maybe heat sensitive label that “sets” after a few minutes of consistent contact with your hand? If it had a “mood ring” quality to it so that every hand print was a slightly different colour that would be great.
  • Each label is a clear sleeve into which I can put a photo. The launch of the new bottle design would somehow include an instant camera so the picture can be taken “before bottle is drunk” and “after bottle is drunk”. Give the recipient a reason to keep the bottle (and the branding) in their house afterwards.

The wine should be an ice-breaker; it should become a story we can tell to each other

  • Each label can be removed to create a cool and fun ice-breaker game. It could be enhanced by (but not require) a visit to the website. .
  • Each bottle comes with a USB key, that has some “limited edition” MP3s burned into ROM (along with the useful RAM, so it can be used as a regular USB key).
  • …or how about we get really crazy and make each bottle a disposable MP3 player itself? The electronics to do that are tiny now (think about $2.50 in volume – each bottle has a headphone jack and plays a different song. Bring a six-pack of 500ml bottles and you’re the bartender AND the DJ.

So the wine bottle becomes a web 2.0 application, hooking into and enhancing services and communities that already exist.

What if everyplace was everywhere?

At the Media in Canada Forum last month (and as reported by one of my favorite bloggers mynameiskate) , David Verklin foresees a “collision of commerce and cause where marketers will combine their efforts with philanthropy, creating a new, and hybrid medium.” This is fascinating to me, and I’ll write more about this later, but then he went on, in more sparsely reported comments, to advise his audience to “look for ways for your brand to have physical contact with your demo(graphic).” This got my mind churning…

To return to the topic hinted at in an earlier post of mine, I see the narrowing of the gap (mind the gap…) between our virtual and our physical lives accelerating. One of the early markers of this trend, Geocaching, has been popular for a while among those with investigating feet. Another one of the interesting manifestations of this meme is “Placecasting.” HP Labs has been doing some work in this area, participating in a project called scape the hood, and there’s an interesting project called “Mobile Bristol“, both of which attempt to anchor the webscape in the landscape.

Walmart, it appears, is taking this seriously. The internet will be everywhere in the physical world, for sure. What will it mean if the physical world is everywhere in the internet?

At Web 2.0, listening to a panel of teenagers talk about their lives, I was struck by how much their relationships were always “on”. Their friends were always with them, either in person, or on the phone, via SMS, or via IM, and they differentiated little between these various channels. How long will it be before being together in physical space is just another channel you can tune in?

…and this is your R&D on drugs…

I got an email from Randy Hanker (who is the Princial of Enable Technologies, a PDM consultancy in Vancouver) in response to an earlier post of mine. I had quoted Dr. Paul Kedrosky, as he made the case that in a world where the cost of customer acquisition, data storage, and software infrastructure drops nearly to zero, and the real value of any startup is in the quality of its concepts, access to venture capital becomes a less and less important success factor. Randy pointed me to the November Business 2.0 where it’s suggested that R&D costs have plummeted (as well) because “the user base has become the manufacturer’s R&D lab”.

I hadn’t seen that talkback (thanks for that, Randy), but I had noticed what Randy was talking about, this very interesting change in the way that R&D is being done. Companies (like Konfabulator), are leveraging the community gravitational effect to build active innovation communities around their platform. It’s a popular idea (that often proves hard to execute) that by publishing web service/RESTful APIs, or by open-sourcing some or all of your IP, you can bring value to these communities. The most successful Web 2.0 companies are being proactive and going further, creating forums (fora?) for their customers to add value of their own, strengthening the ties that bind the community to itself, and to the platform.

At the same time, some larger companies are adopting a kind of R&D model that has been popular in the Pharmaceutical industry for quite a while: small companies (like Ludicorp), innovate, creating new capabilities (like Flickr) with only a general idea how to commercialize. Once they have proven they have something of value, a larger company (like Yahoo) acquires them to feed into their “commercialization machine”. As an interesting aside, I’d point out that in addition to looking outside, Google has leveraged their enormous cash resources to create their own internal community of part-time entrepreneurs, who then get “bought” from their current projects to work full time on their new invention; gmail and scholar being two examples that stand out.

It’s easy to see how these two trends reinforce each other: Lots of entrepreneurial activity creates lots of opportunties for bigger players to cherry-pick, and those high-profile success stories encourage yet more activity. It’s when you add venture capital accelerant that the whole thing starts to spin out of control, but that’s another story.

Coming soon: Oprah Winfrey gets it. Jon Stewart, not so much.

Conversation is the new Television

Further to my thesis that technical writing and marketing (not advertising!) need to converge, I dug up an older article, Conversation writing kicks formal writing’s ass, from Kathy Sierra, blogging for Creating Passionate Users. In it, Kathy points out that in studies performed by the Journal of Education Psychology, perfomed in 2000, participants who used trainging materials in a conversational style “produced between 20 and 46 percent more solutions” than subjects who used documentation in a formal style. She goes further:

(…) one of the theories on why speaking directly to the user is more effective than a more formal lecture tone is that the user’s brain thinks it’s in a conversation, and therefore has to pay more attention to hold up its end! Sure, your brain intellectually knows it isn’t having a face-to-face conversation, but at some level, your brain wakes up when its being talked with as opposed to talked at. And the word “you” can sometimes make all the difference.

This makes perfect sense, of course. Humans are pack animals, and are built to crave authentic, human, interactions. Put that thought beside what Bob Garfield at AdAge says in his article “Listenomics“:

“…and that native authenticity is out there, like Arctic oil, just waiting to be tapped. Pitiful as this may sound, there are people all across this great nation of ours who give immense amounts of thought to, for instance, the Whopper Jr. They�re not in it for the money, either. They just plain care.”

They sure do. They’re creating unsanctioned television ads, writing unofficial user guides, mashing up logos and trademarks into new works that express how they feel, and what they want to get out of your products. Garfield gives the great example of Skin So Soft, which was known as an effective insect repellent. I know this to be true, because I was treeplanting in the late 80’s and we all used it instead of Deet. Of course the company hated this – it wasn’t part of the story they were trying to tell around their product. It took them a decade to bring out the product we all really wanted: a “Skin so soft” optimized for repelling insects. Have you ever driven 15 miles in the cab of a truck with 6 sweaty treeplanters covered in heavily perfumed body oil? Ugh.