A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Filtering by Category: creativity

Designing (For) Trust


A few years ago, I discovered a conversational framework in pre-marital counseling that opened my eyes to how trust might actually operate in relationships (you can already guess what happened to my marriage... ;). One of the revelations I had was that you don't just build trust in relationships, you go into relationships having trust in yourself.

I sometimes cringe when people talk about trust as though it is a given, as they tend to gloss over the realities of physical and mental interaction. This is especially the case when people wax on about social business or social technology innovations. But that is all well and good, because it is all part of the process of awareness, and I think the concepts tied to trust are important for people to build upon in their own ways and at their own paces.

We all know that relationship dynamics can be very complex, but I do believe that trust itself is quite simple in its faculty. I've also witnessed some very interesting transformations, both in the startup work I've been doing, as well as in some of the innovation work I've been privileged to be a part of. This is one of several scientific studies I've researched that seem to corroborate what I've experienced in different entrepreneurial and corporate settings. And there is always the inimitable Csikszentmihalyi (tongue-twister!) from which to draw inspiration.

If I were to reduce the essence of trust down to single equivalent, it would be this: love of self. A natural extension of that would be confidence in self. This confidence is expressed quite clearly at the personal and collective levels, and takes on various forms of creative and cognitive energy. Some questions to ask ourselves (per the graphic) might be:

- How do I feel about myself when I enter group environments?

- How do I choose to communicate those feelings?

- How do I express my values in such a way that they can be understood?

- What are my true intentions?

- What are my perceptions of self as I interact with others?

- What are other people's perceptions of me (how do I 'occur' to them?)

- What am I willing to do or contribute to change those perceptions?

- Can I empathize with others and align my values to theirs?

Self-love, of course, doesn't refer to a reliance on Ego (the self-consumed part of it), but rather a completeness or a mindfulness that one can share love and be loved. Confidence, therefore, can manifest as an organic expression of that self-love, and can literally permeate a room or physical space with an incredible aura. In online spaces, it can certainly catalyze the visions or perceptions of what a relationship might become.

Lest we forget that we can design platforms, experiences and/or ideas for trust-building, and we can engage in trust-building exercises, but there is a significant awareness factor that cannot be ignored.

Admittedly, I've made a lot of mistakes in this respect; it's one thing to want to trust someone, but it's another thing to hold trust, earn trust and share trust with other people. I've had a few situations over the last several months in which trust was broken, in part because I failed to see what the the potential for trust could even be. That is something I've had to own as a part of my self-responsibility, my own learning experience. I also have to reconcile with the possibility that perhaps, to those people, I just wasn't trustworthy, for whatever reasons there may be (some of those reasons I'm still trying to figure out and incorporate into my own realm of understanding). On a more positive note, I've also repaired a couple of broken relationships because I was able to communicate my ownership of the issues, and was able to align a set of values with those people.

So, it seems we can design for trust, but we don't actually design trust itself, nor do we really engineer its mechanisms. Then again, who knows what today will reveal. In the meantime, perhaps the graphic at top will help you in your own design work.

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Sorry Jason Calacanis, Google Isn't the Only Game in Town (The Amazon Principle)

Next month, I'll be delivering a keynote at TruEffect's Brand Partner Summit in Boulder, Colorado, on the topic of storytelling and advertising. I've talked a bit about the future of ads in general, in particular as a service industry.

The real context I'd like to address right here -- and what will serve as the backdrop for my talk in Boulder -- is what is actually driving the media ecosystem and respective information systems as a whole.

Right now, Google seems to have the upper hand. But this won't be the case for much longer.

As you may recall, late last year Jason Calacanis wrote a really interesting piece entitled "#googlewinseverything".  The post generated quite a lot of buzz in technology and venture circles for obvious reasons. In the piece, Calacanis provides a list of truisms about Google, saying rather emphatically:

"In truth, the 10 ‘facts’ I’ve outlined above are not mine; these are the opinions I’ve collected over the past year asking intelligent folks, ‘So what do you think about Google?’ These are the 'facts' as the people see them. Although, I haven’t found anyone who disagrees with these 10 facts – do you?"

Well, I'm not going to disagree with Calacanis per se (he has access to a lot more inside info than I do and I have lots of respect for him as an entrepreneur and investor), but I am going to challenge the list of assertions he provides within context.

Here they are, point and counterpoint.

1. No company has as many smart people as Google. -> Define 'smart'. In a 'wicked' complex world, creative intelligence (or 'EQ', emotional quotient) is just as important as quantitative or purely scientific chops.

2. No company is as ambitious as Google. -> Define 'ambitious'. Do you mean to say that a host of companies without Google's market cap or footprint aren't taking on significant cultural mores, or attempting to create massive social change (for the better) -- like Amazon?

3. No company is working on as many hard problems as Google. -> Define 'hard problems'. Defer to counterpoint #2.

4. No company makes as many big bets as Google. -> What kind of bets? With what intentions? Defer to counterpoint #2.

5. No company is willing to make as many crazy acquisitions as Google. -> Maybe so. But there are lots of companies that don't have to acquire as much in order to 'push the envelope' as it were (i.e. market ownership is not the same as market creation...). Defer to counterpoint #2, with the caveat that Amazon is buying a lot in order to strengthen its infrastructure and market positioning.

6. No company has more data than Google. -> Perhaps. But is it all the right/best kind of data? (i.e. Is it clean? Can it be parallel processed? Is it behavioral? Does it seamlessly connect to the knowledge/social graphs? Is it scalable through reference/inferential databases? etc.). Defer to counterpoint #2.

7. Few companies understand how to play the government better than Google. -> Probably the case. But in Google's position, and given backdoor surveillance (as just one example), is that a good thing? More importantly, is Google really influencing policy in the best interests of us (its users)?

8. No company has more global influence than Google. -> Right now, probably true. But that won't remain to be the case. Defer to counterpoint #2.

9. No company is as ruthlessly efficient as Google. -> From my own experience working with Google (Google 'proper' and YouTube), that's simply not true. Great company and great people, yes, but 'ruthlessly efficient', no.

10. Only one CEO is more ambitious than Google’s Larry Page.* -> Jeff Bezos?

As you might've gathered, I have a thing for Amazon. Don't get me wrong, I think the world of Google, but Amazon is a special kind of dark horse (if you can even call a company that big a 'dark horse'). This Atlantic piece, which came out right around the time Calacanis wrote his post, was a really good, balanced take on how Amazon is making seismic moves.

The basic premise -- and my firm belief -- is that any company which thinks the way Amazon does long-term, to include massive financial risks, will 'win' long-term.

Now of course, pundits will say that Google has always thought long-term. That's debatable. Per the (counter)points above, Google has thought long-term about experimental domains like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, sustainable cities and transit, but I would assert that it actually hasn't thought that way about its own $28bb+ core search/ad business.

Here's why/how.

Amazon has just about every asset in the new commerce toolkit, and it's only a matter of time before its search product catches up with its capabilities in content, storytelling (journalism especially), publishing, purchasing, production, cloud/quantum computing and network distribution (private, social and virtual).

Bottom line: with its advanced ecosystem, Amazon doesn't need ads or impressions to rule the web like Google does currently.

If you'd like more validation on this position, check out a wonderfully curated thread my friend Alex Schleber put together in early February -- he poses a great list of questions (probably better than those I did here), and there's lots of contextual grist to explore, replete with great data-points.

The 'battle' between Google and Amazon, as it were, will likely produce cultural tensions that will push all of us to think differently, consume differently, produce more thoughtfully and tell stories with more of a bent towards real social utility. As a result, I think we will see the emergence of a truly co-opetitive economic landscape, in which ecosystems amplify these tensions and create amazing new ways to improve our world.

It will be exciting to watch and participate.

Story Evolutions

Try this mental exercise for a moment: Remove an ad unit or an advertorial or a listicle or an aggregated news feed from your line of sight.

What do you see?

You might find a contextual truth about a person, a company, a place, a region, a mission and/or an idea. Call it 'data'. The substance presented to a 'consumer' (let's call him or her an 'observer' to be a bit more respectful here), and represented through individual and collective narratives, is one that really stretches across time and the imagination itself. Call the substance itself a 'story'.

Any person who connects with a story will retell it and own it as their own -- this has been the case for centuries. Whether that person advocates a product or a service is another matter, but suffice to say, stories told well and curated meaningfully build relationships between people. The participatory nature of storytelling itself is actually what makes media social to begin with. And networks have existed long before the wonders of modern technology such as the telegraph, the phone or the web ever came to be. (Have we already forgotten this?)

As I've espoused for years, the duty of any company is not to manipulate consumer segments or audiences into believing that they need products and services via their 'brand', but to give them questions and/or ideas that empower them to think about why things matter... Whether products and services are sold or not. In turn, a real relationship can be had and maintained, and the opportunities to explore various fictional and non-fictional modalities are abundant (hence the multi-dimensional power of evolving and hotly debated disciplines like 'transmedia storytelling'). Not only that, the functions of a participatory relationship denote untold prospects for co-creating value -- the kind of value that builds better products, empowers employees, creates new markets, and makes honest men and women out of organizational leaders. Believe it or not, that leads to more profit and sustainable revenue streams.

If you want examples (or more of them), feel free to sift through myriad posts on this blog, or gander a presentation or two, and certainly check out some of the folks I mention who are doing great work across domains.

But for now, I'd like to challenge you to expand your thinking: Perhaps it's time we looked past what 'content' can do inside of a search field or a communications plan or on an affiliate link, and think more about what stories can do to transform the way we think about ourselves and our ecologies.

How does this actually translate to better marketing and digital media practices?

How can we monetize products and services without having to sacrifice the integrity of the information we put forth, or more importantly, the people with whom we share our information?

What are we doing to enhance our roles and respective disciplines inside and outside of organizations? (Are we not just relying on automation, compartmentalization and optimization to prove our value?)

Addressing these questions head on is the mark of future success for any company and news organization. You can count on it. In fact, it's already happening.

We are moving from broken economics in media, to a 'new' economic system of story. And story evolutions have always been here for us to use responsibly!

Conscious Capital & Collective Intelligence

I just returned from Grasse in the south of France, where I took part in curating an experience to reinvent the perfume industry with executive leaders and stakeholders in the supply chain. I really didn't know what to expect (a common feeling when doing 'innovation' work), and I can honestly say that I was blown away by what transpired.

Human-centered design processes are obviously important in the work we do, but what's often neglected or left out is some sort of a human evolution in connecting to the intentions of what is desired as an outcome or set of outcomes. One of the themes we explored in this discovery process -- a new economic construct, really -- was conscious capital.

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Human Capital.png

The magic of this event was the people and the interactions; in short, we were able to co-create a system that defined what capital is and can be in terms of value through the collective. Here's what was reinforced as we did the work:

Collective intelligence is an actual science that bridges conscious thought with conscious action.

There are a number of collective intelligence camps around the world that are advancing the notions of how we cultivate and manage information, and this was the first time I had experienced 'CI' as a real science. Part of it was the methodology applied in bringing conversational data from the web into the physical space, and coordinating a relationship between the 'outside' and the 'inside' information (in essence, making the 'big data' accessible, relevant and collaborative). Another very important aspect was making participants aware of what is happening 'out there' and what is happening 'in here' -- here being their own consciousness and a relatedness to others, especially those in the room (or in the field).

Centifolia.png

Storytelling is at the fore of product and system design -- it feeds off of heightened awareness through concise mental and physical play.

As various groups got deeper and deeper into developing a new perfume ecosystem, their interactions -- emotions, touch, communications, understandings -- went directly into their thought processes. It was as if they didn't have to think about what they were doing... they were just doing it, creating it, manifesting it. As such, their storytelling capabilities were amplified and they were literally able to express their insights in incredibly inventive ways. And when I talk of story, I really do mean the telling of it through agents, actors and archetypes... Which was omnipresent throughout this experience.

iConnect.png

Creativity, and thus innovation, is truly collective.

This might seem obvious to some, but in an executional realm it isn't, nor should it be. Truth is, we still ascribe much of our creative powers to some form of ownership ("I came up with this idea, not you..."), and innovation tends to be thought of as some 'special practice' that happens 'somewhere else'. For all the participants it became abundantly clear that they could remain in their specialty areas (executive management, R&D, production, sales, etc.) while wearing multiple hats. As one participant shared with me: "I always knew I was an interdisciplinarian!" Another participant astutely pointed out that owning the process of creation is counterproductive and counterintuitive to building a market: the more you give away the more you get back. This led to some fantastic explorations of commons practices and shared IP. 

There will be lots more to share on this (we're making a documentary film of the experience because it was that transformational), but it seems that we have a whole new territory to explore in how we reimagine corporate and social ecosystems... and how we can peacefully bring them together.

Until next time... 

Some Truth About 'Big Data', Agnostic Storytelling & Journalism

A couple weeks back I gave a talk at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab on how to use data and the stories behind the data to build intelligence and sustain markets.

It's an hour-long, so I thought I'd summarize some key points for you:

 - Immediacy and importance with information leave us, as readers and media participants, grappling over the choice of information we want to consume or with which we want to interact;

- Data isn't 'big' so much as it is curatorial and relevant given a particular context or set of contexts;

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- Normative methods for measurement (clicks, views, page rank etc.) don't represent true or scalable value, and actually commodify the media market, to include 'content' and the creators of it; 

- Discovery and serendipity (not filtering) are vital for critical thought processes;

- Stories are in actuality the predicates for markets and their growth; the question becomes how we look beyond the need to push content out into media environments and instead look at how storytelling is used to leverage cultural and business behaviors;

- We need to relearn how to think, and ask better questions, knowing that the 'answers' may not come to us right away or ever;

- Central or 'meta' narratives have been constructed over time to influence our perspectives of the world that often run in conflict with what we know to be true in our hearts; the choices we make (our freewill) can shift these perspectives and create new realities through personal and collective stories;

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- Cognitive bias can be reframed to look at 'truth' and 'circumstance' as inferential; the idea is that information streams have phases or stages that provide pivots through which we can understand operating context -- the thing that enables us to understand information and make better decisions;

- The future of the media business as a whole hinges on three things: 1. emergence (allowing stories and ideas to flourish without media or advertising bias), 2. socialization (syndicating information streams as part of the storytelling process), 3. learning (adapting to what we discover, when we discover it). 

Be vigilant in your pursuit of context. Think and act critically. Always consider your fellow (wo)man. Be kind, be generous, be unreasonable in protecting your civil rights, and those of others. Make great, inspiring media. Most of all, always be informed, and if you’re not afforded the opportunity, then trust your intuition... All fundamental truth resides in your heart. And with that, the stories you tell, the information you share, can only be, and will only be, magnificent.

 

Participatory Publishing

As some of you already know, yesterday Alvin Djunaedi and I launched a new BETA version of Paperlet, the “world’s first participatory publishing platform” that allows you to develop a story with your audience -- the audience being your friends, family and other people in your social network.

What is participatory publishing?

Well, we hope that the concept was explained to some extent above (and in the video). How this functions as a market behavior, now and in the very near future, is something we find most intriguing.

The ecosystem of online or digital publishing looks something like this, and has what I call a “double diamond” effect:

Double Diamond.png

Basically, this construct puts users (people) in the middle of a wonderful web of service interrelationships. As market disciplines like advertising and publishing become more and more disintermediated by a host of utilities and exchanges (real-time curation, programmatic buying, mobile-enabled and geo-targeted content creation, etc.), creative, strategic and distribution services become more dependent on each other, and their networks, to provide value.

In that sense, the “diamond” is the nexus of providing behavior that allows the creator or storyteller to leverage the best of the ecosystem to serve their needs and that of the market itself. As this hybrid service becomes an actual product, the diamond doubles down on the direct and indirect relationships that the ecosystem provides. There’s a reciprocal and sustainable effect, if you will.

For example, imagine that you are a storyteller -- specifically, a journalist -- and you develop a piece on urban farming. You have a means to write the story, a way of editorializing it, even a way of turning it into a product of sorts. Why and how? The story has potential value in its uses across social or digital networks, as well as your value in the fact that you wrote it, you have experience in the field and you've provided unique insight. Inversely, the marketplace is empowered because that insight can be used to tell more stories like it, and place you in a position to make connections with more publishers who are looking to place or curate good stories. So, whether the story originates from you, a publisher or an agency is almost irrelevant... what matters is that present or realized value can be tracked and measured within the ecosystem.

It's interesting to note the effect on publishing itself; I have referred to 'publishers' here as anyone or anything that publishes content, online or off (newspapers, magazines, portals, etc.). Self-publishing has emerged as a means to democratize distribution, but I would assert that without network services, this is just another tool or channel to create more content without the right readership. Further, the bar on storytelling quality is challenged as more content is created and 'pimped out' across media channels. Therein lies the core logic behind Paperlet's business model.

Where platforms have historically acted as destinations (“Over here! Come check out our great content!”), the ubiquity of creation and distribution has enabled a shift in how platforms come to be. This essentially means that the macro services of purchasing, storytelling and utilities (applications) reconfigure themselves as people customize and partner with each other -- as they become participants in the development of new markets.

This is why companies like Amazon are so formidable, because they are figuring out that their real power lies in how quickly they adapt their service products to the needs of the marketplace, and that of course hinges on who is operating within it.

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It’s a brave new world for storytellers and publishers alike… that is, if they can look at their networks and actually see the possibilities.

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