A Literacy of the Imagination

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

Filtering by Tag: collaboration

An Open Letter to Jamie Dimon

Dear Mr. Dimon:

Thank you for writing your recent piece entitled, The United States is still in an Extraordinarily Good Position.

It seems to have taken a page right out of your chat with Richard Haass at the Council on Foreign Relations event in October of last year.

I honestly can't say that I concur with many of the 'facts' stated in this article or the CFR conversation, but for the sake of a more constructive discourse, I commend you on your positivity, and will also say that you have made some very salient points about policy reform, regulatory dynamics, and even make an interesting case for 'market making'.

That said, you mentioned two critical things in the CFR talk which beg extensive exploration: collaboration and participation.

Let's assume for a moment that our debt woes can be managed, and that capital and liquidity can establish more stable foundations even in the most volatile (and seemingly unmanageable) markets like Greece or Spain. Let's say that China's systemic risk can be stabilized through its currency offsets (more like manipulations and swaps, but who's judging?), and that 'easing' can be achieved without having to print more fiat. Let's say that investments in emerging markets will include broader efforts to build infrastructure, schools, better technology, environmental solutions, etc. Let's say that America can benefit from all of this not only as an 'economy on the rebound' but also as a progenitor of innovations that drive growth and spawn alternative forms of credit, lending and investment, in addition to creating more jobs.

Perhaps the notion of 'free markets' can be revitalized, if not reinvented altogether. We can 'change the story', as you've alluded to in various interviews. If, per Joseph Campbell, metaphors are such catalysts for change, then perhaps we really are looking at a paradigmatic shift in the way the world operates, materially and euphamistically... and better yet, spiritually.

But all of this will require that banking itself changes.

Central banking, in particular, must change. Putting conspiracy theories aside, we would expect people like yourself to use their power and influence to force the hand of reform at the highest levels of economic hegemony. The protocol of banking is not so much the issue; to the contrary, investment banking is a prized discipline when used with better intentions, and was of course a key part in how this country (the U.S.) developed a market engine in the the first place. Central banking has experienced very empowered phases of existence, such as the systemic growth Canada went through in the 70s.

Yet we (the people) have been consistently let down by the calamities in trading, grand abuses of debt instruments (like derivatives) and grossly misrepresented notions of what happens when lenders and borrowers are essentially played against each other in a marketplace (call it collusion if you like). It seems that causality and correlation are confused for one another, or put into elusive positions, to which austerity measures take on polarizing perspectives. In other, more sensational and slightly horrific ways, they actually reorient the social fabric of geographies 'on the fringe'. (take, for example, the uptick of anti-semitic Zionists in parts of eastern Europe...).

Money, again, has often been a cause of the delusion of the multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper.
— Charles Mackay

So, as to the notion of collaboration and participation, the first best question seems to be: "Where exactly do we begin?"  or "Where can we pick up from where we've left the bag dry and open?"

As it seems you are of a more 'liberal' mindset (whatever that means these days), Paul Krugman's latest take on austerity brought forward a couplet that ties directly into the pairing of collaboration and participation: interdependence and ethos.

With a roll of the proverbial dice, let's begin there. 

You won't see much mention, if at all, of Iceland's turnaround in this regard (in which the country rewrote the constitution and did away with central banks). Nor do 'new' collaborative concepts grab headlines in the States, such as Nordic 'industrial symbiosis', or phenomena such as Bitcoin's abilities to collateralize and disintermediate currency inefficiencies (as was allegedly the case with the Mercado before Brazil turned itself around). Yet, the idea that we really can move away from a canonized system of doing business, making markets and mitigating risk is prescient, if not outright studious. And it is, after all, participatory.

As you already know quite well, canonization is the antithesis of global prosperity, whether that arises from a purely institutional benefit, or one that is more equitable to citizens and smaller market operators.  Perhaps the latter is the democracy you refer to in your interviews.

As Krugman quotes in his piece: "...How strong remains the urge to see economics as morality..." the same can be said for the potential of income equality and a real commitment to prosperity.

Please don't misinterpret this: The collective or universal moralism we must maintain is not something relegated to ideology (God knows we have plenty of that), but rather an appeal to the senses. In your world, this would constitute the bottom line.

This, of course, has little to do with making money (which, as you know, is relatively easy) and everything to do with building and sustaining markets of real value (which, as a practice, is quite difficult), as well as providing far greater access to opportunities in those markets.

These, Mr. Dimon, are the attributes you describe in your article: openness, transparency, authenticity, and most importantly, trust. Whether we decide to make war, or, whether we see an economic alternative in maintaining peace. Or both.

economic context in 21c.png

What catalyzes this shift is the willingness to sit at the table with stakeholders on the ground, the real market makers, not just majority shareholders with opaque corporate agendas. This is precisely where collaboration and participation take on a new reality. That reality settles in with new responsibilities and new challenges. Take, for example, the country of your ancestry, Greece, which is plunging into a fascist state as we speak, in part a by-product of predatory bankers and fiercely corruptible legislators. No democratic ideals or social dignities to be gleaned there. Surely this must bother you to no end.

I suspect, after all the self-inflicted pains, blame games and widespread political incompetence, you see a fiscal opportunity -- not a 'cliff' as it were -- that can trump all others in recent history.

I certainly hope that is the case, because I agree with you that we aren't asking the right questions to solve problems that are far more complex than what is fed to us through news feeds and opinion pieces.

With the best intent,

Gunther Sonnenfeld

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

Times really have changed, and they continue to at a blinding pace. As “consumer culture” continues to shift (I’ve used quotations because I’d rather just think of consumers as people), we have been forced to revisit the way we do things as agencies and businesses, as well as redefine our notions of what art and creativity really are.

It’s interesting because as I write this piece, we are enmeshed in our own little feud between the creative and strategy camps inside the walls of our own agency. This isn’t really anything new, but it certainly poses some new questions about efficiency, and while this doesn’t necessarily mean that the work product is suffering, it is clear that we are fighting over control of something that is ultimately owned by everyone. Our contention in the strategy group is that we want to nurture collaboration and storytelling frameworks; the creative group’s contention is that we aren’t collaborating and that the stories are essentially already present in the work.

Differences aside, we’re both “at fault” in the sense that moving things forward and stretching boundaries requires that we get our collective shit together. What I’m getting at is that this isn’t an agency issue, this is a cultural issue, and one that is deeply seeded in our skewed perceptions of what business practices should look like, as well as what our individual roles should be, particularly as artists.

I didn’t come from the big agency world before I joined RAPP; I did my time at various types of media companies, creative boutiques and start-ups, some that I co-founded and ran myself. Quite frankly - and it may sound a bit odd - I decided to come on full-time here at the agency in order to become a better entrepreneur. If you consider what I am tasked to do, which is to break precedent, to push boundaries, to harness innovation and to challenge anything that might inhibit us from growing as a business, well, then this makes more sense.

I’ve figured that there is no better opportunity than one in which independent business thinking can be applied to brand relationships at the corporate level. I also love the challenge of making business or corporate systems better inside of those businesses or corporations... And of course, all through the lens of doing good or providing more meaningful social constructs.

The main thing I’ve learned over the course of my career as an entrepreneur is how creative building a business really is. If you look at the “consumerscape” and all the demands that the marketplace imposes on the brands we work with, you also see how wildly diverse the client asks are, whether those requests come in the form of RFPs, or are the scopes built into strategic or creative retainers. Basically, clients are more often than not asking for things that extend well beyond marketing and communications needs... They’re seeking business solutions, true cultural insight and ways to adapt to behaviors, affinities or mindsets.

On a more tactical level, they’re seeking business ideas packaged as art.

Borrowing from the late, great Andy Warhol: “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

And then there is Seth Godin’s take on making art:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording... but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

By Godin’s definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we're doing when we do our best work.

Beautifully put, as the thinking from Mr. Godin always is.

Perhaps we are all artists, or at least we have the potential to be, as Warhol and Godin suggest, and the very thing we suffer from is a lack of artistic nourishment.

So, how can we provide artistic nourishment?

  • Identify transferable skill-sets. All too often we do not make an active investment in things that fall outside of job descriptions. Think of all the wasted talent that have roamed the halls of agencies or organizations, with no hope of discovery, quite simply because we ignored what was extraordinary or even unusual about people – anything from hobbies to tastes to experiences that may, on the surface, may not appear to be relevant at first. These skills can be just the things that help us become indispensable as businesses (to refer to another Godin concept).
  • Destroy normative identities (and create cultural surplus). Just as cultural mores exist and propagate in the world outside of work, those dynamics of course permeate our thinking around roles and responsibilities inside of the workplace. In truth, account people should be able to think like strategists and creatives, as should media folks or finance and operations people. More importantly, people need the time and the resources to fuel their thinking, whether that comes from outside stimuli, or, actual “hubs” that are put into place internally where they can completely separate from their daily tasks and look at the world in a completely new light. Building cultural surplus, as we might consider it, is the beginning of where and how we can overcome our operational or functional differences and disconnects.
  • Always make it about going above and beyond the ask. Relatively speaking, it’s easy to deliver what’s expected of us; when we do what’s expected, it’s pretty difficult to do the extraordinary. When we deliver the ask but stretch well beyond it, that’s when artistry happens and real innovation is imminent. Every single time, without fail, our imaginations kick in, and multiple perspectives lend to the end game. I’ve been in brainstorming sessions where, under this construct, a direct mail piece, literally, turned into a sustainable platform idea (and was, by the way, sold into the client). And who was in the room? Everyone.
  • Support the act of being unreasonable (and those who embody it). This is naturally antithetical to the corporate mantra and the precepts of control, management and productivity, but, borrowing from Daniel Pink, what science says and what business does are two very different things. We are mired in absolutes and the “way things should be” instead of placing our bets on what’s possible. There are plenty of highly successful organizations such as Google, 3M, Zappos and Netflix, mind you, that have done away with these more traditional constructs, and continue to evolve and succeed as a result.
  • Prepare for failure and embrace it. The concept of failing forward has been discussed a lot as of late, and for good reason: arguably, we know less now than we ever have before. The thing about failure – coming from someone who knows a lot about it – is that it actually provides the best means for being creative. It forces us to think outside of our comfort zones, it pushes us to be resilient in unorthodox ways and affords us the ability to be creative about what we see, going forward, as applied learning.
  • Make storytelling a daily work activity. We all tell stories in different ways – sometimes on a canvas, through a photo, in a song, in writing or simply in conversation. Whatever the medium, storytelling gives us the chance to see the world outside of our conventional media constructs. It breaks us free of our silos. And most important, it allows us greater purview into the things that we might not have thought about as businesses, given that most often our access to possibility is self-limiting.

What are your ideas around artistic nourishment?

What are some of things that you’d like to to see change within your own business culture?

Are you up to the challenge of change?

By the way, I am no longer considered a “creative”, but here is some of my art... Perhaps this might lend some perspective around your own role as an artist inside of an organization, or, inspire you to actually create more art.

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“The Glassy Eye”; frame grab from a viral shoot for TRÜF with Adam Goldberg; 2007]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“The Pixelated Eye”; crayon, pencil & watercolor; 1989]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Junkie”; frame grab from a viral shoot for TRÜF with Adam Goldberg, Botox PSA, 2007]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Architectural Ellipse”; pen & pencil, 1990]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Industrial Transcendence of Trees”; remix of Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album cover, pencil, 1990]


Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Triangularity”; pen & pencil, 1989]


Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Study of the Headless Woman”; watercolor & pencil, 1990]


Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Los Angeles Nightscape”; charcoal; 1990]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Ode to Scott Turow”; watercolor, pencil, crayon & tape; 2000]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Monk in Boardwalk Isolation”; photograph; 2010]