A Literacy of the Imagination

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

Filtering by Tag: collaborative storytelling

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.

conscious capital.png
capital iterations.png
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).


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.


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... 

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.


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.



Content’s New(ish) Context

The Real Money is in Ecosystems

Connecting Brands and Networks to Make Content Matter

The Future of Advertising Isn’t Advertising (As We Know It)

On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media

5 Really Important Shifts in Media & Technology

Power to the People: How We Will Control the Future of Media #remix #remediation #storytelling #context #brands

It’s intriguing, and often confounding, to witness the progression of convergence culture in terms of how media objects and stories can flourish.

Storytelling, as both a practice and an artform, is literally changing its own face as accessibility to digital tools and channels becomes the new delivery system. Further, networks of people are superseding the more traditional forms of content delivery at a breakneck pace. The YouTube phenomenon, for one, has culminated in audience participation whereby people not only interact with stories, but they actually become a part of the narrative -- Ridley Scott’s “Life in a Day” is a more passive example, but the implications are enormous.

Frank Rose’s concept of “deep media” - beautifully discussed in his book The Art of Immersion - is a great, sweeping commentary on how we, as media, are faced with wondrous challenges and opportunities to tell stories. You can listen to Mitch Joel's recent podcast with Frank Rose here.

It made me think about where our media future lies within the storytelling paradigm; on one side is an old, established system that enforces boundaries between people and the media they consume (studios, TV networks, publishers, etc.), and on the other side is emergent web territory where the lines are blurring between games, consoles, entertainment, books, brands, fiction, reality and audiences.

Where do we meet in the middle? Is there a middle? Is there a beginning or an end?

What we do know is that the possibilities are now knocking loudly at our door, and this has little if anything to do with designations like “traditional” or “digital”, at least not when it comes to telling stories.

Remediation – the idea that visual media achieve their cultural significance precisely by paying homage to, rivaling, and refashioning such earlier media as perspective painting, photography, film, and television – is a concept that was introduced by Jay David Boulter and Richard Grusin in 2000, and in part, has served as the basis for other groundbreaking commentaries from the likes of Lawrence Lessig and Patricia Aufderheide around rights management and making copyright work for artists of all types.

What does this mean? It means that the damn is breaking whether the entertainment studios and TV networks like it or not. Here is one of my favorite remediation pieces from 2008, a one-minute story of “Romeo & Juliet”.

This also means that content is no longer king, context is.

If you consider that we can now deliver content to large audiences – or a tail of niche audience segments – then context (and more pointedly, relevance) is the driver for interaction and participation. Brands, as the buyers and owners of media, have a unique opportunity to facilitate the movements of people all over the world who are ready to tell and make stories. And who provides that context? We do.

Here is how Nike might activate us to tell a story about or related to the brand. Note that “branded content” doesn’t have to be directly about brands or products, rather what those brands, products and associated themes can mean to culture at large.

First, conversations are indexed based on common interests or affinities.

Power to the People: How We Will Control the Future of Media #remix #remediation #storytelling #context #brands

[© ThinkState; designer @GavinKeech]

These conversations then produce identifiable patterns and clusters of reorganized data, or fractals.

Power to the People: How We Will Control the Future of Media #remix #remediation #storytelling #context #brands

[© ThinkState; designer @GavinKeech]

Visual media in the form of pictures, videos, films, music and other assets are then aligned with those fractals.

Power to the People: How We Will Control the Future of Media #remix #remediation #storytelling #context #brands

[© ThinkState; designer @GavinKeech]

Using online storymaking and editing tools, the media is then remixed according to user preferences and affinities; these renditions of story can be consensus-based, or more personal, but the context for these stories emerges through participatory narrative.

Power to the People: How We Will Control the Future of Media #remix #remediation #storytelling #context #brands

[© ThinkState; designer @GavinKeech]

What do you see in your media future?  
How can we federate new standards for online publishing and cross-platform syndication?
How can we make better use of media and technology to tell better stories?

The Construct of Good & Media Transcendence #SXSWi #NYTimes #metathinking #publishing #ecosystems #transmedia

I’ve had a bit of a catharsis.

This exploration may start out feeling a bit clinical, and lengthy, but what I am about to share with you may help you understand the value of who you are and what it is that you do.

So please, bear with me.

A new virtual pal of mine, Venessa Miemis, wrote a wonderfully inspirational piece just this week on how networks solve the problem of complexity in an interconnected world. It got me thinking about the Greater Good and the dynamics pointing to how media can transcend cultural mores and create extraordinary mindshifts.

Among many key insights, what struck a chord with me was the notion of what “social” really is and what “networks” mean in the greater context of the world, our meaning and roles as individuals, and how improving the world is not only a shared responsibility, but a necessity that we simply cannot ignore, especially as brands and marketers.

I just got back from SXSWi, and I had a lot of time to roam the conference halls in search of my own interpretation of this amidst all the chaos and hype. I did have a chance to attend some excellent panel discussions, most notably one led by Clay Shirky, and another led by the folks from the New York Times (sorry, I can’t remember the panel names, but I assure you the exchanges were superb).

Several things became abundantly clear to me after listening to these discussions and in having some very intense chats with a few colleagues shortly thereafter:

Media is not fragmented, content is.

Shirky has eloquently and pointedly described this as “filter failure” and it seems to be all too true. He has also pointed out that there are 3 different modes of sharing: goods, services and information - only information can be shared without losing anything. This means that we are increasingly becoming more commoditized, and the attention-deficit economy is only adding fuel to this fire. The good news? Our distribution pipeline is robust, and we have plenty of opportunities to start filling it with better, more meaningful stuff.

Granted, the concept of “good” is subjective, but it doesn’t have to be. The social web, for example, provides us with consensus on passions, interests and desires... Why are we not developing more narratives around these sentiments and topics? Listening shouldn’t be reactive, it should be proactive. And guess what? In doing so, it removes a lot of the guesswork we amass in our media assumptions. Further, it bridges the gaps between the notions of paid, earned and owned, and allows us to focus on what’s most important: the eloquent redistribution of information and ideas. This involves ecosystemic attributes that can be likened to those in the chart below.

The Construct of Good & Media Transcendence #SXSWi #NYTimes #metathinking #publishing #ecosystems #transmedia
[image taken from Professor Andre F. Pilon’s “Experience and Learning in the Ecosystemic Model of Culture; A Critical Approach to Education, Culture and the Environmental Crisis” | School of Public Health, University of Sao Paulo]

Social communications are and should be all about real-world experiences & real-world change.

  We’ve spent years mostly manipulating behavior as opposed to changing it. Social channels are often thought of or repurposed as direct marketing vehicles. Whether they are indeed effective in this way or not is beside the point. Media communications, of any type, should inspire meaningful action. Period. Plenty of brands have been getting into the act, and are doing so not just through philanthropic means – they are encouraging people to look at the world through a different lens: their own.

This is certainly not to say that things like augmented reality or ARG extensions can’t be used in meaningful ways because they certainly can, it’s just that they must provide the looking glasses for the truths that are not so self-evident. Brands must also realize that the only way to stay relevant in the world is to help improve it. Now it’s time to get everybody else – from entertainment studios, to non-profits, to advocacy groups, to technology companies and the like – to start playing substantively in the same sandbox. We know one very fundamental thing... People don’t care who gives them the opportunity, they just want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and to make their actions, regardless of how big or small they are, matter.

The Construct of Good & Media Transcendence #SXSWi #NYTimes #metathinking #publishing #ecosystems #transmedia
[image taken from Professor Andre F. Pilon’s “Experience and Learning in the Ecosystemic Model of Culture; A Critical Approach to Education, Culture and the Environmental Crisis” | School of Public Health, University of Sao Paulo]

Utility is no longer a marketing function, it’s a life function.

When Google recently got into the smart grid business, they sent a message to every utility, media and technology company in the world: if you continue to treat yourself as a commodity, you will soon cease to exist. Some look at this move as a veritable pawn strike by the search giant for world domination, but lest we forget that they were among the first to offer services and utilities for free, and have encouraged co-collaboration from their inception. Does this make them smarter or better? Perhaps both.

But perhaps the bigger question we must ask ourselves is, “What is the impetus for growth?” In my humble estimation, it is to empower people. Naturally, in Google’s case, this may disrupt and even cannibalize some of their constituent businesses, but one must also assume that the longer-term goal is to synthesize human communication and interaction in ways that fuel innovation, as well as cure our environmental, social, political and financial ills. In other words, walled gardens can’t flourish outside of themselves, and there is a limit to the consumptive patterns that bind them. What is utility now? It is something that gives us the ability to better ourselves, and in the process, establish a greater connectivity with others.

Value co-creation is the real product of our social interactions. And human innovation.

We should offer high praise to the likes of Lawrence Lessig, C.K. Prahalad, M.S. Krishnan, Alex Bruns and many others for pointing out that real value is the by-product of collaboration. We can remix content, create new experiences and share them with each other, and then bake commerce elements into a social context that is not only resonant, but transformative.

My colleague, Scott Walker, has astutely pointed out that this will either be our sacrificial lamb or our death knell when it comes to product development and franchise modeling. And whether or not we can actually get lawyers, product engineers, marketers and supply chain managers to sit at the same table from the onset is anyone’s guess, but the fact remains that the market will move right past us if we don’t. Just as MP3s revolutionized music sharing and left the labels effectively in the dust, we have some serious thinking to do as agencies and curators about how to reverse-engineer the development process and tie our bottom line to those who are willing to invest their own IP and good fortunes alongside of us.

The Construct of Good & Media Transcendence #SXSWi #NYTimes #metathinking #publishing #ecosystems #transmedia

[image created by Scott Walker]

Storytelling (and storymaking) is the fiber of an ongoing, vibrant social discourse.

The hypersocial nature of objects, systems and networks have existed as long as we have walked the Earth. We must not forget that is this very thing that allowed us to survive and flourish as a species. Stories naturally added, extended and proliferated our legacies as people. However, we seem to have reached a formative impasse – we all too often think that we need to orate as a function of self-preservation, rather than one of true participation and collective innovation. Being extraordinary requires an essential return to the truth. It also requires that we enlist the help of each other. Why? Because fundamental truths, and their rediscovery, are not the machinations of the individual, rather the revelatory offerings culled by virtue of those things we so fervently love to identify as context and community.

Case in point: historically, look at how often genius has failed. F. Scott Fitzgerald was hired by Fox Studios during the Zanuck Era and was quickly fired as a screenwriter (he was told by one studio executive, with furious exclamation, that “we don’t shoot adjectives”). The great Ralph Ellison only completed one novel, Invisible Man, before he passed away (Nineteenth was later re-edited and published, but he only had the novel and a collection of essays and short stories to show for what was quite an illustrious life). Citizen Kane was Orson Welles’s only critically acclaimed and commercially successful work (albeit genuis, but again, to the point...). Another auteur, Krzysztof Kieslowski, defied the studio paradigm and has turned out magnificent work, an epos of social narrative, to no real commercial viability or great success. And then, of course, there are all the artists who have lived in obscurity and whose works never came to light until well after they left this Earth. The larger point? They all could have leaned more on communities of people, networks, to help their greatness be harnessed and cultivated for our collective benefit.

Journalism must be revitalized & re-institutionalized in order to help cultivate participatory culture.

Another colleague, good friend and spiritual confidant, Brendan Howley, an anti-war crimes advocate, screenwriter and Random House author of several novels, spent 25 years as an award-winning investigative journalist, only to find himself in the lurch when it came to his own journalistic and editorial credibility – he often priced himself right out of the market. This is no small tragedy, especially when you consider his many talents and his overwhelming proclivity for seeing underneath the surface of things (and often to his own physical danger or intellectual detriment). Brendan is like thousands, if not millions, of people who have suffered from a pandemic failure to be recognized for their contributions as journalists and engender a sense of true cultural identity... One that can be passed on to create new value systems and paradigms that can be shared and created across networks, ethnographies and shifting mindsets. Is the answer for social publishers like Gawker to hire “new journalists” by the thousands? Will this reconstruct our notions of the paywall? Maybe, maybe not.

The New Times panel debate at SXSWi was an interesting one because it clearly delineated the power struggle that has become publishing, and one of the many reasons why people use social networks to pick off “the most interesting bits” of information, rather than contribute more earnestly to experiences that inspire them to challenge themselves and each other in the daily discourse of life. William Safire, the expansive linguist and one of the great literary philosophers of our time, flourished under the pretext of conversation and its subsequent meaning, not the abject desire to be heard, or the need to muscle his way around mindshare through lofty prose. He examined the human condition through a curious and incurable love of semantics. The irony is that he did this largely without the benefit of technology. Meanwhile, we have all these amazing social tools at our disposal with which to extract meaning out of everyday circumstance and use language as a new means to connect and reconnect, yet we most often rest on our media laurels and watch the world turn. As a marketer, this simply baffles me.

We can recontextualize history. Literally.

The Czech Holocaust was never memorialized. My own father, a survivor of the German Holocaust, has been waiting his entire life for the acknowledgment of the suppressed masses (and not just inclusive of his own people) — a Faustian rendition of epic proportions. We have seen some of the worst atrocities in humankind just in the last century – Vietnam, Korea, Serbia, Poland, Somalia, the list goes on and on – and yet we largely exist within the Western world in a vacuum. We fight over resources we don’t have. Our greed is beyond reproach at times. We use science as means to justify absolutes. We are capable of a many great things, but we neutralize our intent with ghastly acts... And also by sheer inactivity. What’s worse, our accounts of these events in history are often inaccurate and/or incomplete.

The Construct of Good & Media Transcendence #SXSWi #NYTimes #metathinking #publishing #ecosystems #transmedia
[image taken from Professor Andre F. Pilon’s “Experience and Learning in the Ecosystemic Model of Culture; A Critical Approach to Education, Culture and the Environmental Crisis” | School of Public Health, University of Sao Paulo]

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There really are such things as social capital and social capitalism, and there is a reason – while possibly unbeknownst to us – why we have not completely buried ourselves, despite ourselves. Perhaps our true potential is about to be realized. Perhaps the world – the living, breathing thing that exists beyond all of us - is waiting for us to get out of our own way. But first, we must rebuild our collective past in order to create new benchmarks for building our collective future. And we can do this primarily through storytelling. We can make learning fun again. We can attain enlightenment through each other. And we can create leaders out of the most unlikely people, those individuals borne out of circumstances that currently will not allow them to flourish as contributors to society at large.

We must replace our media hubris with humility... Otherwise, it will be our collective undoing.

Media, as a practice, is the one of the most, if not the most, powerful things in the world. Yet, by and large, we defer to celebrity, we isolate our thinking and we attempt to control the gateways of self-expression. It is shameful, self-interested and self-destructive. And now, unfortunately, we are witnessing in many ways the downfall of systematic ideation and innovation. Look at what’s happening to the independent film market, TV networks, online media networks, publishers, you name it – they’re all eating away at themselves. Their self-importance fails to look at the bigger picture, which is that human behavior is adaptive, and begs for truthful inclusion.

Sure, we can build amazing tools and we can create more accessibility to the things we don’t necessarily need (and of course, sell them), but what will we say to ourselves when the well runs dry and “consumers” have truly taken over our media lives? We will be kicking ourselves for not properly nurturing relationships and helping to guide people down paths of self-realization. And the kicker? There is, arguably, far more potential profit in doing good than not.

Ultimately, this isn’t about consumption, or even attribution, but about people, and turning, as Seth Godin puts it, our work into art. And we have lots of work to do to improve the world.

The Construct of Good & Media Transcendence #SXSWi #NYTimes #metathinking #publishing #ecosystems #transmedia
[excerpt from “Techne: Research in Philosophy and Technology” | Joseph C. Pitt, Editor-in-Chief; Pieter Vermaas, Editor; Peter-Paul Verbeek, Editor | Volume 11, Number 1, Fall 2007]

On a final note...

Here’s a little story that might bring things around full circle. A transmedia tale, if you will.

My father escaped Nazi Germany with his immediate family in 1940 and took the trans-Siberian railroad into Shanghai, China. He was barely eight years old. Most of his family, as you might imagine, were either killed in holding and concentration camps or were stripped of their rights to life and practice. They settled in what was one of the original ghettos, a series of tenements that lined the outskirts of the city, and a territory, among many others, that was occupied by the Japanese. There they shared a small, confined space with other immigrants, including a Catholic priest and several ministers.

The very first time my father had a Hershey’s chocolate bar and a Coke they literally fell out of the sky. The alliance fighters – an air regiment of British, French and American pilots similar to “The Doolittle Flyers” (modeled after Jimmy Doolittle, an American fighter pilot who later led bombing raids over Tokyo) - would make frequent drops of “care packages” for these impoverished areas. Children like my father would delight in these gifts, sharing them despite their hunger and malnourishment, and would gleefully spread the word to others in the community when the packages arrived. The drops became the stuff legend and lore, and in many ways, created legacy experiences for these families, and even unusual affinities for these associated brands.

Sure enough, when my father arrived in San Francisco, CA in 1948 (at the ripe age of fifteen), his uncle bought him boxes of Hershey’s chocolate bars and cases of Coke.

Brands aside, this series of events might seem familiar to you, something you might’ve seen in the Spielberg epic, Empire of the Sun. Now imagine if we could tie these events together, and using collaborative entertainment as the primary storytelling medium, we could bring generations of people into the fold, all participating with their own renditions of this narrative, in and around these events, or, through derivations thereof. Further, what if we could bring together millions of Holocaust survivors and their families to share their stories, lay their pains to rest and develop new knowledge-sharing practices so that, wishfully, we never face these atrocities again.

It’s very clear to me now why my father became a physician. Why his work became art. Because through every slight gesture, and every painful decision, he knew he could help improve the world. I can’t tell you how many times people have heard my name in passing on the street and they have come up to me expressing their extreme gratitude for the fact that my father saved their lives.

Here’s the open ending to this little tale, why it’s so important to pay it forward, and how media can transcend.

In 2001, my father went into heart failure. We had been unable to find him a transplant donor, and he had reached a point in which he was on life support, he could hardly breathe and he wanted to check out because the pain from intubation was so excrutiating. At exactly 3 AM one fateful morning, in his very final moments of the fight, we received a phone call from an unknown location in northern California. Three hours later, a helicopter arrived with a new heart. Seven hours later he was walking, smiling and cracking jokes.

Another gift from the sky.

This is why we exist.

It isn’t innately scientific. It isn’t innately mathematic. It may not even be secular. It just is.

Up until a year or so ago, I didn’t truly understand this. But I do now. I’ve spent my entire life, and namely the last fifteen years of my career, trying to understand my role in the world. I’ve been angry, ashamed and many times disconnected. It’s been difficult to comprehend my lineage and the injustices my family has faced on both sides (I also have Native American blood). The world, quite frankly, has dealt us a strange hand.

But I would rather defer to love, compassion and empathy to define my sense of purpose. Because the world demands it. And because I can.

As for the construct of Good and media transcendence, we already possess the power and the passion to see it through. This is only the beginning, and perhaps our rebirth. The question remains whether or not we are willing to do something about it. Right here, right now.

I hope these words find you well, and that you are ready to transform the nature of things. We have lots of work to do, together.

In Honor of MLK: Thoughts on the Unmarketing of Our Media #transmedia #MLK

In Honor of MLK: Thoughts on the Unmarketing of Our Media #transmedia #MLK

The famous screenwriter William Goldman has often said that “No one knows anything.”

Then there was the illustrious Walker Evans, who once said, “Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”

Somewhere in between these truths lies the definition of our actions. And to borrow from a colleague, the need for definition is at once limiting, and a subjugation.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent a lifetime empowering us in the fight to see the purity of human truth, and to understand the value of our actions as communities of people. Naturally, like many transformational figures, Dr. King saw a special dynamic in which meaning could be realized through the relationship between language and focused activity (what one might consider to be the manifestation of persistence).

Now, of course, the world has changed. We have more access to each other. We have achieved greatness and overcome many of our social ills. We still have quite a ways to go. Yet we are often at a loss for something meaningful to say or do.

Here’s the real truth about social communication: while our lifestreams are overflowing, most of the web is still hidden from us. All that we don’t know that we don’t know renders us as fools chasing our own gold. We often mistake hubris for humility, and the redactive for redemption.

For decades, we’ve spoken about the practice of media as if it were a gateway to the truth (and perhaps it has been), and yet, today, we have not fully embraced it as something that is transformative. 21st century branding is teaching us that relevance can only be attained through personalization and the inherent need to connect. It has also proven to us that all forms of media are inherently social, and that storytelling is a celebration of culture, of what’s possible.

We can blend our interests into new forms of entertainment...

In Honor of MLK: Thoughts on the Unmarketing of Our Media #transmedia #MLK

We can use everyday life to help us discover our individual roles in the world...

In Honor of MLK: Thoughts on the Unmarketing of Our Media #transmedia #MLK


We can recreate history...

In Honor of MLK: Thoughts on the Unmarketing of Our Media #transmedia #MLK

... And we can socialize our media in profound ways.

In Honor of MLK: Thoughts on the Unmarketing of Our Media #transmedia #MLK

Google just changed the billboard business irrevocably and is using social technology to do it.
Mobile is a social, app-driven platform.
Print uses social content to establish a brand's personality.
Magazines have gone digital and are preference-based.
Display ads are becoming publishing units.
Brands are publishers.
People are media.

The media world — and media’s relationship to the world — is transforming everyday through social means and social memes.

In Honor of MLK: Thoughts on the Unmarketing of Our Media #transmedia #MLK

The democratization of media, however, leaves us with a curious challenge. Convergence and participatory culture can contribute significantly to the advancement and formalization of great ideas, but all media interests must be taken into careful consideration. We must also consider aligning these interests with those who share differing opinions, much in the same way Dr. King did. Conformity will soon be a thing of the past, but balance, inspiration and openness are mainstays... They are critical to our survival as consumers, and more importantly, as people.

As Jane McGonigal brilliantly put it: “The economy of engagement is also an economy of feelings, in which positive emotions — pride, curiosity, love, and feeling smart — are the ultimate reward for participation.”

The frustrating irony is that offline and online, traditional and non-traditional are just terms to delineate experiences we already share in full. They certainly don’t mean anything to consumers. Nor do best practices. Or most messages. But feelings do.

So the real question we must ask ourselves is “What now?”

Now means that disruption is just another tactic to grab attention without engendering conversation.
Now looks at the realization of self and interconnectivity for exactly what they are — emotive (and spiritual) states.
Now dictates that normative identities and serial segmentation are no longer real.
Now means that we have to move with markets, not be confined by inventory or real estate, and think through adaptive means.
Now no longer makes media morally prescriptive, or manipulative, but the ultimate forms of self-expression.
Now demands that we do this with the highest sense of shared responsibility.

Now is what will culminate in the synthesis of ideas that inspire action, and create meaning... With very little effort given to defining it.

Causes become a common form of outreach.
Communities become publishing exchanges.
Publishers recalibrate the new media model.
New media is no longer a new practice, or even ambiguous. It just is.
Old thinking goes back to where it belongs – in the past. Nonetheless, it provides us with context.
Brands recontextualize themselves and become the primary conduits for improving the world.

And consumers can access it all, as well as create it all, through a single dashboard... Metaphorically, or not.

In Honor of MLK: Thoughts on the Unmarketing of Our Media #transmedia #MLK

But here’s the catch. All of this happens with brands in the background or alongside of us, working tirelessly behind the scenes.

We now must accept that media transformation isn’t a function of marketing, it’s a function of being.

You don’t need to believe it, because it’s already happening.

Welcome to now. It’s nice to meet you. And thank you, Dr. King, for opening our eyes to what’s possible.

A Purview Into Annotative Storytelling

The wise and wily folks at @JawboneTV pointed me in the direction of this trailer that is a great representation of where interactive media is headed. Remove for a second the fact that it is a film promotion, and think about any and all possible source executions -- be it TV, IPTV, webisodic or mobisode. We've seen a good number of video annotations being done, but this is particularly resonant because it also displays features that are close to final outputs, such as the DVD offering.

How Transmedia Could've Helped Us Avoid the Financial Crisis

Gretchen Morgensen and Louise Story wrote a terrific piece in the New York Times this past week (Thursday, Dec. 24th) on how the global banks, namely Goldman Sachs, forecasted the implosion of mortgage-related securities, created a marketplace for C.D.O.’s (Collateralized Debt Obligations), and then made bets against them from which they profited handsomely.

Sylvain R. Raynes, a structured finance expert, described it well: “When you buy protection against an event you have a hand in causing, you are buying fire insurance on someone else’s house and then committing arson.”

Well, in this case, you can replace the word “arson” with collusion or fraud and you’ve pretty much distilled the situation down to a tee. Sound familiar? We’ve seen it before, in scenarios ranging from the Michael Milken/Drexel Burnham Lambert junk bond fiasco, to Enron’s energy grid collusion scandal. But this, of course, quite possibly, and single-handedly, catalyzed the collapse of all the world’s financial markets.

And here’s the really scary part. Goldman Sachs knew about this as early as 2006, and started packaging and trading its toxic product as early as October of 2007. The bank had a solid two-year window with which to create a wildly profitable business for itself, while people lost their homes because they had to ultimately make good on crappy debt, and trading institutions made a run on other reputable banks (such as Bear Stearns), who eventually couldn’t hold themselves up under the weight of bad securities and rapidly depleting liquidity... Which also meant that the people who lost their homes had no backup options (and of course, the U.S. Government issued bailout money to Goldman, of which it also profited handsomely from... But that’s another topic for discussion altogether).

How Transmedia Could've Helped Us Avoid the Financial Crisis

As we know, in today’s world, two years is a lifetime of opportunity. But history doesn’t have to keep repeating itself.

So imagine this. Imagine that as things started to unspool and the signs were revealing themselves, we could create a platform whereby anyone affected had a voice, a real voice, and they could inspire others could tell their stories as well. Even further, what if Tetsuya Ishikawa, one of the key players on the inside of this whole mess, felt compelled enough and supported enough to speak out and effectively stop the bank’s terrible run on the global market?

It turns out Ishikawa did write about this, but well after the fact. Another guy, a Deutsche bank employee, actually issued T-shirts to memorialize the experience.

How Transmedia Could've Helped Us Avoid the Financial Crisis

Ishikawa’s book could’ve just as easily become a graphic novel or a multimedia piece in which bankers, homeowners and lending institutions (at least those who were forced to defer to their integrity) would contribute to an ongoing narrative about financial responsibility, and, one that would actually provide peer-to-peer lending options for those in crisis. Major banks and financial services companies, such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America or Charles Schwab, could’ve ‘sponsored’ the narrative, even running campaigns inside or alongside of it, promoting relevant, solutions-oriented programs.

How Transmedia Could've Helped Us Avoid the Financial Crisis

Beyond that, the ‘mortgage-lending phenomenon’ could’ve just as easily translated into a documentary-style narrative, in which local communities would tell their unique stories and even sell these as properties to TV Networks or IPTV content hubs or publishing houses... Or all of the above. Where could those profits have gone? Back into the communities and local banks, as well as new opportunities to build infrastructure. You see where I’m going with this.

How Transmedia Could've Helped Us Avoid the Financial Crisis

For those of you who might think this is far-fetched, or that hindsight is merely 20/20, in the book, Groundswell, Forrester pointed to a great case study of how a French bank, Credit Mutuel, enlisted the help of the community to deal with the country’s own recessionary period by giving people a direct purview into what it’s like to be a lender/credit institution. Granted, the context was considerably smaller than the one we are talking about here, but if my memory serves me correctly, this wonderful ‘little’ example of content, context & community happened right around 2006 or 2007.

The larger point is that US & Global banking brands should take careful note: we may not be able to reverse the damage done (at least not in the shorter term), but we can take a strong position and align ourselves much more closely with consumers who need the mental, spiritual and financial support. It’s about time that all of us marketers took a real and resounding stance.

As for men like Lewis Sachs (who oversaw C.D.O.’s before becoming a US Treasury advisor) and John Paulson (whose company made millions from the market collapse), Karma will likely give them a swift kick in the ass, if it hasn’t already.

An interesting aside regarding Karma, Goldman may lose millions as a result of an ex-programmer who stole and redistributed its proprietary trading software.

That said, nothing can make up for what has happened. And destroying Goldman is not the answer. But transforming perspective is.

This is the power of transmedia. This is our immediate future.

More Social Currency Evolving... (Like Swine Flu)

Our friends from TRÜF discovered an interesting follow-up to the Obama/Joker poster. This street campaign seemingly goes on the offense against some folks’ favorite right-wing bag of gas, Rush Limbaugh. Fair or not, and after comparing Obama and Pelosi to Nazis, spewing hate on a daily basis and being guilty of nothing short of inciting violence, semantics seem to point to just about anything that links him to the word "swine". Unlike the Obama/Joker poster, this one seems to have a more pointed message. One guess is that it is something about the viral and toxic nature of certain right-leaning commentators. Or maybe something bigger: is true mass influence sourced from good intentions, or evil ones?

Which begs the question: who will adopt this currency as their own, and what new statement will they make of it?

Further, are we ready for the street campaign battles that are about ensue?

Perhaps are collective conscience is taking hold of itself and revealing different faces in the process...

Oh yeah, and if you’re curious and ready to spread the conversation, be sure to remember the hashtag #H1N1 in your tweets... Gotta be true to a viral phenomenon.

Campaigns: Serving the Needs of Marketers, Not Consumers

The rapid-fire shifts within the media landscape are forcing us to think differently. And while we have done a much better job of listening to consumer passions, desires and interests, we are, by and large, still trying to shoehorn our own ‘media solutions’ into their daily agendas. Quite frankly, this needs to change, and perhaps we can start by retooling our deployment methodology.

Let’s dive into theory for a moment.

A campaign construct is based on in-points and end-points which lend to a relatively short lifecycle. Sure, you can run a campaign for an extended period of time, but by default, we essentially ascribe a time crunch on what we hope is the development of conversations around a brand offering. But this seems entirely antithetical to engagement: how can we generate conversations on our timetable, not those of the consumers we hope to reach? Further, how can conversations be generated organically within fixed environments?

The concept of transmedia storytelling provides an interesting context – it represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience (via Henry Jenkins and his Confessions of an Aca-Fan blog).  Perhaps it is a context in which we can make more sense of how to turn messages into conversations, primarily because the timelines for engagement and adoption are indefinite.

There are two fundamental parts to transmedia: the marketing functions and the development functions of a rollout strategy. This requires a bit of reverse engineering, to say the least.

The marketing functions would serve to optimize a media plan or spend (in other words, reduce waste), or, from the ground level, would build out a framework that serves a market need – in effect, putting the consumer front and center. The idea behind this is that we would actually brand markets, not market brands per se, so that common interests would supersede age or economics. So, in this sense, we are talking about developing initiatives in a true psychographic and technographic capacity as opposed to a mere demographic one.

The development functions would serve to build a mythology around IP. Imagine taking your favorite CPG or electronics brand and building a storybook around its core DNA that is rich in lore, Platonic soft text, amazing iconography and a suite of virtually endless outcomes (think of video annotations without a set number of ‘second’ or ‘third’ acts). Now imagine taking tools that are already on offer within the semantic web (artificial intelligence) and building layers that extend these stories out into the world, free of dictation, compartmentalization or even language barriers... Subsequently creating a seamless, organic and collaborative experience.

We cannot expect brand advocacy to be furtive and ongoing if we continue to bastardize our relationships. For those on the brand side – marketing directors and CMOs – it may be daunting to present something that is quantitatively challenging to a board of skeptics, but by the same token, all the time that is spent pouring over numbers can be used to develop business plans (not marketing plans) predicated on market insights that are measurable and open to adaptation. In other words, if you treat the consumer relationship as your business, you can remove much of the guesswork that goes into predicting behavior – a central component of campaign development that seems to fail.

Food for thought. What do you think?