A Literacy of the Imagination

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

Filtering by Tag: creativity

On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 1 #transmedia #crossmedia #media

Introduction

As a companion piece to a recent post we wrote over on the WWTID blog regarding curation, and as a follow-up to my last piece on proving out models within the creative industry, I wanted to expand on the concept of storytelling in today's highly charged, highly fragmented and highly regulated Internet environment.

By now, you've probably heard the terms "crossmedia" "intermedia" and "transmedia" ad nauseum in conjunction with the notion of multi-platform storytelling and experience design. This will not be a post about term definition (I promise -- I've all but given up on that endeavor), but rather an exploration of business challenges revolving around any one of these terms.

In short, it seems we have two core challenges:

1. What it means to actually tell stories;

2. What it means to distribute and scale stories across platforms.

Telling stories -- at least those with which a number of people seem to gravitate toward, interact, participate and share -- is incredibly difficult in an increasingly intermediated landscape (yes, you heard that right). The cost of production has gone down, while the cost to distribute, even among a variety of channels and device options, has gone up. At the end of the day, it probably has less to do with creative abundance as it does with the struggle between Old and New Media.

Here's some personal backstory on this paradigm, and why, even as we improve storytelling disciplines, a real battle needs to be waged in the board rooms and legislative confines of corporations and institutions.

An Imperfect Evolution

[from Wikipedia]: The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) was the first notable attempt by the United States Congress to regulate pornographic material on the Internet. In 1997, in the landmark cyberlaw case of Reno v. ACLU, the United States Supreme Court struck the anti-indecency provisions of the Act.

The Act was Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It was introduced to the Senate Committee of Commerce, Science, and Transportation by Senators James Exon (D-NE) and Slade Gorton (R-WA) in 1995. The amendment that became the CDA was added to the Telecommunications Act in the Senate by an 84–16 vote on June 14, 1995.

In Europe around the same time, EU policies would present a different side to the same coin: Self-regulation. This would eventually rear its own ugly head in terms of how people could access and share information on their own terms.

What this meant: A threat to the constitutional notions of free speech, and something that prompted a wave of issues tied to content creation, content sharing, technology adoption, and copyright law.

1997. I'm three years out of undergrad. Mobile and email are just starting to take off. Websites are being built for as much as $5M a pop (or more). Web companies are being funded for obscene amounts based on ideas, not revenue models or pro formas. Content creators, of all types, are starting to experiment again beyond the CD-ROM or interactive DVD fold.

I remember sitting in an office at NBC, literally a room in a trailer on the studio lot that I shared with some of my friends and co-workers, having these long, drawn-out chats, sometimes hours long, about convergence and the future of media. We were convinced that the world was changing and that "format" would no longer be an issue in the world of storytelling. We talked about how characters in a story could take on media lives of their own, how fictional and non-fictional elements might blend into stories or contribute to emergent narrative arcs, how formats would actually change because of it, and how new markets would form around it.

I'm pretty sure that it was the first time I ever heard the word "transmedia" or "crossmedia" used in a sentence.

A few of us had interesting professional lives: We were writer-producer-directors at the network (show segments, on-air promotions, broadcast design campaigns, early web and digital properties) who would come in early (usually 5 AM), produce our material, ship it for air, and then go to our "other" gigs in the afternoons.

Being ambitious to the point of sadism, I had three of them.

One was a startup called "Homemade Entertainment" that was backed by a co-founder of EDI (which later became AC Nielsen-EDI). We were basically an early version of YouTube. We had lots of great ideas, an interesting website, a little bit of cash on the books... And no distribution. At that time, all the telcos couldn't build Internet pipes fast enough. We didn't have broadband. There wasn't enough of an audience, not enough eyeballs, not enough justification for an ad or a subscription model. We lasted almost a year and then let our lease go to another company.

Around the same time, ventures like DEN (Digital Entertainment Network) and iFilm were flaring up, becoming the darlings of Wall Street, as well as Madison and Vine. Those of us who were content creators for these platforms were having somewhat of a field day -- we were not only experimenting with format, but we were creating material that could live on multiple screens. It was a lot of fun, and we made pretty good money, even if the companies themselves didn't.

Again, we didn't really have an audience. And without much revenue (if at all), we operated at a burn rate that would give investment bankers and venture capitalists ulcers.

Most of these companies would go under; a few (like iFilm) would survive through acquisition and by building up asset libraries, diversifying, and pivoting to different areas of growth as extension arms of other media companies.

I moved on and started creating feature film campaigns, as well as got involved in some independent film projects and some related software projects, wondering when something like "transmedia" or "crossmedia" and true convergence would take hold of the digital and analog worlds.

That same year, in 1997, Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos would create "The Last Broadcast", described as "the first desktop based feature film".

Stories, Technology Acceleration & The Problem of Scale

Cut to 1999. "The Blair Witch Project" becomes a mega success. We all know about what it did, and probably what it meant, and all I could say was: "Yeah -- that!"

Lions Gate acquires the film and uses it as means to build its own asset library. With every intention to blow it out as a franchise, not much happens after that.

Cut to 2001. BMW Films releases its first web series "The Hire" and all I could say was: "Yeah -- that!"

The brand garners a lot of views and a lot of buzz, and even redefines how agencies can market, how stories can be told across platforms, and how brands can sell their products beyond advertising. Save for a few exceptions, this would remain an anomaly in the "branded content" space.

Cut to 2003. I get involved in a spin-off of a military simulation and gaming company. We architect a pre-visualization and real-time rendering software that allows media companies to integrate digital properties and distribute them with ease, as well as save tons on post-production costs. We were solving a pretty major business problem, and a big media problem.

All I could say was: "Yeah -- that!"

Unfortunately, we have issues selling it in as a product to different companies and different verticals. At one point, a big cable net wants to buy us for a nice chunk of money, but we don't have enough due diligence on the core model, and we run out of money after 18 months. We are absorbed by the parent company, us principles leave, and the assets are split up or sold off.

Cut to 2005. A friend of mine who works with a big music label recruits me to help him build a platform that allows new artists to be discovered. This is a storyworld with various characters (industry archetypes) and a narrative about building a creative business (a record company), utilizing early social media (MySpace), microsites, widgets and social games, each asset and character contributing uniquely to the overall narrative, and enlisting audiences as participants. We have phenomenal adoption -- over 200,000 fans on MySpace alone within the first two months, and we create a websidoc series, a documentary series (early reality TV) and a feature film around the property.

On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 1 #transmedia #crossmedia #media

We were actually solving a significant business and cultural problem...

On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 1 #transmedia #crossmedia #media
... But ran into issues of scale. Scale of all types and sizes.Including what regulators at the music labels were going to think.

And what happens?

No proven revenue model. The label pulls the plug after several months and the rest is history.

Same year: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issues a Broadband Policy Statement (also known as the Internet Policy Statement), which lists four principles of open Internet,[16] "To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to:"

Translation: "We're going to determine what is lawful in terms of content and how it is shared."

Cut to 2006. Henry Jenkins comes out with his critically acclaimed book, "Convergence Culture". All I can say is, "Yeah -- that!"

Same year: At a digital agency, we build one of the first broadband platforms for a major brand, which comprises a number of interactive storytelling elements, including audience participation across channels. It launches, takes on a few iterations, and eventually runs out of funding.

Cut to 2007. I work on an interactive narrative game that I later find out is called an "ARG" (alternate reality game). All I can say is, "Yeah -- that!"

The game does fairly well, but we run out of money. And as a platform, it is shut down.

Cut to 2008. I'm recruited to develop a gaming property in which we implement a similar construct -- we build an amazing story world -- and more or less the same thing happens.

Same year: At my own agency, we build two multimedia storytelling platforms, both for non-profits, and both launch but run out of funding within several months. They would later be revamped as different projects.

Same year: [from Wikipedia]: The FCC auctions off the 700 MHz block of wireless spectrum in anticipation of the DTV transition; Google promises to enter a bid of $4.6 billion if the FCC requires the winning licensee to adhere to four conditions:[17]

Translation: Licensors and licensees are at the beck-and-call of regulation, which can be bought and sold by the highest bidder(s).

Cut to 2009. Same scenario involving a military project I join, same outcome. The cause? Believe it or not, government regulations.

[from Wikipedia]: In September of that same year: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposes to add two additional rules on top of its 2005 policy statement, viz., the nondiscrimination principle that ISPs must not discriminate against any content or applications, and the transparency principle, which requires that ISPs disclose all their policies to customers. He also argues that wireless should be subject to the same network neutrality as wireline providers.[19]

Translation: Policies, not regulation, will dictate Internet distribution. Again, those can be bought and sold by the highest bidder(s).

2010 to present day. I get involved in several projects, some film-based, one TV-based, one game-based; they get some traction, but more or less experience the same scenarios as listed above.

[from Wikipedia]: In May 2010, after it was believed the FCC would drop their effort to enforce net neutrality, they announce that they will continue their fight. It was believed they would not be able to enforce net neutrality after a Federal court's overthrow of the agency's Order against Comcast. However, under commission chairman Julius Genachowski, the FCC proposes reclassifying broadband Internet access providers under the provisions of Title 2 of the Communications act in an effort to force the providers to adhere to the same rules as telephone networks. This adjustment is meant to prevent, "unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities or services."[21]

Translation: Redefining classifications and regulations such that other bigger cable operators don't go bankrupt or telcos don't abuse their power while they surreptitiously monopolize.

Further translation: Practices will change where the money changes hands in Washington.

On December 21, 2010, the FCC approves new rules banning cable television and telephone service providers from preventing access to competitors or certain web sites such as Netflix. The rules also include a more limited set of obligations for wireless providers. The rules would not keep ISPs from charging more for faster access. Republicans in Congress have announced plans to reverse the rules through legislation.[22] Verizon has also indicated that it will challenge the FCC's decision in court,[23] and Colin Crowell, the former Senior Counselor to the FCC Chairman, has called such court challenges "inevitable."[24]

All the while: Piracy and privacy concerns mount as revamped fodder for special interest groups, especially those supported by Big Media companies and Hollywood studios. In 2012 alone, we see legislative bonfires sweep the Internet world over in the form of SOPA, PIPA and ACTA, with more on the way...

Translation: Policy formation and regulation are completely out of whack; for one, they become a party incentive, not a policy imperative. For another, no one seems to be reading between the lines; Old Media -- starting with the MPAA, primetime and cable nets -- are trying to destroy the openness of the Internet. And with that, we not only have a media problem and a distribution problem, but a democracy problem.

Patterns, Patterns, Patterns...

There's a central theme running here.

No, it's not the fact that you or I are gluttons for punishment (which we may be); in every case stated above, we had an opportunity to tell stories in very interesting ways, but would be stymied by distribution and scale. Sometimes this came in the form of cut-off in funding, in media dollars, in time, in interest, or all four.

Looming in the shadows have been regulators of all types, looking to "control" stories and their respective media for their own monetary gains, and not for the benefit of audiences.

To be perfectly clear, I absolutely love the idea of "transmedia" or "crossmedia" or "intermedia" storytelling. I love the idea of agnostic (or even channel specific) storytelling, but to be honest, I don't really know what it means anymore, at least not in terms of a business or even a value proposition. To be more clear, I don't position anything I do in this realm as a "storytelling project" anymore; it's either a platform, an audience-building mechanism or both.

More on that in a bit.

I remember when social media first exploded onto the scene. Everyone got so excited (as they should have) about all these new networks, and conversations, and sharing, and whatever else, and soon enough people started to realize, "Oh yeah -- we need good content! (And maybe we need to learn how to tell better stories!)" And so began the notion of earned, paid and owned media, throwing traditional models out of whack and putting media companies on their heels.

Lost in this mix, of course, was an emphasis on telling stories themselves -- this became another play on media. And we all have some idea where media has landed in the mix of distribution.

A good buddy of mine, an exec at a media holding company, said to me recently that multi-platform storytelling should be what good integrated communications planning is, just that folks in the agency business tend to think that stories and messages are the same thing, and they probably aren't. Sort of like, by default, how social media and content development have been thought of in the same way.

I tend to agree, but for different reasons; among them, advertising art and copy, or social network interactions, or commercials, or webisodics typically don't employ narrative structures that can be scaled through clear archetypes, identifiable conflicts (like real social issues) and extended narratives (sub-plots, what have you). Why? Because media buying and placement get in the way.

Also because, ironically, creative ideaology gets in the way.

There's another argument to consider here, which is that marketing and storytelling might not be the same thing. Yet, I would assert that they've been put into that position via, among other things, rigid media buying practices (in part, controlled by lobbying and legislation). More important, they should be the same thing if they want to be, shouldn't they?

So back to the theme of being "cut off".

Multi-platform storytelling, crossmedia storytelling, transmedia storytelling, whatever you can or want to call it, is really, really hard to do.

I'm not talking about franchise properties like Star Wars or Lost or The Simpsons that have been blown out over the years into myriad other narrative or franchise properties. I'm not talking about game companies who can do all sorts of interesting things beyond the console, or creative shops who can tell such good stories that you don't think you're actually being marketed to, you're just taking part in an incredible experience, with a fan base that participates in truly unique ways.

I'm talking about the notion of "pure transmedia" or "pure storytelling adoption" or "pure multimedia creation", you know, building a brand and a property and a storyworld from the ground up -- creating a platform that can sustain itself and its fans -- free of media and distribution and legislative biases.

I'm talking about how folks are using this construct to create or tap into social movements. I'm talking about telling story in a way that actually transcends the media and channels through which it runs. I'm talking about how to sustain a relationship, a dialogue, with an audience even when it's not watching or buying or interacting directly with your material or your product.

Does a pure transmedia or crossmedia or multi-platform play like this actually exist? Maybe. Are any of these platforms sustainable beyond the life of a project or a campaign? Not usually.

To do that, it takes money, time, commitment, and most of all, belief from the "power structure" that is already in place. If you think that's a load of crap, or defeatist in some way, then think of it from this angle:

If you create an independent project, you don't have to go through a studio or a network or a big production company or big design shop or a big brand. But you still have to fund the project somehow. Everyone from private capital investors to private equity to venture capital to banks and even microlenders (yes, them) are going to look at examples. Where do examples come from? Most commonly from commercial successes. And even most commercial successes fall short, in some ways, because they have challenges of scale.

In other words, they're not true platforms. And that's a whole 'nother issue at hand.

We'll explore what this means in Part 2.

A talk about innovation & entrepreneurship in the creative industry. #MAS #media #advertising #creativity #business #innovation

This was a speak I gave last week at the Miami Ad School (or as some call it, the Miami Idea School) to a group of about 130 graduate students on the topic of creativity, specifically through the lens of DIY culture, and the economics associated with it. Many of the students have had legitimate concerns about what their vocations will mean in a highly unpredictable economic and creative environment, so I tried to address these concerns with some ideas (and examples) of how they can proactively forge more fulfilling paths.

The most important skill to develop? The ability to think critically.

After I spoke, we had a really good Q&A session; interestingly enough, when asked what they wanted to do after finishing the MAS program, about half of the students said they wanted to start their own businesses. I suppose some of this sentiment has to do with disenfranchisement from the corporate manifold (most of the students have had several years work experience under their belts already), but I also think that a lot of it has to do with a younger generation of folks who are truly interested in creating social change, inside and outside of corporations.

Anyway, enjoy the talk, and please feel free to lend some perspectives on your own DIY experiences.

A Literacy of the Imagination: What is it? Why is it? A Personal Backstory. #creativity

Some of you know that I've been working on my new book (same title as the headline: "A Literacy of the Imagination") between all the tech development and advisement that I do. I'd like to share with you the backstory, the abridged version, of what compelled me to forge ahead with this material in the first place.

You see, socialized interactions have changed my life, quite literally.

I'm not just talking about the communities of amazing minds with whom I've connected through the likes of Twitter, Facebook, G+ et al, I'm talking about the people and the relationships I've formed through knowledge sharing and development. People of all walks and vocations -- storytellers, futurists, artists, educators and financiers, who in their own ways, have come to terms with their roles in the world and the childlike ambitions they can no longer do without.

A Literacy of the Imagination: What is it? Why is it? A Personal Backstory. #creativity
Like many people I know, I came into the world with a number of interesting challenges. I was given the gift of being able to draw and paint (one form of creativity), and I was also given the gift of being able to compute, to connect dots, not so much through numbers, but through patterns and symbols (another form of creativity). My left and right brains were always at odds with one another. And while I was afforded the opportunity to learn at a high school that embraced unique talents — I was an "art major" and an "English major" as a sophomore and junior — the institutional and commercial world dealt people like me a much harsher hand.

Case in point: Academics. I always tested off the charts on certain diagnostic exams and critical thinking exercises (including Mensa) — I've always been what you might call a "long-form thinker." I didn't care for most multiple choice tests, or processes that were laborious and uninspired. I always felt that there was always more than one answer, and certainly more than one "best" answer. My fear and dislike for mathematics , for example, was borne out of conditioning; I was taught to approach numbers and computation with the same, consistent, banal thought process. As I approached high school graduation, I essentially had two choices: Go to art school on scholarship, or go to a really, really reputable university (like Stanford or an Ivy League) and get a degree in "something important".

I wanted neither. I ended up finishing college early, and I loved the experience, but like a lot of people, I still felt pretty unfulfilled and unclear about what I should be doing to harness my interests in the arts and culture.

When I entered the working world, my creativity was constantly stifled. I held very respectful corporate positions starting in my mid-twenties… And more or less grew to hate them all. People weren't really the problem — for the most part, I've met and worked with some salt-of-the-earth folk — it was just that I didn't believe in what we were doing. I didn't care about what "the system" wanted us to do. And I always wanted to do more, and do more than one thing.

At one point, I thought that making compromises for some unknown benefit was going to be my terminal existence – that these were the ways of the world, and that things wouldn't ever be any different.

And then came the Internet.

A funny thing happened when that came around: My imagination kicked in. All the things that I truly loved to do — write, draw, build, ideate, transact — came out in spades. I started to see the world differently. I started to connect with people who, like me, had a lot more to offer than a fancy title or a bucket of skills. I started to do things that I had dreamed about as a child and as a teen (like writing crazy algorithms, architecting software and making films). I built businesses. I experienced lots of failure. I enjoyed sporadic success. And it was well earned, because I realized that I could build a future based on some of my own terms, and more importantly, because I knew that I was capable of seeing it through.

Cut to the present moment, there's a thirst for discovery and intellectual curiosity that is undeniable. Yet, many of us over the years have been forced into isolation by surface environments that don't seem to care or want to nourish these quests for truth and meaning. That is, until each of us found ways to buttress this isolation and turn it into its own form of discovery.

In short, my true education, my literacy, has come through other people.

I've cobbled together a string of quotes from Einstein that I feel reflects this evolution so well:

 "... All dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper ... Who, however, see in the service to the community their highest life problem ... Of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice have prevented me from feelings of isolation.”

These three elements — truth, beauty and justice — are the drivers for what I call a literacy of the imagination.

In the world we live in now, and the world of many possible, synergistic futures, there is no readily identifiable, common language for understanding the value of human expression and good intention… Not yet at least. But there will be very soon. And when there is, we will share experiences through operating systems of our own design, and those that are hyperpersonal, and at once, hyperrelational. Building technologies and approaches to these various forms of applied learning are at the heart of the work I do.

A Literacy of the Imagination: What is it? Why is it? A Personal Backstory. #creativity
They also endeavor to develop the literacy I speak of — one that is developed through collective means, by way of individual identity, and through the fortification of selfless expression for reciprocal gain. This means that we really can co-exist, and the systems we repair, recreate and co-create, can make us wealthy, in every sense of how human values emerge and align.

This means that we are entering a new period of enlightenment, in which our imaginations take us to places we never thought were possible. They form the new literacy. Perhaps a rediscovered literacy that harks back to the origins of our existence… Or one that predates it.

A literacy that may or may not involve technologies given a particular moment or situation. A literacy that might trascend media. Or business. It might change governance. It might do things that force us to be uncomfortable… More so than we might be right now.

What it does involve is meaning, and more specifically operable context, via the imagined self, imagined collectives and imagined futures. A cooperative of thought and action.

The human metastory.

I look forward to building that story with you. Out if it, we will build the cultures and businesses of the imagined future, tomorrow's world…

…Or, the Future Now.

Some personal insights on experience planning... #agencies #RAPP #strategy #brands #creativity

My friends and family often ask me what it is that I actually do.

Aside from being a brand strategist who helps clients overcome significant challenges (such as understanding the cultural dynamics that affect things like purchase decisions)... I help develop customer experiences.

Yeah, I know, talk like that induces a lot of head-scratching.

Well, it just so happens that Ishan Shapiro and Marija Coneva were kind enough to put this series of video remixes together to help tell that story better than I ever could. The footage is a compilation of keynote and interview segments as well as stuff I shot while I was cruising around Europe this time last year. Enjoy.

The Role of Today's "Agent": Making Good on Data #BigData #creativity #agencies

The Role of Today's "Agent": Making Good on Data #BigData #creativity #agencies

We’ve all been exposed, in one way or another, to the realities of the Big Data Matrix.

Data drives our lives. Data visualization has changed the way we think and feel about the environments in which we interact. Data science is the most sought after skill-set in business right now. And there’s a big reason for this: big systems are pushing us to rethink our roles as agents bridging the gaps between information and imagination. It is actually a call-to-action, whereby leveraging data between people is the cornerstone of our future.

The Role of Today's "Agent": Making Good on Data #BigData #creativity #agencies

The recent O’Reilly Strata Conference illuminated some of the great challenges we face in making data meaningful, and introduced some fantastic non-linear approaches for merging structured and unstructured data (structured = paid or owned media data; unstructured = earned or social media data). Opportunities abound within the realm of all that we do not know; in fact, these opportunities currently comprise a $100B business.

The Role of Today's "Agent": Making Good on Data #BigData #creativity #agencies

The bigger takeaway is this: As progenitors of Big Data – whether we are analysts, statisticians, technologists, artists, writers, designers, journalists, economists or civil engineers – we have a responsibility to build value and tell stories around data that is unprecedented. This role is world-changing. It is also a huge ethical and social imperative.

This past week, I led a discussion with our agency strategy, analytics and creative teams on “Good Data”, which is essentially the notion of cultivating value out of the endless reams of data we encounter and produce on a daily basis.

The Role of Today's "Agent": Making Good on Data #BigData #creativity #agencies

The genesis of the conversation was to get our teams to think about their role in a new paradigm shift whereby agencies in particular are no longer just tasked with creating assets within or around media, but are relied upon to build data-driven utilities that provide real social value. These are solutions to complex problems concerning deep economic, governmental, cultural and/or psychological needs.

Rather than focusing on utility outputs themselves (tools, platforms, applications, what have you), we centered the conversation around developing creative experiences for cultivating data within a larger business context, and specifically new market creation.

The evolution of Big Data brings to light some of gaps we have encountered in business, starting with the post-industrial push of the 50s and 60s and leading into the collaborative dynamics of the new Millennium. In sum, we’ve shifted quite dramatically from a “first-to-market” mentality to one that embraces co-created markets, and those in which competitors can build unique marketshare (there are actually great examples starting 30 years ago from the automotive and airline industries).

The Role of Today's "Agent": Making Good on Data #BigData #creativity #agencies
There is an even greater picture to paint within this if we think about the value of brands, and the notion of “branded utility”. This is where creativity is so critical. Most brands these days make decent enough products; where they seem to struggle is with their own equities – the ways they actually provide social value to their customers. If we go a step further and realize that these companies are the catalysts for economic growth , we can also make the association between the types of utilities they can offer and economic solutions at play (just look at the market capitalization of the Fortune 100 – in aggregate, a small percentage of that is bigger than the GDP of most industrialized nations):

Data-as-a-Service
   Government-as-a-Service
        Finance-as-a-Service
            Journalism-as-a-Service
                Education-as-a-Service
                    Brand-as-a-Service

The core creative questions we must then ask ourselves are these:

What does utility look like or feel like?
What must media, technology and culture do, in tandem, to facilitate or leverage it?
How is utility creation sustainable for business and for society?

And so the role of the agent reveals itself in full color: to build sustainable brand equities for social and economic change. What we do with the insight we generate is a choice, one that creates endless possibility, and one that builds new foundations for human meta value.

And that is something technology cannot do for us, rather something that we must do for ourselves.

The Role of Today's "Agent": Making Good on Data #BigData #creativity #agencies

The Merger of People, Technology & Ideas #analytics #storytelling #strategy #creativity #innovation

Early in my career as a creator of film and television content, I quickly found myself confined by what media allowed me, or didn’t allow me, to do. My transition into the interactive space alleviated some of these hurdles, but I soon realized that there was a much bigger issue at play, one that called to the reality that media ecosystems were becoming exponentially more complex, and that no one medium could replace or define our roles as marketers.  

I tell this story often because it is important that we understand the meaning and value of what creativity is, as well as what it can do for us when we look at it from a more holistic perspective.

To me, creativity is the process by which intent and action passionately align. It is a part of everything that we do well, and represents both the successes and failures of innovation. We are all creative beings, who, whether cognizant of this dynamic or not, constantly pine for the opportunity to connect, particularly through storytelling.

I started building social technologies because I wanted to acutely understand the ways in which we could help generate insights and empower the storytelling process. I suppose that I will always be a writer and an artist of sorts, but the more challenging proposition is how I can become a better sponge. The beautiful part about technology development is that it provides illustrative, colorful journeys into the unknown. The discoveries we make along the way are what give us a sense of accomplishment, especially when we can share our insights as “gifts” to others.

One platform I’m proud to be a part of that represents the power of community is eCairn. Its founders, Laurent Pfertzel and Dominique Lahaix, spent over 20 years at HP using various proprietary technologies to advance research methodologies for extracting and cultivating business intelligence, and were among the first to do what is now considered to be “social media data mining”.

While Laurent and Dominique are pioneers in the business intelligence space, the platform itself is not exactly “best-in-class”, nor does it have the sexiest or most intuitive interface. But that is not the point. The strength lies in our approach to data, and the insights we want to come out of it. We can always sync our technology with those that have complementary features and functions, and that is part of the plan to scale as a business. This also applies to how we think as strategic entities.

As strategists, it is imperative that we act swiftly and humbly in organizing intelligence frameworks that can move the needle of our business and our clients’ businesses. When you consider that most problems we are tasked to solve are of a wicked nature and are regenerative (meaning that the solutions we provide ultimately lead to new, more complex problems, and this cycle is ongoing), we must be interdependent in our thinking, the ways we create and how we utilize resources.

One of the things that I love about my job is that I get to learn from people. I have unique windows with which to observe their behaviors, and in various ways, I have opportunities to collaborate with them on a daily basis. These elements are also a constant reminder that anything we build must be adaptive; in other words, strategic methodologies must creatively inform technology functions and vice versa.

It is also critical that we think on the part of others – brands, agencies, audiences (consumer groups) and technology vendors must all be a part of the same conversation. This is a common issue I see with the start-ups and middle stage companies that I advise; all too often we build according to perceived “market value”, as opposed to understanding the needs and desires of people.

We’ve tried in earnest to apply this approach to Heardable, an online brand health platform I started co-developing about 18 months ago. Co-Founder & CEO, Jon Samsel, is a former marketing executive who has logged serious time building innovative solutions at Bank of America, Countrywide and Ford. Another co-Founder, John Sharp, is a seasoned entrepreneur and investor who also just happens to be a programming ace. The things I get to see and learn as an agency strategist by sitting in a room with these guys is invaluable. Here is our latest iteration of the offering:

Naturally, Heardable is still in its infancy and will continue to evolve. We plan to build more functional utilities around it and make the intelligence collective.

In a larger sense, technologies serve as organisms that help define, complement, refine and create human solutions. If you look at “platforms” as solutions that can leverage the amalgam of people + technology + media, then as marketers, we have social objects and ecosystems that are very special.

The “wicked world” forces us, even as competitors in the same space, to come together. Fact is, as marketers, we cannot afford to operate in our own, proprietary vacuums. Just look at the struggles of the automotive industry as one glaring example of this.

The bottom line is that there is room for anyone and everyone who is eager, humble and willing to expand their own piece of the pie and create new markets. Human needs are ever-present and ever-evolving. Needs are the new markets. Utilities are the solutions we can provide.

And there is also plenty of money to be made through altruism. But I suppose that is the subject for an entirely different conversation.

In the meantime, go forth, my friends, and innovate ;)

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]