A Literacy of the Imagination

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

Filtering by Tag: innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here they are, point and counterpoint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's why/how.

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

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

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

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

It will be exciting to watch and participate.

A New Venture Model: '5 and 15'

A couple of buddies of mine (Mike McCracken and Miles Gerson) and I are exploring a new kind of funding model that disrupts the traditional '2 and 20' model. Here are a few main reasons why we've been compelled to do this:

- VCs tend to invest way later stage and are good at sourcing and structuring, but tend to struggle with (or ignore) operational efficiencies. We've known this for a while, but things have come to a head given that a lot of early stage companies that are in revenue are also lacking support in their critical growth stages. Many of these same companies are coming to us for that support, along with help in raising strategic capital.

- Incubators and accelerators have done a great job of helping get startups off the ground, but have significant challenges of scale. At K5, we've been exploring ways to partner better and network the investments for startups we take to the seed through A series raises.

- Corporate venture arms are exploding; I've mentioned P&G-backed Cintrifuse in other posts (a fund of funds model that Mike helped develop through Ernst & Young), but there are many others coming onto the scene, such as this new $100mm fund from Siemens. That said, many of the corporate venture groups we've talked to still lack visibility to new startups 'on the ground' and also have challenges with vetting them. As important, we've seen and heard about lots of acquisitions and early exits go south because of poor integration with corporate business units or as units managing their own operations and P&Ls.

- Family funds are also changing face; some of the family offices we've spoken with are pivoting towards more operational roles inside of their portfolios; much of this has to do with a need for investment transparency and stronger vetting processes.

- On the capital front, crowdfunding is and will continue to transform the business landscape, and the equity crowdfunding space, specifically, is very interesting in terms of accredited investment. We'd like to develop ways to hybridize capital and equity requirements so as to make funding scenarios more flexible and extensible.

So the central idea here is that we can provide operational value to early stage companies. Mike has deep experience running companies and financing them (with UGO entertainment, for example, he raised 13 rounds of funding before they exited), while I have a lot of experience building platforms, developing products and taking them to market, and I've done this both on the corporate side and at the startup level. Miles has solid experience managing a fund, vetting and structuring deals, and has been building up his network on the corporate venture side.

The funding structure itself is still nascent and frankly a little messy, but the notion of '5 and 15' (5% management fees and 15% carry) rests on the premise that we can generate fees from active management of the companies in which we invest. Some VCs we've spoken to have actually said that the trend is dipping below a 2% management fee, but with the caveat that the LP (limited partnership) model is still in place.

I'll share more as we progress with this...

Socially Conscious Investing, Work & World-Building

Happy New Year! 2014 has already proven to be quite fruitful and full of new roads for discovery.

As a follow-up piece to previous posts on conscious capital, co-op investments and discovering value in the age of bitcoin, I thought I would share a video of my talk in Grasse from October. Some of the corporate examples of sustainable innovation you're probably familiar with, but it goes a bit more into how these kinds of efforts can scale in a global marketplace. Many companies are still hesitant to invest in sustainability efforts, and I believe that's because disciplines like CSR are more about good branding than good business models. But that's all changing.

The real emphasis is on how people can transcend their roles and responsibilities at work and in everyday life to become progenitors of change. This has been the core philosophy behind the innovation experiments we've been running around the globe, and it involves much more than good technology and fancy methodologies (although those elements are, of course, important).

In this case -- enabling executive stakeholders in the cosmetics industry to imagine a different world through their products -- we were able to spend four days developing creative muscles, nurturing personal and group awareness, as well as running through role-playing scenarios. The participants literally built worlds or ecosystems that reflected ecological and emotional connections to their companies, and the economy itself. One CEO even remarked that in doing so, she envisioned a new world without economic bubbles.

(*sidenote* we're editing a documentary film of the whole experience which we plan to distribute in Q3...)

Related to 'anti-bubble' economics and scale, Marc Andreessen was featured in an insightful piece in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago. That said, I thought the interview with him below is a terrific view into the immediate future (what I call the 'Future Now'). In particular, it's interesting to hear his thoughts on globalization and how value is created in competitive markets through an entrepreneurial mindset. I wish that he and other innovative investors would address more of the 'human problems' we face (Mr. Andreessen does touch upon on it in spots), but their intentions seem to be headed towards more of a socially conscious approach to investing, alongside of building sustainable companies and economies.

As I've mentioned in other posts, the concept of work is completely transforming, and not just as a by-product of repatriation, disintermediation and other production or transactional efficiencies (which are becoming more and more obvious). Passion and empathy are co-opting 'work' as a cultural edict and a form of social responsibility that embrace the complexities of human discourse. People want to change the world -- they need to, and they're figuring out how to make it happen for themselves and their communities.

And what a wonderful thing that is to see.

 

The Power of the Co-Op Investment Model

Following up on earlier posts regarding brand economics and ecosystemic investment, it's been interesting to witness (and advise on) some shifts in the startup investment landscape.

One such shift involves what can be coined as 'co-op investment'.

The basic premise of a co-op is to provide a structure that aligns various resources, operators and assets such that the investment itself has shared value. So, in the case of a corporation subsidizing a co-op investment, you would have entrepreneurs, marketers, researchers, lawyers and supply chain folks inhabiting the same space, sharing resources and making sure that their collective efforts produced demonstrable results.

Co-Op Investment.png

This has been the case with P&G's Cintrifuse project in Cincinnati. What started more or less as a $60mm write-down a little over a year ago, has blossomed into an ecosystem of 23 upstart companies and a funding mechanism that pairs up strategic partners with smart money, smart resources and tons of possibility for scale (a new form of a fund-of-funds).

A friend who is close to the project and I are developing ways to expand on the model, to see how this might scale in other markets around the country -- the idea being that we can develop new civic infrastructures, create new jobs and right some of our inherent social ills such as income inequality, poor education and skills development, as well as urban decay.

More to come as this model evolves...

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).

Centifolia.png

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

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

iConnect.png

Creativity, and thus innovation, is truly collective.

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

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

Until next time... 

Attention Marketers: The Real Money is in Ecosystems

What people really think about “brands” and “ads”.

There are a host of studies that address the ways in which people are affected by ads and onslaughts of marketing messages, as well as how they feel about them. Most of the data and insights are inglorious; probably the most telling are the studies based on “native advertising”. This one from MediaBrix and Harris Interactive is a pretty good indicator of why consumers have become activists in editing and avoiding ads altogether.

Granted, many of these studies don’t even ask the right questions, or questions more oriented towards cultural behaviors or daily rituals. Choosing between the better or lesser of evils ("Would you rather go with option A, B or C in this rotation?") isn't exactly leading marketers in the direction of enlightenment.

Brand studies are even more elusive; my favorite (I’m being facetious) is this series conducted by Interbrand, which provides geographically designated results on brands in different markets based on variables that have little to do with company operations, sustainability or customer relationship metrics, and everything to do with “brand perception” based on fixed (and arguably irrelevant) variables.

The Bhutan approach to relationship metrics (specifically GNH or Gross National Happiness) is really where these survey questions should lead... But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

brand studies.png

What this says is, as an industry, marketing and advertising is still talking to itself in a giant echo chamber, and is making huge, sweeping assumptions about customer behavior when it doesn’t have to. In short, companies, via their brands, have an opportunity to ask far better questions. And this is precisely where companies will continue to make or lose money.

Marketing is intended to actually build markets.

One of the smartest things I’ve heard recently came from General Electric CMO, Beth Comstock, who unapologetically proclaimed that "Marketing is now about creating and developing new markets; not just identifying opportunities but also making them happen".

Comstock looks at GE as the world’s oldest startup, and this is the kind of thinking that has sustained GE as an innovator across industries for decades.

If you were to look more closely at the word marketing, it would seem that this approach in building markets is a given, but of course it isn’t.

Developing an ecosystem of ideas and resources (not just ads and inventory).

The big talk at the CM Summit this past week (May 18th, 2013 onward) has been around building a new kind of ad ecosystem. This ecosystem specifically refers to things like a “native advertising” or “programmatic advertising” format, which basically focuses on real-time bidding in exchanges that peddle inventory or content for cents on the dollar.

While I think these discussions are important in transitioning our broken ad models to better places, I think they also miss the bigger picture.

For one, they presuppose that innovations in developing the company-customer relationship are predicated on technological advances (read: fancier features). For another, they almost completely ignore the power of people, their communities, and the ways they are willing to participate when the terms for consumption are more equitable.

This includes our functional uses of content, data, and the contexts through which we can build customer relationships, engender trust, and monetize channels without grossly manipulating the market itself.

From a content perspective, here’s what an ecosystem would ideally look like:

content's new context.png

If we can accept the Kurzweilian precept that technology is an extension of biology, then we might be able to reframe these efforts more constructively.

What this really points to is a profound shift in priorities, one that takes us from models based on opacity, forced messaging and a reliance on commodified inventory, to models that place openness, adaptivity and conscientiousness at the heart of marketing and communications.

The Coca-Cola problem.

Many of you are probably familiar with Coke’s escalating issues with obesity. If you’re not, you should be, as this represents a classic example of how traditional marketing and communications (to include “social media”) can’t solve real world problems -- problems that are not only complex, but those which require a whole new way of doing business.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the idea isn’t so much that brands and their products or services need to be perfect, but the overarching idea that they do need to be more humane. This means that operations must be far more empathic in how they treat people (customers and employees), and means that companies must do their best to empower hyperlocal economies.

I will make a much stronger economic case for this in an upcoming white paper, but suffice to say that things like P/E ratios, EBIDTA, market capitalization and increasing profit margins are hardly leading indicators for a sustainable brand, or a profitable brand, for that matter. Further, it will be impossible for companies to maintain the types of margins they have now without more earnest investments in the socioeconomic environments on which they lean, directly or indirectly.

What Coke can do to align its business and brand interests.

A lot of the work I do involves creating scenarios, or imaging possibilities, so that more positive and productive futures can be realized. So, I thought I would take the Coke use case and provide a snapshot of what “newer” disciplines like data journalism and participatory storytelling can do to revitalize the socioeconomic relationship between brands and consumers. (It is also a central use case featured in the book I’m co-authoring, “The Big Pivot”)

story as a lived experience.png

The graphic should be fairly self-explanatory; it basically takes you on a journey from the moment a perceived issue erupts, and shows how a different way of extracting and cultivating a story lends to the consensual development of ideas that not only become authentic brand artifacts, but those which provide a basis for product development and job growth.

You’ll notice that we go from a phase of understanding an issue, to uncovering its intentionality, to finding the purpose behind it in actions on the ground, and ultimately, developing the true meaning of its impact in the form of actionable solutions.

Under normal circumstances, the usual suspects -- media agencies, PR companies, social media vendors, product innovators, sustainability firms, et al -- would work mostly in isolation. More critically, the idea of storytelling reverse engineers a very staid and cumbersome set of processes that doesn’t actually move the needle of the business or nurture stakeholder relations. In this case, notice how real world solutions can be crafted from mostly closed data loops to those that reflect a group or collective intelligence.

Welcome to the future, which is right now.

It is not difficult to see what is possible. We have the tools and the means. What is difficult is to shift the mindset away from a heavy reliance on automation and quantitative reasoning and towards interactions on the ground. These will allow people to become true advocates of a brand, and influencers of ideas that matter, whether they exist as messages, stories and/or pure informational utilities.

 

Consumer Activism in the Social Era #innovation #networks #change

What does consumer activism actually look like?

 

Well, for starters, if you can accept that people (consumers) do have some control over their commercial behaviors and outcomes, then we’re getting somewhere. Purchasing behaviors themselves are sort of like a tug-of-war between personal ideology, mass messaging, crowd wisdom and the bottom line. And consumer culture tends to win these battles with institutions.

 

But let’s look at this from a more refined angle, which is that a new kind of activism is already in play, and I don’t simply mean the counter-institutional behaviors associated with Occupy or Wikileaks.

 

Don Tapscott recently gave what I thought was a terrific talk on how new global non-state networks are offering powerful new solutions for cooperation, problem solving and governance.

George Por wrote a great follow-up piece that goes into further detail on the nine types of global networks Don refers to in his talk, and lends some insight on how these networks manifest themselves through super-structures like cities, or more agile structures found within them.

 

So what does this all actually mean?

 

I’d maintain that people (consumers, brands and institutions) have developed their own ways to create positive change through resilient structures, and it is only a matter of time -- a relatively short window -- before we see these disintermediating solutions become a predominant part of the social, economic and political fabric.

 

I call these “networks of vigilance, responsibility and reciprocity”.

 

In research and analysis I did some time ago on the retail banking industry, I created this graphic which represents the cultural dynamics driven by technology and globalization, as we move from centralized structures to more networked structures.

As the graphic explains, there are four main elements to this shift: movements, archetypes, cohorts and industries.

In a more liberalized market -- one that affords us a system of choices, false, dichotomous or “other” -- economic empowerment is achieved through the wisdom of friends, or what some might consider to be “collective intelligence”.

In this process, the traditional archetype has shifted (kicking and screaming, I might add...) towards a more engaged and empathetic role.

So, you might ask something like: “Have bankers really become better people?” Probably not quite the right question to ask. The better question would be: “Can banking really make us, or allow us to be, better people?” (The short answer is “yes”.)

As archetypes change, we see a distinct supplement of monetary capital gains with intellectual capital or currency. This simply means that exchanges of goods and services are not only social contracts -- those fortified by trust and transparency -- but they change what money means because the information associated with those exchanges is more valuable.

What all of this creates is a dynamic ecosystem of non-banking institutions and disintermediary businesses, whose sole purposes aren’t necessarily to replace the banking super-structures themselves, but to complement them, and in some cases, buffer them. Some argue that super-structures are collapsing under their own weight and corrosive natures altogether, which only amplifies the position.

What’s interesting about this shift in particular is how disintermediation degrades the verticality of industry, renders it “flatter”, and provides more profound efficiencies through collaboration. Some have described this as “disruptive innovation”, but I think the term tends to relegate these efforts into a corner. I also think that this is less about innovation as an output of products and services, and more about the mindset of adaptation -- seeing shifts, preempting problems and reacting to changes in a far more agile fashion.

Granted, it’s difficult at times to see all of this really happening, especially as mass media channels fill our heads with doomsday scenarios and the like. Conspiracy theories also don’t help to keep us focused on these shifts. But the truth of the matter is that resilient communities are everywhere... And this kind of change will happen whether institutions like it or not.

Within these contexts, do you see yourself as an activist? How so?

The Concept of "Buttressing" (An inelegant word to address tipping points in history, polity, innovation & economics)

“The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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[Wikipedia] A buttress is an architectural structure built against or projecting from a wall which serves to support or reinforce the wall.[1] Buttresses are fairly common on more ancient buildings, as a means of providing support to act against the lateral (sideways) forces arising out of the roof structures that lack adequate bracing.

The term counterfort can be synonymous with Buttress,[2] and is often used when referring to dams, retaining walls and other structures holding back earth.

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So here we are. The U.S. presidential race is in full swing, and many pundits are claiming it to be a wash (I would be one of them). It's been predicted that regardless of who gets the nod, there will likely be another four years of domestic policy stagnation, irrepressible socio-economic frustration and boiling international conflict. Is this a terrible outlook? Not necessarily.

As reiterated to me recently by Liz McLellan, and as evidenced by the recent movement to thwart dangerous new Internet and related legislation (SOPA, PIPA, et al), things are not as linear or teleological as they might seem.

For one, many people seem to think that history is all pre-written, unipolar and unidirectional. What comes from this is a full range of "isms" founded or predicated on ideals that confine us to working within or fighting against "systems". These logic strains manifest in things, for example, like economic iterations: "The Attention Economy", "The Ask Economy", "The Social Economy" and "The Creative Economy" (a personal favorite, and something that I think is very real and very permeable, but alas…)

I'd like to propose something a bit different, as history repeats itself for good reason: We don't rewrite it in ways that provide context to ask newer, better, stronger questions, and, such that we are able to arrive at solutions to complex problems… Such as those we face with the Internet and the distribution of information, or better yet, money.

To challenge our notions and actions with respect to taking sides, here's a concept I've been thinking a lot about: "buttressing".

In essence, buttressing averts the more binary constructs tied to "if/then" or "better than" scenarios, or "new models" that require scaffolding of any kind. Scaffolds are essentially walls and domains we put up as a result of an economic and/or social imperatives — entire nations have been built on them. In contrast, buttressing supports human walls that are created regardless of moral or secular or idealogical ambiguities, or those which might have hierarchical schemes, either fear-based and/or knowledge based. Buttressing actions contingency groups that don't just subvert "higher authority" movements, but those that also form out of chaos — vis-a-vis Monti Di Pieta or a favorite amongst some of the groups of which I am a member, Junto.

How buttressing is leveraged in a technological or an Elysian sense I haven't quite thought through (nor could I — this would likely become a construct built through a cooperative), but I will say that it focuses on emergence as having interjective qualities, rather than simpler measures that induce "macro" or "micro" or "subtle" or "radical" patterns that affect an intentional result, or a future, that embraces complexity.

Allow me to provide some context, and use money as an example of how model-free duality drives the commercial world we currently inhabit... For good and for worse.

Someone with whom I recently took part in an online discussion referred to the Jewish fortress of mercantilists who paid for protection during (and before and after) the Holocaust, so I will start there. Some of you know that my father is a Holocaust survivor (born in Upper Silesia in 1932 and fled near Auschwitz to Shanghai in 1938). Many cite Kristallnacht as the tipping point in the start of the war, but this probably only served as an affront to Austrian parliament, since Germany and Poland along with select regions of Europe were undergoing a reformation of sorts and bankers on either side were torn by, among other things, secularism. Plans were likely made well before WWI to support the "system" and to find figureheads to run it — independently of the "moral majority" or even its economic implications — and to boot, many, many Jews were a part of this "accidental regime" (my grandfather and my great grandfather were among them; you can gather some more personal context on this period in history here).

[An aside: Obama has been compared by extremists to Hitler in this same sense – yes, a ridiculous notion on the surface, and ridiculous by most moral standards, but when we think about his tenure as a figurehead, the stories might actually overlap in subtle ways.]

 

The Concept of "Buttressing" (An inelegant word to address tipping points in history, polity, innovation & economics)
Remember this? President Obama went from hopeful social figure to a politician grappling with labels, almost overnight. Or was he groomed to be in this position?

The Concept of "Buttressing" (An inelegant word to address tipping points in history, polity, innovation & economics)

When confronted with context, the picture changes. What side are you on now? [image credit: Adam Goldberg]

This is just one example in modern history, I would assert, that is connected to a series of evolutionary shifts that transcend formative points in time, or "tipping points". For a moment, let's move along the modern war timeline to post-WWII, 1945 on.

What happened immediately following the release of Morgenthau's "Politics Amongst Nations"? Isreal was formed in 1948. What ensued has amounted to a litany of radical (some say "progressive") leanings on all sides, all in the name of money. Yet, the "power structure" hangs in the balance, as the Israeli fortress (not exactly a coordinated system as we might think of it) requires funding from U.S. and British banks to the tune of $58B per year. Was Zionist movement in the West Bank the tipping point? I doubt it.

Let's move on to Cuba. Many cite Playa Giron as the "secret tipping point" of The Bay of Pigs invasion (an "invasion" that was spread and hedged over years of political grooming) and the U.S.'s apparent failure to build an "emerging democratic nation-state". Then of course, there were rumors that this Castro-run state was run by organized crime — you know, "the Italians". But if you retread through some annals, you'll find that Mercantile bankers – Jews and Gentiles alike, some Muslims – were the string-pullers in a society funded by experimentation, and, aghast, to this day, Cuba hosts one of the most anonymously subsistent economies, replete with one of the highest literacy rates and lowest rates of infectious disease in the world (save for long-standing cultural mores, but that is fodder for another conversation…).

To hark back to a previous point in history, do we honestly believe that Monti Di Pieta was funded by "radical" or "puritanical" or "progressive" Christian sects? Hardly. The lenders were Jews – later Italian Jews – who backed both sides of the marketplace until regimes such as Luther's found some major cracks in the "power structure" and shifted things towards a neo-fascist or neo-feudalist state. (And by the way, this pattern cycled through all the way to Mussolini and up to the Berlusconi era of today. As rumored: 27% of Italy's GDP is in the black market -- another reactive stage to non-foundational power surges and their respective regimes).

Sound familiar? Wall Street is more or less run the same way -- just as Mercantile or merchant markets have exchanged power amongst constituencies for centuries. Now, the banks have been nationalized, waiting for the next interest group to swoop in for the kill (read: it ain't gonna be the bankers themselves... Or will it?). Again, this shift clearly didn't coalesce overnight. So back to tipping points.

Was a student revolt a tipping point for Tiananmen Square?
What about the Berlin Wall?
Do we think these "singular" power structures have ever really existed in Tunisia? Egypt? Syria?

We can debate this ad nauseam under the lens of "strong versus weak" ties, but it seems in doing so, we're missing the bigger picture.

The larger point is this: Human intention is supposed to be misguided. It's what actually makes us… Human. What makes us cooperative is something much bigger than us: The active pursuit of knowledge that does not fall victim to binary lines of reason. Hence, the desire to preempt history repeating itself, over and over and over again.

Personally, I'll be damned that if in my lifetime, I'll allow the same events happen to my family that happened to my father and his immediate family. That may sound obvious, but in practice, it really isn't  -- it's our nature to question, and to question through a series of outcomes that leave us aligned with "one side or another".

Am I suggesting that we don't take sides over certain issues? Not at all. What I'm proposing is that we should take sides once we've engaged in context — the rigor that all great societies, social thinkers and economists used, Platonean, Aristotelean, Dialectic, on up through the various ages of reason (For a literary example, explore Plato's notions of hard and soft text).

If evolution has taught us anything, binaries simply aren't the way of the world. Nor should they be.

Our role within the edges then, it seems, is to buttress transitional movements that transcend the "alternatives" or what amount to "the replacements". Duality is the ideology that the edges degrade and then move us toward collective, or cooperative, intention.

This is the key to becoming a network (not a mere system) of evolutionary, acutely-aware beings that affect change in positive ways. People who are literally invested in context. Can it happen? Sure, anything can happen. Everything already has happened.

As for "taking sides", think on this, if you would.

Regarding SOPA or PIPA, my own fear is less over regime-like control of Internet gateways than it is in a singular transactional governing body -- poor management of the EEA , for example, represents a critical threat to our holistic integrity in rebooting things like education and harnessing the mitigation of greed (an undeniable human instinct). Remember that the countries who have fought against tiered legislation in support of it (Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Germany et al) -- some that are dubbed "socialist" nations -- are countries who have very strong educational ideals, great small business support and strong social benefits (stable healthcare, very few homeless people, etc.), and while there is still an uneven distribution of institutional wealth, much of this money is being poured into infrastructural development, and not just to bootstrap labor unions, who are having a hard time in their own right finding new footing with renewables and other sustainable energy models commoditizing their value.

I think that we can all agree that free markets can be emergent -- the question is how.

SO... perhaps what we need to consider here is the buttressing of private interest groups that support innovations around nanotechnology and clean energy initiatives -- groups that have mercantile power and see the value of emerging markets dependent on flat distribution schemes (think of orgs like Scibe, and some of the constructs – not all – that powerhouses like Google employ through programs like the smart grid Powermeter).

As for sides -- they are multi-dimensional; my larger belief is that 'we' (as a unified front of good people) are inherently stronger than 'them' because greed has always had its limitations.

And it's the ability to see through the "eyes of the other side" that allows us to be spiritually and mentally free, whether our wealth is material, immaterial, concordant or recursive. Operationally, I liken this to much of what Mark Frazier has advocated around NGOs, but I would add that greed and enlightenment share in recursive values that ultimately bend with fluid, focused contingencies — people who have suffered through geolocal context (war, admonition, injustice, etc.), yet those who truly believe in the 'we'.

So what do you think about "buttressing"? What can we do to action it?

Being Peter Thiel: Thoughts on Creation, Risk, Rapid Innovation, Future Investment & Entrepreneurialism -- Part 3

The following is the final piece in a three-part series.

Takeaways from Part 2:

- Funding ideas in their early stages requires a new kind of risk
- Elevated risk actually provides greater access to the edges, where innovation happens
- We must try to think in terms of "platform" – addressing & satisfying a real market need (preferably cultural)
- The onus is on people creating the ideas to develop sustainable business models

THE RAPID PROTOTYPE — CATALYST FOR A MORE ACTIVE CONVERGENCE CULTURE?

Now, with the independent ability to shoot, edit and program ("program" meaning write code and/or create our own content systems), we do have one indisputable luxury: We can rapidly prototype.

We can also create business models based on what we see evolving around these prototypes.

A prototype, quite simply, would be something that demonstrates functionality in the form of a platform; it could be a game pathway, an interactive film trailer, a mobile application, a search tool, or, even more crudely, a process or a methodology for building an audience and driving a market (to investors, preferably one that is patentable). In any case, the prototype ladders up to a larger, market need, and ideally, a solution-set that creates a new market in and of itself. You might even call it its own form of risk generation.

This isn't exactly something that they teach you in business school (or grade school, for that matter, where this kind of thinking could be applied during the formative years of a child's education). In fact, lab environments aside, most business school classes preach the risk aversion approach. But the good news is that even b-school programs are changing their tune, most likely due to the fact that people just aren't getting jobs once they graduate. So goes the plunge into entrepreneurialism.

Being Peter Thiel: Thoughts on Creation, Risk, Rapid Innovation, Future Investment & Entrepreneurialism -- Part 3
ACTIONING A PERVASIVE MINDSET

Like anything innovative, entrepreneurialism is a mindset. We may not like to accept it, but being an entrepreneur means that we must learn how to fail in order to learn how to succeed. As well, success is always fleeting… And relative. Being an entrepreneur, is, well, painful at times. The difference now versus a few years ago is that we can collectively shoulder that risk. We can also collectively share in the gains. A bigger sandbox means bigger pieces of the pie for each one of us.

Specifically, I'm talking about creating live symposiums where ideas are shared, where proof-of-concepts are developed and where business models are co-created to the extent that an investor can actually see what he or she is investing in, and where that investment might lead… And then actually invest.

This isn't even a new idea: Film markets have been doing this for decades, save for the fact that projects don't typically exhibit a platform approach or a mechanism by which a platform can engage and sustain audiences for the longer haul. That said, foundations like the Larry Page-backed X-Prize have been supporting and advancing innovations like this for years through corporate and private sponsorships, and true "co-opetitive" means.

Even still:

Why are these efforts largely conducted in isolation?
Why do we need to fight so hard for things like nanotechnology or medical research?
Why aren't we building programs to teach people how to action their entrepreneurial selves?
Why aren't we forging more co-ops and joint-ventures with major corporations and small businesses to revive "R&D"?
Why aren't we creating new market opportunities out of these alliances?

Again, this isn't a technology problem per se, this is a constitutional issue; "constitutions", as per John Seely Brown and John Hagel, which are edicts or contracts we put into place at every intersection of business and culture – such as one within an open source community – that often don't allow us the flexibility to innovate. And now to reinforce the larger point.

Being Peter Thiel: Thoughts on Creation, Risk, Rapid Innovation, Future Investment & Entrepreneurialism -- Part 3
IN CONCLUSION (PETER IS NO MYTH!)

Heartfelt apologies to Mr. Thiel, should he actually find the time to read these pieces — not for being direct about his partially flawed logic, but more for being sympathetic to his situation. I realize that sounds quite strange given the fact that he is stratospherically successful by most standards, but it's true: If he's having trouble, then we know something has to change in the venture game. Something has to change in how we leverage culture. Something has to change in the way we develop ideas and turn them into viable businesses and sustainable markets.

This, of course, isn't really about Peter Thiel — we are all about to become some form of his persona, whether we like it or not (and whether he likes it or not). The "Tao of Thiel" is literally about to spread like wildfire. But make no bones about it: Peter Thiel is a very smart man, and an inventive man at that. Just like all of those undiscovered entrepreneurs… You likely being one of them.

Being Peter Thiel: Thoughts on Creation, Risk, Rapid Innovation, Future Investment & Entrepreneurialism -- Part 3
It doesn't take an economist or a sophisticated venture capitalist to point out that big, sweeping changes are taking hold of the Western world. But the bigger proposition we must face, whether we work inside of corporations or not, is this: We have no choice but to be entrepreneurial.

So, take pen to paper, mouse to code and gather in physical spaces of any kind — we have lots to create. Our future depends on it. The beginning of our future, not the end of it, as Mr. Thiel asserts.

Contextual Analytics & The Physicality of Data -> #journalism #content #communities #transmedia #innovation

Here's a video excerpt of another talk I gave recently at Miami Ad School on immersive media, and more specifically, data methodologies for understanding or contextualizing consumer behavior and the various ways we can engage communities of people who are connected through content.

A couple of notes:

- Since the time of this talk (May), we've already added new social metrics on Heardable, and are about to release several new modules, including a semantic engine that measures digital influence (not just social media influence), as well as an SEO analyzer that allows users to track and optimize popular keywords. We are also developing a system that gives users the ability to quickly generate reports comprised of rich, competitive insights.

- MomentFeed just received a $1.2M seed round of funding (congrats again to Rob Reed and his team); the next platform release will be quite robust and significantly different from what is shown in the video. This will include purview into social commerce deals as well as insight into critical behavioral data.

There are a few other things to think about as we examine how contextual analytics can change the face of media and its immersive capabilities:

- The profound impact of content communities on citizen journalism or transmedia journalism as well as myriad disciplines tied to film, television and online media.

- The ability to identify, measure and cultivate fan communities -- effectively enabling us to tell and distribute stories intelligently across media.

- The ability to source stories from previously unknown subject matter experts, and to dimensionalize their influence.

- To make influence a metric that represents degrees of connection, intent and action, not just the density and frequency of one's digital imprint.

It's an exciting time to be in the social technology and transmedia spaces... And to have collaborative platforms that empower the exchange of ideas.