A Literacy of the Imagination

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

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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 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 ;)

When does a market value get attached to art, if at all? #ConvergenceCulture #OurMediaFuture cc: @BrendanHowley @StephenDinehart

I’ve appropriated this exchange between my colleagues Brett Heard and Brendan Howley of Fresh Baked Entertainment in Toronto as a follow-up to my last piece on Developing Open Narrative Frameworks. And of course, I’m terribly relieved to not have to actually write a post from scratch... There’s nothing like promoting the words of others in a mutually beneficial way ;)

Anyway, I thought there were some very sage insights expressed in these excerpts, and some interesting examples of how our media and technology evolution has come full circle in many respects. Further, what we face are cultural challenges (necessitating the need for cultural solutions), above and beyond anything else.

**First, from Brett:

"When does a market value get attached to art, if at all?"

There is art, and then there is applied art. All artists decide if they want to be pure artists, meaning there is no monetary consideration in creating their art pieces, but the art pieces can still be sold after the creation, but are uninfluenced by the patron's wishes.

The other option is applied arts. Artists apply their artistic talents to a business transaction. Many artists do both pure art and applied art.

When does a market value get attached to art, if at all? #ConvergenceCulture #OurMediaFuture cc: @BrendanHowley @StephenDinehart

[image provided by Ads of the World]

There are varying degrees of applied arts where some are more business oriented than others. My wife is an art director for large ad agencies. That's about as "business side" of applied arts as you can get. Us comics are on the opposite end of that spectrum. Still applied art, but as close to pure art as you can get, given the freedom we have with what we choose to put on stage. When we do it at the Rivoli for no money, it is pure art. But when we do it at the Laugh Resort or Second City for a salary it is applied art, but one of the freest versions of applied art.

A far less free version of applied art is the television writer. Movie writers have a little more freedom, and spec screenplay writers have even more.

"Now what does the new paradigm look like to you?"

When does a market value get attached to art, if at all? #ConvergenceCulture #OurMediaFuture cc: @BrendanHowley @StephenDinehart

We are less than a year away from all of us having as much access to people's living room television screens as networks have. In fact, we will have more access than they've ever had because we will have access to every television in the world. No broadcast license or broadcasting equipment or deal with cable companies needed. This is why the CRTC is obsolete.

Branded entertainment is going to be a huge player in the new paradigm. Client direct is going to be a new and exciting path. Television entertainment is going to break down into niche markets. People can get whatever they want now, they don't have to just watch what three networks or even 90 networks have to offer. There will be millions and millions of networks. I haven't decided what to call mine yet.

It's true that there's not much point complaining about the old system now. Those are the problems of the past, and the present (sigh) but not the problems of the future. That old system will die an ugly death in denial to the end. And I'll not be attending the memorial service.

**... And from Brendan:

My answer is short and personal: I have a very small vanity project, a thriller set in Toronto's Chinatown. I am microfinancing its production and while there's a strong CBC connection, I doubt there'll be much broadcast interest: it's political and tough... which is why it's being microfinanced. It'll give the creative team the freedom that only serial writers in the UK and a very few US and Brit feature filmwriters now have: “to speak truth to power”, as the Quakers say.

I'm certain that in the near future the vast proportion of filmed entertainment will be made this way and that a pay-per-view business model will apply to web feature and episodic content: the cable TV model. It's inevitable. Question is: who're the gatekeepers and who's gonna control the technology?

When does a market value get attached to art, if at all? #ConvergenceCulture #OurMediaFuture cc: @BrendanHowley @StephenDinehart

Hence my two-fold passion for microfinance and to build platforms: it's the tech that ensures market share---the iPhone and iPad being the obvious examples but NewTeeVee daily tells the same story.

My sense is that, within a very short time, the current broadcast model will work for sports and maybe news...the instant 'feed' material we demand very high production values for. 

And not much else.

On the feature side, the marketplace is already disintermediated. It's exceedingly difficult (odds well over 100:1) to get a big budget film made now. The marketing costs aren't coming down because there's a collision between the real solution (open source sharing of material with one's audience) and copyright...and Jobs is only delaying the inevitable. 

It's even more difficult to fund mid-budget features. Try getting a $40M film made in Hollywood. I know this because I talk to the producers there who're trying to get 'em made.

The drive is all to the other end of the spectrum: a solid hit for >$10mn upfront. And with the right material and the right tech and the right marketing...it's happening. Kickstarter and Hulikai are just the beginning... Jawbone.tv is now running stories about this business model weekly. It ain't even news anymore: it's reality. The studios---just like the music conglomerates before them and orthodox ad/marketing/media companies now---are teetering on the verge of an entirely new business model that looks a lot like organizational suicide. (They'll survive. But it won't be because they innovated fast enough, e.g. VW's GTI iPhone app to launch the new model.)

The precursor? The recording industry in the 1950s, when dozens of tiny studios (Chess, Atlantic, Sun) discovered this thing called Rock 'n' Roll (R&B that went white, really) and took it international. The mass distribution of the transistor radio (the 1950s version of social media) then drove a global audience.

When does a market value get attached to art, if at all? #ConvergenceCulture #OurMediaFuture cc: @BrendanHowley @StephenDinehart

Point is, there are billions of networks already: social networks are still expanding exponentially and creating a daily (soon to be hourly) tsunami of content and the really intimate interactivity---on mobile, in real time---hasn't even started yet.

We have the business model on the table in front of us in Sarah Polley's project: a brand, a superb piece of entertainment (art, I'd argue), and the ability to get right in the decision wheelhouse of the audience via high engagement, sustainable social networks---well before the film's debut.

Here comes the reality check for us: the revolution of rising expectations will sweep away mediocrity. There'll be so much personal, great stuff that the so-so will vanish in a mouseclick. Quality of concept, execution and sheer power of engagement---in social media, everything is a cause, people---will do its timeless 'pull' thing. 

But the real killer is sustainability. 

How does one create a sustainable business around this emerging reality?

I'll say it again: the answer is where brands (the bank and the audience) meet networking theory (how to optimize audience via social media and mobile) meets gaming theory (how to create long running, sustainable episodic entertainment for that audience). 

That's how. And we're already there. Now we have to execute to world-class standards.