A Literacy of the Imagination

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

Filtering by Tag: entrepreneurialism

Designing (For) Trust

A few years ago, I discovered a conversational framework in pre-marital counseling that opened my eyes to how trust might actually operate in relationships (you can already guess what happened to my marriage... ;). One of the revelations I had was that you don't just build trust in relationships, you go into relationships having trust in yourself.

I sometimes cringe when people talk about trust as though it is a given, as they tend to gloss over the realities of physical and mental interaction. This is especially the case when people wax on about social business or social technology innovations. But that is all well and good, because it is all part of the process of awareness, and I think the concepts tied to trust are important for people to build upon in their own ways and at their own paces.

We all know that relationship dynamics can be very complex, but I do believe that trust itself is quite simple in its faculty. I've also witnessed some very interesting transformations, both in the startup work I've been doing, as well as in some of the innovation work I've been privileged to be a part of. This is one of several scientific studies I've researched that seem to corroborate what I've experienced in different entrepreneurial and corporate settings. And there is always the inimitable Csikszentmihalyi (tongue-twister!) from which to draw inspiration.

If I were to reduce the essence of trust down to single equivalent, it would be this: love of self. A natural extension of that would be confidence in self. This confidence is expressed quite clearly at the personal and collective levels, and takes on various forms of creative and cognitive energy. Some questions to ask ourselves (per the graphic) might be:

- How do I feel about myself when I enter group environments?

- How do I choose to communicate those feelings?

- How do I express my values in such a way that they can be understood?

- What are my true intentions?

- What are my perceptions of self as I interact with others?

- What are other people's perceptions of me (how do I 'occur' to them?)

- What am I willing to do or contribute to change those perceptions?

- Can I empathize with others and align my values to theirs?

Self-love, of course, doesn't refer to a reliance on Ego (the self-consumed part of it), but rather a completeness or a mindfulness that one can share love and be loved. Confidence, therefore, can manifest as an organic expression of that self-love, and can literally permeate a room or physical space with an incredible aura. In online spaces, it can certainly catalyze the visions or perceptions of what a relationship might become.

Lest we forget that we can design platforms, experiences and/or ideas for trust-building, and we can engage in trust-building exercises, but there is a significant awareness factor that cannot be ignored.

Admittedly, I've made a lot of mistakes in this respect; it's one thing to want to trust someone, but it's another thing to hold trust, earn trust and share trust with other people. I've had a few situations over the last several months in which trust was broken, in part because I failed to see what the the potential for trust could even be. That is something I've had to own as a part of my self-responsibility, my own learning experience. I also have to reconcile with the possibility that perhaps, to those people, I just wasn't trustworthy, for whatever reasons there may be (some of those reasons I'm still trying to figure out and incorporate into my own realm of understanding). On a more positive note, I've also repaired a couple of broken relationships because I was able to communicate my ownership of the issues, and was able to align a set of values with those people.

So, it seems we can design for trust, but we don't actually design trust itself, nor do we really engineer its mechanisms. Then again, who knows what today will reveal. In the meantime, perhaps the graphic at top will help you in your own design work.



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.

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


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

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

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.

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]